There was a sharp, concise knock at his cabin door. Hakuryuu’s mismatched eyes flicked up before he uttered the instruction to enter, and the door opened to reveal one of his soldiers. The man bowed politely, which the prince acknowledged with a slight nod.
“We’ll be making port in an hour, my lord.” he informed him. “Is there anything we should prepare?”
“No, that will be all.” Hakuryuu dismissed. “I will come above deck shortly.”
The soldier bowed again before shutting the cabin door and taking his leave back to the deck to whatever task was previously his. Hakuryuu sighed once the door had shut, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes a brief moment.
At some point, and by at some point he meant currently, people were going to begin to question his frequent trips to Sindria. His sister was the only one to bring the subject up directly, and she did so playfully, but even her jests had an undertone of concern to them. He could understand why. He didn’t precisely agree with a good portion of his family’s ideals, and constant trips to such a powerful nation were… questionable at the least.
They weren’t wrong to be worried, to their credit. His initial interest in Sindria and its king had in fact been for the purpose of combatting his own nation but that had been then. Not that that same interest didn’t still apply, it did and Sinbad knew it, but there was another layer to his intentions now.
Hakuryuu sighed against and lifted his head to rub the bridge of his nose. Even he felt slightly stupid, and if he were ever to admit aloud his reasons for his visits, even to his sister, he’d sound a fool too. He could barely admit it within his own mind.
The truth was that something, someone, else entirely had caught his attention while he was in the small island country. It was dreadfully mundane of him, perhaps even cliché, to have become smitten with a foreigner in an exotic land and then go so far out of his way to see them again and again but here he was. Doing just that.
He rose from his seat and checked himself in the mirror, both for the sake of appearances and vanity, and then exited his quarters to go above deck. The ocean air was crisp and clean, its coolness offset by the heat of the blazing sun overhead, and Hakuryuu allowed himself a small smile. Though the time it took tried his patience, he enjoyed sailing, especially when the end of his journey was the technicolor shores ahead of them now.
He stayed above deck for the remainder of the trip, watching the shoreline drawing closer and closer. Excitement buzzed amongst the crew like it may infect the very air, and Hakuryuu was right there with them letting it overtake him. Sindria was a beautiful, exciting country full of things that one could never experience in the Kou Empire. There was none of the stiffness of their homeland here, and it served as a novelty and a blessing.
While he was busy with whatever business he was here for, his men would be free to roam the island and make merry, which for all their hard work their certainly deserved. So long as they didn’t make fools of themselves or cause any trouble, this was a lot like a vacation for them.
They made port and Hakuryuu could physically feel how antsy he was getting. If he hadn’t had an image to uphold he might have been bouncing on his heels like an overly excited child, but he contained that urge. Instead he waited for the bridge to be let down so he could descend from his ship, accompanied by a small guard. He braced himself as he went, but his usual greeting didn’t appear by the time his feet touched the ground. He almost frowned, but quickly brushed the urge aside at the sight of one of the king’s generals.
“Welcome back, Prince Hakuryuu.” he was greeted while the general bowed.
Despite himself, Hakuryuu smiled as he bowed in return. Though this was not the person he’d come to see, he was no less pleased by his presence.
“Thank you for coming to meet me, Master Spartos.” he replied. “I’m sorry if my arrival was on short notice.”
The spearman offered him one of his quiet smiles, which seemed to set anyone’s nerves at ease.
“Not at all, it’s good to have you back. Did you have some business in town or shall we return to the palace?”
“No business, and don’t bother disturbing King Sinbad if he’s otherwise engaged, I won’t take it as an affront if he doesn’t greet me.”
“I think he’d welcome to the intrusion, Ja’far has him hard at work.”
“All the more reason to let him alone I think.”
They shared an amused smile before Hakuryuu turned back to his crew to tell them they were now to their own devices. He instructed his guard to follow, as was procedure, then took up stride beside Spartos.
Spartos Leoxses was not someone Hakuryuu had anticipated enjoying the company of, or even really knowing. He was by far the quietest and most reserved of the generals, and he came across as quite severe at first meeting. However, the man had become his on-again off-again teacher during his times in Sindria, tutoring him in spear techniques Hakuryuu was unfamiliar with.
The end result was a sort of friendship between them Hakuryuu hadn’t come looking for but didn’t at all regret. Beneath his cold appearance, Spartos was in fact very kind, and a good conversationalist.
“I take it you’re disappointed I came alone.”
And terribly more observational than given credit.
“No, why would I be?” Hakuryuu replied, trying to appear genuinely confused by the question.
