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: The second chapter of this fantasy AU I'm writing. This time around we get a little deeper into Keito's backstory and who he is~
There’s a little known secret about the world. No matter where you go, no matter where you try to hide, greed exists. It curls around you like a snake, waiting for that one moment, where your mind is at its weakest, to strike. It pulls you down into its depths until you can’t breath anything but its venom, and there it attacks your still beating heart.
The worse is when your own greed affects the ones you love, the very same people you would give your life to protect. To watch as the monster stick its fangs in them, claiming them as its own. Your power is nothing to the great beast, and you can only sit by and watch as they’re carried away. The victims are always the losers in the end.
Nothing had been Keito’s fault. He was a mere child, a nephew of the king. He grew up in the depths of the palace, sprinting through its halls, seeking out new passages to explore with his cousins when their parents turned a blind eye to them. Kids will be kids, they said, especially when they were young. As long as they straightened their backs, behaved in front of their guests and subjects, they were to do as they pleased.
But greed was always there, sitting in the back of their minds, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Greed took its hold on Keito’s parents. Their visions of a golden crown, subject bowing before the might of their son were too powerful to ignore. The might, the excitement. Their hearts beat for their lowly crest and name to be spoken throughout the land instead of the names of their forefathers.
They pushed for him to ascend the throne, making deals behind closed doors to open a path to lead their son to greatness. Poison, a powerful tool, was what they wished to use to take every son from the king’s hand. Every son between the king and Keito would fall, making him the sole and only heir to the throne, catapulting him to greatness.
Their vision had been clouded, their minds forgetful. For every king has a powerful ally by his side: a mage, the most powerful of their generation. They were meant to protect the king and his people, it was natural his parents would forget such a powerful ally hidden in the shadows of the palace, always watching, always waiting. His hands casting spells of protection, eyes seeing into the future to watch over the ones he swore to protect.
It had been easy to stop them, a little extra coin thrown in the cook’s direction to stop him from mixing those dangerous drops into the children’s food. A soft ‘thump’ as it was set before the pair at that very same dinner. The discerning eyes of the king as watching his very own flesh and blood froze before him, knowing what they had planned.
It would have been easy to punish the parents, to hang them for treason against the crown. Death would be swift and vengeful for attempting to eliminate the royal children, but it would not bring them the pain the king wished. He wanted them to suffer as he might have for the loss of his dear ones.
He picked Keito instead, bringing forth the court mage to complete the task. Using the cattails from the River Lea passing by the palace, the mage placed a curse upon Keito’s body, the dark marks covering his young fourteen year old body, shimmering in the candlelight as if they were blowing in the wind.
The curse was simple. If he so much as stepped foot in the capital the reeds of the River Lea would spring forth from his body wrapping them in their embrace before stealing the very breath from his lungs. His parents were forbidden from leaving the palace or contacting him, or be wanted for treason against the crown.
Before leaving, the king clarified one detail. Keito was never permanently barred from returning home, for it was not his greed that forced him into this situation. He was a victim of circumstance. His punishment would not be until death. He may return to the palace if he sought death by the hands of the river or if had paid enough for a mage to lift the spell. If that day may come where the curse had been lifted he would be welcomed back with open arms and may resume his place at the table with his family.
At a young fourteen years old he was cast out of his home, the one place he had known for his entire life. The moment he stepped out of the capital the finality of the curse was placed, taking its roots in his skin. With one last look, the palace standing imposing against the gentle flow of the river below, he turned his back on his home, believing he would never return again.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
Another question, another response. Hikaru really should have given up on trying to eat. Every time he raised his spoon to his mouth, ready to partake in the food he had made, Keito fired off another question. His mind was turning, circling, as if he was trying to remember every detail from the past few days, trying to discern whether they were truly trying to help or not.
“Don’t you want to eat first?” Hikaru snapped.
“Food can wait.” Keito’s bowl was left untouched by side, eyes focused on the two merrily chomping away at their food. He rubbed his wrists, now free from the cuffs Yabu made.
