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The Prince and the Blacksmith

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This was by far the dumbest idea he'd ever had.

 

He was lost.

 

Completely and utterly lost.

 

Ah.

 

Adam was going to murder him.

 

Langa clung to his cloak a little tighter as he wove through the streets, trying to find his way back to the castle.

 

This had been his master plan.

 

Sneak out (with Tadashi's help of course) and finally have a day outside of that god forsaken glass cage. Not once had Langa ever been allowed out of the palace grounds. Not once. And at 17, it was starting to really frustrate him.

 

Langa knew he should be grateful. As the ward of King Adam, Langa was given a more than comfortable upbringing after the death of his parents. Since they had been of nobility, there were no qualms when the heirless king practically adopted Langa as his own. The only stipulation was that Langa obey every rule set for him.

 

At first, he didn't mind. Actually, at first, he didn't care. The months following the fire, Langa had been in almost a trance, following orders because people told him, without a thought in his mind. Though he had been quite young, he had felt a serious loss, clearly missing his family. Yet, there was something more. A guilt that hung on him as he first walked through the halls of that magnificent palace. As if he didn’t deserve to be there. Though, he never let those thoughts come to light, just in case Adam believed him to be ungrateful. He buried those thoughts deep inside, instead, telling himself that he would do everything he could to honor his parents’ memory. Becoming the man that they always wanted him to be. And King Adam was someone who could help him do that.

 

That's what he had thought anyway.

 

As the years went by, Langa had trained, studied, and observed all he could, absorbing information so that he could one day take over operations of the kingdom. That is, if King Adam ever let him. He had never actually given Langa any indication that his intention was to give over his power. But Langa could never think of another reason as to why Adam kept him around.

 

All that being said, Langa was restless. When he first entered into Adam's care, Langa was young enough that going outside the castle walls was definitely a bad idea. Especially considering how spaced out he always was.

 

But even now, he was still barred from the outside world. It was baffling to him. He'd just assumed that once he was old enough, he would be allowed to roam as he pleased.

 

He had been sorely mistaken.

 

Any attempt to leave the palace had been severely rejected.

 

The first time Langa had suggested it, it had been under official pretenses, wanting to see for himself the distribution of wealth and welfare among the people in the royal city. He was denied to his immediate surprise, yet the more he argued his case the more vehemently he was put down.

 

It intrigued him.

 

So, from that point on, Langa tried to find every excuse he could to leave the palace. There was a traveling circus, or the visiting garrison from a neighboring kingdom deserved to be met at the city gates, or that he was bored out of his mind and was going to throw himself off the highest tower. Yet no matter who he asked, no one allowed him passage outside the castle. Not the ambassadors, not the tutors, no one.

 

Then one day Adam had cornered him.

 

Langa easily remembered the sharp shift in the king’s usual sing-song tone. It was subtle but the warning was there loud and clear. That if he ever asked to leave the castle again, there would be serious consequences.

 

Who was Langa if he didn’t take him up on that challenge?

 

And that was how Langa found himself wandering the lower streets of the royal city absolutely and positively lost.

 

Sometimes his idiocy astounded himself.

 

Sighing, Langa continued his trek through the small streets. It was still pretty early in the afternoon, Langa having snuck out just after breakfast. Adam was to be gone the whole day on an ambassador's trip, giving Langa enough time to explore at least part of the royal city.

 

At least, it would have be enough time had he not gotten lost.

 

Yeah.

 

Adam was going to murder him.

 

Stumbling through the crowded streets, Langa didn't miss how the quality of the walkways were steadily decreasing from beautiful, paved roads to janky, dirty, cobbles. While he didn’t miss the change in scenery, he did miss his footing, his boot catching on a crooked stone, sending him flying forward.

 

Right into another person's back.

 

The force of his fall was significant, causing the other man to stumble. Stabilizing himself, Langa started to apologize. Thought the words quickly died in his throat.

 

The man he'd run into was massive. And did not look happy.

 

A horrible combination if Langa's sake was to be considered.

 

The man turned on him. Getting right up into Langa's space. The first thing he noticed was the stench wafting off the man's body. Langa did his best not to retch. Lest he offend the man even more.

 

"Hey pretty boy. You got a bone to pick?" The man’s breath matched his bodily odor. Langa steeled himself, despite his eyes beginning to water.

 

"Not at all, sir."

 

The man flinched, squinting his eyes at Langa. Yet, Langa stood his ground.

 

"Sir? Oh, we got a wise guy here." The man looked him up at down, making Langa do everything to not squirm under his gaze. "You gotta nice cloak there, pretty boy. Nice enough that I can tell you ain't from around here. You lost?"

 

"Actually, yes I am. I would greatly appreciate your help."

 

The man roared in laughter.

 

Langa blinked.

 

Looking at him again, the man took another step closer to him, closing the space even more. Langa tried not to retreat, standing his ground, but it was difficult remaining eye contact with the guy considering his close proximity.

