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: Finished this story yesterday, and got it back quicker from my beta than expected. So I figured why not sooner than later? This brings the conclusion to the story. I hope everyone enjoys the ending!
Yamada’s cave was half a day’s ride west over rocky, mountainous terrain. Keito hugged close to him as they ascended the tall peaks, jumping several times when their horses kicked a loose rock over the edge. The trail was tight and steep, and several times they had to dismount so they could lead their horses through the path.
It was a wonder they passed over half the obstacles they did. Once or twice, Chinen had to stop his own horse, looking at the path ahead of them before he picked his way over the rocks. A loose rock fell from above once spooking Hikaru’s own horse, and it took a tight hold on the reins and a little finagling to keep them from falling off the side of the mountain.
Keito kept him close, those fingers weaving their way into Hikaru’s tunic to ground him during the long ride. It tugged at Hikaru’s concentration, trying to focus his attention on the weight of Keito behind him, how close he was. Many times he snapped his attention back to the path, but those delicate fingers always tempted him again.
When they neared the top of the mountain they came to a cave with grand black doors with stones encrusted, stone pillars on both sides. Flames burned bright on top of those monstrous towers. There was a small, humble hut built off to the side where Hikaru could see Yabu’s horse tied up along with another he didn’t recognize.
“Someone wants to make an impression,” Hikaru muttered. He helped Keito off of their horse. He started to lead the beast to where the others were tied when Chinen stopped him.“Like he would make it that easy to get in,” Chinen said. He pulled out a black onyx stone from his pocket. “He always has spells in place.”
Chinen tossed the stone towards the mouth of the cave, and it collided midway, as if connecting with a wall. The surface shimmered for a moment, rippling slowly before gaining traction. Before their very eyes the imaged changed into a simpler appearance. Instead of the grand entrance, so shiny and full of stones, stood a humble wooden door.
Chinen skipped to where the hunk of onyx was on the ground, pocketing it once more. “Cool, isn’t it? And to think your friend could only change the air of the cave to warn off visitors. All it took was a little spelled water to lift it. Ryosuke is powerful enough to-”“Yes, we get it. He’s powerful,” Hikaru said, brushing off whatever complimentary tirade Chinen was about to go on. “Let’s get to it.”
Chinen huffed, glaring at Hikaru, before he led them through the door.The inside of the cave was cozy, cushions adoring the chairs and expensive tapestries hanging from the walls, blocking many of the mirrored surfaces. Lamps were posted around the room, but it was a low light that made it difficult to see. Furs were piled onto the floor, Hikaru’s boots sinking into the surfaces as they crossed the open cave. He offered a hand to Keito to help him cross. He was certain if they dug into the many chests and drawers that lined the walls they would find mountains of magic tools Yamada used for his spells.
Yabu and Yamada were sitting on the far side of the cave at a table, sipping tea near a roaring hearth.“Yamada,” Hikaru said, nodding to the other man.
“Hikaru, it’s been a while,” Yamada said, smirking over his cup. “Not since you asked me to remove a few knitting needles from, oh, where were they stuck again?”His temper flared, remembering the first time they met. The trials Yamada put them through before he would accept their proposal for help. “You seem a little shorter since we last met,” Hikaru shot back. “Have you been able to reverse the shrinking charm?”
“Listen here,” Yamada slammed down his cup, rising from his seat. “Is that any way to be speaking with someone that you’re asking for help? I could throw you out with the snap of my finger."“Do it,” Hikaru said, stomping across the room until he was within arm’s reach of the mage. “We’ll find someone else to assist us.”
“Both you and I know,” Yamada hissed, “that if there was another option you wouldn’t be here.” He put a hand on Hikaru’s chest and pushed, the slight bit of magical energy enough to knock Hikaru to the ground. “I didn’t have to help you before, and I certainly don’t have to now.”Keito scrambled to Hikaru’s side, hand brushing his shoulder as if to check on him. “If you won’t help him,” Keito said. “Then why don’t you help me?”
The room was silent. The crackling of the fire a deafening sound to their ears as Yabu sipped his tea. Yamada snapped a finger and the lamps brightened, bringing them into the light. He looked Keito once over, his eyes discerning every detail of Keito’s body.“And who might you be?” Yamada asked, tapping his chin.
