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After Ever After: The Question And What Followed

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In the nation of Veekay, getting married was usually serious business.

The basic traditions had their roots in those practiced throughout the Western world, since the nation had both European and Asian influences. You had your walk down the aisle, your saying of vows, your honor attendants, your big and drunken party afterward.

Where things differed, however, were in the roles of “bride” and “groom.” Since Veekay had legitimized and practiced same sex marriage much earlier than the world that we live in, the traditions were adapted to be more gender-neutral.

For instance, having one person walk down the aisle while their fiancé waited at the alter was reserved for cases when one person was marrying above their station – and in this case, the higher-ranking person waited, the one “marrying up” walked. Couples of equal social status walked in together.

Wedding attire varied – upper class couples usually went for traditional tuxedos and wedding gowns, and since it was considered acceptable for men of nobility to wear dresses, the gowns could end up on either gender. (Two gowns usually only happened with female/female weddings, however).

And then there was the matter of the proposal. Either person involved in any relationship could pop the question – and it was then understood that the one who proposed marriage bought the engagement and wedding rings (and, yes, both members of the couple wore engagement rings). The one who accepted the proposal paid for the wedding and reception. It ended up as a rather even division of very expensive finances. (Small wonder that the lower classes didn’t even bother to have weddings).

This is the story of one proposal in particular – and what resulted from it.

* * *

Sakito was very, very ready to pop the question. He and Hiyori had been a committed couple for over a year now and had been living together for over six months. They managed to have a healthy and functional relationship despite juggling very busy careers. Hiyori’s comedy group, My Dragon, had a radio show, did live performances and were starting to make inroads into film. Sakito had a “serious” film career under the name Jakigan Meister, plus he performed from time to time with Sendai Kamotsu, the legendary comedy troupe he’d launched his career with.

He couldn’t quite remember when he began thinking that making it legal would be a good idea, but the idea took over his mind and wouldn’t let go. One day, he quietly borrowed one of Hiyori’s rings so he’d get the proper size and took it to a jeweler, where he ended up ordering a pair of lovely gold bands that sported both their birthstones, and another set of plain bands for the wedding.

Now I just need to find the right moment to propose, he thought. He took to carrying the engagement rings everywhere, waiting for just the right romantic moment to get down on one knee and ask the big question. He came close several times – when the two were out to dinner together, or on a boat ride through the waters surrounding the capital – but always, something held him back. The moment didn’t quite feel right.

When it came, however, it was something completely spontaneous – maybe a little TOO spontaneous.

* * *

Usually, the Royal Command Performance was held once a year, around the end-of-year holidays. It was considered the highest honor in the nation, to be specifically invited by the Royal Family to participate in a variety show.

Sendai Kamotsu had done the show a couple of times – most recently their reunion performance after spending several years apart. Therefore, it didn’t come as much surprise when they got a commission for a special Royal Command Performance, held in celebration of the upcoming nuptials of Prince Toya and Subaru, the Duke of Royz.

Indeed, the troupe was rehearsing for another live show when Prince Toya’s page, Natsume, entered with a formal-looking black leather folder. “It’s a royal proclamation,” the boy said, opening it to reveal the parchment inside. “By order of His Highness the Prince of Charlotte . . .”

The members of the group looked at each other. They didn’t have time to listen to a whole royal proclamation. They had a show to put on.

Yomi raised his hand. “Just give us the gist of it,” he said. “Sum it up in a sentence.”

“He wants you for a Royal Command Performance in honor of his wedding,” Natsume said. “It’ll be you and My Dragon, and it’ll be filmed and released to movie theaters.” He named the date, about two months down the line.

Sakito took a deep breath. “Well, then,” he said. “Good thing we’re working on new material, isn’t it?”

“We haven’t developed it yet,” Hitsugi pointed out. “We barely started on it.”

“Well, we’ve got to get it ready, don’t we?” Sakito said. “Royal performance? Filmed? Released to theaters?”

“And the chance that we’ll be upstaged by his boy toy?” Yomi said, pointing at Sakito.

“Hey!” Sakito said. “Hiyori isn’t a boy toy! He’s special! Really special!”

“Yeah, whatever, he’s part of the hottest comedy troupe in the country right now,” Yomi said. “If we’re going to have new material ready in time for that, and be able to compete with them, we start working on it now. And don’t make any plans with your cupcake boy, either, because we’ll be going around the clock.”

“His name is Hiyori,” Sakito murmured. “Not cupcake boy, or boy toy, or bedwarmer, or . . .”

Ni-ya walked over to Sakito and slapped him on the back. “Hey, Hiyori will be getting the same proclamation, so he’s going to be putting together new material too, right? So you’ll BOTH be busy!”

Well, it seemed the wedding proposal would have to wait. They had bigger fish to fry at the moment.

