Toya had birthday celebrations every year, of course. No member of the royal family let one pass without a public celebration – the family wouldn’t stand for it. The nobles who looked forward to regular invitations to the palace, and the large amounts of free liquor that went with them, would stand for it even less.
This had been true even when he was considered the lesser member of the royal family, back before he had the Prince of Charlotte title. His sister had been the crown princess then, his brother second in line for the throne.
And Toya himself was merely the third child. Oh, he’d probably be given the regional governorship of one of the territories where the royal family had a palace, along with an archduke title, once he grew up. But he wasn’t expecting a life being anywhere near the throne.
Then, when he was still in high school, his sister decided to marry the Crown Prince of Kaypop and abdicate her position of Princess of Valluna, and Toya’s whole life changed. Now he was not only Prince of Charlotte, he was also second in line for the throne. He went from being “the other one” among the royals to being SOMEBODY.
Not only did his life get more complex at that point, but his birthday celebrations got bigger. A Prince of Charlotte – the third biggest title in the nation, after King/Queen and Crown Prince of Valluna – couldn’t have a mere dinner party. Oh, no, it had to be a formal banquet with an orchestra and dancing. Since Toya’s birthday was in the summer, there were also fireworks, weather permitting.
It was all very nice, although Toya never particularly looked forward to it. (No, he looked forward to his brother’s birthdays a lot more. Since Yo-ka was born on Halloween, his birthdays were always a costume bash). This year, however, was an exception.
First, there was the fact that his best friend and his cousin were both in attendance – a rare thing, since the two had dated each other briefly, split up, and now avoided one another whenever possible. But they were rekindling that relationship now, and Toya was anxious to see where that was going to go.
More immediate for Toya, though, was the fact that this was the first birthday he was going to be sharing with the love of his life. The Culling had started shortly after his birthday last year. Which meant that not only was it his birthday, but . . .
“It’s almost our first anniversary,” Toya told Subaru as the latter came out of the shower in a yukata. They both knew the drill for getting ready for formal events – take a shower, put on your underwear and then wait for the royal stylists to come in and handle the rest.
“It is?” Subaru looked surprised.
“I met you on the first night of the Culling,” Toya said. “Remember? You and MiA snuck out of the opening dinner and went to the Royal Treasure Room, and I had to keep the guards from throwing you out.”
“I remember,” Subaru said. “I liked you right away. You were, well, just plain nice. And a regular guy. Not like I expected a prince to be. But . . . shouldn’t we mark our anniversary from the day you asked me to be your Pledged?”
“How do you determine anniversaries where you come from?” Toya finished combing his wet hair. The stylists would take it from there, probably adding a ton of spray to it when they were finished drying and styling.
“Usually by the couple’s first date,” Subaru said. “That’s always how it’s marked – even after the relationship is legalized.”
“Legalized?” Toya looked puzzled.
“We don’t have wedding ceremonies where I’m from,” Subaru said. “Weddings cost money, and quite frankly, most people would rather put any money they have to spare into an evening out with their friends rather than a big, fancy-dress wedding celebration. Most couples just move in together. They only get the relationship legally formalized if they’re having or adopting a child, or buying property together. And even then, there’s no ceremony. You go down to town hall, sign a paper, publish a notice in the local paper and go out for lunch with immediate family and close friends. Weddings are for gentry and nobility.”
“Wow,” Toya said. “So you could be the first person in your family to have an actual wedding ceremony.”
“Yes,” Subaru said. He wrapped his arms around Toya. “But I don’t need one. Not really. All I need is to be with you. That’s the way it’s been since we first met.” He leaned his head against his lover’s. “I love you so much that sometimes, I can’t believe this is real.”
“It’s real,” Toya said. “And it’s going to continue being real. I’m never letting you go. Ever.”
They began to kiss, softly and gently, then getting hotter little by little . . .
And then, a knock came on the door. “Stylists,” a cool voice said.
Toya eased away from Subaru and headed for the door. “We’ll continue this after the party,” he said.
Subaru just gave him a smile.
* * *
Toya was used to dealing with various dukes and marquis and earls at his birthday celebrations – all coming up to him, congratulating him, saying he grew better-looking every year – and then asking if he had anyone serious in his life yet, whether his family was going to have a Culling for him. (He always had to answer the latter with “I don’t know” rather than what he was really thinking – “Dear God, I hope not.”)