 

"You stupid, pretty boy? You don't come to this neighborhood looking like that and get help. No," The man reached passed his upturned hood, hooking a finger on one of his blue strands, rubbing it. Langa took note of how dirty the man's fingernails were. "No, rich boys like you, never make it out. At least not in the same condition as they came anyway."

 

The smile the man was giving him could only be described as disgusting.

 

"That's enough," Langa said, his tone unchanging. Clearly this man was going to be useless for him. Might as well end this pointless interaction.

 

Unfortunately, the man had other plans.

 

"What? You wanna dance, pretty boy?"

 

Langa stumbled backwards as hard hands shoved him. The heel of his boot caught on another uneven cobblestone, probably the same one, and he landed hard on his back, wincing at the sharp pain. Sunlight flooded his face as his hood was forcibly removed by the momentum. He squinted as he heard the man approaching.

 

"Such big words from such a delicate little baby boy. This is going to be easier than I-"

 

"I'd shut up if I were you."

 

Langa blinked and suddenly there was someone standing in front of him, blocking his view from his attacker. He couldn't see his face, but the newcomer's head was a brilliant shade of red.

 

"Get out of my way Kyan."

 

"Ha. Not a chance ass wipe."

 

His voice was pleasant. Gravelly yet smooth at the same time.

 

It made something do a backflip in Langa's stomach.

 

"I'm serious Kyan you better get out of my way before I make you."

 

"Please. I think we both know who has the upper hand here. Or have you already forgotten where I threatened to put this the last time you caused us trouble?"

 

Langa didn’t even have to see the other man to know that he blanched at the red head's words, backing down ever so slightly. It was then that Langa noticed the item gripped in his protector's firm and tanned fist.

 

It was a beautiful silver sword, delicate yet menacing. A gorgeous shine on the blade with an intricately designed cross guard and a shining stone embedded in the pommel.

 

Langa blinked in surprise.

 

That looks like-

 

A growl broke Langa out of his thoughts.

 

"I'll get you back for this Kyan. You better watch your fucking back." The smelly man finally backed away, giving both Langa and his savior a threatening look. One Langa didn’t even think to back down from.

 

"Yeah, yeah. I'd like to see you try dickwad."

 

The two of them watched as the aggressor sauntered away, looking like a puppy with its tail between its legs.

 

When he was out of sight, Langa looked up as the red head turned to face him.

 

Langa’s breath left his body. He didn’t even know what to take in first, the vision before him overwhelming.

 

He was gorgeous.

 

The boy was around the same age as Langa, if he were to have a guess, but the similarities between them ended there. Where Langa was pale and toned, this guy was tanned and defined. His arms especially distracting as the tight shirt the boy was wearing under his leather apron strained around the muscles beneath the thin fabric. His biceps accentuated by the rolled cuff of the linen sleeve. Langa's gaze drifted up to his face, eyes landing on freckle dusted cheeks. At least he thought there were freckles. He couldn’t really tell due to the many many smudges of back adorning the boy’s features. That red mop of hair was pulled back, just out of the boy's face, secured by a well-worn piece of cloth. A sheen of sweat coated his body, as well as the streaks of what Langa could only guess was soot and oil, one of which was situated right under the headband. As if the boy had wiped his sweat away only to smear the black residue all over himself.

 

It made Langa’s mouth water.

 

"Hey there, you alright? Seems like you've had quite the shock." The red head reached for him, offering a hand.

 

Blinking out of his stupor, and quickly closing his gaping mouth, Langa readily accepted the hand, practically melting as the boy's firm grip closed around his own delicate one.

 

He really needed to pull himself together.

 

"Ah, I thank you for your help. I am sorry to have inconvenienced you."

 

The boy only laughed.

 

His smile like the sun.

 

"No worries whatsoever. That good-for-nothing hangs around here all the time. It's not the first time I've had to chase him off." The red head smiled, clearly pleased with himself.

 

"Can't imagine someone like you could go up against a guy like that."

 

"Oh, like you were any better?"

 

"Excuse me, but had I had the right equipment, I would have been able to take care of myself. Besides, I had the whole situation under control."

 

It was true. Langa hadn't really been concerned for his own wellbeing in the slightest. It was clear the man was strong, but Langa was fully trained in combat. Had an altercation broken out, he would've prevailed. He had no doubt.

 

"Oh yes, you seemed to be very intimidating while sitting on your ass."

 

Langa blinked, looking at the other boy. No one had ever talked to him like that before. But the boy was smiling, a mischievous glint sparkling in those amber eyes. It took everything not to give him a small smile back.

 

A hand appeared in front of his face.

 

"I'm Reki. Reki Kyan." The red head gave him another smirk. "Or, if you want, you can just call me your knight in shining armor."

