He's not supposed to be standing up here alone.
Hakuryuu knows, realistically, that he's not truly 'alone', but there's an ache in his chest and a voice in the whispers of his thoughts that tells him otherwise. There are others with him, any nobility that's left and anyone convinced they're even the least bit important. There are servants waiting at the edges and a crowd cheering for him, everyone wishing to stare at their new emperor. Hakuryuu keeps his eyes to the ground, his elaborate ceremonial robes pooling around his feet. He tries desperately not to think about everyone he lost in getting to this point. Today, at the very least, he needs to present as the emperor that Kou needs, not the scared and nervous child he still feels like inside.
When the crown is finally placed on his head, it feels heavy, and there's a sharp pang in the pit of his stomach. Hakuryuu swallows thickly as the beads softly clatter in front of his eyes. It's time to face his kingdom.
Phantom pains shoot through his legs, creaks ringing in his head instead of his ears only because his flesh and bones don't sound the way he expects them to. As he stands – regally, he desperately hopes – and stares out at the loud, judgmental crowd, Hakuryuu wants nothing more than to be holed up in his private chambers. He never wanted to be emperor. Judal declared him a king, and Hakuryuu went along with it, out of a want for help and later, a quickly growing love for the man. But now, standing alone in front of so many expectant faces, he can hardly imagine what leadership ability Judal could have seen in him.
Aladdin, Morgiana, and the household members of Alibaba watch from the crowd, looking out of place amidst the decadent silk robes of his country but more uncomfortably familiar than anyone else there. Even at a distance he can feel their judgment and wariness. And yet they are the most friendly faces there, with Hakuei back in Sindria and Kougyoku still recovering.
There are the beginning notes of a celebratory song playing, an ode to their leader and country. It's during the first big swell that Hakuryuu's eyes land on something unusual. The crowds seem to part to cut a clear view to Judal, grinning like he's not an unfairly realistic hallucination. Hakuryuu blinks a few times, subtly trying to clear his vision, but Judal remains.
Hakuryuu can see the exact moment that Judal realizes he's been spotted. His grin widens into a genuinely excited smile, and he waves, before giving up any pretense of being an ordinary observer. Judal jumps gracefully into the air and flings himself forward to the front platform.
He's losing his mind. Stress? Maybe his murderous madness has caught up with his own thoughts, and he's lost his grip on reality.
Reality comes crashing into him at full speed, Judal screaming his name as he collides with Hakuryuu, sending them both to the ground. His crown tumbles from his head with a clatter of skittering beads, and his vision is instead obscured by Judal laying quick, frantic kisses on his cheeks.
"Hakuryuu, Hakuryuu, I'm here! I made it! I know I'm late but I can't believe you'd have your coronation without me!" Judal's sentences are punctuated with kisses, near breathless fluttering ones on the edges of his scars and against the corners of his mouth.
"...Judal?" Hakuryuu is pinned by heavy robes and Judal, an unreal vision that is defying every rule of the universe purely by existing.
"Of course! Who else would it be?"
"You're not real. I saw you– I thought–" He stops himself and stares again, thoughts a rushing mess in his head and at loss for any more words.
Judal laughs, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "All in the past! I got a lift home; I couldn't stay away. What would you do without me?"
"I kept...going..." Hakuryuu trails off and doesn't share anything else that happened, since it's not exactly the time or place for it. The warm weight of Judal on his chest hasn't left despite his attempts to bring himself back to some semblance of reality. Is this really happening? In this world of magic, so many farfetched dreams are put right within arms reach. Why should this one be impossible? If anyone could defy the rigid laws of life and death, it would be Judal. Judal, who has always fought every shitty destiny that's been thrown at him.
"'Course you did! It's what you always do." Judal beams at him and leans back. "Ahh, look at you! Officially emperor and everything. I knew I'd come back to your success."
There's a lie in Judal's eyes, fear trying to hide behind his otherwise excited expression. Hakuryuu doesn't question it; that's for later, when the lights are out and they can whisper their insecurities when no one is awake to hear what plagues them.
For now, he lets Judal help him up, a rush of wind pushing him to his feet.
"It's good to see–" Hakuryuu begins, but there's an embarrassing crack in his voice, one that used to be ever present, one that he thought he'd finally grown out of. Judal puts his crown back on in an elaborate display that leaves it crooked on Hakuryuu's head, and this is the final act that breaks him. He's crying, weeks and months of pent up sadness and stress and then sudden, wonderful relief at Judal's return.
Hakuryuu feels like a child again, drowning in too big robes, making a fool of himself in front of his kingdom. Judal is blessedly blocking his face from public view, laughing just as tearfully as Hakuryuu is crying.
"It's good to be back," he says, softer than Hakuryuu would expect from Judal outside of their private rooms. "Come on, time to be my king."
Hakuryuu holds up a hand to stop him from moving just yet, and uses a small fold of his other sleeve to wipe at his face. He needs to keep some dignity. Judal waits surprisingly patiently, humming to the joyful music that Hakuryuu faintly realizes must still be playing. When he finishes fixing his face, Judal straightens the crown and hands him his spear, before stepping to Hakuryuu's side with a wide, sweeping bow.
There's loud applause this time, screaming cheers from a public that recognizes the empire's High Priest, and then a fluttering of wings as doves fly in front of them. Hakuryuu doesn't care about the cheers of the crowds though, or that he's always vehemently denied any sort of public affection in the past. He pulls Judal close again for a proper kiss amidst the flurry of wings, and he relishes the happy, surprised sigh he gets in response.