The crisp morning air was carried on a gentle breeze through the window, sweetened with the scent of roses and honeysuckle from the gardens outside. Despite how refreshing it was, Minako sat solemnly at her desk, lost deep in thought, unable to enjoy the pleasantness of the spring morning. She’d forsaken breakfast in favor of contemplation, much to her maid’s dismay. She was doubtful she’d be able to eat more than a bite or two, so it just seemed wasteful anyway. There was already far too much on her plate to tackle.
There was a knock at the door before a man entered reluctantly. “Your Majesty, I’m so sorry to intrude,” he said. All the palace staff knew that she didn’t typically like to be bothered within the confines of her study—her private little sanctuary which was lined with shelves of old books, a cozy fireplace, and modest decorations. It felt safe, secure, warm—much like an intimate nest. There, she was not the monarch of an entire nation. She was just Minako. Of course, even if she could shed her mantle for a few brief moments, she could never shake off all the responsibilities and problems that came with it. They would shadow her everywhere.
But Minako shook her head and smiled, bidding the man to come inside. Celestino Cialdini, an old friend, was always the exception to the rule. “I take it you have news?” she asked as he drew closer. She gestured for him to sit in one of the chairs opposite the desk, and he obliged after a slight bow. Despite them knowing each other for decades, Celestino was always one for tradition. Minako had long since given up trying to get him to drop formalities with her.
“Nothing you haven’t already heard, Your Majesty,” Celestino sighed, settling into the seat. “But all preparations are ready, precautions in place, and so on.”
“Good. Now all that’s left is….”
“The hard part,” Celestino finished for her with a chuckle, though it lacked its usual mirth. Still, Minako smiled despite herself. Celestino's familiar scent of evergreen was relaxing as always.
Their nation—small, but brimming with natural resources and rich with luxury exports—was in a state of crisis. It was nothing new, of course; not as far as history was concerned. It was a matter of succession, with the future of the throne in jeopardy. Most monarchies dealt with that very thing time and time again, yet Audentia had been lucky enough to avoid serious contention until now. Mostly, it was thanks to a shrewd Parliament that was loyal to the throne, and to a set of clear rules regarding inheritance.
But no one could have predicted that it would ever come to this.
The King of Audentia had passed away years prior, after losing a difficult battle with illness. The widowed Queen was left childless, with nothing but the crown. The late King’s brother had perished more recently after a terrible accident, unmarried and also childless. So now the only possible heir of their own lineage came from a most unexpected source.
“The jet is ready, Your Majesty,” Celestino said after a few silent moments.
Everything had been ready for years. Following her beloved Daisuke’s passing, and Satoshi’s accident, Minako knew there was only one option left. She’d set the wheels in motion since then, all the while wishing that she didn’t have to go through with it. But this was not a fairy tale, and so there were no miracles. There was only the cold, hard truth of things. So be it, she’d figured. She was going to do everything in her power to keep the Crown where it belonged: safe in the hands of her own family.
“Let’s go,” Minako said, standing. “Does my nephew know I’m coming?”
“No, but I can have the embassy call. They have his information on file.”
“No, no. It’s better if I do it. I’ll call from the jet, or when we land, or… sometime.” Minako chewed her lip as they made their way to the car waiting outside. It would only be a short drive to the airstrip from the palace, but a long flight to America. Though Minako knew that she’d need the time to figure out what she was going to say to her nephew. The future of her country depended on his choice thereafter. And hopefully, he wouldn’t hate her after everything was over.
There was no easy way to tell someone that their entire life was a lie, but the Crown had to pass to another Katsuki.
The city was painted in saturated shades of blue and gray—a day far gloomier than what the forecast had predicted.
Yuuri stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the heavy skies above as Vicchan tugged on the leash. Yuuri obliged him, letting the toy poodle guide them back home through the busy streets of Detroit, avoiding dirty puddles as they went. They were supposed to pick up groceries after a morning in the dog park, but without an umbrella, it seemed like too dangerous of a gamble. Yuuri was not a betting man, and he knew he could postpone groceries for another day or two without risking starvation.
