I hope that fate will forgive us for tempting the sea
(we cannot go back to the way it used to be, but I will not let you go)
His vision was clouded by sweat and hair.
The hands barely held the sword, unsteadily keeping it up and high as fatigue and adrenaline rushed into his veins, filling them as if to replace the blood that dripped from the wound on his chest.
I must hold on. I cannot fail.
The sound of approaching soldiers drove him closer to the wall.
Clang clang clang.
Armored feet running across the stone pavement, screams of women and kids, shaking the whole palace. Everywhere he went that was all he could hear.
Metal on stone.
Metal on metal.
Metal on flesh.
He gripped the hilt harder.
The soldiers’ footsteps disappeared in the halls, just an echo, and Izumi dropped his stance a little, not letting his guard down, never relaxing.
We’re close. We can do it.
He had a job.
After another glance at the corridor, keeping his ears sharp, he turned around. Next to him, huddled in a corner against the cold walls, lied his king.
“Your Highness,” he whispered, not wishing to speak louder, in fear of someone’s ears waiting for noises.
The king didn’t answer.
Izumi pushed himself closer to him, bending.
His sides flared, burning fire enveloping him from inside out, like acid.
He gritted his teeth. I must hold on.
He had a job.
Protect the king. The king.
Ignoring the pain, he put his hands on the king’s shoulders, shaking him lightly. “Your Highness,” he hushed again.
He didn’t react.
Cold ice seeped through. Please, please.
“Shit,” he muttered. No. No. Please. No.
His breath. Quickly, he put his hand in front of his king’s lips, touching them slightly, hoping, the world tilting and tilting always more, and he didn’t know if it was the blood loss or the panic. All he knew was that they were both injured. That the kingdom was under assault. That his job was bringing his king to safety.
He had already lost Arashi. He won’t lose his king. He won’t.
Behind his fingers, the king’s lips were cold and chapped. They were soft.
In another life, he would be touching them with devotion, following the smile forming. In another life, they were hiding from the gossip, laughing loudly, the king and his knight, so close yet so far, all the time.
His lips were still.
It wasn’t possible. He felt his knees buckling.
He was tired.
No. No. He can’t- he can’t.
“Your Highness, please… please…”
He let his hands fall away.
Izumi crawled closer.
Everything hurt. Every bone in his body was screaming. The grey walls darkened in front of him, looking as if covered in a thick fog, and nothing made sense. All he knew was that he had to bring his king to safety.
His king who wasn’t breathing.
He was cold.
It was faint.
Izumi’s eyes snapped open.
His king was still lying frozen on the ground in front of him. He hadn’t moved at all.
He let out a bitter chuckle.
He had started to imagine things now.
I have failed, Your Highness. I have failed you.
Arashi’s words resonated inside his head. Run, you idiot. Run and save him. Save yourself. Run!
Arashi, kind Arashi, his best friend, on the floor, blood coming out of her mouth, a long pole stuck in her stomach. She had been impaled all the way through. She couldn’t be saved. He hadn’t wanted to leave her. The king, you fucking idiot. Go.
She had said, ‘I’m strong’, and she had smiled at him, so sweet, and her eyes had the same strength as ever, even while dying.
Izumi had left. Running to his king. Finding him being attacked by four soldiers. Finding him swaying around his sword as if it was a stick.
Izumi had killed those soldiers.
But it had been too late already. Because, after having saved the king, he had seen. He had seen how the left arm had been amputated.
Yet, the king had grinned.
“My knight has come to save me,” he had said, and all Izumi had wanted was to tell him to shut up, to stop smiling , because Arashi had smiled before dying, because his mother had smiled when the fever had taken her, because he had already passed through a floor of corpses of people holding each other, and he had wondered if they had tried to smile to comfort their loved ones too.
But his king had wavered and fell before he could have said a word.
Izumi had stepped him to stop his fall, gathering him in his arms.
Then he had run. Again and again. His wounds hurting him, blinding him, but none of them matted.
He had to save his king.
It had been all worthless.
Because now, his king lied, dead.
Because it was too late.
It’s always too late.
“You… you caught me.”
This time, Izumi wasn’t imagining it.
It couldn’t be.
Yet his king’s eyes were open. Clouded like a dark sky without the sisters stars, but open.
“You’re alive,” he gasped.
Something restless calmed inside him.
It was like breathing again for the first time.
“Sena… caught me, aha.”
“I’ll always do, Your Highness,” he whispered. There was nothing else to say.
His king raised his only hand.
“My… lovely knight. I’m such a foolish king.”
Izumi shook his head. “No. No you’re not.” He grabbed the other’s hand. “You’re not, Your Highness.”
But he knew.
He wasn’t really listening to him anymore.
“Will you still… love this fooling king, Izumi?”
Tears were flowing down his cheeks.
They were cleaning the blood from them.
He nodded. “Forever.”
“Forever… is such a long time… I think… I don’t deserve-” he broke in a cough, and all Izumi could do was bite his lips so he wouldn’t sob, because he couldn’t, he had to stay strong, because their enemies could come at any moment. But it didn’t matter anymore.
“I don’t deserve your forever, Izumi.”
“You’re a fool indeed, Your Highness,” he said. He pushed himself until he was just a breath away from the king.
Moving didn’t hurt.
He couldn’t really feel anything.
They were close to the exit of the palace.
He put his hand on his king’s cheeks. They were cold.
