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I want to hold your hand

Chapter Text

It was a cloudy day and Mabu had escaped the castle for a while, to wander through the alleys of the bustling marketplace. He loved to discover all the stalls, sometimes indulging in some new food, but mostly just mingling into the kappa crowd made him happy. It was hard to feel lonely in the heart of the boisterous streets and that was what he was seeking.

After an hour or so, just as he decided to go home, Mabu spotted him. Had the timing been different from just a second, they would have missed each other and never connected: years later, in retrospect, the idea would terrify Mabu. His child self couldn’t know yet, but the other boy would change his life, feeding the burning desires in his heart forever.

Fate gave him someone to protect and cherish in the most unexpected way.

The boy stood out from the crowd, his skin darker than the other kappas, his hair gold as the sun, yet no one gave him a second glance with his ragged clothes. He looked around him, then grabbed a cucumber on a stall and ran away.

Mabu only got a glimpse of his face as he turned around. A savage joy. Shining green eyes. A fierceness Mabu had never seen before.

This child looked like the sun God, able to light the day but also to burn mercilessly.

Stunned, Mabu followed the boy’s escape with his eyes, watching him round a corner, his torn white cape flying behind him. As it disappeared Mabu started moving, barely aware of what he was doing.

At some point he started running, afraid he lost the boy. He didn’t know why but Mabu felt he had to find that child and see him up close. He had to talk to him. He had to understand.

Raindrops started to fall but Mabu paid no attention to them, protected by his thick black cape. As he reached the riverbank he was relieved to see a small lone figure there: a golden-haired boy holding a single cucumber.

"Why did you steal that?"

The question was out of Mabu’s mouth before he could take it back, before he could wonder if it was the right thing to say. He was genuinely curious though, he had never met a thief before and couldn’t understand why a child his own age would do that.

That’s when the boy turned around and the sight took Mabu’s breath away. He looked like Mabu’s opposite somehow, their skins and hairs contrasting, the yin to Mabu’s yang. Their eyes were the same color, however the boy’s were burning with a fire Mabu had never encountered.

Said eyes were wide with surprise before turning hostile.

"What? Got a problem with that?"

Mabu tilted his head to consider the question. The child looked like an angry cat, ready to fight or flight. Stealing was bad, that’s what Mabu had always heard, but it wasn’t like he had been personally cheated.

"I don’t," he decided. "Do you always do that?"

"Yeah, I don’t have money. Not like a rich kid like you would get it!"

That’s when it finally hit Mabu.

This child was lonely. He had to somehow take care of himself and no one was there to witness the fire burning inside of him. But Mabu saw it, right there in the angry eyes, and wanted to see it over and over. He wanted to see the boy light up with passion and joy, not hurt and anger.

As the boy turned away to leave, Mabu’s hand grabbed his clothes, sending him to the ground, just as the rain was getting stronger, slapping their faces.

Mabu extended his hand, oblivious to the smashed cucumber, the mud covering the boy from head to toes or the furious look sent his way.

"I’m Mabu, if you’re alone come with me."

His hand was shoved away with a scratch and he recoiled, taken aback. It wasn’t the first time Mabu got a wound from an angry cat, thus he had learned that they were more scared than mean.

He licked his hand and offered the other one.

"It’s okay, it’s okay," he assured in a soothing voice, worried he might frighten the other child, "no need to worry now."

"Who do you think you are!?" the boy screamed, tears in his eyes, "God?"

Once again, Mabu spoke without thinking.

"That’s you though."

"Huh?"

"Nothing, let’s go."

Since the boy wouldn’t accept the offered hand, Mabu took his. It was cold and muddy and Mabu realized he needed to bring the boy to the shelter of the castle quickly. He walked decidedly, pulling the other child along with him, his eyes set on their path, his mind racing with everything they should do as they arrived.

He needs to eat and a warm bath. New clothes. Of course first I should introduce him to Prince Keppi and...

That’s when he suddenly realized and turned around without a warning. Surprised, the boy jumped, then, for some reason, blushed.

"What’s your name?"

"Uh? Ah... Reo."

"So pretty."

Reo gasped and blushed more, but the anger returned boiling to the surface. It seemed to be some kind of armor, the only way the boy had found to protect himself.

"You’d better replace that cucumber I crushed because of you," he spat with a dirty look.

"No problem. What else do you want to eat?"

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

"No! I won’t get in there! I hate rich people, I refuse to get into the palace!"

Just as Reo realized where they were heading for, he stopped in his track and refused to move. His voice was angry but his eyes were huge with fear and close to tears.

"What are you scared of?" Mabu asked gently, not letting go of the other boy’s hand.

"I’m not scared! I just hate this place!"

"It’s okay, no one’s gonna hurt you there, you’ll be safe. But you don’t have to go in if you don’t want to, I can bring you food here. Just wait for me."

"NO!"

The grip on Mabu’s hand got stronger, refusing to let go, trembling slightly. Surprised by the reaction, Mabu turned back: Reo’s eyes were stubbornly set on the ground, his bottom lip quivering. He seemed so vulnerable that Mabu’s heart clenched.

"I... I can’t trust you to come back," Reo explained with a failed attempt at being spiteful.

His dilemma was obvious, he didn’t want to go into the palace, but refused to leave Mabu’s side. And, truly, Mabu didn’t want to leave Reo alone either. Somehow, he needed to reassure the other child, but before he could try to convince him to follow, Reo suddenly asked:

"Why are you helping me? What’s in it for you?"