He knew this year would be different. He had someone, that person was at his side, and he’d be under the microscope. And sure enough, as soon as they went out on the terrace after the formal meal, people in tuxedos and gowns and formal kimonos started crowding around them.
“So this is the Pledged, Your Highness?” said a stout lady with huge glasses and a big, skunk-like white stripe in her hair – the Duchess of Morrigan, as he recalled.
“Yes, Your Grace,” Toya replied. “May I present my Pledged, the Duke of Royz.”
“Hello, Your Grace.” Subaru bowed. He had learned his formal manners well – though there were still times when he blanked and panicked. Fortunately, Toya had gotten very good at sensing that and covering for him.
“Is it true that you stole him from your brother?” the Duchess said. “We all heard that Subaru of Royz was one of Yo-ka’s final two Culling candidates, and suddenly, he was Pledged to you.”
And here the aristocracy reveals its true heart, Toya thought. Formal pleasantries on the outside, but on the inside, burning for gossip and looking for any dirt on the royals they can find.
“I would not say stole, Your Grace,” Toya said, carefully. “My brother knew that Yuuki was the one for him almost from the beginning. Subaru and I developed a friendship while we were traveling around the country. That friendship was starting to become something more by the time the Culling came to an end, so I asked my brother’s permission to make Subaru my Pledged.”
“Ah, so your brother threw him away and you picked him up?”
Toya gritted his teeth. How could these people be all protocol on the outside and so crass on the inside? “Not quite like that. But yes, my brother’s ultimate intentions were toward Yuuki all along.”
“You lucked out,” the woman told Subaru, patting his arm. “In my opinion, you got the better catch! Well, I must say hello to a couple of friends, but I just thought I’d give you my best regards!”
When she left, Subaru whispered to Toya, “There’s a LOT of them who act like that, isn’t there?”
“Yo-ka always calls the aristocracy, ‘Instant jerks, just add alcohol,’” Toya whispered back.
“I’m beginning to see his point,” Subaru replied.
The point was further enforced by the people who showed clear snobbery about Subaru’s background, burying it in formality, of course.
“So, you’re the Duke of Royz now,” said the Earl of something-or-other, his umpteenth martini clutched in a beringed paw. “Congratulations!”
“Thank you, Your Excellency,” Subaru said, bowing. (Crap, it’s Excellency for an Earl, right? he thought. Did I get that wrong?)
“I must say, one could never tell where you’re from,” the Earl said. “You seem very polite and well-behaved.”
Toya fought the urge to grab the drink and throw it in that dirtbag’s face. How DARE he speak to Subaru like that? How DARE he?
Fortunately, Subaru kept his cool. “I’ve always been polite and well-behaved, Your Excellency,” he said. “My mother taught me good manners.”
“Well, isn’t that nice?” the Earl said in a tone of voice which clearly conveyed, “They know what MANNERS are in Royz?”
“He’s a lovely young man,” Toya said. “He’s fit nicely into the family.” (Well, my mother loves him, at least, he thought.)
“I’m sure he is,” the Earl said. “And do you fit into his?”
As in, how does a prince fit in with a bunch of lowlives? Toya thought. This guy just keeps getting worse and worse. “I’ve met them,” he said. “Several times. We get along wonderfully.”
“You always were a diplomat,” the Earl said. “I’m going to talk to some more people now. Do have a pleasant birthday!” He bowed and left.
Toya resisted the urge to flip his retreating back the finger. “The bastard probably thinks your family lives in a shack with a dirt floor,” he said, referring to the stereotypes of lower-class families in movies.
“Well, we don’t,” Subaru said. “We always had a floor. And there’s more of a floor now.” Toya had bought Subaru’s parents a much larger, more comfortable home – he’d offered to bring them to the capital, but they didn’t want to leave their lifelong hometown.
“Why the hell can’t people look past where you came from?” Toya said. “It’s bad enough when my father does it. Seeing these other people do it, too . . .”
“They’ve never been to Royz,” Subaru said. “They don’t know us. I don’t remember a single nobleman ever coming into the city. No, that’s not right. We had someone from the royal government come to dedicate a new store, and then the person left right away.”