He adjusted his scarf as they went along, pulling it over his nose for warmth. It was a chilly morning without the light of the sun, and he was glad he at least had the foresight to bundle up. The scarf also helped to keep out the acrid stench of exhaust fumes, but such was the price of living in a city. Still, Yuuri knew he would be sad to leave Detroit altogether, since he felt like he’d just gotten used to it.
With graduation over, Yuuri had the rest of his life to plan out. It was possible to stay in Detroit, but the nature of his degree probably meant some amount of travel—if not soon, then later. Though he had an interview lined up for the afternoon, he could only guess what the future held for him.
“Vicchan, let’s hurry back,” Yuuri muttered, feeling nervous all over again, despite the half-dozen pep talks he’d given himself over the past couple of days. His interview was just for an assistant position in the mayor’s office. A humble stepping stone to something else, hopefully, but even that suddenly seemed daunting. Was he even qualified? His masters had to count for something, right?
They weaved their way back to the apartment in short order, since it was only two blocks away. Too focused on the upcoming interview, Yuuri failed to notice the shiny black Mercedes parked out front, or its little flags fluttering in the wind. He walked right past it and into the cramped lobby. The clerk at the desk didn’t even bother looking up, but that was quite typical, so Yuuri just scooped up Vicchan into his arms and took the rickety elevator to his floor.
Though it was a little old, his apartment complex wasn’t so bad a place to live. Everything more-or-less worked, the faucet only leaked on Sundays, his neighbors weren’t axe murderers, and he’d found ways to deal with the cockroaches. More than anything, it was in a decent location, but the rent wasn’t so high as to leave him penniless. Even though he only worked part-time at the local dance studio, it was enough to pay his share. But since his roommate had recently moved out… well, he needed that full-time assistant position badly if he didn’t want to be eating instant ramen for the next month. Or if he wanted hot water and electricity, too.
He knew something was amiss as soon as he stepped off the elevator. It was obvious, given the two men standing in front of his door, further down the hallway. They were both dressed in plain black suits and it immediately set off every alarm inside of Yuuri’s head that told him to run away. Instead, Yuuri’s feet seemed to plant themselves firmly in place. His grip on Vicchan tightened, and the pup made soft whining noises in response, but knew better than to try and wiggle away.
Yuuri’s mind went unhelpfully blank as he tried to recall what he could have possibly done to have two men in suits at his door. Did he know something he shouldn’t? Was it the music downloads? Was this all just a nightmare? A practical joke?
Suddenly, the men noticed him standing there at the other end of the hallway and turned in his direction. Yuuri jumped, but still couldn’t figure out how to make his legs move again. But strangely enough, the two men just exchanged glances with each other and then… bowed in Yuuri’s direction. One of them took a few steps closer, a friendly smile on his face. He was a large man—very muscular with a very strong jaw, and a thick mane of hair. He looked more like an athlete than a government agent here to drag Yuuri away.
“Hello, Your—sir,” he stuttered, before clearing his throat and trying again. Yuuri caught the man's fresh scent of pine trees and citrus. “Mister... Yuuri Katsuki, yes?”
“Yes,” Yuuri confirmed reluctantly. Vicchan was starting to get restless. “C-Can I help you?”
“Please, be at ease, sir,” the man said, clearly taking note of the concern that was undoubtedly written all over Yuuri’s face. “We’re here on behalf of your aunt.”
“Oh.” Yuuri let out a shaky breath, relaxing and letting Vicchan down at last. If this was about his aunt, then the men in black suddenly made sense. She was a politician of some sort, and while Yuuri knew little of her work—since she never liked to talk about it—he knew that she often travelled with a heavy security detail. “Is she here already?”
His Aunt Minako had called late last night to announce that she was on her way to Detroit. But she’d been so vague he wasn’t sure if she had meant soon, or just in the near future. The only thing she had really told him was that she wanted to meet him when she arrived.
“Yes, sir,” the other man said, coming over to stand next to the first one. He was much, much younger—probably around Yuuri’s age. He was much more… normal in appearance, apart from his violet eyes. He seemed small compared to the other man— who was textbook alpha through and through—but he was still taller than Yuuri. He had a sterner expression, though, while the bigger man seemed far more amicable.
