Disclaimer: I own none of the characters except for OC's
On the Corner of the Asphalt
The sun was hanging high in the sky, casting its warm glow across palace's land, perfect for hanging clothes out to dry.
Haruka had just finished washing and drying all of the prince's clothes, placing them all in a large wooden basket.
Suddenly, a flurry of voices caught Haruka's attention. Letting curiosity get the better of her, she rushed over to where all the noise was coming from. She arrived near the front of the palace just in time to see the Guardian Patrol arrive through the front gates.
Unlike last time she saw them, many of the soldiers were wounded and was surprised to see that the group was missing quite a few members.
"Looks like it was pretty bad this time." One of the guards commented.
"Must have run into a pretty nasty Guardian to have ended up like this." Another replied.
Haruka's gaze lingered on the injured before deciding it would be best to get back to her duties. As she turned around to head back to the back, she failed to notice a pair of blue eyes look in her direction.
Once Haruka was done loading the basket with laundry, she proceeded to lift it despite barely being able to handle the weight.
As she carried the laundry back to the palace, her foot suddenly hit a rock and sent her hurtling towards the ground.
"Whoa there!" a voice cried out.
Instead of hitting the ground, Haruka was surprised to find herself still upright and felt most of the weight taken off of the laundry.
"Heh, that was a close one."
Haruka glanced around the pile and was surprised to see the blond-haired Guardian Patroller in training.
Syo moved and took the basket from Haruka's arms.
"Ah! Kurusu-kun, you don't need to-"
"Let me help," Syo replied before turning away slightly. "Consider this as an apology a couple months ago."
"What happened a cou-" Haruka started before remembering how Syo had witlessly dumped the Guardian Patrol's equipment on her.
Syo turned his face away in embarrassment, causing Haruka to panic slightly.
"Oh no, don't worry about it. Though it seemed as if you had it harder than I did."
The events from a couple days ago came back to Syo, causing a grim expression to cross over his face.
Noticing his expression, Haruka looked at him in concern. "Is everything all right?"
Syo flinched before shaking his head. "Y-Yeah! It's just…never mind."
Before Haruka could question him about what he meant, she heard someone call out to them.
Both of them paused to glance over to see Natsuki rushing over to them. Syo visibly flinched at the sight of the taller man. However, before he could respond in any way, Natsuki caught Syo in a crushing bear hug, knocking the basket he was holding out of his hands.
"Welcome back, Syo-chan!" Natsuki said with a large smile on his face, ignoring the pile of laundry that was now scattered all over the ground.
"GAH! LET GO OF ME!" Syo shouted as he desperately tried to pry himself out of Natsuki's grip.
Haruka watched the two in confusion before Syo finally managed to break free and stumble several steps away from them.
"Are you trying to kill me?! I could hardly breathe!"
"Ah, sorry," Natsuki apologized sheepishly. "It's just been a long time since you've been around."
Syo let out an annoyed groan before noticing the clean laundry strewn out all over the ground.
"Ah! Look at what you did!" Syo cried as Haruka bent down to start collecting the fallen clothing.
Natsuki apologized again, though Haruka reassured him that it was an accident and thankfully it looked like none of the clothes got dirty. Syo and Natsuki both helped collect the clothing off the ground and back into the basket.
"How do you two know each other?" Haruka asked as she folded the laundry again.
"We used to be roommates when Syo-chan was still a servant," Natsuki explained. "Though he was very careless and didn't always do the job well…"
"Okay, okay, she gets it!" Syo quickly cut in.
Haruka couldn't help but chuckle at the two's exchange.
"So, how long are you here for?" Natsuki asked.
Syo's expression fell before answering slowly, "I'm…going to be staying here for a while."
"Really?!" Natsuki said as his face lit up. "That's great! That means we'll have more time to catch up!"
"Yeah…great." Syo said with a tinge of bitterness.
