Nago Keisuke has only seen the throne room of the Castle Doran a handful of times, and none of those times have been in such a context before. As a human, he has been kept out of the majority of the castle; the expansive building is home to the current Checkmate Four and to the three Arms Monsters who guard it fiercely even now when they no longer are bound to its walls. The peace that had grown between the human race and the Fangire meant that Nago no longer felt that desire to search each nook and cranny for weaknesses.
The first time he had come here, it was to meet with Nobori Taiga formerly and to promise not to use the Ixa suit against the Fangire without a reason for doing so. No meaningless hunting, no provoking Fangire into attacking him or other humans in order to justify a fight to the death. Nago has done such things before, of course, but his promise to Taiga had been a true one. The need for fighting would die as peace truly rose, and that meant he had to make as many efforts toward that future as everyone else did.
There had been Taiga’s official coronation, a stifling affair where the Fangire had gathered to watch their King take his throne in a truly official capacity even if it meant taking it without a Queen at his side. There had been the meeting when the rest of the Four had shown up, the Queen and Bishop and Rook who would reign beside Taiga during his time as King as long as nothing and no one came along down the road to harm them.
This evening, though, Nago is the only one in the room, standing before the throne that Taiga inhabits like he belongs there truly and surely. At least, to an outsider’s eye, this appears to be true. Those who believe they know Taiga well would think him as confident and kingly as ever, but Nago can see the way his pulse pounds firmly against his skin, the way his fingers grip the arms of the chair tighter than need be, his knuckles paling under the strain.
Sat atop his lap is the Zanbat Sword, on loan for Wataru as only it has the ability to grant the power Taiga is prepared to give. The weapon might have come to him in due time had his father survived to see this day; Wataru had pulled the sword from a wall of Castle Doran where it had been so deeply embedded no one else ever had the strength. Though Taiga had never requested the weapon be given to him, he had to borrow it for this task. The power of the King alone is not enough to bestow this power.
“Nago Keisuke, you have been brought before me because I believe you worthy of serving at my side.” The formal notes of Taiga’s voice are always a curiosity to the ear; he had always been well-spoken, but as King his voice has further changed when necessary. “The power of the Knight is mine to give to anyone who would remain at my side, putting my life before their own with the understanding that the King’s life is important to protect.”
“I understand, and I pledge my allegiance to you.” Nago’s voice does not shudder or tremble in the least; he had been preparing for this ever since Taiga had asked him about it one afternoon.
“The power can go to anyone. The first King gave it to a Wolfen that watched over him like a loyal dog. My father never chose a Knight for himself, but given that some of my kind are still antagonistic to the idea of change…”
Taiga’s hands grip the arms of his throne tighter and he straightens his spine, lifts his chin, and he looks so calm and controlled even though Nago can hear the moment his breathing speeds up. They had done this in private because Taiga was not sure he would be able to handle such a display in public, and Nago is fine with that; this is not for anyone else. The choosing of a Knight is for the sole benefit of the King, and no one else needs interfere.
Despite the bond between the Checkmate Four, Taiga is still nervous around his own kind, always worried that one of them is going to turn on him. There are Fangire who resist the idea of change, who do not want to give up their ways in order to preserve peace between humans and Fangire. The fact that Taiga has insisted on allowing the Demon Races to flourish once more— within reason, of course— has angered others further.
There are plenty of Fangire who do not want to give up their iron control.
Nago meets Taiga’s eyes directly, something he would not dare do in front of anyone else. Though Taiga’s relationship with him, with Wataru and Megumi, with Mio and Kengo, is different than his relationship to anyone else of his own kind, they still have to maintain a level of respect in front of others. Taiga is King, and should be respected as such, after all. He stands between them and the Fangire who would kill them for what they want to do.
After all, King Fangire is a title that carries more weight and power and strength than any other, and Taiga is stronger than his father ever was. Plenty of Fangire do not want to risk his anger.
“I highly doubt your kind would be fine with a human taking on that role. From what I understood from what you told me, the position of Knight was highly sought after. In what world would your kind ever allow such a thing to happen? And besides, I’m only human. There’s only so much I can do.”
Taiga inhales slowly, exhales slowly. “Do you swear to remain by my side for the duration of your life, for however long that will be?”
Nago nods once, firmly. “Yes, King. I swear to remain by your side.”
“Do you swear to put my life before yours with the understanding that should I die, you will be punished for failing to serve your duties?” Taiga’s voice is strained, uncertain. The question is part of this, of course, but he still shies away from the idea that anyone should suffer because of him. “Do you swear to fight until your final breath to preserve my life?”
