A/N: Hello :D If the title isn't obvious enough, I'm working off of an old cliche XD If that bugs you, then by all means, I'm not stopping you from making a U turn :)
Warnings: Um, fluff. Like serious fluff coming up, so prepare yourselves. That, and of course, OOC. I'm rather spectacular at that, aren't I? *shakes head*
Disclaimer: Thanks to Hino-sensei for coming up with such adorable boys. She tortures them so deliciously, yes?
Thunder roared across the sky, the storm was relentless, and the air felt frozen despite the season. Such bad omens for a birthing, especially when the weather couldn't have been fairer just hours prior to the babe screaming its lungs out as it finally pushed its way through its mother's womb. The very same evening, the king was burdened with the news of one of his generals falling to the enemy. Thousands of men lost and dying, the kingdom fell into another wave of despair. Indeed, the day Prince Kuran Kaname had been born had been most terrible. A day meant to be joyous for all, torn between elation, fear, and mourning.
But even worse, the palace maids would whisper, wariness in their eyes, even worse was the mark upon the back of his neck, seared into his fair skin since birth, clear for all to see. A sign that was sure to be marking the prince and their kingdom for death. It was a ghastly thing; they shuddered, so dark and horridly disfiguring on their otherwise perfect prince. A bad omen, they repeated, it was a warning from the merciful gods urging for a swift end to the war lest they lose everything they held dear.
Then it's no surprise, one of them said sneeringly, that everyone keeps their distance. Even the other children knew better than to go near one that was contaminated. Who knew, that vile mark might be contagious! Two of his sitters had already met gruesome ends, their last memory a huge stain on one of the carpets that had to be quickly replaced. The third had gone missing. It couldn't be a coincidence! More of their men were dying with little to show for their sacrifice. They were all steadily getting pushed into a corner until they would be forced to break.
Now, now, another soothed, everyone here has lost someone to this blasted war, nothing productive in getting themselves into a tizzy over it. All they could do was pray for their loved ones' safe return while they took care of things back home. Hold steady constant faith and never lose hope. A few nods were given. It was not the prince's fault he was born with such a heavy burden, carrying around that monstrosity of a mark. They should all hope the boy wouldn't be influenced or corrupted by it instead. Heaven forbid! Their own prince…
Girls, girls! Back to their stations! A tall thoroughly hassled looking maid strode up. Had they forgotten what this day would bring? The king of their neighboring country! His most trusted men as well! She clapped her hands. The resounding sound made the rest of them flinch. The lot of them should be off to work! If they have time for ridiculous gossip, they certainly have time for preparing their guests' suite rooms!
Bustling off to fulfill their duties, they never noticed when a pale man had passed them with a bland expression, dressed as a guard; his footsteps silent even against the marble flooring. Only sparing the flustered palace maids with nothing more than a flick of his eyes, the man shook his head and moved on, his strides even. It seemed women were the same no matter where you went. Any amount of extra energy and they spent it all mindlessly moving their mouths. It was no wonder the soldiers came up with such crude jokes in regards to the better uses for certain body parts.
Slacking maids aside, he needed to get back to his king to inform him of the people of this kingdom. They weren't much, from what he'd seen, women, men, and children alike, and the war certainly wasn't helping any. The lack of security around the palace was proof of how stretched thin they were with resources. Things looked grim, he inwardly mocked, darkly amused. They were all losing any hope of winning against the rebellion, and the thinly veiled air of desperation that permeated the halls was sickening. He'd caught wind of some wanting to join the 'other side' if just to survive.
"Is that so?" His king wasn't happy with the news, sad frowns and pursed lips. "It was a good thing we've decided to lend a hand then, no?" Then his cheer was back. An optimist, his king was. Now riding in the carriage taking them to meet the Kuran royals, he looked out of the tinted glass with sympathetic eyes. "Civil war…" He whispered it with a lost expression clouding his face. "Such pain they must be forced to endure," he sighed. He was referring to the many young faces he caught sight of. His king was terribly soft on children. Rich or poor, smart or dumb, it mattered not. They were all the same in his eyes.
It was needless to mention his king was most excited about meeting the young prince and princess of the Kuran royals.
"I hear they're both marvelous little things," his king giggled. The pale man shook his head. His king could be an idiot.
