Cat Got Your Tongue?
The butler perks up at your words, blinking twice. "What is it, my lady?"You poke at your spongey cake, scooping up a bit of cream with your fork and licking it. The sweet, milky taste fills your mouth and you rest your chin in the palm of your hand. "I would like a room change."
Sugawara glances around the dining hall warily; having not seen any sign of the king anywhere within the vicinity, he replies, "Whatever for?"
"Does this have anything to do with what happened last night after that Aoba Jousai scandal?"
You drop your fork, the silverware clattering loudly in the silent room as you stare at him. Hugging your knees to your chest, you stare down at your plate and give a short bark of a laugh, eyes downcast. "…of course it does."
"It has to do with the king, doesn't it?"
"Like you said before, since when does it not?"
He cocks his head to the side, silver mop of hair flopping into his eyes briefly. "Are you avoiding the king now, Lady (First Name)?"
You stiffen and pull your legs closer to you. "Maybe."
"Care to tell me what happened?"
"He insulted me."
"That's surprising," the butler chuckles.
"Don't laugh at me! I'm serious! He basically called me weak, you know? Because I'm a girl! I'm not a china doll or whatever – I can protect myself. And I have Shadow, too, even though I have no idea where he is right now."
"Very reassuring, my lady. Do you have any rooms in mind that you would like to move to?"
You glance up at the butler, meeting his warm yet steely gaze. His face betrays no emotions save for the concerned smile tugging at his lips. "Um… is my old room still open?"
"The one you stayed in when you first came here? Of course it is. I'll tell someone to prepare it for you immediately." He stands quickly and bows to you before striding out of the room to flag down a maid.
"That suitcase I packed before comes in handy, then," you mumble, leaning back in your chair.
"Yes? Come in, Sugawara," you murmur, having just finished unpacking your suitcase in your old-yet-new room. It's situated down the hall and to the right of the king's, about 150 meters away from your old room. A single rose, dried and withered, sits in the crystal vase on your bedtable.
He pushes open the door and stands in the door frame, chuckling as he watches you flop back on the bed. "I would suggest you prepare for a brief overnight trip tomorrow."
"Why? I just finished unpacking!"
"Have you forgotten? You're to go to Nekoma with His Royal Highness."
"Wait, is tomorrow the meeting to repair diplomatic relations between us and them? I thought that was next week! Dammit, fine, I'll start preparing."
"We leave at five tomorrow morning, my lady. I would advise you go to bed, as it's almost quarter to midnight now."
"Ah, I hate early morning commutes! Why do you do this to me?"
The butler laughs as he steps out of the room and pulls the door closed behind him.
"Must I sit in the same carriage as him?"
"It would be highly impractical to use two, seeing as one carriage can seat four comfortably," Sugawara smiles at you. He bows politely and holds open the carriage doors for you.
You kick the gravel pavement, watching a pebble skitter off past the rear wheels of the vehicle before hiking up your skirt and climbing in. Refusing to glance at the king, who watches you enter, you take a seat diagonally opposite of him.
The three hour ride to Nekoma is stifling. You spend the entire time resting your chin in the palm of your hand, staring out the window at the passing scenery. Your fiancé coughs several times throughout the trip, probably to get your attention; you ignore him, cross your legs, smooth out your skirt, and continue gazing out the window. Rich countryside scenery passes by – golden fields of grain waving in the wind, lush evergreens towering above soft grass, cerulean lakes mirroring an open sky and regal mountains.
After a while, the carriage slows and eventually comes to a stop. Staring out of the window, you gawk at the giant castle. It's tall and imposing, made entirely out of a black stone; a drawbridge stands at attention, spanning the width of a small moat. The building's walls are tall, perhaps 10 meters high, and pennants fly from the top, stamped with the red and black emblem of the Nekoma royal family.
"We've arrived!" The carriage door is pulled open and you clamber out of the vehicle, practically falling onto the ground in your panic to get out of that stuffy room.
"Please compose yourself, Lady (First Name)," Sugawara murmurs as he pulls you off the ground, three suitcases by his side. "You will be judged here, so take care to conduct yourself in a dignified manner." He pauses, then aims a pointed glare at Kageyama. "The same goes for you, too, Your Royal Highness."