 

Oh, this boy had no idea how much Langa would like that. To take him to the castle, enlist him as his own personal guard. Not because he needed it but just so he could keep this flaming red head by his side. Not to mention the sheer temptation of wanting to see those built muscles encased in the unform of a royal guard.

 

Instead of telling him that, Langa extended his own hand.

 

"I'm L-"

 

"Reki!"

 

Both boys turned to look at the intruder. It was an older man, covered in more soot and oil than Reki was, but dressed practically the same. Only this man was wearing thick leather gloves. It was only then when Langa realized where this mysterious boy had seemingly appeared from. Next to them stood quite an impressive smithy, the forge, various tools, and workstation situated in an open-air structure, allowing easy access in and out of the workshop. This also meant that, depending on where this red head had been, he probably saw the entire altercation with Langa and that big smelly man.

 

"Master Oka! What's up?" The red head bounced next to him, clearly bursting at the seams, wanting to relay his recent triumph.

 

"What's up?" The older man folded his arms in front of him, giving Reki an unimpressed look. "What are you doing out here?"

 

"Oh, sorry. That thug was back again. I had to save this guy from getting his livelihood taken from him."

 

"I already told you I would have managed." Langa, interjected, no actual heat in his voice. Though, he paused for a second, looking at Reki, suddenly feeling sheepish. "Though I am grateful for your help."

 

Reki smiled at him.

 

Langa never wanted him to stop.

 

"Well, I already told you it's no problem."

 

The other man- Oka, Reki had called him – cleared his throat.

 

"Okay well if you two are done flirting, can I please have the Snow Prince's new sword back now?"

 

This seemed to make Reki jump, color flooding the boy's face. His hand quickly flew up to scratch the back of his head, disappearing into those exploding locks of red.

 

"Oh yeah sorry. Here you-"

 

"The Snow Prince's sword?"

 

The two of them regarded Langa, eyebrows raised at his question. Yet Langa just stood there, patiently waiting for an answer. One which Reki readily gave.

 

"Oh! Yeah, we're the blacksmiths that supply the palace with their swords!" He smiled, standing up a little straighter. “Pretty impressive right?” Reki then stuck out the sword still caged in his grasp. "This one is for the Snow Prince. It's to replace his old one. Lord knows what he uses them for, but he seems to go through swords like they're going out of style. Who knows, maybe he's just so snooty that he just gets tired of them and throws them away." Reki lifted the blade, examining the creation with a clearly practiced eye.

 

But Langa just stared at him.

 

"Uh who's the Snow Prince?"

 

He had never heard of anyone by the name of the Snow Prince at the castle. As far as he knew, he was the only prince there. Though, there was the little Lord Miya who visited a few times, but he wasn't a prince. Nor anything related to snow. At least, that was what Langa assumed just from hearing about young lord since he's never actually met the boy.

 

Oka and Reki just looked at him with wide eyes, both frozen still. Reki snapped out of his stupor sooner than his senior, breaking out into an excited smile.

 

"That's right you're not from around here!" Reki hunched over a bit, clearly hamming up the 'secret' he was about to relay. Langa hunched over too, matching his energy without even thinking.

 

"That's what we call King Adam's mysterious ward. No one has ever seen him before but those that have gotten a glance say that he looks so pale and sparkly that he looks like he's made of snow. So, people started calling him the Snow Prince since no one actually knows his name either."

 

Langa blinked at the red head.

 

Wait.

 

Was the Snow Prince-

 

Supposed to be Langa?

 

Langa shook his head, gathering the information swirling in his mind.

 

Hold on.

 

Had Reki called him snooty?!

 

Langa looked down at the blade, looking at it closely this time. It was an exact replica of all the swords he had ever been given in the past. Each blade was well used from his training, all carefully protected and cared for back in his chambers. He never threw away a blade no matter how used it was. In fact, he never even asked for new swords, always thinking that the last one was just fine. They would just arrive as if plucked out of thin air and Langa had never questioned it.

 

Well, they clearly weren't plucked out of thin air. Here was the living proof of the work and toil that went into crafting one if his blades. The actual building it came out of, the hands that had made it. The product sitting right in front of him.

 

"He must be a stuck-up kind of guy though, ya know?" Reki's slightly raspy voice broke Langa out of his unraveling. He blinked at the red head, willing to know why he was now also being considering ‘stuck-up.’ "I mean it's always the same design, same order every time. Never anything different. You'd think he'd get bored with that, wouldn't you?"

 

He would. He did. Langa looked down at the blade again, the features so familiar to him. Objectively, the sword was beautiful. Clearly masterfully made with beautiful details adorning the straight cross guard. Yet, it was Adam that had originally commissioned this design, the silver blade engraved with roses, the guard and hilt a beautiful tangle of petals and stems with metal thorns. The gem in the bottom of the pommel a stark red ruby.

 

When Adam had initially gifted him his first blade once he was ready to begin combat lessons, the king had told him the blade came already adorned with a name.