A glance around the occupants of the carriage told him the others thought the same.
"The brats aren't your priority, Kaien. I know it's difficult, but keep focus, will you?"
"Children suffer the most in any conflict, Touga, but yes, I'll remember to keep focus. Not to worry."
"Cut it out. How many times do I have to tell you, you two sound like an old married couple? It's sad enough as it is, having to travel with three other men; I don't want to hear you two going at it on top of it all."
The pale man tried not to snort and spared a glance outside the tinted glass. "We're here."
King Kuran was all too relieved to see them arrive. He offered to let them rest for the remainder of the day, but Kaien politely refused, jumping straight into the reason for their trip. Holing themselves up in a large study, they went over numerous plans, throwing out and coming up with new ideas, coming back to old ones, making them better, trying to reign in loose ends for a foolproof strategy.
"By the way," the pale man added, "your guards are crap." At the dumbfounded look on King Kuran's face, he proceeded to curtly inform him the ease with which he'd entered the palace to inspect inside its walls. His king had sent him a gentle reprimand for his choice in words, but that was mostly out of habit, and he simply shrugged his shoulder.
"Zero's right Kaien. You know what needs to be done."
His king nodded thoughtfully. "Kaito?"
The man in question just raised his brow. "Looks like Zero's already got a job." Those crappy guards were going to be in for the training of a lifetime.
Not even a day since their arrival and Zero was already catching wind of disturbing rumors. Some hushed up story about a hideous prince, obviously in reference to the first son of King Kuran. Having met the king last night though, he doubted any kid of his would turn out as horrible as they claimed. Wasn't there some type of penalty against saying shit like that about the royal family? They were practically doing it in plain sight; he found that more disgusting than whatever they were getting heated over. His king would've had a fit if he heard anything said against a child the way they were talking.
Desperate for silence, he quickly headed for the clear lawn he'd spotted on his personal 'tour'. It was likely to be empty this time of day, (or morning rather) and he'd have time to himself to cool his head a bit.
About to take a seat on one of the stone benches there, he blinked and looked behind him at a pair of wide dark eyes staring up at him, small hands curled over the edge of the bench from the other side. Dark curls framing a small face; the resemblance with King Kuran was unmistakable. The kid obviously took after his father.
He's hardly hideous, he mentally noted, and with another slow blink, turned back around and sat down. It didn't look like the boy was about to bother him any time soon, and he didn't seem offended at another person invading the bench he was hiding behind, so feeling something equivalent to a shrug, he forced himself to think about the upcoming training schedule he was to set up for those sorry excuses for guards.
They relied too heavily on their weapons, first of all…
"You're not leaving?"
He didn't bother to look behind him. Maybe if he ignored the kid enough, he'd talk to someone else…
"You're…not afraid of me?"
So much for that tactic, he thought bemusedly. He should've known it'd only make him more persistent. Not really caring enough to ask for the hows or whys behind the queer question, he simply said, "No."
He mentally took note of how pathetically hopeful that one word sounded. "Yes."
A small head of dark curls popped up beside him and a tiny pair of lips offered up a hesitant smile. "Are you new?"
He merely nodded.
When the boy didn't say anything more, his thoughts went back to the training schedule, hardly bothered by the silence he desired.
It didn't last long, of course, how could it with a kid crouching right next to him? No longer than five minutes and the brunet was opening his mouth again.
"What are you here for?"
To save your sorry asses. "I'm here with King Cross."
He didn't see dark eyes go wide. "Are you one of his soldiers?"
In a roundabout way, "Yes." He wasn't about to go blabbing his specific station off in public. Besides that, "Sit." Wasn't the kid a prince?
"You want me to?"
Again with the strange questions… "Yes." He wouldn't have said it if he hadn't meant it.
He got a wider smile for his one-word efforts and the kid took a seat. "Thank you."
And the strangeness kept coming. If he were the type, he would've cocked his head in bemusement, much like Maria was prone to do. Who was he to say anything though? His king was Cross Kaien. "You're welcome."
He got a beam this time. "You're really nice."
His brow gave the faintest twitch and he tensed. His internal alarms were ringing. He needed to leave. Leave now, before,
"May I sit with you again sometime?"
He got himself another ducky. It tended to happen with him when it came to the young ones. They all followed after him, as Touga once mentioned, like ducklings after their mother. Everyone still thought it hilarious enough to tease him over it, but it'd long since gotten real old real fast.
Something about the boy was bringing out his inner Kaien though, and his inner king was demanding he treat this one right. To let him stay and not brush him off.
When he recalled the soft-spoken questions, it was easy enough to guess the prince wasn't oblivious and he was well aware of the gossiping maids.
It was probably because of all that nonsense he felt the need to question people's integrity, just waiting for a word of rejection so he didn't have to be disappointed. Everyone in the palace was apparently too afraid to go near him and he was well aware of it. Even for someone so young, he'd have to be pretty dense to not notice if not just one, but a palace full of servants disliked him. Against a small child, so eager for companionship, it must've been heartbreaking. Alone, hoping for a connection with someone, anyone…
True to that, the effects of his forced isolation were painfully telling. If not for the resemblance to the king, Zero would never have known the boy held the title of crown prince. The little one was all soft around the edges, hardly the firm strong leader he should've been groomed to emulate.
"Are…are you okay?"
"Fine." Lost in his thoughts, he'd unintentionally channeled the anger he'd felt into that one word, and it came out sounding far harsher than he intended. Catching the slight flinch from the young prince, his guilt deepened and he inwardly cringed. Way to go, asshole. He berated himself. Are you happy now, making a poor kid cry? His inner king was frowning, glasses flashing ominously.
"Sorry," he said, before the child misunderstood the direction of his anger. "Just thinking."
The prince nodded, but his expression was miles away from the beam he had on minutes prior.
He felt like a right heel.
Feeling his mood worsen, he absently ran a hand through his hair and suddenly hissed as his fingers brushed over his mark at the back of his neck, his body freezing in shock. What the hell? He touched it again to see if it wasn't a fluke and held in a gasp when he felt a warm tingle spread across his neck. His other hand squeezed around his knee. It shouldn't be possible, he thought, going numb. He was out of the country; there should be no way his mark could—
He felt his heart drop to his feet. Of course it could. Just because it was the norm for his country didn't mean there weren't other cases outside of its general borders. With his luck, it shouldn't be so unexpected. He entertained the idea of cursing the heavens for the unnecessary complications in his life before grudgingly admitting he should be rather thankful for finally finding his Match.
He hadn't realized he'd stopped breathing as he sent a quick look to the small boy who was the only one who could be responsible for his reaction, and calmly let air flow back into his lungs. As his heartbeat lowered to more stable levels, he tried to get his mind back in order.
So. For starters, his Match was the firstborn son of a king…? That…was pretty dramatic. He himself was just an average soldier. The possible grief he would get for this was boundless. Did he mention the unnecessary complications? The teasing was going to be relentless, he thought fondly. He could just see Shizuka, his brother's Match, giving him a smugly mocking smile, sickeningly sweet in that deliberately irritating way of hers when she found out about this. She always did say there was a reason he was taking so long in finding his Match.
At one point, he'd actually wondered if he'd ever find them. It wasn't common, but it did happen. He was already seventeen. Considering most found their Match during childhood, he was pretty late. His brother had found his Match in Shizuka when he was eleven and she, twelve. Though, in the grand scheme of things, age didn't really matter unless you were human. They grew so fast it was a wonder they lived at all.
Not that there was any use dwelling on something so trivial. The Kuran prince wasn't human.
What wasn't so trivial was informing his king about his little discovery, if only due to his Match being a prince. He was also direct in line for the throne, and that position came with other strings attached, all political and troublesome. But before that,
Dark eyes blinked up at him as if to say, 'You don't know?' but answered nonetheless, "…Kaname."
Kaname. He let the name roll around in his mind for a moment, taking a good look at the boy beside him. Mm. Cute name for a cute duckling. Kaien and Kaito were going to have a field day with this. He just hoped he wasn't there to see it.
Mm. Could've been worse, he supposed. It could've been that princess he'd yet to meet who was probably not even out of her diapers. Age wasn't a problem, but he'd no idea how to deal with a baby. It would've been disastrous. Past experiences had his parents keeping him well away from any child under the age of three. It hadn't seemed like such a big deal way back when, but in retrospect, he could see how rolling your baby brother across the floor wasn't exactly the most appropriate way of keeping him 'entertained'.
Thoughts of training schedules pushed to the farthest corners of his mind, he stood up from the bench. "Come."
"We need to see your father."
He'd finally found his Match. He wasn't about to stand around twiddling his thumbs like an idiot.
He spared a glance over his shoulder, "I'm Zero."
As succinct as the explanation was, King Kuran looked as though he'd gotten the shock of his life as he stared at Kaien and Zero. The one reason his son had suffered so emotionally was, in these people's eyes, a reason to rejoice.
"I…is that so…I hadn't even…"
"It can be surprising yes," Kaien soothed, "there's no need to blame yourself for not knowing. Not many outside our borders know of it besides scholars who study our culture. And we may be neighbors, but we're hardly next-door. I doubt anyone here knew about it."
"No, that's not what I…actually yes, that may be part of it," the Kuran King admitted. He suddenly looked weary, his eyes tired. "I had people look into it, of course, but it never mattered to me, not like how it did for the rest of the palace," he shook his head. "Kaname is Kaname. He's still my son, birthmark or no. But I haven't been blind to the rumors," he closed his eyes, "I couldn't control what people talked about, but it hurt, terribly, to know how they thought of my only son."
"Haruka…" The queen smiled softly. "It's okay now. Let's be glad we've been granted answers instead of wallowing in things we can't change. Kaname is only seven. Imagine, if he had to grow up without knowing a thing," she pursed her lips. "I tried to keep him from most of the damage, but I know he still heard things." She turned to the two men across the table. "I believe our meeting with you really was fated by the higher powers, considering this matter especially. I've always tried to tell Kaname there was nothing to be ashamed of, but without concrete proof behind my claims, even he isn't so young as to believe my words completely. Thank you for letting us know."
"Well, there is nothing to worry about, really," Kaien beamed. "You've also done us a great favor. Zero has been looking for his Match for quite some time. I'm honored to find it's little Kaname. It's truly a pleasant surprise."
At that, all attention went to Zero, who kept his face blank. He'd already expressed his opinion ("The prince is my Match.") and he wasn't inclined to kissing ass with useless flattery.
"Ah, Kiryuu-kun," King Kuran looked serious. "As a Match for Kaname, what does that entail for him exactly?"
"…Whatever he wants it to mean."
At the bemused smiles from the Kuran couple, Kaien went on to explain, "A Match is merely someone that might be considered for a close relationship. Some become mentors or pupils, and others as close as family. They're supposedly equal in everything and well complimented."
His beaming smile still in place, Kaien continued. "In fact, it's common for Matches to end up as romantic pairs. They share a special connection different to anyone else, so it's inevitable in some cases."
The king nodded, but his mind seemed to be on something else. Looking back to Zero again, he said, "Please, will you look after Kaname? I know you've your own duties here, and your original purpose is for the war, but if you could spare some of your time for him…"
Zero narrowed his eyes. "He is my Match." Were they insinuating he would only be interested out of obligation? It didn't matter whether the prince liked it or not. Kaname was his to care for. He didn't need to be ordered to do it. Or guilt-tripped into it either.
"Zero." Kaien sent him a concerned frown at his sharp tone.
He shook his head and excused himself. Diplomacy wasn't in his vocabulary. He'd just make things more difficult between them. Not to mention, he had a prince to find.
He caught a passing maid by the elbow. "Where is Kaname?"
Startled, she stammered, "The prince? He's in his rooms." She gave him directions and he left with a nod of acknowledgement, uncaring of the disgruntled glare she shot at his back.
A few quick turns around a corner and two halls had him where he wanted. "I'm here to see Kaname." He spoke before one of the attendants could ask what he was there for.
With an obliging nod, they opened the door to let him inside. About to have his presence announced, Kaname stepped in and waved the nervous attendant away. "I could feel you coming," he said softly. His hand went up to rub at the back of his neck, cheeks flushed. "Is it true, Lord Zero?"
"Just Zero, and yes."
"My mark," he started, "it doesn't mean anything bad?"
He shook his head.
"You have one too, right? May I see it?"
He got down on his knee and lifted his hair away from his neck. Small fingers traced the circular mark around the edge and he let out a gentle sigh, relaxing into the warm touch. This was really his Match, his lips lifted. There was no denying the reaction of his mark. The prince's touch was the final confirmation he needed.
"My mark…" Kaname sounded fascinated. "It looks the same." His hand made a slow trek down the soldier's slender neck, and he leaned in against the other's strong back, wrapping his free arm around broad shoulders. "I thought I was the only one…"
"You are not." Kaname had Zero, and he always would.
The rest of whatever hesitance he held seemed to drain out of his body and the prince melted against his back, burying his face into his neck. "Everyone said things about my mark." He murmured, his breath hitching. "That it was terrible. And ugly. And bad."
Zero took a moment to respond, searching for the right words. Offering reassurance wasn't an ability he prided himself for. "My mother told us our marks are a gift; to guide us to our perfect Match." He said, feeling awkward. He'd never talked about his mother to anyone. "Not everyone has them. They will never know what it feels to be together with someone who was made for them." He half recited. Our marks aren't bad, he wanted to say, they aren't horrible, and they certainly weren't ugly. Something that'd brought him to Kaname could never be any of those things.
"Made for each other?" Kaname's voice was small. "You, for me?"
"And you, for me," Zero nodded.
The young prince loosened his hold and came around to stand before him, his small hands cradling his face. "You will be with me? You won't leave?"
Questions nearly identical to those just a few hours prior, the meaning behind them now completely different.
He didn't say anything. Kaname was asking questions he already knew the answers to.
The young brunet fell silent, his eyes widening in awe before he seemed to come to a less than favorable conclusion and his face crumbled. "…You will stay…but only because of this, right?" His right hand traveled back down to Zero's neck, and the soldier resisted the urge to sigh, and it wasn't out of contentment this time.
His first instinct had been to be annoyed and offended. He was automatically reminded of the king's request to look after the prince. He disliked nothing more than people assuming he cared for someone out of mere obligation. He wasn't saintly enough to open his heart to anyone he didn't genuinely care for. He certainly didn't talk about his mother to any old stranger. The difference was, this was his Match asking, not some ignorant ass he could lay into and be done with or ignore, and Kaname wasn't an idiot, but he was seven, sensitive, and insecure. This wasn't about their marks, it wasn't about him, it was about his Match.
His heart also stung to see a child so young, his Match no less, unable to trust someone simply wanted to stay with him for no other reason than wanting to.
Having learned to look out for his own emotional wellbeing, Kaname was feeling out for the proverbial potholes before testing the road. If even a single one was deep enough to rattle his fragile carriage, he would never try that road again no matter how much someone tried to convince him it'd be a good idea. Zero would have to make sure to spot those holes in time and deal with them effectively before they ever became a problem for Kaname.
Leaning in, he raised his own hand to bring the boy closer by his neck, keeping eye contact. "The mark is a means to find you, it brought me to you, it is our common ground, but it's not everything." He kept his voice soft, but solid, using the same tone for when his brother needed more than a pep talk with hair ruffling. His lips close enough to brush against the other's ear, he smiled at the surprised shiver that ran along the boy's body, and murmured, "The mark doesn't define my feelings for you. It's just a sign for possibilities," And of only the most fulfilling. He let his fingertips play with the brunet's mark, knowing it would bring a measure of comfort. "Do you understand?"
His response came in a slow nod. "I think so."
The answer would have to do for now. Kaname would sooner or later realize Zero had always loved him; the mark was just a tool to show him who.
"Will you stay with me now?" The small brunet smiled shyly. "I want to know more about you, Lord – I mean, Zero."
The soldier gave a gentle nod and followed the young prince into his personal study.
One of the attendants watched their backs with narrowed eyes.
That's all for now, folks. Thank you for making it this far :D
* Just in case: Zero will not be doing inappropriate things to Kaname while he's still a child, if ever. Yay for those that might have been worried and uh, apologies to those that might have expected it. I've been reading Abe Miyuki the last few weeks, and well, the age gap for this story was probably influenced by that, but I won't have Zero kissing a pre-teen Kaname with anything less than pure intentions. I don't mind it, it's cute (well, depending on context), but it's not something I would get excited about. I don't even know whether if I'll have them together romantically (the story will probably end while Kaname is still young), so...eh.
Other than that, it was a pleasure peoples :)