“Please allow us to first introduce ourselves, sir,” he said at last. “My name is Celestino Cialdini, Head of Security for… Miss Minako. You can just call me ‘Celestino,’ sir.
“I am Michele Crispino,” the other man said simply, then awkwardly tacked on, “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
“I take it here you’re here to escort me.” Yuuri was a little unsettled with the level of formality.
“Very astute, sir. Yes, if you’ll allow us, we’ll take you now,” Celestino said, gesturing at the elevator behind Yuuri.
“O-Oh. Right now?” Yuuri figured he should have predicted it, but it still caught him off guard. “Can I change? Or at least drop Vicchan inside?”
“Of course, sir.”
Yuuri shuffled past them, muttering apologies for having to squeeze through the cramped hallway. “Please come inside!” he bid them after he got to the door, realizing it would be far more conspicuous if he left them to wait outside where his neighbors could peek out and see. While said neighbors weren't axe murderers, they were nosy, and Yuuri would rather not have to explain himself.
He was glad that he’d cleaned up his place the previous day, though he was never really the messy kind. With his roommate out of the picture, there was only himself and Vicchan to worry about. The apartment was small and nothing to be particularly proud of, but Yuuri felt no shame in having people over. It was neat and—for the time being—it was his. A few potted plants, some colorful artwork on the wall, and it felt like a proper home. Alright, maybe he was a little proud of it, but it felt well-deserved. Once he got that new job, he wouldn’t even need to share it with anyone, which would make it feel more spacious.
The two guards came inside and stood on either side of the door, making Yuuri feel a little strange—like he was actually being guarded. Even if he told them to have a seat on the couch, they probably wouldn’t, so Yuuri didn’t bother wasting his breath. He just unclipped Vicchan’s leash and scurried away to his bedroom to throw on some more presentable clothes. Ragged jeans and a threadbare hoodie didn’t seem appropriate, so he swapped them out for clean dress pants and a light blue sweater. While he knew he didn’t need to impress his aunt, it just seemed best to make a good impression after not seeing her for so long. After a quick once-over to make sure his hair wasn’t totally unruly, and his glasses weren’t smudged up, Yuuri stepped back into the living room.
“Ready!” he announced. Vicchan was busy nibbling away at the food in his bowl in the kitchen, which was a good sign since he was usually wary of strangers. Yuuri gave him a quick scratch behind the ears before picking up the satchel he’d dropped on the nearby chair on the way in. “I won’t be gone too long, so behave.”
“The car’s already out front, sir,” Celestino informed him as they exited back into the hallway. Yuuri locked up with a turn of the key, and they were off. A silent ride down to the lobby, and out they went—and that’s when Yuuri noticed it: the mercedes… with diplomatic license plates and diplomatic flags. Okay, well, that wasn’t so weird. Minako was an Audentian politician, after all. But there was just something off about this car, though Yuuri couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Michele opened the door for him, and as Yuuri took his seat, he tried not to get ahead of himself. The car was very fancy, but Audentia was quite a wealthy country. Top five in the world, from what he recalled, so it made sense. Yuuri forced himself to relax, and settled into his seat. The interior was quality leather and plush velvet; simple but tasteful, and no doubt more expensive than several years of his rent at once.
It had been almost a decade since he’d last seen his aunt in person, so Yuuri didn’t know what to expect. It was possible she was here to discuss something regarding his future, considering how she’d been the one to pay for all of Yuuri’s education. Her only caveat had been for him to study either political science or international affairs, and Yuuri had gone with the latter. He’d naturally had an interest in it, so it seemed like an easy choice to make. He figured he may be able to do some good with his degree—cause some positive change in the world, make a difference. Maybe it was all wishful thinking in the end, but Yuuri had no regrets about it.