“You’re a fool. I’ll pledge all my forevers to you, Your Highness. Every one of them. Until the earth runs dry, and more.”
His king smiled. It looked like a grimace, but more beautiful.
Izumi smiled as well.
“I see,” and his king’s voice was thin now, a wisp of wind, but Izumi would always be there to hear it.
“I see… a foolish king with his foolish knight.”
Then his king fell silent.
He was still smiling.
Izumi stood still, and then he said, “I’m tired, Your Highness.”
He was smiling.
Like king, like knight.
There was darkness.
someone will remember us
even in another time
When Izumi had first laid his eyes on the heir to the throne, he had thought, “am I supposed to be ruled by this idiot?”. He hadn’t looked like those princes in the portraits that were hung on the walls of the city. He hadn’t even looked like his own father. The actual king always carried with him an aura that made everyone want to bow their heads down and obey him. His eyes were steel-forged, cold in their dangerousness, and the thick eyebrows framed them perfectly.
He stood ruling over everyone as if they were all his possessions.
It was not as if he was wrong, anyway.
The king was absolute, after all. All doors open to him, and all walls whisper in his ear, his mom used to repeat, her smile grim and her voice full of something Izumi couldn’t pinpoint back then, when he was just a lonely child too thin, too shabby, worrying only over his garden of rocks and stones.
Where the king was built and painted in dark shadows, Leo Tsukinaga was tall and lanky, his head a mop of red hair, curling over his ears, which were slightly point, and Izumi knew all the rumors revolved about those – all those snickers, claims that the heir wasn’t who everyone actually thought, that the king was hiding something under the precious rug of gems he had laid on.
The heir had been chatting to a servant, smiling loudly, and the poor girl had looked so tired Izumi had almost gone there and send her away. He didn’t, of course. It wasn’t his job. And for now, he was fine observing him .
The click-clack of steel distracted Izumi. Without even looking, he knew who it was.
“So that’s the infamous heir,” Arashi said, her arms crossed in front of her, an eyebrow raised. Izumi shrugged. “So it seems to be.”
After a moment of silence, she dropped her hands, and muttered: “Are you going to talk to him?”
The girl finally seemed to find an opportunity to leave, and, bowing down, she slowly traced her way back in the halls.
The heir huffed and his smile dimmed a bit, before coming stronger as soon as he saw someone – a blonde guy passing by, soon to be the heir’s next victim.
Fresh out of his knight training, proud and arrogant, Izumi had known then.
“No,” he stated, and then he gave his back to the boy and started to walk away, Arashi following him. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
There was no way someone like him could be king.
His eyes were still ridiculous bright.
It’s going to be fucking hard to protect him.
What a damn mess he had laid himself in.
The never-ending wait was almost enough to completely turn the prospect of the day’s enjoyment into a dull grey existence, made of people walking by so quickly that Izumi’s head had started to spin, and people stopping and gushing their hearts out, crying at silly objects displayed in shiny shop windows, screaming about how cool that outfit were and aw, it’s a shame it not on sale.
On a normal day, Izumi wouldn’t have minded so many people appreciating some fine clothes – many, even though now distant in time, were the days he and Arashi would go out together to shop, and Izumi was never too ashamed to be vocal about the simple injustice of some prices – and he would have moderately tolerated the free spirit that had seemed to settle down at the beginning of the summer; everyone was out, laughing and smiling, running around as if they had all the time of the world.
On a normal day, Izumi would have put his earphones on, scrolled the phone and just fucking damn waited his turn in line without being too envious and annoyed by others.
But his earphones now laid in the trashcan, the wire broken, useless to anybody, and his phone’s battery blinked yellow, a perpetual reminder of the time passed – it had been completely charged when he had left his apartment earlier –, time that would never come back.
A child, somewhere behind him, yelled out at his mom about wanting to get ice cream.
Izumi closed his eyes, inhaled, and opened them again a second later.
The person in front of him – a young girl with short fiery hair, one cross earring and a black dress that the fifteen years old Izumi that still played inside his mind appreciated and desired – moved forward one, two, three steps. Izumi followed through.
How many steps until he reached the end of the line?
If only I had my fucking earphones. But Little John had found them on the coach and had apparently mistaken them for a chew toy or something because he had so prettily destroyed them. He would have asked Leo for his ones, but the man had run out of the house as soon as he had woken up.
He sighed again.
Thinking about Leo gave him a headache, and, under the hot sun, he couldn’t afford that, if he didn’t want to pass out in the middle of the street.
The line moved again, and he realized it was his turn, now.
The man at the cash register seemed on the verge of giving up on his life then and there, and a part of Izumi felt sympathy for him. Not a very big part, if he were to be honest. He was too busy feeling relief for it.
“Two tickets for the evening,” he asked, tight and concise, and the man nodded, his mustache bobbling with him.
With the theatre tickets in his hands, he left place, and started making his way back home.
Hopefully, he could make it better with Leo tonight.
The headache he didn’t want started pulsing behind his eyes.
He could feel it in his chest, as well.
When he got home, the apartment was empty, and the keys were on the table.
Even though it was summer, and the windows were open, it felt colder.
He closed them.
Walking into the kitchen, he started brewing coffee. He called Leo. It went straight to the voice mail.
It bubbled and bubbled and bubbled, and its smell made his stomach churn.
As he drank it, the awful taste sinking in, making him shiver, there was no one to make fun of him.
He called Leo again, but there was nothing but a mechanic voice repeating the two same lines, over and over and over again.
