Pairing: Yaotome Hikaru/Okamoto Keito
Summary: A barmaid reached across the counter giving the other man his food. When he reached for it, the sleeves of his shirt brushed back revealing dark tattoos. The marks interweaved seemingly floating against his skin, the patterns shimmering in the low light. Hikaru’s eyes followed them up the arm to the stranger’s neck where the patterns tickled the edge of his collar.
Notes: This is a story I've been dying to write since I started writing fanfics for Hey! Say! Jump because my roots for original fiction are in fantasy. I just needed the right plot, and I eventually found it after listening to a few songs. Thank you to everyone that's read this story and let me know their thoughts. And an especially big thanks to my beta, alchemicink, for reading through everything. You helped me so much in strengthening this fic <3
A thunderous roar of laughter filled the tavern, hiding all conversation behind its deafening sound. It was a merry sound, one that would bring a smile to even the most sinister of fellow’s mouths. It reverberated off of the walls long after it ended, the whispers of conversation around them breaking through until only the last minute.
The dull thud of a knife against a wooden table was constant through it all, marking the table over and over. He ignored the looks he was getting from the master of the house, those cold eyes burning holes into his clothes, but he couldn’t help it. The motion was therapeutic for Hikaru to destroy the spot in which he sat, to get his mind off of everything.
He really should chastise Yabu. The further south they went in their little country, the less understanding people were of mages. Especially one with straw blond hair, twirling his finger above his mug to brew his tea. He stood out amongst the other patrons of the tavern, their eyes searching him over, hands wrapped around their bowls as if Yabu would magic them away in a moment.
It was the life they lived, and the life Hikaru had resigned himself to once he became friends with the mage. People couldn’t understand what they couldn’t see, the invisible power of spells too much for their minds to comprehend. One minute a surface was a bottomless black and the next a warm copper. It didn’t mean you couldn’t call the kettle black.
He had tried before to have Yabu hide his talent when they were in the public eye, but the other man shrugged off his suggestions.
“Why should I hide who I am?” he said. “Besides, this old man finds it too hard to stir tea with a spoon now. Let me rest my bones.”
Hikaru had laughed. An old man? Yabu was only entering his twenty-seventh summer, far from being able to call himself ‘old.’ Though his bones cracked often when he was riding his horse, and he complained of a stiff back more often than not, he was still young.
It was one of these reasons why he stuck by Yabu’s side for these many years. His strange sense of humor in their travels made the cold nights and long days pass far quicker than Hikaru cared to admit. Yabu was one of the few people that put up with his own humor and his sarcasm that cut like a knife. They meshed together, complimenting each other, and were the people that kept each other sane.
An elbow nudged Hikaru in the side, distracting him momentarily from his knife. Yabu motioned over to the newest addition to the tavern. “Think that’s him?”
Whether from wear or stain, the stranger’s tunic was dark, rings of brown coursing through the cloth. His black hair was long, as if it hadn’t been cut in years. Hikaru couldn’t see his face to see if he recognized the angles, the bridge of his nose.
“He’s too far away,” Hikaru said. He jerked the knife out of the table once more and slid it into his belt.
“Try not to kill the kid,” Yabu sighed. He took a sip of the tea, face scrunching from the bitter taste.
The tavern was difficult to navigate, chairs pushed back as tables mingle together, people joyously shouting from one to the other. He snaked along the edge, making his way to the bar, eyes always trained on the other man as he moves. Once or twice he narrowly avoided a swinging arm, mind cursing himself of why he didn’t ask Yabu to confront the man instead.
“Another ale,” Hikaru called out to the bar keep. He drummed his fingers against the table, hands itching to get his knife out once more, but it wasn’t the impression he wanted to make, especially in front of the owner of the establishment.
His eyes shifted over to the man next to him. He was taller than Hikaru originally believed and more imposing with his solid build.
“Long travels?” he asked.
It took a moment for the other man to notice he was spoken to. Honest eyes widened as he glanced around for a moment. “Ah, yes,” he said, “and not over yet. I have to travel even further south before I can rest."
“To the ocean?” The other man nodded. “Sounds fun. Perhaps I’ll accompany you. I’ve never been that far south before.”
And for a good reason. Rumors of a crazed seer named Inoo had spread throughout the country, his words never traveling linearly, always jumping from story to story before he completed a reading. Despite the confusion, his visions always came true. Once he grabbed someone with his vice grip he couldn’t let go until the visions stopped. Hikaru wanted to avoid such an interaction, and for that he stayed north.
“Sadly, I’m not much of a travel companion,” the other man said. “I prefer to walk by myself.”
“My money is better spent elsewhere,” he said. “I only spend it on what I need rather than what I want.”
A barmaid reached across the counter giving the other man his food. When he reached for it, the sleeves of his shirt brushed back revealing dark tattoos. The marks interweaved seemingly floating against his skin, the patterns shimmering in the low light. Hikaru’s eyes followed them up the arm to the stranger’s neck where the patterns tickled the edge of his collar.
