The two thuggish-looking men wasted no time in attacking. Shougo immediately lunged forward, his sword drawn, and swung at Daiki, who had barely enough time to draw his own blade to block, stumbling back a few steps. The bay-skinned male worked together with Satsuki to distract their opponents while Tetsuya turned and try to loosen the chains that bound Ryouta to the chair he was in. The prince squirmed nervously as the smaller male worked, desperately trying to make him leave. "Please, Kurokocchi!" He pleaded. "It's too dangerous. I don't want you to get hurt; please leave and save yourself!"

If the prince weren't already damaged enough, Tetsuya would have slapped him. "Nonsense." The blue-haired said adamantly, his eyes narrowing as no progress was being made on the chains. "I'm not leaving without Kise-kun."

Ryouta pouted at the smaller male but argued no further, instead looking worriedly up at Satsuki and Daiki, who seemed to be struggling against the two massive males. They fought with virtually no regard for each other, but their brute strength alone was enough to even knock Daiki back and break his guard. The pink-haired immediately side-stepped in front of the bay-skinned male to protect him, swinging her bow like a sword while her whip lashed out at Makoto, striking him across his face and making him howl in pain, blood flowing freely down the side of his face. "Satsuki, looked out!" Daiki shouted as Shougo wound up his arm to bring his sword down on top of her. He pushed Satsuki out of the way and met his opponent's sword with both of his, but the force of the blow overwhelmed Daiki and he fell to the ground, Shougo's great sword slicing into his shoulder.

Fear surged through the prince as he watched the horrible scene, Tetsuya still unsuccessfully working at the chains. Satsuki gritted her teeth as she tried to fend off the men, damaging Makoto again when she drew an arrow from her quiver and stabbed it into his stomach and causing him to drop his sword, his breath hitching. Shougo, however, used her preoccupation with Makoto to his advantage and grabbed her by the wrist, twisting and squeezing it until he felt the bones fracture and break, holding his sword right up against her neck, smirking as the blade just barely pierced the skin, a thin line of blood trickling down her throat. "What'cha gonna do now, Satsuki?" He growled in her ear as she whimpered in pain.

Suddenly the pink-haired kicked her foot back, slamming the heel of her boot into Shougo's groin, grabbing one of her knives with her good hand and, spinning around quickly, stabbed it deep into his chest. "That's what I'm gonna do." Satsuki responded firmly, standing over him and glaring down at him as he collapsed on the ground by her feet.

Daiki stumbled to his feet, clutching his shoulder as Makoto started to recover from his new injury, picking up his sword again. "Yo, fuck-wit." The bay-skinned male growled at him, pulling out his crossbow with a slight wince and aiming it at him. "Don't you go tryin' anything stupid."

The bigger male straightened up and laughed. "You really think that can stop me?" He sneered, suddenly swinging his sword up and knocking the crossbow out of Daiki's hand and kicking him into Satsuki, knocking them both to the ground as he walked swiftly straight towards Ryouta, raising his sword once more.

The prince's good eye widened, panic surging through him again with each step Makoto took. This was the end of his life; he knew it. "Kurokocchi…!" A single tear escaped the corner of his eye as he squeezed it shut, the utterance of his assistant's name sounding more like a choked sob. The royal hung his head and awaited the final blow.

The loud clang of clashing metal rang in Ryouta's ears. When the prince looked up, he saw Tetsuya standing between him and Makoto, his short sword held high to block his enemy's downward stroke, a fierce determination in his sky-blue eyes. "Kurokocchi…" the blond whispered his name again, staring up at the small male in wonder. He had no idea Tetsuya was even capable of this much emotion. He watched silently as he fought Makoto, who was easily twice, nearly three times his size. Tetsuya had an obvious beginners' touch; he used only basic blocking maneuvers and footwork, and he was clearly outmatched in strength and skill. Ryouta bit his lip and gasped as Makoto easily knocked Tetsuya's sword out of his hand, smirking at the smaller male as he stumbled backward and crashed into the wall.

"Well this is just pathetic!" Makoto laughed again, standing over Tetsuya and slowly pressing the tip of his blade into his chest. Ryouta noticed the dagger he had made for him was just out of the blue-haired's reach. "You're like a bug that just won't die. This time I'll squash you for sure!" With that, he raised his sword high over his head, ready to strike down on Tetsuya—when a blade ran right through his torso.

Daiki tossed Makoto to the side before pulling his sword out of his body, blood still gushing freely from the wound as the bay-skinned male stomped his foot on him to prevent him from moving any further. "You okay, Tetsu?" He asked the smaller male in a gruff tone.

The small male nodded stiffly, still slightly stunned as Daiki helped him to his feet. Satsuki, meanwhile, had moved behind Ryouta, using one of her arrows to clumsily pick at the lock that held the chains in place with her good hand. "Bastard crushed my writing hand…" she growled under her breath as her efforts were unsuccessful.