Once they were done refolding the laundry, Syo helped bring laundry basket inside for Haruka. Natsuki had gone off ahead of them to continue his own work, much to Syo's relief. This allowed the two to talk comfortably. Though she found it quite amusing how worked up Syo would get around Natsuki. However, she could understand why Natsuki's tendencies could easily tired Syo out.
Haruka was surprised how well she seemed to get along with Syo, despite their rough first encounter. He was actually a lot nicer than she had expected despite his hotheaded tendencies.
When they arrived at the prince's room, Syo set the basket down and excused himself, saying there were still other things he had to do. Haruka thanked him before he flashed her a smile and quickly rushed off.
After tucking the last shirt away in the prince's dresser, Haruka glanced over at the clock to see it was nearly time for Masato's afternoon tea.
Since first working for the prince, Haruka's workload had been progressively getting more and more busy. Not that she minded since if she didn't have anything to do, she felt as if she wasn't earning her keep. Her stay at the palace so far was a pleasant experience; save for the several screw-ups that occurred when she first arrived. Haruka couldn't help but giggle lightly upon remembering her mistakes and was happy to say that she did learn from them.
Glancing out the window, Haruka wondered what else the future held in store for her.
She placed the freshly made tea on the tray and headed down towards Masato's office. Upon her arrival at his office, she found Masato writing furiously on a document while his other hand was holding the side of his head.
"Your Highness?" Haruka called out hesitantly.
Masato didn't respond as he continued writing. Taking it as a sign he was extremely busy, Haruka came over and placed the tea tray on the side of his desk, taking care not to place it where he would accidentally knock it over.
She quietly excused herself, promising to come back later for the empty dishes.
Haruka paused just as she was reaching for the doorknob and turned around to see Masato running a hand through his hair.
He glanced up at her apologetically as he set down his pen on the desk.
"I didn't mean to ignore you," Masato said with a sigh. "This paperwork has just been piling up lately that I couldn't afford any distractions."
Lately, Masato has been holed up in his office doing work and Haruka noticed the bags under his eyes. She wondered what was going on outside the palace walls that would cause this much work.
Haruka gave him an understanding smile. "It's fine, I know you're busy."
Another sigh escaped Masato's lips. "That doesn't excuse the lack of manners I've shown you. I apologize."
"No, no, it's fine, really," Haruka said, waving her hands in front of her. "I understand."
Masato reached up and rubbed his temples, exhaling deeply. "I've been in this office for too long."
"You have been working nonstop for several days…Maybe you should go out and get some fresh air." Haruka suggested, thinking a nice walk would help ease his nerves.
The prince glanced up at her in surprise before he brought up a hand to his chin in contemplation.
"Hm…then how about we go to the marketplace?"
"Eh?" Haruka said, completely caught off guard. When she suggested to him that he should get some fresh air, she was thinking more along the lines of the garden or just outside the palace. Not beyond the palace's gates!
"W-Wait, you're not seriously suggesting we leave the palace, are you?" Haruka asked in a panic.
"What else would I be suggesting?" Masato asked.
Haruka didn't know how to respond. Since working for him, Haruka had never known the prince to make jokes. Judging from his expression, she could tell he was dead serious.
"U-Um…I don't think it's a good idea to just leave like that. I mean, wouldn't it worry a lot of people for you to suddenly leave? I don't think it's normal for a future ruler to be let out to wander the streets."
"No need to worry, I always take the necessary precautions to ensure no one notices my departure." Masato replied in an almost too casual manner.
'He sounds way too calm about this…' Haruka thought to herself.
However, she recalled how she first met him while he was wandering the streets of the marketplace. Not only that, but he had also met Otoya the same way. It almost seemed like him sneaking out of the palace was a regular occurrence. Though she never recalled him ever missing since she started working for him. Though she figured he probably could have since she is not always with him. Now that she thought about it, there were times when Jii was frantically running all over the palace.
"Well, shall we be on our way?" Masato said, snapping Haruka out of her thoughts.
"Huh?" Haruka said in surprise. "The both of us?"
"Why not?" Masato asked. "A walk is more pleasant with company."