“Probably a low-level staffer,” Toya said. He wrapped an arm around Subaru. “When Yo-ka is in charge, I’m sure he’ll visit Royz personally when they have a special event. And if he doesn’t? I will.”
Fortunately, they did have support as well – one woman, the Earline of Pentagon, came up to Toya and said, “I have to say that you are the most honest royal we have ever had.”
“What do you mean, Your Excellency?” Toya said.
“I mean you went with your heart in choosing a mate and elevated this lovely boy instead of just picking someone high-born to be a bauble on your arm. And if you ask me? That sort of character means YOU should be the king.”
“With all due respect, Your Excellency? Yuuki’s not a bauble,” Toya said. In fact, he thought, if you called Yuuki a “bauble,” you were likely to get smacked. “He’s gone out of his way to live like someone who isn’t of noble birth, even though he is. He only entered the Culling because his father insisted. But it’s a lucky thing that he did. He and Yo-ka are very happy.”
“And he’s still a professional singer!” Subaru said. He wanted to add that Yuuki despised his title, but he figured that was a piece of info best kept out of the nobility gossip machine.
“Well, then, you BOTH deserve to be king,” the Earline said. “See if your father can arrange that!”
When she left, Subaru breathed a sigh of relief. Toya looked sad. “It’s a novelty when someone’s not putting you down for your background or gossiping about you, isn’t it?”
“I’m just glad she didn’t say anything,” Subaru said.
“We’re going to show all of them once our business is launched,” Toya said. “We’ll show them how awesome you can be!”
Fortunately, at that point the king announced that Toya was going to cut his birthday cake. It was a welcome distraction. When he went up to cut it, out of the corner of his eye he could see his cousin Hitomi and his best friend Jun, standing close to one another and looking very happy. It seemed that the plan that the two princes had formulated to get the two back together after their breakup had succeeded.
That wiped out all the empty words from empty people. Hitomi and Jun seemed to have put their bitter past behind them and started anew. Yo-ka and Yuuki were the very definition of a couple who belonged together. And as for himself and Subaru, well . . . they were as happy as any couple could ever be. Maybe even happier. That was all that mattered.
* * *
Much later, they were back in their suite of rooms taking off their finery. It might be noted that while royals always had the assistance of stylists to dress for formal occasions, they were allowed to undress in private – as long as they took the outfits off carefully, put them on hangers and put them on the hook outside the suite door for laundering.
“Why are all those nobles like that?” Subaru said as he finished hanging up the last piece of his formal kimono.
“Judgmental, you mean?” Toya said. “It’s because they’ve never known anyone but other nobles. They go out of their way to socialize only with their own kind. So they keep passing the same stereotypes about anyone who isn’t them around and around. They have things to say about the lower classes, the middle classes, even the gentry. The only lower-class people they have around are servants, and they treat them as peasants.”
“So why are you and Yo-ka different?” Subaru said. He was down to his underwear, but didn’t bother with a yukata. He went to the bathroom and started taking off his makeup, but left the door open so he and Toya could still talk.
“Because our father made a mistake in choosing our school,” Toya said.
“The way royals go to school is this,” Toya said. “For primary school, you’re sent to a special, small school on the palace grounds where they only teach the children of the nobles who live in the capital. Really, it amounts to private tutoring. Then, when you’re ready for junior and senior high, you get sent away to boarding school.”
Subaru wrinkled his nose. “It sounds almost like they’re trying to get rid of you.”
“The excuse is it builds character,” Toya said. “Whatever that means. Anyway, my father and my uncle decided to send us to the same boarding school they went to, thinking they had the same policies that they did when those two went there – children of nobles only, heavy restrictions on when students could leave the campus. What he didn’t know was they’d started admitting children of gentry and even wealthier commoners if they qualified academically.”
“So that’s how you met Jun,” Subaru said.
“I met him when we were in university, actually,” Toya said. “But by that time, I’d met all kinds of people – because the boarding school also allowed students to go into town as long as they kept their grades up and were back for curfew. So Yo-ka, Hitomi and I would go out into town and meet all these middle-class people, and it was like looking into another world. Nobody was trying to keep up appearances. Nobody was acting like they were all that matters. And I think we all realized that we liked these people a hell of a lot more than the nobles.”
“But you never had a boyfriend who wasn’t noble before me.” Subaru came out of the bathroom.
“Not publicly,” Toya said, going in to remove his own makeup. “You know how my father is. Really, I’m surprised he let us obey the traditional rules of a Culling and have people from all districts. I guess he didn’t think anyone whose father was lower than an Earl would get chosen by either of us.” He leaned out the door. “Shows how little he knows us, doesn’t it?”
“That explains why you were so comfortable in Royz,” Subaru said. Indeed, Toya had toured the town, talked casually with locals, and even went out to one of the local bars after raising the flag of Charlotte over the Royz town hall – a tradition in the hometown of a prince’s Pledged. And he’d gotten on like gangbusters with Subaru’s brother, Kouki. He was even trying to arrange a position for him within the capital.
“I’d rather hang out in Royz than any upper-class place. Any day, any time.” Toya came out of the bathroom, wrapping his arms around his Pledged and kissing him. “Now, we can definitely take advantage of being in our bedroom alone wearing almost nothing.”
“We could,” Subaru said, giving his lover a big smile.
Then, they both burst out laughing, dropping their underwear on the floor and tumbling to the bed in each other’s arms, kissing each other hotly.
Toya pulled Subaru closer, and Subaru opened his mouth with a soft moan, inviting his lover to plunder as his hands roamed over his back, caressing skin that was now very familiar to him – but no less exciting.
When Subaru raised his hips, grinding against his lover, Toya ground back, the two of them rubbing against one another faster and harder. Subaru leaned his head backward, moaning at the sensation of hardness against hardness, of the intimacy of feeling Toya’s cock caressing his.
“You feel so good,” Subaru murmured. “Always.”
“Do you know how beautiful you are when you’re like that?” Toya said. “When you’re feeling pleasure? Like . . .” He reached between their bodies and ran his fingers over his lover’s nipple. “This?”
Subaru sucked in air, sharply. “Ohhh . . .”
“You’re the most beautiful thing ever,” Toya said, lifting his fingers, then caressing the hardened bud again, watching Subaru’s reaction, feeling a hot thrill run through him every time his Pledged let out a small cry. “You have no idea.”
“Please, Toya,” Subaru gasped. “Please, more . . .”
Toya leaned over and brought his mouth to the little bud, starting to suck a little, hearing another soft moan in response. He reached down, running his fingers lightly over Subaru’s erection . . . and then, he had a sudden inspiration.
He pulled away from Subaru and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Subaru raised his head. “Hmmm?”
“Trust me,” Toya said, leaning over to kiss his lover’s lips. He headed for the closet – a huge, walk-in one, lined with his garments on one side, Subaru’s on the other.
One thing about the royal wardrobe was that all of it was of the finest fabrics. God forbid a prince wear the same kind of cheap stuff the commoners did. His summer wardrobe (because the staff rotated their closets seasonally, there was a clothing warehouse within the palace) consisted of fine linens and ultra-pure cotton.
And, of course, the ever-present silk. Silks, satins and velvets were staples of anything the family wore. The more public the occasion, the more of those fabrics were in their outfits.
He pulled a little-used silk shirt off the hanger and went back into the bathroom, holding the item behind his back so Subaru couldn’t see it. He lay back on the bed, leaning over his lover and kissing him hard again, Subaru responding eagerly, tongues brushing against each other.
Then, he draped the silk over his hand and lightly grasped Subaru’s erection, starting to stroke up and down.
Subaru’s eyes flew open at the new sensation. “Aaahh!” he cried. It was so soft and smooth, rubbing along his sensitive flesh with a texture that was made to tantalize.
“So, you like that?” Toya began to stroke faster, tightening his fingers a tiny bit and moving faster, the softness brushing the hardness with more intensity.
“It feels so good,” Subaru murmured. “It’s delicious . . .”
“Have you ever felt anything like this before?” Toya twisted his hand a little, brushing the fabric over him faster, and Subaru moaned loudly.
“No,” Subaru murmured. “Nobody has ever . . .”
“Maybe you’ll like this even more, then?” Toya stroked the fabric lower, so it was brushing against the base of Subaru’s erection and his balls. He leaned over, taking the tip of the cock in his lips, running his tongue back and forth over it.