Mabu wasn’t expecting the question. Frowning, he took the time to consider his answer: he felt in his gut that this was important and that he needed to be sincere.

He thought hard about his motives, tried to understand why he had been drawn to Reo in the first place. But nothing made sense really and years later he would still be unable to give a clear answer to this. That day, at the marketplace, he had laid his eyes on Reo and somehow felt that this specific person was meant to be in his life.

As the silence dragged on, Reo started fidgeting, bringing Mabu out of his musing.

"I don’t know, I just want to be connected to you."

Maybe it was the right thing to say because Reo raised his head and looked at Mabu with shiny eyes and the hint of a smile.

"You’re weird."

That made Mabu smile too.

"Guess I am."

"Okay, I’ll follow you. Just because I’m hungry. And I can’t trust you to come back with food. I have no choice but to get in there, but I still hate it okay?"

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

"You found someone you want to connect to, kero, that’s great Mabu, kero. Of course Reo is welcome to stay at the palace, kero. Mabu will show you around, kero."

In front of prince Keppi, Reo had remained silent and wary, as if he expected to be thrown out at any moment or was preparing to flee. Nothing of the sort happened of course, and Mabu led his companion to the kitchen of the palace.

The smell was tantalizing even from the corridor and Reo’s stomach made a loud noise. Mabu giggled, which made Reo frown. But before he could snap an angry retort, they were into the bustling kitchen and Mabu led the other boy to a table before talking to a cook.

It was hot in there, so many things were simmering all around and a dozen people were busy carrying ingredients, chopping, watching over pots, cleaning... Mabu loved this room of the palace best and often hanged around just for the pleasure of the activity dancing around him. It all seemed to make Reo nervous though, as he remained silent while waiting.

A meal quickly appeared in front of the two children. Mabu had asked for one of Reo’s favorite food -broccolis- and something nutritive to feed his hungry companion -yakisoba.

Hesitant, Reo took a forkful of his plate.

"Oh!" he suddenly exclaimed, his eyes wide. "Oh this is amazing, I’ve never eaten anything that good before!"

"I’m glad you enjoy it dear," the cook said with a smile. "Eat as much as you want."

"Thank you!"

Mabu had forgotten all about the plate in front of him and couldn’t tear his gaze from Reo. The other boy was eating with enthusiasm, a huge smile on his face, his eyes burning with life and desire.

Between two mouthfuls, Reo turned to Mabu, radiant, shining as the sun itself.

"This is the best day of my life, thanks so much Mabu!"

Not for the first time since he laid eyes on Reo, Mabu felt a strange stirring in his heart, but this one was warmer and stronger. If angry Reo was already pretty and full of life, it was nothing compared to smiling Reo. Smiling Reo could melt an iceberg in an instant.

Mabu decided he wanted to see more of this Reo, he wanted to make him smile all the time. His mind made up, he turned to the cook with a request.

"Can you teach me how to make this?"

He made a gesture to show the meal Reo was now gulfing down, happily oblivious to anything going on around him, while the cook offered Mabu to come around anytime. When Reo finished his plate Mabu just pushed his own in the other boy’s direction, offering a second helping.

"Why do you live here anyway?" Reo asked with his mouth full. "Are you a prince or something?"

Mabu chuckled, watching fondly as Reo kept eating like it was his last meal, then removed a piece of broccoli on Reo’s cheek. It made the blond boy blush, though it did nothing to slow him down.

"I’m not a prince, my parents are the king’s closest vassals. My family has been linked to the royal family for generations. One day I’ll probably work for Prince Keppi too."

The words made Reo go suddenly still and a shadow passed upon his features.

"Must be nice," he mumbled, "to have a family and a future."

Reo was sad again. Mabu didn’t like that. He wanted the shining smile to be back.

Not thinking twice, he took Reo’s hand.

"You can have both too! I’ll be your family and we can build a future together!"

Mabu’s voice was desperate: would he be able to reach Reo’s heart? Reo told him earlier that he had given up on desires and the thought terrified Mabu.

Having desires meant you were alive, that you wanted to keep on living to turn them into a reality. It meant you had a present and a future. But it seemed that the past was somehow holding Reo back.

Could Mabu help Reo find a reason to live instead of just surviving?

Reo was dumbstruck, staring at Mabu.

"Do you often go around, picking up strangers on the street to offer them a new life?" Reo finally asked when his voice returned.

"Do cats count?"

"Do... What? I... what the hell?"

"You’re the first kappa, but I brought back a few cats already."

At this, Reo bursts into laughter and it was like a heavy weight was removed from Mabu’s heart and he could breathe again.

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

"NO! NO! NO! I HATE BATHS!"

"It’s okay Reo," Mabu said in a soothing voice, not letting go of his struggling companion, "baths can be fun!"

Reo gave Mabu a suspicious glare.

"Really?"

"Yes! But we can just take a shower for today."

Suddenly, Reo went very still and paled.

"We?"

But Mabu was already pulling him into the bathroom and started removing his clothes before the other boy could react. He then turned back to Reo who seemed lost on what to do with himself: all spite had left him as he stared at Mabu.

"Is it okay if I help you?" Mabu gently asked.

The other boy just nodded.

