Castles in the Sand
The Royal Oasis was his secret place.
It was a small, quaint paradise not far from the palace, surrounded by sand and harsh climate. The flora was lush and the water sweet - no one except the royal family was allowed access into that little slice of heaven, and Rin had long claimed it as his own.
Every time he had a bad day, he would trek the short distance to his exclusive kingdom, away from prying ministers and nagging parents.
It was so that one day, after receiving a lecture about how his current marital status was not ideal, he had made his way to the Oasis and hid himself in the presence of the strong palm trees and their cooling shade. It had almost become a ritual now, given just how much trouble his parents were giving him on the subject of marriage as of late. He didn't understand what the fuss was about, he was only seventeen - he still had many years ahead of him - and very desirable, so why were his parents pushing him into partnership? He assumed it was a political move, with the increasing number of merchants that sought residence in their small kingdom, the idea of a monarchy was slowly losing appeal. The merchants were resourceful and sharp, and had created for themselves (with blessings from the King) an association to 'protect their rights' and establish a form of order in the trading that occurred in the. Kingdom. The merchants were popular with the people if only due to the fact that they supplied goods from far and wide, and told stories that could put wonderful sparks in the eyes of children.
The slow incline of the popularity of the merchants of course, did not go unnoticed by the individuals of the Royal Court, and in turn his Father. Rin honestly did not think much about it while his Father took to the matter with all his attention. He was to meet with the head merchant's child, and if they were compatible, to be wed.
Rin huffed as he pulled his belt loose, the silk tunic sliding off his broad shoulders easily. He honestly did not understand why his parents would subject him to this ridiculous matching, but right now, he did not wish to think on it.
His toes broke the cool surface of the water, and he slowly waded in, appreciating the feel of it against his heated skin.
He heard a splash and froze mid step, his body at attention.
No one else should be here. Perhaps it was a bird? He relaxed again, sinking into the water and letting it engulf him. There was relative silence until he heard another splash, this time followed by a sigh.
Rin straightened himself stiffly, now sure that it he was not sharing his paradise with mere lost fauna, he swam deeper into the enclave, behind the largest of the trees.
A man was swimming in his pool - dark hair moist and sticking to lightly tanned skin - and needless to say, Rin was upset.
"Who are you?" Rin demanded, and was replied with the man jerking around to face him in silent shock. The most stunning blue eyes regarded him with surprise and alarm. They then calmed down, and simply looked at him.
"Who are you?" The man shot back, almost languidly.
Rin bristled, half in disbelief and half in anger.
"You're tresspassing on private ground. Make your identity known to me!"
The man had the audacity to look bored, now leaning back against the water to float quietly.
Rin's patience was running out. This man! Who did he think he was, infringing into his personal territory and being so rude about it!
"I'll have you arrested." Rin hissed, turning to swim back to the direction of the palace. A hand grabbed his ankle and pulled him back, forcing him to unwillingly swallow a few large gulps of water from the shock.
"My name is Nanase Haruka." The man said, watching Rin expectantly.
Rin growled, glaring at the black-haired man. But before he could say anything, the stranger cut him off again.
"The water likes you."
Rin was stunned into silence. For a while he thought he should be fearing for his safety in the presence of a madman - who apparently treated water like a living person - but calmed down considerably when the stranger remained passive, and just stared at him.
"Who are you?" The man repeated, a hardly detectable smile now on his lips.
Rin almost decided not to answer, but replied anyway.
The man's face did not register any recognition, so he repeated his name.
"I am Matsuoka Rin."
The stranger still showed no sign of acknowledging his royal blood.
"My name is Nanase Haruka." the man repeated with slight irritation, thinking that Rin had repeated himself as a prompt for his response. Rin frowned, biting back a growl.
"That's not what I meant-"
The redhead jerked upright, turning to face the direction of the voice that was calling him. When he turned around, however, the man named Nanase Haruka was no where to be seen.
