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His Knight's Prince

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The process of choosing a king in the nation of Jiluka was always an odd one to people from more traditional kingdoms or constitutional monarchies. The reigning monarch gathered all his own sons, plus the sons of his siblings and cousins, at the palace and subjected them to a period of intense education.

At the end of the program, he'd choose the next king and his court of advisors – and all candidates had an equal chance. There were times in the nation's history where a second cousin of a king became his successor, and his own offspring didn't even make the court.

At this particular moment in time, the prince-candidates were becoming aware that the end of their training was near, and the successor would be chosen soon. The king was coming to their training sessions more and more, and there was an increasing number of tests in which the candidates had to conduct simulated “ruling” situations – decision-making, diplomacy, dealing with a crisis.

This was all observed, from a distance, by the protectors of the royal family, the Knights of Codomo Dragon. They were certainly efficient at repelling invasions by the bands of rebels that wanted to overthrow the royal family and install a government of their choosing.

They were also adept at spreading gossip among themselves. The royals did nothing without the knights knowing right away. And there was one particular squadron that was privy to the most juicy gossip of all – because one of their former members was the personal knight to one of the prince-candidates.

“Any day now,” meN proclaimed to the others as they watched a prince training session from a distance. “They've been worked into the ground. The instructors know what they're looking for.”

“Any predictions?” Kana said.

“We don't need to make predictions,” Chamu said, pointing to the king's favorite nephew. “It's been obvious who the front-runner is from day one.”

“But they still need to decide on the heir-apparent,” Kana said – meaning the prince who would take the king's place if he ever became incapacitated or had to forfeit the throne. “Not to mention the court. That's wide-open.”

“You think there's a chance Sena will get in there?” Yume said, quietly.

They all looked at each other. It was a very personal matter for them. Sena was the prince that their friend, Hayato, served as his own knight . . .

Not to mention a lot more. They all knew the relationship between the two was more than professional – although they kept quiet about it. So did everyone else who'd beheld the two in an unguarded moment.

“Sena is . . .” meN said.

“A dark horse?” said Kana.

“A very dark horse,” said meN. “Like, pitch-black.”

“He HAS improved a lot as of late,” Kana observed.

“Improved as in there's been less incidents of him being caught having sex with guys in public?” Chamu said.

“Well, not just that,” Kana said. “The teachers seem more impressed with him.”

“Not enough,” meN said. “Face it – once they make their decision, Sena's going back to where he came from, and Hayato's coming back to us.”

They were all quiet. That wasn't a situation they wanted to see. Hayato had worked his ass off to be named Sena's knight. He seemed to glow whenever he was in the prince's presence – even when he was alert and at attention, looking for intruders.

If Hayato was separated from Sena and sent back to be a rank-and-file knight, they knew he'd be absolutely heartbroken.

* * *

Sena dragged himself away from the classrooms and toward the dining hall, meeting up with his knight just outside the entrance.

“Hi!” Hayato said, resisting the urge to lean over and hug the other man. “Rough morning?”

“Rough isn't the word,” Sena said. “I went right from a leadership test to a diplomacy test. It's exhausting having the fate of a nation in your hands – even if it's just a simulation.”

“But you performed well – right? I mean, you did give it your best. It's what you always do. You actually BELIEVE in this, right? What you're doing. You're a true prince-candidate. I can tell. You really WANT to do this, don't you?”

Sena let a sly smile steal over his face at his knight's babbling. He'd gotten used to that by now. It was part of his charm, really.

“More than I used to,” he said. “When I first got here, all I cared about was being away from home and my parents. I wanted my freedom. Now? I've found out that I like this. I really want to do something like this for the rest of my life. I feel like I belong, really.”

It was true. Sena had been working hard to improve himself as a prince-candidate as of late. He'd been spending more time studying, reading books on government and diplomacy. He'd been meeting with officials of his uncle, the king, trying to find out more from them about how things were done around here.

Part of it, of course, was the desire to prove himself. Since he'd gotten here, he'd been saddled with that much-hated nickname – Slut Prince. Unfortunately, he knew how he got it. He cherished his freedom from his family a lot – meaning that when he first got here, he had a large number of casual affairs, many involving varying degrees of kinky experimentation. There was nothing wrong with that, of course. The problem was that, admittedly, he had a habit of being too indiscreet about it all in the face of prying eyes and gossiping mouths.

Of course, that very indiscretion had brought Hayato into his life. And Hayato had been his inspiration in more ways than one. His knight had been, well . . . a ray of sunshine in his life. The kind of thing he'd never known he needed until it appeared.

Hayato was also his inspiration to work harder as a prince-candidate. He'd told him about how he'd been determined to be Sena's knight, despite the fact that his skills were, well, ordinary at first. He'd worked with all his might to better himself, practicing and training all he could, until he was truly worthy of being a personal bodyguard.

All this had made Sena think, if he could do it, so could I. He'd started applying himself. He wanted to be a PRINCE, not the Slut Prince. And if it all led to something? He'd have the last laugh on everyone who'd called him those names. A big, deep, hearty laugh.

“Maybe you'll get chosen for the court,” Hayato said. “If you're chosen, they won't send you home, will they? You'll be staying here – and you'll still be able to have a knight, won't you? Members of the court have knights?”

“If I'm chosen,” Sena said.

“You've got to be chosen!” Hayato said. “You've worked hard for it! If you're not . . .”

If you're not, Hayato thought, you go home. He couldn't bear that. He'd known going into his relationship with Sena that it was probably temporary – a fling, an affair, Just One Of Those Things. But that didn't mean he didn't cherish every second of it – whether they were swimming together, helping each other practice knight or political skills, or making love.

