Notes: Originally written for the Top Cagnotte exchange.

This is purely a Prince of Tennis AU fic but the world they live in was taken from Dave Duncan's King's Blades series.


Shishido rose from the bench to try and get a better view, but was immediately pulled back by a boy behind him. "Down in front."

"I can't see," Shishido protested.

"And if you stand, I can't see."

Shishido turned and looked at the boy properly. Though it was unfair to call Yuushi a boy, his shoulders had begun to fill out, and he was already tall in a way that Shishido envied. He bet they'd have Yuushi working with the broadswords soon.

He'd only joined 9 boys in front of Shishido, but it was enough that he'd recently been moved into the next level of training. Shishido thought he himself would never make it there; the school was very strict about following the order in which you joined. Shishido couldn't move up unless Seijima, the boy who joined a few people ahead of him, learned his footwork properly. The masters were driving him hard, either to get him to improve or to scare him off.

The school was a hard life, but it was better than the one most of Shishido's schoolmates had been living before. And after they were trained, they would be the best and the most prestigious knights in the land. Bound by honour and magic to an elite brotherhood, they'd be in courts and dancing with ladies. Not that Shishido was too keen on courts. He never looked forward to his protocol classes, he just wanted to fight foes and protect the royal family. His name would be known throughout the lands and he'd be respected.

But if only he could see the ceremony that would, one day, bind him to his sovereign. The brat: the newest member of the school. Got to be a part of the ceremony, but Shishido had only been the brat for six days, and there had been no bindings during that time. This was the first one he'd been around to see, and now he couldn't actually see it.

He could feel the spirits gathering, though he wasn't overly sensitive. They tested for that. Boys who were too sensitive wouldn't be able to handle the binding ceremony. If they were really skilled in sensing spirits, they might be sent to join the White Order, but if they fell into the awful middle space, they were sent back out into the world to fend for themselves.

Shishido shuddered at the thought. He liked having a warm bed at night and three meals a day.

First, the title given to the student who had been at the school the longest and the next to leave it during binding, stood on the anvil, and Shishido could finally make something out. His name was Kabaji, and he was a big guy. Most people would probably assume he just made a good wall and wasn't nimble or fast, but Shishido had watched him training once, and he could move as quick as the most nimble fencer. It was amazing. And now he was going to have his large broadsword plunged into his chest.

"Does it happen next?" Shishido asked Yuushi.

"This really is your first time, hnn."

"Yes. So does it?"

"Fine, stand and see. It's amazing," Yuushi said. He stood up behind Shishido, and both of them watched as Prince Keigo shouted the final words of the ceremony.

"Serve or die!" And with the words still echoing around the ancient room, Keigo drove the sword in his hands into First's chest until the pommel struck skin before pulling it out.

Shishido's breath caught in his throat. But as the sword left First's body, there was very little blood; only a small trickle out of both sides.

First then took the sword that the prince was offering him: the special sword that members of the King's Blades only received on the day of their binding.

Shishido was in awe, and joined in the enthusiastic clapping from rest of their schoolmates. Even Yuushi was caught up in the excitement.

This was apparently the prince's first time doing the binding, and there had been some rumbles of tension and nerves throughout the hall. But obviously it had been for nothing.

The process repeated until Prince Keigo had a guard of five. And didn't all of his future brothers look incredibly proud, if slightly bewildered, as they clasped swords to their belts and moved around Atobe in a protective circle.

Shishido couldn't wait. It was a weird thing, really, to want to be stabbed through the heart with his own sword. But he would get there. Even if he had to train, bully, and cajole Seijima into perfection himself.

Ooooooooo

5 Years later

Shishido looked over at Seijima, who was the current First, as he returned to the senior's room. "Still nothing?" He asked.

"Nope. But with the way the Grandmaster is going about, it has to be soon. He's asked the master of protocols to go over the ritual with us one more time. Like we don't already have it memorized."

Shishido sighed at the thought of more protocol; he'd never grown to like it.