 

Eve.

 

Langa had never questioned it, as he never questioned anything, but to him, the blade was never fully his. Technically it was his since he was the only one who wielded it, but it never felt like him. It always felt like somebody’s else ideal of him.

 

The fact that this little blacksmith had challenged that made something light up in his soul.

 

"Well if you two are finished gossiping about royalty I'd like to complete this order? On time maybe? So, we can still have a job tomorrow?" The senior blacksmith grabbed the blade from between them, making the apprentice blush.

 

"Sorry Oka."

 

Reki then looked between Langa and his master, something clearly sitting on his mind.

 

"You don't have to help, I'm almost done anyway.” The wave of a leather glove caught their attention. “Hang out here with your new friend." The older man hadn’t even turned around as he headed back into the smith. Though at the last second, he swiveled around to lock eyes with Reki.

 

"Just don’t get in my way."

 

The red head jumped.

 

"Thanks Oka!" Reki turned to Langa, giving him another one of those blinding smiles. Suddenly, someone bumped into Langa, throwing him forward into the blacksmith’s grasp. He felt those strong arms steady him as he looked up, ignoring the heat on his face.

 

Reki was busy giving the person who had uprooted him a dirty look.

 

"Here, let's head inside and get out of the street." Reki beckoned for him to follow, but Langa hesitated ever so slightly. But enough for the red head to notice.

 

"Ah unless you have somewhere to be! I know I helped you, but you don't owe me anything! Really! Sorry, you really don’t have to stay if you don’t want to you just seem like a cool guy but it's totally okay if you have to go I-"

 

"No, I-" Langa tried to interrupt him, reaching for the other boy.

 

Only, it was at that moment Langa's stomach decided to interject with an argument of its own, emitting quite an embarrassing growl.

 

He felt his face heat as he locked eyes with Reki, the latter's amber ones blown wide.

 

"Um I'm okay to hang out, I'm just a little-"

 

"Hungry?" Reki smiled at him. The tightness in Langa's shoulders receded. Reki let out a laugh. "How about this. I'm gonna change and then I can take you to my favorite place to grab a bite to eat. Don't worry, my treat! Sound good?"

 

Langa barely nodded before he felt that firm grip grab his wrist and suddenly, he was led through the door situated right next to the smith, something he had only just noticed.

 

A passing thought that he should probably be more observant floated through his mind, but he just shook it off.

 

The door opened into a cozy home. Simple, yet warm. The place was small and by no means pristine. The walls covered in interesting shades of different colors, probably the result of multiple leaks, the wood floors rough and unfinished. It was very different from the clean white and crystal-clear halls of the palace. Yet, to Langa, this was leagues better.

 

There was a small sitting area complete with a sofa covered in various blankets with a cute little fireplace tucked in the corner. The kitchen was only a few steps away, but in the back of the room sat a winding staircase leading up to what he assumed were the bedrooms.

 

"Uh I'll only be a second, you can uh well make yourself at home, or come with me or uh well whatever it doesn't matter I'll be quick," Reki rambled, shakily removing his heavy leather apron, and hanging on a hook near the fireplace.

 

"Oh, I'll just wait for you here."

 

Langa could have sworn he saw a flash of disappointment in the red head's eyes. But it was gone before he could process it, Reki bounding up the stairs too soon after.

 

Left alone in the cozy home, suddenly Langa felt out of place. He was still wearing his cloak which thankfully covered his obviously expensive clothing, but the mere fact that he knew he didn’t belong here made something ache in his heart.

 

It's almost as if he did want to belong here. In this warm house. With crumbs littering the table and the smell of fire and metal in the air and a small animal purring in the cor-

 

Langa blinked, focusing on the lump of fur curled by the fire. Curiosity almost overtook him, but he thought better of it, slowly turning away from the creature. Instead, his eyes fell on the door leading to the workshop. The sound of Oka banging away at his project was muffled, dampened by the existence of the wall. This time curiosity did get the better of him and he pushed the door open, not expected a wall of pure heat to smack him in the face.

 

Actually standing in the shop, the sensory details of the smith stood out to him even more. The heat, the smell, the sound. Each increased tenfold. It would have been overwhelming but something in Langa welcomed it all. It was like he knew instinctively there was nothing to be afraid of. That he was safe.

 

Finally noticing the blue-haired boy just standing there, Oka halted mid strike, lifting his protective gear.

 

"Oh, it's you. What ya doin in here?"

 

"I'm just waiting for Reki." Langa stepped forward, eyeing the familiar blade in the blacksmith's hand. "Are you still working on the prince’s new sword?"

 

Oka wiped his brow, smearing oil and smoot all over it. Langa just took note of the familiar sight.

 

"Yeah, it's almost done. Just finishing it off."

