puss_nd_boots: (Subaru Antithesis)
[personal profile] puss_nd_boots
Title: A Sort-Of Fairy Tale, Chapter 6
Chapter: Chapter 6 of ?
Author: Boots
Rating: This chapter PG, eventual series rating NC-17
Genre: Fairy tale AU, romance, drama
Warning: For this chapter, just language
Pairing: Final pairings of the series confidential for now. Currently, it involves Yo-ka (DIAURA) with a harem that includes Subaru (Royz), MiA (Mejibray), Yuuki (Lycaon/Initial’L), Ruiza (D), Hiyori (Kiryu) and Hiro (Fest Vainqueur). Also Toya (Gotcharocka) x Subaru.
Disclaimer: DIAURA belongs to Ains, Royz and Kiryu belong to B.P. Records, Mejibray belongs to White Side Group, D and Gotcharocka belong to God Child Records, Fest Vainqueur belongs to PLUG RECORDS west, and I’m not yet sure who Initial’L’s new company is. I own the story only.
Overall Story Summary: Once upon a time, there was a prince named Yo-ka whose father forced him to go through a Culling – a process by which a group of young men are gathered from each district of his kingdom and he eliminates them one by one until he finds his true love. There was another prince named Toya, who came along to offer his brother moral support, but planned to stay away from the fray. And there was a candidate named Subaru, who arrived from one of the country’s poorest districts with little more than a head full of dreams. All three were about to get more than they bargained for . . .
Chapter Summary: The Culling is down to the final four as they arrive in the district of Ekkisu. Subaru is facing the harsh reality of looking at the end of the best time of his life and is more tangled in his feelings about the two princes than ever. Plus, the boys learn a salacious tidbit about Cullings of the past.
Comments: This series as a whole was inspired by the TV series The Bachelor, and the matter of the Pavilion of the Heart comes from the part of the series that I find the most repugnant – the so-called Fantasy Suite, which takes place at the same juncture of the competition it once did in the Culling (when there’s three candidates left). Hometown Dates, mentioned by Yo-ka here, is also a stage of The Bachelor.

The Crown Prince's traveling party – at least the four young men who were still officially in the contest – pulled up in front of the final residence they would be staying at, the Royal Retreat at Ekkisu.

“This looks different than the others,” MiA observed as the boys got out and stood on the curb, looking at what seemed to be a normal house, not a palace. Okay, it looked like a wealthy person's house to be sure – a tall porch with four columns, behind which were floor-to-ceiling windows. But it was still a house.

“Well, we're down to only four of you now, you know,” their driver said. “Three at the end of this week. Besides, this house ain't the whole complex. There's a few smaller buildings behind it. You'll see.”

“Including the one that Hiro and Hiyori are staying in,” Ruiza whispered to Subaru. Obviously, nobody had tipped off this driver about Yo-ka's plan that nobody was going home.

They walked into the entranceway, to find both princes and the Earl already waiting for them. “Welcome,” Yo-ka said. “This is one of my family's summer vacation homes. It's usually used as a retreat when one of us needs a complete break from royal business for a few days.”

“Kings can take a vacation?” Subaru said.

“Not really a vacation,” Yo-ka replied. “They're still on-call for if something really goes wrong. But, yes, my parents do come here for a few days and leave me in charge of the day-to-day business. Meaning they make sure anything important is done before they go.”

“As you can imagine,” the Earl said, “with only four of you, there will be one individual date for each of you this week and two group dates. One group tomorrow, then the four individuals, then another group. At the end of the first week, the prince will announce his final three. During the second week, those young men will have two individual dates each, and finally, the last two will be chosen. They will return to the Capital with myself and the princes, where the final choice will be announced in a ceremony in front of His and Her Majesties. The chosen one gets the collar and becomes Prince Yo-ka's Pledged, with the possibility of becoming the Crown Prince Consort if things work out.”

“No pressure or anything,” Toya said, and the candidates all laughed.

“Furthermore,” said the Earl, “I will remind you that when the Prince chooses his final two, you are ALL going home except the ones moving on to the capital. We've taken the most unusual step of having last week's eliminated contestants stay with you . . .”

“Hi, guys!” came a voice from the doorway. They turned to see Hiro and Hiyori, no longer wearing their rosettes, since they were no longer candidates.

“Our train pulled in right after yours,” Hiro said. “We got a cab here.”

“Good thing we had these,” Hiyori said, holding up the badge around his neck that identified him as “Official Culling Staff” - which Yo-ka had given them before they left. “Cabs aren’t allowed to take people here without royal ID.”

“Hi!” Subaru said. “We were just being briefed. We're going to be busy, it seems.”

“Candidates, your rooms are on the corridor to the left,” the Earl said. “There is a sign on each door with your name. Your luggage is there already, along with your schedules. And I'll show our two guests” - the Earl let out a big sigh, making it obvious he still wasn't happy with the whole keeping-discarded-candidates-around thing - “to where they are going to be staying.”

