Kishi woke up early with a renewed vigor. He knew that his last interaction with Xion had been… mixed. His temper had flared up but he felt like there had been restraint in his punishment so he figured she couldn’t be too upset.
Just in case, he wanted to make sure her morning started out right. He got dressed but omitted his diadem or any official royal garb aside from the signet ring he never took off. Then he headed out with Goofy, hood up, to drop the wolf off at Riku’s and then talk to the cook himself.
It was not common practice for the Princes to interact with the background staff. Ansem and Xemnas almost never did and Riku had stopped when he was a teenager, but Kishi had been raised by the House, Aqua and Terra especially and he saw them as a form of extended family. Well, extended family that he owned. The master and slave dynamic would always be there, which is why Kishi was sneaky as he slipped into the pillar and made his way through the tunnels to the kitchens.
Roxas still noticed him almost immediately.
“You shouldn’t be awake,” he observed out loud with half a bagel in his mouth.
The kitchen was a big open space with plenty of ventilation, several islands, and a small dining area. There was a big cold room and two large pantries that closed up tight to preserve food and keep out pests. Several ovens were going full blast and ingredients were being loaded into a cart to get the meals started for the day.
“Yeah, well, I wanted to put in a request,” Kishi said as he let the hood drop.
“You could’ve just told me when I got to your place.”
“Kinda wanted to deliver it myself too…”
Roxas tilted his head, puzzled, then the realization dawned on him and he frowned.
“Are you bringing Xion food?” he asked.
“I just want to make sure we’re on the right foot. Hey Remy!” Kishi called to the chef as he put on an apron, “can I get a plate of something really sweet for breakfast? Maybe fruity too?”
The chef snapped out of his startled expression and then flashed him a thumbs up before going back to the pantry for new ingredients.
“Ki, Prince, that’s a servant’s job. You don’t deliver food, honestly, you should be here. What if your father finds out?”
“Well, don’t tell him then.”
Roxas looked a bit perturbed but he sighed and sat in a chair next to where Kishi was standing to finish eating. Most of the staff seemed startled by Kishi and worked nervously but Aqua arriving to get her own breakfast eased a lot of the tension in the room. She looked up from her clipboard at the Prince, back down, and then slowly back up with a neutral expression.
“What are you doing here, Kishi?” she asked.
“We bring you breakfast.”
“Not for me…” he mumbled and scratched the back of his head. Chef Remy was putting a couple fluffy cakes on a plate and drizzling it with a warm berry sauce while an assistant cut up bananas and put them on top.
Aqua put it together faster than Roxas did and was much more delighted by the idea.
“Make sure to hurry back before it gets soggy,” she suggested and Kishi nodded politely. He took the plate and grabbed an apple on his way out as an afterthought.
It had been snowing when he left the house but it was coming down harder now and Kishi was eager to get home so he could maybe start a fire in the stove or bury himself in blankets. It was still a toss up when he went inside and headed upstairs. He put the apple in his mouth to open the door and then stood there.
Xion was already awake and standing out on the balcony in the cold. She was slumped a little and her men weren’t here. She must have sent them all the way away last night like the other servants. Maybe things were worse than he thought…
Kishi went out to her and stood beside her, still facing away. He didn’t want to be super confrontational and he was feeling a bit awkward between his discussion with Riku last night and how down she seemed. He offered the plate and was relieved when he felt her take it.
“…thanks,” she said quietly with a strained voice. She didn’t sound like she slept well.
“Your people should be here soon,” he offered, assuming they’d be along when Roxas and Ven caught up. Kishi hovered for a second and then went inside to give her space. His heart hurt a little seeing her like that, and he pushed it away. He still had to be strong, but he found himself wandering to the library anyway to play his violin.
Kishi lost himself in his music until he heard the door open. He stopped with a jerk of the strings and went to the hallway to greet them. Vanitas and Sora walked by first. The dark-haired guy glared at Kishi and walked upstairs without saying anything. Sora stayed to bow politely and mumble a good morning before hurrying upstairs himself, leaving behind Roxas, Ventus, and the Prince.
“What’s Vantitus’s problem?” Kishi asked.
“Vanitas,” Roxas corrected.
“They were really worried all last night,” Ventus explained, “they weren’t sure what kind of punishment you had in mind and they were scared you hurt her.”
Kishi huffed, “I’m not that mean.”