And oh, yes, the making love. It was unlike any sex Hayato had ever known – because it felt like more than sex. It was intimacy in every sense of the word, not just mere fucking. It was just one part of the warm, wonderful thing their relationship had become – but it was a very, very nice part.

Sena put a hand on his shoulder. “We're not going to talk about me not being chosen,” he said, quietly.

The room came to a sudden halt when the king suddenly entered. Having him come into their dining hall was rare indeed – usually, he took his meals in his quarters with the queen and a few advisors. He headed straight for the lectern that was at the far side of the room.

“Oh, crap,” Sena whispered to Hayato. “An announcement. And it looks like a big one.”

“Everyone, please take your seats,” the king said. The group quickly separated, prince candidates going to one group of tables, their knights to another. “I have news,” he said. “And it is very good, indeed. We have come to the end of your candidacy.”

The princes all looked at each other. The king had made his final decisions? It definitely wasn't unexpected, but it still seemed sudden.

“Announcements will be made tomorrow night,” the monarch added. “There will be a barbecue and pool party afterward to celebrate.”

“Yes, for people who have something to celebrate,” Sena's cousin Hiroki – who was seated on his right – whispered. Hiroki's chances for court were, if anything, more slim than Sena's were at first. Not that he didn't work hard – he just had more of a skill for chatter than running a country.

The king continued. “And the best news is that for the first time in a hundred years, none of you are being sent home. There are positions available for all of you.”

Sena's jaw nearly hit the table. Did he hear that right? He wasn't being sent home? He could stay here? He looked over at Hiroki – who was just shaking his head.

Why does he look like that? Sena thought. That's good news – right?

“In addition to the position of king and heir-apparent, and the half-dozen traditional positions for advisors, three of you are being named to posts in various ministries to fill vacancies that will be created by retirees,” the king added.

That's 11, Sena thought. There's 20 of us. What about the other nine?

“And the balance of you,” the king said, “will receive ambassador postings and represent us in other countries.”

Hiroki groaned. “Just as I thought,” he murmured.

“Good job from you all,” the king said. “Announcement is sunset tomorrow, in the main courtyard.”

When he stepped down from the dais, Sena said, “Why did you say 'as I thought?'”

“It's what happened a hundred years ago,” Hiroki said. “It's King Otori all over again.”

“He's the guy who sent his nephews into exile, isn't he?” said another cousin, Ryoya.

“Exile?” Sena said.

“You're not up on family history, are you?” Ryoya said.

“I know the line of descent!” Sena said. “I've just never heard of an ancestor sending his relatives into exile!”

“Otori was a king that held a successor selection like we're doing now,” Hiroki said. “They said that the candidates he liked, he really, really liked – but there was also a group he couldn't stand. In fact, they screwed up their training so badly that when it was all over, he sent them all into exile – and loudly told the public, and their families, that he was making ambassadors out of them.”

“Think about it,” Ryoya said. “We just plain don't HAVE ambassadors. When was the last time you heard about someone from Jiluka seriously taking up a post in another country? It doesn't happen. So if he makes an 'ambassador' out of you, it means he wants you out of his sight for good.”

“And, you know, that really sucks,” Hiroki said. “Because we're all family. You're not supposed to do something like that to your own flesh and blood.”

“He can do whatever he wants,” Ryoya replied. “He's the KING, remember?”

Sena was just quiet. I don't believe this, he thought. Why not just send us home if he wasn't pleased with us? Why does he have to send us away?

He didn't want to go back to his hometown, to be sure, where a life as a baron – the lowest rank of nobleman, basically a glorified member of the gentry – awaited him. But still, that would be better than being sent out of the country in disgrace transparently disguised as an honor.

I didn't work so hard to elevate myself for this to happen, he thought. I didn't knock myself out to be the best prince-candidate I could be, to prove I was more than “The Slut Prince,” to get tossed out like last week's garbage!

He could do nothing now, though, but wait for the announcement. Which was going to take forever.

* * *

Sena stood in front of his mirror, adjusting his white prince-candidate's uniform. It would probably be the last time he ever wore it. When they had the formal investiture of the next king and his court – which would be held a week from tonight – everyone would have new uniforms for their new positions.

“So we're going straight from the announcements to the party, right?” Hayato said, coming out of his knight's room dressed in his uniform. “Um, in that case, is it okay if I have my swim trunks on under this?”

“Everyone's doing the same thing,” Sena said in a flat voice.

“Cool!” Hayato said. “I'm looking forward to the cookout! You wouldn't think that the palace would throw a good barbecue, but they do! Seriously, some of the best picnics and barbecues I've ever had have been since we . . .”

Sena suddenly spun around to face his knight. “This doesn't bother you?” he nearly snapped.

“What do you mean?” Hayato said.

“After tonight, you're not going to be my knight anymore!” Sena said.

Hayato leaned over and took Sena's hand. “I have faith in you, Sena,” he said. “I think it's going to be all right. The king's going to name you to the court, right? Or at least to one of the ministry positions.”

“Maybe,” Sena said. “It depends on which me he sees. If he knows that I've been working my ass off? Then I get to stay here, and you stay with me. But if all he sees me as is the Slut Prince?” He dropped down into the chair by the mirror. “I'll be sent to the other side of the world.”

“They don't send knights with ambassadors?” Hayato said.

“How do I know?” Sena said. “We've never had them! We only have ambassadors when prince-candidates piss the king off enough so that he wants to get rid of them!” He buried his head in his hands. “Fuck,” he said. “I don't want to give any of this up. This place, my freedom, or . . .”

There was a long silence, during which the unspoken words “or you” hung in the air. Sena waited for them to come out of his mouth. So did Hayato.