Mabu removed Reo’s clothes, then waited for the water of the shower to warm up, before taking Reo’s hand again and pulling him under the stream.

On the shower floor the water turned brown for a moment, revealing Reo’s dark skin and the bruises that covered it. Mabu didn’t say anything, just handed some soap to his companion, then washed himself quickly.

He then glanced at Reo and saw him struggle to wash his hair full of knots and dried mud.

"Let me?"

Reo blushed, but nodded again. Gently, Mabu took out all the dirt from the strands, massaged Reo’s skull with shampoo, then rinsed and combed the light hair.

He then wrapped a soft warm towel aroung Reo and showed him the change of pajamas.

"These are mine," he explained, "we’re the same height so they should suit you."

Once again, Reo blushed, mumbled "it’s fine I hate the feeling of new clothes anyway" and got dressed docilely.

The corridors of the palace were darker when they walked along them, Mabu still holding Reo’s hand, showing him the way. The place was huge, and there were numerous free bedrooms for an additional inhabitant. However Mabu didn’t like the idea of leaving Reo alone in one of them. As he reached the room next to his, Mabu hesitated.

Usually the kittens he rescued didn’t like to be left on their own in this new strange place, but Reo was a kappa and maybe he would have a different opinion on the subject.

"This is my bedroom," Mabu said, pointing at one door, "and this one can be yours," he added showing another one.

"Oh... Okay."

For a moment, Reo seemed hesitant, but then he opened the door to his own bedroom with a muttered goodnight.

It was so fast that Mabu didn’t have any time to process: he just stood in the corridor, staring at the closed door, his heart hurting in his chest. He turned to his room.

"Actually," a little voice said behind him, "is it okay if I sleep in your room?"

"Yes!"

Joy filled up Mabu and he seized Reo’s hand again, pulling him to his -their- bedroom. There was plenty of space for the two of them in there, toys to share and a canopy bed where two kids could fit easily.

"I-I-I can sleep on the floor," Reo protested, stammering, "I’m used to it."

"Nonsense! There’s plenty of room."

Reo stubbornly refused to enter the bed though and Mabu grabbed a pillow.

He throwed it at Reo’s face.

"HEY!"

"Pillow fight!" Mabu yelled, standing on the bed with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, "You have to come here for revenge."

That did the trick: Reo jumped on the bed, his pillow raised for retaliation. The two boys fought in a mess of pillows, giggles and flying hairs as they bounced on the mattress.

After a while, they ended up breathless, lying next to each other. Mabu removed his glasses, then took Reo’s hand again.

"I’m happy you’re here," he whispered, struggling to keep his eyes open.

He thought he heard a reply, but sleep took him away too fast to process it.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Why were you living alone?"

It took Mabu almost a year of shared life with Reo to finally ask that question again. The first time he asked, they had just met and Reo had sent him packing and refused to answer. For good mesure, he had added how he hated a smart ass who asked question that weren’t of his damn business and Mabu had dropped the subject.

Since then, Mabu felt that he had kinda domesticated Reo. Of course the blond boy still protested when they had to take a bath and refused to wear new shirts, but Mabu’s patience always won in the end. Reo seemed to be weak to Mabu’s requests and Mabu enjoyed Reo’s lively company so much that he couldn’t see his life without him now.

However he still had no idea of what happened to Reo before they met.

"Uh?"

The question was so out of the blue that Reo was taken aback. He was drawing at the kitchen table, while Mabu tried for the umpteenth time to bake a good pancake. It frustrated him how he kept burning them.

"You know," Mabu elaborated as he added eggs to the batter, "when we met. You were living alone in the street. Why?"

"What brought this up?"

"Nothing special, I’ve been wondering since day one."

"And you only ask now?"

"I asked. You said mean things and refused to answer."

Reo lowered his head and blushed, ashamed of his past behavior.

"I’m sorry," he mumbled.

"It’s okay, I knew you weren’t mean on purpose."

"You’re just too nice to everyone, Mabu. I don’t deserve your kindness."

"Not true! But you’re changing the subject."

Mabu picked up the jar of milk and poured some slowly, his tongue between his teeth from how focused he was. He could stop altogether and stare at Reo until he answered, but he was set on mastering this recipe. Plus he knew that it would make Reo unnecessarily nervous.

"The war. All my village was killed by the otter army, I’m the only survivor. It was raining that day."

That made Mabu put down the jar and raise his head.

On the opposite side of the table, Reo was coloring his drawing and refusing to meet his friend’s eyes.

"I’m sorry," Mabu said earnestly.

Reo shrugged, fakely casual.

"Nothing you can do about it."

For a moment they remained silent, Reo pretending to be focused on his drawing, Mabu watching him gravely. Around them the kitchen was as bustling as usual and no one paid attention to the two kids who always hanged around here. Mabu was wracking his brain for something to say.

"I have an idea!" he finally blurted out, startling Reo.

The blond boy raised his head, surprised by the sudden outburst.

"You know how my parents fight in the war with the king? We can do the same with prince Keppi when we’re older! Let’s kick some otter ass!"

"That... that actually sounds like a good idea," Reo conceded. "But will prince Keppi agree to have me as his vassal?"

"Let’s ask him right away!"

His pancake batter forgotten, Mabu went around the table, grabbed Reo’s hand and dragged him towards prince Keppi’s apartment.

"Wait! Mabu! We can’t just barge in like that!"