"Hey Seijima, why don't we go get some sword practice in."

Seijima nodded, and they headed out of their room and down to the courtyard. Shishido was now third in line for binding. One of the boys in front of him had headed for the hills only a few days after the binding ceremony - obviously he wasn't looking forward to the whole stabbing through the chest thing. And even Shishido had to admit that as the day got closer, he was feeling his own jitters.

They had just made it to the courtyard when a senior who was out with the juniors doing riding practice came racing back. "They're coming! A group of the King's Knights is on its way. The King won't be far behind."

Shishido and Seijima exchanged grins, and Seijima ran off to perform his duties as First; informing Grandmaster of the incoming guests.

"About time!" Shishido said to the rider. He would be bound with him if Atobe decided to take five. They laughed and parted. Taki had been bound to Akutugawa Jirou five weeks ago, and the rest of them had been on the edge ever since while waiting for their own fate. Atobe had been gifting Knights out more and more in the last two years since he had taken over after his father's death. Shishido knew it was just as honourable to serve someone you were gifted to, but Shishido didn't want to be some pet knight to a rich noble who slept all day. He wanted to be part of the King's guard: to go off making wars and get the glory.

He'd also heard stories that the Knights in the King's guard could spell each other off to get some free time. There were enough of them that they could rotate duties. A private Knight wouldn't have nearly as many opportunities to relax and enjoy himself, unless they were at court and could rely on the King's guard to help.

And wasn't Shishido excited about that prospect? He'd been training on this mountain side 'castle' for nearly five years. Completely isolated from the outside world and, more importantly, outside love interests. The guys all shared stories about girls they'd been with or had seen before they came here. Most of it was just complete crap. With the life they'd led and how young a lot of them were, Shishido didn't think they'd get a girl to say hi, let alone do what they said.

But it was fun to imagine and swap stories at night when they were in their bunks and wondering what their futures really held. Shishido had shared a few stories himself just to join in. He thought he'd like to see a real live naked girl sometime soon. He also thought that many of his classmates had pretty amazing bodies too… but that wasn't something you openly shared in an all boys school that trained elite swordsmen. He didn't think that he'd be beat up for it, but it would be awkward.

Maybe he could explore that too when he got out. When Yuushi had returned, escorting Lord Jirou here, he had had some amazing stories to share with the top seniors, and wasn't at all ashamed about the gender of his conquests. Shishido was convinced Yuushi was determined to conquer the kingdom through sex alone. He hoped Yuushi left a few for him.

They didn't have to wait long until the advanced guard rode into the courtyard, and Shishido did his best not to act like an eager first year. It was a close call.

"Shishido." He heard his name be called from one of the Knights and smiled.

"Yuushi," Shishido greeted merrily. He clasped Yuushi's arm as he dismantled and asked him a question with his eyes iIs he here? Is it today?/i

Yuushi gave a nod and Shishido had to fight not to bounce on his feet. Finally, the day of his dream had arrived.

"I need to go and report to Grandmaster with the others. I'll see you later."

With that they parted, and Shishido headed back to his room. If things went well, this would be his last night here. He'd fast tomorrow, and then in the evening King Atobe would plunge a sword through his chest. Then, his future would really begin.

He needed to lie down.

Oooooooooooo

Shishido was hungry, but he didn't think he'd be able to eat even if he was allowed. The nerves were getting to him, though he was too proud to admit it. The cold baths they had just been subjected to, a part of the ritual that some sadist had added, had helped clear his head of doubt. A day of fasting and cold baths had reminded him why he was doing this. He was going to be a King's Knight, he was going to have purpose and be amazing. If he backed down now, he'd go back to be nothing. A really well trained swordsman of nothing, but nothing none the less. He wouldn't fall at the very last hurdle.

Stepping into the clean pants that had been brought for him, Shishido looked over as King Atobe stepped into the room. He had been meditating and fasting off in a side room. Shishido suspected it had real seats and cushions. But it looked like he would have to suffer through the same cold baths.