“OH!” Subaru gasped. His brain was being overwhelmed with sensation. Wet and soft and hot, the silkiness caressing his balls, the hot lips sucking at him softly. He thrust his hips forward, plunging deeper into Toya’s mouth, and his lover stroked faster in response.
“Toya,” Subaru murmured, reaching down to tangle his fingers in his beloved’s hair, giving himself up entirely to the pleasure, letting himself become lost in bliss in the best possible way. He loved this man so much, so damn much . . .
Toya lifted his head and slid his hand away. “Want to take it even further?” he said to Subaru.
“F-further?” He couldn’t imagine anything more than that. It had been so hot and intense and incredible and . . .
Toya took the shirt and lay it over Subaru’s erection, careful to drape the buttons over the side, so they’d be out of the way. Then, he lay atop the other man, bringing his own cock against Subaru’s, like before . . .
Only this time, the silk was between them. And when Toya started to thrust, and Subaru thrust back, they were both rubbing against it.
“Oh!” Subaru cried. “Oh, my God, yes!” He could feel Toya’s heat and hardness through the cloth, and the pressure against him, but there was that softness and smoothness along his whole length as well, and the harder he thrust, the harder he rubbed, the more it caressed him.
“This feels so good,” Toya moaned, looking down at his lover, at the expression of pure bliss on his beautiful face, and he thrust harder and faster in response, the delicious sensation of softness flooding both their senses . . .
And for Toya, there was the added kinkiness of fucking a luxury fabric, of using something meant for public fancy dress as a tool of passion.
The two of them thrust harder and faster, rubbing themselves against the silk as they kissed hotly again, tongues exploring one another’s mouths as their hands moved over each other’s bodies, touching and caressing everywhere . . .
They breathed heavier as they thrust faster and harder, both of them starting to tremble a bit as they hurtled toward climax, lost in the heat of one another and the unique sensations and the knowledge that they were sharing something very special . . .
Subaru arched forward, letting out a loud cry as the passion broke and he was flooded with ecstasy, coming all over the fabric, and Toya tensed and thrust forward hard moments later, crying Subaru’s name out as the flames raced through him.
Toya collapsed atop Subaru, and they kissed gently, both of them still breathing hard. “I love you so much,” Toya said. “More than you can imagine.”
“I love you, too,” Subaru replied. “Happy birthday.” The two of them shifted so they were lying side by side, Subaru’s head on Toya’s chest.
“It’s the happiest of my life, because you’re with me.” Toya pulled the shirt out from between them. “Wow. This thing’s completely ruined.”
“Oh?” Subaru raised his head. “That’s . . . not good, is it?”
“Not like I don’t have a bunch of others,” Toya said. “And it’s not like the staff keeps an inventory of our clothes, other than the stuff for official occasions. And this wasn’t. This was what’s called a ‘medium-dress’ shirt – for going out to lunch with someone, or something like that. I have about six more like it – maybe even two others of the same color.”
Subaru kissed his lover again. “The fact that we ruined the shirt, though . . . that kind of makes what we did even hotter.”
“You were so into it,” Toya said. “I love watching you like that so much.” He snuggled against Subaru. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I really am. There’s only one you, and you’re all mine.”
“As long as you want me,” Subaru replied.
They snuggled together, dropping the sodden fabric on the nighttable. They’d have to find a way to quietly dispense with it in the morning before the staff found it.
The bigmouths at the party might have done their best to dissuade Toya’s relationship with Subaru, but he was having nothing of it. Let them talk all they wanted – he knew what was right for him.
* * *
They didn’t come downstairs the next day until lunchtime. That’s okay – neither did the other two couples. It seemed that everyone had followed the public celebration with a private one.
And after lunch (during which Subaru and Toya observed, to their happiness, that Hitomi and Jun seemed very, very happy), the Prince of Charlotte and his Pledged slipped out into town. They came back with a rather plain bag – rather unusual, because when royals shopped they usually went to all name-brand stores – but if the staff noticed, they shrugged it off. Probably something to do with their surfing thing, the staff thought. Nothing to incite palace gossip.
Of course, the staff would think otherwise if they knew that what the bag contained was a couple of yards of silk, and what that silk was going to be used for . . .