Tetsuya knelt next to the lady, moving to help her with the lock. Eventually they were able to pry the lock open, and very carefully Ryouta's assistant freed the prince from the chains. Once that was accomplished, the blue-haired knelt before Ryouta and inspected his wounds, frowning slightly. "We need to get you back as soon as possible." He stated, his usual tone of voice returning.

Satsuki stood up, placing her good hand on her hip and frowning down at Tetsuya. "That is true," she replied, "but we also need to tend to our own wounds. I'll try to get you two home as quickly as possible, but I need to make sure Ahomine's arm won't fall off."

With a small nod Tetsuya stood up and turned back to Ryouta. "Kise-kun, can you stand?" He asked the blond. When all he got in response was a confused blink, the blue-haired took a step closer to him and carefully lifted the prince out of the splintering chair, slipping an arm gently around his waist to keep him balanced. When Ryouta seemed somewhat steady on his feet, the small male led the prince, step by step, out of the shed. Daiki and Satsuki followed close behind them, the taller male glancing back warily at their fallen enemies a few times, just in case they suddenly rose up again.

Ryouta winced when they got outside. By now the sun was low on the horizon, ready to dip down into night; despite the fading light, it seemed much too bright for the wounded prince, who had seen nothing but absolute darkness for several days. The light almost seemed to burn into him, making his head throb even more than it already was.

It was hard to navigate through the forest once the sunlight disappeared, especially since they now had to be extra careful where they stepped so as to get the prince out safely. But with Satsuki leading, they eventually managed to get to the other side of the forest unscathed. They were all pleased to see that their horses were still there, lazily grazing on the grass. Both Daiki and the pink-haired helped Tetsuya ease the prince onto his horse, and they promptly returned to Satsuki's cottage, where their bleeding wounds were dressed and, once Tetsuya had expressed his gratitude, the lady arranged for transportation back to the palace.

The hours passed by uneasily for the blue-haired. Since exiting the forest the prince seemed to be in a lot of pain; Ryouta's eyes were squeezed shut nearly the entire time, he started breathing harshly and in small, shallow intervals, his face had gone pale and he hardly said a word to anyone, not even his own assistant. The smaller male became more and more worried as time went on, and he hoped they arrived at the palace as fast as possible. Tetsuya barely allowed Satsuki to tend to his wound, even though pain stabbed at him every time he breathed, because the prince needed help.

When they finally arrived at the castle, people swarmed around their horse with mixed expressions of relief, concern, and shock. Tetsuya dismounted and reached up to ease Ryouta off as well when the king and several officials pushed him out of the way, almost knocking him off his feet, and carefully took the prince, ushering him into the castle. The blue-haired knew that the officials must not have seen him at all, but the sudden separation from Ryouta was causing him to panic. Clutching the wound on his chest, which had become more painful, he quickly rose to his feet and was about to run after them when something grabbed his arm and held him back.

"Tetsuya, there's nothing you can do for him right now." Seijuro told him in a calm voice as the smaller male whipped his head around. The look in his eyes was mixed; his gold eye glinted at him with a firm gaze, while his red one said that he understood Tetsuya's concern.

After staring at the redhead for a few moments, the smaller male finally slumped and submitted, his arms falling to his sides. "I need to know if Kise-kun will be alright." He told the weaponsmaster.

Seijuro shook his head. "You cannot be sure of anything right now." He said firmly. "Even I don't know what will happen." Then, placing a hand on Tetsuya's shoulder, which then slid down to the small of his back, the redhead led him to the infirmary, where his wounds were more thoroughly dressed and redressed and where he told the blue-haired he could stay and wait for Ryouta. Tetsuya nodded his thanks, and Seijuro turned and left the room.

Another few hours passed, and still no news about the prince had reached Tetsuya. The blue-haired would have been pacing nervously up and down the length of the room if the nurses had forced him to remain sitting. He was exhausted, but he couldn't relax, much less sleep; he started listening to conversations between doctors to see if there were any updates at all on the prince's condition. What he started hearing was not comforting news at all.

"…lost a lot of blood…amazed that he's even made it this far…"

"…severely dehydrated…"

"I doubt he'll survive…"

Tetsuya held his head in his hands, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to calm himself down. Hearing nothing but bad news was making his heart race and his head spin. It was another long while before an official finally came in to talk to him.

"You are Kise-sama's assistant, yes?"

The blue-haired raised his head to look up at the officer, then nodded slowly.

"You may come in and see him now."

He stood up from his chair with deliberate slowness; he didn't want to injure himself again because he got too excited. Tetsuya then followed the officer into a separate hospital room, the one reserved for the royal family. There was Ryouta, lying still on the large hospital bed. His tattered clothes had been removed, and a large portion of his body was covered in bandages, including his bruised eye. The blue-haired slowly walked up to his bedside, a blank expression on his face. After a few moments' silence, the officer finally left the room to leave the assistant alone.