“Duke Okamoto Keito,” Keito said.Hikaru could see the fire burning in his eyes as he spoke. How, for the first time since they began their journey together, Keito was confident. He spoke with the authority one might see of a royal descendant. He was a completely different person staring down the mage.
It was difficult to tear his gaze away from Keito in that moment. How his eyes darkened, almost threatening Yamada to disbelieve him, and if Yamada harmed so much as a hair on any of their heads it would bring him his doom. He was proud to see the young duke grow a backbone.Yamada waved a hand, and the sleeve of Keito’s tunic was dragged upwards, revealing the dark tattoos beneath. The dark marks swirled under the firelight, and the cattails danced for Yamada’s eye.
“He’s not lying, Ryosuke,” Chinen said. He had picked a pile of furs to lie on. “I found his crest during our travels. Besides,” he kicked off his boots. “no one but a court mage could cast that sort of spell. He’s the real deal.”“And I’m guessing you want me to remove that curse of yours,” Yamada said. “Is that correct?”
“Of course,” Keito said. His eyes were staring deep into Yamada’s, never breaking contact with him. “I want to return home.”“It’s impossible,” Yamada said. He returned to his seat at the table across from Yabu. “Nine years is quite a long time, and, at this point, that magic has settled into your blood. There’s no physical way for me to break it.”
Hikaru’s rage returned once more, and it was difficult to contain it. They had spent so much time, traveling over rocks and forest, to find a mage they could coerce into helping them. It was as if Yamada was forcing them back to square one.“There has to be some back alley,” Yabu said. He placed his own cup of tea down. “Both you and I know that magic isn’t a one way street. There are multiple paths to end at the same result.”
“We’ve been through this before with your last visit,” Yamada said. “My magic isn’t like yours. My spells require me to put a little of myself into it, and seeing as how that curse has grown over the years,” he sighed, “I would have to put everything I have in order to break it. I may live a pitiful existence outside of glory and honor, but it is one I want to continue living.”“Then let me help,” Yabu said, hands grasping the table. “If there are two of us then it would balance everything out, and it wouldn’t pull from you as much.”
His heart ached for his friend. Yabu had only agreed to the mission because it was important to Hikaru. He was willing to put his life on the line for a friend, and Hikaru knew there wasn’t a way for him to repay Yabu for his loyalty.“And risk both of our lives? I refuse,” Yamada snapped before returning his attention back to Keito. “I apologize, but you’re stuck like this for the rest of your life. You will never return home.”
“Yuto would be able to do it.”The room was quiet once more as time stood still.
“What,” Yamada stuttered. One of his hands grasped firmly to the edge of the table. “What did you just say?”“I said Yuto would be able to do it,” Hikaru repeated. “He’s powerful enough, but rumors say you’re stronger. I suppose we should seek out his help instead.”
The room exploded into a brilliance of light. Hikaru pulled himself and Keito to the ground, surrounding their eyes with the soft furs until the light around the edges dimmed once more. They sat up once more, eyes transfixed by the fire that glowed in Yamada’s.“Ryosuke,” Chinen shouted. In a flash he was beside his friend. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Strip,” he said.Chinen stepped away from him. “What?”“Strip,” Yamada said. He waved a hand, and the hem of Keito’s tunic was tugged upwards. “If you want my help, I need to see what I’m working with. And you,” he pointed over to Yabu. “Don’t think you can take back your words. You’re helping me with this.”
“You changed your tune quickly,” Hikaru chuckled. Keito was next to him, struggling to get his tunic over his head. “What happened to needing to conserve yourself or risk death?”
“I’ll fight death and come back to the side of the living,” Yamada said. He grabbed at Keito’s tunic and helped him tug it off of his body. “I’ll show that pesky court mage what true power is. I’ll break this damn curse and show everyone who’s stronger."With his shirt off it was easy to see the depths that the curse had taken root. Not only were Keito’s arms marked with cattails, but also his chest and back, the dark marks dipping below his trousers, and Hikaru couldn’t help but imagine how far they went. It was easier to see the movement of the tattoos, how each time Keito moved an arm, the leaves danced on his skin, moving from the elbow to the crook of his arm. Oh his chest lay the royal crest, the mark of a stag as black as night against his tanned skin.