* * *

By the time the date of the actual performance rolled around, Sakito was more than raring to go – and more than ready to have it over with.

They had most definitely been working themselves into a frenzy. They’d pounded the new sketches into shape – they even had a joint one with My Dragon that was about Japanese-style magical girls vs. Western-style superheroes (with the four royal pages making a dialogue-free cameo appearance as a sentai team). Sakito had learned to pole dance for a scene about strip club auditions where his serious stripper would be pitted against Yomi’s ridiculous, overgrown baby-like Chiba character.

But as much as he loved doing comedy – it was his life’s work, his calling, part of his heart and soul – he just wanted to have time alone with his loved one again. It felt like eternity since he and Hiyori had spent a night cuddling, or slowly making love.

When they were getting ready backstage, his eyes kept stealing over to Hiyori in the makeup chair, Hiyori in the corner running through a sketch quickly with his teammates, Hiyori talking to the camera crew that was going to be shooting this whole thing.

As soon as this is over, he thought, I’m going to take him to the afterparty, and greet everyone, and spend as little time there as we can get away with . . . and then take him home and make him moan every way I know how. And after that, I’m going to . . .

His thoughts went to the engagement rings he was still carrying around everywhere. They were currently in the pocket of the pants he’d worn to the theater. Maybe, just maybe . . .

The director stuck his head backstage. “All right,” he said. “Opening number with both groups in two minutes. Good luck, everyone! Give us the show I know you’re capable of!”

As the comedians assembled in the wings, Hiyori made his way over to Sakito and squeezed his hand. “I’m so glad we’re doing this,” he said.

“So am I,” Sakito said. “The whole reason Sendai Kamotsu is back together in the first place is because of you and My Dragon.”

“The whole reason My Dragon exists is because of Sendai Kamotsu,” Hiyori replied. “So we’re even.”

The emcee onstage was announcing, “And now, without further ado, Sendai Kamotsu and My Dragon!” The audience burst into furious applause.

This is it, Sakito thought. This is what I was meant to do. Only . . . I was meant to be with him, too.

Both groups ran onto the stage and went into the comical opening song – and almost instantly, Sakito felt the familiar charge of performing. Every time they laughed, and applauded, it was a jolt of adrenaline to his system. Every bit of exhaustion that went into preparing this show was forgotten.

As the performance went on, it became a sort of high. He was feeding off the energy of the audience and giving it back to them. He was throwing his whole body into the comedy – when he got to the stripper scene, his performance was so intense that it brought about gasps of amazement and wolf whistles. (Unbeknownst to him, Hiyori’s My Dragon teammate, Junji, was watching his pole dance from the wings – and he came backstage and told Hiyori, “That’s what you get every night? You lucky bastard!”)

The superhero scene felt like an Olympic event – hard and physical, but at the same time, wild and exhilarating. At the end of it, the audience gave them a standing ovation – almost unheard of for a comedy sketch. Sakito seemed to be floating on a cloud. He’d entered a headspace outside reality. He and the audience were one. He WAS his comedy alter ego, Satty.

Finally, the show concluded with a reprise of the opening number with the lyrics changed to reflect the sketches that had just been performed. The audience laughed and clapped along, some even stomping their feet. The performers bowed, then left the stage – only to be called back for another encore.

Sakito was fairly flying as they went into the dressing room, toweled off, and headed back out again to perform Sendai Kamotsu’s comic song “Kamisama Mou Sukoshi Dake” – he really was outside reality, totally flying on what they’d just done. And he went into the dressing room, stuck his hands in the pocket of his street clothes, and pulled something out . . .

When the song concluded, the audience roared again. He stepped up to the main mike and said, “Thank you, thank you all! This has been one of the most fantastic nights of my whole career!” The crowd roared. “I mean it! There’s only one thing that could possibly make this night better!”

I’m going to do it, he thought, half out of his mind with adrenaline. I’m going to do it, now is the perfect time!

He grabbed the microphone in one hand and grasped Hiyori’s with the other, pulling him out of the line of performers so the two of them were center stage. Hiyori looked puzzled. “Sakito?” he said. “What’s going on?”

“Hiryori,” Sakito said into the microphone, “you’ve been everything to me during this time we’ve been together. I owe my being back with Sendai Kamotsu to you. You gave me back joy in living when I’d gotten jaded and cynical. There are no words for how big a part of my life you are . . . so I’d just like to say . . .”

He dropped to one knee and pulled out the box with the two engagement rings, opening it so Hiyori could see. Behind him, he could hear Yomi saying, “What the FU . . .” The abrupt cutoff told him someone had slammed a hand over his teammate’s mouth. He didn’t care.

“Hiyori,” he said into the mike, “will you marry me?”