 

Langa glanced down at the creation, trying to see what wasn't ready about it. It looked perfectly fine to him. The details immaculate as always. Each rose petal, each thorn, perfectly crafted. It was beautiful, even if Langa didn’t feel any sort of connection it. Despite it being for him.

 

It didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the craftmanship though.

 

"I always wondered, how do you get the flowers and vines so delicate and detailed. Seems like a lot of work molding out the metal like that."

 

Oka gave him a guarded look, one Langa could not read even if he tried. The blacksmith sighed, looking back down at the shining stark silver in his hands.

 

"That is all Reki."

 

Langa gaped and Oka shot him a smirk.

 

"What? He may not look like it, but the boy is good with his hands."

 

Oh, Langa didn’t doubt it.

 

But still-

 

"Reki did this?!"

 

"Did what?"

 

Langa whirled around as the very red head in question entered the workshop. His soul leaving his body at the sight.

 

Reki had clearly done a little more than just change his clothes. His hair was brushed back with a fresh new headband, looking even more vibrant than it had before. Gone were the splotches and smudges revealing tan skin with many more freckles dotting his features. He had changed into a fresh shirt, the fabric still hugging his toned figure, but without the apron in the way allowed Langa's eyes to trace the dips and dives hiding, not very well, under that almost sheer cream fabric. Not to mention, this shirt was long sleeved, yet the sleeves were scrunched up to his elbows, beautifully accentuating the apprentices’ forearms. A surprising attribute for Langa to find himself fixating on but a welcome one, nonetheless.

 

"So, what did I do?" Reki's voice jolted Langa out of his hopefully not too obvious ogling.

 

He seriously needed to pull himself together.

 

"The r-roses!" Langa shook himself at his inability to form full sentences. Luckily, the apprentice blacksmith seemed to pick up on what he was referring to.

 

"Oh! Yeah, I've always been one for details. Ever since I was little." The red head walked over the workbench, where they were stationed. "When the palace first commissioned this sword, Oka trusted me with the design, even from the beginning. I was only- what- twelve at the time?' Oka grunted in response. "Well anyway it doesn't matter, but judging from the reorders, I guess the prince really liked it." Reki smiled at that, though softer this time.

 

Langa squinted his eyes.

 

Interesting.

 

“Hold on. I thought you said the Snow Prince was snooty and stuck-up? Why do you care whether he liked the sword or not?”

 

The resulting blush was all the victory Langa needed.

 

“Wh- I don’t care! I mean not like that! I care like any blacksmith would! I just ya know want my customers to be satisfied.” The words were stammered out in a very forced matter-of-fact way, accompanied with what Langa could only describe as an adorable eyebrow scrunch. The red head fold his arms, turning up his nose. “Besides, why should I care about the opinion of a sheltered prince? It’s not like he cares about any of us.”

 

At that, Langa faltered, Reki’s words reaching his ears, swooping inside his soul and tugging hard.

 

What

  

"Okay enough I need to get this thing packed up." A large hand grabbed the blade from between them, making the two boys jump at the intrusion. The clanging of a nearby clocktower indicated that the afternoon was over, and evening was truly beginning.

 

At the sound, Reki's eyes blew wide, and he grabbed Langa's wrist again pulling him along.

 

"Dude we have to go! If we wanna beat the dinner rush we have to leave now!"

 

Reki yelled a bye to Oka and Langa sent the man a weak wave as he was dragged out of the workshop and back into the street. No one had ever manhandled him like that before, him being the crown prince and all, but for some reason Langa didn’t mind one bit.

 

In fact, he couldn't help the smile that bloomed on his face as he raced after the bouncing fire before him.

 

***

 

Langa noticed the crowd first. Then the smell.

 

It was something he could only describe as heavenly.

 

"What is-"

 

"Aw man looks like dinner already started! There's so many people here already."

 

Langa blinked at the dejected boy in front of him. He eyed those scrunched eyebrows then looked back to the significant crowd piled in front of the building. A wooden sign hung above the store front, the word Luce beautifully scripted in yellow paint. Langa already decided that this was where he was going to eat his first meal outside the castle. Partially because the smell wafting from the kitchen was divine, but also because he wanted to wipe that disappointed look off of this blacksmith's face. He thought about using the prince card to get in, knowing it would probably work, but Reki’s earlier words stopped him.

 

‘It’s not like he cares about any of us.’

 

Yeah, probably not the best time to reveal that little detail yet.

 

Suddenly, Reki elbowed him in the side.

 

"Well, no worries. Lucky for you, I know the chef."

 

Langa's eyebrows shot up. Reki just nodded, clearly pleased with himself.

 

"Oh yeah! Didn't know you were traveling with someone so well connected did ya?" He playfully nudged Langa again, making the blue-haired boy really have to fight the blush that threatened to blossom all over his cursedly pale features. He once again felt Reki's grip around his wrist and suddenly he was jerked down the side alley next to the building.

 

"C'mon, we’ll use my VIP entrance."

