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in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a prince

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            For decades, the kingdom of Karasuno had stood for unity and happiness, the last of the time of war against Nekoma drawn to a close. Tadashi remembered this fact as he left his small village a day and a half’s journey away from the kingdom. His family had lovingly, with good intentions, basically kicked him out when he turned sixteen. They had a job lined up for him however, where he would be under-seen by his uncle Shimada Makoto, one of the royal guard who worked at the castle. 

            Tadashi was nowhere near fit to be a guard, not that he really wanted to be, or could really ever be with his commoner background. He was encouraged to take up a servant job, though was allowed to stay in his uncle’s room with three other men who worked for the king as guards, as he had family relations. This made Tadashi feel much more comfortable in a large, brand new place. 

            Despite the anxiety over living somewhere totally different, Tadashi was enthralled by the kingdom. There was so much color and life everywhere. Growing up outside in farmland, there was much community, but it bored Tadashi, and he became restless. He was that way even as a child. He wasn’t very well liked; he’d been teased for his looks. He’d had chubby cheeks as a little boy, and as he grew older, the cheeks deflated into a flat, plain dotted face that still wasn’t up to satisfaction. The main social interactions he had were with his family, or with the animals they raised. He especially liked the birds, even though they caused trouble in the fields. 

            Tadashi liked to believe that if he befriended them, they would cause less damage. He wasn’t sure it had worked, but the thought was still nice. 

            Living and working in the kingdom was very different. Tadashi was often the errand boy, leaving the castle to bring supplies back in after purchasing from the town using the royal currency. His uncle had vouched for his trustworthiness, which was why he was given such a job. Tadashi was eternally grateful to him. 

            Tadashi had not interacted with the royal family at all. The Tsukishimas were the current ruling family, both parents on the throne, a crown prince, and a second son. Tadashi soon learned that they lived in an entirely different part of the castle from the servants.

            After working in the castle for half a year, Tadashi managed to make some friends, which was practically a lifetime achievement for him. Yachi Hitoka was a sweet handmaiden for the Queen, though she was still kind of in training, half of the time helping out in the kitchens. She was somewhat distantly related to the royal family, the resemblance most apparent in her golden hair. 

            Though Tadashi was hesitant to call him a friend, a knight in training Kageyama Tobio was someone he spoke to most days. But through him, he was introduced (by accident, funnily enough) to Hinata Shouyou, a boy whose family ran one of the stalls in the kingdom’s village. The energetic man had apparently met Kageyama on one of his trips through the kingdom and Hinata had demanded he be taught the same training so that someday he could become a knight too. Kageyama had been hesitant at first, for obvious reasons, but apparently Hinata grew on him and now they had secret bi-weekly training sessions in the evenings. Tadashi had overseen a few of them, amused and intrigued. 

            A number of his uncle’s closer comrades, as well as the men he lived with, he spoke cordially to, but Tadashi enjoyed having friends around his age for the first time. 

            It was the week after his seventeenth birthday that Tadashi first met a member of the royal family. And not just anyone- the Crown Prince Tsukishima Akiteru. 

            There had been whispers through the halls of the castle that Crown Prince Akiteru was courting someone, though no one had any idea who. Some speculated it was a princess who attended the last ball, some teased it was one of the servant girls. One wondered if it was a woman from a brothel on the outskirts of the kingdom, but that rumor had been shut down swiftly. 

            Walking back to his quarters that afternoon, Tadashi ran into his uncle who had several scrolls of parchment in hand, and Tadashi snagged one falling from his arms before it hit the ground. 

            “Ah, thank you Tadashi,” Shimada had said with a sigh. “I’m running late today with these letters, I’m called to a meeting with the guard. Could you deliver that one for me, please?”

            Tadashi looked down at the rolled-up letter in his hands. “Sure. But…where am I headed?”

            “Each is labeled, most are for various kitchen staff. I’ve gotta run, this one is time sensitive. I’m sure you’ll find them!”

            Tadashi’s cry for his uncle to wait fell on deaf ears as he was left alone in the castle hallway, holding a scroll of parchment. He rolled it around in his hands to find where the address was located, and almost had a heart attack when he read it. 