Once he left with Hiyori and Hiro, Toya came up to the four candidates. “Once you guys are settled in,” he said, “meet me back here. We'll go out back and pick up the other two and I'll give you the tour of this place.”

“There's a tour?” Subaru said.

“You'll see,” said Toya. “It's got a pretty interesting history.”

Subaru smiled at him as he went toward his room. Two more weeks before it’s all over, he thought. Only two more weeks . . .

* * *

When the group re-gathered in the front parlor, Toya had already collected the two ex-candidates. “It didn't take long to settle in,” Hiyori said. “We're in a guesthouse right outside of this building,”

“There's a bunch of little buildings,” said Hiro. “You could probably host a house party here with about a hundred people.”

“Not a bad idea,” Toya said, “but we'll save that for after the Culling. No, I want to show you guys something.” They headed toward the back of the house, down a corridor lined with offices and meeting rooms, then past the kitchen, where staff was already at work on dinner.

“This place has always been used for the last round of the Culling,” Toya said. “It used to be that the prince didn't come here until he'd picked his final three – and it was here that he really made the decision that narrowed the three down to two.”

“What do you mean?” MiA said, as Toya led them out a back door and down a short flight of steps. They found themselves in a vast courtyard that was shaped like a hub-and-spoke wheel. Around the perimeter were the little buildings that Hiyori and Hiro had talked about – small facilities for accommodating staff and potential guests, with a path running from building to building.

At the centerpiece of the courtyard was a single small building, painted white, with purple curtains visible in its windows. Its facade was covered with the same elaborate “gingerbread” accents as the seaside houses they saw way back in Lycaon.

“This,” Toya said, pointing to the center building, “was the proving ground. The old servants said its official name was the Pavilion of the Heart. But they had another name for it – the Hump and Dump.”

“WHAT?” Subaru and MiA said in unison. Ruiza started laughing. Yuuki just facepalmed.

“You see,” Toya said, “the current rule that the Prince can't have sex with anyone until he picks his Pledged? That's actually really recent. As in, it was put in place for my father and his siblings. Before that, the prince had sex with all three of his final candidates, and that formed the basis of his ultimate decision. So, yeah, one candidate slept with him and then was dumped – probably because he or she didn’t meet the prince’s playmate standards.”

“But . . . but that's . . .” Subaru said.

“Cruel?” said Toya. “Degrading? Exactly. It's why my father insisted that stage be removed from the Culling procedure. Now, the prince still comes here for the final round, but no sex happens. At least, not until after the Pledged is chosen. Then he brings him or her back here for their first few days together.”

They walked toward the “Hump and Dump,” and Toya opened the front door. “Come in,” he said. “I'll show it to you. One of you will be coming here with my brother anyway.”

The group stepped in, one by one. Subaru glanced around. There was a large fireplace, a couple of overstuffed chairs, and . . .

At the center of the room was an enormous bed, a four-poster with a canopy and retractable curtains. It was covered with a royal purple comforter, and piled high with what seemed to be a small mountain of pillows.

“Whoa,” Hiro said. “I could definitely sleep in that.”

“He just told us that it’s not for sleeping,” Hiyori said.

“And there's also bathing facilities,” Toya said, leading the group over to the next room, which sported a massive, round tub, not to mention a shower area that was big enough for two people to stand – and move around – in easily. At one end was a seat built into the wall. Subaru doubted it was for people to sit on while they washed.

“This is impressive as hell,” Yuuki said. “But really, a whole building just for a honeymoon after you get Pledged?”

“Well, like I said, this is a royal retreat, so I'm guessing it gets used whenever a royal couple wants action,” Toya said. “Except I do NOT want to think about my parents coming here.”

“Nobody wants to think about that,” MiA said. “Nobody.”

Subaru glanced from the bed to the shower and back again. Imagine, elaborate facilities made expressly for lovemaking, for a couple to be together . . . it was definitely not like anything back in Royz, where couples did it wherever they could.

And he really had to get the image out of his head of himself and Toya on that bed, entwined in passion . . .

* * *

The group date the next day was a grand tour of Ekkisu. The four remaining candidates rode in a limo, with Yo-ka sitting up front next to the driver, giving them narration through an open window.

“Ekkisu is one of the oldest settlements in this country,” Yo-ka said, as they drove down a narrow street lined with equally narrow – and tall – houses, painted bright colors. “It was the birthplace of King Yoshiki himself. These houses that you're looking at have been here for over 300 years. People who move into them sign a pledge that they will not alter the design of the structure in any way.”

“What's that statue over there?” Ruiza said, pointing to a man in traditional dress, arms upraised. “Is that King Yoshiki?”

