Author Notes: Hello again, everyone!
I'm taking part in the Summer Show Me the Love Proposals Challenge organised by friend and fellow writer fanofthisfiction. Please hop over to her profile to read more about it and check out the other participating writers. I only ask that if you do read their stories, to please leave a review as a mark of appreciation.
This is a sister story to Princess Kouren's Brightest Star (before entitled Her Highness' Brightest Star) so it will make more sense if you've already read that one. If you haven't and don't wish to then SPOILER ALERT - Neguro survives and he and Kouren are engaged to be married. Having written a happily ever after for them, of course I had to write one for Vold and Tao as well. Unfortunately for Vold, my muse was high on something when I wrote this. Enjoy :)
Appreciation: Thank you to fanofthisfiction for inviting me to her challenge!
Warnings: Fluff and spoilers for the Xing Kingdom arc (manga chapters 126-150). Possible OOC-ness.
Disclaimer: Akatsuki No Yona belongs to Mizuho Kusanagi.
- Story Start -
For the past two hours or so, Vold had wandered around Kyuu Castle in a daze.
Neguro was going to marry Princess Kouren!
Vold would bet his trusty sword that it was the latter who had proposed. Neguro wouldn't have said anything without some form of encouragement from his beloved princess. But the pleased smile on her face and the rare grin on Neguro's - that he was trying hard to suppress and failing - said the agreement was entirely mutual.
Of course it was.
Vold liked to think he was an observant man. He had seen those longing glances Neguro gave Kouren whenever he thought no one was looking. He had heard the fond note in Kouren's voice whenever she spoke to Neguro. He had known Neguro held a special place in the Princess' heart that the other four Stars didn't.
It was as simple as that.
Vold wasn't in the least bit jealous of Neguro. Far from it. In fact, he was grateful to Neguro for paving the way for him, so to speak, towards Princess Tao, Kouren's younger sister.
Because what had seemed impossible and even unimportant in the face of all the recent tension between Kouren's pro-war faction and Tao's anti-war faction was now... possible.
It was something Vold had thought about every once in a while.
Just a slight hope.
A small possibility.
A happy little daydream he sometimes indulged in, but always ended up putting aside to be considered later.
It only became a realisation after Kouren held Yoon and all the Four Dragon Warriors hostage. Tao had hugged Vold and Algira with an arm around each man's neck, forcing them to bend low to accommodate her petite size. She had asked them to accompany Princess Yona who had promised to speak with King Soo-Won to hold off the war.
Pressed closer to Tao than he had ever been before and ignoring a just as startled Algira beside him, Vold had felt his heartbeat go from tense to right off the charts. That was the moment he knew for certain that he didn't just care for Princess Tao.
He loved her.
He didn't know if she loved him back the way he did, but it was time to find out.
Vold took a deep breath, shoulders squaring and eyes glowing with resolve. That faint wish to become someone special to her - more than just one of the Five Stars - was growing and solidifying within his soul with every passing second.
It was now or never.
After all, he was one of Xing's Five Stars, the five strongest warriors in their country. None of them were of royal blood, but if Neguro could win the hand of Princess Kouren (soon to be Xing's Queen now that her father the King was dying), then surely it wasn't impossible for Vold to win Tao's hand, was it?
He didn't have any love rivals as far as he could tell. Yotaka was obsessed with his looks and into men, Mizari was a young borderline psychopath who just wanted power, and Algira was into cats. No, not in that way. Ew.
But there were many strong and worthy fighters in neighbouring Kouka Kingdom. Hak for one, although thankfully he had eyes only for Princess Yona. The Four Dragon Warriors for another. The weren't only powerful, they were frightfully good looking, and seemed to be single and available. They were also Princess Yona's precious family and she was Princess Tao's special friend.
In other words, their paths would likely cross quite often in future.
To make matters worse, Xing was now one of Kouka's vassal states with their military strength to be managed by the latter. With five powerful armies to boast of, who was to say that some dashing, high ranking general wouldn't visit Xing to oversee the training of their soldiers, catch the eye of Princess Tao and sweep her off to Kouka Kingdom?
It was enough to make Vold break out in a cold sweat. He had to act, and act now. If he didn't make a move; if he didn't at least try, he might lose his chance altogether.
Before he could talk himself out of it, he was striding towards the east verandah where he had seen Princess Tao and Algira head to earlier. He rounded the corner and there they were, sitting on the tiled floor and playing with half a dozen cats.
Vold spared a fleeing thought to wonder if the cats lived here at Kyuu Castle or if they just popped out of nowhere whenever they got a whiff of Algira's scent.
"Your Highness," he greeted with a bow.
They both looked up, Tao at once with a smile and Algira two seconds later.
"Vold, come and join us," Tao invited.
"Ahh. May I speak with you for a moment?" Vold managed to bite down on the words 'in private' just before they left his lips. It would sound too suspicious.
"Of course." Tao moved the cat on her lap to the floor and got to her feet, dusting off her skirts. Algira looked back down as the same cat promptly climbed into his lap, jostling for space with the other two already there.