            Akiteru

            The writing was done with broad strokes, though not delicately like was expected of women, so Tadashi had been told. Tadashi swallowed thickly. This was likely a letter from the rumored lover, going by the informal name usage.

            With quivering steps, Tadashi ventured to the west wing of the castle, a place he could count on one hand the number of times he’d gone to. He nodded respectfully at every guard and waved the parchment at those who frowned at his presence. 

            Though he’d never walked the path to the Crown Prince’s chambers, he’d personally memorized the layout of the castle one evening when he’d been bored and left to his own devices. The library had been open and occupied only by a man, assumedly, in one of the corner chairs, so immersed and buried in a large book that Tadashi could see nothing but his long pale fingers and sturdy fabric-wrapped legs. Tadashi had taken to the section on the castle’s history, and learned as much as he could stand before his eyes drifted closed. He’d woken up with his candle extinguished and his arms pillowing his head, the tome he’d been reading closed next to him. Though he hadn’t fallen asleep that way, Tadashi hadn’t cared enough to wonder who had moved him. 

            As he made his way to the royal chambers, Tadashi sent a silent thanks to his mother and father who had taken the time to teach him to read and write when they weren’t working, because he’d had nothing else to do and no friends to play with.

            “I have a letter for His Royal Majesty Crown Prince Akiteru,” Tadashi explained to the pair of guards outside the Crown Prince’s door, showing them the wax seal on the rolled letter as proof. He was proud that his voice didn’t shake, though his words had come out all on a single breath. Was this the correct way to address the Crown Prince? Tadashi should have studied that

            The guards nodded and let him in after a short moment where their eyes met, and Tadashi thanked them before shuffling through the tall doors. He glanced briefly around the room, but the entrance was just a sitting room, where the bedroom and bath chambers were connected through. To the right of the doors was a seating area next to a tall table where a man was sitting, leaning over the wooden tabletop as he flipped through some papers. He glanced up, and Tadashi noted the distinguishing color of his hair and eyes. 

            “Your Majesty, um, I mean, Your Royal, um Crown Prince Akiteru,” Tadashi stuttered out, body bent in half in a bow, arms flinging forward with his offering, “I have a letter addressed to you.”

            “Ah! Thank you!”

            Tadashi slowly rose up as footsteps approached him, and just as his head untucked itself from his neck, the parchment in his hands disappeared. He stared up at the man who was next in line for the throne, jaw dropped slightly. 

            “I don’t believe we’ve met,” Crown Prince Akiteru said. 

            Tadashi tried not to choke on his words and failed miserably. “T-Tadashi. Er, Yamaguchi Tadashi, Crown Prince.” Tadashi bowed once again, this time a swift up and down jerky motion.

            Crown Prince Akiteru had a warm smile on his face when Tadashi’s eyes returned to it. He was dressed comfortably, but a circlet of jewels parted his hair, the setting sunlight gleaming off of it from where it streamed in from the large window against the perpendicular wall. “Thank you for delivering this. Are you a new delivery boy?”

            Tadashi waved his hands, shook his head, and bowed twice, just because he knew not what else to do. He hadn’t been trained for this! “I’m usually b-bringing goods from the village. I do not w-work in this. This wing. Highness.”

            “Odd. You look familiar.”

            Tadashi smiled slightly. “I bare a slight resemblance to my uncle, Sir Shimada Makoto. Perhaps that-that is where—”

            “Ah!” Prince Akiteru exclaimed and snapped his fingers. “I remember now!”

            Tadashi laughed slowly, following the Crown Prince’s lead, not sure if he’d even been heard. 

            Prince Akiteru rubbed a hand over his mouth as he stopped laughing and then assessed Tadashi, eyes roving his figure. Tadashi felt put on the spot, similar to an insect being examined by a magnifying glass. The Crown Prince hummed, a low noise. Tadashi feared for his life. 

            “Yes. I think this will do nicely,” the Crown Prince finally said, smile returning. 

            Tadashi cocked his head to the side. He could feel his body begin to tremble in anxiety. “Um, apologies, Crown Prince, but I d-do not follow.”