“Where did it start?” Yamada asked.Keito pointed to the crest sitting above his beating heart. “They’ve grown over the years. It started as a few vines and now,” he held his arms out, “look at me. I’m a walking riverbed.”
“So he grounded the spell in the crest,” Yamada muttered to himself, hands brushing over the king’s mark. “More than likely he intertwined it with a growth spell, so, if you happened to get closer to the capital, the vines springing from your fingers would be able to strangle you. I don’t believe he meant for the tattoos on your body to grow. It’s got a mind of its own.”“You’re doing a lot of talking and not a lot of work,” Hikaru grumbled.
He didn’t like the way that Yamada was so casually touching Keito. How his fingers skimmed the surface of that beautiful skin, not caring if there were any consequences. How determined Yamada looked as he focused on those marks and the muscles rippling beneath them.“If you want it to be done right,” Yamada said, glaring at Hikaru. He backed away, going to one of the many wooden chests. “I’ll have you consume carob for protection and a little hydrangea to see if we can weaken the roots of the curse.” He rummaged around one of the trunks, producing the flower and the fruit. “Yabu, how good are you at brewing spelled tea?”
“One of my favorite past times,” Yabu smiled. He rose from his seat as well and crossed the room to where Yamada sat, pilfering through the chests. “I’ve been brewing passionflower into Hikaru’s drinks for years.”“You’ve what?” Hikaru shouted.
“Just to give you a little peace of mind,” Yabu shrugged. “It’s what helped you sleep those rough nights in the beginning of our journey, and I’ve kept doing it ever since. “He accepted the ingredients from Yamada. “I’ll start on this.”“Good,” Yamada said. He cracked his knuckles. “I’ll start researching a counter curse. And stay out of my way.” He shot a glare over at Hikaru before disappearing deeper into the cave, and Hikaru heard a door slam shut behind them.
“Are you sure of this?” Keito asked. He tangled his hands around his tunic. “He seems...”
“Seems what?” Hikaru asked.
“A little strange,” Keito said. He slipped his arms back into the sleeves, and pulled his tunic over his head. “Do you think he’ll really die to save me?”Hikaru shook his head. “If I know Yamada like I think I do, he has power stored someplace in this cave. He has a few enchanters that make him amulets to store his magic in. More than likely he’ll use one of those to fuel the spells to heal you.” He only hoped that Keito would believe him.
Keito merely nodded along, settling into the furs next to Hikaru. They were close again. The feeling of Keito’s body burning against his own, but it calmed him. It opened Hikaru’s mind to the possibilities of the future. Of one where Keito would be able to walk through the doors of his home, finally returning to the palace.Once he had greeted his relative, they could possibly travel the country together. Side by side, the wind sweeping through their hair as they battled crooks and explored every crevasse the sun touched. They would grow closer, Hikaru finally being able to tell Keito about his life, about his brothers and sister.
But it was all wishful thinking. For now, they needed to focus on the present.Hikaru laced his fingers with Keito’s, giving them a tight squeeze. “I know you don’t trust him, but trust in me who trusts in him,” Hikaru said. “I don’t like him, but Yamada is powerful. He’ll find a way. I know it.”
He could feel Keito’s smile in the air, how that one ray of happiness lightened the mood around them.“Okay,” Keito whispered, squeezing Hikaru’s hand back. “I’ll trust you.”
The days passed by slowly as Yabu and Yamada worked together. There were days when it was quiet, the only sound being Keito and Hikaru’s hushed tones as they talked, playing card games to pass the time. Other days they could hear the frustrated screams of Yamada echo through the cave, glass shattering from the confines of his study.A few times he emerged from his work room, Keito’s head peeking over the furs to watch as Yamada stomped through the proposed living room of the cave, shuffling around ingredients in his many chests before stomping out again.
Chinen had long left, packing his things to return back home.“My sister is getting married in the coming weeks, and I promised I would be there,” he had said. “I’ll return to check on him when everything’s completed.” He heaved his bag over his shoulder. “Hopefully all of you will be gone by the time I return.”