He’d minored in dance, and Minako had encouraged it. He knew that she had a love for dance as well, and had memories of an early childhood where the two of them danced together in some sort of ballroom. Maybe a state function of some sort that she’d taken him to? Yuuri had been too young to fully recall it, and he never got a chance to ask when he got older, so the details were completely lost on him. He’d barely been old enough to walk, but it had sparked his passion for dance, and that was something he’d never forget. He smiled at the memory, making up his mind to ask Minako about it when he saw her this time around. After all, who could say when they’d next get a chance to meet?
“Where are we headed?”
“Back to the Audentian consulate, sir,” Celestino said. “Your aunt is waiting there for you.”
Yuuri hadn’t expected that, to be honest. He figured some fancy hotel, but not the consulate itself. It seemed silly in hindsight now that he thought about it. He just hadn’t realized that the consulate had residential quarters, since the only ones he’d ever seen the inside of (thanks to some class trips) were simply offices.
Suddenly, Yuuri felt a little underdressed. He reminded himself again that Minako was family, but still wished he’d opted for a blazer, at least.
It wasn’t a long drive to the Audentian consulate. Located on a quieter street, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, it stood proudly among a few others of its kind. The main building itself was set away from the street with a neat lawn inbetween. White walls enclosed the place, giving it a fortified feel, and a heavy fence was slowly opened to allow them to enter. Yuuri knew there was a larger embassy in D.C., but the consulate seemed plenty grand already.
“Welcome to a little piece of Audentia, sir,” Celestino said proudly. Yuuri peered out of the tinted windows and took in the sight of the perfectly manicured lawn, which was decorated with various flowers—roses, hydrangeas, lilies, and hyacinths as far as he could recognize. There were plenty more that he couldn’t, and it was definitely impressive. The Audentians certainly knew how to present themselves.
They pulled up to the main entrance and the guard stationed there came forward to open the car door for Yuuri. The man even held out his hand to help Yuuri out, as though Yuuri was some overdressed debutante struggling in impractical footwear and an overflowing gown. But since he was just in pants and loafers, he had no problem climbing out. Though he accepted the help anyway, as it felt rude not to. The guard even bowed respectfully, and Yuuri could do nothing but smile awkwardly and accept the gesture for what it was. Everyone was so polite, even to an outsider.
The guard silently returned to his position as Celestino and Michele got out of the car and escorted Yuuri up the stairs. They entered into a grand foyer with a glittering chandelier above them. The interior of the place was all soft, neutral tones. Clearly the luxurious decor was chosen with extreme care to match the light pink marble floors.
There was a reception desk to the right of the entrance, and the staff stood and bowed when they entered, before going back to their work. The bowing was weird but if it was a cultural thing, who was he to comment on it?
He was led past an airy sitting area and into the garden out back. It was like stepping into a little piece of paradise, being suddenly surrounded by greenery and fountains galore. Yuuri was always self-conscious about his own floral scent, but among the blossoming flowers, it didn’t seem so out of place.
“Where is she?” he asked, just before they rounded a corner and saw. Minako was sitting at a table at the far end of the garden, reading the newspaper while drinking tea, it seemed. She didn’t seem to notice their arrival until a guard stationed nearby came forward and informed her. She suddenly turned in Yuuri’s direction and stood up, narrowly avoiding spilling her tea. She hopped the few steps down from the table area to meet Yuuri halfway.
“Yuuri!” she cried, arms outstretched. Yuuri quickly closed the gap and allowed himself to be pulled into a tight hug. “It’s been years!”
“It’s good to see you again, Aunt Minako,” Yuuri said a little bashfully. He pulled away to see that she had hardly changed at all. Whatever her anti-aging secret was, he wanted tips. Her long brown hair was pulled up into a neat style, and she looked as young as ever; not a day over thirty, though Yuuri knew she was older than his own mother. “You look as good as ever.”
“Thank you,” she said, pulling back and giving him a huge smile. “And look at how much you’ve grown! Last time I saw you, you were so cute and chubby. Now you’ve grown up to be this beautiful young man. I saw pictures, but I still wasn’t prepared.”