It felt lonely.
The tickets in his pocket were heavy.
His mouth still burned from the coffee and the words he had said.
Little John’s little bell rang clear as the cat made his way toward him, his tail held tall. He meowed.
“He will be back soon,” Izumi said. Little John meowed again, and lowered himself, his head between his paws.
Izumi closed his eyes.
“He will come home.”
When he and Leo had started looking for apartments in Florence, it had been hell. He hadn’t thought it could be so hard to look for a place to stay. Sure, he knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially since he was in a country he didn’t know, where people spoke a language he had only listened in those black and white romance movies, and the few months of Italian classes he had taken weren’t nearly enough to understand everything that he needed to in order to live there.
But that had been his decision. And Leo had given him the tools.
In the end, after meeting with countless people and having visited so many flats that every one of them had started to blend in into a single hall of hotel rooms, all the same, they had found it.
Izumi hadn’t really cared for any of them. Whatever one is good enough, he had kept saying, but Leo had just hummed, looking lost in his thoughts, without giving him any input, and Izumi had started to wonder if Leo was even looking at the apartments, if he wasn’t composing in his head as usual, ignoring everything but music.
The next one is the one, Izumi had been thinking for the last hour.
It was never the one.
This time, though, was different.
The place was relatively small. Two bedrooms, one smaller than the other, both with windows that gave on a little garden, trees growing gently and tall, a path of tiny purple flowers visible even from the third floor surrounding them. The living room had a couch that seemed to come from someone’s grandma – it was pink, with cherries and strawberries on it, frilly, and Izumi had thought it was the kind of things Arashi enjoyed. He took a mental remainder to send a picture to her later. The walls were painted in a pearl grey. A window opened on a balcony.
Swiftly, Leo disappeared outside on it.
Izumi’s feet hurt too much to follow him. The woman was explaining to him, in a heavily accented English, the feats of the apartment, and Izumi nodded along, trying to follow her words, and wishing, not for the first time today, that Tsukasa was there. His English had always been the best out of them. Surprisingly, even if it shouldn’t have it been, since he had lived after sea for a whole year, Leo’s English was good.
When he had first spoke it, Izumi had frozen still.
Putting it out of his mind, he forced himself to listen. “And here there is the bathroom—”
“We’re taking it.”
Leo had said those words.
Leo grinned. “Come here, Sena, look, look,” he beckoned him, back in Japanese, and Izumi muttered an ‘excuse me’ to the girl, who was writing something down on her pad, and reached Leo. “Come ooooon,” he whined, and he took his sleeve, pulling him forward, out in the terrace.
Izumi’s arm pulsed.
I need to see a doctor, he decided. His body was being way too weird lately.
Leo stopped and turned to him, his white teeth shining, his cheeks flushed. His green eyes were sparkling for the first time that day.
Something, deep in his chest, ached.
Izumi gave a gaze around the balcony. It was just some feet large, enough for a tiny table, two metal chains, and three people to stand in. Nothing particularly exciting.
“What am I supposed to look at?” he said, trying to keep his voice flat not to give away the annoyance that was building inside him.
Yet, he couldn’t let it show. Not this time.
Leo still held his arm tight. He pulled Izumi slightly toward the northest wall. “See, here.”
And Izumi understood.
Engraved on the wall, mostly hidden by green ivy growing, there was a small crown, painted in a deep, royal blue.
Shaking Leo’s hand away, he raised his own, and touched the mark.
He rolled his eyes.
Typical of him, he thought. He didn’t make a good job at trying to hide his smile.
“You’re an idiot of a self-centered king,” he declared, turning away, back in the house. “It’s blue!” he pouted, but Izumi didn’t reply.
Going inside, Leo yelled after him, “does this mean we are taking it? Are we taking it? Sena? Seeeena ?”
They took it.
Two weeks in, he still had to spend more than five minutes in the same room with the waiting-to-be-king. Between the training and his duties, he hardly even had time to dine and sleep, let alone get to know the prince. And that wasn’t even something he was supposed to do.
The knights had to protect the king and his royal family. They didn’t need to get to know them. There was nothing friendly in the art of the war.
And anyway, it wasn’t like he could approach the heir so easily.
Izumi had been curious. Curious of the royal family, like everybody, and there was something off-putting about the prince, something he couldn’t put his hands on. Perhaps it was his pointy years, so different from human ones. Or how he laughed like he didn’t have nothing in the world to worry about, bright and crystal clear, a shining gem.
But knights didn’t have time for curiosity, and Izumi even less.
There was nothing to him there worth to be intrigued about.
Not when he was far from home. Not when he wasn’t even sure about what he was doing.
The only thing he had wanted was to make his mother proud.
He couldn’t do this anymore.
She had wished, as a child, the daughter of a baker, before reality had shuttered her out, to be a knight. She would tell him all those stories about women and men in shining armors, carefully polished, fighting to protect the just from the evil, dying for the sake of a kind ruler. Izumi had later known that there was no place for women there. Yet, his mother had always had faith. “Even if I can’t fight in the battlefield, there are still things I can do. And one day they’ll realize that women are just as capable,” she had said.
When she died, Izumi had decided.
The best he could do was live her dream.
And now, he was there, training to become a knight.
It was fucking exhausting.
He dragged his feet on the stone floor, moving silently towards the kitchens, thirst and hunger paining him at every step, sleep trying to pull him in his room. Food first, he thought. He needed to eat. Or at least drink. He hadn’t touched water from the morning, having forgotten to refill his canteen and never finding a moment to bring himself to take a trip to the well.