“They don’t know that,” Roxas huffed back, mocking him. Kishi slugged him and Roxas slugged back. It was playful, no power in the punches.
“They really thought I hurt her?” Kishi asked more seriously.
“So what if they did?” Roxas snapped before Ven could answer and the mood in the room changed, “and so what if you did! She’s a servant like we are, she doesn’t need special treatment.”
Kishi frowned. Roxas was right but his tone and attitude were pushing it.
“Like the special treatment I give you two?” Kishi growled and he could see on Roxas’ face that the man knew he made a mistake.
Ven put a hand on Kishi’s arm and the other on Roxas’s shoulder and said, “there’s a difference between special treatment and kindness.”
Kishi and Roxas stayed glaring at each other for a few more moments until Roxas looked away.
“Sorry, sir,” he relented and Kishi took a deep breath.
“Just go do your chores, I have to study.”
Ven let go of both of them and Kishi stomped off to the parlor to stew in front of the fireplace with his book.
The following week started tense but eventually settled into something more normal and familiar. Kishi’s classes started up again and he was away from his house for most of the day. He barely saw Xion at all as she kept to herself, and people gave her space to respect that. Periodically Kishi would stand outside her door, thinking of the best way to get her to come out but he figured maybe this was best. This was where she was expected to be, so he accepted it as her choosing to adapt to their way of life and focused on his schoolwork.
Ventus and Roxas were coping better too. Roxas and Kishi went back to normal and the servant seemed more content with Xion keeping to herself. He kept taking shots at Vanitas where he could, learning buttons and being a general annoyance for the sake of teasing.
Ventus was helping both other servants settle in. While Xion’s men typically stayed near her, they spent a lot of time with the House staff as well and Ven was overjoyed to have help. He and Sora were very similar and brought an exhausting amount of energy with them into the house. It made studying hard and Kishi lost patience with them both a couple times but neither seemed to care and it rolled off them as harmless as water across the backs of their garden swans.
The studying and return to a normal routine had Kishi trapped in a state of limbo waiting for news from his father. There still hadn’t been an official announcement about the engagement and it was causing a lot of stress. The ‘not knowing’ was worse than either decision but this was a common occurrence with the Emperor. A man that was going to live forever was never in a rush. He took his time to think through every angle. That patience was not something that Kishi inherited.
In the meantime, Kishi was trying to operate under the assumption that Xion would be staying with him with a distant buffer just in case. He didn’t want to get too attached if his father changed his mind and Xion was moved.
“Huh?” he mumbled as he snapped out of his daydream. Naminé was smiling at him from the chalkboard.
“I asked if the clouds were helping you cheat on your exam,” she said nicely.
He sighed, “no, they aren’t.”
Kishi looked back down at his paper. She was writing down questions on the board and he was supposed to be writing down his answers, but he was having a hard time concentrating. Naminé had swapped his curriculum in the last couple days. Today was a pop quiz on dragon magic and its role in the establishment of countries in the North. The witch loved to push topics together to emphasize the versatility of magic.
He doodled dragons in the margins instead of focusing on what he was learning.
“Prince,” Naminé said to get his attention and he looked up at her with glossy eyes, “learning has stopped today.”
“Yeah, sorry, I just have a lot on my mind.”
She put the chalk down and wiped her fingers on a rag before pulling up a chair beside him.
“Are things going well in your home?” she asked.
“Yeah, of course, it’s just quiet.” There was no sense lying to her. She’d be able to tell if he did.
“Would you rather it not be?”
“The peace is nice. Xion is behaving, which is good, it’s just not what I expected,” Kishi admitted.
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know what I was expecting. I just know it wasn’t this. She had more fire before but now she’s sad all the time. I want her to behave but I didn’t want to break her.”
The fae witch smiled and said, “I think you should give her more credit.”
“…if you could see the future, would you tell me?”
“Only if telling you led to the future shown to me.”
Kishi shuffled uncomfortably and she smiled cryptically.
“If you are unable to learn more today on my time, then you best be learning on yours,” Namine said as she got up and went to get her textbook. She flipped through the pages to find what she was looking for and then put a leaf bookmark in between a couple pages.
“Read the chapter beginning on page 72 and be ready for a test next we meet,” she instructed. He took a deep breath, scribbled the instructions down on a piece of paper, and then used that paper as a bookmark.
“You have sparring this afternoon,” she continued, it felt like a question the way she said it.