Mabu wasn’t listening, he was on a mission. Striding through the corridors of the palace, nothing else mattered: they had to get the prince’s approval.

Uncaring of any protocole, Mabu greeted the guards posted in front of Keppi’s appartements, knocked on the door and stormed inside before anyone could blink.

"Mabu, Reo, what a nice surprise, kero."

The prince turned away from the desk he was working on, an indulgent smile welcoming the two children.

"Good day prince Keppi," Mabu answered, "we’re here because we have something important to ask you."

"Was it so urgent you had to leave the kitchen in a hurry, kero?"

Mabu looked down: he had completely forgotten that he was still wearing his apron. Behind him Reo whispered "you got some flour on your cheek." Mabu rubbed it and resumed his mission.

"Can the two of us become your vassals and fight the otter empire with you?"

That took Keppi by surprise. He was still a young kappa and this subject hadn’t been brought up so far. The king was away to the war and had entrusted the palace to his son, but everyone knew that the conflict was getting worse as years passed by and they would need all the manpower they could get.

Still, being the personal vassal to a royal member wasn’t entrusted to just anyone.

"Is that what you want Reo, kero?"

Reo was still hiding behind Mabu, unsure if his place was here in this chamber, facing the crown prince, as kind as he might be. He took a step forward to stand by his friend’s side, gripping his hand.

"I want to fight the otters. And I want to stay with Mabu, always."

Reo rarely said what he wanted. He would rather bicker about what he hated, oppose everyone on everything -except Mabu- and reluctantly admit some stuffs weren’t "too bad". For once, he expressed a desire and the will to connect it to the future.

Mabu squeezed his hand, happy to hear these words. He also wanted to be with Reo, always.

Prince Keppi smiled, then walked to the children, ruffing their hair kindly.

"I think your connection makes you a good fit for the sarazanmai, kero."

"What’s that?" Reo asked, puzzled.

"A complete connection of minds and souls, the greatest weapon we have to fight the otter empire, kero."

"So, you’ll have us as your vassals?"

The hope in Mabu’s voice was obvious.

"Of course, kero! But you’ll have to study hard at the military academy, kero."

Reo pouted at that.

"I ha...", Mabu sent him a look and he corrected himself, "I don’t like studying but I’ll make the effort."

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

"Come on Reo, get up!"

Reo grunted in his half-sleep, pulling the cover over his face. Mabu had no choice but to drag him out of bed.

He grabbed the cover, removed it, then tickled Reo’s stomach with a smirk. The laughter came bubbling out of Reo’s mouth and he tried to escape the sneaky attack. His shiny face warmed Mabu’s heart and he indulged in the shared moment as Reo retaliated.

It had been three years since Reo entered his life and Mabu didn’t see them pass by. Reo carried a warm light inside him and shared it without counting around him, bringing color and life to everyone. The two teenagers had grown incredibly close, spending all their time together.

The tickle fight ended with both of them out of breath and smiling like idiots at each other. Mabu blushed slightly, then averted his gaze.

He was confused about his feelings towards his friend lately.

"Come on," he said to hide his turmoil, "we can’t be late on the first day, we need to get going soon."

Getting up, Mabu grabbed Reo’s hand, dragging him to his feet. It was so easy to hold this hand, it always had been, since the day Mabu found him. That day, Reo’s hand had been so cold, but now it was warm and Reo’s body wasn’t too thin and bruised anymore. Mabu brought him to the palace and it had become a warm and loving home for Reo.

On the dining table in their shared apartments laid dishes of yakisoba with broccolis, Reo’s favorite dish.

"Mabu, did you get up super early to prepare this?"

"Well, yes, why?"

"Thank you."

After all these years, Reo’s thankful smile still filled Mabu’s chest with joy and warmth. He wasn’t expecting the hug though: Reo wrapped his arms around Mabu, pulling him close. For a moment all Mabu could hear were the mad beating of his heart and Reo’s breathing close to his ear. Flustered, he didn’t even know what to do with his own hands.

He ended up returning the hug awkwardly, trying to will his blush away.

"I don’t know where I’d be without you," Reo mumbled against his shoulder, "probably dead."

"Aren’t you dramatic, it’s just yakisoba."

"You gave me much more. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you."

Mabu gulped around his tight throat and his fingers dug deeper into Reo’s shirt.

"You don’t have to. As long as you stay by my side I’ll be happy."

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

"No, Niiboshi, for the hundredth time, you can’t request a change of room!"

The instructor was starting to lose her patience with Reo, Mabu could tell by the protuberant vein at her temple. And he also could guess how Reo’s blood was boiling. He needed to intervene before it escalated and his short-tempered companion ended up having a punishment of some sort -and Mabu guessed that the military school could be creative for these.

"It’s okay Sergeant," Mabu said, putting a hand on Reo’s arm to soothe him, "thank you for taking the time to listen to our request."

Before either could get madder, Mabu dragged Reo with him, out of the office of the dorm head. The school’s policy was to pair the students as roommates according to the alphabetical order, so of course Reo and Mabu ended up in different rooms.

Mabu took the other teenager to the common area, forced him to sit on a couch and turned to him.

"You’re in the military now Reo, you need to learn to obey or you’ll end up in trouble."

Upset, Reo mumbled something under his breath that Mabu didn’t quite catch, then answered louder.

"But I don’t want to be separated from you! That was the whole point of us getting into this place together!"