 

Langa watched, powerless, as the two of them bounded towards an open door, noises of pots and pans and the smell of cooking growing increasingly stronger. Langa couldn’t help but salivate, gulping it down lest he start drooling all over his new friend.

 

No. There was a time and place for that.

 

Halting in front of the door, Langa could see it led straight into the kitchen. He let out a laugh.

 

VIP entrance indeed.

 

As if reading his mind, the red head spun around to lock eyes with him. That mischievous glint sparkling brighter than ever.

 

"Oh? Don’t believe me? Well watch and lear-"

 

"REKI!"

 

The boys jumped and Langa turned to see a man so built it made the guy he had run into earlier look like a dwarf. Piles of rippling muscles burst out of the man's shirt, a head of green hair tied back in a tight knot, making his sculpted facial features even more pronounced. His arms were folded over a surprisingly clean white apron, and he was giving the two of them a scrutinous glare.

 

Langa looked over to Reki with little panic, but the boy was grinning that sneaky grin, as if this was all planned.

 

"Hi Joe! Table for two please!" The red head stuck out two fingers in front of him, a grin plastered on his face.

 

Langa blanched. Then blushed.

 

Oh.

 

He’s an idiot .

 

There was a tense moment where the blacksmith and the cook clearly corresponded silently between the two of them, Langa standing there at a complete loss. He knew Reki could take care of himself, considering his heroics earlier. But taking this current man's stature into consideration, if this green haired cook started throwing punches, Langa wasn't sure if the two boys would make it out alive.

 

After holding his breath for what felt like an eternity, the bulky cook broke out into a smirk, shaking his head as he ruffled Reki's red mop of hair.

 

"You little sneak!" The man let out a deep laugh and Langa sucked in air, grateful it wasn't a roar. The green-haired man looked between them, his gaze finally landing on Reki. "I'm sorry. Are you trying to use me to impress your date?"

 

Reki's features suddenly matched the shade sitting on his head.

 

"Wh- NO! He's not- I mean we're not- I just met- FRIEND." The boy spluttered, spilling his guts. Langa just looked on, feeling an increasing glow of fondness the more the boy struggled.

 

The hulking man clapped Reki on the back, literally jumping him out of his ramble as he let out another laugh.

 

"I'm just teasing ya, you soot monster." The man stood straight, looking at Langa. "Hi, I'm Joe! I own this place. You must be a new friend of Reki's. I've never seen you before."

 

Langa nodded.

 

"I'm Langa. It is very nice to meet you sir." He bowed his head slightly, in polite greeting.

 

Something flashed in the cook's eyes, but it disappeared quickly as a smile spread across his features.

 

"'Sir'? Oh, I like this guy already!" He turned to Reki "Where'd an ironhead like you find a guy like this?"

 

Reki straightened, having regained his composure. A shit-eating smirk now gracing his features.

 

"Saved him from a thug. Poor thing was lost without me."

 

Langa felt himself smirk in return as he rose to the clear challenge.

 

"I told you I would have been fine without you." The blue-haired boy folded his arms in front of him, raising a teasing eyebrow at the blacksmith.

 

He received a full-blown smile as a reward.

 

Langa’s insides turned to goo.

 

"Well, you two seem to have hit it off quite nicely.” Joe threw a knowing glace at Reki, the meaning behind it lost to Langa. He cleared his throat continuing, “Anyway, about the table-"

 

"C'mon Joe pleeeeeaase!" Reki clasped his hands together, looking up at the green-haired man. Joe’s eyebrow quirked in response, giving the boy a sly smile.

 

"And why should I do anything for you?"

 

"I'll be your busboy for a week! No, two weeks!" Reki jumped in Joe's face, his eyes pleading. Joe just smiled, shaking his head at the boy.

 

"Why don’t you two follow me."

 

Reki beamed.

 

"Yes! Thank you, Joe!"

 

But before they breached the threshold, the bulky cook turned around, giving Reki an evil smile.

 

"You know, ironworks, I was going to just give you the table for free."

 

Reki blanched.

 

"Wh-"

 

"Ah ah. No take backs. You're mine now."

 

Reki groaned and Langa sauntered up beside him, giving him a smug look.

 

"Didn't know VIPs had to sell their soul to get a table."

 

Reki only smiled back at him, the image filling Langa with pure sunshine.

 

"I don’t care. It was totally worth it."

 

Langa’s heart soared.

 

"C'mon you two I don’t got all day!"

 

The boys jumped at the sound of Joe's voice, already deep within the kitchen. Langa looked at Reki again, who was still smiling, and they ran after the Joe, entering the building together.

 

***

 

Langa let loose a burp. The sound so loud it made Reki laugh so hard the boy almost lost his footing on the cobblestone road, tears in his eyes.

 

"Dude what the hell! I would never guess someone as pretty as you could make a sound like that!" The red head wiped a tear away and Langa tried really hard not to be too affected by the fact that this adolescent Adonis had just called him pretty.

