Disclaimer: Junjo Romantica's not mine. I'm only playing in the sandbox.
I thought of the idea for this story a while ago, while playing Chaos Rings. Two of the characters in that game are a princess and her stable boy (more or less), so that's where this came from. Their positions in life are about the only thing that are the same between this story and that game, but I want to give credit where credit is due. :)
Anyway, this story's setting is a fantasy-like kingdom, yet there's no actual elements of fantasy – no magic, no dragons... okay, maybe they'll be a unicorn, I haven't decided yet, but that's it.
I plan for this story to be around eleven chapters, give or take. My goal is to complete this by the end of November.
All reviews welcome.
Chapter One: Out of the Gate
The dawn claimed a new day with its usual warmly colored spectacle, and Misaki, green eyes red-rimmed from lack of sleep, was there to greet it.
His day started as it always did, with walking through the Royal Stables, eying every horse in turn: the Camarillo White named Sugarbell, an Appaloosa called Oaktree, Summermist the Arabian and its purebred foal Whitewinter (the stallion, Autumnal, had been sold off long ago for a princely sum), the one non-horse which was the Shetland pony named Redsun, and so on until he reached the one who he always took proper care of first, his favorite, a Cylesdale called Suzuki.
As a stableboy, he probably shouldn't have a favorite, but he couldn't help it; Suzuki was the one with the most normal name, and by far the most openly affectionate. On Misaki's first day, Suzuki had just been born, to another horse called Suzuki - also not the first Suzuki, he'd been told - and the mother Suzuki had apparently gone through a problematic pregnancy, as she was slowly dying. His boss had told him not to bother with it, the foal would be culled as soon as its mother succumbed, but Misaki had seen the older Suzuki, sick beyond measure, desperately trying to take care of her foal. He'd spent his first few months working overtime, researching on how to take care of young horses and becoming the best surrogate mother for the tiny Suzuki he could.
After all, his own mother had died birthing him, his father succumbing years later from a sudden heart attack their neighbors had poetically called heartbreak, so Misaki felt a kinship with Suzuki he didn't feel with the other horses.
As he opened the gate to her stable this morning, she whinnied and trotted over, rubbing her muzzle against him affectionately. He patted her face, ignoring the stink radiating off her; she really needed a good wash.
"Hello, Suzuki-san, how are you this morning?" he asked the horse, and she gave a low whinny in response. He smiled at her and went off to get her grooming supplies in the corner of her stable.
That's when he saw him.
In the farthest corner of Suzuki's stable was a man, curled up as if in deep pain. His hair looked a dull, dirty grey, and Misaki couldn't tell if it needed to be washed to display its natural color or if it currently was its natural color. His skin was pale, so pale he seemed sickly, and his clothes were covered with so much dirt, probably from staying over night in the stables, that Misaki couldn't even guess at his rank.
"Hey," he called out, trying to get the man's attention. He used the same speech patterns he would with any of his commoner equals. He didn't know his social rank, but he was hiding out in the stables, so he figured he couldn't be much higher than him.
The man looked up, and Misaki nearly gasped. The man's eyes were rimmed with more red than Misaki had seen in his own in the mirror this morning, as if from something more than simple lack of sleep. But his irises... despite the redness, he had never seen such amazing eyes, all because of those irises. They were a violet color, his favorite, a beautiful hue the same as the amethyst he'd seen on his mother's wedding ring. The man's were so clear and open that Misaki felt the inexplicable urge to tell him his deepest troubles.
He shook it off. "You should get up. The ground of a horse's stable is no place to sit." When the man didn't move, only continued to stare at him, Misaki just rolled his eyes. He couldn't bring himself to be polite this early in the morning to some stranger who'd spent the night in the stables, so he went for incredibly blunt. "It's covered in horse shit."
At that, the man finally stood up, and was Misaki was relieved to see Suzuki had not recently used that place to take care of her bodily functions. The filth on the man's clothing was just dirt, then. Good. Misaki would rather like to avoid having to deal with a stranger covered in excrement.
"You're not supposed to be here," he told the man as he grabbed Suzuki's comb off the wall. "These are the royal stables, and this filly here is Prince Akihiko the fifth's personal horse." Not that he ever comes out here to see her, he thought sourly, but kept his criticisms of the royal family to himself. "I doubt he'd like some stranger mucking around her stable." For some reason, the man only looked amused. Misaki sighed as he began to groom Suzuki's coat. "Well, if you're not going to leave, you could at least tell me your name."