"We still can see each other a lot and we go back home together on leave."

"Are you guys brothers or something?"

Reo and Mabu turned in sync at the interruption. Another student was watching them curiously, as if he was searching for any kind of similarity between the two very different young men.

The question pierced through Mabu’s heart as he tried to put a name on his relationship with Reo. Were they friends? Family? Could they be called brothers?

"We’re not brothers at all!" Mabu blurted out more vehemently than intended. "We don’t share the same blood!"

He heard a gasp and turned to Reo. Next to Mabu, on the couch, Reo was staring at him with wide eyes, shocked. It was obvious how much Mabu’s heated reaction hurt him.

Mabu’s hand clenched on his companion arm, trying to convey what he meant without saying it aloud, but Reo removed his arm and left without a word.

They had already fought in the past of course, but not like that. Usually their voices would go louder and louder as they got mad at each other. It was the first time Reo left without a word and Mabu was frozen, not knowing what to do.

He wouldn’t take back his words though, because if they really were brothers he didn’t have any right to love Reo the way he did. He wouldn’t be allowed to have these impure thoughts about him.

Mabu didn’t care if his love was never returned, but he refused to let go of his desire.

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

That night, Mabu couldn’t find sleep. After tossing and turning in his bed for what felt like hours, he gave up. Throwing the covers away and grabbing his glasses, he checked that his roommate was sound asleep, then slipped out of their room.

The unfamiliar dark building was silent, almost eerie, as Mabu quietly made his way to Reo’s room. He had no idea how he would wake up the other boy without alerting anyone else, no idea what he would even tell him, but he needed to try.

As he turned the last corner of the corridor he bumped into a silhouette. A surprised scream almost escaped his lips but a hand covered his mouth before he could alert anyone.

"Shhhh Mabu! It’s me."

Mabu’s eyes widened as he made out Reo’s light hair in the dark. Under Reo’s fingers, Mabu smiled, relieved, but didn’t dare take his companion’s hand to show the way after what happened earlier.

It turned out Reo grabbed Mabu’s hand instead, like it was the most natural gesture in the world. And maybe it was: since the day they met they always had been together, reaching for each other and being both emotionally and physically close.

How such a little thing could make Mabu that happy, he had no idea, but he felt like a huge load was lifted off his shoulders as they sneaked out of the building and under the shadow of a big tree.

Mabu came to a sudden halt, head down, and he whispered:

"I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you."

Forced to stop in his track, Reo turned around.

"I know. I’m sorry I left without a word. I was just... shocked I guess. I had never given a thought to what we are to each other before."

The soft voice made Mabu raise his eyes. A ray of moonlight seeped through the leaves and fell on Reo’s face and hair. All the love Mabu had inside his heart threatened to pour out.

"What are we to each other?" he asked with a small voice.

For a moment, Reo stared at him with a serious face, then a boyish grin appeared.

"No idea! You’re the smart one."

"Idiot," Mabu said with a smile of his own, poking his companion in the ribs where he knew he was ticklish. "I’m not entirely sure myself."

Reo nudged Mabu to sit at the foot of the tree with him, blew a strand of hair from his face, before resuming the conversation.

"Well, we don’t have to define it. Let’s just say we’re partners, could mean so many things."

"I suppose so," Mabu answered, trying to hide his blush.

They sat in a companionable silence, so used to being by each other’s side that words were not always necessary. After a moment, Mabu shivered: the night was chilly and they were only wearing pajamas.

"You cold?" Reo asked.

"A little."

"Come here."

Mabu froze. Turned toward him Reo was waiting with his arms open, offering to snuggle together.

He knew it was only meant to warm each other up, still Mabu’s heart couldn’t help but speed up. He was certain his face was tomato red as he silently moved closer to his companion -his partner. In between Reo’s leg, Mabu leaned back and arms came around him. He could feel Reo’s heart behind him, beating fast and strong too.

"Better?" Reo asked softly.

His breath caressed Mabu’s ear, who felt himself blush harder. At least the embarrassment warmed him up.

"Much better," he whispered.

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

It was tough to not be all the time with Reo anymore. Before they came to the school, Mabu and Reo had lived in their own little world, oblivious to anything or anyone else. The nights were the hardest, as Mabu couldn’t snuggle up to Reo anymore. Or maybe the hardest was to not be able to tell every little thing to Reo right away, not share every little thought.

Somehow the fierce boy Reo had been was now pretty sociable and he didn’t seem to suffer from the change as much. Mabu was glad his partner was happy but he felt lonely, still bearing confusing feelings that he didn’t know what to do with.

One of them was definitely jealousy though.

Reo seemed to get along with his roommate and it was good Mabu tried to convince himself, but he couldn’t help but be worried. Did Reo tell this guy all his secret thoughts? Did they snuggle up too? Did they hold hands? Were these things you did with just any friend?

When he was in a brooding mood, Mabu would usually go cook, whatever the time of day or night. However he couldn’t do that at the dorm -he had tried and got shooed from the school kitchen.

Which meant that he was in a mood when they got to their sword sparring lesson.

"All right," the instructor said over the teenagers’ chattering, "make pairs and start practicing what we saw last time."

Reo drew his sword out and faced Mabu with a smirk.

"Pretty sure I’ll beat you."

"I beat you in every class, this won’t be any different," Mabu retorted.