The castle at night looked haunted by invisible ghosts. Everything was silent, only the sound of him walking and the occasional shuffling of the guards, which nodded at him as he passed by. He nodded back. No words were exchanged.
That, Izumi had discovered, was the usual in that place.
In a haze, he reached the door of the kitchen. He excused himself in.
He wasn’t really expecting anyone. Perhaps a cook, or a guard. But it was deep in the night, the time of working trembling away, as the gentle moon had started to claim everyone in their bed with her beautiful rays.
Even though this, the room wasn’t empty, but there was a boy.
He didn’t notice him soon. He was sitting on the corner on the floor, his back plastered on the walls, his knees drawn toward him, under his chin, which rested on them heavily.
The prince snapped his gaze up, his hand trying to clasp onto his sides – probably searching for his sword or a weapon. Izumi barely managed to keep himself from snickering. That is probably the worst fighting stance I have ever seen.
Izumi raised his hands.
Quickly, the heir deflated. “Oh,” he muttered, and all signs of panic receded. “It’s you.”
This once, Izumi couldn’t stop his eyebrows from raising.
What kind of greeting was that?
He didn’t reply. There was nothing to say.
Swiftly, he came forward, and started his search. He was there to eat and drink.
Nothing more, nothing less. And whatever problem the heir was having, it wasn’t his.
Scavenging on the shelves, he took a piece of hard bread, still edible even though it was probably a few days old, and some grapes.
He couldn’t find any water.
Something cold touched his skin.
It took him a moment to realize it was the prince’s hand.
He had got up from his place in the corner and he was giving him something.
The prince pulled his shoulders up, curving himself inward. “I took it this evening. I think it’s warm by now, but it can still do, can’t it?”
Izumi wanted to refuse.
But. But the heir’s voice was uncertain, something he had never heard, and his eyes were dull, like the edge of a blunted sword.
For the first time, the heir was close to him – so close that his pale complexion couldn’t be missed, and neither the slight green tone that his skin was. Elf, he marveled. No, half elf.
He didn’t dare to speak.
It was all wrong.
The prince was loud and boisterous. The prince talked with the portraits and annoyed the servants.
The prince didn’t hide in the kitchen, on a dusty floor, waiting to be found.
Izumi took the water from him.
He took a few sips.
It was warm, and didn’t quench his thirst at all, but the heir seemed to relax a bit.
Izumi handed the canteen back to him. “You, too, Your Majesty,” he said.
The shadow of surprise in his eyes was the first emotion he had seen in them in a day.
That’s better, he thought.
The heir took a few sips of his own.
“Thank you,” he said, the words twisted, as if he wasn’t used to tell them. And why should he have?
“You don’t need to thank me, Your Majesty. I am the one to send you my gratitude.”
It was sudden.
A raucous laugh erupted from the prince chest, and it filled the whole kitchen, slipping into the lines on the walls.
“You don’t have to be so serious!” the heir laughed.
It sounded good.
Izumi’s eye twitched.
“I do have, though, Your Majesty,” he said curtly. The prince smirked. “That’s a shame,” he replied.
Then, he took a step back, then two.
“Well, it looks like the ‘Majesty’ has to go, now! I must run before the thieves get to me,” and this was the normal Tsukinaga, full of himself and mysteries, talking in weird riddles that gave everyone a headache.
The heir skipped to the door. Before going out, he said, in a conspirative voice, “if I were you, knight Sena, I’d run as well. Have a goodnight!”
“Uh- wait!” he called him, but it was too late.
The prince was gone.
Izumi shook his head.
What did he even mean?
Just to be sure, though, he quickly finished his food, and then started paving his way back.
When he was in his room, he remembered about two things.
First, the night watch, a troupe of soldiers marching around the castle always at the same time, making sure everything and everyone was in their place.
Second, he had never told the heir what his name was.
He didn’t sleep that night.
“Keep your guard up!”
“That’s not keeping your guard up, Your Majesty!”
“Hey, I’m trying my best!”
“Well,” Izumi swirled on himself, twisting his body until he was pressed behind the prince, his arm blocked on his back, “your best is going to get you killed.”
The prince groaned. Hiding a smile, Izumi let him go and stepped away.
“Come on, Sena! I’m tired!”
Izumi frowned. He looked outside. It was barely afternoon. “We haven’t been at it for very long,” he stated. The heir pouted.
It shouldn’t have been cute. Not with him all sweaty and dirty. Yet, it did. Izumi, in his year he had spent at the castle, had soon discovered this. The prince was always adorable, no matter what.
The fact messed him up more than it should have.
“Well, I’m tired! Let’s do something else today, Sena!” he exclaimed, smiling. “Let’s go on an adventure!”
The prince huffed. “Don’t sound so skeptical. It’s gonna be fun!”
Izumi wasn’t so sure about this. An adventure with the heir sounded more dangerous than fun.
He usually doesn’t get so tired so quickly.
And Izumi was getting tired, too, now that he had stopped moving around and had let his body rest for a few minutes, fatigue making itself be heard.
He sighed. “Fine,” he grunted, and the heir yelped, jumping forward to latch himself at him. Izumi staggered back and nearly lost balance, barely managing to salvage both of them. “Hey, be careful,” he scolded, but it was apparent that the heir wasn’t listening. He had already got off him and was now chatting about there’s this place I’ve read in a book lately, it’s about a garden with a fountain that let out wine instead of water! Let’s go find it, Sena!”
