Daichi closes his eyes as he takes in a deep breath of crisp autumn air and listens to a forest rustling with life as it prepares for winter. A brisk morning breeze passes by and he fights off a chill. Nearby, His Highness Kuroo was scrutinizing a tree with berries. Daichi opens his eyes at the sound of His Highness forming a question.
“Are these,” His Highness pauses, pulling on a branch with dark red berries for Daichi to see, “even edible?”
The incredulity in both his tone and facial expression gets to Daichi and he lets out a chuckle. The absurdity of their entire situation transforms the chuckle into full blown laughter as His Highness pouts. Even now, His Highness retains some naivety. (His youth and family have shielded him for so long. He’s so young, thinks Daichi, noting wryly that His Highness is only a month older than him. His Highness always teases that he has an old soul in a young body.)
“Yes,” Daichi says as soon his laugher dies down, “We should grab what we can before the birds get to them.”
After filling their bags with as much juneberries as they could find (barely halfway full, it’s not quite enough, it’ll never be enough, Daichi knows in the back of his mind) and with the sun high in the sky, they head back to their refuge.
The place they’re staying at now is one of the many royal family’s vacation houses. This one in particular hasn’t been visited for many years. It was an older building, simpler and modest in size and style (possibly why the curr- royal family hadn’t stayed here). As the now familiar building comes into view, Daichi thinks it might grow on him.
(Daichi closes his eyes to its many flaws. The wear and tear, its age showing as the building rots, dilapidated and abandoned. The floor sinks and wind and rain find its way in, ever so insidiously. It was never meant to hold people during bitter cold months, only for the frivolities of summer. But at least in this pitiful sanctuary, His Highness is safe from the violence tearing apart everything he had known. And they would never think to look for him here.)
The sun shines in Daichi’s eyes and the sky is clear. It’s a little past midday and him and His Highness (“Tetsurou!” His Highness Kuroo insists) are out collecting firewood. Daichi decides to take a mini-break and take in this moment.
(Here, it was peaceful. Here, they could no longer hear the screams, the clashing of metal on metal. Here, the birds sang as the world continued on.)
Distantly, Daichi thinks, was the fighting worth it? He turns to his charge, watching as His Highness adds to a steadily growing pile of firewood. “How are your hands doing, Your Highness?”
“Daichi!” His Highness whines. “How many times have I told you? Call me Tetsurou!”
Daichi notes His Highness’ avoidance of the question, sighing as he takes His Highness’s hands into his own. He checks for any cuts and blisters, feeling how His Highness’s hands have begun forming calluses. Satisfied, he lets go and beckons towards the pile.
“We should bring this back before it’s too much, Your Highness.”
“Sa’amuraaa, why are you such a worrier?”
Daichi scoffs and nudges His Highness’ arm, knocking the firewood out of his arms, and runs away. His Highness yelps and chases Daichi, laughing and yelling.
With their evening meal completed and cleaned up (meager but they’re still surviving), they settle in for the night. “Daichi love, when do you think we’ll be able to go back?” Kuroo asks. Daichi can feel his body stiffening. This wasn’t the first time they had this conversation (and certainly won’t be the last time).
“Kuroo, you know why we can’t,” says Daichi, stomach churning in anticipation for the fight. He gets an eye roll in response.
“They wouldn’t know what I look like!” Kuroo argues. “My family rarely made public appearances, just parties with other snobs!”
“Maybe commoners wouldn’t know but we have no idea which nobles were involved,” Daichi counters. Their argument isn’t new, getting rehashed every week or so. Kuroo thinks their lives would be better living in a distant town or village but Daichi is so afraid. There was only so much he could do to protect Kuroo out there (he almost lost him to them, never again).
They glare at each other until Kuroo breaks off, his body sinking inward. Daichi feels a wave of relief wash over him, thankful that Kuroo decided to stop there.
A forlorn voice brokenly asks, “Why won’t you call me by my name?”
And the relief breaks. Even rarer is this topic. Daichi always tries to push this topic (and his feelings) away. It persists. Emotions swell up in him like a tsunami. Daichi had shut down the topic before but the way Kuroo asked the question stops him. He opens his mouth to find his throat sticky, words incapable of escaping. Swallowing, he tries again.
“You know what, I don’t want to hear whatever bullshit reason you have this time,” Kuroo spits out. With that, Kuroo sets up his futon further away and lies down.
Slowly, stiffly, Daichi does the same thing. It’s overwhelming, the guilt, Kuroo’s pain, his love, his sense of duty. The last thing is what stops him, from crossing the line, trying to retain a sense of his place in the world. If Tetsurou passes from his lips (as he dearly wants to), then what were his work and control for the past years for?
Daichi wraps the blanket around his body tightly. It looks tonight will be a cold night.
The snow has been collecting outside and the sun has long since set. Daichi slides into the futon next to Tetsu, taking Tetsu's cold hand into his and giving it a kiss. An odd feeling as it was burning so feverishly just a few days ago.
Daichi fights off a chill as he takes a last glance at the fireplace. He had placed the last pieces of firewood they had collected.
Hopefully, he thinks as he closes his eyes, it’ll last through the night. Then in the morning, he’ll collect more and Tetsu will be warm again.