            “It has been a few months, but I believe it is time for me to give a gift to my brother for his birthday. Better late than never.”

            Tadashi blinked, still confused. “Ah...?”

            “Ukai!” Prince Akiteru shouted, and one of the guards at the door entered before bowing. “This is — you said Tadashi, right? — Yamaguchi Tadashi. I am appointing him as one of Kei’s manservants.”

            Tadashi’s jaw hit the floor. He made no noise, he had no words to speak, and could not think of anything but incoherent syllables. Why? Why him? Was this a punishment? A game? He was not manservant material! And not for a prince!

            “Yes, Your Highness,” Sir Ukai agreed, and his eyes drifted over to Tadashi before his body followed, turning towards him. “Follow me.”

            Tadashi finally found his voice. “B-but I’m not—”

            “Kei will be overjoyed!” Prince Akiteru declared. 

***

            Kei was not, as it seemed, overjoyed. 

            In fact, at first glance, Prince Tsukishima Kei seemed to have no joy at all, or perhaps no emotions period, his gaze unfocused through the dark-framed glasses perched on his nose. 

            Tadashi had been ushered into Prince Kei’s chambers by his uncle, who was cheering him on the whole way, much to Tadashi’s embarrassment. Shimada made the introductions, having told Tadashi exactly what to do for their first interaction. Tadashi did what was expected perfectly, still shaking with fear on the inside. 

            “He is not needed at this time. I will send for him later,” was the first and only thing Tadashi heard from Prince Kei that day. 

            The rest of the evening, Tadashi was given a crash-course on how to deal with royalty. How to never meet their eyes until they were greeted and spoke to, and to never hold eye contact for more than three seconds, as it was considered highly rude. How to never turn his back on any member of the royal family unless he was being dismissed. How he was to do all that was asked of him that was within his power, to not fear about speaking up when he could not attend to a task, but then he would be told to find someone else to do the task. If Tadashi needed help, Shimada would lend a hand, but he might not always be around, as he had many jobs to do of his own.

            There was so much else that was crammed into his brain, Tadashi was sure a third of it leaked out as he attempted to sleep that night, though he could only account for maybe an hour or two of rest.

            At the sunrise, Tadashi was awake and making his way to the royal kitchens to bring breakfast up to Prince Kei. Apparently, the prince had just demoted his last manservant because he was too untrustworthy or something along those lines, so Tadashi was already on thin-ice without having stepped into anything yet.

            But something was different with Prince Kei that first morning. He looked Tadashi in the eye, rather than over his shoulder as he had the previous day. And he’d instructed him with a gentle voice, though the way he spoke left no room for arguments, not that Tadashi wanted to give any. Tadashi stood at his back and watched him eat his breakfast, pouring him water as his goblet emptied and then cleaning the plates from the room, back down to the kitchens when the meal finished. Tadashi had just enough spare seconds to shove a pastry into his mouth and gulped it down with the rest of the pitcher of water, before he made it back up to Prince Kei. He was instructed to shadow the prince for the day, to understand his schedule.

            He followed Prince Kei to his daily meeting with the royal council, which was a group made up of trustworthy guards and people of high stature in the kingdom. They met with the whole of the royal family individually on a roving basis every day, and then once a week they all met together to debrief. Tadashi feared the heart attack that would come over him if he had to attend the meeting. He’d not met the King or Queen, and likely wouldn’t until a major event or celebration occurred next. He’d very much like to put that off for as long as he could, at least until he got more used to being around royalty.

            The meeting was drawn out, even Tadashi managed to pick up on that. After a while, Prince Kei’s jaw started to twitch, like he wanted to say something but was holding himself back. Tadashi stood with his back against the wall, arms crossed behind his back, and did his best not to fidget.

            Finally, the meeting ended, and Prince Kei’s next move was to daily studies which was interrupted half-way through for lunch, which Tadashi went and brought to both the prince and his instructor. However, the instructor, a very kind man known as Takeda, ate outside of the prince’s presence. Tadashi found he wasn’t all that hungry himself, though he could have eaten if pressed (he wasn’t), because his mind was whirling with everything the prince was learning.