Yuuri knew he wasn’t terribly photogenic, so he just shrugged. Celestino and Michele retreated back into the building as Minako led Yuuri to the table, which was shaded by a large umbrella. On the way over here, the actual weather had slightly improved to match the forecast. It was still cloudy, but the occasional ray of sunlight peeked through. It had warmed up, too, but Yuuri was still glad he’d chosen to wear a sweater.
“It was a surprise to hear you were dropping by,” Yuuri admitted as they sat. An attender came by and poured Yuuri a cup of tea. Yuuri nodded his thanks before delicately taking a sip and savoring the flavour and warmth. It was sencha from what he could tell, but was a far cry from the stuff Yuuri bought for himself. The higher quality was immediately evident.
“It was a little short notice, I admit. But I haven’t been to the Detroit consulate in ages, so it seemed like a good excuse. And besides, I had some important things to talk to you about.” Minako's cheerful expression faltered ever so slightly at the end, and Yuuri hoped it was nothing serious. Maybe Minako was looking to offer him a job of some sort. Though it seemed like a longshot, he couldn’t completely discount the idea. After all, she was the reason he’d been so thoroughly educated in politics.
“That’s alright. I'm glad to have a chance to see you,” Yuuri told her. She smiled at him warmly.
“You’re as sweet as ever, Yuuri. But anyway, let’s catch up. I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to your graduation, but I hope you know how proud of you I am.”
“Y-Yeah. It’s no big deal, really. You must be so busy, and it’s just a graduation. Besides, you paid for everything so what else could I ever ask of you?” Yuuri also called back to the package that had arrived for him a few days before graduation. Inside had been a suit that was probably worth the entirety of another semester—textbooks included. He’d felt so uneasy wearing the thing that the moment he got home after the ceremony, he’d shucked it off in favor of a cheap department store version. Much less guilt if he got booze all over it, he’d figured.
(He’d been right, of course.)
“No, dear, it wasn’t just a graduation, it was yours. Anyway, I’m just glad you took me up on the offer in the first place,” Minako said with a wave of her hand. “I wasn’t sure you’d actually agree.”
“Really? I guess I was always pretty interested in politics and whatnot.” Yuuri knew that some people found it strange of him. Compared to his classmates, Yuuri was a fairly average student. Meek by their standards, with a sizeable fear of public speaking, and thus not the type of person you’d expect to become anything resembling a politician. In all honesty, Yuuri knew he was only well-suited to a desk job, but he’d made his peace with that long ago. Someone had to push papers, and it may as well be him. If he could do it for a good cause, help make a little positive change, then it would be enough for him.
“I’m glad to hear that, dear,” Minako said. Again, there was a strangeness to her voice—something just there, out of reach—but Yuuri just chalked it up to nothing. Maybe it just felt weird because he hadn’t seen her in so long, and wasn’t used to talking to her face-to-face like this. “I hear you were top of your class.”
“Oh, no!” Yuuri fumbled, placing his teacup down a little too harshly. “I was fine, but I wasn’t valedictorian or anything.”
“Just because you weren’t valedictorian doesn’t mean you weren’t an incredible student. Don’t sell yourself short, Yuuri. Your school certainly didn’t, not when they published a photo of you and four others as the pride of your graduating class,” Minako said with a smirk. She took a long sip from her cup.
“You saw that?” Yuuri was surprised that Minako would go on his university's website to see that garish banner. At least it wasn’t a feature in the local newspaper.
“Of course, dear. But anyway, I’m sure you’re glad to be done with school.”
“Definitely,” Yuuri nodded vigorously, picking his teacup back up. Grad school had turned him into an anxious, coffee-addicted zombie as it did with pretty much everyone else. He was only starting to recover. “Trying to switch back to tea.”
“Sorry we don’t have genmaicha. I know how much you like it.”
“It’s alright. I’m not that picky,” he lied. But honestly he couldn’t complain when this sencha was sublime. Minako let out a laugh anyway.
“How are your friends?” she asked, clearly intent on making smalltalk.
“They’re doing well. Yuuko’s triplets are a wonderful menace now. Just hit six years!” Yuuko Nishigori had been the first real friend Yuuri had in Detroit. Even though she was his senior, once she found out they were from the same place in Japan, she’d taken him under her wing.