Instead, Sena got out of the chair and said, quietly, “Never mind. Let's go and get this over with.”

Hayato suddenly reached out and put his hand on Sena's shoulder. “I don't want to give any of this up, either,” he said, quietly. “When I've been serving as your knight, it's been the happiest time of my life. For the first time, I felt valuable. Needed. Like I was somebody. I don't know if I can be somebody without you.”

Sena suddenly turned and hugged him. “You'll still be somebody, you silly dork,” he said. “You're somebody whether I'm next to you or four continents away. Because that's who you are. You're special.”

Hayato brought his arms up and hugged his prince. “You think so?”

“I don't lie about things like that.”

They stayed like that, holding each other, for a long moment. Hayato said, quietly, “When I first saw you, I knew it was my life's mission to be your knight. And now, the thought of that being over . . .”

“Like you said – it's a mission. Just one mission,” Sena said, quietly. “You'll have a lot more adventures to come in your life.”

But they both knew it wouldn't be the same. Not like what they'd shared.

They broke apart, slowly, and adjusted their uniforms. Hayato picked up his sword and buckled it on.
“Guess we gotta go downstairs, huh?” he said.

Sena just nodded. This is the last time, he thought. The last time we go down there as prince and knight.

He knew he'd worked hard. He knew he deserved more than exile. But suddenly, he wished he could have as much faith in his future as Hayato did.

* * *

The prince-candidates entered the royal courtyard in a formal procession, two lines of ten candidates each lined up by height, all carrying candles. They formed a ring around the king and queen, both dressed in their ceremonial outfits.

“Welcome to you all,” the king said. “Think of this as the first stage in your graduation from this process and your first step on the road of life. And you all are going off on very adventurous roads, believe me. Whether you are serving the crown here in our capital or in another land, I know you will make us all proud.”

The knights who were assigned to particular prince-candidates were lined up on one side of the circle. Hayato stood at attention with the others, watching with his heart in his throat and trying not to show it.
Come on, Sena, he thought. I know you'll have good luck. You just have to.

“We will start with the announcement of the ambassadorships,” the king said. “As your name is called, please go to the outside of the circle. During the next week, you will receive intense training in your new positions. On investiture day, you will formally receive your commission during the ceremony, and then depart for your new life.”

Meaning you will be kicked out of the country with great ceremony, Sena thought. He took a deep breath and waited.

“Our first ambassaorship is the one to Idolitra,” the king said. “And for that, I have selected Prince Mitani.”

No surprise there, Sena thought. He was a perpetual goof-off during classes. Small wonder the king is kicking him out.

“The second one is the ambassadorship to Kaypop,” said the king. “This position will be filled by Prince Hiroki.”

Damn, Sena thought. Well, he knew he was one of the people who were destined to be kicked out. He watched his cousin walk out of the circle, shoulders drooping, head down.

He took a deep breath. This damn moment was lasting forever. Come on, he thought, finish this. And don't call me. Please, in the name of all that's holy, don't call me . . .

And sure enough, the king didn't. The third was called, and the fourth – and they weren't him. By the time the king got to the fifth ambassador, Sena's confidence was growing. The sixth and seventh were named – and he still hadn't been called. My God, he thought – did I really make it? Am I really going to get to stay here? Am I going to be named to a ministry – or even the court?

He glanced over at Hayato, heart pounding. Am I going to get to stay with my knight? he thought.

The eighth ambassadorship was called – and it was another cousin. Oh, my God, Sena thought, I made it! I've really made it! I'm going to be living at this palace for the rest of my life! I'll never have to leave!

“And our final ambassadorship,” the king said, “is the one to Veekay – which, as you know, has very close ties to this country. And for this position, I have selected . . .”

Just this last name, Sena thought. He just calls this last name, and I find out what my future is . . .

“Prince Sena.”

He felt his entire world exploding around him. Veekay? He was not only being sent away, he was being exiled to VEEKAY? That was . . . the middle of nowhere! The edge of the world! So far away that there was probably no hope of coming back here . . . ever.

Oh, my God, Sena thought. He's not only throwing me out, he's throwing me all the way out. He wants me truly and utterly out of his sight. And he waited until the very end to tell me. He kept me twisting in the wind, thinking I had a chance – and then snatched it away.

He found himself clenching a fist at his side. You bastard, he thought. I worked hard. I did everything I could to improve and elevate myself. And you ignore all that? You just think of me as the Slut Prince?

One of his remaining cousins was shoving him, gently. “Sena – you were called. Go over there with the other ambassadors.”

He turned on his heel, still clenching his fist, and fairly stalked over to the line of rejected, exiled candidates. He caught a glimpse of Hayato's expression out of the corner of his eye, and his knight looked utterly crushed.

Not as crushed as I feel, Sena thought. How could I put so much of myself into something, and get nothing in return?

* * *

The party was in full swing in and around the pools. Everyone was in their swimsuits. Grills were fired up, beer kegs were flowing, and people were splashing in the water.

That is, those who were named to the royal court or the ministries were eating, drinking and swimming. Those who had been named ambassadors were just sort of moping around. Their knights were moping even more – because they knew they were going back to their regular squadrons.

Hayato tried to keep his spirits up, but it was hard. He knew now beyond a shadow of a doubt that his time with Sena was nearly over. He'd be back patrolling the woods on his motorcycle, and his prince – who would no longer be a prince after investiture day – would be far, far away.

He looked over at Sena, who was just sitting at the edge of a chaise by the pool, his head down. He looked heartbroken, crushed, defeated.

As bad as this is for me, Hayato thought, it's twice as bad for him.