            Though Tadashi wasn’t on the same wavelength, as he hadn’t started the lesson knowing where it had left off, he tuned-in easily to what Takeda was explaining. He’d strained his neck, bending it this way and that way to try and read the books a meter away from him that Prince Kei had in front of him. After a bit, it became clear Takeda was teaching about the kingdom’s politics. And as something Tadashi knew very little about, he became invested. When Takeda had suggested a break for lunch, his name had to be called twice to shock him out of his thoughts, too riveted in the lesson.

            “Did you enjoy your lunch, sire?” Tadashi asked innocently as he collected the plates and silverware from in front of Prince Kei, stacking them up onto the serving tray.

            Prince Kei met his eyes for a moment, the gaze calculating and judgmental. Tadashi ducked his eyes quickly, picking up the tray and staring at his reflection in the silver.

            “Were you paying attention to the lesson, Yamaguchi?” Prince Kei asked, seemingly ignoring the question posed towards him.

            Tadashi swallowed, not sure exactly how to answer. He’d been behind the prince the whole time, so it wasn’t as if Prince Kei saw him to know. It was probably safe to answer truthfully. The information taught had not been sensitive, after all.

            “I was.”

            Tadashi could feel eyes on him. He refused to look up. A soft noise came from the prince, and Tadashi felt his face go a little warm.

            “Do you enjoy learning about the kingdom?”

            The question seemed odd to Tadashi, but none the less he answered, a bit more confidence in his voice this time. He glanced up at the prince and then back down, but he’d found the courage to meet his gaze.

            “Yes,” he admitted. “I haven’t been here for even a year yet, so there is much to learn about the people and the kingdom’s history.”

            “You enjoy learning?”

            Tadashi bit his lip. He looked at the prince, keeping his eyes on his shoulder. “I think there is a lot to be learned in this world, and if I have the c-chance I should not take it for-for granted, Your Majesty.”

            Prince Kei’s eyes narrowed at that final phrase. “I am no king.”

            Tadashi realized his slip-up with the address. “Sorry, sire. Won’t happen again.” His head ducked.

            Prince Kei hummed, and Tadashi slipped out the door to go retrieve Takeda, glad for the chance to allow his heartbeat to steady. The prince’s eyes were just so bright. It was obvious he was very intelligent, with only detail-oriented questions coming from him during his lesson. What did he care of Tadashi, though? Why ask questions of his interests?

            Though this was only their first real day of meeting, Tadashi hadn’t gotten a caring vibe from the prince. Perhaps if it was the Crown Prince, who seemed very open and talkative, it would be more believable. But with those sharp eyes of Prince Kei staring him down through the panes of his glasses, the questions appeared like they would be interrogations.

            But there was a gentleness to his tone that betrayed it. Tadashi didn’t know what to think of it. So, he decided not to. He paid attention to the rest of the lesson, saw Takeda off for the day, and then followed Prince Kei to his next activity: practice.

            Crown Prince Akiteru was born to be the leader of Karasuno when his parents stepped down. He was tasked with overseeing the entire kingdom, both politically and physically. If Karasuno were to return to war, he would be the one in charge, to draft battle plans and instruct his men to victory.

            Prince Kei, as the second son, was tasked with the royal guard as well as the royal army. Though Crown Prince Akiteru drafted the plans, Prince Kei was the executor. This meant he had to be in fighting shape when the time came to take over for the current head of the royal guard. To do this, he trained every day. Because he also had other lessons until he reached the age of eighteen, he didn’t spend early morning hours on the field like the other knights did. But Tadashi hardly noticed a difference.

            There was strength behind every swing of Prince Kei’s sword, and he was especially good at defensive maneuvers with his shield. He even appeared to be the best, though Tadashi could only cite this one training session as a reason.

            This was where Prince Kei’s true power lied. He had obvious talent, was analyzing his opponents and taking them down quickly and efficiently with a single swipe. Throughout the entire practice session, he managed to come out on top almost seventy-five percent of the time. This was impressive for a seventeen-year-old, in Tadashi’s mind. Though he’d been bred for this, it was clear Prince Kei cared enough for it to not slack off.