Reo froze, then cast a quizzical look at Mabu.

"Hey, is something wrong?"

"No."

And without further warning, Mabu reached out with his blade. Reo started and barely had time to protect himself with the side of his sword. He took a step back, ready for retaliation, however Mabu didn’t leave him any time to breathe.

The exchange got faster, as Mabu channeled all his frustration in his fighting, his face neutral. Reo’s expression was confused though, he was overwhelmed with his partner attacks.

It stopped when Reo’s sword flew out of his hands.

"Very good Akutsu," the instructor said. "Niiboshi you need to think faster and..."

Honestly, the teacher’s chatter was lost on Mabu. His gaze was locked with Reo’s who stared back with a puzzled expression.

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

They barely talked after that, their classes taking all their afternoon and then Mabu just went to brood into his room.

As he looked out the window without really seeing the sky, a drop of water fell in front of him, then another and another, shaking him out of his bad mood. Soon the rain was upon them, loudly slamming on the roof and his only thought was for Reo.

The rain made Reo sad. And Mabu had made a promise that he would spend the rainy days with him.

Sighing, he got up, then went out of his room to walk to Reo’s. He knocked, then entered.

Reo was alone, sitting on his bed, hugging his knees. He was a pitiful sight and Mabu felt guilty for all his stupid resentment. After all, it was a good thing if Reo had other friends, Mabu was just worried he wouldn’t fit into his life anymore.

When he heard Mabu enter, Reo lifted his head. A relieved smile appeared on his face and he reached out with his hand.

Mabu reached back. He always would.

They sat in silence on Reo’s bed, holding hands, their shoulders touching.

"I was afraid you wouldn’t come," Reo suddenly said.

"We pinky promised I’d be with you when it rains."

"I know, but you seemed... mad at me? Or something."

"It’s no reason not to keep my promise."

"So you ARE mad at me! Why?"

Mabu didn’t know how to answer. It was so stupid and he couldn’t tell Reo that he had feelings for him. Reo didn’t feel the same, he just wanted to be friends and family and partners or something. Whatever that meant. Mabu wanted... he didn’t even know what he wanted! He was SO confused right now.

"I’m not mad at you," he finally answered, "I just... kinda miss the palace and our room and all."

"I know right?! I can’t sleep without you, this is the worst!"

That took Mabu by surprise.

"Really?"

"Well, duh," Reo made a funny dumb face at that, "we always snuggle up to sleep."

"We-we do."

Mabu could feel his cheeks heating up and he turned his face away to ask what was bothering him the most.

"And you-you don’t with your roommate?"

"Don’t what?"

"Snuggle."

"What?! Of course not! What a stupid idea, I only do that with you!"

A wave of relief swelled Mabu’s heart and he glanced at Reo. His friend was blushing too.

"We could sneak out from our room at night," he offered.

Reo beamed at this.

"Yes we should do that!"

Chapter Text

The first time he saw Reo in the kappa military uniform, Mabu thought he was going to implode.

"How do I look?" Reo asked with a proud smile.

Very sexy was on the tip of Mabu’s tongue, especially with his lapels open -a definite bend in the military rules but Mabu would keep that to himself, the view was too good.

"You, ah, look very nice," he stammered while a messy storm went on inside his brain, "it suits you."

Reo was handsome in anything, but this was next level. With all the training he had undertaken at the military school these past years, Reo had developed some muscles and he was now taller than Mabu. He was transforming into a man.

Mabu was more smitten than ever.

"Come on," Reo said, shaking Mabu out of his daze, "try yours!"

The uniform was neatly folded over Mabu’s chair, waiting for him in all its black and gold glory. Reo sat on their bed on the other side of the room: everyone had given up on trying to separate them after a couple of months of them sneaking out every night to sleep together. Since then they shared their room and bed, the second one being basically a couch.

Mabu nodded and took off his clothes, stripping down to his underwear. He put on the pants, then took a moment to consider the rest of his uniform.

"Hey, how do you button the jacket?" he asked as he turned back to Reo.

Mabu froze: Reo was staring the other way and stubbornly refusing to look back. Lately he had been evasive like that, turning away from Mabu, moving back sometimes when they were snuggling and it hurt Mabu every time. Was Reo tired of him?

"Never mind," Mabu mumbled, dejected.

He turned his back to his partner and dressed up in silence. As he finished buttoning up his jacket he suddenly felt hands on his right shoulder and a soft voice close to his ear.

"Careful, you stuck the cape into your belt."

Mabu froze while Reo untucked the cape and smoothed out the fabric, stroking Mabu’s back in the process. He was just... so close and touching in a way that felt so different. A hot wave invaded Mabu’s groin and he stepped away hastily before it became too embarrassing.

Willing his blush away, he turned around.

"So? Does it look okay on me?"

He shyly glanced at Reo. Mabu could swear he saw him gulp before he whispered.

"More than okay."

There was something in Reo’s eyes that Mabu couldn’t quite determine but for a moment he thought that Reo was really seeing him. They faced each other in silence, blushing. Mabu now regretted buttoning his collar, he couldn’t breathe correctly.

Then suddenly Reo left the room with a mumbled excuse.

Mabu just stood there, trying to calm his heart: it felt like its mad beating was widening the cracks carved by the pain. Not for the first time he wondered how long he would be able to bear living in such close proximity with the person he loved and desired without ruining everything.