"My lord, my lady, welcome to Nekoma."
A smooth voice greets your ears and you look up; the speaker is a somewhat short man with sharp brown eyes and tawny hair. He bows. "My name is Morisuke Yaku, the butler of Nekoma's royal family. I suppose my role is similar to that of Sugawara's here!" He laughs and rubs the back of his head, grinning at you.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Yaku," you murmur as you curtsy, staring wide-eyed at the male.
A soft grunt is heard from behind you and you turn to see your butler elbow the king in the gut. "Greet him!" Sugawara hisses.
"H-Hello," Kageyama manages to force out, bowing stiffly at a perfect 90° angle so that his torso is parallel to the ground.
"I apologize for my fiancé – he's not exactly the best at first impressions," you chuckle, sighing as you move backwards to step on the onyx-haired male's foot, a sign for him to get his act together and to let you do all the talking.
"I will show you to your room," Yaku bows once again.
"Here it is!" Nekoma's butler strides into the large, luxurious room, with one king-sized bed sitting in the middle. "Please take your time in unpacking and refreshing yourselves. You will meet with King Kozume and his advisor, Kuroo, in about an hour. Sugawara, your room is just down the hall from here – you can't miss it. Please call me if you need anything!" With a wave, he leaves the three of you to stand and mull about.
The room is lavishly decorated, Nekoma having pulled out all the stops for your royal diplomatic visit. The walls are a rich vermilion, perfectly complimenting the trio of white roses sitting on the glass table in the center. A black leather couch sits off to the side by the window, framing a breathtakingly gorgeous view of the Nekoma mountain range. The bed's frame is made out of black cherry wood; it has a canopy with an alabaster curtain, the crest of the Nekoma royal family decorating it in a muted currant color.
You stare at the bed. "Sugawara, why is there only one bed?"
"They must have thought that since you two are engaged, you would share one bed," the butler replies, handing you your suitcase and the king his. "Is that a problem? I can get Yaku if you would like to request a room change."
Kageyama and Sugawara both look at you curiously, surprised at your sudden outburst.
You flush and continue in a softer voice. "I meant, no, it's not an issue. I'll just sleep on the couch." Heaving your suitcase over with you, you toss it on the sofa and wave at them standing near the door. "Go on, what are you waiting for? Your Royal Highness, take the bed. Yaku will come for us to meet with the king and his advisor, right? I'm going to take a nap."
The butler nods slowly before backtracking out of the room. "Yes. Once again, if you need anything, I'm right next doo—"
"Got it, thanks!"
Falling back onto the sofa, you sling an arm over your eyes and shut out the brightness of the room as you hear the door close after the butler.
You hug a cushion to your chest.
You cover your head with said cushion.
"(First Name), I order you to reply to me! I want to talk to you!"
You throw it at the king. "Shut up. You're annoying."
"Please come this way, sir, ma'am," Yaku says, pushing open the grand mahogany doors. Inside is a sparsely furnished room, the walls covered with a rich black oak paneling and yet more of the royal family's crest. He turns to look at Nekoma's king and his advisor, sitting in the center of the room. "When you finish talking, Your Highness, sir, please call for me!" The butler slips out, the doors shutting with a resounding boom! behind him.
You nudge your fiancé in the side and begin to walk towards the two males. One, a blonde, is perched on the edge of his throne, his golden cat-like eyes fixed on the ground. He glances up to see you approaching him and looks away again.
"Your Royal Highness, King Kozume, my name is (First Name/Last Name), the royal advisor and fiancé of King Kageyama. It is my pleasure to meet you." You sweep your skirt and curtsy deeply to him.
"Kenma is fine," he murmurs, eyes still fixated on the plush red carpet lining the floor.
"Kenma is fine."
"O-Oh. Then, if I may have the honor, King Kenma," you say, tucking a lock of hair behind your ear as you stick a hand out to him.
He takes it and shakes it quickly, his grip soft and fleeting and his fingers rough and callused.
You turn your attention to his advisor. The black-haired male leans back in his seat, leering at you; his eyes narrow as he smiles, the expression not reaching his feline eyes. His fingers form a small steeple in front of him as he crosses his legs.