“A fountain with wine, you say.”
“Yes! We should be the first ones to find it and get all the wine for us.”
Izumi hummed along, only half paying attention, and he knew that whatever he said now would never reach the heir’s ears.
A year had passed.
Without even noticing it, he had started to make himself a name between the knights, until the king had sent someone to call him one day.
When he had walked into the throne hall, he had been trying not to show his fears. In the room, the king was sitting imposing on the seat. Next to him stood the prince. He had winked at him, and Izumi had tried not to groan.
After the meeting in the kitchen, they hadn’t talked again.
The prince had been difficult to ignore, though.
It had somewhat been comforting. Knowing that even him struggled with how life presented. Knowing that the power he held hadn’t killed the life out of him.
Half unconsciously, half intentionally, Izumi had taken to always make sure he would at least see the young man around once a day.
He knew the prince always had noticed this.
Once, he had found in the garden a simple note, written to him. Izumi was sure it was from the prince, because of the ‘knight Sena’ written in red ink. Nobody called him like that.
It only said, “the garden is beautiful at night.”
He had scoffed and went back to training. He didn’t have time for this.
The note had been put safely in his pocket.
The garden had indeed been beautiful at night.
The letters had kept coming, day after day, small inputs, lines he didn’t truly understand why they were dedicated to him.
‘Honey tea is truly the best’, he had found in the kitchen at night.
‘I love the white flowers the most,’ on the desk he always worked on.
‘I’m boooored,’ he had found once, on the windowsill the heir always sat at in the afternoons, when the twilight begun to set on the mortal realm.
He didn’t know why the heir had taken a liking to him. Izumi shouldn’t have cared.
He should have ignored all the notes. He still went out his way to look for them, and for the prince.
In the throne hall, suddenly in front of him, he felt flustered.
The king had then simply said, in his empty voice, “I’ve been hearing about you. I assign you to be my son, and heir, Leo Tsukinaga, sword master. Train him to be better at the art of it.”
And this was the order.
Just with that, now he didn’t have to search for the heir all the time, out of something he couldn’t recognize, because his days were so full of him it should have been sickening, if the glass eyes he had seen on him that night didn’t haunt him, clashing with the bold fire he always seemed to carry.
Izumi had wondered, which one was real?
A year had passed, and for most of it, Izumi had spent it correcting the other fighting form, trying not to laugh at his jokes, trying to ignore the itch on his soul.
Sometimes, though, he still found notes. Not around the castle, not in the places the prince spent his wandering days, but in his private rooms.
‘Lonesome,’ he had read one day.
Izumi had wished he could have been more like his sister, more capable of comforting.
All he did, after having bitten his lips to the point of drawing blood, was leaving, in his room, with shaking hands, a note of his own, written with blue ink.
It only said, ‘me, too. I’m with you.’
When he had come back late at night after his turn of night watch, the note was gone. In its place, there was a white flower.
The flower had withered after a few days, but it’s smell accompanied Izumi for longer.
“Hey, Sena! Why is my knight so slow? Move those legs! The fountain is not going to wait for us!”
Izumi rolled his eyes, “it’s a fountain, it doesn’t run away,” he rebutted, but he accelerated, until he was almost at the heir’s side, just a little bit back.
Always a little bit back.
“If we don’t find it, tomorrow you’re going to train for the double amount of time.”
The prince laughed.
He laughed so much.
Izumi didn’t know if it was good or not.
“It’s a deal! Trust me, Sena!”
In the end, they didn’t find it.
But it was fine, because Izumi had stumbled over a log, and faceplanted on the mud, and the prince had laughed, but it had sounded different from before, less strained, more crystal and less gravel, and because they had laid down under the soft rays of the golden hour, filtered by the green and yellow leaves of the trees.
The next day, the prince did train more, but he had looked sun kissed.
Izumi liked that on him.
He thought, there’s nowhere else I’d wish to be.
In the evening, Izumi tried to call once more, but Leo’s phone was probably turned off, because it didn’t ring even once.
Izumi was sitting on the terrace, the sky growing darker as the sun was setting in front of him, a ball of red yarn in his lap, a crochet hook in hands, and he didn’t know what he was doing, but he had to do something.
When he was younger, his mother had taught him to sew, and he had quickly taken on it, becoming good at it so quickly that she had used to joke that he could make scarves and gloves even quicker than machines. It had felt natural, to hold the tools, their weight comfortable and warm.
Whenever he was stressed out, he would go out, buy some wool and he would close himself in a room, without even paying attention at what he was doing, letting the stress unravel like the soft yarn, spiraling into something beautiful.
Now, he gazed at the street under him, wishing to hear the sound of a car pulling in, the high pitched voice of him greeting the old lady that was always in the garden, tending at the flowers, or at the doorman, asking him how his day was or if there were some package for them or hey, man, listen here, I composed a new song while I was coming back home! What do you think?
And Izumi would hear all this from his seat beside the wall, pretending to read, pretending his chest didn’t feel warm, pretending he didn’t breathe better with Leo there.
Without Leo, it always felt life was missing.
He’ll come back for dinner.
