In the Rough
Previously: As soon as Yuuri has settled into his role as Prince Victor’s personal bodyguard, his childhood friend Prince Phichit appears. Yuuri fears for his secret, as there is no doubt that his friend will be more than surprised to find Yuuri here, in the palace of the Nikiforovs.
Yuuri’s blood runs cold when he hears the crier announce the incoming royal.
“Presenting His Royal Highness, Crown Prince of the Southeast, Phichit Chulalont!”
Of all the royals that could possibly be visiting during Yuuri’s tenure here, the only one that could possibly be worse than Phichit would be Mari. He and Prince Phichit (affectionately dubbed Phichan by a three year old Yuuri) have been friends since Phichit was born, and there’s no one in the world that knows Yuuri better. They played together as children, and rode together during their many visits to each other’s respective kingdoms. They even lived together for a time, when they took a few years to travel for their schooling. In fact, it’s not uncommon (or wasn’t uncommon, Yuuri guiltily thinks) for the two of them to sleep in the same bed; they’ve been doing it since they were children. At one point Yuuri’s parents had even wondered whether the two of them should be betrothed, but they both vehemently refused. They were much better off as friends, they knew. Besides, Phichit is in love with one of his guards, which Yuuri mercilessly teases (teased) him about regularly.
Yuuri has no doubt that Phichit has been made aware of his disappearance, but he also remembers writing the boy several letters when Mari first started to pull away. He can only hope that when– not if –Phichit recognizes him, that he manages to put the two together before he exposes Yuuri.
Luckily, Victor is still not here (though he will be soon) and the Tzar is overseeing Prince Yuri’s lessons after one too many ditching attempts. For once, Yuuri is alone in the throne room.
By the time Phichit and his entourage (Seung-Gil, Leo, and Guang-Hong, all of whom Yuuri knows well) arrive in a throne room, Yuuri is kneeling, as is proper. He’s sweating from nerves, and it’s all he can do to keep his voice from shaking when he speaks in Phichit’s native language, accent near perfect from years of practice.
“I formally apologize for making you wait. His Highness will be here soon, so please, make yourself comfortable.”
He hears Phichit’s sharp intake of breath and knows he’s been found out. “On your feet, soldier. Let me see your face.”
Slowly, so slowly, Yuuri rises to face him. He can hear footsteps coming from a direction of Victor’s bedchambers, and meets Phichit’s eyes desperately. In the few seconds that it takes for Victor and Otabek to reach a throne room, the two of them reach a silent agreement, a complex conversation that’s only possible because of how well they know each other.
A wide-eyed, desperate look. I’ll explain everything, I promise.
A look of disbelief. Yuuri, is it really you?
Lowered eyes for just a second. Later. I’ll tell you everything, just please play along.
The barest hint of tears. I missed you.
Bowed head. …I missed you too, Phichan.
A hand on the shoulder. You’ll explain later?
A tiny nod. I swear.
A light squeeze on the shoulder before pulling away. Okay.
The other three pairs of eyes widen in recognition as well, but they stay silent. If their prince isn’t going to say anything, Yuuri is sure that they won’t either; those men are nothing if not loyal.
“Yuuri,” Victor whines, jumping on his back with his entire bodyweight. “I missed you!”
Yuuri can’t help but glance over at Phichit self-consciously. The boy looks amused, eyebrow raised and arms crossed. Yuuri can read him like a book, but he can’t afford to react any differently from how he normally would, or Otabek may suspect something.
He pries Victor off gently but firmly. “Victor, you’re being extremely rude. Besides, it’s been less than an hour since I saw you last.”
“An hour too long,” Victor says, kissing Yuuri’s hand dramatically. Yuuri privately agrees with him, but that’s an issue for another time, especially since Victor is just teasing. “Though I suppose you’re right. I apologize, Your Highness. Welcome back to our palace. I assume that your trip went without issue?”
“Of course.” Phichit says with a mischievous smile, glancing at Yuuri for a fraction of a second. “I’m more than glad to be back, especially now that I’m finally here. I see you’ve inducted a new member of your staff.”
