Prequel to "Ever After". Touga/Saionji, in a way. Spoilers. Whatnot.


by Sylvia



Boys were meant to be Princes. He'd always known it, and he'd never doubted the *rightness* of it. There had to be Princes, because the world was full of dangers, of dragons and wizards and witches. There had to be Princes, because there were Princesses to be saved.

It was something he'd never questioned, a belief gleaned from tales he had nothing but the dimmest memory of; the murmured voice of a woman who was and yet was not his mother, reading aloud; reading of darkness and light, the struggle between right and wrong. Of Princes and dragons, and of Princesses to be protected, cherished and revered, noble and beautiful creatures, bright and glowing in the darkness.

A simple belief, perhaps. A childish dream, but one he'd adopted whole-heartedly, making it his own until he could not tell where the dream began and he left off.

The world had been simple then. He was young, and he knew who he was and where he was going. He even knew who was going with him, for he'd never been alone in those days. Where Touga went, Kyouichi followed. Whereever Kyouichi was, Touga would not be far off. No one ever invited just one of them to play; there were always two cups of tea when they went anywhere, and their names were always said in one breath. Touga-and-Kyouichi. Kyouichi-and-Touga.

He had no early memories that did not include Kyouichi. Of course he knew that there'd been a time when he hadn't known the other boy, but he honestly couldn't remember it. Kyouichi had always been there, a constant, secure and utterly certain. It was strange, all the more so because he *could* remember the first time he'd turned and found himself looking into cool, narrowed lavender eyes.

"And this is our son, Kyouichi." He and Kyouichi had stepped forward and bowed to each other solemnly. "He's also a kendoka, Touga-kun. Perhaps the two of you can spar together some time."

*Perhaps,* Touga had thought, and then the new boy had smiled, transforming his previously reserved face. Touga had smiled back and made up his mind that they would be friends. "Will you spar with me, Saionji Kyouichi?"

Of course, Kyouichi had always claimed he had been the one to ask, that first time.

It didn't really matter, though. In those days, they'd been like one soul in two bodies, complementary rather than identical. Kyouichi was better with a shinai; Touga was better when they sparred without weapons. Touga was better at Japanese, art and music; Kyouichi was better at math, physics and chemistry. Kyouichi was shy, which made him seem cool or even arrogant sometimes, but Touga was self-possessed and outgoing and could always put his friend at ease. Touga was impatient with himself and others, given to thoughtlessness or even sloppiness sometimes, but Kyouichi was calm and careful and could always make him backtrack and get it right.

Bright, and steady, and known, as necessary and natural as the air he breathed, as much an indispensable part of himself as the blood coursing through his veins. He hadn't needed to look to know Kyouichi was beside him. He hadn't needed to ask what Kyouichi was thinking. Neither of them had ever questioned the other's role in their life.

In those days, when he did not need to look beyond his certainties, he had been happy.

He'd begun to notice different things about the world, but even so, nothing changed; he knew who he was and where he was going, and he was not afraid of anything he might encounter along the way.

That summer, he'd begun to notice, in an abstract and impersonal way, that Oneko's cheeks dimpled when she smiled, that Kazumi's legs were tanned and she almost always wore short frocks, that Yukari's dresses stretched tight over her chest when she reached back to borrow her friend Ikue's eraser, that Noriko, who sometimes came over to babysit Nanami, had long, shining black curls she often piled up on top of her head, letting one or two tendrils escape to trail around her face.

When summer leaned to autumn, he began to notice the striking color of his friend's eyes, the way he tilted his head when he was thinking, the way he stretched when he was tired, the way his movements broadcast a warrior's grace and sudden clumsiness in turns, the way his dogi fell around his slim form and bared pale arms when he raised the shinai above his head.

And there was nothing either abstract or impersonal about it.

He pounced on his friend and tickled him until he was helpless, pinned down in the grass, laughing and squirming. Soft skin, pleasant to the touch, tasting subtly of Kyouichi when he leaned down to lick his friend's throat, following an impulse he didn't fully understand. Kyouichi pulled Touga's hair gently and kicked and tickled back until Touga sat on his legs, caught his arms and held them above his head.

"You're beautiful," he said softly, and to both their surprise, Kyouichi blushed as red as blood and was too embarrassed to call Touga an idiot.

Kyouichi's hair had smelled of grass and sun and himself that day, and felt silky against Touga's cheek as he rubbed his face against it gently. Kyouichi's mouth had been softer, open slightly beneath Touga's, willing, unhesitant, unsurprised.

They'd both been distracted when they sparred later, and they stopped earlier than usual when Touga made a stupid mistake and Kyouichi, equally inept, let Touga's shinai strike him a glancing but painful blow across the back of one hand. Touga hadn't needed to apologize; all was right with their world and they both knew it.

But then, they'd found the Princess, huddled alone in the dark, miserable, afraid, full of despair.

Boys were meant to be Princes, and Princes were meant to save Princesses from the dangers that threatened them, to bring them forth from the darkness, to protect and admire them. Here was a lonely Princess, besieged and beleaguered, in need of rescue... And Touga realized in a flash of nauseating clarity that he had been wrong, after all.

His entire life, he had been *wrong*.

She needed to be shown something lasting, something true that would give her hope, restore her faith, grant her peace. She needed to be shown something eternal. There had to be Princes, because there were Princesses to be saved. But Touga, kneeling by the coffin of a beautiful Princess, her light all but extinguished by her pain and the encroaching darkness, had been able to do nothing.

And the same pain, the same encroaching darkness had been in Kyouichi's voice when he repeated the strange Princess's heartbroken whisper.

They'd gone home eventually, both of them silent and withdrawn as they rode the bike through the park and down quiet residential streets.


"Good night, Kyouichi," Touga said quietly, heart and mind numb and cold. He would not look into his friend's eyes because he knew that the steady surety he had always found there before would not be there tonight, and he could not bear to see what would have taken it's place. Not tonight – maybe tomorrow, it would be different. Maybe by then, the world would have solidified once again, assumed the shape of something familiar... re-formed from scattered shards, risen from the ashes...

It was an illusory hope born solely of his cowardice in the face of the end of his world, and he knew it. When Touga saw Kyouichi again, the first words out of his friend's mouth had been the one thing he could not bear to hear, striking again at the crumbling – crumbled – foundations of his existance. Boys should be Princes. They were meant to be.

"Touga, did you go back and show that girl something eternal yesterday? Because she left the coffin today..."

Had she? It didn't matter to Touga anymore. Everything that had been was gone, cruelly revealed as a mirage, a deceitful illusion of light and certainty. Boys were meant to be Princes and save Princesses. What was left for them if they didn't?

Two roads lay sketched out plainly, mirrored in his best friend's expression. To become nothing at all, melting away into the void, vanishing into a wisp of utter inconsequence... Or to become something else.

No, not two. One road only. No choice at all.

Touga smiled carelessly at his friend – closer than a brother, closer than anyone had ever been before, closer than anyone would ever be again – feeling the tearing pain of distance slamming down between them with a wrench he could feel in every cell of his body. It surged into the back of his throat, bitter as bile, corrosive as poison. The end of everything. The beginning of something he would never have chosen.

"Perhaps I did," he murmured, watching as emotions bloomed forth in his – no. In Saionji's wide eyes.

Shock, pain, betrayal, anger... The wrenching realization of distance. The loss of every security. The agony of irreversible and unbearable loss.

But more importantly, belief. Certainty. The unchanged knowledge of who Touga was and where he was going.

The world was full of dangers – of dragons, and wizards, and witches. There had to be Princes, because there were Princesses to be saved. And for the same reason, there had to be dragons, and wizards, and witches.

Boys who couldn't be Princes had no choice but to become Dragons.




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