“Triplets, I can’t imagine,” Minako said with a bit of a chuckle. But Yuuri saw the sadness around the edges, and regretting bringing them up. From what he knew, Minako had been unable to conceive all these years. He was normally very careful never to bring it up when they spoke.
“I’m so sorry, Aunt Minako.”
“No, no,” she waved him off. “It segues into what I’m here for anyway.”
“What do you mean…?” Unless Minako was here to adopt him, he had no idea what she was getting at.
“Tell me, Yuuri, how much do you remember about your uncle—my husband?” she asked, sitting back in her seat and giving him a careful look. Yuuri suddenly felt like he was being tested.
“Well,” he started, not sure of what he was meant to say. He’d been a toddler when it all happened. “Not much. I remember meeting him once, at some sort of party, I think.”
Minako nodded with a smile. “His birthday party, yes. You were still so tiny back then, but we danced together. I don’t know if you remember that.”
“I do!” Yuuri said emphatically, recalling it once more—how the two of them had twirled around in a glittering ballroom, giggling all the while. He hadn’t known it was his uncle Satoshi’s birthday party.
“You were so cute, all dressed up. You got tuckered out so quickly, though,” she said with a fond chuckle. “You fell asleep curled up in my arms. It was the last time I ever got to hold you, before you became too big.”
“What about Uncle Satoshi?”
“You were too shy. Hid behind your mother whenever he—or anyone else, for that matter— came near you. I think I only ever managed to get close to you because you liked my dress.” Her laugh rang out through the garden, and Yuuri couldn’t help but laugh along, trying to imagine it. “You wanted one just like it because it was all sparkly.”
“Kids will be kids,” Yuuri tried to defend, though that was a particular taste of his that he’d never outgrown.
“That’s true.” Minako’s expression turned more somber. “You slept through the funeral a few months later, since you were fighting off a nasty cold, which is probably why you don’t remember it. For that, I was always grateful. I didn’t want you to see me when I was just short of a complete wreck.”
Minako twirled the ring she wore on a chain around her neck. Yuuri didn’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It was just one of those things. He passed before I even fully accepted he was sick in the first place. It happened so fast that no one was really prepared for it. And I guess… that’s why I’m really here.” Minako let out a long sigh. Yuuri didn’t hide his confusion. He couldn’t guess at what she was getting at. What did Uncle Satoshi’s death have to do with anything now? It had been two decades ago….
“I don’t understand,” he told her, and she just nodded.
“I know. I don’t expect you to. Your ignorance, after all, is by design.” As if the words weren’t bad enough, there was something in Minako’s tone that sent a chill down Yuuri’s spine, and set his heart racing.
“Aunt Minako…,” he started, but failed when a sudden lump in his throat preventing him from speaking.
“Don’t be alarmed, Yuuri,” Minako quickly amended, seeing his panic. “It’s not bad, it’s just something… very important. You need to know, now, since it’s about your future. Our future.”
This was like the start of some fantasy film. An old relative dropping by and fundamentally changing the protagonist’s life with a cryptic prophecy. Yuuri had no desire to embark on a vague journey across the world or anything. He just wanted a safe desk job and a quiet life with his poodle.
“You’re freaking me out, Aunt Minako,” he admitted quietly. She gave him a sympathetic look which only slightly eased the pressure building up in his chest
“It’s going to be fine, Yuuri. But like I said, there are things I must discuss with you. I wish there was some easier way to do this, but I feel like prolonging it will just make you more anxious.”
“You’re definitely right about that.”
“Yes, so let me cut to the chase. It does, actually, start with Satoshi. He’s your father’s eldest brother.”
“Yeah, I know that….” Yuuri wasn’t sure why Minako was telling him this. But Minako gestured to signify that she was just getting started.
“You had another uncle, Daisuke, do you remember?”