The knight poured out two beers and took one of them over to the man whose side he'd been at for what seemed like forever. “Hey,” he said. “Drink up. We can enjoy what time we have left, right?”

Sena looked up at Hayato and sighed. “Do you think we're really going to enjoy it?”

“Well, not really,” Hayato said “But we can try, right?”

Sena took the beer. “I don't know,” he sighed.

The newly-minted ambassador took a deep drink. Hayato was sweet for at least trying. But then again, he was always sweet. He couldn't imagine what his life would be like without him. He'd probably end up fucking half the guys in Veekay – but never be able to recreate what it felt like when he and Hayato were together.

I'm not the Slut Prince anymore, dammit! Sena thought. I'm a man who owns my own life. I always have been. And, Your Fucking So-Called Majesty, if all you think of me as is my goddamn nickname, well, then . . .

And suddenly, a light bulb went on in Sena's head. Oh, he had the perfect plan for revenge. The king thought of him as the Slut Prince? Well, that's what he'd be – in no uncertain terms.

He looked up at Hayato with a big smile. “I do have one idea for enjoying ourselves. Ever seen the royal grotto?”

“Um . . . no?”

“It's a kind of private pool made to look like a natural spring,” Sena said. “Nobody's supposed to know about it but the king and his immediate family – but, of course, one of my cousins told me about it,” he said. “It's sort of hidden in plain sight – you'd think it was just another part of the woods unless you knew what was behind it.” He gave Hayato a tilt of the head and a saucy expression. “Wanna go?”

“Um, well . . .”

“It might be our last shot at something like this,” Sena said. “And you're the one who wanted to enjoy the time we have left, right?”

“Well . . . yeah,” Hayato said.

“Come on, then,” Sena said. “Nobody's going to notice, right?”

He grabbed on to the other man's hand and tugged it. They headed away from the party, Sena stirring him toward the row of cabanas poolside. “Just need to pick something up here.”

Hayato looked confused. “What is . . .”

“Trust me on this.” Sena ducked into one cabana and grabbed a small bag from under the cot that was there. He'd stashed this here a long time ago – it was a favorite meeting spot for him and his lovers. Who would think he'd need it again?

He walked out, took Hayato's hand again, and led him toward a clump of trees. Sena glanced into the clump, to make sure the coast was clear, then gestured for Hayato to follow.

As soon as the knight slipped through the trees, his eyes grew wide. What he saw was a small waterfall pouring into what seemed to be a natural pool, with rocks surrounding it, wildflowers peeking up between the cracks in the stones.

“Oh, wow,” he said.

“It's beautiful, isn't it?” Sena said.

“Incredibly beautiful,” Hayato replied. “Wow . . . just . . . damn.”

Sena smiled to himself. It had to be spectacular if it left Hayato speechless. “And it's the perfect setting, isn't it?”

Hayato looked baffled. “Setting? For what?”

Sena moved to the edge of the pool. He turned to regard his knight with a sultry gaze . . . and then, slowly, lowered his swimsuit to the ground and stepped out of it.

“You know for what,” he said. “You . . . me . . . in that water . . .”

“But . . .” Hayato said. “We can't!”

“What's stopping us?” Sena said. “Not like there's any danger of my losing my prince status, right? I'm already banished.”

Don't remind me, Hayato thought. Please don't remind me. If I'm going to make love to you here, it's going to be without that hanging over our heads. I can't imagine my life without you. I just can't.

“We don't have lubricant,” Hayato said.

“What do you think this is?” Sena bent over and picked up the bag. “I came prepared.”

“Well, in that case . . .” Hayato dropped his own suit on the ground and moved toward his lover – who stepped into the pool and waded to where it was about waist-length.

Sena turned to face him, a wicked smile on his face, looking for all the world like a water nymph. “Well, then?” he said.

Hayato grabbed the bag, put it at the edge of the pool within close reach, and waded in, making his way over to Sena. If he was now on limited time with this man, he was going to make every last second count.

He pulled him close, and they wrapped their arms around each other, kissing as deeply and passionately as they did when they first met, pressing their bodies close, trying to melt into one another.

Hayato instantly pushed his tongue into his lover's mouth, tangling his fingers in the other man's hair and losing himself in him completely – as he always did. Letting the feel and scent and taste of Sena wash over him like the tides was his drug. It made him feel high, giddy, like he could conquer the entire world.

Sena slid his hands down his lover's back rapidly, feeling the slickness of the water on his skin, the contrast of warm and cool, and so, so damn sexy. His hands slipped below the surface, finding the firm ass and squeezing it hard with both hands.

He has such a tight body from all his knight workouts, he thought. And this ass definitely benefitted, too. It was flat-out sculpted, just made to be touched and caressed. His fingers slid over every part of it, and moved into the crack, gently teasing it.

“Oh . . .” Hayato leaned backward into the touch.

“I love your ass,” Sena murmured. “I love watching it when you're sucking me. When you do that by the mirror, I can watch it moving around, and it's so fucking hot . . .”

Hayato just moaned wth desire, wriggling against the hands that squeezed him and slid over his skin. Sena touched him like nobody else – very quickly, he'd learned what Hayato most wanted and needed, and was ready to give it to him at any moment.

“Let me suck you now,” the knight moaned. “Please . . .”

Sena eased back from him. “Maybe,” he said. “We ARE in the water, you know. I don't want you to drown.”

“I want to,” Hayato moaned. “I want to so badly . . .”

Sena hopped up on the side of the pool, sitting on the edge. He gave Hayato a sly, teasing smile, and then opened his legs, slowly, giving the other man greater access to his cock. He looked like the very essence of wet sex in every sense of the word.

“Come on,” he purred. “Give me that mouth.”

