Warnings: If there are spoilers, they're for Adolescence Mokushiroku (the Utena movie) even though this story doesn't take place in the Adolescence universe. (Hmm, you can tell it's Utena fanfiction when even the warning doesn't make sense). Many thanks to Kate Ramsay for a superb beta over cake and coffee, and please don't blame her if in places I left crumbs.
Disclaimer? There are many different types of non-profit love. This one is a hidden love. Hidden. Love.
(No one asked you).
|The Prince and the Pauper
by !Super Cat
They met under unusual circumstances, in a field of cabbages. The faint sounds of late afternoon were humming in the background. Insects, birds. Not too many insects. Earlier, butterflies had hovered over the field like a white cloud, but they had long since lifted up and spiralled away.
"You've got cabbage leaves in your hair."
Touga blinked, lifting a small hand uncertainly.
"What happened?" asked the boy, leaning on the handlebars of his bike.
"I fell over." Touga, kneeling with his shirt torn and his legs askew, began to slowly pick out the cabbage leaves, a process of unravelling the long, slightly mussed strands of his hair.
"How come your hair's so long?" The boy waited, watching him.
"I don't know. My father likes it."
"That's a dumb reason."
For a while, they stared at each other. Well, the boy stared. Touga stared too, sort of, but the sun was in his eyes. He didn't shade them, he just gazed up, blindly. The boy said, "Hey, want to come riding?"
"All right," said Touga, who didn't think he could stand up. He hadn't been able to before.
But now he had a reason. He stood up, at first unsteadily. His long pants had little green stains on the knees. Like grass stains, only from cabbage leaves. Concentrating hard, he found that he could stand without shaking. He could stand and he could do up all the buttons on his shirt.
Now that his head was level with that of the other boy, Touga saw that they were about the same age. Before, he hadn't been able to see that clearly. With the sun behind him, the other boy had been just a dark outline; now he was a real person wearing shorts and a polo neck. Blue knee length shorts. Black polo neck. He had green hair, darker than the cabbages. It was as long as Touga's, only different because it was curly and tied back.
"Your hair's long too."
"So?" The boy levelled a stubborn gaze at him.
Touga missed it, his eyes on the bike. When the other boy didn't stop him, he let his hand rest on the back of the seat and said, "How do I . . . ?"
There was wiggling and a little shuffling before Touga made a place for himself and found somewhere to prop his feet. He held on with a shy grip, his arms winding tentatively around the other boy's waist. That was enough to balance him when they first pushed off. But after they hit the main trail, the boy took a few sharp corners and Touga was forced to tighten his hold, awkwardly. The boy yelled over his shoulder that there was a bumpy ditch coming up. Then he yelled that his name was Kyouichi Saionji.
It turned out that not only were they the same age, they lived close to one another and were both obsessive about kendo. Saionji had a hundred stories about training, most of them about boasts that had got him into trouble. Touga had competed in a dozen or so junior tournaments and could describe the matches in detail, providing comments on technique and style. They talked kendo as they whizzed down paths and sent leaves flying up in their wake. They talked kendo as the sunset threw out long moving shadows from the wheels and spokes of the bike. Touga forgot about his awkwardness and decided that he liked Saionji's brash way of speaking. He liked it's confidence and it's humour, even when it made his own proper manners seem clumsy.
After a while, it grew grey and dark. Saionji lost a little of his brashness and complained that his legs were getting tired. Behind him, Touga nodded and then, feeling greatly daring, said, "Maybe I could pedal, next time."
"Un," agreed Saionji, who had stopped the bike to rub at his calf muscle.
Touga was thrilled. They pushed off again, and he directed Saionji to his house with a strange mix of exaltation and reluctance. He glad when tired legs meant that Saionji pedalled slowly. He didn't want to go home. He wanted to stay out forever. He was already thinking to himself, Next time, next time.
Even at the pace Saionji set, they soon turned into the meandering driveway. They rode through the lawns and past the dark body of the lake. After only a few short minutes they reached the house, and Touga had to say, "Stop--this is where I live." He squeezed Saionji's waist as he spoke, anticipating a hard brake and the skid that was characteristic of Saionji's riding style.
They stopped abruptly (the bike's back tyre did make a noticeable skid mark in the dirt), and Touga sat back, watching Saionji's gaze travel up and up.
"That's the biggest house I've ever seen!"
That had been Touga's reaction to the Kiryuu residence too, when he had first arrived here. Now when he slipped down from the bike, he just shrugged.
"Your father must be rich," said Saionji, sounding awed, like he hadn't thought of Touga as a rich kid before.
