Watching Shirayuki at work, Zen’s learnt over the years, never seems to grow boring. Be it grinding medicinal herbs or assisting the people in her care or making the staves the castle healers use it doesn’t really matter, she brings an easy grace into everything she does and keeps Zen wrapped around her callous fingers.
He does love it the most when she’s making staves though. Or rather— making might be the wrong word for it considering that’s what the blacksmiths do, hammering the metal and giving it a shape, while Shirayuki imbues the gift of magic inside of it. Her job is to polish the stones that go on top of the staves, to make them smooth and turn them into, as Shirayuki herself explained it to him one day, a link between the healer’s life force and the rest of the world.
“You need stones of the highest purity for that,” she had said, rosy cheeks from working near the forge and hands much, much stronger than what Zen remembered before her leaving for her apprenticeship in Lyras.
She’s pulling out some fragments from the forge right now too and Zen squints his eyes through the steam as she drops them in a bucket full of iced water, trying to catch the gentle shimmer they give off. They kind of look like stars lying at the bottom of a puddle like this, ready to be picked up by the first fool with a wish.
“This should do it,” Shirayuki declares with a satisfied hum, wiping the sweat from her forehead with her leather glove as she turns to face Zen; she’s got a smudge of soot right above one of her eyebrows and Zen laughs, wipes it off with the hem of his sleeve as Shirayuki puffs her cheeks and chides him for getting his fancy clothes dirty when she’s got a towel ready exactly for that.
“It’ll just go away if I wash it,” Zen says, then pauses. “... Right?”
This time it’s Shirayuki who snorts, swatting his head lightly with one of the gloves as she gets up and starts shrugging out of her workwear. An airy yes, yes is all he gets in reply but he doesn’t mind, not when Shirayuki flashes him an open smile as she asks him if he wants to go grab something to eat together.
“Sure,” he says, and takes her hand.
Sometimes the ugliest worries coiling in the back of his mind get the best of him.
It’s on one warm night that he dares to say it out loud, with Obi’s arm thrown across his chest and Obi’s breath tickling his jaw with every lazy exhale.
“Am I holding you two back?” he asks, voice a sliver of his usual volume, sticking to his throat like a moth blinded by the light. “Am I doing this all wrong— I mean, I know you chose to stay and Shirayuki says she can be both a royal healer and my, huh, wife but…”
He can feel Obi’s hesitation for a moment, a blink-and-you-miss-it half of a second, but Zen’s gotten quicker on the uptake ever since knowing him so he catches it, just like he doesn’t miss the look Obi gives him as he heaves himself up from his position curled by Zen’s side enough to have some semblance of an eye to eye conversation. Then Obi sighs, and the light pressure of his arm still on Zen’s chest makes Zen’s own breath catch.
“Back when we were in Lyras Mistress told me,” Obi begins, painstakingly careful, “that she can’t see her job and her relationship with you as two separate things. Our fine king thinks the same but you already know this, don’t you?”
He smiles, swings one of his legs past Zen’s so that he’s straddling him; the mattress creaks under the pressure of his hands and knees, Zen’s heartbeat thuds against his bones.
“What about you?” he insists, bringing one hand to Obi’s face and tracing the line of the scar there absentmindedly. He’d rather not have Obi sneak his way out of the big picture, not with how much he cares about him.
“What about me?” Obi singsongs in that infuriating way of his he knows Zen’s all too fond of. His hands slide upwards as he readjusts himself closer to Zen. “Master fears he’s locked me up in a pretty golden cage all this time like a little bird?” His tone is playful but there’s determination in there, bubbling under the surface of his voice like one of Shirayuki’s medicines.
It makes his eyes shine in the dark like the stones she brings to life with iron and charcoal when he says, “I’m not that helpless that I wouldn’t leave.”
If I didn’t love this rings out unsaid and Zen lets himself feel a little dazed.
He tugs Obi down, gently, and Obi breaks into a victorious grin right before kissing him.
This time there’s blood on Shirayuki’s clothes instead of soot, finger-shaped smudges on her apron where she’s wiped her hands. Ryuu is in the same state and the woman in front of them moans in a pained way that sends panic down Zen’s spine; he grits his teeth, tells himself he can’t faint no matter what.
The woman’s wife has been clutching her hand for the whole time, standing still like a pillar amidst the flurry of healers coming in and out, and her crumpled expression goes slack with utter stupor the moment the first wail pierces the air. Then she’s crying, all scrunched up again, and Zen can’t help but sag in relief when Shirayuki turns to him, exhausted and shaky and so, so happy as Ryuu hands the newborn to the mother, all wrapped up in clean cloth.
“Zen,” she murmurs, and the strength of it comes crushing down on him, “come closer.”
He peels himself off the wall where he’s flattened himself against through the whole thing, inadequacy paralyzing him where he stood, and walks up to the two women. They fumble, try to pay him their respects but he stops them, fumbling right back. He could swear he’s heard Shirayuki laugh behind him.
“So, uh,” he starts, makes some stilted gesture that he hopes doesn’t look as awkward as it felt. “Congratulation on your first child.”
The women smile in thanks and Zen feels himself relax a little bit too, then Shirayuki is tapping on his shoulder with an expectant smile. “Well then, Prince Zen, I believe I’ve taught you what to do.”
He still thinks it should be his brother to bless the baby, because what’s a prince’s blessing when the king is right there, but the two mothers have asked for him and Garrack says it’s one of his many duties he should be carrying out by now so he steps forward and lets his dominant hand hover above the baby’s head.
“May you grow tall like the trees, white like the snow ,” he recites in the language only spellcasters still speak, the weight of his people wrapped around him like warm wool.
He can see Shirayuki and Obi standing by a stall across the other side of the town square: she’s got her arm linked to his and he’s whispering something in her ear that makes her burst out laughing. Both have flowers woven in their hair, hanging from their necks.
Mitsuhide and Kiki are off somewhere enjoying the festival too, never straying too far from Zen’s side, and there’s someone playing the violin from a makeshift stand.
It’s soothing, to watch Shirayuki drag Obi away from the stand for a dance, fried treat still dangling from his mouth as he hurries to chew it down and powdered sugar dusting his cheeks, until they start drawing closer to him. Before he can scramble away to hide behind Mitsuhide (or Kiki, her glare should be a far stronger shield than Mitsuhide’s admittedly inviting wide back) Obi catches him by the wrist and reels him in, laughing out loud at Zen’s squawk of protest.
Shirayuki’s hand sneaks her way into his other and they’re dancing in fast circles in the middle of the square, stomping on each other's feet like children.
Zen finds out he doesn’t really mind, not even when they stop and his head is spinning and Obi drapes himself heavy on Zen’s side as Shirayuki spreads her arms and blinks the world back into place like a fawn that’s just learned how to walk.
After all, they love him and he loves them.