Hayato nearly flew over to him. He leaned over, opening wide, wrapping his lips around the tip of that lovely thing being offered up for his pleasure. His tongue moved slowly over the head, tracing flesh that was so familiar to him, but never failed to be thrilling.

Slowly, he moved down on it, filling his mouth completely, feeling the cool water against his increasingly heated flesh. It added to the eroticism in every way, heightening sensation, caressing every part of him at once . . . and adding a reminder of danger. They were in a private grotto, to be sure – but there was still the risk of discovery.

Hayato moaned in his throat, starting to bob his head rapidly, sucking hard, reaching for the base of his lover's cock with slick fingers, rubbing it gently as his mouth worked on the tip, fingers and tongue caressing at the same time.

Sena just plunged into the warm wetness, feeling it stroke his cock with velvety softness. He couldn't get enough of this, Hayto had gotten so damn good at this sort of thing, knowing his needs instinctively . . .

“Fuck, yes,” he murmured. “Yes . . . so good. . . .” He reached down and grabbed the other man's hair, pulling it a little, making Hayato gasp – and just suck him faster. Sena was losing himself in the pleasure entirely, his whole body was tensing now, he couldn't let this go on much longer or else he'd come . . .

“I want you to fuck me,” he gasped. “Please . . .”

Those words were the only thing in the world that could get Hayato to raise his head. He looked up at the other man, licking his lips as if he wanted to hold onto the sensations and tastes of Sena as often as he could.

Sena grabbed for the small bag, pulled out the lube, and pressed it into Hayato's hand, getting on all fours on the edge of the pool, leaning back toward him. “Do it,” he murmured. “Get me ready.”

Hayato couldn't pour the stuff on his fingers fast enough. He pushed one in, slowly, his eyes filled with the close-up sight of that glorious ass that was being offered to him completely. “So gorgeous,” he murmured. “So fucking beautiful . . .”

As he slid the second finger in, the other hand moved over the firm curve, made easier by the slickness of the water. He explored the inside and outside of that wonderful bottom at the same time, the fingers of the one hand moving in and out, gently opening him up, while the other rubbed his ass, spanking it with a sharp smack, then caressing again.

The third finger penetrated, and Sena moved back against them, moaning loudly, murmuring, “I want you in me, I want your cock in my body so badly, I'm ready, so ready . . .”

Hayato pulled his fingers out, looking around for the bag . . . yes, Sena had thought to include a couple of cloths for him to wipe off with. He watched as Sena slid back into the water, moving to the most shallow part of the pool. He leaned over with his hands on the side of the pool, his ass offered up invitingly.

He looked over his shoulder teasingly. “Well?” he said.

Hayato moved over to him and grabbed Sena's ass – it was just above the surface of the water. He reached for the lube and slicked himself, quickly, then brought it to that sweet cleft, pressing in slowly . . .

His prince felt like paradise. He always did. The warmth was such a contrast to the cool water of before, pulling him in and making him feel truly complete in a way he could only be during intimate moments like this.

“Sena,” he murmured, as he started to move, gently thrusting in and out of the other man, the water lapping around his legs, a reminder of just where they were and what they were doing, feeling so damn good . . .

Sena let out a loud moan, pushing back against Hayato, murmuring, “Fuck me, oh, yes, harder, faster, please . . .”

Hayato did what he wanted, what they both wanted, starting a steady thrust, his hands moving all over his lover's body, stroking his back, his hair, his neck, then back down, grasping his hips as he pushed into that tight heat over and over.

He felt Sena thrust back against him, moving along with him, a creature of wanton need and desire, but that desire was all for him. The thought made him move harder and faster still, plunging into his lover, feeling the water move around him, splashes leaning on his heated skin, but it served to fuel the lust instead of putting it out.

“Fuck yes,” Hayato moaned, reaching around, finding Sena's cock with eager fingers, stroking it rapidly, and he heard the other man's moans grow louder, his thrusts against him faster . . .

“I'm going to come, oh, fuck . . .” Sena cried, and then let out a loud yell, Hayato quickly snatching the cloth off the side of the pool, bringing it to his cock just in time to catch the come that seemed to flow and flow . . .

He tossed the rag aside, grabbed those hips and thrust in hard and fast and deep, not getting enough of that heat, feeling the delicious sensations inside him crest and peak . . . and the orgasm hit him like a freight train, making him nearly scream, every cell seeming to be consumed with the kind of ecstasy only Sena could cause.

Hayato sagged atop his lover, clinging to him, both of them leaning over the side of the pool, still panting and trembling . . .

And then, a voice over them shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

The couple looked up, breathing heavily – to see the king at the edge of the grotto, accompanied by his two sons. Oh, shit, Hayato thought. Oh, shit, we're fucked, we're so fucked . . .

Sena just tossed his hair, gave them an icy glance, and said, “What does it look like?”

“It looks like you are DEFILING my pool by having sex in it!” the king said. “Did I EVER give you permission to be in here at all, let alone what you were doing?”

“The pool is for family,” Sena said. “And we are SUPPOSED to be family, aren't we?”

“What does that mean, SUPPOSED to be family?” the king snapped. “You ARE my nephew! You're royalty!”

“Not for long,” Sena said.

“What the DEVIL are you on about?” the king shouted.

“I mean you are EXILING me!” Sena shouted back. “I gave my heart and soul to be the best prince I could! I studied and I worked and how did you repay me? You're sending me away because you're ashamed of me!”

“I am NOT ashamed of you!” the king shouted. “Well, I'm ashamed of what you're doing HERE with a common knight . . .”

“He is NOT a common knight!” Sena shouted back. “He is MY knight! And he will continue to be my knight! If you're sending me away, he's coming with me!”