            While watching from his perch on a tree stump next to the armory tent, Tadashi could see the whole training field from his vantage point. He could see a few flashes of Kageyama far off in the distance, training with a trio of others, but he wasn’t close enough to be sure. The moves looked similar to those he’d seen before in his practices with Hinata, though.

            Though Tadashi didn’t think he could ever wield a sword with that much force, let alone fight in a war, he liked seeing the strategies each of them used to fight against their opponent. Tadashi knew how to wield a knife, something he learned on his own from back home, and made sure to keep up with his physical health so he wouldn’t suffer on that front. Living in a new place was daunting to him, so he’d wanted to be sure he could be protected. He’d concealed a short knife on his person every time he ran errands for the castle. He’d thankfully never had to use it. He wasn’t allowed weapons on him to do his job now, though, for obvious reasons.

            A few hours into the training, Tadashi was starting to become bored, but knew it would soon be time for the evening meal, the sun very low in the sky, so it wouldn’t go on for much longer. The more he watched, the more details he began to pick up on. Like the fact that Prince Kei was not using nearly all of his strength, not even since the beginning. There were hesitations for split seconds, though they seemed deliberate. Tadashi wondered if he was a little bit bored too. Doing this for several hours a day probably became monotonous.

            Seemingly out of the blue, Prince Kei lowered his sword, and everyone around him did the same. The training was apparently over. Tadashi sprang to his feet and awaited his next instructions.

            “Take the armor off,” Prince Kei demanded once he and Tadashi were in the armory tent, weapons sheathed and replaced on the rack. A few other members of the guard were replacing their armor for the more breathable ones they wore for work around the castle. One of them had shown Tadashi by doing at the beginning of the practice how to properly put the armor on Prince Kei, but now it would be up to Tadashi to do it himself.

            Taking it off was relatively easy in comparison to putting it on. Tadashi would have to do some extra studying tonight to refresh his memory.

            His fingers worked at the buckles and eased the metal plating off of his shoulders and legs first, before removing the breast plate and the rest. Prince Kei watched him the entire time, and every time Tadashi caught his eyes, his breath hitched noticeably. He hoped the prince didn’t take offense. It was just an intimidating stare.

            For a man less-than two months older than Tadashi, he had quite the air of superiority, in addition to his royalty status.

            Tadashi handed the prince his glasses, and the dark frames muted the intimidation, but only a tiny bit.

            Dinner was a similar affair to breakfast and lunch, just larger. Prince Kei took his dinner in his quarters that evening, as he apparently had some work to do that Tadashi wasn’t privy to. But if he wasn’t busy he usually ate in the great hall with several of the king’s guard and occasionally his own family members.

            There was more piled onto the tray Tadashi balanced up the stairwell from the kitchen than both previous meals, but that was to be expected. Thankfully, for convenience, there were multiple entrances to the royal family’s kitchen, so he only had to walk up the stairs and down a long hall before he was back at the prince’s rooms.

            Tadashi poured the wine without spilling a drop and smiled, a little proud of himself, before stepping back and watching the prince eat his dinner while simultaneously pouring over a document with many words on in in a language Tadashi couldn’t read.

            The prince was multilingual as well, apparently. That would be very helpful when it came to peace treaties with other nations and kingdoms. Tadashi wondered if Crown Prince Akiteru had this skill as well, or if another role of Prince Kei’s would be a communicator with foreigners. If so, it was smart to have someone so trustworthy, so no trickery was involved.

            The Tsukishimas were a very smart royal family, Tadashi was beginning to learn, and he was a bit proud to be living in such a kingdom.

            After dinner, Tadashi cleaned away the dishes and had a brief meal of his own, waving to Yachi in passing as she popped in to get more fruit for the Queen’s evening meal. When he returned to Prince Kei, he was given an even stare and then dismissed a moment later, saying he was to return in three hours, make the bed and bath, and send him to sleep.

            Tadashi wandered for a bit during the first hour, feeling a little lost. Having spent all day with the prince, he felt a bit lonely now. Because it was dinner, no one but the guards on duty were about. There wasn’t anyone in his shared room, either, when he checked it.