They had fought the other night. It had been something completely stupid, so stupid Izumi had already forgotten, but as always, one small issue had led to another, until the first subject had been dropped altogether and they had been standing, spitting venom at each other. But Izumi had poisoned his claws more, and had snickered, telling Leo he wasn’t even able to take care of himself, that he would forget to eat or drink water if it wasn’t for him; Izumi hadn’t even known what had made him say this, except that Leo these days seemed to turn paler every morning, his eyes dark spots, his skin clammy.
Leo had frozen at his words.
The clock on the wall was ticking ticking ticking.
Then, he had said.
“Good job taking care of me you did, during our school years, or did you forget?”
All the air had left Izumi.
What had happened back then was still a somewhat open wound, not completely healed, on some days still oozing blood and pus, festering.
It didn’t matter what, Izumi couldn’t forget who was the one that had held the sword and stroke down his companion.
And Leo was aware of it.
Izumi knew it in the way Leo paled soon after spoken yet refused to take his eyes away and apologize.
And Izumi had been tired of hide his anger. To suppress himself, to let his blood become rust and ash, black from the unsaid hatred, the hatred that, more than toward Leo, he held toward himself, for having been so weak, and next to it, jealousy ; jealousy because he wasn’t the one that had helped Leo, jealousy because he had been the cause, the hurt.
“At least I didn’t run away,” he had spat out, his hands into fists.
They had gone to bed, and for the first time, they had slept on different beds.
Sometimes, Izumi thought that Leo would be better off without him.
The sun had completely set on the horizon, and it was too dark to see the intricate mess of threads he was making.
The theatre show was supposed to play in an hour.
It was Leo’s favorite.
They had been planning to go see it for weeks, now.
If only I hadn’t ruined everything.
Inside, he put some food into Little John’s bowl, but the cat didn’t come out.
“Little John?” Izumi called out to no avail.
It was too silent.
He called out again, and again, nothing coming back to him but echo.
It was too silent.
It was too much.
Izumi sled on the floor, his legs hitting it hard enough that there would be bruises. He didn’t care. It was too silent.
“Don’t leave me you too,” he muttered.
He was alone.
And he knew that Leo wasn’t going to come home.
He always destroyed the things closest to him.
Nobody was closer to Izumi than Leo.
He was alone.
He broke down.
Leo didn’t come home that night.
In the end, Little John had been sleeping in the main bedroom, lying on Leo’s pillow.
That night, Izumi dreamt about a knight failing to protect his king, both dying in an empty hall, holding each other. In his dream he thought, you always fail.
Morning came like a fist, and he wasn’t ready for it.
His stomach hurt, as if it has been pierced.
Leo wasn’t there.
The first thing they have done in their new apartment wasn’t, as Arashi had implied heavily when he had sent her the picture of the couch, ‘ marking everything down’ . That had been the second thing. Not that he was ever going to tell her. She could live without knowing the details of their relationship, thank you very much.
No, it hadn’t been that.
Izumi and Leo had put their things against the door, took of their jackets and put the key somewhere they would not forget to look at before leaving the house. None of them was used at living completely alone in a place of their own.
It was something they were discovering together.
It was a gentle, feather like knowledge. So soft it melted the ice Izumi had covered himself with.
As they had firmed their names at the end of the paper, as they had shaken their hands with their landlady, and stepped in, the air of the place dump and dusty, new, theirs, the fear that had strangled Izumi for so long, the fear of what was coming, had shrunk.
Leo had said, “welcome home,” dropping his bag down, and Izumi had reached out for him.
“I’m home,” he had replied.
Leo’s smile was priceless.
He wanted to protect his smile forever.
What is a dream, but something you want to protect?
And Izumi, high on that bubbling feeling, drunk of the happiness of sharing a home with the man he had loved for so long, through the bad and the good, had turned toward him, and, putting his hand out, he had said, “can I have this dance?”
The first thing they did in their apartment was dancing – their , and how sweet it sounded, like a secret, yet it wasn’t, it was real, and he could touch it, right then, right there, holding Leo’s hands, laughing out loud as they kept stepping on each other’s feet, Izumi panting out that he should have asked Wataru and Eichi for some ballroom dance, and Leo falling onto him from the strength of his laughter, and it was beautiful, it was always beautiful if it was with Leo, and Izumi prayed he felt the same way, because he couldn’t take any other rejection anymore, because he was addicted to loving him and he didn’t want to stop feeling like that.
Loving Leo felt right.
They didn’t need music to dance.
They just did.
Izumi had lowered himself and, in a whisper, he had said Leo, “I love you.”
“I don’t think you should,” he had answered, his head on Izumi’s shoulders, his breath tickling his neck. Izumi had shivered.
“Yet I do,” he had answered.
And quietly, ever so quietly, Leo had kissed him, and had said, in a sort of awe, in a sort of sadness, as if he couldn’t truly believe it, looking at him (and Izumi loved his eyes, loved their warmth, for he had seen them cold, he had seen them without their fire), “yet you do.”
Izumi held Leo tighter, when he started shaking. He clung to him, and Izumi could almost feel the scars adorning Leo’s long, tender hands.
“I love you,” he breathed out, words shaky, unused, but never untrue. “I love you.”
Don’t go away, he wanted to say. Stay here. We can start again. We can build a home. Me and you. Let’s move from our past hurts.
Please be happy with me.
They danced in their living room, and it was bittersweet, but it tasted like happiness, and happiness always came with a blow.
In the garden, Leo weaved flower crowns, repeatedly, one on his head, and he was telling Izumi, “I’m making one for everyone, everyone loves flower crowns!”
Izumi’s nose itched already from the pollen.