The audience whooped and cheered. Hiyori just stood there, looking stunned. Sakito’s teammates were looking even more stunned.

Hiyori slowly held out his hand for the mike. Sakito passed it to him.

“I . . .” the younger man said. “I just want to say . . .”

The audience roared again.

“Yes,” Hiyori said. “Yes, definitely!”

Sakito stood up, pulling his new fiancé into an embrace, and the two men kissed as the crowd gave them a standing ovation. It was the perfect ending to the perfect evening. The performance, the high, the romance . . .

The flashing. And flashing. Sakito became aware of lights going off and popping sounds all over the place. He let go of Hiyori just long enough to look into the audience. There were flashbulbs going off everywhere – and there was the distant whirring of cameras. Yes, the movie people were still rolling.

And suddenly, the euphoria snapped long enough for him to realize what he’d done. He’d proposed to his boyfriend in front of all Veekay. He’d done it in the most public way imaginable. Their engagement couldn’t be hidden from the world – everyone would know at once. Which would mean that the press would react to it like they did to every celebrity wedding – with hysteria, and never-ending coverage.

He’d pretty much assured that he and Hiyori wouldn’t be able to do a single thing regarding their nuptials in private. And all because he’d gotten carried away in the heat of the moment.

Oh, God, he thought, what have I done?

* * *

The afterparty turned into a dual celebration of both the show and their engagement. Friends and strangers alike kept coming up to them and offering congratulations.

“I’m so happy for you both!” Subaru yelled, running across the dance floor to grab the couple in a hug. “When is the wedding?”

“We’ll come up with that one later,” Sakito said.

“Especially since this was such a surprise,” Hiyori added. “To me, at least!”

“That’s what proposals are supposed to be, right?” Sakito said.

“So everyone who made the last round of my brother’s Culling has someone now, right?” Toya said. “MiA has Koichi, Ruiza has Tatsuya, you two have each other . . .”

“Not everyone, remember,” Subaru said, inclining his head toward a table where Hiro was sitting with members of the staff of his ice cream business. “But he seems happy doing what he’s doing, so we’re not going to push it.”

“But I know someone who . . .” Toya said.

“Toya,” Subaru said, softly, “don’t push it. Invite that person to our wedding, and we’ll see what happens, okay?”

“Okay, okay! I just want everyone to be as happy as us!” And to the other couple, he added, “And the two of you.”

When they left, Hiyori said, “I don’t think I’ve had time to catch my breath! I can’t believe we’re engaged now. That was the last thing I was expecting!”

“But . . . are you happy?”

“Of course, I’m happy! There’s nobody else in the world I’d rather marry than . . .”

And then, a small fleet of people wielding notebooks and cameras approached them. “Satty-san,” said the businesslike-looking man at the front of the group, “can you tell me why you decided to propose during the show?”

“Spur of the moment,” Sakito said. “It had been at the back of my mind for a long time, and this seemed as good a time as any.”

“When is the wedding going to be?” said a woman with a hot pink suit and an enormous hat to match. “Are you going to time it so you don’t steal the thunder from the royal couple?”

“We haven’t planned a date yet,” Hiyori said. “We just now got engaged! But the last thing in the world I want to do is divert attention from Subaru and Toya.”

“What do you have to say to the rumors that your relationship is a mere publicity stunt for My Dragon’s radio show?” barked a man toward the back of the bunch.

“Publicity stunt?” Hiyori said. “I’d like to find those people and give them the back of my hand! Satty-san and I have a very real relationship. We have since we’ve met.”

“Is there a possibility for a double wedding with Dandy Maro, since we know he’s dating the Duke of Royz’ brother?” shouted a young reporter who was pushing his way to the front of the group.

“We’d rather keep our festivities and his separate.” Hiyori grabbed Sakito’s hand. “Now, please . . . no further questions now. We’ll have a press conference in the next few days.”

The press continued to shout anyway, and Hiyori led Sakito quickly across the room, until they reached the safety of the bathrooms, which they ducked into.

Hiyori took a deep breath. “Dear God,” he said. “They were like a pack of vultures.”

Sakito pulled Hiyori into his arms and hugged him. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?”

“For proposing in the middle of the damn show and bringing that down on you.”

“Sakito, love . . . it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with the way you proposed. I loved it. It was actually fitting. Our careers are the thing that brought us together, right?”

“Right.”

“You did the right thing. Don’t worry. We’ll call a press conference at the radio station in a few days, answer all their questions, and they’ll go away. All right?”

Sakito nodded. He had enough experience with the press throughout his career that he knew a press conference would soothe those savage beasts, and they’d be able to plan their wedding in peace.

And Hiyori had a point. It was appropriate for them, so the proposal was the right thing to do – right?

* * *

The press conference went pretty much the way Sakito was expecting. They met with reporters in the big conference room reserved for such things – when radio networks found themselves dealing with star scandals on a regular basis, a venue for such public events was a must.

