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wait for the signal and I'll meet you after dark (show me the places where the others gave you scars)

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wait for the signal and I'll meet you after dark
(show me the places where the others gave you scars)

 

 

 

Silence followed the night at every step, faithful servant of the usually bright moon, never letting go her white hand when she raised from her beautiful sleep. It enveloped the perfect cut hedge, infiltrating, a spy undercover, under the green leaves, in between the thorny branches, blowing its mysterious air over the flowers, whose petals ran hiding in their buds now that the sun had bid them goodnight.

 

Tonight, as silent as it was, had stolen its moon, leaving the garden covered by a honey-thick darkness, slowing down the midnight more with its rough tendrils, coaxing every man and every bug into their warm nests, finding comfort in oil lamps or innocent fireflies swaying so gently, sending secret texts to whoever was there to listen in their language made of light and dance.

 

In that illusion of calm, Izumi could almost pretend he belonged there. If he was still enough, he could believe to be one of those white flowers, so graceful, with one, two, three layers of petals to protect their core and pistil, well-guarded against bees and curious hands.

 

A flower born within thorns.

 

So fitting, for someone like him.

 

Izumi always communicated with stings, after all.

 

Or perhaps, he mused, his eyes caught on the quiet movements of the delicate bugs, blinking in and out of existence, Izumi could be a firefly.

 

Once, when he was younger, he had wished to fly. On his sixth birthday, after having blown the lonely candle on the homemade muffin his mother had made him, his sister had kept pulling his arms, begging him.

 

“Tell me what you wished for, come on, come on,” she kept going on, no matter how many times Izumi told her to shut up. “I can’t tell you!” he would shout, stomping his feet down, and his sister would do the same, pushing him more. “I bet it was for that girl – the one you always come home with – to like you, is it right, is it right?”

 

His sister was talking about Akari, a young girl, a year younger than him, whose hair was fiery red, and her voice was like crystal glasses shattering on the ground.

 

Izumi hated her voice, but she never talked, so she was pretty pleasant to stay around.

 

But Izumi hadn’t wished for her to like him (why would he? She already liked him; they were friends. He didn’t get it at all.).

 

In the end, shyly, Izumi had given in and, looking away, had murmured, “I want to fly.”

 

His sister had stayed quiet for a beat and then her loud laugh had filled up the room, catching the attention of their mom.

 

Sometimes, Izumi wondered. Hadn’t he revealed his wish, would it had come true?

 

He admired those red and yellow fireflies.

 

They could go everywhere they wanted to, and they didn’t have to use words to make sense of their feelings.

 

Would he be able to communicate better if he were a firefly? Would he be able to finally say his words, if they were made of light, instead of letters?

 

Izumi was heavy. He could never be a firefly.

 

Sitting on the marble bench, his blue and silver uniform on, his sword lying secured at his side, easy to reach if he spotted any suspicious activity, Izumi was heavy.

 

What was he, if not a flyless creature, in a garden he didn’t own, away from his family, surrounded by brambles and those bushes of white diurnal flowers, the king’s favorites.

 

Izumi sighed.

 

The sky was too dark.

 

Somewhere in the distance, a clock hit the hour. How long had he been sitting there? His bottom was cold, and he couldn’t feel his face.

 

He was wasting time. Yet, sometimes he felt, time was all he had. Which was ironic, considering that his job consisted of following the king around, protecting him from all kinds of ambushes – and, occasionally, from himself as well -, then practicing with the other knights and sit still for hours to no end.

 

A firefly strayed from the others, lonely, and its light died away.

 

How worthless.

 

“Aw, look, the moon is coming out of her den!”

 

Instinct took over.

 

Swoosh.

 

Grab sword.

 

Turn around.

 

Step forward.

 

Before the intruder last word was even pronounced, Izumi’s sword was already out of its sheath, its shiny metal blinking violently, reflecting the new freed from clouds’ grey shackles rays of the moon.

 

“Who- ”

 

In the penumbra, he could barely see the face of the stranger who had dared his way in the garden.

 

Except, it was no stranger, if the yarn of washed-out red hair and two glistening green eyes were to be held accountable.

 

Freaking annoying.

 

Izumi steadied his arm more, twisting the blade just so that it now rested against the shoulder and not straight at the throat of his king.

 

Said king, who was grinning and looking up at the moon, pointing at it with his long, slender fingers, not even worried about the situation he was in.