Nitori came up from behind the palm tree, a look of relief on his face.
"Rin-sama, there you are!" The young man paused to catch his breath while Rin pulled himself out of the water and padded towards his previously discarded coat, an obvious look of disdain on his handsome face.
"The merchants' guild young mistress is waiting for you!"
Tachibana Makoto sighed softly, before catching himself and leaning back in the excessively comfortable chair they had sat him in, not at all looking forward to the meeting. He had been told that he was to 'make ties' with the Royal family, but from what he had heard about the them, it was going to be a very steep uphill climb.
Although Makoto had never met the Princess in person before, he had heard enough to know what to expect: flaming red hair and a matching no-nonsense attitude, as well as an ego the size of the desert itself. The fact that her Highness was making him wait was evidence enough of the Princess's unpleasant personality. He partially understood why she had slipped away though, the meeting wasn't something either of them had wanted to participate in had not their parents asked it of them.
He waited another ten minutes, trying his best not to look bored, when the heavy doors swung open to reveal his obviously unwilling host. Green eyes politely looked toward the door in order to acknowledge and greet the person who was now striding over to the seat across from him, and what they saw had Makoto's heart quicken slightly.
He had heard stories that the Matsuoka line was blessed in their outward appearance, but Makoto certainly did not expect to be greeted by quite the sight that now sat in front if him. Fair skin the colour of cream milk, angular yet soft facial features that came together in the harmony that Makoto had ever seen in paintings and on dolls, sharp, piercing eyes the shade of red grapes in the sun mixed with honey, and hair - it was not fire, but a deep maroon that reminded him of the finest wine.
All, however, unmistakably male.
The Man's hair was wet, clinging to his skin delightfully, and his thin tunic did nothing to hide that wondrous expanse of skin on those broad shoulders and lean arms.
Makoto did not realize he was holding his breath until the man spoke.
"I am deeply sorry for my tardiness, I hope you will overlook my appearance today, I was just relaxing in the Oasis when I was called. It slipped my mind that our meeting was today."
His voice was smooth and controlled, with a crisp freshness that made the brunet extremely comfortable, and somehow reminded him of washed linen and honey. Despite this quality, the way his words rang were regal and powerful.
"N-no, of course. I apologise for not sending word before-hand of my arrival, your Highness."
They were both considerably uncomfortable, because clearly, neither of them had expected the other party to be...well, male.
Makoto tried to conceal his slight panic with a smile as thoughts raced through his mind - he was supposed to be meeting Matsuoka Rin, the princess, wasn't he? But then again, perhaps the Prince merely had an effeminate name, not unlike his own. But that would mean that his parents had made a mistake? The more he thought about it the more unlikely it seemed; his parents had visited and paid respects to the entire royal family, including Gou-sama and Rin-sama, so they could not have mistaken the Prince's name for the Princess! Did they intend for him to wed the Prince instead?
Neither of them spoke as they tried to get over the shock of being match-made to a man as professionally as they could.
Rin was silently fuming. He controlled himself by looking out the window and taking deep breaths.
Was this some joke? He had expected a woman to be sitting in front of him, not this giant of a man! Perhaps the woman couldn't make it today, and sent her brother in her place? Yes, that had to be it!
"How is your sister's health?"
The brunet physically jerked out of his thoughts, before smiling, an act that had Rin's breath catch, and nodding in appreciative thanks.
"She is well. Thank you for your concern. R-Rin-sama?"
That last bit came out as a question, and Rin wanted to slap himself.
There was no way it was a mistake anymore. He was to commit himself to this man whether he liked it or not.
But why a man? He asked himself, and he thought about what he knew about the guild and the family that managed it - Tachibana, with three children was it? The eldest being Tachibana Makoto, who he had thought was a woman because he had heard naught but his intended's name. But if he had a sister, why was she not given in exchange? Or why not make Gou go through this?