"I suppose it is…" Haruka said, absent-mindedly tucking her hair behind her ear. "But how do we avoid being noticed?"
Masato stood from his desk and walked over to the door. "Follow me."
Haruka stood outside of Masato's room, waiting for him to change. He had told her that he would devise a plan to sneak out of the palace. Despite his words, Haruka wasn't sure how it would work.
Masato had spoken a quick word to Otoya and Haruka wondered what he was planning. Judging from the worried look on Otoya's face, she could only determine that something bad was going to happen.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Masato, having finished changing, came out of his room. He wore a brown vest over a baggy, long sleeved shirt. His black boots reached almost to his knees and sported a dark hat with a feather attached to the side to conceal his hairstyle.
A giggle nearly escaped from Haruka's lips. Baggy clothing didn't quite look right on him.
Her giggling immediately ceased when a loud crash sounded down the hall.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Syo's voice resounded through the hallways.
"Kurusu-kun?" Haruka gasped, wondering what was happening as several more crashes sounded.
"Looks like that's our cue." Masato said.
He reached over and took Haruka's hand in his and hastily led her down the hall towards the back.
Haruka let out a squeak of surprise. "W-What happened?!"
"I'll explain later," Masato said. "We have to hurry though.
Before Haruka could protest, Masato tugged her down a corridor.
As they ran, Haruka felt his hand tighten around hers, making sure they would not be separated. Haruka couldn't help but blush at his actions and gazed up at him. His back was currently facing her so she couldn't see his face. Her gaze lingered on his back and was quite surprised by how broad it was.
Despite his prim and proper appearance, Haruka was surprised to notice that he is actually quite well built.
'I never noticed before…' Haruka thought to herself.
Haruka snapped out of her reverie when she noticed Masato leading her down a hallway she did not recognize. It wasn't long until they hit a dead end, much to Haruka's confusion. At the end of the hall was a fine display with the Kamo palace's symbol. On the sides were two dried-up fountains.
"Hold on." Masato said as he let go of Haruka's hand for a moment and walked over to the left fountain.
He pushed slightly against the wall and surprised Haruka by how it actually creaked open, revealing a hidden passage.
"What…?" Haruka said in shock.
"Come, we'll talk on the way. We can't risk someone spotting us." Masato said, motioning for her to hurry inside the tunnel.
Though Haruka was hesitant to delve into the dark passage, she swallowed her nervousness and stepped through the entrance. Masato quickly closed the door behind them and hurried along the dark underground passage.
"This way." Masato said, extending his hand out to Haruka to take.
Haruka immediately took his hand without a second thought, not finding the idea of being lost in the dark caverns favorable.
"W-What is this place?" Haruka asked as she nervously looked around.
Her eyes had yet to adjust to the darkness and relied solely on Masato guiding her.
"It's a hidden passage that I happened to find a while back when I was exploring as a child," Masato explained. "I assume it was used as an alternative escape route in case there was an invasion or so. It leads a little past the front gates. Don't worry, it won't take too long."
After several minutes of walking through the dark passage, a wave of uneasiness suddenly came over Haruka. Something about this place didn't sit right with her and it made her stomach squish uncomfortably. She unconsciously squeezed Masato's hand, possibly out of habit whenever faced with something that intimidated her.
It was then that he noticed Haruka's hand trembling in his.
"It's all right." Masato said gently as he squeezed back reassuringly. "We're almost there."
Somehow his words were able to ease some of the tension Haruka felt. Though it didn't erase all of the fear and anxiety she held, it was comforting to know that he was there. She held onto his hand a little tighter, focusing on the warmth that emanated from it rather than the darkness around her.
"Nanami." Masato said after a while.
Haruka opened her eyes and was relieved to see light up ahead.
Finally, they had reached the outside and Haruka was relieved to be able to breath in fresh air. Looking back towards the entrance, it was rather small and was hidden by several large rocks, making it difficult to spot.
"I felt as if we would be walking down there forever." Haruka said with a sigh of relief.