Two members of his guard were with him, and one turned to wink at them. The other was Kabaji, the first person that Atobe had bound to him. He wasn't the oldest member of the King's Knights, his fathers transferring to him after his death, but rumour was that Kabaji was Atobe's favoured guard and was in line to take over as commander when the current one was released. His size alone was intimidating so Shishido couldn't fault King Atobe of his choice. And even Shishido knew that Kabaji was the least talkative out of all of the Knights so it certainly guaranteed discretion.

Atobe gritted his teeth as he lowered into the first cold bath. Shishido was impressed he didn't curse like the rest of them had, but it would have been funnier if he did.

Atobe moved from one bath to the next, and Shishido tried to picture what his life would be like after being skewered by the man. He would be spelled to live for him, to die for him. That would be his number one priority in life, but all of the King's Blades lived good lives and most were eventually released from their binding before retirement. But he'd have many years of service before having to worry about that.

How would it feel to stand by this man's side? Shishido didn't know, but he did know that he was looking forward to finding out. Atobe was a young king, but he wasn't a bad one. Perhaps, in a way, they could learn on the job together, and they could both grow to become the best over the years.

Deciding that his thoughts were getting too deep and meditative, Shishido looked back to his friends and struck up a quiet conversation.

ooooooooooo

Shishido moved to the center of the circle in the stifling room used for their bindings. There, on the anvil, was his sword. He took it into his hand, and while it was the first time he held it, he could tell that it was perfect for him and his preferred style.

The blade was short, light, and lethal to accommodate his fast and aggressive style. Along the pommel he could feel the crest of the brotherhood. He wanted to hold onto it longer, examine it at length, but he knew he had to pass it to his king.

With minor reluctance, he handed over the sword and hopped onto the large anvil. He took a deep breath to calm the last of his nerves, and then clearly and loudly spoke the words that would let Atobe bind him instead of kill him.

Steeling himself as the echo of his own voice faded, he sat down and proudly placed his hands on his hips, baring his chest. Fellow members of the brotherhood stepped forward to mark an x over his heart and then to brace him. It wouldn't do to jerk in pain while a sword was embedded in his chest.

Atobe stepped forward then, and their eyes met. And while Shishido didn't know what was in his own eyes, he saw clearly a demand in Atobe's: Live.

"Serve or die!" Atobe said and swiftly plunged the sword into Shishido's chest, and he felt the guard of his own sword come to rest against his chest, he assumed on the x. The air caught in Shishido's lungs, and he felt his body buck against the hands holding him. But just as swiftly as the pain and fire raced through his body, it left and he saw Atobe take a step back, sword in hand.

"Oh my God," Shishido muttered as he gasped for breath, a hand raised to touch his chest. Already, a fresh scar covered the spot where a sword has been only moments ago. Wow.

And then Shishido felt it. An undeniable tug. It drowned out all of the applause and pats on the back. The only thing that mattered was the man in front of him, still holding his sword.

He stood and with only a minor stumble, made it to Atobe's side.

"Ready to serve, Sir Shishido?"

"With my life," Shishido swore and realised with a startling clarity that he had never spoken anything more true. He took the offered sword and clipped it to his belt, ignoring, for now, that it was coated in his own heart's blood. His attention was too focused on Atobe to worry about that.

They had been warned of this in class: how the binding would feel. But he never expected it to be so strong; to feel so compelled to protect Atobe that he would barely even register the other bindings except to worry about candidates with swords.

After the ceremony, it was time for a feast and suddenly Yuushi was beside him as they headed to the king's rooms at the school.

"Don't worry, it'll pass. The first couple of days are the hardest."

Shishido nodded, his focus now on how dangerous the stairs were. What if Atobe tripped?

"Don't even think about it," Yuushi warned, clearly sensing his thoughts.

"What? Why?"

"Remember Kabaji? Part of the original group of five Atobe bound to him while he was still the crown prince?"