            Tadashi was tempted to head into the town for a bit, see if Hinata wanted to catch up, and tell him all that had happened. It seemed like a lifetime had passed in two days.

            But Hinata had a penchant for sucking up time without anyone noticing, and Tadashi still had a job to do. He couldn’t risk letting the prince down on his first day. There was still a little voice in his head remind him that if he stepped out of line, the royal family could get rid of him in an instant, like stepping on an ant.

            The library was where he ended up, and Tadashi suspected he would be visiting here often. This time, there were a couple of others around, but no one Tadashi recognized. He picked up a random book from the shelf and started to read, curling into the corner chair that had been occupied last time, finding himself sucked into a recounted story of one of the first knights of the Karasuno kingdom.

            Tadashi estimated the time and returned back to the prince’s rooms to find him looking exhausted, but eyes still pealed on a similar looking unreadable document. Tadashi formally greeted him before getting his room ready, pulling back the bed sheets and lighting the candles, retrieving warm water for a bath and dripping in some soothing scented oils.

            Coaxed in perhaps by the smell, Prince Kei stepped into the room a few minutes later, and Tadashi stood to attention, eyes cast down as the prince stripped and stepped into the bath. He let out a soft noise as soon as he was settled, and Tadashi knew it was safe to look. He gathered up the discarded clothes and carried them to the appropriate laundry basket before retrieving sleep clothes from the closet. It was thankfully easy to find his sleep clothes, as everything was meticulously organized, and all of the robes for bed were the same sheet of white.

            Tadashi belatedly remembered to grab a towel as well as he emerged from the closet (that was honestly as big as the room he shared with four others). Prince Kei looked up at him as he returned, and Tadashi watched his feet, unable to catch the eyes of a bare man. He’d always felt conscious like that.

            He managed to stay professional as he offered the towel to the prince as he stood from the bath, and then once he was dry, passed the sleeping clothes to him.

            In the late hours of the evening, the prince was quiet, hardly uttering a word. There were dark lines under his eyes, showcasing his exhaustion. Tadashi drained the bath and cleaned up the water from the floor as Prince Kei climbed into bed, settling himself on the soft mattress under warm sheets.

            “Leave a light on,” the prince spoke, startling Tadashi into tripping over his own feet, but thankfully righting himself before he fell completely.

            “Yes sire,” Tadashi murmured stepping away from the candles by the bedside and over to the shadowed doorway. “Will that be all for tonight?”

            The light was low, but Tadashi thought he could make out a smirk on the prince’s face. He’d yet to see that kind of expression.

            “Yamaguchi, you are dismissed.”

            Tadashi bowed at the waist, taking in a slow deep breath. When he raised back up, he managed to stutter out, “Have a g-good rest, Prince Kei.”

            He bowed once more, and then turned and fled, fingers flexing at his sides. That restless feeling was creeping back up on him again. He wanted to do something. Though it was late and he was tired, he felt like there was still so much to learn.

            Tadashi was back in the library a few minutes later, this time searching for a book on the king’s guard and knights of Karasuno. His uncle eventually retrieved him when Tadashi was too tired to stay awake and led him back to their room, so that he could get a proper rest to prepare of the next day.

            In contrast to the previous night, Tadashi got a full night’s sleep.

***

            After that, a new routine was established, for Tadashi. New job, new schedule… new him?

            “You’re a quick study,” Prince Kei had said once Tadashi had finished fumbling through dressing him in his armor for training on the second day.

            Tadashi breathed out a laugh and stepped back, assessing his work, making sure it was correct. “I practiced mentally last night, Your Highness.” He rubbed the back of his neck with a hand, a bit embarrassed to admit it.

            “I am not Your Highness,” Prince Kei was quick to correct, but also added after a beat, “You practiced mentally dressing and undressing me.”

            Tadashi’s tongue felt heavy and he said nothing in response, just nodded sharply.

            Similar comments like this were made by the prince, but Tadashi couldn’t tell from any verbal or visual clue if he was teasing or serious or innocent. And Tadashi certainly didn’t feel he had much of a right to ask.