He stopped his train of thoughts abruptly. Gou was his only sister, he would never want her to go through a political marriage. Besides, she was already engaged to Mikoshiba, a Great General and a close friend. But how would a marriage between men work? He didn't understand what his Father was thinking.
His eyes trailed over to the man sitting across from him - he wasn't ugly, in fact he was far from it, with his olive brown hair and soft emerald eyes that reminded him of moss beds and the leaves in his oasis. His facial features were gentle and impossibly kind. Makoto was watching him shyly, so it meant that his behaviour was exactly as his face reflected it.
But what intimidated him was the size of the brunet's frame. Just sitting down, Rin could tell that the other man was taller and larger than him. What the hell were his parents feeding him!
"Do you know that we're..." Rin began, for lack of better conversation, watching Makoto's eyes light up and his attention focus on him. His cheeks flared, and he looked away, half in discomfort and half in disbelief he was feeling so uncomfortable .
"...we're, umm. You know?" Rin's eyes flicked over to Makoto's expectant face uncertainly.
"...expected to wed?" Makoto helpfully supplied, which had Rin turn red from neck up. The redhead choked, prompting a chuckle from the brunet. The Prince shot a glare at the merchant, who's laughter died into a weak sigh.
"Yes, I am aware, your Highness."
Makoto was surprised, and remained silent with a curious look on his handsome face.
"Just call me Rin."
The brunet smiled warmly, and Rin's heart skipped a beat, and for half a second he thought that he actually might be able to live married to someone like him.
For just half a second.
"Please call me Makoto, Rin." The brunet gently offered, slightly confused when he was met with Rin's outstretched hand in front of him.
The brunet smiled again as he took the offered hand, pressing a light kiss on the crimson ring on his lord's index finger while Rin tried to convince himself that he wasn't at all blushing or even slightly attracted to the man in front of him.
Matsuoka Rin was back in his private paradise, after giving the guards specific instructions to raise the security of the area.
Really, what was Rei doing!
He had half a mind to reprimand the man some more as he sat on the sand under the shade of one of the larger trees. But right now he had bigger things to think about.
After confronting his father about getting him engaged to a man, he had been told 'it is a necessary sacrifice, my child! You'll understand when you grow older. Besides, it's not like you can't take wives of your own!'
It had taken all of Rin's self control not to punch his father in the face right then and there; because as unbelievable as it was, Rin was a fiercely loyal individual, and getting married meant commitment to his 'other half'. There was no way he could ever consider second wives, if Makoto was even considered his first one!
"You look like you ate some rotten pineapple."
The redhead was jerked rudely out of his thoughts, and he just stared dumbfounded in the direction of the voice.
"...N-Nanase...?" He whispered, as he absorbed the fact that the man was indeed floating in his pool again, which slowly turned into a growl of "Haruka!"
Rin picked himself up quickly, disrobing and jumping into the pool to tackle the intruder. He was going to catch this bugger if it was the last thing he did!
"Get the hell out of my pool!" He hissed, wrestling with the man in the water, who was putting up quite an impressive fight.
This lasted for the next ten minutes or so, until both of them lay on the sand a little bit away, out of breath and exhausted.
Rin pushed himself up first, grabbing Haruka's arm in childish triumph.
"I've," he panted, "got you now," completely out of breath, "you elusive bastard."
He then proceeded to lay back down, managing to bite out a weak "guards!" before falling silent.
The black haired man wiggled his arm in protest, and as they lay there for another two minutes, the silence was broken by Rin's laughter.
Haruka rolled to face him, a small look of annoyance on his face, but he couldn't deny the fact that Rin's laughter was nice to listen to.
So he waited for the redhead to finish laughing before speaking.
"What's wrong with you?"
Rin raised an eye brow, but didn't reply immediately, settling for sighing instead. There was silence again as Haruka waited for the redhead to start talking.
"My father wants me to marry a man."
Haruka looked confused, but remained quiet.