"Erm…Nanami," Masato mumbled.
Haruka looked over at Masato curiously. "Hm? What is it?"
The prince was currently looking down and when Haruka followed his gaze, she realized he was looking at their still linked hands.
"Ah!" Haruka squeaked in embarrassment before quickly letting go of his hand. "I'm sorry!"
"I-It's fine…" Masato stuttered slightly, a light layer of red spreading across his face. "Why don't we continue on our way towards the market?"
Haruka nodded before following after Masato as they made their way towards the path that lead to town.
"Hmm, what should I do?" Masato pondered thoroughly.
Haruka couldn't help but giggle at the sight of the prince in such a dilemma over what kind of bread he wanted to buy.
When they had arrived at the marketplace, Masato seemed to have an idea of what he wanted to do. Little did Haruka expect that buying bread was what he had in mind. Since Masato had come to the marketplace several times before, he knew exactly which bakery had the best selections. Haruka was also surprised that the bakery was fairly cheap and not at all like the sort of place someone of royalty would think of going.
Masato was looking at the selection with bright eyes, trying to figure out which ones to choose. Haruka found it rather endearing how excited Masato was about the different bread rolls. The way the prince was acting almost made him look like a child, though Haruka thought better than to say that out loud.
In the end, he stuffed nearly a dozen into a sack to bring home.
"That's…" Haruka started, amazed by how much he bought.
"It's not everyday I get to have this luxury," Masato replied. "It has to last until next time I can sneak out of the palace."
'The prince is really weird…' Haruka thought with an amused smile.
Afterwards, the two headed off and sat down on a short, stonewall that lined the roadside. Masato opened his sack and rifled through it, trying to decide which one to eat first. When he finally pulled one out, he offered it over to Haruka.
"Eh?" Haruka said in surprise, looking from the bread roll to Masato.
Masato lifted an eyebrow. "You didn't think I bought all this for myself, did you?"
Haruka smiled. "I don't know, from how excited you looked upon getting them I wouldn't be surprised."
An embarrassed blush spread across Masato's face before he looked away. "I-I'm not a glutton!"
Haruka couldn't help but giggle at his expression before taking the offered bread roll from his hand.
"You're welcome," Masato said, the corners of his mouth lifting into a small smile. "If you want more, don't hesitate to ask."
Haruka nodded with a smile before taking a bite from her roll. Although the outside was a little firm, the inside was soft and had the right amount of balance of sweetness.
She glanced over at Masato to see him eating the roll in bliss. His eyes were closed and seemed to be reveling in the taste as he took each bite.
The sight made her smile, having never seen Masato look such at ease. At the palace he was always on edge and stressed from all his responsibilities. It was a nice change to see him so relaxed and enjoying himself.
"So," Haruka said, deciding to try and make conversation. "How did you find out where that passageway lead to?"
Masato swallowed the bite that he had in his mouth before answering, "It was actually Jinguji who found the opening. We were both exploring parts of the palace that were unfamiliar."
"On the other hand, I never utilized the tunnel passageway until about three years ago." Masato explained.
"Why only three years ago if you found it when you were little?" Haruka asked curiously.
"That's…" Masato paused. "Well…I guess you could say I did not fair very well in dark places back then."
'He was scared.' Haruka realized.
Judging from his rather embarrassed expression, Haruka was sure she was right. However, she did wonder why he decided to use the tunnel in the first place, especially since he probably didn't know where it lead to begin with. She decided to push the thought aside, not wanting to pry into anything too personal if he wasn't comfortable talking about it.
The two talked a little more about different topics before settling into a comfortable silence while they ate again.
After a while Haruka started to hum her grandmother's song.
Whenever Haruka felt down or depressed, her grandmother would always sing her that song to cheer her up. She wondered how her grandmother was doing at the medical clinic. There were so many things she wanted to tell her and Haruka missed her dearly.
The song had an upbeat and hopeful melody, always putting Haruka in a better mood whenever she remembered the lyrics.