Victor’s grin is blinding, and Yuuri doesn’t know how to process it. He’s noticed that Victor carries himself like a man who has known loneliness; it seems as though he’s attached to Yuuri in the same way that a child would attach itself to a blanket. “Isn’t he great? So polite and well behaved. I’m proud to call him my personal bodyguard.”
“May I ask his name?” Phichit’s eyes sparkle with concealed mirth that Yuuri is sure only he can see.
“Of course!” Victor claps his hands once in excitement; he always does seem to enjoy showing Yuuri off. “His name is Yuuri Nishigori, of Yutopia. He saved my life in the forest, so I decided to bring him here and give him a job as a reward.”
Guang-Hong laughs when he hears Yuuri’s “name,” but manages to cover it up as a cough. “Excuse me.”
Yuuri gives him a severe look. Don’t forget I know about your affair with Leo. Not, of course, that Phichit would care, but it’s nice to have some blackmail material on his friends once in a while.
“Excuse my guard, he’s laughing at my antics. I must admit to some deception, Prince Victor,” Phichit says with a small grin.
Victor raises and eyebrow in that way that Yuuri has noticed means that he’s mildly amused. “Oh?”
Phichit nods. “You see, Yuuri and I have already met.”
Oh no, Phichit please no. Yuuri’s grip on the hilt of his sword anxiously.
“It’s a story quite similar to yours, actually.” Phichit smiles at Yuuri. I’ve got this. “I was travelling the continent for school a few years ago, and I wandered from the caravan of boredom. I found a view I particularly liked and wandered too close to the edge of a cliff. Your guard saved my life.”
Yuuri remembers that day, actually. Phichit had scared the life out of him, wandering off like that.
“Phichan, why would you go so close to the edge? You could have died!” Yuuri could feel his heartbeat in his throat. “If I’d lost you…”
Phichit was shaking, his usual grin far from his face. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“In fact, we became friends soon after.” Well, that’s a bold-faced lie, but Yuuri can’t expect anything different if he wants to keep his secret safe.
Victor looks at Yuuri with wide eyes. “Wow! My Yuuri is so amazing, why didn’t you tell me that you knew another royal?”
I know several, actually. Phichit just happens to be the one that’s here. “It, uh, it never came up, I suppose.”
“You were named for the missing prince, right Yuuri?” Phichit cuts in.
When Yuuri nods, Victor looks confused. “What do you mean, missing prince?”
“Ah, I forget how cut off this country is from its neighbors,” Phichit says, looking apologetic and slightly sad. The sadness, Yuuri can tell, is entirely real. He feels a sharp twinge of guilt about causing it. “Yutopia’s prince, Yuuri Katsuki, went missing several months past. He’s a very dear friend of mine.”
There’s a short period of silence, where Yuuri is sure that Victor is trying to find the appropriate words to respond to a revelation like this.
“Victor, if I may make a suggestion,” Otabek says, startling them all. “Pardon my intrusion into your conversation, but perhaps, for the duration of the prince’s stay, Nishigori should stay with his company. It may make the prince more comfortable, and I am willing to take over for him for and few days.”
Yuuri blinks. Otabek has just opened a way for him to spend time with Phichit and explain himself, without even knowing what he was doing.
He’s sure that Victor is about to protest, but there’s a distinct moment when any protests die. The look of absolute gratitude on Phichit’s face could melt a heart of stone.
“I… I suppose… that would be fine,” Victor manages. His hesitation confuses Yuuri, but the confusion is overpowered by something else.
He only vaguely notices the glances Victor keeps sneaking at him for the rest of the night, and he doesn’t think about what they mean. He’s going to miss spending time with Victor one on one, but it’s only for a few days. Besides, Phichit is going to be spending a lot of time in a presence of the royal family anyway, so things won’t be so different.
As soon as the two of them close the door to Phichit’s bedchamber later that night, Yuuri finds himself being tackled on all sides by four overexcited men. Leo, Guang-Hong, and Seung-Gil look skeptical when Yuuri explains his reasons for vanishing, but Phichit– Phichan, who knows how Yuuri’s mind works, who knows everything about him –nods and understands. He swears to keep the secret, as long as Yuuri promises in turn to be home in time for his sister’s coronation.
It’s enough, for now.