Hayato blinked. Was he hearing this? Was this coming from Sena? Did he really mean THAT much to him?

“You can't do that unless he's betrothed to you!” the king shouted.

“Then I'll get betrothed to him!” Sena retorted.

Now Hayato nearly fell face-first in the water. “You . . . you WILL?” he said.

“If you're going to EXILE me, I'm taking what's most important when I leave this place!” Sena shouted.

“You are NOT being EXILED!” the king shouted.

“You're shipping me off to Veekay, aren't you?”

The king sighed. “Sena . . . I want you to come with me.”

“For what?”

“For a TALK! I need to talk to you, all right? Just get dressed and meet me in the throne room in ten minutes!” The king turned and stalked off, his sons following him.

Sena just stared at his retreating back. “That son of a . . .” he started.

“Sena,” Hayato said, quietly, “did you mean what you said?”

Sena moved to the side of the pool, slowly. “We'll talk when I get back,” he said. He climbed out and reached for his trunks. “I have to talk to him. I'm going to find out what the hell he's thinking.”

Hayato was left just standing there in the water, feeling shell-shocked, thinking . . . did he really mean it? Does he love me? Does he want to marry me? Or was that just something he said in the heat of anger?

* * *

Sena walked into the throne room dried off and wearing a dress kimono – he figured the fancy uniform would take too much time to get into, and both he and the king were probably eager to get this meeting over with. When the king walked in similarly dressed, he had his confirmation.

The monarch went to his customary place atop the dais. Sena stayed on the floor. He figured his uncle would want to feel like he was lording it over him right now.

“Now, then,” the king said. “I am not going to pass judgement on you for what happened in the grotto – right now. I would like to know, however, why you feel you are being exiled.”

“You're sending me away, aren't you?” Sena said.

“I have made you an ambassador!” the king said. “It is a legitimate office of this government!”

“Then why haven't we had any other ambassadors since the days of King Otori?” Sena said. “Who, by the way, sent his nephews away because he wanted to get rid of them?”

The king shook his head. “They're still telling that story?” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you don't know the whole of it,” the king said. “It's true King Otori sent his nephews away, and they established our first – and,to date, only – ambassadorships. But it wasn't because he was angry with them. He did it to break up a feud within the family.”

“A what?” Sena looked baffled.

“There were several warring factions within the family at the time,” the king said. “Each faction supported a different prince-candidate to be on the throne, and the young men who were ultimately sent away were the ringleaders of each faction.

“King Otori figured it was best to have them out of the way before he named his ultimate choice to be his successor, because otherwise, family warfare would break out. Literally – the ringleaders would form militias to attack each other and force their choice onto the throne. But the king also didn't want to make it too obvious – because that could also lead to violence breaking out. And so, he created the ambassadorships.”

“All right,” Sena said. “So King Otori did what he had to. So why are YOU doing it? There's no feud within the family now. Nobody's going to come after each other with guns and swords. You can't say that's why you're sending us away.”

“No, I am sending you abroad – NOT away, abroad – for a very practical reason.” The king paused. “Because we have gotten lax in our relationships with other countries, and that's not a good thing. The world is changing. Governments are evolving. We've kept doing things the way we always have – and others are moving on. We need to reach out to our neighbors. We need to maintain old relationships and establish new ones. And nowhere is that more evident than in Veekay. That's why I picked you.”

“Wait a minute,” Sena said. “Just what is going on there?” Great, he thought, is Veekay in turmoil? Some sort of civil war? Is he sending me into a situation where violence could break out any moment?

“Change, my boy,” the king said. “Their crown prince is a very progressive young man. He just convinced his father to establish a parliament, do you know that? A PARLIAMENT. A governing body made up of representatives of every one of their districts, to act as lawmakers. They draw up the bills, the king approves them. And when this young man gets on the throne? They may progress even further.”

The king climbed off the dais and approached his nephew. “I need someone there who's young,” he said. “Someone with excellent diplomatic skills. Someone who could earn the trust of this prince and find out what makes him tick. Who can figure out the mood of that country, and how their relationship with us might be changing. Veekay is a very important nation to us – did you know that?”

“One of our kings was born there, wasn't he?” Sena said.

The king nodded. “King Sai. He was the grandson of our King Okita, whose only son had passed on before him and whose daughters were all married off to the monarchs of other countries. One of those daughters was the Queen of Veekay. Her elder son was the heir to their throne. Her younger son, Sai, stood to inherit . . . well, a dukedom. When he heard that King Okita was ill and about to leave Jiluka without an heir, he decided to claim the throne of this country – because, as the grandson of the king, he had a right to.”

“I don't blame him,” Sena said. “I'd rather be a king than a duke, too.”

“So he came here with his wife – he'd married a noblewoman from the district of Codomo Dragon, and she brought a full compliment of her knights with her. They established themselves here and became our own Knights of Codomo Dragon. King Sai and his queen established the royal dynasty we have now.”

The king paused. “You see, Sena, how important Veekay is to us, and how important it is we maintain our ties with them. In a way, the ambassadorship there is a greater honor than being named to one of the ministries.”

Sena was quiet. So . . . that's why he was being sent away? Because of the ties between that royal family and this one? He still felt like he was being booted from his homeland – but at least it seemed now like it wasn't because of his reputation as “The Slut Prince.”

“If I go there,” he said, “I AM bringing Hayato with me. And a few other knights.”

“Why other knights?”

“It's an unknown country, isn't it? I have no idea what I'll find there. And you said yourself, my presence there is important. So, shouldn't I have protection?”