The sudden voice broke Haruka out of her thoughts and immediately snapped her attention over to the young man sitting beside her. His expression showed a mixture of shock and disbelief, much to Haruka's confusion.
"Is something wrong? Was my humming bothering you?" Haruka asked.
"N-No…" Masato said before quickly averting his gaze. "I apologize. It's nothing."
With that, they fell back into silence.
For the rest of their time eating, Masato and Haruka held their usual conversations, acting if the earlier incident didn't happen. Though he claimed it was nothing, Haruka still wondered why he had acted the way that he did. The way he had looked at her was as if he had come to a shocking realization.
Masato had kept fairly quiet on the way back to the palace, seemingly deep in thought. He would still drop in a word or two when Haruka would try to bring up a conversation. It was reassuring that he wasn't acting cold and detached, so Haruka hoped whatever was bothering him wasn't too serious.
When they arrived discreetly back at the palace, Masato asked Haruka to prepare him some tea and meet him in his office. He then headed to his room to change out of his "commoner clothing."
He hadn't touched his tea before they had set out on their little adventure so Haruka figured she would make him another cup. After a few minutes of preparation, Haruka exited the kitchen and down the hall towards Masato's office.
Upon arrival, she politely knocked on the door. She heard Masato give a low "come in" before twisting the knob and stepped into the room.
Haruka walked over to his desk and set the newly brewed tea on the side.
"Thank you." Masato said rather absent-mindedly.
The prince looked as if he was deep in thought and Haruka wondered what was on his mind. Especially since he had been acting strange since returning back from the market.
Before any words could be said, the door to his office flung open, nearly causing the two to jump from the sudden intrusion.
Standing in the doorway was an enraged-looking Syo.
"HIJIRIKAWA!" Syo shouted as he slammed the door shut behind him before he pointed accusingly at the blue-haired man.
"What the hell kind of prank were you trying to pull?! I could have been killed!"
Haruka suddenly remembered the shout from earlier, having forgotten about the whole ordeal that allowed them to escape the palace. She glanced over at Masato, wondering what in the world did he do.
"I think that last bit is over exaggerating," Masato said calmly.
"Over exaggerating?!" Syo seethed. "I could have been kicked out of the palace because you wanted to go play outside!"
Masato was silent before he pulled out a box from underneath this desk. "Here."
Syo narrowed his eyes and tilted his head in suspicion. "W-What is that?"
"Take is as consolation. I apologize for making you a distraction so that I may have some time to leave the palace."
Masato stood from his seat and bowed genuinely. Haruka's eyes widen in shock at this display. Never would she have imagined a prince bow to a common man out of apology.
Syo's shoulders sagged and he let out a huff, eyeing the box that was still sitting on top of the desk. He eventually reached over and accepted the box, examining the outside of the package.
"You're lucky I respect you, Hijirikawa or else I probably would have committed treason after that stunt you pulled on me."
Masato merely chuckled. "I'm grateful. In case you're wondering, that box contains a meal that I personally made."
Syo's eyes immediately lit up in excitement. "Really?! All right!"
"You can cook?!" Haruka said in disbelief.
"Why do you sound so surprised?" Masato asked.
"It's just that…I assumed that the servants would always provide you with meals."
"Well that may be the case whenever I am too busy or the servants insist I be served. But I feel you shouldn't leave to others what you can do yourself, lest you become a spoiled child," Masato said thoughtfully. "Besides, I quite enjoy the art of culinary."
"Y-Your Highness…" Haruka said with her eyes sparkling with admiration, causing the prince to flinch slightly.
"E-Erm…" Masato mumbled in embarrassment
Syo snorted before breaking out in a hearty laugh after witnessing the two's exchange.
"His cooking is pretty good, surprisingly enough," Syo said with a chuckle.
"You've had his cooking before?" Haruka asked in surprise.
Syo nodded. "When I was still a servant, he'd often give me whatever leftovers he made since I would have to go hungry whenever Natsuki cooked. You could say we bonded through our stomachs!"