 

Instead, he just shrugged.

 

"It was a delicious meal."

 

Reki smiled at him, that pleased looked once again adorning the red head’s features.

 

"I know right? Joe's cooking is the best!” Reki gave him a look then. “You know you didn't need to leave him a tip! I told you the meal was on me."

 

Langa threw him an incredulous smirk.

 

"Please. Joe gave us that meal for free. It was the least I could do to show my appreciation."

 

The red head turned on him, gaping in utter disbelief.

 

"Free?! I am paying for that meal! With my body!"

 

The words echoed off the buildings that surrounded them. Reki face burnt a deep shade of red.

 

"AH NOT LIKE THAT! I mean like- I'm gonna work- for Joe- IN THE KITCHEN! Not like-"

 

Langa burst out laughing, unable to hold it back any longer. It was liberating to be able to laugh like this. He didn’t even know if he had ever laughed this freely his entire life. It was hearty and bubbly, sending sparks of warmth through his happily filled stomach.

 

It was incredible.

 

"Thank you for bringing me here. It was wonderful."

 

In the dim shine of the lamplight, Langa could've sworn he saw Reki blush.

 

"I'm glad you liked it." The red head's gaze was down cast, his hands clasped behind his back as he shrunk next to Langa.

 

They walked in comfortable silence on the way back to the smith, the glow of the streetlamps illuminating their path. It was a cool crisp night, the wind whistling through the alleyway. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Reki shiver slightly next to him. The boy had his hands wrapped around his impressive biceps, clenching tightly, as if to shield himself from the cold.

 

Without thinking, Langa reached up to his own throat, unclasping his cloak. He stepped in front of the boy, stopping them both, and draped the large cloak over the boy's shoulders.

 

Reki jumped at the contact.

 

"Wh- Wait no don’t you need this! You'll be cold!"

 

Langa just secured the clasp under the boy's chin, ignoring his protests.

 

"I don’t really feel the cold anyway. I usually run warm." Finally getting the small mechanism to snap in place, Langa looked up, his eyes meeting amber ones. His breath swiftly leaving his lungs.

 

This close, Langa could count each individual freckle sprinkled on Reki's cheeks. They were like clusters of stars smattered all over his skin. He could see the tiny spots Reki had missed when wiping his face earlier, light smudges of black still lingering there. His eyes shone in the starlight, the molten color enough to make Langa want to melt into them completely. He could smell the permanent scent of coal and iron embedded into the boy’s skin, along with a smell that was so distinctly unique. So distinctly Reki.

 

Out of instinct, Langa leaned in, wanting so badly to have a taste.

 

A gasp snapped him out of his stupor.

 

"Okay I knew you weren't from around here but like you really aren’t from around here."

 

Langa blinked, jumping out of Reki's space as he saw where the red head's gaze lay.

 

Right on his extravagant clothes.

 

Oops.

 

"I- uh- I-"

 

"Like, I guessed you were rich, but we have a Mr. Fancy Pants on our hands, don’t we?"

 

Reki winked at him, gliding by him with a smirk plastered on his face. However, he didn’t miss the fact that the mischievous glint was nowhere to be seen. The ever-present shine around the boy suddenly duller. Langa's entire being short circuited, and he stood frozen in the street, trying to process what was happening. And how to fix it.

 

"You coming pretty boy?"

 

Langa blinked. It was the same nickname that man had used on him earlier. But hearing it on Reki’s lips had quite the different effect. Spinning around, Langa tripped over himself to catch up to Reki, who had a shit-eating grin on his face, not even looking at Langa. Langa smiled, matching his pace with the blacksmith, as they strolled down the street together once more.

 

After only a few more paces, they arrived back at the smith. The forge was still on, Oka finishing up in the workshop. The light from the fire spilling out onto the slowly darkening street. Looking at it now, he regarded the run-down building and how it matched the rest of the area. As if it were barely managing to stand upright, planks covering the buildings like haphazard patchwork. The wafting smell of sewage a constant backdrop. The sound of scuttling, the source of which Langa did not want to find out. Taking it all in, he couldn’t help but wonder.

 

He turned to Reki then, stopping them just shy of the smith.

 

"Reki, don't take this the wrong way but how is it that the smith that supplies the royal palace is-"

 

"Such a shit hole?"

 

Eyebrows jumped and Langa looked down at the boy, studying his face. The boy didn’t look offended, thank goodness, but he didn’t look very happy either. It was a mystery Langa was determined to solve.

 

"That's not exactly what I was going to say but yes. I mean I would expect the compensation from royal order alone would be enough to, I'm not sure, relocate? Or renovate?"

 

"Well you would think that wouldn’t you?" Reki's sharp tone made him jump and Langa turned, wanting to quickly amend whatever mistake he had made.