Vold held his breath and took a step backward, inwardly chanting That's it, Algira. Don't look up. Don't be curious. You never are. Just continue playing with the kitties like you always-
Algira looked up.
"Where're you two going?"
"It's nothing," he said, going for casual dismissal that somehow came out as abrupt brush off.
"Wait. I'll come along." Algira made as if to get up, but was hampered by his little friends, all of whom meowed in protest and dug in their claws. "Ow."
Vold sweatdropped again.
"No! You don't have to follow us!" He barked.
Algira frowned up at him.
"But you're always scolding me for not knowing what's going on and getting distracted by kitties. I'd better come with you two. I am one of the Five Stars after all."
"No! Idiot-Gira! Stay here and pet the kitties!"
Great. Now Princess Two was staring at him with her tiny eyebrows trying to meet. So were all the cats. And Algira.
Vold felt like pulling out his hair. He wished he had never opened his mouth in the first place. What on earth made him think that Princess Tao would ever-
When Algira's eyes widened, Vold felt his stomach drop to the floor, probably squashing a kitty. For a panicked moment there, he wondered if he had actually spoken out loud.
"You don't trust me. Is that it?" Algira sounded stunned. And hurt. "Just because I've gotten a bit distracted in the past..."
"Oh, Algira, I'm sure that's not what Vold means," Tao said at once, a dainty hand on Algira's arm. "Let's talk here, Vold. Are we meeting anyone else?"
Vold pressed his lips together. He felt - very uncharacteristically - like bursting into tears. And stamping his foot. And pulling out his hair. All at the same time.
"Vold? You look... is everything alright? " Princess Tao started to look worried. "Did something happen?"
Argh! Now Vold felt like throwing back his head and howling at the moon. Except that he wasn't a wolf, it was daytime and there wasn't a moon in sight.
He took a deep breath and exhaled through his nose. Again. OK, better now.
"No, everything is fine, Your Highness."
Tao smiled at him, distracting him with cute she looked.
"That's good. So, what is it then?" She made as if to sit down again, hopeful cats milling around her.
"No. Wait. I mean..." Vold exhaled and decided there was no way to salvage this opportunity now. He would just have to catch her alone later when there was no one around. Besides, his resolve was starting to crack, and along with it, his self confidence.
"What's wrong, Vold-nyan? You're usually the decisive one," Algira observed, looking up at him and then he smirked. "Ah, cat got your tongue?"
"No, idiot-Gira! And don't call me that!"
"Then don't call me that! And just say what it is you have to say!" Algira looked and sounded annoyed.
"I will! Stop pushing me!"
"I'm not! But you smell nervous for some reason and that's putting me on edge!"
For a moment, Vold couldn't help wondering what being nervous smelled like. He hoped it wasn't too bad.
"I'm not nervous." Terrified was a more accurate description. He glared at Algira who glared right back at him.
"Erm," Tao said. "Perhaps we should-"
"That's it!" Vold swung to her, eyes blazing and hands clenched into fists. His heart was pounding like a drum in his ears, deafening him to reason and timing and everything else that was prudent or appropriate.
Princess Tao was just staring up at him with her big green eyes.
Idiot-Gira was staring up at him too.
Hell, all the kitties were staring up at him.
"Fine!" Vold snapped. He reached out and grabbed Tao by her shoulders, fingers digging into her flesh. A part of his mind was horrified - he had never laid a hand on her unless it was to pull her out of harm's way - but the rest of him was lost to reason.
"Princess Tao! Please! Give me your hand in marriage!"
As one would expect after a shout like that, pin drop silence of the purest kind ensued at once, almost ringing in its intensity.
Vold stared as Princess Tao's round eyes grew bigger and bigger until he felt like he could just fall into their depths and drown. And he desperately wanted to.
Embarrassment was sweeping up over him like a tsunami, bringing goose bumps of shame and a blush so fiery he was surprised he wasn't already in flames. That would be good too.
So much better than taking in the stunned look on her face.
Gods, what on earth had possessed him to yell it at her like that?!
"Uh..." Swallowing hard, he realised he was still gripping her shoulders - they were rounded and so soft - and quickly snatched his hands away, balling them into fists by his sides. He broke eye contact with her, lowering his head until he was staring at the embroidered hem of her robe, the tips of her shoes peeking out.
"Your Highness. Forgive me." Was that his voice? So rough and hoarse?
"Algira, would you leave us, please?" In contrast, Tao sounded like herself with only the tiniest tremor in her voice.
"R-right." There was a cacophony of protesting meows as Algira got up. Vold glanced to the side to see Algira's legs walking past him, one determined feline hanging onto his trouser leg, swinging by its front paws. A hand clapped his shoulder - either in sympathy or pity - and slid away. At least Algira wasn't laughing at him.
Perhaps he was holding it in.
Perhaps he didn't care one way or another.
Or perhaps he understood just how big a fool Vold had made of himself.
Yes, that must be it. Either way, Algira had left so there was only Tao standing before him now.