"Indeed. You've been away quite often since becoming a Guardian Patrol Apprentice. I would have thought you'd forgotten about my cooking."
"I can't tell if you're trying to be modest or cocky…"
The tension that had built up earlier had all but disappeared as Syo excitedly examined the contents in the box. Haruka's gaze eventually softened, realizing how much respect ran between the two young men. Though she wasn't aware of what kind of bond they had, it was clear that Masato treasured it just as he did with the other servants. It was then that Haruka wondered if Masato felt the same way about her that he did with the others.
Upon realizing her thoughts, Haruka quickly shook her head. They had only known each other for a few months. There was no way that he would feel that strongly about his relationship with her, especially since there were so many things she didn't know about him. However, it didn't stop a light blush to spread across her face.
"Ah, I can't wait to eat this," Syo said happily as he closed the box so that he could save it for later.
"Before you leave, I actually have something else that was waiting for you." Masato said.
He started rummaging through his desk again before he pulled out a small envelope. Syo nodded a thanks and took it.
"It arrived a few days before you arrived. I believe it's from your family."
Syo looked at him in surprise before softening his expression. "I see. Thanks."
He shoved the envelope into his pocket and bowed before excusing himself. At the doorway, Syo paused and glanced back over at Masato with a grin.
"The meal better be good or else I'll be back to give you another earful."
Masato huffed in amusement and returned the grin. "I wouldn't put it past you."
Once Syo left, Haruka turned back to Masato. "You're much too kind, your Highness."
His cheeks turned slightly rosy at the comment as he coughed awkwardly. "Servants are people too. I don't see why I shouldn't treat them as such."
Haruka couldn't help but give him a warm smile. The prince was much nicer than he let on and it warmed her heart to see how nicely he treated his servants. She had always assumed that rulers would be stuck up rich people who only thought of themselves and their own wellbeing. After meeting Masato and getting to know him more, she felt guilty for thinking that way.
"Oh! I almost forgot to thank you for the earlier outing."
Masato tensed slightly but quickly shrugged it off and gave her a small smile. "No, I should be the one thanking you for coming along. I also apologize if the situation during our escape made you uncomfortable."
"Well…I guess it was a little exciting as well. I had fun." Haruka said happily.
"That's good. I'm glad."
"In any case, I should hurry up and attend my other duties before the sun sets," Haruka said as she bowed before excusing herself. "I'll see you tomorrow, your Highness."
"Yes." Masato replied as Haruka exited his office.
Syo sat down on his bunk in the shared Guardian Patrol quarters, grunting slightly at the stiffness of the mattress. He placed the meal Masato had made for him to the side for the moment before taking out the letter from home. Quickly opening the small envelope, Syo viewed the contents and allowed a soft expression to cross over his features as he looked at the last sentence.
"Don't push yourself. – Kaoru"
A small chuckle escaped from Syo's mouth before folding the note and placing it back into the envelope.
"Always the worrywart."
With that, he tucked the envelope back into his pocket. Syo wearily slouched over, hanging his head in defeat.
"…I really screwed up."
A/N: Wow! This took a really long time to update, I apologize. It had been a mixture of writer's block, school and just not feeling up to writing. In short, I'm surprised I actually finished this chapter. I also generally don't really feel the need to finish the chapter unless the chapter before reaches 100 views. That's when I know I should hurry. XD Thank you to those who have continued to read this. Your support means a lot!
And just to clear things up, Syo is not responding to what Masato pulled on him. He's upset about the reason why he has to stay at the palace for a while. That will be revealed later. And for what Masato's escape plan...use your imagination. ^_^ I know what he did, but I wasn't sure where to actually explain what happened.
One more thing. For those who have noticed, I added the honorfics in this chapter. Since a friend of mine commented how without them it kind of lost their charms, I decided to add them in. However, if you want to read this story without them, I'll remove them and if do like it this way, I'll go back and add them to the previous chapters. I personally like them referring to each other with honorifics since it kind of shows how they refer to each other and their relationship. However, it is up to you!