"He isn't my real father," said Touga.
It was the first and only time that he ever said it. But because the bike ride had made him forget the butterflies, he said it without thinking to Saionji.
Saionji was proud of Touga. He was proud to have Touga as his friend.
He didn't mind having a friend who was more popular and more talented than he was himself. Even after he learned that his friend could beat him at the one sport he had ever excelled at:  kendo. Touga's achievements weren't an affront to Saionji. They sort of belonged to him. That was what Saionji thought, anyway. His best friend could beat him at kendo. Saionji was proud.
Plenty of other boys courted Touga's friendship, but there was a certain distance between Touga and the rest of the world. It was the distance that isolates all objects of hero worship, and it was imposed at least in part by Touga's fans. They flattered him and deferred to him at the same time as they tried to win him over. Girls blushed crimson if Touga ever talked to them directly. Boys puffed themselves up with self importance. Both sexes boasted about their encounters afterwards. Only Touga's friendship with Saionji was different. It was different and it was exclusive. Saionji felt a warm, secret thrill whenever Touga smiled at him, or touched him on the shoulder, or rode bike with him in public, displaying their unique relationship to the world.
Besides, people started talking about Touga and Saionji not long after they met, and that brought it's own flush of warmth. It was as though their friendship had changed them, merged them into one person. Which it had, in a way. They were inseparable. They did everything together. And if people instinctively said Saionji's name second, if they forgot his name altogether, or simply called him Touga's friend, well, that didn't bother Saionji.
He was proud of Touga. He was proud to have Touga as his friend.
Besides, Touga only beat him at kendo about half the time. Saionji won his fair share of matches. And if he trained hard, he knew he could win more.
If he trained harder than Touga.
After a few months of friendship, Saionji invited Touga over to his house. Offhandedly, to hide the nerves.
"You'll have to ride over, but you can stay the night . . . "
"Sure. Want to?"
"I'll have to ask permission from my father," said Touga. Saionji frowned a little, but his frown brightened when Touga said, "Don't worry, I know how to persuade him easily."
"Huh. You can make people do anything," Saionji agreed darkly, remembering how late he'd been home yesterday after Touga had coaxed him, just a little further, let's just ride to the edge of the forest, and then just a little further, we can go further, can't we?
Touga lowered his gaze demurely, showing off lashes that were as long and pretty as a girl's. "You think so, Saionji?"
Saionji glared at him briefly. "Aa."
Saionji wanted his parents to approve of Touga as much as he did himself. He felt sure they would. But when Touga told him yes, he could come, a part of Saionji began worrying. What if Touga disappointed him tomorrow? In front of his family?
The roles in their friendship were clearly defined: Touga was the bright, imaginative one. When he got that dreamy, distant look on his face, Saionji knew he was visiting another place, somewhere magical and far away, filled with butterflies and cabbage leaves.
Saionji was the follower. But he was also the one who kept them out of trouble when Touga's leadership led them too far, or when the ideas that Touga voiced were simply too wild and strange. Like the time that Touga had wanted to visit ruins on the far edge of the forest. Ruins, he'd said, let's go, it'll be an adventure, just the two of us, we'll ride right through the forest and come out the other side. But when pressed he had turned vague, temporizing, not even sure the ruins were really there to begin with. And he'd admitted finally, reluctantly, that the distance they'd need to travel to reach them was more than they could possibly ride in a day.
"No way," Saionji had told him, definitely. He was strong enough to say that on occasion. Just not all the time.
Come to think of it, hadn't he heard something about those ruins? Something that he'd wanted to tell Touga . . .
He wasn't quite sure how Touga might disappoint him, exactly, but the fear was there. Perhaps he worried that seen through ordinary adult eyes, Touga would lose some of his specialness. Or perhaps he was just scared that Touga would think his house was crummy. That he'd change his opinion of Saionji because of it and, like a light mist in sunlight, the stuff of their friendship would disappear.
The day came. Saionji's mother (an apron with hands clasped in front of it) stood outside the house with him and waited for Touga to be dropped off by his father (a hand that lingered on Touga's shoulder a shade too long). Introductions were very formal, and took place over the two boys' heads.
The first thing that Saionji noticed was how little family resemblance there was between Touga and Mr. Kiryuu. It was astonishing, really. Touga was striking, verging on stunning; he was growing more so with every day. His long, red hair was the rich colour of welling blood. His blue eyes, which occasionally were large and serious, more often teased with the coy promise of secrets. He possessed a quiet, contained grace that was at it's most evident when he practised kendo; at other times, around other people, he adopted a style that could be considered elegant, even flashy.