            Each moment seemed to dissolve into the air as soon as it ended, the prince continuing his daily duties, and Tadashi following at his heels. Their days continued in the same fashion, a couple minor changes to the schedule including one heart-stopping run-in with the Crown Prince that left Tadashi completely red and Prince Kei scowling for some unknown reason.

            Tadashi began to get the hang of it, and after a few days, felt comfortable enough in his position to tell Shimada that he was glad to have been randomly selected, to which he received a slap on the back in congratulations for. Tadashi rubbed the sore area but laughed, a happy grin on his face.

            He’d seen Yachi in the kitchens that day, and had a brief conversation with Kageyama about how Hinata was doing. Everything finally felt settled in and felt normal.

            So of course, the prince surprised him.

            It was at the end of a long day. Tadashi was slightly unsteady on his feet, but still fine. He looked forward to having his own dinner once the prince was finished, and then hopefully meeting Hinata in town later that evening.

            “Yamaguchi.”

            Prince Kei crooked a finger in his direction, and Tadashi was at his side in an instant. His eyes flew over the fresh tray of food prepared for the prince’s dinner, consisting of a plate of meat, a few vegetables on the side including a nice helping of fried potato skins, and half of a strawberry cream desert. It looked delicious to Tadashi, but maybe there was something wrong with it that he couldn’t see. Perhaps Prince Kei had food he disliked?

            Prince Kei picked up his fork and dug into the desert cake. Odd, but not that weird. The prince had a sweet tooth, Tadashi had discovered and kept to himself, and maybe he would rather have a treat before the main meal.

            Tadashi’s head suddenly flinched back when something appeared right in front of his face.

            Prince Kei was shoving the cake-filled fork towards him. “Eat it.”

            Tadashi’s eyes widened, vision tunneling. “Pardon?”

            Prince Kei smirked. “Are you not my manservant? Are you not tasked with doing whatever I ask?”

            “Y-yes of course,” Tadashi assured. “But this is your meal.”

            “And I am asking you to take the first bite,” Prince Kei ordered, the fork hovering to the left of Tadashi’s mouth. 

            Tadashi’s eyes pleaded for mercy. This was not in the tricks of the trade he’d been briefly lectured on by Shimada. 

            It was now Tadashi’s fifth day working for the prince, and he was getting quite used to how things worked. He had met almost all of the guards who worked directly under the royal family, got his sleep schedule down, and hardly tripped over his words in front of the prince. Prince Kei made it easy though, most of the time, by not really seeming to care what Tadashi was saying, or at least how he said it. Tadashi said most of the time, because Prince Kei had enjoyed throwing twists into their routine or conversations. Just like this one.

            Prince Kei sighed when Tadashi still did not take the bite. “I am a prince. There is the potential for my food to be poisoned.”

            Tadashi’s breath caught in his throat. 

            “I will not eat until I see that you have been pleased enough with the food to know I will be safe.”

            Damn. That was princely logic there. Tadashi wasn’t worried this food was poisoned, as it had come from their kitchens, and the ingredients had been procured by himself earlier in the week. But this was one of the jobs servants in the royal household had, he was pretty sure. Though usually only during big events with many outsiders…

            “O-okay,” Tadashi said with a nod, and opened his mouth. He reached for the utensil, but before his fingers could wrap around it, the portion of strawberry cream cake was in his mouth, and his lips closed over it instinctively, fingers curling in and away from reaching out. 

            Tadashi chewed after the fork retreated from his mouth, savoring the sweet berry and the smooth cream. He licked his lips to clean away any remnants left and then nodded to the prince. “It’s good. Safe.”

            Prince Kei’s eyes had not left Tadashi the entire time. The gaze was currently on Tadashi’s mouth, but it then moved back to meet his. The fork still hovered between the two of them, Prince Kei’s wrist limp as he held it between his fingers. Tadashi dropped his eyes. No more than three seconds of eye contact, remember, he scolded himself.

            “Wine.”

            Tadashi blinked, startled by the prince’s voice. “Wine?”

            “Wash it down with a sip of wine,” Prince Kei elaborated, hand finally dropping the fork back to the plate and moving towards the filled goblet. He tugged it towards them and left it in front of Tadashi. 