There were questions about how they met, how they balanced their careers and relationships, what their teammates thought of the proposal (Sakito said they were “all very supportive,” not telling the vultures that Yomi had loudly accused him of “grandstanding as usual” backstage).

And then there was the stuff that both of them definitely could have done without – like dredging up the old rumors of Sakito having a real-life affair with his costar in the scandalous film Lost in Blue.

“That was all acting,” he said. “Really. Nothing was going on between us for real in front of or behind the cameras. And even if there was something like that in my past? It’s past. I only have one person in my heart and life now.”

“Panty Hiwai-san, what did you think when you first saw your lover having sex with a woman onscreen?” yelled one reporter.

Another yelled from the other side of the room, “He IS the Viceroy of Kiryu, you know. You COULD have some respect and address him by his title.”

“It’s okay,” Hiyori said. “Stage name, noble title, it’s all good, long as you don’t call me something unprintable.” The crowd laughed. Quietly, Hiyori hoped that the outburst and his resulting joke would make them forget the question – since Lost in Blue was a rather personal thing between them. As in, they’d made love for the first time after watching Sakito’s private copy of it.

But the reporter persisted. “Now, about Lost in Blue . . .”

“What did I think?” Hiyori said. Okay, time to call on his improv skills. “I thought my popcorn needed more butter. The movie theaters in Kiryu can be stingy about that.” Everyone laughed.

“Yes, but what about his PERFORMANCE?” This reporter was being a persistent butthead, Hiyori thought.

“Now, do you expect a guy to rate his fiancé’s performance in public?” Hiyori said. There was a pause, and then the whole room exploded in laughter as the rather dense group finally “got” his blue joke.

Fortunately, the question was dropped after that, the press conference wrapped up soon after, and as the reporters left the room, Hiyori leaned over with a sigh of relief.

“That’s the end of that,” he said. “Now, they should leave us alone.”

Unfortunately, that turned out to be wishful thinking.

* * *

For the next week or so, everywhere either of the couple went, they were met by reporters shouting questions.

When Hiyori arrived at the station to rehearse his radio show, they were in the bushes lining the front walk to the studio, yelling, “Where are you having the honeymoon? Any truth to the rumors it’s going to be on some tropical island?” “Who’s designing your bridal gown?” “Has Prince Yo-ka said anything about the match yet? Word has it he still likes you.”

Sakito found them waiting in ambush when he went to the offices of a movie studio to discuss a “serious” upcoming role with a potential director. “So who’s invited to the wedding? Any comment on rumors that certain former costars have been banned from attending?” “Is it true you’re looking into adopting a child after you’re married?” “Where is Hiyori’s wedding gown coming from?” “Where did you buy the rings?”

It got worse when they tried to go to dinner together. Their table was besieged by reporters who wanted to know if Hiyori’s fellow ex-Culling candidates were going to be among the honor attendants, and if the royal family was going to be involved in any way, and if it was true that they were going to be doing a provocative photoshoot together, and again, who was going to be designing Hiyori’s gown. Fortunately, the manager of the establishment chased them all away, but not before Sakito got very, very annoyed.

“Why the obsession with my wedding gown?” Hiyori said. “Why do they even think I’m going to be wearing one?”

“Because you wear dresses in so many sketches,” Sakito sighed. “I guess in their eyes, that translates into you wearing a wedding gown.”

“But that’s just comedy,” Hiyori said. “That doesn’t necessarily translate into my offstage fashion sense!”

“You know that and I know that,” Sakito said. “But THEY don’t.” He reached over and took Hiyori’s hand. “I should have proposed to you on a boat in the middle of a river.”

“But the way you did it was so lovely,” Hiyori said. “Right after the performance of a lifetime? I can’t think of a better way to be proposed to.”

“It led to THIS, though,” Sakito said.

“It’ll be worth it in the end,” Hiyori said. “You’re still coming to my broadcast tomorrow, aren’t you?”

“You know I am,” Sakito said.

And if the damn press shows up, the hell with them, he thought. Let them. We’re not answering any questions – at all.

* * *

It started when they first arrived at the studio. The walk was lined with press three deep. They shouted questions at the top of their lungs, overlapping each other to the point where the two men couldn’t even distinguish one speaker from another.

“Ignore them,” Sakito whispered to Hiyori. “Ignore them and they’ll just give it up.”

The two arrived in the complex of green rooms, where performers prepared for and wound down from their on-air performance. “Hey,” Junji called as the two entered. “Got a few friends out there, huh?”

“This is ridiculous,” Hiyori said. “This is worse than when they found out Mahiro was dating Subaru’s brother.”