“I don’t know,” Hikaru sighed. “It didn’t seem important at the time.” He glared across the fire. “If you’re not going to eat, at least let us-”
“I wouldn’t have tried to run if I knew,” Keito shouted. “And you!” he pointed over at Yabu. “You knew as well. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Yabu scraped the last of his stew out of his bowl, sighing after the last of the liquid slid down his throat. In the moment Keito’s ire turned to Yabu, Hikaru started scarfing down his food as quickly as he could.
“It wasn’t my place to tell,” Yabu answered. He set his bowl beside him. “I’m only here because it seemed like fun, and it was a reason to go out and see the world. I’d still be at home, casting spells for old ladies to firm their faces and regain their youth, if it wasn’t for Hikaru.”
“So Hikaru saved you too,” Keito mused. Then shouted, “So then why did you decide to help me then?”
Hikaru choked on his food.
Yabu sighed. “This happens too often.”
He waved his hand and in a moment the food blocking Hikaru’s airway was dislodged, flying into the pit of the fire, burning on contact.
“I was enjoying that!”
“Didn’t seem like that,” Yabu snorted. “More like you were dying.”
“Guys!” Keito said. “Focus please. You’re laughing and joking, but I have no idea what’s going on.”
“What’s more to know?” Hikaru asked. He had been so close to finishing his food. There were only a few bites left, and his stomach longed to claim them. “Together we’re going to break your curse. The why isn’t the important part, so sit back, princess, and enjoy the ride.”
“I’m not a princess,” Keito muttered, tugging at his long hair. “Then if you won’t answer why, then who? Even I know the options are limited, and looking at your friend-” he shot a look over at Yabu who was picking the dirt from his toes with his spoon, “I know he’s not powerful enough to break it. Who do you have in mind?”
Options were few and far between. Other countries had their own powerful mages, but few would help those from other lands from the goodness of their own hearts. With great power came immeasurable amounts of fees for simple spells. The more complex the spell, the more money, and the more Hikaru and Yabu weren’t able to afford it.
They looked inward to their own land, searching high and low for mages with great power. Few had the technical ability to break curses, most focusing on simple charms housewives and farmers bought for good luck or protection. When they began the journey, they had three options.
The first was the mage that cursed Keito. Court mages were the most powerful throughout the land, and those that placed curses could also remove them. Since the older man knew the words he used to place the markings on Keito, he knew the counter spell to remove it. There were two issues with using him.
Court mages were heavily protected within the palace walls. Attempting to even speak with him would be difficult, near impossible, without the king’s consent. They had ruled out the court mage for another reason entirely. A few years ago the mage had passed away of unknown causes, his magic released back into the earth, ready for a newborn mage to claim.
The second was the current court mage, the son of the previous. Nakajima Yuto was rumored to have power even greater than his father, able to weave together spells and protection charms with such speed no one could touch him. People told stories of how you could see him working at all hours of the night, lights shooting from his tower and he blended together ingredients and explored new spells to protect his charges. He was far more guarded than his father before him, so Hikaru removed him from the list as well.
It left only one.
“We’re going to find Yamada,” Hikaru said.
Keito sank off of the tree log he was using as a seat, hands covering his face. “We’re doomed.”
Yamada, much like Yuto, was from a powerful family of mages. He had spent his life perfecting his craft, spending long sleepless nights studying large tomes and practicing the magic he had been gifted since birth. He was a natural, and people spoke of his skill from even a young age.
He had been invited to the palace to test his skill against those vying for the position of court mage. It was natural that Yamada would be one of the few left, his spell casting ability far above the others. Only he and Yuto remained, and a battle in the mountains would take place to see who would claim the top spot.
Few knew what happened in those days. They were gone, the sky a painting of red and blue magic swirling together, shooting off lightning in the blackened sky. One emerged, a battered and bruised Yuto, who returned home to claim his spot at the very top. No one knew what happened to Yamada. As far as the country knew, he never left those mountains.
“Oh stop looking so defeated,” Hikaru said. His meal completed, he went back to their cooking pot for seconds. “You’re acting like you’re stuck like this for forever. I told you, we have a plan.”
“And how do you propose we raise someone from the dead?” Keito asked.