"You can call me Usagi," the man said, and the sound of his voice sent a shiver down Misaki's spine. While Usagi's voice was hoarse, it also had a some deeper vocal quality to it that was quite lovely. Misaki was sure that without the hoarseness, the man's voice alone could reduce the average naive young maiden to a quivering mess.
He peered at the man. Looking at him properly, Misaki was certain that, cleaned up and fresh, the man cut an attractive figure. With those eyes and that voice, he could probably have the hand of any maiden of equal class he desired. That didn't explain the man's name choice, though.
Rabbit? The man didn't resemble a rabbit at all, but instead was tall with a lithe muscularity, rather, Misaki thought, like that of the horses cared for. If anything, Misaki himself was closer to be like the rabbit of the man's chosen namesake.
Nice way to remind me of my shortness, brain.
"Aren't you going to report me to the guards?" Usagi said, distracting Misaki from his thoughts.
"Huh? Uh, no, I'll just let you off with a warning." Besides, it's not like the guards would care. As long as he's not trying to steal one of the Queen's prized Arabians, I doubt they'd bother themselves with him.
As if reading Misaki's thoughts, he said, "What if I'm a horse thief?"
"If you are, you're a lousy one," he replied. "I wouldn't report you out of sheer pity." Usagi looked amused again. "No, you must be here for some other reason." Suzuki whinnied and Misaki looked at the brush in his hands. "You hungry, girl?" Suzuki responded with a neigh. "I'll get your feed."
As he walked to put away the brush and gathered the horse's feed of hay and grain he heard Usagi say, "What about heartbreak?"
Misaki's mind had to strain to figure out Usagi's meaning. Then he remembered what he'd said to him last. Someone broke his heart. "Girl you like getting married to some other bloke?" he asked, filling Suzuki's trough with hay.
"Something like that," Usagi replied.
"Well, that doesn't explain why you ran off to the royal stables." He checked the water available for Suzuki.
"It's peaceful here. It's... a good place to be alone."
Misaki could understand that. Even with the noise of the horses, the stables were far more private and quiet than the loud ruckus of Tokisho, the man city, or the castle that Tokisho surrounded - though he'd only been inside the castle once or twice, his memory of the ordered chaos inside was crystal clear.
"That doesn't give you the right to just come here as you please," he said as he prepared to do the more disgusting duty of taking care of Suzuki. There was a reason it had been so easy for his brother to get him a job at the stables.
"Anyway, my superiors start around noon," he said, damn bastards, took to starting as late as they could as soon as they got the chance, "so you should go before they get here."
"I'll take my leave then," Usagi said, and Misaki ignored the strange desire to ask him to stay. He must be really desperate for someone to talk to. Me or Usagi? He ignored that thought.
"Have a good day," Misaki said, as was his habit. It was always good to be polite, unless, of course, you were dealing with a stranger squatting in the corner of the horse's stable.
Usagi stopped for a moment. "I'll try to," he said. "See you tomorrow."
"See you." He started to add some more hay to the stable floor before it hit him what Usagi had just said. Wait, what? Tomorrow? "Hey, wait!" He turned around to discover Usagi had already left. "Strange fellow," he mumbled to himself.
Suzuki just snorted into her food.
"Nii-chan, I'm home!" Misaki called out as he arrived into the modest cottage he and his brother called home. The sun had already set, as he'd spent the rest of the time after work - not that there was much of it - at market. He planned to eat dinner and than collapse into sleep. Only to get up before dawn tomorrow, he mentally grumbled. If he didn't have occasional days off, like the serfs ranked below him, he didn't know what he would do.
"Ah, welcome home, Misaki!" His elder brother, Takahiro, said, giving him a warm smile. "I have some good news!"
"What is it?" he asked, then noticed his brother's girlfriend standing in the hallway. "Hi, Manami," he said. Manami was Takahiro's coworker in the royal kitchens. They'd been dating for well over a year now.
"Manami and I are getting married!" Misaki put down what he'd bought on the nearest table and lept forward to hug his brother.
"Ah, Nii-chan, that's wonderful!" he said.
"Yep, we just got the approval this afternoon!" Suddenly he looked very sheepish. "You would have been the first person we told, but Prince Akihiko was there when we handed in our application yesterday..."
"That's fine," Misaki said, waving it off. Though Misaki had never met the very private Prince Akihiko - or even seen him in pictures - Takahiro had meet him when King Fuyuhiko had sent the prince to attend the same commoner school his brother had, trying to demonstrate the supreme quality of the peasant's school system. The prince had only attended the school for a year, but the two had become fast friends, somehow keeping up correspondence over the years.
"Tonight Manami and I made a big celebratory dinner!" Misaki was about to protest, as they'd been cooking all day, but Takahiro cut him off. "No complaints! Manami and I took the day off, so we just cooked for ourselves today." He gave Misaki a huge grin. "Come now, let us feast! The wedding's in three months."
Misaki just shrugged and joined his brother in the celebrations. He wasn't going to sleep till late tonight, but, somehow, he couldn't bring himself to care.
As Misaki prepared for bed that night, he examined his mother's wedding ring. He'd been given it upon his father's death, his brother getting his father's.
He looked it in the low firelight of the kerosene lamp, examine the fine gemstones set in the silver. The largest stone was the amethyst, his father's birthstone, set in the middle, flanked by two smaller variants of his mother's birthstone of peridot. The ring, like all wedding rings, had been sanctioned by the kingdom, though his parent's marriage nearly had not. His mother had been the daughter of some minor noble, thus the silver color of the band of her ring; his father, meanwhile, had come from a more typical hardworking peasant family, indicated by the bronze of his ring. Even worse, their zodiac signs had been shown to be incompatible, which made the approval all the more difficult. In the end, his mother had relinquished her social status in all but the metal of her ring, paying a substantial "fee" - a bribe, really - to get the marriage approved.
His brother and Manami had run into no problems, as they were both of the same rank and had compatible zodiac signs. Their rings were going to be really boring-looking - garnet and ruby on bronze - but Misaki figured that didn't really matter as long as they were in love.
His mother's ring was really gorgeous, though. He took one last look at the amethyst before he went to bed, the memory of amethyst colored eyes flashing in his mind.
He remembered the last thing Usagi had said and wondered if the man would really be there tomorrow as sleep claimed him.
Misaki really wasn't surprised to see Usagi greeting him at Suzuki's stable when he arrived to start his day's work. What he was surprised to see was Usagi dressed in the work clothes of the royal stables, the badge upon his chest stamped with the seal of the Royal House of Usami, confirming his right to be there.
So that's what he meant by "see you tomorrow". The man's hair was silver, as it turned out, not the more dirty grey he'd seen yesterday. His eyes, far less red then they wear yesterday, looked even more stunning. "Hello there, Usagi," he greeted. "What's your shift?"
"Dawn 'till noon," he replied.
He gets off three hours earlier than I do, huh? He must not need money as badly. "You can start with a different horse, if you'd like," he told him as he watched him trying to figure out how to brush Suzuki's coat without making her glare at him.
"No, I'd much rather start where you do," he said.
Well, he's got to learn the ropes, so I can't say that's an unreasonable request.
"Alright then," Misaki said. "You continue grooming her; I'm going to get the feed."
"So, did you have a good day yesterday?"
"Huh?" Misaki turned his head to eye Usagi at his bizarre way of starting a conversation. "Uh, yeah. My brother announced that he's marrying his girlfriend in three months time."
There was a strange silence in the air. "Your brother?"
Misaki shoveled feed into the trough, not bothering to look at Usagi as he answered his question. "Yeah, Niichan's ten years older than me; pretty much raised me. He's an amazing person - kind, smart, all those good things you'd never believe could be in one person. He got me this job; he works over in the kitchens - he's a brilliant cook, too. Manami's a lucky woman." The trough was full, so Misaki turned around. At that point he caught a glimpse of Usagi's face; the man had the strangest look schooled on his features.
"What's your name?" The way Usagi said that question sounded so grave, Misaki almost laughed.
"Takahashi Misaki," he told him, and checked Suzuki's water. "Now, about feeding, you want to start with - " He turned to look at the man again and promptly stopped his lesson. "Usagi?"
Usagi looked like he was about to faint, his face a few tints paler than it was before. He was breathing heavy, too. What was wrong?
"Usagi?" he tried again, and Usagi looked at him, and Misaki thought he suddenly looked incredibly like his namesake.
"Your brother... is Takahiro?"
Did Usagi know his brother? "Yes..."
"I see," Usagi said, breaking eye contact for a moment before looking at him again. "It seems I can't get away..." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I love your brother."
For moment, something in Misaki's chest clenched so tight he'd felt as though it would sear the pain onto him, like a morbid tattoo. Usagi looked so sad; his expression reminded Misaki of the early memories of his brother's face in the wake of his father's death.
"I thought you should know," Usagi said, his voice painfully soft.
"Why?" he asked.
"I don't know," he said, and looked away.
The silence felt like a tangible weight in the air, thick and heavy. For a moment, Misaki couldn't think, couldn't figure out what to say, how to comfort him or if he even should. He barely knew the man, and yet the almost-stranger had told him something so secret so openly; he didn't know quite what to make of it.
Suzuki let out an impatient whinny, singling she was done eating, and Misaki shook off whatever had overcome him. He walked over to take care of Suzuki, Usagi having wandered off to the corner of the stall to brood. As he finished taking care of Suzuki, his mind whirled with a flurry of thoughts. He loves my brother? How does he even know him? Wouldn't that make Usagi...
"How do you know your feelings for my brother aren't just friendship?"
Usagi looked at him, a weird mix of pain and amusement on his face. "Many reasons," he said. "But most of all, because I think of him - dream of him – sexually."
Misaki felt himself blush.
"I yearn for that mingling of tongues and sweat and desire, to be able to touch him without restraint, to feel every centimeter of his naked skin, to taste him on my tongue, to mouth his co –"
"Enough already!" Misaki shouted, having managed to find his voice. He face felt ad though it was being licked by flames, he was shaking slightly, and there was a strange twisting feeling in his gut. He really didn't want to think about Usagi and his brother having sex – how would that even work? Not that he wanted to know! "You shouldn't think of my brother that way!"
Usagi just stared at him. "Why?"
"Because he's innocent and normal and not like you at all! If he knew, he'd be disgusted!" That's not true, he'd feel sorry for him -
Usagi was looking at him with anger now, and he grabbed Misaki and pushed him against a clean part of the wall.
Misaki felt his eyes widen. "Usagi...?"
The man pushed his body right next to his, leaving little space. His lips ghosted above Misaki's neck.
"Disgusted, you say?"
Misaki's body felt as though it was on fire. The pressure and feel of Usagi's body against his made him feel aroused and oversensitive, his skin prickling, and Usagi's breath against his neck causing shivers of pleasure against his spine.
Usagi shifted against him, and Misaki felt arousal stirring in the pit of his stomach, like a fire was starting that he couldn't stop. He was getting hard from Usagi's simple movements, and Usagi pressed his leg between his crotch, making Misaki moan out loud, much to his utter embarrassment. He jerked his leg and Misaki could barely contain himself.
"Disgusting, huh? Is it disgusting how I imagine him, naked and sweaty beneath me, pleading and begging for me to touch him, kiss him, love him? Or is it digusting because I imagine doing those things, giving him pleasure, loving his body as well as his soul?"
Misaki was shaking now, every part of his body straining towards Usagi, his heat. The man's lips did not touch him, only hovered over skin, but even those actions were driving him mad. What's wrong with me? I'm not...!
Just as he was about to climax, Usagi stepped away, letting him slump to the floor. Misaki looked at him. Usagi glared at him, his eyes forming slits.
"You bastard..." Misaki muttered, thoroughly shaken, his heart beating so fast he thought it might race out of his chest, like a galloping horse.
"I could have any woman I want, you know. They fall all over themselves just to get me to look at them."
What is he talking about? I mean, yeah, he's attractive, but...
"Yet," Usagi continued, "somehow, the only one I truly I want is the one I can't have. That's what truly disgusts me."
Usagi's face was contorted in a look of disgust, anger, and hopeless. Despite all he'd just done, Misaki couldn't help but ask, "Doesn't it just hurt?" Something clicked in his brain. "That's why you feel disgusted, because it hurts, and you're angry at your feelings for causing such pain..."
Usagi glared at him, then stalked off, saying nothing.
Misaki wasn't certain what had just happened, but he knew he needed to get to a bathroom as quickly as possible.
He wasn't about to quit his job, but, damn, it had just gotten a whole lot harder.