“That's his son, King Hide,” Yo-ka said. “He was said to be a very well-loved king, but unfortunately, he died young.” The car rounded a corner into a business district. “This part of town is more modern. You can see the differences in the architecture. A lot of the original town was destroyed in an earthquake and fire – which is why you see mostly stone used for the buildings now, to reduce the fire risk.”

They passed a group of young people on a corner – and one of them caught a glimpse of the occupants of the car. She pointed to her friend, and both of them turned toward the car, waving and smiling – and one of them yelled, “Good luck, guys!”

“We've been recognized?” Yuuki said.

“The article that was written after you did the radio interview appeared in almost every newspaper in the country,” Yo-ka said. “With photos. So, yes, people do recognize you now.”

“They . . . do?” Subaru felt a little uncomfortable at that.

“There's interest in this Culling, remember,” Yo-ka said. “The people want to know who's going to be their new Prince-Consort.”

“There’s a betting pool, remember?” Ruiza said.

Yo-ka turned toward the back, frowning a little. “I really hate the idea that people bet on this,” he said. “It isn't a horse race. You guys are human beings. And it isn't a RACE, either.”

When the tour was complete, they stopped at a little inn on a rock overlooking the ocean for lunch. Subaru took notice of the height and speed of the waves. He hadn't had a chance to surf here yet. He had to make sure his student could handle them. Toya was making impressive progress – but he was still a novice.

Just two more weeks, he thought. And that's on days when I'm not with Yo-ka. Which means three days we can’t have lessons this week, two next week . . .

“Suuubaru!” said a voice next to him. He jumped and turned toward the group. There was a sea of faces looking at him, not to mention a waitress with her pen poised, waiting to take his order.

“Oh!” he said. “I'm sorry. Just . . . just thinking about . . . things.” He grabbed the menu and ordered, quickly, then settled back into his seat.

“Thinking about the waves?” Yo-ka said.

Subaru gave a sheepish smile. “Well, yeah,” he lied.

“Thought so,” the prince said. “I've learned so much about things I never thought I would from you guys. This has been a good experience for me – really. I just wish that it wasn't a Culling, you know?”

“You don't have to think of it as that if you don't want to,” Yuuki said. “Just think of it as a hangout.”

“Well, I do need to name somebody as my Pledge at the end of this,” Yo-ka said. “Or, I could name nobody – but that just means starting all over again.”

“I'll bet it would be possible to have a Culling without a Culling,” Subaru said. “You just have a caravan of people from different districts traveling around the country together and all getting to know one another. Call it a Friendship Express or something like that. It would be fun.”

“And if anyone happens to fall in love, so much the better?” MiA said.

“Something like that,” said Subaru.

“Yo-ka,” Ruiza said, thoughtfully, “have your parents ever told you what their Culling was like? I mean, I'm guessing they met in one, it wasn't an arranged marriage?”

“They met in a Culling, all right,” Yo-ka said. “And they've never talked about it. All I know is my mother was the representative of Lunasea, and my father said he had his eye on her from the start.”

“At least, then, you know he married her because of feelings, not just because she was from Lunasea,” Ruiza said.

“It's hard to tell with him sometimes,” Yo-ka said. “He's not exactly good at showing emotions – other than being a stick in the mud.”

Later on, when they were leaving the restaurant, Yo-ka watched his four remaining candidates headed for the car, laughing and talking. His thoughts were similar to the ones Subaru had before – that there were only two weeks for them all to be together, and that made him sad.

To think I was dreading this at the beginning and I just wanted to kick every one of them out, he thought. Now I don't want to say goodbye to them. I just want to keep every one of them around – somehow.

Although it was becoming increasingly clear in his mind which were his final two.

* * *

Subaru was scheduled for the second individual date, which meant he got to give Toya a lesson in between. “You are making so much progress!” Subaru called as Toya glided effortlessly toward the shallow water. “I can't believe you couldn't stand up on a board just a few weeks ago.”

“That's because I had the best teacher,” Toya said, hopping off the board and walking onto the sand with it under his arm. “You should set up a surfing school when this is all over, Subaru.”

“I don't want to think about this being over,” Subaru replied, coming out of the water as well. “And it's not. Not yet.”

“But would you consider the surfing school?” Toya said. “It's really what you were born to do.”

“Maybe if I had a business partner,” Subaru said as they headed toward the spot on the sand where they'd laid out their blankets. “I don't think I could fund that kind of thing myself.”

“What if I offered to be the partner?” Toya replied, sitting down on his blanket. “What would you say to that?”

“Can you do that?” Subaru said. “I mean, are you allowed to by law, given . . . who you are?”

“If I'm not? I can be a silent partner,” Toya said. “They can't question it if they don't know who I am. It's just that, well . . . you were meant to be so much more than a tugboat clerk, Subaru. You have a gift, and you should share that gift.”