During the nights they slept together, curled around each other as they burrowed deep within the furs on Yamada’s floor for warmth. Despite a full cavern to claim, Keito always stayed close to him, snuggling into his body for the long night ahead. Hikaru didn’t want to push the younger boy away, his face reddening by the sudden contact. He wrapped an arm around Keito and fell asleep, hoping Keito couldn’t hear how fast his heart was beating.Yamada never updated them on the progress of the spell, if it was good or bad, and he kept Yabu tight lipped and working diligently as well. The only time Hikaru saw his friend was when they were about to fall asleep, the tall mage collapsing onto the spot on the floor he had claimed for his bed.
“You don’t want to know,” Yabu groaned, stretching out his joints. “Every time we think we have it, another road block is thrown our way.” He smiled still, burrowing deeper into the furs. “Don’t worry, Keito. We’re dealing with one of the most brilliant mages of our time. It’s a puzzle that needs to be solved, and we’re close.”Five day. Five long days was what it took before Yamada emerged from the room and settled into his chair, putting a small vial of silver liquid on the table. He was pale, far paler than when they arrived at his home. His movements were staggered, feet sloshing against the floor in an irregular rhythm.
“That,” he motioned over to the vial, eyes weary, “is the curse for your curse. Drink the liquid and the marks on your body will disappear, and you’ll be able to return home.” He sighed. “Consider my fee waived since your friend helped.”Keito’s mouth dropped open. “Thank-”
“Don’t thank me just yet,” the mage said. He massaged his temples. “There’s a catch.” Yamada slumped over in his chair. “That one vial contains the interworkings of seven different spells, each with their own solution and side-affect. We are dealing with high-level magic, after all, and to get something you must give something in return.”“You’ve lost me,” Hikaru said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Of course you don’t understand, you’re simple,” Yamada sighed.Hikaru opened his mouth to counter, but a glare from Keito had him snapping his mouth shut once more.
“I’ve tried to balance the good with the bad, but not everything would align the way I wished,” Yamada continued. “If you drink that potion you won’t be cursed, but your memories will reset to the moment the curse was cast.” Sensing the confusion in the room, Yamada clarified his statement. “Which means you won’t remember any of your travels from the past nine years nor the people you’ve met.”“We’ll take it,” Hikaru said.
“No, I won’t,” Keito said, standing tall and proud. “My memories are precious to me, and I won’t give them away.” He left the cave, teary eyed, before anyone could stop him.“I’ll talk to him,” Hikaru said, clambering up from the floor and taking the potion from Yamada.
Keito was sitting on the edge of the mountain’s path, legs dangling to earth far, far below. The peaks of the mountains reached for the sky, the taller caps covered in white. In the distance they could see lights sprinkling the earth, signaling a town was closer than they originally believed.“Tell me what you’re thinking about,” Hikaru said, settling next to Keito.
“I don’t know,” Keito said, biting his lip. “It’s…a lot to think about. The one thing I’ve always wanted was to return home, to see my family again. To be amongst my cousins and aunts and uncles, but now,” he balled his hands into fists, “I don’t know what I want anymore.”Hikaru’s heart was beating quickly. He knew the words he wanted Keito to say, to put them out into the open, but it was all wishful thinking. There had to be other issues weighing down Keito’s mind besides a weary cook and his mage companion.
“I don’t want to forget about you,” Keito continued. “I don’t want to forget all of the conversations we’ve had. And your cooking. I don’t want to forget how you talk with Yabu, so full of life and how focused and determined you are to win your arguments with him.” He laughed, hand covering his mouth. “And that time you tried to catch that fish for dinner and fell in the river. I don’t want these memories to become meaningless.”“They won’t be meaningless,” Hikaru whispered. He pulled Keito close, hugging him tightly. “Because I’ll remember them, and Yabu too. They’ll live on, and we’ll be sure to tell you all about them. About all of the trouble you caused us, and how much you brought life into our lives.” They separated, so Hikaru could look Keito in the eyes. “We’ll keep telling you these stories over and over again until you can feel them in your bones and know that they’re true.”