 

But the blacksmith sighed, rubbing his forehead through Langa's cloak, the fabric still draped around the boy’s shoulders. "Ugh sorry, I don't- I didn’t mean to snap at you it's just kind of a sore subject and I'm not sure you would understand you being-"

 

"Rich?" Langa supplied. Reki nodded.

 

"Try me."

 

Langa wanted to know. Needed to know. Not just for Reki but everyone living in this area. He had lessons in economics and social structure since he could read. From a young age, Langa had already understood the importance of wealth and its division in society. He of course knew about social classes and hierarchy, but the fact that such a successful and prominent business was situated so poorly made absolutely no sense.

 

Does Adam know about this?

 

But the red head just waved his inquiry away.

 

"Maybe some other time. I don’t want to ruin what has been a really good night."

 

With the way Reki's eyes sparkled as he said it, Langa couldn't bring himself to argue.

 

But-

 

"Okay. Another time then." Langa's gaze was unforgiving, as he stared at the young blacksmith. "Promise?"

 

Reki stared back at him, something unidentifiable swimming in his eyes. Slowly, a soft smile appeared on his face, and he bit his lip, as if trying to conceal it. He nodded slightly, that red hair shifting with the movement.

 

"Okay yeah. I promise."

 

The two of them stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. Langa knew he could stand there forever, just observing the red head, memorizing every detail.

 

It was only the gruff shout of Oka's voice that broke the boys out of their hypnosis.

 

A soft blush of color bloomed on Reki's cheeks at the interruption.

 

Langa’s immediate reaction was to lick it.

 

He shook his head, dispelling his increasingly frustrating thoughts.

 

He really needed to pull himself together.

 

"Ah well I guess I better let you go." The red head unclasped the cloak, giving it back to Langa. He reached out to receive it, only for the fabric to shift suddenly, making his hand grip warm skin. Fingers threaded through his own and they held each other for a beat before parting, a red hue now adorning both of their features.

 

Swinging the cloak around his shoulders, Langa adjusted the clasp, securing it once again. He smiled at Reki then, a smile that came so easily to him, you would think he did it all the time. The red head smiled back.

 

"I'll see you late Reki."

 

"Not if I see you first.”

 

A pause.

 

“Langa."

 

Langa gasped. It was the first time Reki had said his name. The syllables lighting fireworks deep within his soul.

 

Reki laughed lightly at the blue-haired boy's reaction.

 

"You know you never actually introduced yourself to me. I only know that's your name because I heard it when you told Joe."

 

Langa blinked in surprise, relaying the events of the evening, realizing Reki was 100% correct. Needing to amend this unacceptable oversight, Langa stuck out a hand, grabbing Reki's, holding it out in front of him.

 

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Reki Kyan. My name is Langa. Langa Hasegawa." He bowed deeply, waiting a full second before looking up again.

 

Reki was smiling at him. The smile flooding the area with a blinding light. Or at least that's what it seemed like to Langa.

 

"Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Langa."

 

He felt Reki squeeze his hand in return.

 

Langa straightened, dropping Reki's hand, missing the contact as soon as it was gone. He watched as Reki backed up slowly, still looking at Langa, only waiting until the last second to turn around and enter his home. Even then, the red head looked back, locking eyes with the blue-haired boy one last time, before disappearing behind the closed door, a whisper of a smile on his lips.

 

Langa felt like he was floating. He stepped back, away from the door, his gaze drifting over to where Oka was closing up the shop. He waved at the man, the blacksmith walking towards him, his large hand gripping a lever on the wall. Nodding once, Langa turned around, heading down the street once more.

 

"Have a good night your highness!"

 

Langa froze, the blood draining for his body. He twirled around to look at the senior blacksmith, the man giving him a knowing look. Oka winked, nodding once, as if saying 'don't worry kid your secret's safe with me.'

 

Unable to help himself, his eyes flicked to the now illuminated upstairs window, his silent question crystal clear to other man.

 

Oka's gaze followed his and then landed back on Langa, the man softly shaking his head. 'He doesn’t know.'

 

Langa let out the breath he was holding, the muscles in his neck finally relaxing. He locked eyes with the blacksmith once more, nodding again before turning around and bounding up the street.

 

Oka had somehow figured it out, but for some reason, Langa knew he didn’t have to worry. It might be naïve to think so, but he trusted this man. He trusted this blacksmith and his beautiful apprentice.

 

Thinking about Reki again brought a smile back to Langa's face. He breathed in the night air, wishing it was Reki's scent of iron, sweat, and soot. Something warm in his chest blossomed at the thought of seeing that smile again. Hearing that laugh.

 

He already knew, as soon as he could pull it off again, Langa was going to sneak out. There was absolutely no doubt about that.

 

Suddenly he stopped.

 

Oh

 

Right

 

That is if he could ever find his way back to the palace in the first place.

 

He sighed, readjusting his cloak on his shoulders.

 

Whatever.

 

It was totally worth it.