“First, Yamada isn’t dead. We’ve met him before.” Hikaru settled back at his place. Hopefully there wouldn’t be too many questions this time. He was still starving. “Second, we just need to find his contact. They’ll bring us to him. Then we ask nicely for him to remove your curse, he does a little magic, and bam! No more cursed Keito.”
“It sounds too easy,” Keito mused. “I feel like there should be a huge dragon we have to slay.”
“Yabu,” Hikaru whined, banging his spoon against his bowl. “The kid isn’t letting me eat."
“I’m not a kid! I’m twenty-three!”
“Relax, Keito,” Yabu said. He was picking his way through one of the few spell books he kept. “We, and by we I mean Hikaru, have thought of everything.” He glanced over the top of his book. “We wouldn’t have embarked on this journey without thinking of every detail.”
“And what if Yamada can’t break the curse?” Keito asked. His hands finally reached for his cooling food.
Hikaru and Yabu exchanged glances once more.
“We’ll get to that when the time comes,” Yabu answered.
The farther north they traveled along the River Lea the more Keito’s markings changed in color. The deep black swirls turned lighter and lighter until they start resembling the green cattails they were based upon. The marks danced every time a wind passed by, their song singing against Keito’s skin.
Hikaru woke one morning to Keito’s screams, back pressed against the trunk of a tree and holding a hand as far away from his body as he could. Reeds. They grew out of his fingertips, growing upwards towards Keito’s heart as if they were following the very blood that flowed through his veins.
They turned east, galloping amongst the trees as quickly as their horses would allow. Keito clung to Hikaru’s back, holding tightly as he bounced around, eyes slammed shut as they covered the rocky terrain as quickly as they could. When they stopped, allowing the horses to trot along the dirt path, the reeds were gone, retreating back into Keito’s sun kissed skin and the color darkening to a solid black once more.
Hikaru couldn’t help but think it was his fault. He had been selfish, uncaring. He had believed that the power of the curse wouldn’t seep out in the general vicinity of the Capital, but he had been wrong. Even if he hadn’t known the specifics of the curse, he had placed Keito’s life in danger with every passing second they had traveled north. Looking upon that sleeping face, dark hair cascading down to the earth, Hikaru knew he needed to make it up to him. He would find a way to apologize, whether by breaking the curse or by other means.
A town poked its head over the trees, its golden lights a welcomed sign. The robust yells of men drinking rang through the night, and Hikaru couldn’t help himself from smiling. The last time they had paid for room and board the experience had been stolen from them the moment Keito walked through the door. He shot a smirk over to Yabu, enjoying how the mage sighed in acceptance.
“We’ll sleep in beds tonight,” Yabu said, spurring his horse forward. “Let’s find a tavern with open beds.”
“Finally, a bed,” Hikaru cried out, following after him. “I’ve been dreaming of this for months.”
“I don’t mind the dirt,” Keito muttered, digging his face further into Hikaru’s back.
Food was much more filling when it was cooked by another person’s hands. They paid good money for their plates, receiving the best cuts the tavern owner, a short man by the name of Daiki, still had to offer at this hour of night. Hikaru dug in with all of the enthusiasm he could muster, tearing the fibers of the meat apart and drinking it down like a fine wine. His stomach would burst at the end of it all he knew that much, and it was the feeling he was seeking out.
Their mugs were refilled at every moment, ale for him and Keito and tea for Yabu. He laughed, letting himself loosen and unwind after the long trek north, but Hikaru could feel it in his bones. They were close. The mountains Yamada claimed as his home were drawing near, their tops just visible in the distance. The only step missing was to find Yamada’s friend, his confidant, to lead them to him. If he was right, the man was close by. He never dared to go as far as the capital in case Yamada needed him.
The more they sat in the tavern hall, the more alcohol they crammed into their system. Drinks flowed like the river between all of them, and, for once, Hikaru was glad he knew how to handle his liquor. Keito was tipsy, possibly even drunk, from the way his face reddened, making it appear far prettier than it ever had been.
Suddenly, Keito stood up and kicked back his chair, nearly hitting the man behind him.
“Where are you going?” Hikaru asked. He set his mug of ale down.
“Outside,” Keito stuttered.
“For a walk? I’ll go with you.” Hikaru went to stand, hand reaching out to steady the other man. “I can’t have you getting lost this late at night.”