“You do know how to bargain, don't you? It's a skill that will serve you well in the future.” The king shook his head. “Very well, you may take up to four knights in addition to Hayato. Just answer me this – did you mean what you said about wanting to be betrothed to that man?”

Sena paused. That was something he had yelled in the heat of the moment. Did he really mean it? He didn't want to be separated from his knight, that was true. But did he want to make it permanent?

“It isn't legal for a prince to marry a knight, of course,” the king said. “A prince can only marry someone of royal blood. But when you go to Veekay, you will no longer have the title of prince. You will be Lord Ambassador and the Baron of Faizh” – Sena's hereditary title. “Granted, someone with your background could still do better than marrying a knight, but if he's who you really want . . .”

Sena was quiet a moment more, during which he thought of all the time he'd spent with Hayato, from their rather undignified meeting to the first time they'd made love to all the formal and informal occasions where they'd shared everything from picnic lunches to conversations about their favorite places to go swimming . . .

And the words came out of him before he knew it. “Yes. I can't imagine my life without him in it. And I don't care what anyone thinks of my marrying a knight, because it is my business who I want to marry, not anyone else's!”

“Then you need to formally propose to him, don't you?” the king said, softly.

“I will when we have privacy!” Sena retorted.

The king suddenly went to his nephew and hugged him. “You've come a long way from when you first came here, Sena,” he said. “In a lot of ways. I'm very proud of you – and I will be counting on you, very strongly, in the future.”

I'm no longer the Slut Prince, Sena thought. He's right. When I came here, all I cared about was being away from my parents and having a good time, and now . . . I'm serious about what I do. And he knew a lot of that was Hayato's influence.

“I won't let you down,” he said.

“And I think I need to have a talk with the other young men who were named ambassadors, too,” the king said. “I don't want any of them thinking I'm sending them away because they're useless.” He walked Sena to the door. “Are you feeling better about this now?”

“Well . . . yes.” It wasn't a lie. Not completely.

“Good. Now, you need to have a talk with your knight. And tomorrow, you start training for your ambassadorship.”

Sena walked out the door, slowly. Okay, so he was being sent away. And, according to the king, that was somehow important. He'd MAKE it important, dammit! Whatever it took to secure his country's relationship with Veekay, he'd do it!

And he was going to marry his knight. Find someone better than a knight? Bullshit. Hayato, he knew, was the best damn thing to happen to him since coming to the capital, and there was no way the king was going to be able to understand or appreciate that.

* * *

He had a feeling he was going to find Hayato in his suite of rooms when he went back upstairs after the meeting. Sure enough, his knight was in his small room, starting to pack things into his footlocker. He jumped in surprise when he saw Sena walk in.

“Oh, hi!” He rubbed the back of his head. “Um, I thought I'd get a jump on packing, since I'm going back to the barracks and all after you go to Veekay. You're still going to Veekay, aren't you? The king didn't take the ambassadorship away from you? So, yeah, I know that's still a couple of weeks away, but hey, better late than never, right, and I have more stuff than I did when I first came here, so . . .”

Sena walked over to him and put his hands on his shoulders. “Hayato – stop packing.”

“Well, it's not harming anything, is it? It has to be done, and . . .”

“We're not leaving for a couple of weeks yet.”

“Well, I figured you wouldn't be, but I thought that . . .” He stopped, all of a sudden. “Wait a second – did you say WE?”

“Come over here and sit with me,” Sena said. He took the knight by the hand and led him across the room, Hayato following in a sort of daze, as if he didn't quite know what was going on. (Well, Hayato seemed dazed a lot – this was even MORE dazed.)

The two sat on the edge of the bed. “Do you remember what I said back in the grotto – when I was fighting with my uncle?”

“Oh, yeah. You were really mad, weren't you? I mean, I was really worried for you. I'm proud of you for standing up to the king and all, but the idea that you could have . . .”

Sena held up a hand. “Think of ONE thing I said, Hayato. Something that concerns you.”

“That . . . that you were going to get betrothed to me?”

Sena nodded. “Yes. That.” He paused. “That was a shitty way to do it.”

“To do what?”

“I'm going to do it the right way now.” He took both of Hayato's hands in his. “Will you do me the honor of becoming my spouse?”

Hayato's jaw dropped. “You REALLY meant that?”

“More than I've ever meant anything.” Sena squeezed the hands, gently. “When you first became my knight, I thought that it was just an arrangement, you know? Something necessary for my protection. But then, I got to know you, and . . .” He paused, taking a deep breath. “You're the most REAL person I've ever met. It's like, whenever I'm with you . . . I can relax. Really relax, because I know you're always on the level, you're never going to give me a line of bullshit, you don't want anything from me but my company. You see me as a person, not a prince-candidate.”

“I've always seen you as my prince,” Hayato said, quietly.

“But not JUST a prince,” Sena said. “That's what matters. You saw ME.”

“I always have,” Hayato said. “You'd be the same to me if you were another knight, or one of the guys who works in the dining room, or . . . or . . . just anyone. You're beautiful and you're sweet and you make me happy just being with you. Happier than anyone I've never known.”

“That means a lot,” Sena said. “You don't know how much. There was a time when I thought that everything was sex, you know? That all I needed was to have someone touch me, have kinky fun with me . . . and then, I met you. Everything changed for me. I didn't realize that at first, though. In fact, I only knew how much a part of my life you'd become when it seemed we were going to be separated. And then I knew that I want . . . I want you to be part of my life for good.”

“Sena,” Hayato said, quietly. “I . . . I don't know what to say . . .”

“Just say yes. Please.”

“Yes,” Hayato said. “Yes. I've never meant anything more.” He embraced the other man. “I can't believe this. I can't. Does that mean . . .”