Subaru looked away. A tugboat clerk, he thought. It's felt like eons since I was at work. I don't even feel like the same person I was then. If I went back to Royz, how would I feel? Would I be able to get up and go to work every morning again?

“I'd love nothing more than to share surfing with other people,” he said, quietly. “But – you probably know that, don't you?”

“Of course,” said Toya. “So it's a deal, then?”

“It's a deal!” said Subaru. “We're going to be partners.”

They didn't ask, of course, about the logistics of that happening, if Subaru was back in Royz and Toya was back in Charlotte. That was a reality that they didn't want intruding right now.

And meanwhile, Toya was thinking, if I'm his business partner, if we're doing something together, at least that's some small way that I'll be able to hold on to him – even if he's with my brother . . .

* * *

Subaru's date with Yo-ka the next day involved them going out in the water on a small yacht, accompanied only by a captain and a couple of staff members.

“I've asked them to take us out where we can see dolphins,” Yo-ka said. “There's apparently a lot of them out here.”

“Apparently?” Subaru said. “You haven't been out here before?”

“I've only been out here before with the whole family,” Yo-ka said, “and my father isn't exactly the going-out-to-see-dolphins type.” He sat on a folding chair at the side of the boat, gesturing for Subaru to sit beside him. “I'm getting to do a lot in this process that I ordinarily wouldn't do.”

“This has been an experience for both of us, hasn't it?” Subaru said.”Yo-ka, what are you going to do when this is all over?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are you going back to the main palace? Are you moving into your palace at Valluna? Do you have to go back to day-to-day prince stuff?”

“You mean, tons of paperwork?” Yo-ka said. “I think I'll get somewhat of a break on that. My main priority in life over the next six months is building a relationship with the person who gets chosen as my Pledged.”

“Are you going to live with him, then?”

“Him?” Yo-ka said, teasingly. “That could very well be you, Subaru.”

“It . . . could?” Subaru became aware that his heart was pounding. Was it from excitement? Fear? Both?

“Of course,” Yo-ka said. He leaned toward the blond. “No matter what happens from here on in, I'm glad that I got to know you. It's not every prince that can say he dated a cute little blond surfer.”

“I think I'm the only surfer who can say he's dated a prince,” Subaru said, realizing his tone was breathless, that he couldn't take his eyes off Yo-ka, that the whole world seemed to have shrunk down to the two of them, to the feel of breeze on their faces and the scent of the ocean and the nearness of one another.

“Well, then, we've both had the experience of a lifetime, haven't we?” Yo-ka said, leaning in toward Subaru, as if to kiss him.

“I'm hoping it's not just once in a lifetime,” Subaru replied, feeling like his voice was coming from a million miles away instead of from inside him. It was like they had stepped outside reality, they were quite literally in a world of their own . . .

And then, there was a noise of a loud splash off the side of the boat, bringing them back to reality.

“Oh!” Yo-ka said. “Dolphins!” He stood up and turned around. “Look, Subaru, there's a whole school of them, you can see them right here!”

Subaru stood up beside the prince, and looked over the side of the boat at the creatures breaching the water, swimming rapidly in formation. He still felt a bit shaky and breathless. It was the closest they'd come yet to kissing.

“There's more coming,” Yo-ka said, standing behind his date and wrapping his arms around his waist. “See? They're over there, and they're swimming toward the boat.”

Subaru leaned back against him, feeling the warmth of the other man's body, thinking he could get very used to this, yes, he wouldn't mind this being his reality for the rest of his life. He wasn't even thinking of the man who was holding him as a prince anymore – just a really sweet guy.

In fact, if Yo-ka had asked him to the Pavilion of the Heart right now, if that was allowed, he knew he'd go – willingly.

Then why was there a tiny little pang of guilt in his heart – as if he were being unfaithful to someone else?

* * *

The rest of the week passed way too quickly. When you want something to last forever, when you know you're coming up on the end of the best time you ever had in your life, that's when time slips away from you like grains of sand.

That's what was happening to Subaru right now. He just wanted to grab this extended moment and stick it in a bottle and keep it with him forever. He wanted to hold onto every one of the group's casual meals together, where they bantered about things like what kind of car they'd buy if they could get any one they wanted or where the best spot on the royal residence grounds was for stargazing (since there was supposed to be a comet in view over the next couple of days). He wanted to preserve the volleyball games he played with his friends on the beach, the lazy moments where Subaru just lay around listening to MiA and Ruiza as they tried to write a song together – MiA providing the melody, Ruiza the lyrics. (Yuuki even told them he'd perform it when they were done).

But most of all, he wanted to hold onto every moment with Toya. Watching the other man navigate a tricky wave successfully for the first time and punching his fists in the air in triumph, hearing him laugh after he tripped over a piece of driftwood and stumbled around, teasing him gently when he admitted to still keeping a favorite childhood toy in a cabinet in his bedroom . . .