Finally, it’s him. He had waited so long, so very long for this moment, and now that it was before him, Hikaru could hardly control his joy. Five years he had waited. The journey, the sleepless nights spent on hard earth would near be over. He could feel the return to soft beds and warm blankets within his grasp.
He could feel the beat of the stranger’s heart stop, how the terror flooded his eyes in that very moment. He knew. He knew Hikaru recognized him from those very markings, and worry filled his body with every passing second. Time hung between them, their eyes never leaving the other until Hikaru smiles.
“You spend more money walking than if you had a horse to take you,” he said, leaning against the bar. “It seems like you have a lot to learn about travel, kid. Why don’t we chat and get to know each other more?”
The shouts drew closer with every passing moment, spurring them to go quicker. Their horses stomped the ground, sensing their nerves as they worked.
“Did you really have to kidnap him?” Yabu asked.
The last of their packs were secured, and Hikaru triple checked the billet strap to make sure it’s secured in place. He didn’t need to slide sideways to the ground with the distance they need to cover tonight.
“It was the only way,” Hikaru said. He circled around his horse to where the bound and gagged man sat, eyes flitting between both him and Yabu as they worked steadily but quickly. His hands cuffed together by a pair of Yabu’s own design. “He wouldn’t have gone with us if we asked.”
“At least do it less conspicuously next time?” Yabu said. He grabbed their guest by the scruff of his collar, pulling him to his feet. “Which direction are we heading? South?”
“North,” Hikaru said. “They’ll expect us to go south. Besides, our business resides in that direction.”
Firelight danced through the open windows, the shouts deafening to their ears. They were out of time. It would be any moment before the drunk tavern men broke in, ready to rain down their justice and save a kidnapped stranger from their clutches.
“Come on, let’s go.”
Hikaru hooked his foot into the stirrup, swinging himself into the saddle. Before he had a moment to relax Yabu lifted their captive towards him, and Hikaru helped pull the taller man into his lap. He waited patiently for Yabu to clamber onto his own horse before spurring his off through the open barn door and into the night, Yabu hot on his heels.
The shouts of angry men followed them, their chubby feet pushing them as far as the edge of the town, their voices being swallowed by the blackness of the night. They continued moving, pushing themselves faster and farther until the morning sun broke through the sky. Only then did they feel safe enough to stop, collapsing off of their steads and resting for the day.
The farther they traveled, the more the joy of completion and glory started to fad from Hikaru’s mind. It was too risky to give the kid his own horse, and they didn’t want to spend their hard earned coin on a beast they wouldn’t need once their job was completed. Besides, it was hard enough to find someone to sell a horse.
They had tried once for their new friend to ride with Yabu. After a few failed attempts on Yabu’s behalf to balance him on his knees, once nearly dropping the poor man to the rocky earth, the responsibility fell to Hikaru to ride with him. It was safer than possibly killing the other man from a broken neck.
The kid never sat still. Not a moment passed where he wasn’t wiggling about. Whether he wasn’t comfortable or merely trying to annoy him, Hikaru didn’t know. If he knew any better he would have grabbed the taller boy by his breeches and thrown him off of his horse or thrown a punch straight between his shoulder blades. To hell with this mission.
But that couldn’t happen. Oh, no. He knew harming a single hair on the kid’s body would only spell disaster for them in the long run. People didn’t take a kind eye to those that damaged their loved ones. It was better to sit tight, bite his tongue, and ignore whatever words came from the younger man’s mouth.
The kid had tried, several times, to convince Hikaru to let him down, let him walk along side the horses since they were going at such a leisurely place. He said he was far more used to the ground than being balanced upon the lap of a stranger. He had even tried convincing Hikaru that he was a fast runner if they wanted to move more swiftly.
“Like hell we’re letting you walk,” Hikaru said, grasping tightly to the reins with one hand and using the other to steady the man on his lap. “I can’t have you running off on us.”
So they stayed that way, Yabu glancing over at Hikaru every so often to check on him, eyes lingering far longer than Hikaru wished. The kid wiggled about on his lap. Hikaru’s patience wore thin. It would be a miracle if they all survived the journey.
Over the bend of the next road the wide expanse of the River Lea was soon before them, the calm river dancing across the shore of the earth, winding its way across the land. Bushy cattails covered the water, making it difficult to wade out to the depth but once there, it was as clear and open like the sea. The undiscovered lands of the west lay on the other side of her bed, a country Hikaru had only heard of through stories told in his youth.
They made their camp on the edge of the forest, hidden from any travelers who may use the river as their guide. This close to the Capital they needed to hide from any unwanted attention that may come from nervous eyes.
They took turns bathing, Yabu watching their friend as Hikaru sank into the depths, scrubbing the weeks of filth from his skin, the cool water filling him with life. How long had it been since he has had a moment to himself? To take away the memories and stench from himself? Far too long, he knew. Since he and Yabu narrowly avoided being captured in a neighboring kingdom. The people didn’t take too kindly to their visit.
It was better being in their land, where the people were kinder, sweeter, and their smiles enough to give one the drive to push forward each day. They should have known better, that their target wouldn’t have left the country, but they were young and foolish. The world was a wide, wide place, and it was a limitless possibility on where he could have hidden himself.