"Mr. Kuroo? It is my pleasure to greet you today," you smile, trying your best not to flinch or back away from the male as you curtsy. You stick out your hand for him to shake.
"The pleasure is all mine," he purrs, taking your hand and planting a chaste kiss to the tips of your fingers.
You resist the urge to pull your digits away from him. "Lovely to meet you." Taking a step back, you push your fiancé towards them. "Greet them, Kageyama."
He greets them quickly, this time not bowing as stiffly; it seems that at least he knows how to conduct himself in the presence of royals, however rude he may be to you on a daily basis.
The two of you sit across from the Nekoma royalty and advisor and you begin talking, pulling out a notepad and a pen. "Let's get down to business, shall we?"
Kenma tears his eyes off the floor long enough to focus on you, eyes widening as he listens to you talk. His advisor leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees, tilting his head at an angle as he watches you with narrowed eyes and thin lips. Your fiancé glares stubbornly at the wall behind Kenma and Kuroo, one leg crossed over the other and jaw set in a firm line.
"Thank you for meeting with us today, King Kenma and Mr. Kuroo!" You curtsy to them, glaring at Kageyama to do the same. He follows suit, albeit slowly and reluctantly. "We shall see you at dinner, then. Thank you for your courtesy and hospitality!"
You have one foot out the door when Kuroo's deep timbre stops you in your tracks. "(First Name), we have a man called General Sawamura who insisted on meeting you today. We captured him as a prisoner of war and we would like to return him to you as an act of goodwill in light of the pleasant talk we just had."
"Is that so?" You turn smartly on your heel and regard Kuroo with a level gaze. "We would be delighted to meet with him."
"We? The two kings have much to discuss, no? I'm afraid it will just be you and the general. King Kageyama, if you wouldn't mind staying here…?" Kuroo rises and walks over to you, standing next to you with one hand resting on your shoulder. Your fiancé glares at him but does as he says, moving back to sit in front of Kenma.
"General Sawamura is this way, (First Name)." He grips both of your shoulders and steers you out of the room.
"Kageyama! Behave, alright?" You manage to call over your shoulder before Kuroo closes the door behind him.
The general is seated in front of a table in a modestly furnished room; he turns at the sound of the door opening.
"Hello, General," you smile, pulling out a chair and sitting across from the male. "I don't believe we've properly met before. (First Name/Last Name), at your service!"
"Daichi Sawamura," he nods. "Former General of the Karasuno army, but you already know that."
"I'll leave you two here to discuss what you want," Kuroo says as he closes the door.
"He's probably eavesdropping, isn't he?" you deadpan.
"Probably," the male in front of you laughs. "I wouldn't put it past him to do so."
You lean back in your chair, arching your back as you stretch your arms up to the sky. Sighing contentedly, you stare at the general. "Kuroo strikes me as a sort of shadow king."
"King Kenma seems so… timid. I guess that's an okay word to describe him. He doesn't seem to care too much about anything and he seems a bit shy. On the other hand, Kuroo seems like the real ruler here, don't you think?"
"Don't underestimate Kenma Kozume. He's a genius at battle strategies, you know! Why do you .think Karasuno's never won against Nekoma?"
"Dunno. If that's true, then we were pretty stupid to invade Nekoma if Kenma is such an astute strategist, yeah?"
The general sighs, running a hand through his black hair. "Yeah. Hey, Lady (First Name), I wanted to talk to you about the war. Well, about the war and your fiancé."
You raise an eyebrow. "What about it?"
"Remember how, after the people rebelled and Nekoma pulled out, Karasuno's citizens seemed fine with him assuming the throne?"
"Yeah. It was weird, especially since he was the one who instigated the war in a sense."
The general shakes his head and sighs. "They were okay with it because—well, I don't know if Sugawara told you or not, but a general took the fall for Kageyama. Specifically, I took the fall for Kageyama."
"What? You're joking right?" You grasp the edge of your seat, fingers splayed across the swirling wood grains; your knuckles turn an off-white, sickly color and you grit your teeth. "Why would you do that?"