“Of course. He used to send me these really extravagant gifts on my birthday.” They had ranged from hand-crafted shirts to beautiful fabergé eggs. Yuuri had no idea what to do with most of them, much like Minako and Uncle Satoshi’s, but he cherished them all nonetheless. He never had a chance to meet Uncle Daisuke before his accident a few years ago, and hadn’t been able to attend the funeral. It had been a private, closed-casket service, which only Yuuri’s father had gone to.
“His accident changed everything. After Satoshi, many of Audentia’s hopes passed to Daisuke. But with Daisuke parting just short of his wedding, everything was thrown into chaos. Parliament doubled-down in order to secure Audentia’s future. Awfully hasty of them, I thought, but my hands were tied. Childless, part of the blame was on me.”
“Wait—what? I’m just getting more confused. This isn’t actually helping to explain anything.” Yuuri felt more lost than ever. He felt a headache coming on, trying to keep everything straight. “What does you not having a child have to do with anything? Or with me?”
“It’s a matter of succession,” Minako said grimly, as though Yuuri was supposed to get something useful out of that.
“I still don’t understand.”
“Still my fault. So then let’s start with something simple.” Minako said, folding her hands in front of her and facing Yuuri straight-on, like a school teacher about to quiz her pupil. “What do you know about Audentia’s government?”
“It’s a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.” It definitely felt like he was being tested. He knew very little about Audentia, apart from what he read in current affairs headlines and the like. While it was a wealthy country that was strategically placed, there was no shocking foreign shenanigans for news outlets to pick up and bombast everywhere. “The head of state is the monarch, who shares power with the parliament—sort of like the U.K., if I remember correctly.”
“Correct, indeed. And the current head of state?”
Yuuri bit his lip. His knowledge of the country ended there. He’d only known what type of government it was because there were so few monarchies left, and it was definitely a popular quiz question among his professors. Knowing actual details of Audentia was a bit beyond him.
“I’m not sure. A queen, I think?” he tried, racking his brain as best he could for the answer.
“Yes. She was widowed about two decades ago. No children to succeed her, and her brother-in-law had no heirs either,” Minako told him. She looked away, locking her gaze on some flowers in the distance. Yuuri wondered if her discussing their own family moments earlier was meant to be some sort analogy. He was definitely missing something.
Suddenly, Minako waved away her guard and attendant—the latter of whom scurried away. The guard only moved several feet away, out of earshot, but that seemed to be as far as he was going to go.
“The queen rarely made public appearances after the king’s death, choosing relative isolation. It was safer that way, everyone decided. Despite the line of succession being in question, she managed to hold onto power with the promise that there was another heir—a nephew—who would only be fit to take the throne at a later date. Parliament agreed, and the queen is technically a queen regent, just trying to hold things together until the true heir is ready.”
“That sounds lonely.”
“Oh, it is,” Minako said with a little smile, further confusing Yuuri in one fell swoop. “But that’s how everyone decided it would be. Safer for the heir, you see.”
“Parliament was adamant about one thing: the current household should continue to reign over Audentia, or the country could very well cease to exist as we know it. It would be overtaken by foreign royals, or those with only weak claims to the throne, and who would jeopardize the fragile peace Audentia worked so hard to broker in the region,” Minako continued her lecture, despite Yuuri’s growing uneasiness. “Thus, it’s imperative that the Crown stays with someone from the late king’s family.”
“That makes sense,” Yuuri tried weakly. Most monarchies aimed for that very thing, all throughout history, for one reason or another. Bloodlines were never more important than when it came to royalty.
“Parliament decided that the next heir would be the next eligible blood relative of King Hideyoshi Satoshi Katsuki.”
Yuuri heard the words, but he wasn’t able to process them. It was like his brain decided it was too nonsensical to be worth the effort, and just let them go in one ear and out the other.
“That is, due to a quirk of our family tree… you, Yuuri.”
He heard someone laughing hysterically, but didn’t realize it was himself until Minako gave him a concerned look. This had gone from weird to downright ridiculous.
“You’re just messing with me now, aren’t you?” Yuuri laughed, trying to imagine him being anything remotely related to royalty. It was the most preposterous thing he’d ever heard in his life, and if Minako wanted to joke around, she should have at least tried to make it somewhat believable.