Mr. Kiryuu was ordinary. Rich-looking, but one of a thousand unimportant, unremarkable rich-looking men. Brown hair, brown eyes, an unpleasant little smile in the corners of his lips that was after all vaguely reminiscent of Touga, or at least, Touga in one of those moods.
The second thing Saionji noticed was that Touga was smiling. A small, genuine smile of the kind that Saionji treasured. He found himself smiling back.
It lasted a brief, private second. Then Touga gazed upwards, turning the smile on Saionji's mother. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Saionji."
One of Mrs. Saionji's clasped hands lifted to touch her face, which had reddened. "Oh my."
Disappointment? Saionji needn't have worried. Touga's manners were impeccable. He charmed Saionji's mother. In fact, had he been just a few years older, the extent to which he charmed Saionji's mother might have started distant alarm bells ringing for Saionji.
And maybe this was exactly what he had worried about. That his mother would fawn as she showed them to the garden. That she'd pull Saionji to one side and say, "Your friend is so well mannered!" and, "Did you notice that he arrived in a Rolls Royce?" He could imagine the speed with which Touga would become the benchmark by which he was judged, even by his own family. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair, because sometimes it seemed to Saionji like he had nothing except the mist of a friendship with Touga, while Touga had everything; popularity, perfect grades, the perfect house, the perfect family, the adulation of his peers, and even at kendo he was--
No, no, no, no. He was proud. He was proud.
Saionji won the first match of the evening. He'd been practising and he did it almost effortlessly, his attack driving Touga's bamboo blade wide. Wrist. Head. Blade controlled, stopping a hair's breadth from contact every time.
Touga acknowledged the hit, his eyes serious but pleased. He always seemed pleased when he was beaten. "Again."
Saionji nodded, centring his balance, his hands fitting in a familiar grip to his sword.
Touga looked calm and very natural with a sword in his hands. Saionji's manner was always more aggressive. As training partners, their differences were invaluable. Against Saionji, Touga had learned to keep his cool even against a hard, staggering onslaught. Fighting Touga, Saionji learned what to do when his aggression and strength were met with precision technique and calm.
Touga never practised with anyone else. He explained this oddity with a shrug, saying, "You're the only one who'll let me spar with them." Saionji knew this meant at least in part, You're the only one who's good enough to spar with me. But he could see that the other meaning of Touga's words was true too. If Touga ever asked anyone to practice with him . . . it was hard to imagine, actually. Saionji doubted there was a single boy close to their own age who wouldn't be reduced to humiliating incompetence at the thought of sparring against Touga. If Touga ever asked anyone to practice with him . . . Saionji found he could imagine it after all. Touga's unfortunate opponent would stutter, "T-T-Touga-sama," and freeze like a deer caught in headlights until Touga took pity on them and said, "It's all right. Don't worry. Really, you can relax. I'll ask someone else."
Saionji could imagine it, because similar things had started happening to him at the dojo. Boys getting flustered when paired against him. Boys standing in groups, whispering about him when he entered the hall. Saionji hadn't realized it yet, but the simple act of keeping up with Touga, now as natural to him as breathing, was changing him irrevocably. Lifting him up out of the ordinary and forging him into something different; a steely presence in his own right. The older girls who came to watch their kendo matches now cooed, "Touga-kun!" and, "Saionji-kun!" with about the same frequency.
And Saionji was beginning to feel scornful about those other boys. The ones who worshipped instead of competing. In his heart of hearts, he knew that it was because they disappointed him; they made him feel isolated, different and a little lonely. But his heart had already started converting disappointment to scorn in much the same way as it now converted jealousy to pride.
Touga won the next hit.
And the next.
And the one after that.
"You're good tonight!" Saionji said, flopping down under a tree on the edge of the clearing and letting his legs tumble out in front of him. Touga remained standing, his head tipped to one side, running fingers through the length of his hair. He was untangling, pushing out the tendrils of sweat, freeing red silk to flow past him in the cool night air.
His hair didn't look tangled, or sweat dampened. It looked perfect.
"It's late," said Saionji, because Touga had that look in his eyes, like he could forget the world and stay out forever. Saionji was the one who remembered the world for both of them, usually. "We should go inside."
Touga paused what he was doing, then nodded. But by an unspoken agreement, instead of heading back to the house, he sat down next to Saionji. They sprawled out together and watched the sky slowly come alive with stars.
Sometimes, when they were alone together, one or other of them would make a shy overture; Saionji would rest his head on Touga's shoulder, or vice versa, or they'd hold hands. Not tonight, but their contentment had that feel about it. They sat and watched and time slipped away, a second, forever. Saionji leaned back on his hands, gazing up.