He wanted to kiss him. He wanted to kiss Keito so bad it hurt. The way that he was looking at Hikaru as if he was the only person in the world struck something deep within his soul. He wanted to taste Keito, to see his if lips tasted as sweet as he was. It was so easy to lean forward, to close that distance. Hikaru had a feeling Keito would accept everything he had to offer.
Hikaru pulled away.
“But you should think of your happiness and your position,” Hikaru said, procuring the potion vial from his pocket and wrapping Keito’s hands around it. “I’ll only be around for so long, but family is forever. And you’ll have a powerful mage to protect you once you return to the palace.” His words kept trying to catch in his throat, one of his hand’s reaching down for his brother’s knife, but he kept pushing forward. “Do what will benefit you in the long run.”He left Keito there, sitting underneath the blackened sky. His hands held onto the one thing keeping him from the happiness he had sought.
In the morning, they woke to frightened shrieks. Keito’s back pressed firmly against the wall, eyes darting around the room. The pain in Hikaru’s own heart was unbearable as he looked upon the duke with panic flowing through his veins.Yamada pulled his robe closer to his body, crossing the room with a few hurried strides, and he grabbed onto one of Keito’s arms. He pulled back the fabric to reveal clean, unblemished skin, free from the marks of the curse.
“It appears as though we have a little explaining to do, Duke Okamoto,” Yamada said, releasing Keito’s arm. “Would you like some tea? It’s quite a long story.”It didn’t take long to calm Keito down, to tell him the story of his past. He listened attentively, ears drinking in their words as his mind refills all that was once lost. They purposely left out several parts. Their horse rides together. How Keito’s touch felt on his body. How he nearly kissed those royal lips to sway him to stay, but refused at the last moment.
Skillful hands cut away the mane of hair Keito had grown over the years, revealing a polished and refined duke underneath it all. The short hair looked good on him, showing off the dimples his long locks had once hidden.Yamada lent them his horse to make their travels to the Capital swifter. His all-knowing eyes watched them as they packed up their belongings for the trip.
“Bring him back,” Yamada said. “That horse cost me far too much to lose.”“Don’t move around and we will,” Hikaru shot back in return.
They told stories of their time together as they traveled. Hikaru recounted the time he had pushed Keito in the river all those weeks ago, laughing at how Keito’s nose scrunched up at the mere thought of taking a dip into it. He ignored Yabu’s eyes, his worried expression, and kept a smile on his face.The less he thought about it, the more he was able to convince himself this was all for the better. Keito needed a family, not a rag tag bunch of men who could hardly keep themselves in line with each other.
The palace rose above the hills, its white stone sparkling in the light of the afternoon sun. The River Lea bent to the will of the palace, making it curve around those majestic peaks, bowing to its might.“Yaotome-san, I have a question for you,” Keito said. He held his reins loosely as he let Yabu jut out in front, picking out their path down the hill and to the capital’s gates.
“Hm? What is it?” Hikaru asked.
He couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t stand how formal Keito was being with him. He missed the Keito who would speak his name without fear, instead of the proper man that sat before him.
“Why is it that whenever you look at me it looks like you’ve lost the love of your life?” Keito asked, his eyes so pure, so honest. “It’s been bothering me since we left Yamada-san’s home.”
“No particular reason,” Hikaru said. He nudged his own horse forward. “You merely remind me of someone I used to know.”
He was off before Keito could speak again, racing down the hill past Yabu to the gates. Hikaru wanted it all to end. To deliver Keito back to his home, and to slowly forget their time together. It would be easier if he cut everything off in one swoop instead of a tearful goodbye.
He negotiated with one of the guardsmen, a pretty man who called himself Takaki, to escort Keito to the palace gates. The crest in Keito’s pack would be enough to get him entrance to the throne room, and, from there, he would be able to prove his lineage to the king.
ldquo;Where to now?” Yabu asked. His hands held both his horse’s reins and Yamada’s.
“Back to the mountains,” Hikaru said. He spurred his horse east once more. “We have a promise to keep.”
“And after that?” Yabu said, rolling his eyes. “I knew we’d be going there.”
“I don’t know,” Hikaru said. He kept his attention facing forward, no matter how much he wished to look behind him. “Wherever the wind takes us, I suppose.”