Yuuri’s laughter slowly died out when he realized Minako was not smiling. Not even a smirk—nothing. Yuuri grimaced, feeling himself break out into a cold sweat, and his scent going sour.
Minako leaned back and sighed again, rubbing her temples. “Well, I suppose you could have reacted worse. I half expected you to faint.”
“Stop, stop, stop!” he cried, holding up his hands in surrender. “You cannot expect me to believe anything that you just said.” Yuuri knew the only reason he wasn’t completely freaking out was because he was still so confused. “You can’t expect me to believe a word of this. This is insane!”
“Truth is often stranger than fiction, my dear, but yes. The truth is what it is.”
“Aunt Minako no,” Yuuri argued, suddenly feeling himself growing angier. What kind of messed up game was this? “That doesn’t even make sense! Tousan isn’t—”
“Isn’t what? Royal? You’re right about that, but only technically. He renounced his claim to the throne to marry your mother. Since he was the youngest, Parliament let him have his way under one condition: his first legitimate child would still be eligible for the throne. It was an insurance policy, as Parliament saw it, and the only way Toshiya would still be allowed contact with anyone from Audentia. Archaic as it is, the law otherwise states that any royal who abdicates is to be exiled. This was the compromise to keep him in the family.”
“B-But, Mari—” Yuuri felt himself growing more hysterical, and Minako’s flat tone wasn’t helping matters.
“Mari was born before Parliament officially recognized Toshiya and Hiroko’s marriage. Therefore, as Parliament saw it, Mari was born as Mari Umeda, and was thus ineligible. Audentian law does not permit retroactive legitimization.”
“WHAT?” Yuuri was surprised at the volume at which it came out. This was getting worse and worse, and he felt the panic starting to claw at him. He stood up so fast that he knocked over the chair in his haste, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. “This is impossible!”
His entire life was built on a lie? It was too much. His head felt like it was ready to explode, his hands were shaking, and before he knew it, his legs were moving. His other senses seemed to be dulled, as he couldn’t hear anything other than the blood rushing in his ears, and his heart beating so loudly he was sure he would go deaf from it. His eyes didn’t seem to see, and all that he could see was a blur of colors that made as little sense as what he’d just been told.
He felt the hard slap of pavement against his feet before he registered that he’d been running at all. But even with his chest heaving, he felt no inclination to stop until he reached the main street. Somehow, with his senses still dulled, he managed to climb into a taxi and blurt out an address. Everything inside—every nerve, every cell in his body—told him that he needed to get away from here as fast as possible, and he didn’t want to do anything but obey that one instinct.
He would face any consequences later, but for now, he needed to find a safe place to cry.
Minako stood in the consulate’s lobby, a phone clutched tightly in her hand. She worried her lip between her teeth as Celestino came to stand next to her. The other guards and staff members were nearby as well, all whispering. She was likely putting out a harsh scent in her frustration, so no one else dared venture too close.
“Your Majesty…,” Celestino started softly. “We could have stopped him.”
Minako just scoffed. “And then what? Dragged him back like an animal?”
“Of course not! But it’s dangerous for him to just run away like that!”
“I know.” She was trying very hard to keep from throwing her phone at the nearest wall, furious with herself. “He needs protection. And more than that, he needs to feel safe, which is probably the exact opposite of how I’ve made him feel right now.”
She’d thought of a hundred different ways to break the news to her nephew on the journey over here, but in the end she’d decided that the most direct approach may be best. Never before had she felt so wrong. Yuuri was a gentle soul. Not delicate, but certainly naive. He was like a wide-eyed doe, innocent and unaware, and she’d just been the shotgun pointed right at him. She should have been more subtle. She should have found a better way to—
“Pardon me, Your Majesty,” Celestino said, as if he could immediately sense her spiraling into self-doubt (for the millionth time). “But you are correct in that he needs protection. Michele and I can see to it that he’s safe. We can keep an eye on him until….”
“Until further notice,” Minako nodded, grateful for his level-headedness during all this. She gestured for them to go. “Keep him safe, at all costs. And please, god, make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”