"I like this--watching the stars."
"Really?" Touga shifted to look at him.
"I don't know any of their names or anything. I don't know much about them. But I like them."
"They seem like they're eternal," said Touga.
"But they're not. They just last a long time."
One of the stars detached itself from the firmament and made a brief arc across the sky. Saionji watched it with wide eyes. It happened quickly, a flash of light and then the star winked out forever. Saionji's heart pounded as it happened. He wanted to watch the sky for a long, long time.
"It's sad that you can't watch the stars in daylight," he said. "But during the day, the sun's so bright, you can't see them. No one knows what's going on in the sky during the day, really. All sorts of things, behind the sunlight . . . might be . . . "
It was very dark by now. The tree above them was rustling differently. The lights in the windows of Saionji's house promised warmth and welcome. Out here it was night time and cold.
"It's late," said Touga. "We should go inside."
Sometimes, they swapped roles.
Mattresses were pulled down off the beds so that they could sleep next to each other. They were smiling like they were punch drunk, snuggled in piles of blankets. Saionji's mother had made them hot chocolate, and they had warmed their fingers around the cups. Now that they were in bed, they knew it had been a long day. They were drowsy. Dreamland beckoned.
Of course they didn't fall asleep straight away.
They lay facing each other. Close enough that Saionji could feel the warmth from Touga's body. It seemed like they were in a secret, private space and in it there was no need to hold back confidences. The door to their room was closed. The lights in the house were out.
Saionji said, "I was nervous about today. I thought you wouldn't come. Or that you'd hate it. Or something."
"No one's ever invited me to their house before." Touga's admission was soft.
Saionji felt a flush of warmth, tingling and pleasant, when he heard that. So close to Touga. There were so many people who liked Touga and wanted to be liked by Touga and wouldn't even be able to imagine being this close. Belly to belly, almost. And comfortable, smiling and gazing into each other's eyes.
More than anything, Saionji wanted to make the feeling last. But their day was almost over, and he didn't think there was any way to make it longer. Then out of nowhere, he found himself remembering about the ruins, his mind offering the knowledge up.
"Hey, I heard a story about those ruins that you wanted to visit. Remember? The ones that were too far away."
"On the other side of the forest." Touga seemed to remember, the recollection was somewhere in his voice.
"Uh-huh. I heard that something bad happened there a long time ago. But before that, the ruins used to be a castle. You know, with a drawbridge. And a prince." The prince was an outline in Saionji's mind, young and sort of shiny with a white horse and a sword in his hand. "Isn't that exciting? A boy who was a prince. I guess he was the son of the family who used to live there. I wonder what happened to him, though?"
"Prince?" said Touga, carefully.
"In stories," Saionji explained, "when a princess is in danger, she always gets saved by a prince. If she's asleep, he wakes her. If she's hurt, he saves her. If someone's holding her captive, he's the one who comes to her rescue."
There wasn't much light, just the faint silvery streaks from the moon. It didn't illuminate much. Saionji could hardly make out Touga's face. But he could always tell when Touga got that far away look in his eyes. He wasn't really there anymore, Saionji knew. He was someplace else, living in a world Saionji couldn't imagine.
Touga said, softly, "Does that make you my prince?"
The silence that followed was electric. Touga reached out, tentatively. Saionji could hear his own shallow breaths. He could hear Touga's, too. When Touga's fingertips brushed against his hip, he felt the shock with his whole body.
"It's not like I'm a princess who needs to be rescued or anything, but I feel like . . . "
Saionji had closed his eyes. His cheeks were flaming hot. Wordless acceptance, and Touga's touch grew bolder, travelling the length of Saionji's body, lingering, reaching his waist, then finding his shoulder--
"I could . . . "
Then sliding into his hair, drawing him forward like he was going to--
"With you . . . "
Their fingers twined together, and by the time Touga drew back they were holding hands, and Saionji was breathless and aching, wanting something more and sure that Touga knew it. Knew what it was and how to give it to him.
Oh, Touga knew it. The look in his eyes was slyly tempting. It had changed.
"After all," said Touga, "isn't that what people want from a prince?"
"A prince is someone you look up to," said Saionji, shaking his head. "A prince is someone who helps you, and who makes you feel--feel--"
"If you leave out the princess and the white horses and stuff," said Saionji, "isn't a prince just like a friend?"
Touga smiled. Closer, and the ache worsened. "Real princes only exist in fairy tales," said Touga, sliding himself against Saionji; sensuous, dizzying, just rubbing a little. "Do you want us to play make-believe for a while?"