“You guys should be proud,” Junji said. “Not everyone can upstage royalty.” Mahiro shot Junji a glare – his status as the king’s illegitimate son was still on the group’s “no joking matter” list – and Junji added, quickly, “Um, future royalty, I mean. Seeing as how Kouki’s brother is marrying a prince and all.”

“Nice save,” Mahiro said.

“You sure you’re okay to go on, Hiyori?” Mitsuki approached the couple, casting an anxious glance out the windows. “We can redistribute your parts if . . .”

“I’m fine,” Hiyori said. “Really. One hundred percent fine. It would take a lot more than nosy press to keep me from going on.”

“Remind me to write a sketch about nosy press for our next show,” Takemasa said, walking up to Hiyori and giving him a vigorous slap on the back. “They’ve got it coming.” He looked over at Sakito. “Want to contribute?”

“I might, but I think my group’s got a nosy press sketch of our own in our future,” Sakito said.

Fortunately, nobody – including press – was allowed anywhere near the studios when a broadcast was in process. The actual show went off without a hitch – to Hiyori’s relief. During their closing speeches, Mitsuki said into the mike, “Be sure to tune in next week! You’ll never know when another of us will get engaged!”

“But if we do, you KNOW the press will let you hear about it!” Takemasa added. “Good night, everyone!”

Their ending theme played, their announcer read the closing credits . . . and as soon as the director shouted, “And, we’re CLEAR!” there was a pounding at the door.

A voice outside shouted, “Lord Viceroy? We have some questions! Lord Viceroy?”

Hiyori turned toward the director, sharply, and shouted, “How did they get in here?”

“I don’t know, Hiyori-san, the security in this place is supposed to be airtight!”

“Well, it sprang a leak, didn’t it?” Hiyori stormed out the back door of the studio to the green rooms, where Sakito had been waiting for him, listening to the broadcast over a monitor. When his fiancé entered the room, he stood up and hugged him. “How did it go? It sounded terrific!”

“Great until the goddamn press got in and started banging on the studio door!” Hiyori said. “I can’t go anywhere without . . .”

Voices in the hall shouted, “Lord Viceroy? Satty-san? Just a few questions, and then we’ll go!”

“Maybe I should just get rid of them,” Hiyori said, starting toward the door – but Sakito blocked his path.

“Don’t give them the satisfaction,” he said. “Let them go away on their own. We’ll hole up in here and make them wait.”

“Hole up in here?” Hiyori said, looking a bit panicked. “For how long?”

“For however long it takes. And then, when we get out, we’re having a word with the station manager – and then one with Yo-ka. Maybe he can dispatch royal guards out here for next week’s show. And in the meantime . . . “

Sakito brought his lips to Hiyori’s. Hiyori kissed back, eagerly, more grateful for his fiancé’s touch than ever.

“I can offer you a distraction,” Sakito said in a low purr.

“What kind?”

“The best kind.”

“We’re going to have to be quiet, you know. God forbid the vultures print that we were fucking in the green room.”

Sakito went over to the door, threw the lock and came back to Hiyori, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close. “That’s half the fun, isn’t it?” he said.

Hiyori responded by kissing his lover again and reaching for the zipper of his pants. He pushed the garment down, along with his lover’s underwear, and slid a hand up under his shirt, running his fingers along the other man’s torso, feeling for a nipple. When he found it, he squeezed gently between his thumb and forefinger, and Sakito shuddered a bit – but restrained himself from making a sound. Indeed, the only noise right now was the faint chatter of the jerks in the hall.

Sakito managed to get his lover’s pants down and off with equal speed, and he slowly ran a finger up and down the length of the other man’s cock. Hiyori gripped his arms, clearly restraining a small moan, but his face reflected the pleasure he was feeling.

The younger man’s hand slid downward over his fiance’s belly as they kissed fiercely again, and Sakito felt a familiar, caressing touch along his length. He drew in a long breath as quietly as he could – Hiyori’s fingers were magic, always knowing when and how to touch him. He was marrying this guy for any number of reasons, but their sexual compatibility was definitely one of them.

He began stroking from base to tip, feeling the cock grow and harden under his touch, knowing Hiyori was getting turned on more and more . . . but it was a passion he couldn’t express audibly, having to let his facial expression and body language convey it.

Hiyori’s fingers were moving faster as well, and Sakito was finding it harder and harder to keep quiet . . . but the challenge itself was becoming erotic, the idea that they were defiantly pleasuring each other with the press right out there, that they were going to make each other come even if they couldn’t utter a peep . . .

Hiyori was fully erect now, and Sakito ran a single finger slowly up the front of the hardness, tracing the path of what he knew was an especially sensitive nerve – something that usually brought about a loud moan. Instead, Hiyori bit his lip hard to restrain the sound, his entire body shuddering, and Sakito felt an answering thrill deep within him.