“Going to puke,” he said. He brushed off Hikaru’s advance before stumbling towards the door. “I’ll be back in a second.”
Hikaru settles back into his seat and grabbed his mug once more. He watched Keito shuffled through the front door. A small figure, about the size of a child, followed soon after him.
He took a few more sips of his drink, enjoying the burn of the liquid as it sifted around his mouth, and he placed the empty mug back onto the wooden table.
“Keito is definitely in trouble,” he said.
Yabu looked over from his spot at the table where he was attempting to create waves in his tea. “Think so?”
“I know,” Hikaru said. “That kid attracts trouble like flies to honey.”
“And here I thought we’d have a quiet evening,” Yabu sighed.
He finished his own drink before the two rose, paying for all three of their meals, and they slipped out into the blacked sky. Keito couldn’t have gotten too far in that short amount of time. If too much time passed without finding him Yabu could always cast a tracking spell to find the difficult duke.
They found him, back pressed against a barn door and hands by his face as a small, nimble looking man ruffled around his person. One hand dedicated to searching for whatever he sought, a purse or jewelry, while the other hand held a knife trained at Keito’s jugular.
“Are we really going to need to babysit you through this entire trip?” Hikaru called out.
The assailant jumped, and his knife nicked the side of Keito’s throat. In a moment the knife flew from his hands, Yabu sending it far from where the pickpocket could reach it. Before the other man could think, Yabu casted another spell with another wave of his hand. He pinned the smaller man to the barn and let Keito stumble away.
“Mage,” the pickpocket spat. His tried to resist, pulling against the power of the spell, but Yabu’s magic was too strong.
“Oh, please, you don’t hate mages, Chinen.” Yabu said, running a hand through his hair.
“You’re right. I won’t hate you if you let me down?” Chinen’s face changed in a moment. From one filled with hatred to one where Hikaru believed he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“Wait, you guys know each other?” Keito asked. He couldn’t stop looking between where Hikaru and Yabu stood and where his assailant was pinned to the door.
“A little bit,” Hikaru said. “He’s not too important.”
“Not important? How rude,” the smaller man huffed. “I will admit I am a little disappointed, to be frank,” Chinen said, stretching out his neck. “I thought you’d want to play along a little more and drum up a little drama. I was prepared to scream and cry before giving in to your demands.”
“Listen, Chinen, we’ll let you down if you do two things.” Hikaru raised one finger. “First, apologize to Keito for scaring him. Second,” he raised another, “lead us to where Yamada is hiding.”
“I’m sorry for scaring you. I only did it because I thought you were an easy target.”
“And?” Hikaru said.
“And what?” Chinen said. He tried kicking his legs forward, but the spell held them snug against the barn door. “I shouldn’t have to tell you where Ryosuke is hiding. You’ve been there before.”
“The last time we saw him he was living in a hut on the top of a mountain,” Yabu said. His foot was tapping against the dirt. “When we returned later for help the hut was gone and all signs of life had been destroyed.”
“Are you sure you went to the right mountain?” Chinen asked, innocent enough.
“The point is your friend moves around, so where is he hiding now?” Hikaru asked, hand grabbing for his knife to ground his nerves. His patience was wearing thin.
Every time they met Chinen liked to play these mind games, to keep the secret hidden of where his best friend hid. Even if Yamada didn’t have a secret keeper for his dwelling, it didn’t matter. His magic was powerful enough to hide himself from anyone he didn’t want finding him.
Chinen rolled his eyes before speaking with a riddle. “All shining and silver with a beautiful face. You look into me and find this place.”
“Fucking hell, I don’t know.” Hikaru looked over to his friend, and Yabu shrugged. “Is it a river?"
“The mirror caves,” Keito whispered. He pressed a piece of his torn tunic to his neck to stop the bleeding.
“Oh, the kid is good,” Chinen said, nodding along. “Where did you find him? That would have taken you a solid three days and a toddler five minutes to solve.”
“Listen here,” Hikaru roared. “I am your senior in life, and I deserve a little respect.”
“A rather stupid one,” Chinen chuckled. “Now will you let me down? Pretty please?”