Spartos merely gave him a sideways look and the prince caved, turning his head and huffing. The general’s lips turned up in another amused smile.
“Don’t be too put out, Prince Hakuryuu. I doubt he meant to miss your arrival, he’s busy too you know.”
“I know. He just usually--“
“Knocks you off your feet the moment you arrive?”
The walk to the palace was familiar to him by now, and he chatted with Spartos as they went. When he had first come to Sindria he’d had eyes only for the new surroundings, both fascinated and in awe of the beautiful country he found himself in. Now though, he had only enough focus to talk to his teacher to keep from running the rest of the way to the royal grounds.
Even in his own head he was acting like a lovesick child, good god. ( Well, he was technically a lovesick child but he wasn’t about to admit that willingly. )
When the entered the palace grounds, Spartos subtly offered to take him to where the person he most wanted to see was, and Hakuryuu dismissed his guard to take up their usual stations. They bowed and left and he followed after the general into the palace and through the halls.
The Black Libra Tower was their final destination, but they’d only just come into sight of it when there was a loud gasp followed by;
Hakuryuu didn’t have to do much looking to spot the voice’s owner, his eyes tended to stray to him first out of anyone anyway. Not ten feet away there he was, the Magi of Sindria, Judal.
Judal was the same as the last time he’d seen him. Tall, pale, slender, and with a plait of dark hair that fell all the way down to his feet and just barely brushed the floor. He was wearing the same robe as the rest of the generals, as always, and his golden jewelry glinted in the sunlight. In a lot of ways, his appearance was much more simple than Hakuryuu’s own but just like the first time they’d met, Hakuryuu had a hard time taking it all in, lingering on small details with a breathless kind of awe.
Rather remorselessly, Judal dumped the scrolls he’d been holding into another official’s arms and, in the blink of an eye came rocketing at him. Hakuryuu didn’t have time to brace himself this time and he went stumbling backwards when Judal flung himself into his arms, wrapping him in a tight hug.
“Oh my god I’m so sorry I forgot you were coming today I thought it was tomorrow! Ja’far’s been working me like crazy I totally lost track of time I should’ve double checked!”
Hakuryuu caught the Magi around the middle and returned the hug, patting his back to try and calm him a little.
“Relax, Judal, I’m not mad!” he chuckled. “Master Spartos said you were busy.”
Judal squeezed him a fraction tighter, and Hakuryuu allowed himself the luxury of just reveling in holding the older boy. Weeks, months, apart was an unfair kind of suffering he truly did not appreciate. Even if he was the only one to have to endure it.
“Yeah well, I’m still sorry.” Judal sighed, right by his ear. “Welcome back, Hakuryuu.”
A soft smile touched the prince’s lips. “Thank you very much for the welcome, Judal.”
The Magi let him go and they stepped apart. Hakuryuu had to forcefully move his hands from the other’s waist for fear his touch would linger, but he didn’t have to make himself last long without the other. Judal swung an arm around his shoulders almost as soon as they’d let each other go, leading him back towards the Green Sagittarius Tower.
“Judal, Ja’far’s not going to be happy with you brushing off your work!” one of the officials called from behind them.
“Yeah, you know how he’ll scold you!”
“Oh he’ll understand!” Judal hollered back, waving a hand dismissively. “C’mon, greeting an important guest is more important than some stupid paperwork!”
Hakuryuu missed it, too busy watching Judal with amusement, but the two officials gave them pair of them an amused, wistful look. They thought they were so subtle but it was so ridiculously, plainly obvious who saw the two of them together what was between them.
“So,” Judal said, returning full attention to Hakuryuu. “How was the trip?”
Hakuryuu sighed and with much less shame than he should have had, looped his arm around Judal’s waist. The first time he’d done it he’d been a nervous mess but nowadays it felt perfectly normal.
“Long and uneventful.” he replied honestly. “I think the most exciting thing to happen was that one of the new crewmembers discovered he was seasick.”
Judal laughed, which made Hakuryuu smile.
“You sound so put out!” the Magi chortled. “An uneventful trip is good though, right? At least at sea.”
A snort. “Maybe so but it does make things dreadfully dull.”
“What, you want to come here and regale me with tales of your battles with pirates or something?”
Judal’s tone was teasing, and his eyes shone with amusement, but they both knew he wasn’t totally kidding. Hakuryuu risked shifting his grip on the Magi’s waist a fraction, pulling him just a little closer.
“Something like that.”
He could drown looking into Judal’s eyes. Like sinking below the surface of a lake covered in poppy petals, watching the sunlight shine through the red far above you as you fell deeper and deeper, transfixed by the unearthly sight far above. Gemstones couldn’t do Judal’s eyes justice as descriptors, rubies were marbles by comparison. And framed as they were in dark lashes and lavender eyeshadow, there was something hypnotizing about them.