Shishido nodded. Kabaji was a hard man to forget, even if he had only known him for a few weeks before he was bound.

"Anyway, he thought the same thing, and he hoisted Atobe up in a fireman's carry. Wouldn't put him down until they reached the top. So now, every time anyone mentions dangerous steps, it sets Atobe off on a tirade and sends the rest of us into laughing fits."

"I never knew. Is that why Kabaji never comes back? Atobe's afraid he'll try again?"

"Probably. And you didn't know because it's one of the Guard benefits. We protect the stories from outsiders, but once you're in, you get all the juicy gossip."

Atobe had rounded the corner and Shishido was getting twitchy. He didn't realise being bound meant becoming a raving paranoid bastard.

"Go on then. We'll catch up when you've settled in. I'll even introduce you to some friendly girls."

Shishido barely registered the offer of girls. He was off to Atobe's rooms to check for intruders and deadly spiders, along with the other newly branded knights.

Shishido had figured out some balance with his new binding, and he no longer felt itchy all over whenever Atobe was out of his view. But even a few days into his new life he was still feeling a little overwhelmed.

It had been over five years since he'd been in the outside world, and even then his world had not included being inside palace walls. In his King's Knights uniform he even garnered respect and romantic interest. Though Yuushi, who had appointed himself as mentor, had said they'd never be short on romantic interest as their bindings oozed the love element. Yuushi swore it wasn't cheating in the dating game, just a quick way to cut through the red tape. He did warn him that interest would come from all corners, and pointed out his own male red headed noble stalker as an example. Shishido just laughed and couldn't wait for his own.

Being rather inexperienced he was more than game to try anything, and tonight he'd get his chance. He was being spelled off now that the three day itch had passed, and he was being dragged to the pub.

Coming from the stables where Atobe had just finished a vigorous ride through the woods, and where he had been spelled off, Shishido made his way across the expansive palace grounds and toward the Knight barracks. He did his best to avoid the main paths and keep from getting lost. But after the third time around the same ugly shrub, he cursed and kicked at the ground.

He then looked around to see if anyone had been witness, but didn't see anyone paying attention to him. Thank goodness. He was well informed of the rivalry between the King's Knights and the normal court guards and Hyotei military. He would never be forgiven if he gave them any reason to tease the Knights.

Still, he might take a little embarrassment if it meant getting to the barracks sometime this year. He really wanted to shower and change to stop smelling like a horse before he met up with Yuushi.

Wandering around for the fourth time, he spotted something white that wasn't there before and made a beeline toward the person. Probably, judging by the white hat and cloak, it was someone from the White Order. A group that, while not always the best of friends with the Knights, held mutual respect and worked well together. It used to be the White Sisters, but the number of girls with the needed abilities were no longer matching demands, and so they had expanded to accept exceptional boys. They also started to be trained on defense and basic offense.

They still weren't allowed to be armed in the King's presence, outside and performing other duties they all carried weapons they were well trained in. Shishido had noted that in the previous days, most generally chose a bow or dagger. The tall man in front of him, however, had chosen the broadsword. Not quite as big as the one Yuushi chose to drag around, but big enough to stand out on a member of the White Order. Shishido vaguely wondered what the regulations were for dueling with a member of the White Order. He'd love to put their supposed training to the test. But judging by the silvery hair, perhaps this man was near retirement and not up to friendly spars with the Knights.

As Shishido approached from behind, the man turned and looked at him. He was warned that the White Order could sense magic and that the King's Knights, especially the new ones, would be picked up with ease; something about the strong scent the binding left. Though, the White Order got all pissy if you called them sniffers. Still, he'd risk being an unpleasant smell if it got him out of the damn maze-like garden.

"Hi," Shishido started.

"Hello," the man replied, not really giving Shishido an opening for conversation, but not freezing him out either. And now that Shishido was closer, he decided that the man, despite his silvery hair, wasn't an old man at all. Probably the same age as Shishido.