Tetsuya looked down at the sleeping prince. The sunlight was completely gone by now; the only source of light came from the candles spaced out throughout the room. The candle on Ryouta's bedside table cast a soft glow on his face, which complimented the golden tints in his hair but only made him look paler; if it hadn't been for the subtle rising and falling of his chest, the blue-haired would have thought he was dead. He let his hand rest on top of Ryouta's as he slowly sat down in the chair beside his bed, carefully picking it up and holding it between both of his hands.

As he sat there in complete silence, gingerly holding the prince's hand, all of Tetsuya's emotions started to make themselves visible all at once. Tears started falling down his pale face; tears he couldn't hold back but didn't want to hold back. Helplessly he sat at his prince's bedside, looking over at his sleeping face as he wept silently, gently squeezing Ryouta's hand. His mind wandered through his memories, thinking back to every moment that they had spent together. Was he never going to see his smile, or hear his sweet laughter again? Tetsuya bowed his head; a few of his tears fell down onto the prince's hand, and very gently he wiped them off. He never knew how soft his hands were.


Everything that occurred after they exited the shed in the forest had been a complete blur to Ryouta. He didn't know when he had blacked out, but when he slowly opened his eyes, he found himself in what appeared to be the infirmary at his palace. His whole body ached, and his head especially was throbbing rather painfully. He was going to raise his hand to rub his temple, but he felt something on top of his hand. When he looked down to see what it was, he was slightly shocked: Tetsuya was sleeping peacefully in the chair at his bedside; there were bandages visible on his forehead, hand, and neck, while his pale face was still slightly swollen from a black eye. Tetsuya's head was resting on Ryouta's leg, and it was his assistant's hand that was on top of his own. The prince's lips turned upwards into a soft smile as he looked at Tetsuya; he slowly reached over with his other hand to gently pet his head of sky-blue hair.

The gesture seemed to have woken the smaller male, because he stirred slightly, his eyelids twitching a little before he opened his eyes, glancing sleepily up at Ryouta, who continued to smile at him. "Good morning, Kurokocchi," the prince greeted him, his voice soft and somewhat hoarse.

Tetsuya blinked slowly a few times before he raised his head off the bed, not making direct eye contact with him. "Good morning, Kise-kun." He replied, his voice even softer than Ryouta's. "I'm glad you survived the night."

Ryouta's smile grew slightly wider, and there was a soft twinkle in his eye, either from the sunlight peeking in through the window or the comfort of his regaining happiness. Then, with a small sigh, he leaned his head back and his eyes slipped closed. The throbbing in his skull was almost too much for him. "Me too, Kurokocchi…" the blond whispered, more to himself than to his assistant.

The blue-haired, however, heard him. As Ryouta leaned his head back on his pillow, he couldn't help feeling concerned for him. "How are you feeling?" Tetsuya asked hesitantly.

The prince popped his head up at the sound of the smaller male's voice, wincing at how the sudden motion made his head hurt even more, if that was possible. "I'm fine." He replied, his smile returning. He forced cheerfulness into his voice; above everything else, he wanted Tetsuya to smile again. "Of course I would make it through the night, because I wanted to see Kurokocchi's face again!"

He saw the corners of the blue-haired's lips twitch upwards, but he was still too despondent to actually smile. Still determined, Ryouta reached out to Tetsuya, gently stroking his cheek and looking at him with a soft glow in his yellow eyes. "Hey," the prince said, his voice soft and gentle, almost having a sing-song quality to it. The smaller male lifted his gaze to stare back at the blond, where the morning sunlight highlighted his long eyelashes. The innocent grin from before had faded into a subtle yet honest smile. "I'm really glad you're safe."

The way Ryouta said those words sent shivers down the blue-haired's spine and made him blink; it was really the first time that Tetsuya knew that the prince genuinely cared about him, and that he was truly worried about him. He slowly brought his hand up to rest on top of Ryouta's as he felt warmth rising up in his cheeks. By then he had started to smile; it was still very small and barely noticeable on his pale face, but it showed much more emotion. "Thank you." The blue-haired replied, his voice almost a whisper. He closed his eyes and took a long, slow, deep breath, his face ever so slightly pressing into Ryouta's hand.

The prince's smile grew as the small male spoke, and he almost felt like crying for no reason. His thumb caressed Tetsuya's pale cheek for a few long moments before he lowered his hand slightly. "Kurokocchi…can you come closer?" Ryouta asked, his smile disappearing once again.