He would protect their connection to Hell and back.

 

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

 

The last few months at the military school went by in a flash. Reo and Mabu had to work their ass off to be worthy of becoming prince Keppi’s personal vassals.

Today was the pay off.

For once Reo had buttoned up his uniform and he seemed to genuinely lack air as he fumbled with his collar and fidgeted in the hallway. The guards in front of the huge throne room doors were unfazed, their gaze set on some distant imaginary point, waiting for the order to open the way.

Mabu observed his partner in silence for a few minutes, then seized his hand. It was shaking slightly.

"Hey."

Reo finally looked back at Mabu.

"You think something’s wrong?" Reo whispered, frowning. "We’ve been waiting since forever."

"It hasn’t been that long and it’s an official ceremony, of course it takes time. Relax, Reo."

"But what if he changed his mind? I’m nobody, just a street kid you picked up, why would he..."

That was cut short as Mabu put his hands on Reo’s cheeks and joined their foreheads together. Reo’s eyes widened.

"Stop belittling yourself. You’re my precious partner and prince Keppi said our connection was ideal for the sarazanmai. The ceremony is just taking a bit to get rolling, that’s all."

The words seemed to help, or maybe it was their physical proximity. Either way, Reo’s shoulders finally relaxed. He put his hands over Mabu’s, closed his eyes and smiled.

"You always say the words I want to hear."

Mabu smiled too. They were so close, and Reo’s face was so handsome, Mabu wanted to kiss him. Before his mind could wander too far, Reo spoke again.

"I still don’t get what sarazanmai is though."

Mabu chuckled. They had had this conversation hundreds of times, tried to ask the prince again and again, but only got one answer: "you’ll understand when you do it."

"We’ll discover it soon enough now."

As Mabu said these words the wooden doors finally opened and the guards announced their names loudly. Mabu released Reo and looked back at the packed throne room, spotting prince Keppi at the other end. He was waiting for them, a kind smile on his face, two swords on a cushion in front of him.

Mabu briefly squeezed Reo’s hand. They exchanged a look. No words was necessary.

They were ready, this was their day. 

 

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

 

What the hell was happening?

Prince Keppi had turned them into their kappa form without a warning and they had felt the uncontrollable urge to sing. They were in otter territory, fighting a two stories tall zombie and they were just... singing like idiots.

But mostly the prince had never warned them about what happened next. Not the shirikodama extraction -that part he had explained- but the secrets leak.

 

They were a few years younger, back at the palace in their shared room. Mabu was sleeping, his hand resting on his pillow next to his peaceful face. Reo looked at him, his eyes fond. He reached out, pushing back a loose strand from Mabu’s forehead. Holding his breath, Reo leaned down, watching closely to be sure that the other boy wouldn’t wake up.

Then he kissed Mabu’s forehead.

 

Present day Mabu heard Reo wince. The scene was troubling and Mabu could swear he felt Reo’s heart beating madly. Before he could spend more time pondering over it, another flashback was leaked.

 

Reo opened the door to their shared room at the military school and stopped dead in his track.

On the floor was an envelope. It had been slipped under the door and was displaying Mabu’s name with a heart next to it.

A fucking heart.

It seemed that Reo’s brain was glitching. He stared at the offending object for a solid five minutes, his hand still on the doorknob, wondering what he should do.

Footsteps approached behind him and before he could think about the consequences he grabbed the letter and hid it in his pocket.

"Reo?" Mabu asked to his back. "What are you doing standing there? We’re going to be late for class."

"Ah, uh. Yeah, sorry, I spaced out."

Mabu smiled, sweet as ever, and Reo’s heart fluttered. Of course other people would notice how amazing he is, Mabu was basically perfect: beautiful, kind, smart, from a good family. Even when he was mad he was still perfect, showing the cutest pout. Reo wanted to kiss that pout. Of course someone would take him away from Reo some day.

Of course.

Just the idea brought tears to Reo’s eyes and he turned away to hide it.

"Go ahead, I’ll join you shortly."

"Oh... okay then."

As soon as Mabu had left Reo took out the love letter. He turned it this way and that, his conscience and jealousy fighting each other.

Jealousy ended up winning.

He opened it and scanned it over. It was the crap you’d expect from a love letter slipped under a door -the coward couldn’t even give it in person!-, but what Reo wanted was a name.

He would keep them away from Mabu from now on.

 

His hand on his head, Mabu’s eyes widened and he glanced at his partner next to him. Reo’s face was red, his eyes closed, shame was pouring from him through their connection. 

Suddenly some of Reo’s past behavior made sense. He had been strangely hostile to the person who left this letter and had always been around when they tried to talk to Mabu.

The irony was that Mabu had never had the slightest interest in this person. Or in anyone beside Reo for that matter.

 

They were back at the academy, on the day they tried on their uniforms for the first time. Reo was sitting on the bed, watching Mabu undress. 

For years now, they had been living together, sleeping together, bathing together. Of course Reo had seen Mabu undress many times.

That day though, it triggered a wave of lust. It wasn’t the first time, it happened more and more often and every time Reo felt ashamed. All he could do in these moments was move away from Mabu and try to cool his head somehow. Mabu had never expressed a physical desire toward him, but Reo was lusting over his best friend, having impure thoughts. Reo wanted to touch him for more than cuddles, he wanted to kiss him, to feel Mabu’s skin against his own...