"Vold? Look at me."
Vold shook his head, face still feeling like it was on fire.
"Come now, look at me." Two small hands entered his sight and moved up slowly to cup his burning cheeks. They exerted the tiniest pressure and he obeyed, like he always had.
Tao's green eyes were glowing, her round cheeks flushed the softest pink. She looked so stunning that if Vold hadn't locked his knees right at that moment, he would have collapsed at her feet in a puddle of helpless, mindless devotion.
"Forgive me, Your Highness," he muttered. "I didn't - I didn't mean..."
She pursed her lips at that, the light in her eyes dimming.
"You didn't mean it?" The tremor in her voice was more pronounced now.
Vold's eyes widened in panic.
"No! I meant it! I meant it! I just... didn't mean to shout it out like that."
Tao dimpled then, round shoulders lifting in a little shrug.
"For my first proposal of marriage, I have to say it was a memorable one," she said with a little laugh.
"Ahh. Well..." Vold would have preferred that she forgot about it right away.
Her hands were still cupping his cheeks, but she wobbled a bit, still standing on tiptoes. And he was getting a crick in his neck. Raising his hands, he closed his fingers over hers and brought them down, holding them in a gentle grip. She took a step back, but her eyes - clear, open, gentle and wise - never left his.
Slowly, Vold got down on one knee, still holding her hands.
"Princess Tao, I have never dared to say this before, or imagine that I ever would. But now that the pro-war and anti-war factions are dissolved-"
"Your Highness, I'm back! Vold-nyan, you feeling better?"
Vold squeezed his eyes shut, fingers tightening painfully around Tao's as a string of curses left his lips.
"What, you're not done yet?" Algira looked down at him, hands on hips, the same cat now perched on his shoulder. "I gave you five whole minutes! How long does it take to propose? You and Princess Tao are made for each other!"
It was that last sentence, more than anything else, that stopped Vold from jumping up to kill Algira right there and then. He dipped his head for a moment, focused on just breathing in and out, in and out. But when Tao pulled one of her hands free, his head snapped up in alarm.
"Wait, Your Highness!"
She was holding that hand over her mouth and she was shaking with... laughter?
"Well, go on then," Algira urged in the tone of one who was forced to orchestrate the whole thing, and just wanted to see it over and done with.
Vold ignored him and turned back to Tao who was looking at him with a very tender light in her eyes, fingertips still pressed to her lips. He drew that hand down and pressed both against his heart, letting her feel the rapid thump without hesitation.
And just like that, the words appeared, just waiting to be said.
"Princess Tao, as one of Xing's Five Stars, I devoted myself to you, I vowed to follow you and obey your every order. But somewhere along the way, I fell in love with you. I want nothing more than to make each and every day your happiest."
"Whoa, Vold-nyan... that's deep!"
Vold's eye twitched.
"Idiot-Gira! I'm not done yet!" He hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
Vold opened his mouth to continue and closed it again when he realised he had forgotten what he wanted to say next. But Tao's trembling hands were still in his and she was still waiting...
"Please, would you grant me the greatest honour of your hand in marriage?" He managed to get out.
Tao smiled, a radiant little Goddess, a little taller than him now that he was on his knee, but not by much.
"Vold, of course I would. There is nothing I desire more than to have you as my husband."
Flushed from head to toe with sweet triumph and giddy excitement, Vold stood up and daringly bent to kiss her cheek.
"Why aren't you kissing her properly?"
Vold's eye twitched again.
"Because, Idiot-Gira" he gritted out, "the princess and I have a witness!"
"Who? Oh, you mean me?" Algira had the cheek to grin at him before covering his eyes with his hands. "Fine, kiss her now then. Make it a good one, mind you."
Vold just snorted and turned to Tao, hands on hips.
"Do we have to invite him to the wedding?"
"I'm afraid so," Tao said, laughing again. Then she stretched up on tiptoe and Vold bent automatically. Their lips met in a light kiss, one he felt all the way down to his toes.
"Let's share a real kiss later, alright?" Tao whispered against his lips.
"I love you," he said in a low, fervent voice. "Just for that alone, Your Highness, I love you."
She dimpled again, green eyes twinkling.
"And I love you, my Brightest Star," she whispered. "But don't tell Algira I said that."
"You know, I'll just pretend I didn't hear that." Algira mumbled, hands still pressed over his eyes and the tips of his ears glowing pink. He started walking sideways, like a crab. "And it's time to uh... feed the kitties."
As soon as he rounded the corner, followed by the cats, Vold turned back to Tao.
"Right. I believe you said something earlier about a real kiss, Your Highness," he said, his voice deeper than usual.
Tao's eyes widened and then she giggled and took a step closer.
"So I did."
Vold drew her close, his senses reeling at how good she felt in his arms. He had somehow succeeded in winning his princess' hand and heart, and although he wasn't quite sure how he had achieved it, he wasn't about to complain.
Perhaps he would allow Algira to attend their wedding after all.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! I hope this story lived up to the Proposals theme. Please leave a review before you go :)