If only this were his Culling, Subaru thought sometimes. But then, we wouldn't have so much time to spend together, would we? He'd be the one having to follow the strict date rules.

At the conclusion of the second group date of the week – which was a bonfire on the beach, during which Yo-ka and his remaining candidates roasted marshmallows and sweet potatoes – the prince told them, “Okay, guys – remember, nobody's going home, but I have to make one official cut, and I'd rather do it tonight.”

“Right now?” Ruiza said, before pulling a marshmallow out of the fire and blowing on it.

“No,” Yo-ka said. “When we get back. And I'm not making anyone move to the guest house tonight, either. The person can stay in the main house.” He paused. “And I've come to another decision. One thing I'm allowed to do in this Culling is grant titles of nobility as I see fit. Usually, that's only done for the first, second and third place finishers, and they get the highest title that's currently available in their district.”

Subaru knew well the five basic titles of nobility used by their nation – Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount and Baron. These could, of course, be modified with “grand,” “arch” or “grand arch” prefixes if someone decided a region needed even more nobility.

Royz, of course, had never had a single noble, so running out of titles definitely wouldn't be a problem for him.

“I'm looking into what noble titles are available for each of you,” Yo-ka said. “You'll all be getting one.”

“Really?” MiA said, looking shocked. “ALL of us?”

“Yes,” Yo-ka said. “You deserve them.” And it's also to stop my father for saying I'm hanging around with riff-raff, he thought. How can they be that if they all have titles?

“That's really generous,” Ruiza said. “No, that's FABULOUS! I'm going to have a title! WOW!”

Subaru just gave Yo-ka a smile. “Thank you,” he said. “I'm grateful. I really am.”

Yo-ka just looked at the young man and thought, Subaru, don't worry. You're going to have more than a title, if I have anything to say about it. You'll never have to deal with a single tugboat ever again.

* * *

As it turned out, the one cut at the end of the week was Ruiza. He took it well – especially since, as he'd stated before, he'd never expected to win, and was still thrilled to death at the idea of having a title. The next morning, everyone helped him move out to the guest house with Hiro and Hiyori.

“All right,” the Earl told the three remaining candidates. “Here is your schedule. Like I said when we first got here – two dates this week for each of you. Remember, this is your last chance to impress His Highness and earn yourself a trip back to the main palace.” He held out a bowl with three folded pieces of paper. “Each of you pick one. There's a number on every paper. If you get one, your dates are the first and fourth days. If you get two, the second and fifth, and . . . well, I don't need to go further.”

Yuuki got 1, Subaru got 2, MiA got 3. Subaru was quietly planning out his final week here in his head – lesson with Toya, date with Yo-ka, two lessons with Toya, date with Yo-ka, and then . . .

Their final lesson. After which he'd either be pledged to Yo-ka and therefore off-limits to Toya, or back in Royz behind a tugboat company desk.

Don't think about that, Subaru, he told himself. Just focus on the days you have left with him. And, hey, think about the positives of being back home. You want to see Kuina and Kodai and Tomoya again, don't you?

He realized that he did – but he also couldn't stand the idea of no longer seeing MiA, Ruiza, Hiro and Hiyori on a daily basis. And dammit, he'd miss Yuuki, too.

Things were pretty much normal on that first day, though. Yuuki left for his date, Ruiza and MiA went off to work on songwriting, Hiro took off with the royal family book he'd borrowed from Ruiza – and Subaru went out on the beach with Toya.

“We're going to work on refining your style these last couple of days,” Subaru said. “By the end of the week, we may even be able to try you on a longboard.”

“A longboard?” said Toya. “Wow, I'm impressed. I really have come a long way, haven't I?”

“You've earned it,” Subaru said.

When they sat on the sand after their lesson, Toya said, “You know, we really do have to get serious about that business proposal.”

“You think so?” Subaru said.

“I know so. We both have to think about our future after this week, right?”

Subaru looked down. “I don't want to think about it.”

“Why not?” Toya said. “It could be a very bright future, you know.”

“I don't want to think about . . .” Subaru drew a deep breath. I almost said that I don't want to think about being off-limits to him, he thought. “Not having my friends around. I mean, they have to go back to their own lives, don't they? Hiro's family needs him back at the ice cream shop, Ruiza has to go back to the perfume business, Hiyori's dance group has been making do without him . . .”

“You'll see them again.” Toya suddenly leaned over and impulsively hugged Subaru. “You'll see them all again.”

Subaru closed his eyes, drinking in the warmth of that hug. It didn't last long, just a few seconds, but still . . .

I wish he could hold me like that, he thought, and never let me go.

He took a deep breath and tried to bring lightness into the situation. “Maybe we could bring everyone into our business somehow,” he said. “I mean, I don't know how perfume and ice cream would go along with surfing and rollboards, but . . .”

“Cross-promotion?” Toya said. “Buy a board, get a voucher for free ice cream?”