Mabu put on his uniform pants. They were snug on his ass and thighs, highlighting his muscles and Reo wanted to touch.

Heat flooded his cheeks and he looked away hastily, hoping he could manage to keep his feelings in check.

 

Mabu couldn’t believe what he saw and felt through their mind connection. Could he interpret it the way he hoped? Before he could do or say anything, Reo screamed, shame and despair mingled, the feelings hitting Mabu fully and knocking the air out of his lungs.

Prince Keppi assimilated the zombie’s shirikodama, his magic wrapped around his two vassals and they were suddenly back into solid regular ground, their uniforms back on.

Mabu was dizzy, his mind racing. He turned to Reo only to find him shaking, his fists tightly closed and tears flooding his eyes.

"Reo..."

He tried to reach out and hold Reo’s hand as he had so often. This time though, Reo didn’t let him: he turned around and ran away, not listening to Mabu’s calls.

"Reo!"

"Wait."

Mabu was stopped in his track by a white tendril around his arm. In otter territory prince Keppi could only be in his mochi form but he still had enough physical strength to hold Mabu back.

"With all due respect my prince, I really need to talk to Reo."

"Don’t worry, you will. It’s about time you two finally talk," he muttered rolling his eyes. "There’s just something you should have first."

Keppi’s shell opened and a golden dish of hope came out of it.

"Here, this will grant you a wish. Use it as you see fit."

Mabu took the precious gift, hugging it close to his heart. It was beating madly, filled with hope but also fear. Once again Mabu turned away from the prince to chase after Reo, this time Keppi didn’t stop him.

 

 

㋐...㋐...㋐

 

 

The fear grew bigger as time grew longer while Mabu searched for his partner: they were in enemy territory and otters could appear at any given time. In his left hand, Mabu’s sword was at the ready, while he held the precious dish of hope with his right.

Reo hadn’t been gone that long, he couldn’t be too far, still Mabu was worried. His boots had left marks in the mud, making it easy to follow the trail.

Suddenly Mabu heard Reo yelling followed by some commotion. He ran, calling Reo’s name. The metallic sound of a blade resounded. As Mabu got closer to some boulders he was ready to charge in and protect Reo from the enemies attacking him.

He jumped behind the rocks with a scream.

And froze.

Reo was passing his nerves with his sword on the stone, explaining the metallic sounds. To Mabu’s relief he was completely alone and in no danger whatsoever. Reo had always felt too much, expressed his feelings loudly and he was easily hurt.

Having his secrets suddenly exposed must have been a shock and it was kind of unfair that he was the only one embarrassed.

Mabu knew what he had to do now.

Oblivious to his presence Reo was still attacking the rock in front of him. Mabu stepped forward and stopped Reo’s blade with his own.

For a moment Reo froze, his eyes wide, his mouth forming a surprised o shape.

Mabu grinned, mischevious. He moved his left hand, his sword forcing his partner into a sparring match. Only hours of practice allowed Reo’s reflexes to take over. He was still dumbfounded as he tried to stop Mabu’s attacks, but it was obvious who had the advantage. Quickly Reo lost ground, then stumbled and ended up on the ground with his sword out of reach.

Out of breath, they stared at each other, Mabu pointing his blade to Reo’s chest, hugging the dish of hope to his own.

"Feeling better?" Mabu asked after a moment of silence.

Reo looked away, blushing.

"Not really," he mumbled. "You must ha... be mad at me right now."

Mabu’s heart was beating madly and it wasn’t from the sparring match they just had. He was about to do something rash.

He dropped his weapon and held the golden dish in front of him.

"I wish for Reo to see my biggest secret too."

The inscription on the plate changed, showing Mabu’s wish instead, then emitted a blinding light. Instinctively Mabu squinted and protected his eyes with his free hand.

It was his turn to be exposed to Reo, to bare down all his feelings. It was scary, he was showing his very soul to the person most important to him, taking a leap of faith.

Memories went by in front of them, Mabu’s love pouring into the connection of their minds. It had always been there from the moment they met, it just took a different shape as they grew up, only became stronger.

It was intense and could have lasted a few seconds or a few years for all Mabu knew. When it suddenly stopped it left him breathless, holding a cracking dish. 

It crumbled to the ground and disappeared between the two boys.

The silence that followed was deafening. Mabu didn’t dare to look at Reo, Reo who wasn’t moving nor saying anything.

Finally Mabu found the courage. He moved his eyes up to Reo’s face and gasped.

He was crying. His cheeks were soaking wet from huge tears.

"Reo? Reo are you okay?" Mabu asked as he kneeled next to him.

"I-I-I’m confused. Can I... can I hope I understood correctly what you showed me?"

Mabu felt heat coming to his cheeks. He took Reo’s hand as he always had, as he would always do as long as Reo would let him. He wanted to hold Reo’s hand over and over again and never let go. He wanted to connect.

"I always have and always will love you Reo."

Reo sobbed, overwhelmed, reaching out to hug Mabu tight.

"I lo-love you to-too," he stuttered through the tears.

He was such an emotional mess and Mabu loved him so much! Smiling into the blond messy hair, Mabu turned his face to Reo’s.

"Can I kiss you?" he whispered with a strangled voice.

Reo nodded, turned to Mabu too.

Their lips met, soft and salty, shy and hopeful.

A different kind of promise and the start of something new.