“Yeah, with my brothers today,” Kishi confirmed. He got up and straightened his coat, then grabbed his book to leave. The chair squeaked in protest as it was pushed in close to the desk.
“All of your brothers?”
“I think Xemnas opted out.” If Xemnas came to spar it was purely for the joy of beating up his younger brothers. The Crown Prince didn’t need it at all.
“I think I will accompany you today then,” she said.
“You can just ask Riku to dinner you know.”
She blushed a little and looked away to get her messenger back full of art supplies.
“I am afraid things are not so simple,” she said but the woman seemed to relish the thought all the same.
“If it ever does, I’m sure Riku would say yes. He’s over the moon about you,” Kishi told her as they started walking. The training halls were a floor down but still a part of the school.
“He would be upset if he knew you told me as much.”
“The garden didn’t tattle on him first?”
“There are a few irate flowers that are lacking in petals from his confused brooding,” Naminé admitted, “I have known for some time, but the heart is a strange creature and we have many years ahead of us to see if our roads will join.”
That sounded nice, just being able to fall in love and choose that person. Kishi really did like Naminé and Riku as a couple in his head but with her being a fae and Riku the son of the Emperor, it was a stretch to assume the stars would align for them. He had to admire their patience even if they had forever.
As long as the Emperor reigned, his family was immortal. The Emperor himself was well over a hundred years old and Kishi wasn’t completely sure about his eldest brother. Xemnas was content to let the Kingdom forget his age so the stories and embellishments would claim he was older than he was. It fueled the fear that kept the Empire in relative peace and inspired surrenders in targeted countries.
That immortality only applied to aging, but the Empire didn’t know that. They just thought the Princes were immortal no matter what. It was a belief that was carefully cultivated and maintained. It was also what kept them from having kids. All of the Emperor’s children were infertile. Their dynasty began with Emperor Xehanort and it would remain with him until the world met its end, or so the propaganda went. All the evidence supported it, and no one was stupid enough to test it.
They parted ways when Kishi got to the locker room beside the training halls. He found his cubby at the end of a row and put his book in there so he could have both his hands to change into more appropriate sparring attire.
“And a good afternoon to you little brother,” Riku greeted. Their lockers were right next to each other. “Ready for me to kick your ass?”
“No way Terra gives you permission to go all out.”
“How are you going to learn if you don’t bleed a little?”
“Remember you said that when I win,” Kishi huffed.
“Cocky brat. Your banter feels less playful than usual.”
“I’m just tired. I’ve had a lot of homework.” Riku didn’t look like he believed Kishi, but he didn’t push which was a relief. They already had their heart to heart for the year. It wasn’t very manly to talk about feelings all the time.
“Well gear up, grab your sword, see you in a couple minutes.”
“Wait, sword? We’re sword training today?” Kishi asked.
“Yeah, wake up Ki or you’re going to get cut up.” Riku headed out, leaving Kishi alone in the locker room to process that.
He took a couple deep breaths, changed, and then went to the sink to splash water on his face. Riku wasn’t lying about getting cut up, especially if Ansem was here, which, he probably was. Nothing else mattered right this moment except getting in the zone. It took an additional couple minutes and then Kishi was joining them in the training hall.
Terra was a tall man with a firm but lean frame. He was evenly muscled and very attractive with a thoughtful expression, long brown hair, warm, chocolate eyes, and a very ‘dad’ attitude that Riku and Kishi had endured most of their lives. Like the other members of the staff, Terra was a slave born into service who had taken to it well enough to be promoted all the way to Stablemaster at twenty-five years old. He managed all the horses and all the soldiers and personally oversaw the training of the youngest two Princes. He and Aqua were also very close so he had been around a lot and filled an older brother role that Xemnas or Ansem never had for Kishi.
They were all wearing formfitting pants and no tops or shoes, with the exception of Terra who was wearing a form-fitting shirt and baggy pants and bouncing a little bit on the hard mat on the floor. Ansem was waiting, eerily patient, with his sword in hand. He was chatting with Riku quietly who was distracted by their single spectator and only partly paying attention.
Kishi was grateful that Riku was there, Ansem was generally better behaved when Riku was around.
Terra worked through them some warm up exercises, stretching and forms and such. Kishi borrowed Terra’s sword for the day, so he was a little off balance but after about half an hour of warmups, Kishi was confident in his use of the weapon.