"He says that I have to do it for..." Rin paused, huffing a little before continuing, "...reasons, and that if I'm not happy with the arrangements, I can just get another wife or something."
The black haired man was now staring at the water, looking like he was not at all paying attention to whatever that was leaving the redhead's lips.
"But I can't even imagine doing that!"
Haruka honestly didn't expect to be listening to this almost-stranger's problems, but found that he didn't mind it.
"Because...!" Rin cried, gesturing dramatically with both hands, making Haruka glance at him apathetically. The black haired man watched him expectantly.
Rin growled, before mumbling something under his breath that sounded strangely like "I want to marry my true love."
Haruka sighed, standing and making his way to the water's edge again, but not before dropping the words: "Then fall in love with that man you're supposed to marry."
Rin froze, his entire body stiffening as he watched Haruka dive into the water.
Rin groaned, pressing a hand to his temples, in both frustration and embarrassment. He couldn't believe that the black haired man could say something like that so easily, as if that one line was the solution to all of his problems.
"Oh, Haru, you're back."
Haruka nodded at the tall brunet who smiled at him, taking the grilled kebab offered to him gratefully.
"Where have you been?"
Haruka shrugged, biting into his stick, mumbling his reply.
Makoto looked surprised, but didn't question him, and instead sighed, frowning, looking as if he was concentrating very hard on something.
Haruka looked at his best friend, and rolled his eyes.
"You look like you ate some rotten pineapple as well. What's wrong with both of you?"
Makoto looked at him in confusion, having no idea of who Haruka was speaking of, but proceeded to share his problems anyway.
"My parents have betrothed me to a man!"
Haruka's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but allowed Makoto to continue speaking.
"I don't even know how this is going to work out, but Ran is too young, and Ren is a boy, and I'm the oldest, but the person I'm supposed to marry is a...man! How are we going to have children? How are we going to...you know in the first place?!"
The black haired man flashed his best friend a deadpan look.
"What's wrong with him being a man?"
Makoto froze, completely taken aback by Haru's question, but asking himself the same question, he realized that there was nothing wrong with it. Aside from the fact that they could not have children, if they manage to get along, then what was the problem?
Haruka finished up his kebab, he stretched, before disposing of his stick and leaving the room.
All the while, Makoto was frozen as the complex simplicity of his problem sank in.
Their next meeting was awkward, to say the least.
Rin was trying his best to be gentlemanly, doing his utmost to hide the blush on his fair cheeks as he thought about what Haruka said.
'All I need to do is fall in love with him!'
Makoto, on the other hand, was doing his best to get over the fact that Rin was a man while looking at him as a potential love interest at the same time.
Needless to say, it ended badly.
Or more specifically, Rin had Makoto pinned underneath him trying to cop a very unwilling kiss at one point in time, resulting in a conditioned reflex of a knee in his gut and several minutes of doubling over in pain while Makoto apologised profusely beside him.
After a while, they both agreed to start off as friends first.
Which led them to sitting at the table they had first met at, while playing something similar to twenty questions, but just a lot more.
"My favourite colour is green."
Rin nodded, before grunting out his response, "Red."
At this however, there was a sharp knock on the door, and Nitori stood there, a sheepish smile on his childish face.
"It's time for the young master to return, Rin-sama."
Rin nodded once more, half in relief and half in regret, and he stood to escort Makoto to the door.
"I'll see you next week then," Makoto smiled, touching him lightly on the hand.
Rin blushed almost instantly, and nodded mechanically, for lack of a better response.
Makoto then did something neither of them expected (yes, even Makoto himself).
The tall brunet leaned over, pressing a solid kiss on the Prince's fair cheek.
Makoto had pulled back almost as abruptly as he had leaned in, a pink tint on his cheeks, before hurriedly rushing out, and Rin had outright turned into lead, the cough that left Nitori's covered mouth going completely unnoticed.
A/N: I have a feeling I'm digging my own grave starting this, but I hope you liked it. Please leave a review if you do; I appreciate them very much.