If he’d been allowed, Hakuryuu would have lost himself in those ringed irises, just stared willingly for hours on end. But Judal didn’t give him the chance, only allowed him stare long enough that he was under his spell before he grinned and spun out of his arms.
Hakuryuu jolted, the warmth of the body beside him suddenly gone, but replaced with the Magi’s joyous laughter. His eyes followed to Judal’s grinning face, eyes sparkling with mirth.
“I hear enough of that stuff with Sinbad!” the Magi laughed. “I’d rather live those stories than hear about them! Now come on!”
His hand grasped Hakuryuu’s tightly.
“Let’s go see Sinbad!”
“Wha—Master Spartos said he was busy!” Hakuryuu half-protested as Judal began darting across the palace lawns with him in tow.
“Oh who cares, he’s my king I get to bother him when I want!”
Judal’s laughter was infectious and it wasn’t long before Hakuryuu was laughing with him, racing alongside the Magi across the greens and into the palace halls again, still hand in hand.
The day went by quickly, but it was neither quiet nor uneventful.
The thing about coming to Sindria, something Hakuryuu had grown used to faster than he’d expected and without any real disapproval, was that he wasn’t entirely treated as royalty here. Judal and he burst into Sinbad’s office, completely disrupting his work, and before long Ja’far had come in to tell them all off. Hakuryuu included.
Not spared from the harsh scolding, he was no more given a pass on helping with the king’s remaining workload. Judal and Sinbad both tried to whine their way out of it, especially once Ja’far set Hakuryuu to work, but their pleas were unsuccessful. While usually he found paperwork tedious, between the three of them it was equal parts amusing and simple.
As soon as it was all done Sinbad called for a celebration in honor of his arrival, which Hakuryuu had protested against once his visits became commonplace, but stopped once he realized that in Sindria, anything was an excuse for a good party.
There were preparations to be made and people to inform and he spent the day darting around the palace with Judal, doing whatever task had been given to them at the time. He felt less like a prince and more like a palace runner, but that wasn’t a bad thing. In Sindria, then was a certain freeness that came to him that he simply didn’t experience at home.
By the time dusk fell there was a grand feast, and the whole palace was invited. Hakuryuu was the guest of honor but everyone just treated him like another member of the court. He was just another friendly face in the crowd, and he relished in that.
There was copious amounts of food and drink, some new exotic imports that he tried despite Judal’s warnings and laughter and conversation all around. Judal left his side only to dance or snatch a piece of fruit he’d set his eyes on, and no one took his seat beside Hakuryuu when he left. Once or twice he managed to drag Hakuryuu to the dancefloor and they spun together, laughing more than dancing and holding onto one another just for the sake of it.
The whole night was blissfully happy, and Hakuryuu was higher than he’d been in months. This kind of happiness just didn’t exist back in the empire he’d come from.
When the night had ceased to be young and the moon hung high in the sky, Judal took Hakuryuu’s hand and pulled him gently from the couch they’d settled themselves on. He led him away from the brightly lit festivities, out onto a shadowed veranda where the sounds of drunken merriment fell away behind them. Hakuryuu followed without question, leaving the raucous contentment behind him in favor of the Magi’s company.
Judal let go of his hand, resting against the banister by his elbows instead and turning his eyes up to the moon above them. Just as in the day, the light caught in his crimson eyes and against the jewelry adorning him, but this time Hakuryuu had no reason to tear his eyes from him. The moonlight only accentuated the paleness of Judal’s skin, the darkness of his hair, and Hakuryuu could only stare for a long, long moment.
He moved eventually, resting himself beside the Magi with the small of his back against the banister. Judal had a goblet in his hands that Hakuryuu knew to hold some kind of sweet fruit juice rather than wine, and he lifted his own goblet briefly to his lips as if to see if his own contained the same. It didn’t of course, it held wine, but even that seemed sweeter suddenly.
“How long will you be staying this time?” Judal asked him without turning his eyes from the moon.
“Last time it was a month.”
“It was two months before that.”
Hakuryuu glanced to the pale Magi, watching as he lifted his goblet and took a sip of whatever was inside. He had not missed the bitterness in his voice, and though he knew it was not directly meant for him he couldn’t help but feel guilty regardless. It was not his choice that his visits grew shorter, nor was it his desire, but the more suspicious his family grew the harder it was to find permission to leave.