"I promised his parents that I'd watch out for him. That's kind of how I ended up here, too." He chuckles and smiles again at you, this time widely and wholeheartedly. "I owed his parents because they took me in and helped me when I was on the streets causing trouble, so…"
"Kageyama really owes you now, then," you muse.
"He doesn't have to pay me back; I did it willingly. It's the least I could do, after all, saving their son… It's a pity they're not here anymore, but anyways, I wanted to talk about him with you." He stands to hover over you, gripping both of your shoulders as his eyes bore into yours. "Thank you."
You flush at the close contact and turn your head away, staring down at the floor. "What for?"
"For… helping Kageyama. I know it's hard since I've worked with him, especially with how tyrannical he can be on the front lines. Remember that? When you visited the army with him?"
"Yeah, I remember. But I didn't really help him much since then."
"You're his fiancé. He wouldn't have proposed to just anybody, you know," he chuckles, hitting you lightly on the head.
A wan smile tugs at your lips. "He didn't really propose all that wonderfully, either, but that's a different story. I really don't think I did anything, though."
"No, you changed him! The old Kageyama wouldn't have come to establish better diplomatic relations with Nekoma. The old Kageyama wouldn't even consider it! He would have been selfish and wouldn't have cared about the country, but it's obvious that now he does care because he came here for Karasuno's sake, yeah? He also wouldn't have agreed to marry anybody back then, either. He hated those aristocratic ladies in his court!" Sawamura stands up this time and looks down at you, patting your head. "So, thank you."
"I swear, I didn't do anything that warrants thanks. I just fight with him a lot… you know? I fight with him a lot and honestly, I don't think he even listens to me. I don't even do all that much as an advisor."
"You're the one who wanted to have this diplomatic meeting. I heard about it from Mr. Kuroo before. He said that a spunky advisor of Kageyama's wanted to meet with him and King Kozume. Somehow you managed to convince Kageyama to come along, too."
"If he didn't come, it'd be useless. But I swear, I don't do anything! It wasn't me at all – I didn't do anything! Please, stop bowing to me!"
The male looks up at you from his 90° bow. "But you're the reason I can go home, aren't you?"
You freeze at his words, then exhale loudly, running a shaky hand through your (hair color) locks. "I guess I am, if you put it that way."
"Thank you! I think I speak for his parents as well as for him when I say that, but really. Thank you, Lady (First Name)."
"You knew his parents before, yeah?"
The general nods. "Why?"
"Then you knew him as a little boy, right? What was he like? Was he always so… brutish? Rough? Easily angered? Annoying?"
"He was actually very sweet," Sawamura laughs. "He always followed me around and asked me to teach him stuff about the military. Young Kageyama was really eager to learn about it all – he even asked King Oikawa of Aoba Jousai to tutor him in strategies. They were like brothers before and he idolized Oikawa, that he did."
You cock your head and pretend to rub your chin like an old man, assuming your thinking pose. "He sounds so cute back then. Where did he go wrong?"
"In all honesty, I'm not sure. Maybe we spoiled him too much, or perhaps Oikawa snapped? He can only take so much. In all honesty, I don't entirely know the answer to that question."
"Knock knock! Time's up."
You turn to glance back at the door, where the voice came from and where Kuroo now stands. His dangerous feline smile dances on his lips, his bedhead hairdo pressed against the doorframe. His legs are crossed as he leans against the door and he gestures towards you with a beckoning finger. "Lady (First Name), it's time for dinner."
"Can General Sawamura join us?"
Kuroo narrows his eyes at the male sitting across from you, scrutinizing him from head to toe before clucking once. "General, since you are to be released into their custody soon, I see no reason to refuse. Join us for dinner. My lady, your carriage will be readied while you eat and your party shall depart for Karasuno tomorrow morning. It was a pleasure meeting you."
It's midday when you reach the Karasuno castle, probably around 11am or 12pm. You flop back onto your bed in your old room, eyeing the withered roses sitting on your bedside table. "I should get somebody to change the water and get new roses."
A knock sounds at your door. "(First Name)."
You immediately stiffen at the voice. King Kageyama. "What do you want?"
"Open the door."
"Why? What do you want?"
"I said, open the door."
"Answer the question. What do you want?"
There's silence on his end before you hear a resigned sigh. "I want to talk to you. About stuff. So open the door."
You stand up and pad over to the entryway, slowly pulling it open.
In front of you stands the king, hair flying all over the place, cheeks tinted a rough shade of pink, collar disheveled, shirt cuffs wrinkled and creased. His lips are pulled into a pout and his eyes flicker to yours briefly before he glances down at the floor again.
"This is for you." He shoves a teddy bear into your arms (the same one you returned to him). It's holding six red roses, the de-thorned flowers held together with a (favorite color) silk ribbon tied in an elegant bow. Hanging from the silk ribbon is a simple gold wedding band.
Suddenly given a teddy bear holding many items, you almost drop it but manage to keep your grip on it. You stare down at it, then glance back up at your fiancé. "This bear is a mess, you know?"
He pushes past you and stalks into your room. "I know."
"Is this your way of saying sorry?"
"Would you prefer another method?" He turns to look at you, a horrifying grin plastered across his face.
"Just stop smiling. That's enough of an 'I'm sorry' present," you murmur, floating past the hurt king to the vase with the roses in it. You take the crystal vessel and place it on the floor next to the table, then proceed to separate the six roses from the plush; you place the flowers down next to your bed.
Having finished that, you untie the ring from the ribbon and slide it onto your left ring finger. It hangs loosely from your digit. "It's a bit big, Kageyama."
He flushes. "It's not like I could measure your finger."
You glance over at his hands, clenched into fists on his lap. A matching metal band is visible on his left ring finger as well and you sit next to him, hugging your teddy to your chest as you place your left hand on his.
It's been half a year since you got that engagement ring from your fiancé, half a year with minimal fighting, half a year without much drama happening in the country. It's been a peaceful half a year, that much is true.
As the future queen of the country and as the advisor of the king, you've been taking audiences with Karasuno's citizens for the past few months. They seem to like coming to you, since you have the power to induce change (being the king's fiancé and advisor) and since you're relatable and easy to talk to (since you were a normal resident before, once upon a time).
"Lady (First Name), a citizen requests an audience with you."
"Alright! Send them right in!" You lean back in your chair in the royal audience chamber, stretching your arms and legs before sitting upright to greet the citizen that just walked in. "Hi! Please have a seat," you say, gesturing to the plush chair in front of you. "How can I help you?"
The old lady hobbles to the chair and gently eases herself into it, resting her gnarled wooden cane in her lap. "Good afternoon, Lady (First Name). I actually have a question for you about the Karasuno military."
Your ears perk up. The military hasn't been up to much, aside from its regular training. "What regarding it concerns you?"
"I'm an old woman, you see – I'm almost 80 and I love my family very much. I love my son very much, I love my daughter-in-law very much, and I love my grandchildren very much."
You nod, jotting something down in your notepad before returning your focus back to her. "Go on."
"There's a new military draft and I'm afraid that my son will be drafted. Why do we need it? We just got out of a war with Nekoma recently – are we going to war again, Lady (First Name)? I just want to know why. My son has a family, and ever since my husband died, he's the only one I have. I don't want to lose him, but if we have to go to war…" she shakes her head, squeezing her eyes shut and gripping her cane tightly. "I only wish to know why there's a draft, my lady, if that's not too much to ask."
There's a draft? "I will look into the reason why, ma'am, I promise." You stand and walk over to the hunched over grandmother, taking her hands into yours as you meet her anxious gaze with your determined one. "I will find out why and I will tell you. Until now I was unaware of the draft, so the king must have acted on his own to order it. But as soon as I find out why, you will be the first to know."
She nods, smiling. "I'm glad the country is in capable hands like yours, my lady."
"Thank you. What is your name? I will be in contact with you," you murmur, going back to your chair to get your pen and paper.
"Ukai. I live in town – ask for Grandma Ukai and anybody will be able to show you the way." The old lady nods at you and begins her slow walk out of the chamber. "Thank you for your help, my lady."
You watch her back recede into the distance until the grand doors slam shut behind her. "I thought drafts were illegal… what did Kageyama do this time?"