Yabu took far less time than Hikaru to bathe, being in and out of the water in ten minutes, skin and clothing dried from that beautiful magical ability while Hikaru suffered. His hair soaked the clothing bunched around his shoulders.
Yabu casted a small spell, dispelling the chain between the kid’s cuffs before Hikaru led him to the riverbed. Against his will or not, the kid deserved a chance to refresh himself before they continued their travels north.
The kid froze, not moving at the edge of the river, glancing back at Hikaru with widened eyes. Hands grasped at something as his mouth attempted to form some sort of words, anything to get him out of bathing in the river. The wild movements revealed again those dark, twisting vines affixed to his skin.
Hikaru paid no heed to his words, merely pushing him into the river, enjoying the loud clap as his body hit the solid water and sunk to its depths. It took but a minute for the other man to rise, gasping for breath before Hikaru heaved a hunk of soap at him.
“You have fifteen minutes,” Hikaru said, trying to hold back his laughter. “If you’re not back at camp in that amount of time be prepared for the consequences.”
The camp’s set up went faster with two pairs of hands. Yabu gathered stones in a circle for their fire pit while Hikaru rummaged around the edge of the woods for sticks and kindling for their fire. A quick spell and their fire roared in the hearth, giving them warmth for the long night ahead. A good hunk of bread remained along with a little of their supplies they gathered while traveling. Sooner rather than later they would need to stop in a town to resupply. At the very least they can hunt for fish in the river over the next few days.
“I think our friend ran off,” Yabu said. He brushed his horse’s fur, saddle on the ground next to him.
“He definitely didn’t,” Hikaru said. Though the fire was going, he stared into the depths. Once their friend was done he planned to fill their pot with water to make a stew for their dinner that evening. “I warned him of the consequences.”
They continued working for a few moments, Hikaru straining his ears to hear anything. When Yabu had been bathing he could hear the faint sound of someone splashing about in the river, running water over his skin and hair to cleanse it. Even over the crackling sound of the fire, he heard nothing.
“How long ago?”
“About ten minutes or so,” came Yabu’s reply.
“And you didn’t say anything?” Hikaru jumped to his feet. “He could be anywhere at this point.”
“Relax,” Yabu said. He could feel the roll of Yabu’s eyes, despite not seeing them. “Unlike you, I’m far more clever than my own good. I put a tracker in his cuffs. Follow me.”
Hikaru would have preferred to re-saddle the horses before they left, giving Hikaru something to grip onto as they raced through the woods. The remnants of Yabu’s spell were strong, leading them south through the woods where their companion had run off to. He fought to keep himself grounded instead of bouncing every which way on his horse, hands grasping the mane as they moved as one through the maze of trees. With a single tug, his horse followed his command, seeking out the one that fled.
He was stumbling through the woods when they finally spotted him, clothing dripping from the river water, mud clinging to every surface and twigs stuck in that long hair of his. Hands touched every tree he passed as he stopped for a moment before jumping to the next to steady himself.
Hikaru swung one of his legs around so he was sitting sidesaddle on his beast waiting until the opportune moment to jump, knowing full well that Yabu would take care of his horse and make sure it didn’t run off.
He tumbled to the ground, far less graceful than his imagination allowed, hands scrapping against the rough earth, knees and palms aching from the hard impact. He would feel that in the morning when he pulled himself onto his horse for their trek. He didn’t have time to think. The kid slowly ambled away, and he was so close Hikaru could taste it.
He ran, building up his stride so he’s sprinting through the forest after him. Arms pump by his side, egging him faster. His hands reached out, grasping at the soaking wet fabric of the other man, tugging it downward, and they tumbled to the ground. A brief fight, the other man gained the upper hand, but Hikaru was stronger. He forced the other man’s face into the dirt, pinning his hands behind his back.
“Seems as though it’s time we had a little chat,” Hikaru said.
Their camp was silent. The kid borrowed a pair of trousers so Yabu could scrub the dirt from his clothes, drying them with one of his many nifty spells when he’s done. It had taken a few trips, but Hikaru had managed to fill their pot with enough water to boil for their stew. The proverbial clock ticked by slowly as he waited for the contents to boil before adding what vegetables, meat, and spices they had to flavor it.
“How much are you going to sell me for?” the kid asked, his words filling their silence. His hands gripped his pants, scrunching the fabric into tight knots.
Yabu and Hikaru exchanged looks, the older boy shrugging. It had been Hikaru’s idea from the start, and Yabu would follow through with whatever his friend decided.
“We’re not going to sell you for anything,” Hikaru finally answered.
The fire danced in the stillness of the night, casting shadows each way. As if they wished to tell a story that only the most intelligent human beings could interpret, could share with those around them.
“I,” the other man stuttered. “I don’t understand. You kidnapped me. What do you mean you don’t mean to sell me?”
“Just that. We don’t mean to sell you,” Hikaru said, taking a knee in front of the poor soul in front of him. “We’re going to help remove your curse so you can return home, Duke Okamoto Keito.”