“I like that idea!” Subaru said. “And they can serve as spokespeople, too.”

“Why do we need an outside spokesperson?” Toya said. “We have the perfect one right here.”

“You?” said Subaru.

“No, you. You're adorable. And the public knows you now, due to the radio broadcast.”

“I don't know if I'm spokesman material!”

“Trust me,” Toya said. “You are.” He leaned a bit closer to Subaru. “I've dated guys who were models before, you know.”

“You have?”

“Well, yes. When you're a prince, you kind of get to meet everyone. So, yeah, I met a couple of models and went out with them – and, well, those guys have a certain quality. A magnetism. You can tell why they're in front of the camera. You have the same quality, you know.”

“Why didn't you keep dating any of those guys?” Subaru said, feeling a bit light-headed and bedazzled by the fact that Toya had told him he had a model's magnetism.

“Because they had model quality – but they didn't have enough heart. That's what I've needed more than anything – someone with a lot of heart. And I just never found anyone like that, until . . .” He suddenly caught himself and looked away. “Well, I just kept picking the wrong guys, that's all,” he said, quickly.

Subaru wanted to ask if he had that quality, too – if he had the kind of heart Toya was looking for. But the words died in his mouth – because he was afraid of what happened if he asked them. What would be scarier at this point – a no answer, or a yes?

Instead, he said, “All right, I'll give you this – I'll do one photo campaign with the surfboards and we'll see how that goes. Okay?”

“Perfect,” Toya said. “I know just the guy to take the pictures, too.”

As they headed back to the house to dress and get ready for dinner, Subaru quietly thought, one lesson down, three to go . . .

* * *

Yo-ka and Subaru's date the next day involved a trip to a street called the Ekkisu Art Walk. “The local artists set up booths along the street where you can view their works,” the prince said. “You can see some of them in the process of creating, too.”

It was a fascinating thing to see, to be sure. There was everything there from very modern artists who painted in abstract styles – some maybe a bit too abstract, Subaru wondered if a couple of the things he saw on display were used drop cloths put out there by mistake – to very classical ones that produced such precise replicas of people and scenes that it was hard to believe they weren't photographs.

“I like that one,” Subaru said, pointing to a seascape that was painted in an impressionist style – you could tell at a glance what it was, but it was also abstract enough that it had something of a surreal, dreamy quality.

“I had a feeling you would,” Yo-ka said.

“It captures the soul of the ocean, you know? The way it feels, inside and out.”

“That's important to you, isn't it?” Yo-ka said. “To be near the ocean.”

“I'd have a very hard time living somewhere that was landlocked,” Subaru said.

“So, to you the concept of 'home' has to include the ocean?”

Subaru nodded. “Probably a good thing that so much of our nation is near a beach, isn't it?”

“The capital is near the ocean,” Yo-ka said, quietly.

Subaru froze. Is . . . is he telling me that he's thinking of choosing me? He thought. How do I answer that . . .

“I . . . I could live there,” he replied.

“Good,” Yo-ka said, reaching around Subaru's waist and giving him a squeeze. “You just might.”

After they were done going through the Art Walk, they went to an outdoor cafe, where the waiter complimented Yo-ka on his good taste in companions and Subaru blushed redder than a tomato. After they'd given their orders and the waiter poured them glasses of wine, Yo-ka said, “Subaru, do you know what this round of the Culling used to consist of?”

Subaru choked on his wine, his eyes nearly bugging out. Oh, my God, he thought, oh, my God, is he asking me to . . . he's not allowed to, is he? And if he is, do I want it? He's attractive – flat-out beautiful, in fact . . . but can I? Would I? And what about Toya . . .

“Subaru!” Yo-ka said, leaping around to the other side of the table. “Subaru, are you okay?” He patted his date's back. “Oh, no . . . you don't think I meant the Pavilion, do you?”

Subaru looked up at him, still choking a little. “Somebody . . . somebody told us about . . .” He didn't want to tell Yo-ka that his brother was the somebody.

“The so-called Hump and Dump?” Yo-ka said. “I wouldn't do that to you, Subaru. I wouldn't do that to any of you. To command someone to have sex with you, and then dump him flat afterward . . . that's the height of heartlessness. No, I meant the round before that. It used to be called Hometown Dates. The prince would meet the families of all his remaining candidates – in their hometown, if at all possible.”

“Oh,” Subaru said, looking considerably relieved.

“And I'm wondering what would happen if we still did that, and I met your family.”

“Well,” Subaru said, “my mother would be thrilled as hell that someone was interested enough in me to want to meet my parents. She'd probably give you every kind of food and drink imaginable. My father would probably want to talk to you man-to-man – in other words, he'd want to figure out what kind of a guy you are and whether you'd break my heart. My brother would just think you were a cool guy and would want to hang out with you. But, you know, my three best friends would insist on meeting you, too.”