            “But—”

            Prince Kei seemed prepared for his argument. “Could my wine not be spiked too?”

            Tadashi swallowed. The prince’s eyes looked especially golden right now, the evening moonlight and the table’s candles reflecting in them, his glasses reflecting an image of Tadashi staring at him with a parted mouth. 

            Tadashi reached for the cup and took a small sip before setting it down. He licked his lips again, to erase any red stain it may have left behind. 

            “Good still,” he assured the prince. 

            “Tastes good?”

            Tadashi nodded. “Absolutely. Only the best for you, Prince Kei.”

            “You called me Tsukki, that once...” the prince murmured behind a hand as he reached for the fork to finally begin eating himself. The same fork, Tadashi realized with a jolt of his heart, before his brain finally registered what had been said.

            Tadashi blinked rapidly several times. “Excuse me, Sir?”

            He was waved off. “Nothing. Pay no mind.” Prince Kei bit down on a strawberry, and its juices stained his lips. Tadashi resisted the urge to lick his own once more. Indirect kiss! his brain screamed.

            But that name. It was drawing up a memory in Tadashi’s mind. Something so small he’d forgotten it. 

            “Tsukki,” he’d said, to himself, that first night in the library. “Tsu-Kei.”

            The memory came back to him swiftly, like a slap. 

            He’d been nodding off, resting his head in one hand to keep it propped up. He was so immersed in the book, he didn’t want the evening to come, but his body was just too exhausted to keep up. 

            The Tsukishima family had a very interesting history. The name “Kei” had been used seven times in the royal line to name the King’s sons, four of which being kings themselves. Tadashi, in his sleep-addled state, had thought to himself that it sounded like they had looked at the first part of their family name, took the second syllable, and declared it a name. 

            “Tsu-Kei. Heh. Tsukei…Tsukki…” he breathed as his eyed fell closed, body going relaxed and slumping over the table onto the book. 

            “Never been called that before,” a voice murmured behind him. But Tadashi had been so tired, he’d written it off as a dream. 

            “You’ll drool on it,” the voice said some time later. 

            Tadashi felt a shift in his body, but he was so out of it he didn’t even react to the movement. 

            Fingers were on his cheeks, sweeping hair back from his face. “…Freckles.”

            “Kei? It’s quite late, you should get some rest.”

            “I could say the same to you. You will need the rest more than I.”

            “Who is this?”

            “Some servant boy. Never seen him before.”

            “Me neither. He can read.”

            “Rare....he called me Tsukki.”

            Laughter. Tadashi had stirred. Shushing. 

            “Cute.”

            “Quiet, brother. Off we to bed. Or I’ll tell mother.”

            Tadashi exited the memory as quickly as he had entered it, and his wide eyes found Prince Kei’s. He was being looked back at. There was some cream on the corner of his mouth. 

            “Is it good, your royalness?” Tadashi asked on a breath. 

            Prince Kei sighed dramatically, eyes rolling. “You have no idea about how to properly address me, do you? Commoners,” he sneered.

            Tadashi waited for the strike of fear to curl up in his chest, like it usually would when it appeared he’d done something wrong. But nothing happened, his mind too focused on the resurfaced memory.

            “Then.” Tadashi’s hands shook with nerves none the less. “Tsukki, then?”

            Prince Kei froze. 

            Tadashi immediately fell to his knees into a deep bow, asking for forgiveness in a repeated mantra. He locked his shoulders up around his ears, listening to the rapid beating of his heart and the rush of blood through his veins Oh, he was really going to die today.

            “Fine.”

            His pleas were cut short by the curt word. Tadashi raised his head slowly. Prince Kei was leaning over him, one arm braced on the base of his chair to keep his balance. Their faces were centimeters apart. 

            “Yamaguchi.” Tadashi’s body rolled in a shiver. “Join me.”

            Tadashi slowly got to his feet and resumed his position at Prince Kei’s side. “Okay... Tsukki,” he whispered the name, like a secret. 

            For the rest of the evening, Prince Kei shared his meal with Tadashi. And he did the same the next night, and the night after that, and the night after that, and for many, many nights to come.