Terra did a lot of correcting and acted as a referee for their sparring but didn’t fight himself. He mostly paired Ansem and Riku while Kishi watched and then Riku with Kishi while Ansem watched but something didn’t feel right today with Ansem and everyone could feel it. Terra was being extra careful to keep Ansem and Kishi from sparring with each other as a result but inevitably…
“Riku, please, allow me,” Ansem said to interrupt their fight training and Naminé excused herself.
Kishi felt his stomach drop as Ansem stepped up to fight and he steeled himself. So far, Kishi had avoided injury but that was likely to change.
“Little brother,” Ansem was saying, “you’re moving too flat-footed. Stay on your toes, focus on your footwork.”
The first slash was fast and Kishi barely blocked in time. Immediately, he was on the defensive and Ansem was pushing in close. The younger was able to block most of the hits but the longer they fought, the faster Ansem got, and he wasn’t trying to lecture anymore. They had already been at it for about two hours and Kishi was tired so it didn’t take very long for Ansem to land a hit.
“Enough,” Terra said and the older brother retreated. A bead of sweat ran down Ansem’s face but Kishi was panting, and blood dripped from his arm. A long cut stretched across Kishi’s chest and arm, just under his right shoulder. It could have been a lot worse. Terra’s timing was immaculate and Ansem was obviously frustrated. Kishi could see the fury in his eyes before Ansem tsked and stalked away.
“Hold still, Kishi,” Terra ordered, “…it’s not deep but you should probably take a bath anyway.”
Kishi held still through the inspection and focused on catching his breath.
“Told ya you’d bleed,” Riku teased and Kishi just wasn’t in the mood.
“Can I bathe at home?” Kishi asked.
“Yeah, you should be fine until then.”
Kishi didn’t wait for any more comments. He gave Terra the sword back and then went to get dressed. His arm was aching, but it wasn’t excruciating so he was able to ignore it. He huffed his whole way home. The snow was coming down harder and starting to stick to his hair and coat, so he hurried to get inside.
The food in the dining room smelled good. He wandered that way on instinct. Roxas was getting food set out for him and Xion, who was standing there… and not in her room…
“Welcome back,” she greeted, and he immediately was suspicious.
“…what do you want?” he asked. No doubt she was being friendly to soften him up before asking for something.
"To eat. And to get out a little.”
He was right. Kishi grunted as he shrugged his coat off. The injury had bled through his shirt.
“…are you okay?” she asked.
“Training gets rough,” Kishi explained. He went over to check the food. If it was something cold, he could bathe first… nope, it was soup, really best warm.
“Rox, will you get the med kit from the bathroom please,” he mumbled but Roxas was already heading that way. “Soup was a good choice. Did you pick it or was that the Chef’s call?”
"It wasn't mine, but I would have requested something similar."
"You can get started," he said. Kishi worked the other lays off and wiggled out of his shirt. Xion wasn’t eating yet and he tried really hard to not be self-conscious about her watching him dress the wound with Roxas’ help. They tied a clean rag to his shoulder to keep it from bleeding more and Kishi put his coat back on, so he wasn’t so cold and exposed.
"What kind of training leaves you with a wound like that?" she asked with distaste, and he wasn’t sure if she was joking or not.
"Why are you using actual weapons?" Xion asked.
"Why wouldn't we? I don't want to build expectations or habits with a fake sword just to realize my sword feels different." She didn’t need to know he wasn’t even using his own sword today.
"You use real weapons to train on your own. With sparring, a training weapon means if you get hit you can keep going," she explained.
"We keep going when we're hit with real weapons too."
"That builds bad habits and decreases your ability to train effectively."
"It simulates a real-world scenario. If I'm slow enough to get hit, then I should know how to fight effectively through pain," he said with a frown. He wasn’t happy that she was arguing with him after a bad day, but a part of him was relieved she seemed to be acting more like herself again.
"You aren't learning to not get hit then."
"Oh, trust me, I'm definitely learning how to not get hit. This is one lucky shot that he got in two hours of fighting." Two hours of fighting different people but this sounded better.
She sighed and responded quietly, "Sorry, I guess it's not my place to say here."
It really wasn’t but he still wanted her to understand where they were coming from. The royal family were magic and had magic. They were special, training like this wasn’t a big deal but how to convey that properly...
"Getting hurt is a big deal for... lesser people," he said, still not happy with the word choice, "after my bath, this will be healed and won't even scar."
"You must have an amazing healing magic, then," Xion said, and he was relieved that she understood.