“And how would they react?” Yo-ka said.

“Well, they'd probably give you the third degree,” Subaru said, picking up his glass and swirling the wine. “They'd want to make sure that you were worthy of me. Of course, once they were satisfied that you were, they'd treat you like the greatest guy in the world. They'd probably drag you out to one of the bars to meet the locals.”

“And I'd like to meet them,” Yo-ka said. “I think I need to understand more about where you live – about the places where everyone lives. I want to make sure everyone in the country gets fair and equal treatment when I'm king.”

“You will,” Subaru said. “You'll make a great king – because you have a truly good heart.” He put his hand over Yo-ka's. “You'll be the best king we've ever had.”

“I don't know,” Yo-ka said. “We've had some pretty good ones.” He covered Subaru's hand with his own. “But I'm going to at least try.”

“I have faith in you,” Subaru said.

“It's probably going to be a way off,” Yo-ka said. “My father isn't about to retire anytime soon.”

“Well, then you have time to be what you want to be, don't you?” Subaru said. “You can go bowling. Hang out in izakayas. Just be Yo-ka, not the Prince of Valluna. Because, well . . .” He looked down. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course, Subaru. You can tell me anything.”

“When I first met you, I thought of you as The Prince. And, well, I found you intimidating because of that. But after I got to know you, I stopped thinking of you that way, and I just thought of you as Yo-ka. And that's how I'm always going to think of you.”

“And I'm going to tell you something in return,” Yo-ka said. “I've always thought of you as Subaru – just Subaru, not Subaru of Royz. You're not defined by where you came from. You're defined by who you are. And who you are is someone any man would be happy and honored to have in his life.”

Subaru looked down, blushing. “Thank you. Thank you so much. That's . . . that's the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me.”

“You do deserve it, you know.”

Subaru was very much aware that they hadn't moved their position – their hands were still on top of each other, they were still looking into each other's eyes . . .

Fortunately or unfortunately, their food arrived at that moment. They leaned back slowly from one another.

What would have happened, Subaru thought, if the waiter had come a few minutes later?

* * *

The next day, he met Toya on the beach as usual. “Just what do you do on the days when I'm out with your brother, anyway?” Subaru said.

“I practice, of course,” Toya said. “I come out here by myself and go surfing. And on the days you were all on the group dates? I rounded up Hiro and Hiyori and we went into town together. We found a place that makes great green tea slushies with red bean paste.”

“Put a bug in your brother's ear about that place,” Subaru said. “I have one more date with him.” He thought about the previous day, the date with Yo-ka, that moment when they had felt close to each other . . .

Why does it feel different than the closeness I feel to Toya? he thought.

After the lesson, they talked casually about the green tea slushie place Toya had gone to, and Toya said, “The heck with putting a bug in my brother's ear about it, I'm taking you myself.”

“You are?” Subaru suddenly brightened.

“Oh, yes,” Toya said. “MiA's on the date today, right? So we can get Hiro and Hiyori and Ruiza – and Yuuki, if he wants to go, too . . .”

He's taking everyone, Subaru thought. Not just me. Now, come on, why would he? It's not his Culling. It's not his dates. He's just along for the ride.

“All right,” Subaru said, keeping the brightness in his voice. “They shouldn't be hard to find.”

Sure enough, everyone was eager to go – even Yuuki. When they were all sitting together at the table, Yuuki even gave one of the waitresses his camera to take a picture of the group together.

“I need to invite you all to one of my performances when this is over,” Yuuki said, spooning up the green tea slushie.

“Where do you perform, usually?” Subaru said.

“All over the place, really,” Yuuki said. “Most of my dates are around Lycaon, of course, but I also have performed in the capital, and in a couple of the districts around there.”

“You can perform in Charlotte if you want,” Toya said. “I know a lot of the club owners.”

“Yuuki,” Hiyori said, “are you going to keep performing if, you know . . . you're chosen?”

“Of course I am,” Yuuki said. “It's who and what I am. I'm not going to give it up for anyone or anything, and Yo-ka knows this. He likes the idea, too.”

“Wow,” Hiro said. “I wish I had something in my life I loved as much as that.”

“Well, really, would any of you give up who you were if you were chosen?” Yuuki said. “Hiyori, would you give up dancing? Subaru, would you give up surfing?”

“No!” Subaru said, looking flat-out horrified at the very idea.

“Nobody's going to make you give that up,” Toya said, putting a hand on Subaru's shoulder. “You're not Subaru without it.”

“You can put a crown on my head, but you're going to pry the microphone out of my cold, dead fingers,” Yuuki said.

“Damn, I love this group,” Hiro said. “We're the most un-royal group of royal candidates there ever were.”

“You're not a candidate anymore,” Ruiza reminded him.

“Neither are you,” Hiro shot back. “None of us are except Subaru and Yuuki. If Yo-ka wasn't such a good guy? I'd be back to scooping chocolate marshmallow right now.”