He felt Hiyori grasp his cock firmly, stroking quickly from base to tip, and he did the same thing, their hands moving in rhythm with each other, both of them struggling to keep their sounds restrained, managing just the slightest bit of heavy breathing. They looked deeply into each other’s eyes as they moved, conveying what their voices couldn’t, and then kissed fiercely again, their tongues brushing against each other.

Sakito paused when he reached the tip of Hiyori’s cock, letting his fingers swirl around and around the sensitive area just under the head, and he felt the hand that wasn’t pleasuring him grip his arm hard. And then Hiyori did the same to him, creating a burst of pleasure so intense that Sakito nearly broke and moaned, but he held on, biting his lip and shivering hard.

Their hands gripped each other, pumping hard, and both of them shuddered, trying harder and harder to keep quiet, the pleasure in both men building almost to the point of explosion . . .

Then, Hiyori brushed his thumb across the super-sensitive part near the tip again, and the older man felt the ecstasy burst and explode. He leaned backward, shuddering violently, managing to let out only a couple of quiet gasps as he poured onto his lover’s hand, and then finally relaxed.

He gripped Hiyori tighter, stroking faster, wanting to bring him the same pleasure, and Hiyori suddenly buried his face in Sakito’s shoulder, his entire body shivering, Sakito not letting go of him until the last drop had coated his fingers.

They kissed gently, then leaned their foreheads together, breathing deeply but quietly. The moment, their defiance against their tormenters, had somehow felt more intimate than usual.

Sakito raised his head and whispered, “That was fun. We have to do that more often – just not for that reason.”

Hiyori let out a small laugh. “Any time you want fun in the green room, I’m willing,” he whispered back.

“Now, I know there were tissues in here . . .” Sakito looked around, found the box and passed one to Hiyori. They started to clean up . . .

And then, there was a voice in the hall shouting, “Royal Guards! Disperse in the name of the Crown!”

Hiyori and Sakito looked at each other. The rescue squad had arrived – but their timing was almost very, very bad. “Sounds like we finished just in time,” Sakito said.

“I wonder why they’re . . .” Hiyori said, but was interrupted by a knock.

“Lord Viceroy!” a voice said on the other side of the door. “Lord Viceroy, are you in there?”

The two men scrambled to pull up and fasten their pants. They definitely didn’t want the guards seeing what they were up to. “Yes!” Hiyori shouted as they both fastened their zippers. “We’re here!”

Without further ado, the guard opened the door. “Lord Viceroy!” he said. “His Grace the Archduke of Kiryu called His Grace the Duke of Royz and alerted him to your situation. We came as quickly as we could.” He bowed. “My apologies for not being here sooner!”

“It’s all right,” Hiyori said. “You are very much appreciated. Really.”

“Are you giving us an escort home?” Sakito said.

“We are taking you to the palace,” the guard said. “His Royal Highness wants to have a word with you about your situation.”

Sakito felt relief flooding his body. Of course, Yo-ka would know better than anyone what dealing with an overzealous press was like. “Thank you,” he said.

They followed the guards down the hall and out the door. Thank God they weren’t a bit sooner, Sakito thought. It would have been a hell of a thing for them to burst in on!

* * *

The guards took them straight to Yo-ka’s office, where the Crown Prince was waiting for them wearing an elaborate yukata – which looked very obviously pulled over a ratty T-shirt, given the faded cotton peeking up through the neckline. “Thank you, guards,” Yo-ka said, bowing. “Allow me to speak to them in private.”

Once the officers had retreated, Yo-ka closed the door. “It sounds like your broadcast tonight didn’t end well,” he said. “The show itself was funny as hell, of course, just that . . .”

“Yes, there were press everywhere,” Hiyori said. “From the moment we arrived.”

“That’s not going to happen again,” Yo-ka said. “From now until the two of you have your wedding, My Dragon’s 30-Minute Hour is going to be broadcast from the royal studios within the palace. And that also goes for any special broadcasts that Sendai Kamotsu do. I’ve already spoken to my father. He gave me crap about it, but he agreed.”

“Thanks so much, Yo-ka,” Hiyori said, bowing.

“And the wedding itself is going to be held on the palace grounds, if you so desire. I’m sure my father will allow use of one of the old chapels. Big enough for your family and friends, small enough that the ceremony itself won’t be a media circus. You can have a press conference and photos in the courtyard outside so the bastards can have their damn story.”

“I see you like them as much as we do,” Sakito said.

“Truth be told, the press plays a vital role in government,” Yo-ka said. “They keep those in charge honest, and they make sure the public knows exactly who’s governing them. They’re especially important when it comes to the new Parliament, since it’s made up entirely of elected officials. But when it comes to reporting celebrity gossip? Including royal gossip? That’s when they get out of hand. And they are WAY out of hand this time.”