But when Leo handed him the crown, he wore it, careful not to ruin it.
Leo grinned at him.
“Look Sena! You are the king now!”
He exploded into a boisterous crown.
“Tsk,” he let out, pouting. He didn’t take it off.
“It suits you better, though,” he said, his gaze wandering away from Leo into the sky. It was cloudly and windy, the air smelling like fresh bread. We’re going to find a basket for us from her, aren’t we, Izumi thought.
“Of course it does.” Leo held out a hand and Izumi passed him a blue flower from the pile. “I’m your king after all!”
Lately, his afternoons were soft, drowning in oranges and pinks and lilacs, slowly passing by, time making itself be heard.
Leo looked in his natural place, far away from his parents’ absence, and even further than their presence, safe from all the daggers, all those angry glares; away from dark memories hidden in the basements of his mind, where demons lurked in the shadows, there at home.
He didn’t think. Just acted.
Leo blinked up at him. Izumi avoided his eyes, shuffling on his place and trying to hide the blush he could feel forming on his cheeks.
Leo simply said, after a moment of silence, “a flower, Sena!,” and Izumi passed one to him. Their fingers met.
Tucked in Leo’s hair, a single red flower bloomed.
Izumi didn’t know what love was, but he thought, I want it to be this.
Sometimes, just sometimes, wanting was enough.
Those were quiet afternoons.
I've been having a hard time adjusting
I had the shiniest wheels, now they're rusting
I didn't know if you'd care if I came back
I have a lot of regrets about that
Pulled the car off the road to the lookout
Could've followed my fears all the way down
And maybe I don't quite know what to say
But I'm here in your doorway
When Leo had walked out that door, he had waited for three full minutes – not that he had been counting – before skipping the steps and going down the stairs, knocking on Mrs. Marini, the nice old lady that lived on the ground floor and that always offered him cookies and tea.
Walking away from the apartment felt like emptiness.
Leo hadn’t really felt anything those weeks.
Even his anger, the one that had blown up on Sena’s face, making him crumble like a piece of used, coffee-stained paper – could he count the wrinkles out of it? All the folds and creases? There was a map displayed on Sena’s face, yet he couldn’t read it anymore. It all appeared written off in strange symbols, words that once made sense now rubbish. How had it all that happened? – had disappeared as soon as it had come.
Everything was fickle.
Nothing seemed to stay.
Fleeting emotions, those were, airplanes in the sky leaving a white contrail, beautiful, yet doomed to fade soon.
He had knocked on Mrs. Marini’s door.
One minute later, she had opened, and the bitter expression she had been wearing – perhaps because it was early morning and she was sleeping, perhaps because she hated everyone who knocked, or perhaps just the sound of Leo’s knock – had morphed into something different.
There was a well inside him.
It was mostly dry.
Yet his cheeks were wet.
Why are they wet?
“Oh, my dear boy,” the old lady said, and she sounded sad, in the way mothers were when their kids fell and scraped their knees, except that Leo couldn’t know that, not for real. “Come in,” she invited him, and Leo realized, oh, I’m crying.
He didn’t remember tears to taste so salty on his lips.
He was on a couch.
Leo didn’t know how he had gotten there.
He was crying.
Leo was holding something warm and slightly rough in his hands. He looked down. It was a cup of tea. It smelled like honey.
He blinked. Beside him, there was Mrs. Marini. She was trying her best not to stare at him.
Leo was crying.
Tears had stopped. “I’m crying,” he whispered, and the woman smiled, and patted him on the back. “Drink your tea, honey. You’ll feel better.”
He drunk his tea. He didn’t feel better.
The tea smelled like honey and lavender. Izumi always used lavender scented soap.
Why hadn’t Izumi followed him out?
“I didn’t know where to go,” he found himself saying, then stopped, and begun again, “I fought with Sena.”
He stopped again. Mrs. Marini was still caressing his back.
It felt new.
It felt like emptions.
“I can’t really feel anything,” he continued.
“Am I crying?” he asked.
The old lady turned and looked at him.
He felt the dry trail of tears on his cheeks.
“You are, my darling,” she said. “You don’t need tears to be crying.”
“It could be a nice line for a song.”
She hummed and nodded, “it could be,” Mrs. Marini said, her wrinkly hands reaching to a plate, grabbing a cookie, and putting it in his hands. Somewhere along the way, Leo had put the cup on the table.
He nibbled at the cookie.
Leo had fought with Sena. It felt wrong.
Leo didn’t want it to be felt.
Emotions that couldn’t be put into songs were worthless.
“I am afraid.”
“About what?” and, “take another cookie.”
He took another cookie.
“What if Sena doesn’t want me back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then it’s a silly question, Leo. You shouldn’t ask me. Ask him.”
“What if he doesn’t answer?”
“Is he worth an answer?”
Sena. Beautiful, beautiful Sena, whose skin was paler than the moon, whose eyes took him back to another time, far away in the past. Sena, who had waited for him all that time, a year and some more, without ever leaving his side.
He was worth everything.
“Then you ask him again, until he replies.”
“What if he says no?”
The old lady looked at him.
Her brown eyes were full of a love he had forgotten could exist. He wondered if she was a mother. But then – he had seen the pictures on the wall. Pictures of a soldier boy, pictures of a kid with a boxy smile, pictures that stopped where the war had.
Yes, she was a mother.
Leo took another cookie. They tasted sweet. He probably shouldn’t eat so many of them all at once, but he didn’t really care.
In the end, she spoke.
“Do you love him, Leo?”
Did he love him?
Did he love Sena? Did he love his presence, did he love the way he talked, the smiles he gave him, only him, the coffee he always made for him in the morning, even if Sena hated its smell? Did he love him when he was reading and he squinted at the words, as if they didn’t make sense? Did he love him when he was crying on his knees, late at night, because his grandma had passed away and he hadn’t been there with her when the time had come?
Was it love?
Was it love, the smile on his face when Sena scolded him?
Was it love the thought of him?
Sena had always been there for him. Even when nobody else was. He had always held his stance. Loyal knight. His for all the times.
Sena had promised him forever. Leo hadn’t believed it.
Leo knew forever didn’t exist.
People had sworn they would love him forever, and in the end when he had stopped giving his songs, their forever had soured into a never.
Tenshi too, had manipulated him, a marionette in his hands.
Everyone left. Perhaps a forever existed, and it was that.
How could Sena promise him to always stay?
How could Leo know he wouldn’t leave him, like all the others?
You don’t, he thought. You just act as if you do.
Do you love him, Leo?
“I do,” he said.
“Good,” she said.
Leo hadn’t been able to truly feel something in a while now.
But he knew his emotions were still there. Somewhere.
Love couldn’t be forgotten, after all.
He took a cookie.
It was early afternoon.
Someone knocked at the door.
I’m tired, Izumi thought.
He raised from the bed – cold, empty.
Little John followed him as he padded his way to the living room.
I hope it’s not a surprise visit from Arashi.
He opened it.
He couldn’t breathe.
Yet he could.
Because Leo was there.
He was smiling.
Don’t say goodbye, he prayed.
“I’m sorry, Leo-kun.”
“I’m sorry too. Can I come in?”
Izumi shook his head.
“This is your home, idiot. Of course you can.”
Leo walked in.
It didn’t feel cold anymore.
That night, they went to sleep in the same bed.
With his head on Leo’s neck, he whispered, “please stay.”
And Leo, with a single breath, said, “you too, Sena. Let’s stay.”
It was home.
They were trying.
And in the sea that's painted black
Creatures lurk below the deck
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart
And as the world comes to an end
I'll be here to hold your hand
Cause you're my king and I'm your lionheart
(We're here to stay, we're here to stay, we're here to stay)
The crown sat heavily on his head.
When it had been put on him, the heir – no, not the heir, not anymore, but a king, the king, had almost fallen over.
Izumi had always thought that he would have made a good king.
That he could be better than his father.
Once, the not-prince had told him, “I’m scared to be like him.”
He had replied, “you’re not who gave you birth. You’re not who raised you.”
Izumi believed in him.
He knew. He knew he could rule the earth and the sky with the grace and the kindness his father never had.
Now that he was the king, Izumi thought, not like this.
Not like this.
Not bandaged, with a scar painted on him with steel brushes.
Not with a grave raising behind him.
He looked lonesome.
It was all Izumi’s fault.
The king was calling all the knights to have their oath.
When he heard his name, the soft “Sena Izumi”, he almost turned his back.
He had failed. He had let his guard down, and they had got attacked.
Because of his mistakes, the prince had been wounded, and the king had been killed.
Bile and guilt both made his stomach churl.
His feet still guided him to the king.
Not the king.
He didn’t want to look at him.
But he did.
His king’s face was unreadable.
Underneath it, despair.
Izumi stepped forward.
He wasn’t far away from the throne.
It felt like an eternity.
The silence was deafening.
He was standing in front of his king.
Somehow, a few years had passed.
He still looked beautiful, even when pained. His eyes still held that duology. Bright and empty.
Which is true, he had thought once.
He had learnt, both.
His king blinked at him. Izumi blinked back.
A secret code.
He didn’t think he deserved to speak it.
Yet he did.
He bended his knee.
His king’s voice reverberated in the castle.
“Which is your name?” he was asked, in the formal language.
“Izumi Sena, my king,” he replied. His head was bowed down.
“Which is mine own name?”
The words tasted new on his tongue. He realized; it was the first time he had called him that way.
His heart was pounding in his chest, from sorrow and something else, sweeter, but forbidden.
The king was silent for a moment.
“And who are you loyal to?”
He didn’t hesitate.
He took a hazard.
Izumi raised his eyes.
He wanted to look at him.
His action didn’t go unnoticed, silent whispering travelling across the room.
His king didn’t say something. He was pressing his lips together.
“I’m loyal to you, and you alone, Your Highness.”
Your Highness. Not Your Majesty, as it was the formality.
Izumi didn’t care about those formalities.
He cared about the boy standing in front of him.
The king nodded. He blinked again.
He looked empty.
Izumi lowered his gaze again.
He blinked back before doing that.
A sword was raised, on his shoulders, and then on his head, hovering there.
“Raise as my knight, Izumi Sena, for I am your king, and you have sworn your oath to me.”
He stepped back.
He wished he could run away.
He wished he could stay there.
He went back with the others.
(There were no more notes. But, as vigil came, Izumi sat behind the door all the time, listening to his king soft cries, listening to them turning into screams.
When he got out it was dawn.
His king put his hand out. Izumi took it.
It was shaking, but he held it to his heart.
Later, his king said, his head lying on his sides, his voice tired, “will you die by my side?”
And Izumi answered, in an equally tired voice, “in every future.”)
Sometimes, forever really existed.