“You have chocolate marshmallow?” Subaru said.

“We created it,” Hiro said. “That's the part of the business I like best – creating new flavors.”

“Isn't that kind of scary, Subaru?” Hiyori said. “Knowing you're this close to being chosen?”

“Hey, Yuuki is just as close as he is!” Hiro said.

“I'm not scared at all,” Yuuki said with a shrug. “From now on, whatever happens, happens.”

Subaru thought about the question a moment. Was he scared? He glanced over at Toya – and felt his heart turn to liquid.

I'm scared, he thought. But not of rejection. No, I'm scared of never seeing Toya again.

But he looked at his friends, pasted on a smile, and said, “What Yuuki just said.”

* * *

Reality set in the next day when Subaru was on the way to the beach. He passed a couple of members of the staff, who were arranging train travel four days from then.

“We'll send the whole group from here to the Central Hub,” the staffer was saying, referring to a major transportation center. “From there, they will all get trains to wherever they're going.”

“Do we know which ones we're transporting?” the other one said.

“We know it's the boys from Fest, Kiryu and D – since they're not supposed to be here now. As for the other one? We have no idea. His Highness hasn't tipped his hand. But I'll tell you this – if I'd told you at the beginning of this that we were possibly looking at a guy from Royz being one of the two finalists, I'd have told you that you were certifiable.”

Subaru swallowed hard and ran the rest of the way to the ocean. Toya saw his face as he arrived. “Subaru?” he said. “What's wrong?”

Subaru let out a deep sigh. “I hadn't heard a remark like that in weeks . . . since we were in the capital . . .”

“Did someone say something to you?” Toya said. “Something about where you're from?”

“Not to my face,” Subaru said. “I . . . I overheard it, when they were talking about sending everyone home . . .”

“Damn,” Toya said, pulling Subaru into his arms. “Subaru, don't listen to that talk. Ever.”

“It's . . . it's just hearing them say that, and then talking about everyone going home . . . I didn't want to hear either . . .”

“We've still got a couple more days, remember,” Toya said. “We're going to have fun. Now, let's go out to the ocean, okay? You're going to be the best Subaru you can be and ride those waves like your life depended on it, and the hell with what everyone says.”

Subaru snuggled against him. I wish it could be like this forever, he thought. I wish he didn't have to let me go.

“All right,” he said. “Let's go out there. I might even show you some of my fancier tricks today. But that doesn't mean you should DO them, remember.”

“I bow to the master in this case,” Toya said.

They held hands as they went out to the water, and held hands again as they came back in, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Date: 2016-12-01 07:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hamhamheaven.livejournal.com
Man, the Pavilion is just... RUDE! Thank goodness Yo-ka's father had sense enough to cut that particular tradition out. (He at least managed to do that much right.)

I squealed aloud when Toya nearly said "until I met you". I know he's probably trying to rein in his feelings because Subaru is one of his brother's candidates. But as much as Yo-ka loves Toya, if Toya was open and honest with Yo-ka about how strongly he feels for Subaru, I'm sure Yo-ka would be more than happy to back off.

And the near misses with the kissing nearly gave me a heart attack. Maybe that's what Subaru needs in order to realize his feelings for Toya, because I have NO doubt if he kissed Yo-ka, he'd feel incredibly guilty about it afterwards. (The trip out to watch dolphins was adorable. I kept expecting Subaru to go all Heart of the Ocean and jump into the sea to play with them!)

Date: 2016-12-02 10:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leifang666.livejournal.com
Another great chapter. XD I can't wait to find out what happens in the next chapter, though I think I might have it already figured out. XD

Date: 2016-12-06 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] puss-nd-boots.livejournal.com
The Pavilion is a horrible concept - and so is the thing that inspired it, the Fantasy Suites stage of The Bachelor. Seriously, when I started reading up on that show (mostly through reading episode sporkings on Disqus by people who irony-watch it), I was flat-out floored when I found out that the Bachelor or Bachelorette goes on "exotic overnight dates" with all of the last three candidates - and then promptly kicks one to the curb. That person is left with the impression that he or she was rejected for being lousy in bed. Charming, right? NOT.

Toya and Subaru are both trying to rein in feelings big-time here - and we will see if they continue to do it when the end of the Culling arrives! And I imagine if poor Subaru were to kiss either prince, he'd just end up in something of a panic. He'd have his feelings sorted out, all right - and they would just make him feel guilty and confused.

Date: 2016-12-06 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] puss-nd-boots.livejournal.com
There's just a few more chapters to go, so we'll see what happens in the homestretch! Things may not happen exactly the way they seem!

Profile

puss_nd_boots: (Default)
puss_nd_boots

October 2017

S M T W T F S
123456 7
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031    

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 21st, 2017 01:58 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios