In the Rough
There’s a lot about Mari that Yuuri loves. In fact, he’d go so far as to say that he loves his sister more than almost anyone else, except maybe his parents. Despite their six year age difference, neither of them have ever had any other kids to really interact with. As such, each of them were the other’s best and only friend. But the fact has always remained that Mari is older than Yuuri. One day, he’s always known, she will be the queen of Yutopia. What he didn’t expect was for that day to come so quickly, or have such a profound effect on their relationship.
It was gradual at first: Mari turning him away from her door when he asks her to help him with his studies, Mari spending more and more time in the library with her own when she was never the best of students before, Mari lashing out at him when he actually gets the courage to press for her attention occasionally. Time and again, Mother assures him that it’s just the responsibility of being the crown princess that’s weighing on her. Still, Yuuri can’t help if he’s lonely.
That’s what led to this.
“Not now, Yuuri.” Mari is sounding increasingly irritated with him, but he can’t really seem to stop himself. It’s been months since they’ve had a proper conversation.
“It will only take a minute, I promise!”
“I don’t have a minute!” she finally snaps, rounding on him. “I don’t have a minute to myself because the coronation is so soon. What on earth makes you think that I have time to spare for you? Don’t be such a clingy child!”
Yuuri silently curses the way his eyes well up with tears. “I… Excuse me.”
“Yuuri, wait. I didn’t mean–” He can hear her calling out to his back, but the words don’t really register.
Being too overbearing has always been Yuuri’s biggest fear; he’s emotional and soft in a way that no self-respecting royal should ever be. Mari knows this, and used it against him. He really must be too much if she of all people is telling him so. He can just leave her alone until after the coronation. Maybe longer, if it looks like she’s feeling too overwhelmed by his presence. He has an outfit that he uses sometimes when palace life is too much for him and he sneaks out to go to town. He can use that to sneak out. He can take a horse, a sword, and some money, and hide out somewhere until everything blows over in a couple of months.
It doesn’t take Yuuri long to slip past the guards and get off the castle grounds. He’s done it countless times before, once even smuggling Prince Phichit out with him. He slips out the back way, through the forest. Everyone in town knows his face, and most of his subjects do too; it will be best to avoid people for a while.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that he’s brave enough to stray from the path. The woods between this and the next kingdom are deep, and more than one traveller has gotten lost within them, or attacked by robbers. If his maps are right, he’ll be able to get to the next kingdom within a fortnight.
Sleeping on the forest floor is irritating, but hardly anything new; this isn’t the first time that Yuuri has disappeared for a few days, even if it’s the first time that he’s planning on leaving the kingdom without permission. By the eighth day, Yuuri’s rations are beginning to get a bit low. He’s grimy, there are leaves and twigs in his hair, and his ratty cloak is rattier than ever. Still, he doesn’t turn back. At this point, going home would create more distress than it would relieve. If need be, he can just… kill a rabbit or something. There’s a stream less than ten minutes from the path, and making a fire is no problem. He can make it to the next kingdom.
The sound of a carriage jolts him out of his thoughts. He darts back into the trees, hiding in a bush. He still hasn’t crossed the Yutopia border, so it’s possible– probable, even –that the driver of that carriage knows who Yuuri is. As the carriage draws closer, Yuuri can make out little details that start to change his mind. Its blue, for one thing, and only a single carriage; most trader caravans are made up of several plain wagons with faded paint.
Yuuri hears rustling behind him. In less than a second, the quiet rustling becomes shouting. Bandits. Seven men attack the carriage from all sides, one even jumping from a tree to land on top of the carriage. Yuuri doesn’t even realize that he’s drawing his sword until it’s already out.
The door to the carriage flies open and two men– one man and one boy, really, no more than thirteen –jump out, weapons drawn and ready. The boy shouts something that sounds like “Stay the fuck there or I’m telling Dad,” but Yuuri can’t focus too much on him. He’s taken down one of the robbers, but there’s another one coming at him.
It takes the three of them nearly twenty minutes to knock out all of the robbers, and when they do, they’re panting.
“Thank you for the help.” The dark-haired man from the carriage holds out his hand for Yuuri to shake. “We might not have made it without you.”
“It–It was nothing, really.” Yuuri holds up his hands, as if that will deflect the praise. “I was just trying to help. Anyone would have done the same.”
“Tch.” The boy sheaths his sword. Now that Yuuri has a chance to look at him, he’s amazed. The boy is beautiful, almost fairy-like, but he fights like a demon. He’s also dressed like a royal. “At least you didn’t get in the way.”
Yuuri doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, but as it turns out, he doesn’t have to. There’s a laugh from inside the carriage and someone else exits. This man is definitely a royal, and it’s possible that he’s even more beautiful than the boy. They must be related, with their strangely colored hair and eyes.
“That’s high praise coming from you, Yuratchka.” The man looks Yuuri up and down, and Yuuri has to force himself not to blush. “I’ve decided. He’ll be my new bodyguard. I’ve been needing a new one, and I can’t bear to see my beloved younger brother fight on my behalf anymore.”
The man swoons dramatically, but it looks like he’s actually about to fall. Neither of his companions make a move to catch him, and neither does the driver, a woman with bright, fiery red hair. Yuuri is there before he knows it, catching the man before he can actually fall to the ground.
He finds himself looking into the most piercing pair of eyes that he’s ever seen. His eyes inexplicably heat up and Yuuri can tell that if he looks for too long, he’ll be overwhelmed; those eyes can see straight into his soul.
“Be careful,” Yuuri manages.
The man flicks a piece of silver hair out of his eyes and smiles, standing up straight. “Yes, he’ll do nicely. I’m keeping him.”
He ends up on the floor a second later anyway, courtesy of the flying kick that the boy– his younger brother, Yuuri reasons –aims at his back. “Don’t just assume that some random man in the forest is trustworthy enough to be your bodyguard! Think this through, old man!”
“I’m only twenty two,” the man pouts from the ground. “You’re so mean, Yuratchka. Besides, he saved my life, and he doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go. Dad will allow it.”
Yuratchka rolls his eyes and walks over to the carriage. “Whatever. You might want to ask him what his name is before you ask him to risk his life for you though.”
The door slams and Yuuri is still a little confused. The man is still on the ground, the dark haired man from earlier is sheathing his sword without a care in the world, apparently used to this sort of behavior.
“He has a point!” Silver-Haired Man bounces up and picks the twigs out of his hair. “If you’re my new bodyguard, I must know your name.”
“Yuuri,” he says without thinking. Then he realizes that giving his true last name could be a very bad idea. “Yuuri… Nishigori.”
Silver-Haired Man introduces himself as Victor Nikiforov, the crown prince of the neighboring kingdom. The fairy-like boy with the foul mouth is indeed his brother, Prince Yuri. The other man is Georgi Popovich, Yuri’s personal bodyguard, and their driver is called Mila. The four of them have apparently been travelling together nearly all of Yuri’s life.
The reality of what he’s just inadvertently agreed to doesn’t hit until he’s sitting in the carriage with them later: he’s agreed to become the personal bodyguard to the crown prince of the neighboring kingdom, who would no doubt know his name but not his face. Yuuri can’t help but wonder how he’s going to get himself out of this one without causing himself and everyone around him massive embarrassment.
Luckily, he has several months to come up with a solution.