"Lucky you. Though it's a little sad that you don't scar."
"Scars are shameful," Kishi told her around a bite of soup.
"They're a source of pride."
"They're proof of weakness."
"They're proof you survived. They're lessons you learned. Clean skin is proof that you haven't learned to take risks. I know that's not the case with you, but it is for most people," Xion insisted.
He glared at her. It had been a long day and he didn’t want to argue with stupid when he had other things on his mind. Maybe she hadn’t adjusted as much as he thought she had. He focused on eating.
"Sorry. Things are different here," she said, breaking the glare to look down. They ate in silence for a little bit until Kishi felt sated but not full.
"I'm going to be up late studying for an exam. Please be in your room before I go to bed," he told her.
"I will be. Um, I had a request."
"You're going to sit there and critique my way of life, your new way of life, and then have the nerve to ask me for something?" That was not what he meant to say. Kishi’s patience had expired and now he was being mean for no reason.
"No, no. You started this. Finish it. Tell me."
"I need to get out of here sometime. It doesn't have to be now, and I don't care if it's just to the garden or something. I just need a change in scenery," Xion told him.
"You need it?"
"The same way Goofy needs to go outside to the bathroom. Keeping him inside makes everyone miserable."
He took a deep breath. Damn that was a tall order. No wives left the house like that and Ansem was around and after her. Never mind what it told everyone else if they saw her loose and out of control without him.
However, she had been good the last week and he did want peace and contentment in his home. This is where he came to escape from his family. This house was Kishi’s only safe space that was just his. No one else’s orders superseded his in this house aside from the Emperor himself. She deserved the reward and he deserved a happy home.
"Fine. You can leave the House but stay on the estate property," he grumbled.
"Thank you," she said, inclining her head.
"And never after dark."
"I'll always be back before dinner."
"And if I order you back, you come back immediately."
"If Aqua orders you back you come back immediately."
"You are the bottom of the food chain here," he reminded her, "don't do anything that would put me in a position to have to punish you."
"... I'll wait to go out until I've finished reading the etiquette guide and I will be on my best behavior."
"You're going to be fucking careful. If my brother catches you wandering around he could..." Just thinking about that made Kishi irrationally angry and protective. It startled him a little bit. "And take Goofy with you whenever you go out."
"I will, and if I see your brothers coming, I will find a place to hide."
He still felt very unsure.
"...and not everyday."
"I would have been happy with once a week."
"Once a week then."
"Do you need someone to show you the extent of the estate? So, you don't accidentally go where you shouldn't?" Kishi asked. He was trying to cover all the things that could go wrong ahead of time.
"That would probably be wise."
"Take Roxas when you go.... and never leave without telling me first."
"If you're not here, can I send Sora with a message?"
"Yeah, that's fine." He used the bread to mop up the last bit of soup.
"Thank you, Kishi."
He grunted and sipped at his drink. Any energy he had left for socializing was gone.
"...is there a way I can make this easier for you?" she asked as they were finishing up.
"...make what easier?" Kishi asked for clarification.
"My being here. The fact that we're going to be stuck in a marriage together for the rest of our lives."
"Uh, I don't know."
"If you do come up with something, please tell me."
"Don't be annoying?” he tried, “Don't embarrass me, I guess. I didn't exactly think this would be happening anytime soon."
"Neither did I."
"Riku was supposed to get married before me."
"Is he upset?" she asked.
"He wasn't ready to get married either?"
"He didn't want you." Immediately, Kishi realized how rude that was to say and followed up with, "Riku and Ansem are close. Riku might be the only one that can kind of control Ansem aside from our father. He didn't want to jeopardize that by taking you."
"...that makes sense."
"He was relieved that he wasn't put in the same volatile situation that I am currently in."
"I can't do anything to change that bit."
"None of us can. This is my father's doing so it can't be changed," Kishi reminded her.
"...you aren't close with your father, are you."
He shuffled uncomfortably. It was bad luck to speak ill of the Emperor.
“Only Xemnas is.”
"There's a lot of culture shock going on."
"Yeah, sorry. You're getting a lot more than any of the other wives did."
"Are they from nearer countries?" Xion asked.
"No, they're locked up in their rooms and rarely allowed out."
"I really am grateful that you don't do that to me."
"Yeah well, if I take heat for it, we might both be in an early grave,” he said as he got up.
That bath was calling his name and it was going to be a late night. Homework was the worst.