"Lost?" The man asked after Shishido failed to add anything more to the conversation.

"Errr, sort of. How'd you know?"

"You still smell new," he stated and leaned forward slightly, dropping his voice. "And I saw you pass by over there several times."

Shishido wondered how they could argue against being called a sniffer when they used the term smell in describing their ability to sense magic. And how did he miss the tall man in white watching him as he passed?

"Makes sense. Don't suppose you can help me out then?"

"I'm on duty. I can't leave until my relief comes," the man said, looking reluctant.

"Not even to direct a lost Knight? Can't be easy searching out magic with me around distracting you. I heard we aren't the most pleasant of magics to be around."

"I wouldn't say that." The tip of the man's ears turned pink. "You're just very potent. It's distracting

"I guess that makes sense. But it's definitely not bad?" Shishido asked, very curious about this man's opinion.

"Never." More of the young man's face turned pink, and Shishido wondered if the guy didn't get out much.

"So, gonna help me?"

"I guess it couldn't hurt to set you on the right path and be free of distractions. This way."

"What's your name? I should know the name of my hero."

"I'm sure you would have made it on your own... eventually." He gave a teasing smile that let Shishido know that he wasn't completely awkward or polite. He liked that. "But my name is Ohtori Choutarou."

"But you definitely made it easier, Choutarou. I'm Shishido Ryou."

"I know," Choutarou said, and the pink flush quickly returned.

"You do?" Maybe it wasn't so much awkwardness that turned Choutarou pink, but something else? He'd have to ask Yuushi of his thoughts... maybe.

"New Knights are always the talk of the palace," Choutarou explained hastily. "And here you go," he gestured to the path ahead of him. "Should take you straight on to the barracks."

"Thanks. I'll see you around." Shishido waved and set off.

On the right path, it didn't take long to arrive at the barracks. And while he didn't have his own room, he only shared with one other person. Besides, as he had found out early on, the beds weren't there for sleeping. The room was more a stop gap and storage room. His roommate had already explained the intricacy that was an article of clothing hung on the doorknob.

Since the doorknob was currently clothing free, he let himself into the room and made quick work of his uniform. A proper soak would have been great, but he would have to make do with a quick hand bath if he was going to meet Yuushi on time.

Shishido redressed in a clean uniform: a Knight was never completely off duty after all. They were the nicest clothes he could remember ever owning. Adjusting the way the uniform while looking in the mirror, he then dashed to where he was meeting his friend.

"I was beginning to think you chickened out on me," Yuushi said casually as Shishido ran up to him.

"What are you talking about?" Shishido scowled. "I'm not even late."

"No, but I thought you would have been more eager."

"We can't all be Casanova, you know."

Yuushi studied him for a minute that made Shishido shift slightly. "What?" He finally asked when the scrutiny became too much.

"You got lost." It wasn't a question, and the tone made Shishido want to punch him. Arrogant jerk.

"Did not." Temporarily misplaced? Yes. Lost? Definitely not.

"Sure you didn't. How long did it take you to ask for help?"

"I didn't. Someone offered to point me in the right direction." No point in lying about it all when it was Yuushi. He had a weird way of just knowing. Knowing him, he'd been watching from a palace window or something.

"Oh? Who? Your first admirer, perhaps?"

"Not likely. He's part of the White Order."

"A he, is it?"

"Yeah, what of it?" Shishido asked. Why was Yuushi questioning it? He certainly had no room to judge since he was well known to flirt with anyone with a pulse, and even possibly his own reflection.

"Nothing. Just surprised. But you sound disappointed."

"I guess... I don't know. He was nice." Shishido shrugged. He wondered if he was blushing like Ohtori had earlier.

"There's no rule saying a member of the White Order and a Knight can't be together. It just takes a certain touch and subtlety. Which means we have a lot to teach you."

"What? Hey!" Shishido protested as he was dragged into the bar.

The crash course of dating and seduction would now begin.