“If I had known this was going to happen,” Sakito said, “I wouldn’t have proposed like I did.”

“Stop feeling sorry about that, love,” Hiyori said. “I told you – it meant so much more to me than a regular proposal. It’s not your fault that they decided not to give us any privacy or respect.”

“It’s just that they won’t leave us alone. Everywhere we go, they’re following us and asking about the ceremony, our past relationships, the damn dress that Hiyori hasn’t even decided to wear, the . . .”

And then, suddenly, Sakito had a brainstorm. What if . . . the monsters could be thrown off the track by giving them what they supposedly want? Would they shut up and go away then?

“Sakito?” Hiyori suddenly looked concerned.

“I think,” Sakito said, slowly, “there’s going to be a press event in the near future. One that might end this – once and for all.”

* * *

The media corps was buzzing in one of the royal press rooms. They’d been promised “an exclusive reveal regarding the Sakito and Hiyori wedding!” They were a bit puzzled at it being held here instead of at Hiyori’s radio station – but hey, Hiyori was technically nobility, right? And a former Culling candidate? Borrowing this room from the Crown was a logical thing to happen.

Yo-ka was in the anteroom with the happy couple, looking over the big “reveal.” “It looks fantastic,” he said. “Really. I have to commend our stylists. They outdid themselves.”

“Thanks for helping out with this,” Hiyori said. “It really means a lot.”

“You’re a friend,” Yo-ka said. “You always have been, from the early days of the Culling. I consider you BOTH my very good friends. And besides, my inner teenager would never forgive me if I didn’t help out a member of Sendai Kamotsu.” They all laughed.

One of the royal press secretaries approached the prince. “Just read from these notes, Your Highness?”

“Yes,” Yo-ka said. “You’re just handling the intro. The couple will take it from there.”

“Understood.” The press secretary bowed, opened the door and stepped out onto the stage. There was a hush throughout the room. What would be revealed? The date? The location? Both? Maybe the couple had broken up, in which case they had an even bigger story?

“Good afternoon,” the press secretary said. “Thank you all for coming. As you know, the comedy performer known professionally as Panty Hiwai is also Hiyori, Viceroy of Kiryu. As such, the royal family has graciously volunteered my services and the use of this hall for this very important reveal regarding his upcoming nuptials to the performer known variously as Satty and Jakigan Meister.”

The crowd murmured. So this reveal was about Hiyori. Could it be that he was going to unveil his wedding gown at long last? Or at least name the designer?

“We know there has been a lot of curiosity among you about various details of the wedding,” the press secretary continued, “and I am pleased to report that the couple is very willing to share one of the most talked-about items with you.”

The buzz got louder. Photographers made sure there were fresh bulbs in their cameras. Whatever was coming, it was going to be big!

“So, without further ado, let me present to you . . . THE DRESS!”

The crowd gasped and applauded. They were going to see Hiyori in his gown! They would have front-page photos for sure! They would have . . .

The door leading to the stage opened. The photographers elbowed each other out of the way to get the best shot. And a figure in a long, white gown walked slowly onto the stage.

Except it wasn’t Hiyori. It was Sakito. He was impeccably made up, with a silvery-white wig covering his hair. On top of that was a veil held in place by a headpiece of purple and white flowers, which had a matching belt around the waist. The gown itself was white with a silvery sheen, sleeveless, with a very full skirt. His arms and hands were covered with elbow-length white gloves.

The press looked baffled. “What is this?” one of them shouted.

“It is exactly what I said, sir,” the press secretary said. “The gown.”

“Is this one of your comedy acts?” one of the reporters shouted.

“Do you see the other members of Sendai Kamotsu here?” Sakito said. “I don’t do solo comedy. This is a serious gown.”

“But . . . but the Viceroy . . .”

“There’s no rule who says who has to wear the dress, you know,” Sakito said.

“You’re not a noble!” another reporter shouted. “Men wearing dresses is only done among the noble classes!”

“I’m marrying a noble, aren’t I?” Sakito said. “When I walk back up that aisle, my status will be equal to his. I will be Viceroyal of Kiryu, and therefore a noble.”

“Did the Crown approve this?” someone else shouted.

“It’s our wedding,” Sakito said. “I may be marrying a noble, but I’m not marrying a royal. His Highness Prince Toya’s wedding details have to be approved by the Crown. Ours don’t.”

“What the hell is the Viceroy wearing?” another reporter yelled.

The door to the stage opened and Hiyori stepped out wearing a full tuxedo – complete with top hat and tails. He walked onto the stage to stand beside Sakito.

“I figured I’d let you see my outfit, too,” he said.

“What is this?” shouted a reporter. “Why are you wearing that?”

“It’s suitable formal attire for a noble, isn’t it?” Hiyori said.