Tetsuya opened his eyes and peered up at the blond, curiosity flashing in his bright blue eyes, but he complied right away. The blue-haired half-stood and grabbed the chair behind him, sliding it closer to him as quietly as possible before sitting back down, leaning forward slightly. All of a sudden Ryouta wrapped both his bandaged arms around his frail body, pressing his face into the smaller male's shoulder. "I really like Kurokocchi." The prince murmured, a slight waver in his voice. "I don't know what I would do without you." He wanted desperately to squeeze Tetsuya in his arms, to never let him go, but neither his arms nor the blue-haired's body had enough strength for that. Soon he couldn't hold his tears in any longer, and his body shook with silent sobs.

The small male's eyes widened as Ryouta hugged him, unsure whether or not he should return the gesture. His blue eyes filled up with tears when the prince spoke, and his arms quickly moved up to wrap around Ryouta's back, rubbing it soothingly as the blond sobbed into his shoulder. The blue-haired squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his shoulder. "I…I also like Kise-kun." Tetsuya replied, his voice softer and more timid than Ryouta's had been. "I've liked Kise-kun for a while."

The blond finally pulled away, rubbing his eyes briefly before looking at the other straight in the eyes, their faces inches apart. Ryouta's hand came up again, stroking Tetsuya's cheek once more before sliding down to his chin, gently tilting his chin up as the prince closed the gap, pressing their lips together in a soft, meaningful kiss.

Tetsuya looked up at him, his cheeks flushing a slightly darker shade of pink as he saw the prince slowly moving in towards him. The blue-haired's eyes shut again, then, after a moment or two, returned the kiss. Ryouta pulled back finally, his hands cupping around either side of Tetsuya's pale, bandaged neck as he smiled at him. Warmth filled the small male's heart, and he smiled back at him.


Epilogue


A few days later, Ryouta was permitted to leave the infirmary, provided that he still remained in bed at all times. His assistant was naturally by his side the entire time and seeing to his every need, as was his job. Tetsuya was focusing so much on helping the prince recover, however, that he spent little time on himself. He never once went back to his own room, hardly getting any sleep and sometimes forgetting to eat meals. On most nights, the blue-haired would sit by his bedside, gently holding his hand and talking to him until he fell asleep; on several occasions Tetsuya would wake up the next morning to discover he had fallen asleep with his head on Ryouta's lap.

"You look really tired today, Kurokocchi!" The prince noted one night, pouting at his exhausted and sleep-deprived assistant as he brought him his evening medicine.

The smaller male rubbed his eyes, blinking to keep himself awake. "I'm fine, Kise-kun." He replied sluggishly, his eyelids growing heavy again.

Ryouta frowned. "No, you're not. C'mon, my bed's big enough; you're sleeping right here tonight." He said, patting the spot next to him on the large bed.

The blue-haired blinked several times. "I couldn't possibly—"

"That's an order, Kurokocchi." He pouted.

Tetsuya sighed tiredly. "Fine. But take your medicine first." The smaller male was happy to see Ryouta's strength slowly returning, and as soon as the prince choked down the rest of the remedy, Tetsuya removed his jacket and hung it over the back of the chair before climbing into the bed next to him.

The blond helped him slip under the covers, then brought his hand up to Tetsuya's forehead, coaxing him to lay down. "You really should lay down, Kurokocchi; you're really tired and you need your rest."

The blue-haired frowned slightly but didn't object, slowly leaning back and resting his head on the pillow. Ryouta lay down as well, turning on his side to look at him. "We wouldn't want you to be getting sick, too; that would be bad!" He added with a smile. When Tetsuya turned his head toward him, the prince stroked his blue hair, gently pushing a lock out of his face before leaning in to press a kiss to his forehead. When the blond pulled back he rolled onto his back again, scooting his body a little closer to Tetsuya's while his hand wandered under the covers to find the blue-haired's hand, slowly lacing their fingers together.

Tetsuya was quickly falling asleep, losing his ability to keep his eyes open. The firelight had dimmed down to small embers, leaving them in almost complete darkness. Suddenly the prince asked. "Kurokocchi? How much do you like me?" He didn't really expect a direct answer, if he even got one, but he was curious even as he was getting sleepy.

There was a long silence, and Ryouta had thought the blue-haired had already fallen asleep when his small, gentle, tired, and beautiful voice said, "A lot."

Happiness welled up inside of him; he squeezed his hand a little bit as a warm smile grew on his lips. He too was falling asleep, but there was one more thing left on his mind before he closed his eyes.

"Kurokocchi?" He asked again.

Silence. Then, the prince heard soft, slow, and even breathing next to him; Tetsuya was definitely asleep.

Smiling again, Ryouta leaned over and planted another soft kiss to his pale cheek. His eyes finally slipped closed as he sighed. "I love you too, Tetsuya." The prince whispered, squeezing his small hand again. "Good night." With that, his eyes shut completely, and he quickly fell asleep, still smiling slightly. At last, Ryouta had found happiness.