“I swear that I will put your life before mine and that I will fight until my last breath, until my bones break and until my heart stops beating.” Nago watches Taiga’s eyes widen at his words, the corners of his lips twitching just slightly. All that he has to do for this ritual to work is to pledge himself to Taiga; the words can be anything, as long as the meaning is there. “The life of Nobori Taiga, King of the Checkmate Four and the Fangire race, is precious to me, and I will do all I can to keep you safe.”
He watches as Taiga’s face flushes, as Taiga drops his head a little, lips parting just slightly. Though Nago had been taught for years that Fangire are nothing but monsters capable of putting on a human face when it suits them, there is something deliciously human in Taiga’s reaction, the way he draws into himself just a little beneath the weight of Nago’s declaration.
“You understand that the position of Knight is not something you are able to set aside in the future. It is a lifetime of servitude, of protection.” The urgent note in Taiga’s voice does not go unheard; Nago frowns at the sound of it. “You cannot back out of this, not even in a century.”
Nago inclines his head slightly, a half-bow. “I understand your words, and I accept them. Not even in one hundred years would I choose to leave your side, anyway.”
“You can’t just say such things!” Taiga breaks character, covering his face with his hands, his King’s tattoo dark against his skin. “I should have known you were going to do this to me. I’m glad I decided no one should be here to see this.”
“You’re too shy. It’s not very becoming of a king.” Nago clicks his tongue and Taiga spreads his fingers to scowl at Nago through them. “I understand, Taiga. Our lives will be bonded by the magic of the Zanbat Sword, and even if you live to be a thousand years old, I will be there unless I die protecting you. I know. I read everything you gave me to read.”
“You are the only person I could trust with my life.”
Taiga pouts at him, slowly lowering his hands into his lap, folding them nervously on top of the Zanbat Sword. “Are you sure about this? It’s more binding than marriage. You can’t divorce yourself from the role even if you want to. Even if you don’t want to be beside me anymore.”
“That’s not going to happen. I’m not going to change my mind about this.” Nago watches as Taiga wraps his hands around the sword and wonders if he finds comfort in such a powerful weapon, such an intrinsic part of Fangire royalty. “If this gives me the power that I need to protect you, then I want this. And of course, I want to remain with you for as long as possible.”
He watches as Taiga slowly stands from the throne and, in answer, kneels in front of him, hands resting on top of a bended knee, his eyes focused on Taiga’s face. The King’s mark on the back of his hand glows softly, and the Zanbat sword glows in answer. How long had Nago believed that all Fangire are evil, murderous creatures when the sight of Taiga like this, so uncertain and yet able to call his power, so ethereal, only inspires the devotion Nago has felt for him ever since he had become an important part in all of their lives?
Taiga wets his lips, lifting the sword so that the blade shadows his face. “Nago Keisuke, by the power of the King and by the power of the Zanbat Sword, I name you my Knight. You will remain beside me unless death parts us.”
He lowers the sword to touch Nago’s shoulder with care, no doubt careful of its sharp blade, but the steel is not what strikes Nago to the very core. The moment it touches him, the power flows forth into him suddenly and almost violently. It hurts, like something clawing its way into his body, some foreign energy that he isn’t prepared for. A choked gasp leaves his throat but he forces himself to remain kneeling in place until the sword touches his other shoulder, the power doubling in size, threatening to rip him apart.
Of course it hurts. Dark Kiva had hurt Kurenai Otoya, and this hurts Nago now, and he expected this and still nothing prepares him for how much it hurts. He grits his teeth through it and feels the sudden burn through his hand, something etching its way into his skin, carving its way through from the inside out.
Taiga reaches for him but Nago leans back, willing himself to push through it until the pain finally settles. When he holds his still-throbbing hand up where he can see it, a black tattoo is visible on the back of his hand, the skin around it raw and red. The black ink, the thorny vines, the shape of the chess piece, the rose. His own Fangire tattoo.
“Keisuke?” Taiga asks him, letting the sword clatter to the ground. “Are you okay?”
Nago plants his hand against the floor, uses it to push himself to his feet slowly. Taiga’s soft brown eyes peer into his own imploringly and, in answer, Nago touches Taiga’s face with his tattooed hand. The mark glows just slightly on contact with Taiga’s skin and, as Nago watches, Taiga closes his eyes and presses his cheek into Nago’s palm.
“I’m fine.” Nago leans in and kisses him slow and smooth, Taiga’s lips soft and warm against his own. His other hand slips into Taiga’s hair, urging him closer until Taiga’s mouth opens to him and Nago kisses him with a passion that mirrors the fire that had grown inside of him. When he leans back, Taiga’s face is flushed again. “I told you I would be, didn’t I?”
Taiga scoffs at him and straightens Nago’s vest for him, fingers fumbling with the buttons. “Still, I had a right to be worried. Now, your first order as my Knight is to take your King to bed.”
“Spoiled brat.” Still, Nago slings an arm around Taiga’s waist, pulling him in close. “Your wish is my command, my King.”