 

It ticked all the Izumi’s items of his list of bothersome things. The first one is him anyway, and he found a vicious sense of victory in that.

 

“I could have slit your throat,” Izumi growled, finally lowering his sword, and relaxing his stance. He didn’t put the blade away yet.

 

If the king was out there in the night, it was better to be safe.

 

He’d never let anything come close to harm him again.

 

He had failed once his duty as a knight. He wasn’t going to fail again.

 

Totally ignoring his words, the king, now fully able to move – something in Izumi’s mind told him that his king wouldn’t have cared, and he would have moved even with the sword in plain sight. Another part of him, a deeper one, whispered that the king trusted him enough to know that Izumi would have protected him from any harm. He drowned the voice. To the dead, you go, buried in salt. – let out a boisterous laugh. “The moon came out with her king, as she should! Go cloud, move at my command!”

 

Izumi snorted. “Your Highness, I doubt that nature’s will matches yours.”

 

His king shrugged simply. “Non-sense! Did the moon tell you that, Sena? – he gasped, his eyes growing bigger, and suddenly he was closer to Izumi, and it was getting hard to breath – do you talk with the spirit of the nature? Naughty knight! Keeping such secrets from your king!”

 

Too close.

 

Too fucking close.

 

Izumi took a few steps back, distancing himself from his king, and he pretended to tidy his uniform, comforting himself by passing his hands on the familiar suit. “I do not speak with the spirits, Your Highness, nor with the moon. It seems that, between the two us, you’re the one spreading non-sense,” he replied. His king rolled his eyes, but he was smiling still.

 

In his chest, something twinkled.

 

Somehow, he was reminded of Akari and his sister.

 

If I were to make my sixth birthday wish now…

 

“That’s a shame, Sena, but I’m glad my knight is loyal to me and does not lie to his king!”

 

There was something in the way his king pronounced his name, Sena, stressing it out, almost making it a syllable longer that it was. It made Izumi feel infinite. Stronger than he was. Better than he was.

 

“I’m loyal to you, and you alone, Your Highness,” he muttered, half ritual, whole truth. Those words felt like chalk on his tongue.

 

They both knew it he was. They never spoke of it. There were things between them better left unsaid.

 

Then.

 

Wait a minute.

 

Izumi froze.

 

Wait a goddam minute.

 

Alone.

 

“Your Highness, I believe I left you with Ritsu, earlier…?”

 

He could feel a headache growing on the left side of the head. Please, don’t tell me, don’t tell me.

 

“Ah, Ritsu, yes,” the king pondered a moment, his expression pensive.

 

He’s not that idiot. He’s not. He can’t be.

 

“I left him behind! He was tired and I promised him he wouldn’t get in trouble if he took a nap!”

 

He was that idiot. Of course.

 

The king started laughing again, and the part of Izumi that wasn’t about to blow from panic and anger wanted to bask in his king’s laughter more and more, drink all of it, because it was unfair, because it sounded like a thousand bells and crackling fire, and it was so unfair.

 

Perhaps it was Izumi’s silence, or the way he had sheathed his sword, making it clang and echo in the garden, but the king stopped laughing, and turned serious. Ah, so the foolish king knows how to be serious too. “Sena? Is everything alright?”

 

Izumi gritted his teeth. “Why would you ask that, Your Majesty?”

 

The king winced. Izumi knew it was a low blow. Yet, he couldn’t help it. The king composed himself quickly. He seemed to have understood. “Sena, nothing happened, I wasn’t even alone all the time, a lady from the kitchen accompanied me until the door! Look, I’m here now!”

 

As if. As if that was barely enough.

 

“Your Majesty, you must know that you’re not allowed to be alone, especially at night! A lady from the kitchen? You refuse your knights for a lady from the kitchen? I left Ritsu alone with you to protect you in my stead, but I see now it was a mistake!”


“Sena- ”

 

“Oh, but the king can walk alone wherever he wants! Who cares if he gets killed and there’s no one around him to help? No one does! Oh, wait,” and he knew he was rambling, but he couldn’t help it, as a poison never forgotten flew in his veins, creating smoke memories, bringing back the color of a red so dense that it was black, and the ghost of the first sword he had ever hold, drenched with his king’s blood, “wait, everyone cares! Because you’re the king! You’re the king and you must be careful! I can’t lose you! You’re too important for this country!”

 

He was shaking.

 

The wind had picked up and now was blowing all around them, whistling in his ears and surrounding them.