“But . . . but you’re supposed to be wearing . . .”

“My onstage life isn’t the same as my offstage life,” Hiyori said. “You think you really know me because I’m a public figure? You don’t. Just because I wear dresses for my comedy all the time doesn’t necessarily mean I want to wear one for my wedding. So, I’m wearing what I want. You wanted to see the wedding attire, and you’re seeing it.”

“But . . .” one of the reporters shouted. “But you’re a noble, and . . .”

“My fiancé has already dealt with that question,” Hiyori said. “We’re going to be equal once the marriage is final, and that’s that.”

“But aren’t there rules regarding . . .”

The door opened again, and Yo-ka, wearing a business suit, stepped out on the stage. The press all gasped, stopped talking, and bowed respectfully. One of them shouted, “Good day, Your Royal Highness!”

“The only rules regarding who wears what to a wedding,” Yo-ka said, “have been established by the fashion industry, who like to sell expensive, elaborate gowns to the rich of both genders. And by extension, they’ve been set by yourselves, haven’t they? Since you report who’s wearing what at formal events.”

The press looked at each other and murmured. In a way, they had to admit he had a point.

“Now, the Viceroy had a point when he said his public life and his private life are two different things. And as Crown Prince, I am asking that you please respect that going forward. When this couple – or any couple in the public eye – wants to make something public about their wedding, they will hold a press event or put out a statement. Otherwise, they are to be left alone. It’s their lives together, their wedding. The people they are onstage are very much there for you to report and speculate on. Offstage? They are entitled to their privacy. I ask that you give it to them.”

There were begrudging murmurs among the crowd. Well, now they’d been given a royal order to leave Hiyori and Sakito alone – and like all royal orders, it would be backed up by an official document delivered to all interested parties. In this case, it would be their publishers (and, in the case of the radio reporters, station managers).

“That is the conclusion of this press event, ladies and gentlemen,” Yo-ka said. He bowed to the assembled press corps. “I wish you a good day.”

The group shuffled out of the room, heads bowed, mumbling. They came in expecting a glorious story. They ended up with a royal gag order.

Once they were gone, Yo-ka said, “Well, that’s that. You see any of them where they shouldn’t be from now on, you call the royal guard hotline – I’ll give you the number. They’re in violation of a royal order at that point.”

“You really did save our lives, you know,” Hiyori said. “Or at least our sanity.”

“My pleasure,” Yo-ka said. He looked Sakito up and down. “You really do look fantastic in that. Are you sure you don’t want to wear it for real?”

“I’m sure,” Sakito said. “Hiyori and I have talked it over and we’ve decided we’re both wearing formal kimonos.”

“Where did that dress come from, anyway?” Hiyori said.

“The fashion house my sister used for her wedding,” Yo-ka said. “I contacted them and asked about something that would fit a beanpole like Sakito. The royal stylists added the other touches. I really do like the wig, by the way.”

“So do I,” Sakito said. “I’m borrowing it for a future sketch, you know.”

“And remember, my offer of safe spaces for the wedding and the radio show still stands,” Yo-ka said. “We want to be absolutely sure you have peace and quiet.”

“We’ll take it,” Sakito said. He reached over and took Hiyori’s hand. “Let’s go get changed back. Nice as this dress is, I don’t want to wear it all day.”

Once they were in the private room where they’d left their street clothes, Hiyori said, “I’m so glad that’s over. We’ll be able to BREATHE until our wedding now.”

“And I promise it’s going to be exactly the one you deserve,” Sakito said.

“You don’t regret the proposal anymore, do you?” said Hiyori.

Sakito shook his head. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it the exact same way. Besides, it was worth it to hear Yomi accuse me of ‘grandstanding’ again. Felt just like old times.” Both of them laughed, and Sakito pulled Hiyori into his arms. “I love you,” he said. “And I can’t wait to make you my husband.”

“I love you, too,” Hiyori said. “With everything I’ve got.”

Sakito took a deep breath. He really could be at peace now – and start planning their wedding for real. And he’d be damn sure that it lived up to the proposal.

* * *

Fortunately, the press obeyed the royal order and left the couple alone from that point. My Dragon did their weekly shows from the royal broadcast center, and found they actually liked it better than their own studios. (“Don’t let them get used to it,” the king told Yo-ka. “They go back to the regular studio soon as those two are married.”)

The pictures of the dress were published, with the headline, “Is This THE Dress? Or a Put-On?” The couple, in the rare occasions they did talk to the reporters, gave them no indication they’d been had – they just kept saying, “You’ll see that day.”

When they announced their actual wedding date, they held a small party for family and friends – during which they snuck away to a back room and teased each other to climax silently again. They both felt that incident was the one thing that had come out of the press ordeal that had been worthwhile.

Even bad experiences can have their moments that are worth repeating.