“It means you're coming to Veekay with me,” Sena said. “And we're bringing your friends to be our guard of knights – so you won't have to be separated from them, either.”

“I'm still your knight, you know,” Hayato said. “Even if I'm your fiance, or your husband. It's all I ever wanted to be.”

“Of course you are,” Sena said, softly. “Just like I'm always your prince. We may not have the titles anymore, but that doesn't affect who we ARE.”

“We're going to have such a great life together!” Hayato said, hugging his new fiance closer. “I can't wait to see our new home! We'll be living in an embassy, won't we? Which means we'll have a big house all to ourselves! You think we'll hang out with the royal family there? If we do, that's great, if we don't . . . that's still cool! We'll still have our own friends with us! And our own place! And . . .”

“Hayato.” Sena put his fingers to his lover's lips. “I can think of far better things you could be doing with that mouth right now.”

They kissed, and tumbled to the bed together. Their life together had just begun.

* * *

Investiture Day was the biggest event in the kingdom of Jiluka other than coronations. It was one of the few days that the public could get a glimpse of the royal family close-up and in person – the event was held at a fairground in the midst of the capital city, not on palace grounds.

The prince-candidates were brought to the site in limousines – those who were going to be named to palace posts in dark blue uniforms, the ambassadors in black with red and gold accents.

Sena alighted from the car and looked around him. This may be the last time I see my home country for a long time, he thought.

The new ambassadors were going to receive their commissions and immediately be taken to their new homes. His things had already been packed up and sent off to Veekay the day before. He and his entourage would be going in an airplane – the king made a point to tell him he was the only ambassador who was flying. The others were all going in ships – in some cases, they were just hitching rides on trade boats.

There was still part of him that felt he was being exiled. But the hell with that – he was going to be the best ambassador anyone ever saw, no matter what the original intention of sending him off was.

He could see his parents and siblings out of the corner of his eye. He'd said his goodbyes to them at the palace – and introduced them to Hayato. They seemed to have mixed feelings about him marrying his knight – well, except for his younger sister, who was thrilled and thought the whole thing was like one of the old romantic stories.

I don't care what any of them say, he thought. I know what I want.

The king mounted the dais and addressed the crowd. “Hello, everyone,” he said. “This is a joyous day for us all, as these young men who have prepared for so long enter the service of our government. I have the utmost faith that all of them will make us proud, no matter what position they are serving in. And I would like to say that there are no minor positions in this government. Whether you are an ambassador or an advisor to the king, you are equally important.”

He's placating the guys who got named ambassadors yet again, Sena thought. He shifted uncomfortably as the ceremony continued – an invocation from one of the high priests, more speeches from government officials, followed by still more speeches, followed by even more speeches . . .

Just when Sena was starting to fall asleep on his feet, the king announced that they would begin presenting the commissions. “First, the ambassadors, who will immediately be leaving us to begin their service. They will not be here for our reception for the next king and his court, but receptions are awaiting them in their new host countries. We begin with the ambassador to the nation of Johnnys . . .”

One after another, Sena's cousins were called up to the king. They received a scroll from him, bowed, and went to their limos. They're all going alone, Sena thought. I'm the only one who was allowed to bring a group of knights.

Maybe, he thought, the king really did mean it when he said he was counting heavily on me.

Finally, the king said, “And finally, the ambassador with what may be the biggest, most important job of all . . . the ambassador to the nation of Veekay. This honor will be fulfilled by the Baron of Faizh, my nephew, Sena.”

Sena stepped forward, head held high, and walked up to his uncle. He bowed low, and the scroll was pressed into his hands.

“Good luck,” the king said. “Remember – you've got an important duty. Make me proud.”

“I will, Your Majesty,” Sena said. And that may be my last time talking to him face-to-face for a long time, he thought. One “last” after another today. But every “last” was the gateway to a “first.” Quietly, he walked to the limo – and there was a very welcome figure holding the door open for him.

“Ready to go?” Hayato said.

“You don't have to do that,” Sena said. “You could have waited in the car for me.”

“I'm still your knight, remember?”

“I remember.” He hugged his fiance. “I'll always remember.”

They got in the car together, the chauffeur shutting the door behind them, and started for the airport. Sena made a point of not looking back.

“The others are meeting us at the plane,” Hayato said. “How was the ceremony?”

“Long and boring,” Sena said. “I'm glad I don't have to sit through the rest of it.” He squeezed his fiance's hand. “Of course, we may have another long and boring ceremony waiting for us on the other side.”

“What do you think they'll be like?” Hayato said. “The king of Veekay, and Prince Yo-ka?”

“We'll find out, won't we?” Sena said. “But really – whatever this situation turns out to be, I'm going to make it work for me.” He paused. “For US.”

“For both of us,” Hayato said, softly. “That's the way it's always going to be from now on.”

The plane approached the airport. Sena saw his compliment of knights – Hayato's friends – standing next to their plane, waving.

In a few minutes, he thought, I'm going to get on that thing and leave everything behind me. Everything I've ever known. My country, my family, my reputation as the Slut Prince . . .

But he was going to a new life. A fresh start. One where nobody would pre-judge him. And he wouldn't be doing it alone.

He knew he'd rather live with Hayato in a new country than at the palace with an ever-shifting tapestry of near-anonymous lovers. Damn, he thought. Does this mean I've finally . . . grown up?

Whatever it meant, he welcomed it. All of it. The chauffeur opened the door, and he stepped out onto the tarmac.

He looked around at his fiance and his knights, and said, quietly, “Let's do this.” He climbed onto the plane, clutching his scroll.

Goodbye, dreams of being a prince, he thought. Hello to a new future. And that was just fine with him.