 

There was bile in his mouth.

 

He couldn’t fail. Not again. Never again. He promised. He won’t fail his king again.

 

I won’t. I won’t. I won’t.

 

Because it didn’t matter where Izumi looked, every time he saw his king, all he could see was the covered scars on his stomach, where he had been stabbed, the only time Izumi had let his control wane, the only time he had ignored his duty.

 

But that would never happen again. Because he had sworn an oath. To stay by his king’s side forever. No matter how much his heart ached, no matter how many times he wished to reach out and say, Leo, Leo Tsukinaga, instead of a simple title.

 

Your Highness. All that the king ever could be to him.

 

The only permission he could take.

 

Two warm hands found his.

 

They were shaking as well.

 

“Sena…”

 

Izumi gulped.

 

“Sena, look at me.”

 

He didn’t.

 

His king sighed.

 

“Please. Sena…” and he paused, and Izumi worried that the king had heard something, and he tried to pry his hands away. His king held them tighter. “Izumi. Izumi, look at me.”

 

He shook. His whole body shook. Two syllables.

 

He looked up. He felt like burning.

 

His king’s eyes were as bright as ever.

 

They blinked, once and twice.

 

Izumi’s followed his king, almost on command.

 

He wondered if this was how fireflies said, ‘I love you’.

 

If he were one, could he shine those words to his king? Could he be able to accept them?

 

If he were a firefly, could he dance and land on his king head, stay there with him, and let himself love him?

 

“Izumi. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.”

 

His king’s hands were soft. “No, I- ” Izumi coughed a bit, his voice shaky and rough. “I deeply apologize, Your Highness. I was out of line.”

 

Yet again, his king understood. Your Highness. Not Your Majesty.

 

The only permission he could ever have.

 

He nodded. He still didn’t let Izumi’s hands go.

 

Izumi didn’t want to.

 

When he was six, he wished to fly.

 

When he was twenty, Izumi had found his wings in his king’s eyes and in a single insignia.

 

“You said I,” the king said, a soft smile opening on his lips. It looked bitter.

 

Uh? What’s he saying now?

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You said, I can’t lose you.”

 

Ah. That.

 

Izumi didn’t say anything. He couldn’t.

 

His king’s smile dropped.

 

The wind had too, sometime earlier, but Izumi hadn’t realized it until now.

 

Don’t stop smiling, Izumi wanted to say. He didn’t.

 

They were so close. Izumi couldn’t keep his eyes off his king. He wanted to draw closer yet.

 

It was never enough.

 

There was a burning star in his chest. It wanted him. Him he couldn’t have.

 

How stupid of me.

 

“Izumi… can you grant your king a wish?”

 

He nodded. Then- “Sure, Your Highness.”

 

“Call me Leo. Just once. Please.”

 

It hurt. It hurt. Izumi closed his eyes. He focused on the warm hands holding his, pretending he was not a knight, and that the person here with him was not a king.

 

Pretending they could be together.

 

“I… I can’t, Your Highness.”

 

If he did, he would be too far gone. Devoured by a desire too strong to hold.

 

He be eaten by the black hole that his feelings were.

 

He couldn’t.

 

“Please, Izumi. And I’ll keep myself safer.”

 

He couldn’t.

 

But Izumi was heavy. He was heavy and tired and whenever he closed his eyes he saw his king’s forehead sweating, the wound festering, the muttering of the queen – “He is not going to survive, what are we going to do without an heir?” – and the bitter despair and the salty fear that had shook him.

 

Izumi was weak.

 

He opened his eyes.

 

His king was so close. Yet, unreachable.

 

How stupid of him to choose to love a king.

 

He wouldn’t stop to, though.

 

Even if he could.

 

He had sworn an oath, after all.

 

“All your wishes are mine to hold, Leo.”

 

And if he stuttered while saying his name, he wasn’t called out.

 

His king – Leo, Leo smiled.

 

He was beautiful.

 

They were still holding their hands.

 

He had stopped shaking.

 

They didn’t care.

 

“Thank you, Izumi.”

 

“Sure, Leo.”

 

For three letters, it was such a heavy word.

 

That was fine. Izumi was heavy, too.

 

It was silent.

 

If I were to make my sixth birthday wish now, I’d wish for this.

 

 

 

 

 

A king and his knight held each other in the night.

 

It grew colder, but they were warm.

 

They had each other.