He could of course, just tell them the truth, that he came again and again to see the beautiful man now beside him but that would be almost worse. Knowing his empire, they’d ask him to try and gain Judal’s trust for their own means and Hakuryuu refused to put either of them in such a position. He’d never do such a thing to Judal.
“I’m sorry,” Hakuryuu sighed after a few long moment’s silence. “I wish I could stay longer.”
“The trip here and back is hardly worth it to only stay this long, right?”
“It’s completely worth it.”
His reply came swiftly and sharply, and finally Judal’s gaze fell from the moon. Their eyes met, and Hakuryuu knew his expression was fierce with insistence and determination. Judal could have read him without such expressive features, but that didn’t matter. He wanted the Magi to know, without a doubt, that his continuous journeys to Sindria were never something he considered the worth of.
To see him again was well worth years of travel for just a day, and from how Judal’s expression softened, he knew it.
“Why don’t you just stay?”
Hakuryuu raised a brow, glancing at Judal over the rim of his goblet which he had once again lifted to his lips. He lowered it without taking a drink this time.
“Stay?” he echoed.
“Sure.” Judal pushed himself up, bracing one arm on the banister. “Write home and tell the Emperor you want to study abroad a while. Spartos would be plenty happy to take you on as his official disciple, and it’s not like Sindria has a bad schooling system.”
“It’s not exactly that simple.”
“Why not? You’re already here. What’s the Emperor going to do, send an army to get you back?”
Hakuryuu gave Judal a look and the Magi rolled his eyes.
“The man’s pigheaded but he’s not that stupid, Hakuryuu.” Judal huffed at him. “Between the coalition, Sinbad and me, attacking Sindria is probably top of the stupid things to do list.”
Admittedly, he wasn’t wrong. The Kou Empire was strong but making an enemy out of the peaceful Sindria wasn’t something they were willing to do, even with all the power they had amassed. There was just too much to be lost in the event any attack wasn’t successful, especially with a Magi like Judal backing them.
Hakuryuu allowed himself a small smile.
“You sound like you’ve thought this out, Judal.”
“I’ve had plenty of time to.”
“Do you really want me to stay that badly?”
He had expected a more subtle answer, or perhaps one of Judal’s roundabout taunts. Such a direct answer caught Hakuryuu off guard and for a moment, it showed in the surprise in his expression.
Judal move his hand, resting it over Hakuryuu’s on the rail. His palm was warm and soft, unlike Hakuryuu’s calloused skin, and without thinking the prince turned his hand over to wrap his fingers around it. Without hesitation, the Magi returned the hold.
“Stay here,” Judal said, and though he was not begging Hakuryuu knew it was a plea. “Stay and study. There’s a dungeon that’s appeared not far off the coast, come and conquer it with me, use that as an excuse to stay here longer.”
The promise of another dungeon conqueror amongst the royal family would go a long way to persuade his uncle, especially since Hakuryuu remained the only one without a djinn.
“Feign illness or injury if you have to, make something up, I don’t care.” the Magi went on. “Just… stay here. Stay in Sindria.”
Hakuryuu gripped the Magi’s hand tightly, and the hold was returned with the same pressure. The party going on just yards away had already become a distant memory, any noise filtering out from within the palace lost on deafened ears. The world had narrowed to the two of them and the moon as their witness.
The prince leaned in closer, and Judal did not draw back. He stopped, when their noses brushed and he could almost taste the sweetness of the nectar the Magi had been drinking on his own lips.
“…Is that your wish, Judal?” he asked, his voice low.
“Yes.” came the reply, breathed back against his lips and Hakuryuu almost swooned.
“Then ask of me what you want.” he murmured. “Just ask and it is your’s.”
Judal released a soft breath, and his hand tightened on the prince’s.
“Stay.” he said, voice quiet enough that only Hakuryuu could hear. “Stay with me, Hakuryuu.”
Hakuryuu did not have the strength in him to reply with words. His answer came in the form of his lips pushed against Judal’s, kissing him without passion or hunger but only with the sincere desire to convey how far he’d already fallen for him. Judal kissed back, stepping closer so their bodies were almost flush and setting aside his goblet, or perhaps dropping it.
What became of their drinks was lost on them, hands finding bodies and pulling them closer together. Their kiss broke only long enough for them to take a breath before it resumed again, this time more heated than before, and Hakuryuu dragged the Magi closer to himself.
In the morning, he would have to write a rather carefully worded letter to his uncle, and there would be the matter of informing Sinbad of his development. It would all be very official and very finicky to pass off without conflict, but these were all concerns for the morning. For now Hakuryuu lost himself in the warmth of Judal’s kiss and the feeling of holding him, judged only by the light of the moon and the sounds of the Sindrian night.