Ferio slumped against the bar, summoning the bartender with one dramatically flooped hand.
He certainly felt like being dramatic. Here he was, prince of a small nation (so small Emeraude had once pointed out they had a lower population count than most large companies) on a three week cruise, taking in the edges of Europe and then wandering off to find some beautiful islands with their equally beautiful inhabitants, and how had he spent both days so far? Being shepherded about by his sister’s ex-tutor!
Granted, half the reason Emeraude had suggested a cruise was so she had an excuse to make Clef take a holiday, now he was effectively purposeless. Em had finished off her doctorate, and had no need for a tutor, or much of one for a historical advisor, and though Clef was technically ‘Historical Professor to the Crown of Cephiro’ that didn’t give you much to do when the population was so abbreviated there wasn’t even a College to teach at, let alone a University.
“I just want him to relax instead of panicking about what he’s meant to do with his life!” Em had said, while she literally lounged in her throne. No one would expect them to be hanging out in the Great Hall of the ridiculous confection of Cephiro’s central castle, so it was where they ended up if they wanted to talk without being heard - something which had only gotten harder in the years since Emeraude’s sudden ascension to the throne at fourteen. “So I’ll tell Clef I want someone to keep you out of trouble - which is true; we don’t need any bad press right now - and you get a world cruise! It’ll be a modern-day Grand Tour.”
“We’re not British. We already live in the middle of Europe - it’s not really a-”
Emeraude waved a hand at him. “You’ll be touring places, and I’m sure it’ll be grand. Well?”
Ferio wasn’t going to say no to a cruise, with full sisterly approval, at that.
Two days in, he was almost wishing he had.
He was just giving the bartender his order when a beautifully melodic voice spoke up next to him. “Have you had a bad day?”
“Yeah, it’s been fairly-” he turned, and entirely lost track of his sentence. The woman next to him was smiling politely at him, a mischievous light in the gorgeous eyes not at all hidden by her glasses, and his heart went thump in his chest. “...Er. It was a bad day in paradise?” he managed, weakly. “May I ask your name?”
“Hououji Fuu,” she said, with a graceful bow of the head which had the soft curls of her hair brushing her cheek. “And how may I address you?”
“Ferio Escudo.” He held out his hand, and when she took it to shake, he bowed over her fingers and kissed them. When he straightened up he was glad to see at least a bit of a flush on her face. If she was having this effect on him, he really hoped it was mutual. “Of Cephiro, which is a tiny country no one has ever heard of, in the middle of the Alps. May I offer you a drink?” he added, but she demurred.
“My friends and I just received our own,” she said, and he noticed, for the first time, not only the cocktail by her elbow, but the other two girls by her side, one small and grinning over the bits of fruit perched on the edge of her glass, the other elegant and sharp and apparently amused by their exchange, given she raised an eyebrow at him and went back to sipping a scarily blue concoction. Fuu introduced them in turn, Hikaru and Umi, and then turned her smile up a notch.
“Why don’t you tell us about your day? You’ll feel better for talking about it, I’m sure.”
His own drink showed up then. He’d ordered a scotch because it seemed suitably morose, and also because he was used to it. (There was one bar which served modern cocktails in the whole of Cephiro, and he’d got himself banned from it when he was sixteen, not long after Em had issued a royal decree banning cocktails from the entire royal estate after she and a friend tried making their own one night and it ended badly.) He almost wished he’d ordered something cooler, but then he caught sight of Clef again - sat at a table halfway across the room, where he could keep an eye on Ferio, apparently reading a book in the bar.
Pulling a face, Ferio decided no, he still felt grouchy, and launched into his tale of woe, which mostly involved being followed everywhere. “We’re even sharing a suite! Granted, it’s got two bedrooms, but-”
“I didn’t know they had any two bedroom suites on this ship?” Hikaru said, tilting her head at him while Fuu patted his arm, lips twitching as she tried not to laugh.
“There are a couple,” Ferio confirmed. “Right at the front, deck nine. It’s nice not being alone, I guess, but I wish he’d calm down!”
Umi lounged back against the bar, her elbows up on the wooden surface, as she considered Clef across the room. “I don’t know, your friend’s kind of hot. I wouldn’t mind getting stuck with him for three weeks.”
“Want to trade berths?” Ferio offered, wistfully, and all three girls burst out laughing. It was a moment before they could explain they were sharing one of the little suites, with Umi sleeping on the sofa bed and Fuu and Hikaru sharing the bedroom, though they’d managed to get the bed set up as two twins. This was, apparently, important because Fuu went about tickling people in the night, and Hikaru went sleepwalking and tried to drag along some company.
“I should stop complaining, shouldn’t I?” Ferio shook his head at himself ruefully. “I’ve got a whole bedroom to myself! It’s just - having someone literally panicking over every single thing I do is making it hard to relax, you know?”
Umi snorted. “What’s he think you’re gonna do, run off and marry a stranger or something?”
Ferio stared at her, then started to grin. “If I did, maybe he’d stop freaking out about nonsense.” All three of them stared at him, and he turned to Fuu, took her hand in his, and forced himself to look serious. “Miss Hououji, would you like to be a princess for an evening?”
She blinked at him - and the light glinted off her glasses as a wicked smile curled her lips up.
It took a few minutes to explain his plan - get fake-married, send Clef a bunch of photos as ‘proof’, explain calmly he’d been driven to this prank by Clef reacting to everything else as if Ferio had gone off and married a total stranger on a drunken night out. Fuu was amused enough she didn’t take much talking into it, and oddly, the only concern the three women had wasn’t persuading the Captain to come pretend to perform a fake-marriage for a photo-op (Hikaru can talk people into most anything given a head start, Fuu explained, with a raised eyebrow and a grin, and Ferio was absolutely going to ask about that once they had this whole wedding thing sorted). But, as Umi pointed out, how were they going to keep Clef from turning up at the wedding to stop it happening, given he was following Ferio around the ship like a lost sheep?
At this point, Fuu and Ferio looked at each other, and then at Umi.
“You can distract him for an hour, right?” Ferio asked. “I mean, he really does need to relax.”
Umi grinned, picked up her drink - she had a new one by now, this one green with a whole twig of some herb sticking out of it, and sauntered off. “I’ve got a room key - don’t have my phone though, so don’t bother texting me if you get cold feet.”
Given she had no pockets and no sleeves in the slinky dress she was wearing, Ferio did his best not to wonder where she was keeping a room key.
Hikaru finished up her own drink and slipped off the bar stool, waving at them. “I was chatting to Eagle earlier - he’s the first mate, I’m sure he’ll know how to persuade Lantis to help!”
“How do you know the Captain already? We’ve only been at sea three days.” Ferio was highly amused as Hikaru bounced on her feet, frilly skirts bouncing with her.
“Oh, Lantis is really nice! But he’s rather serious. Eagle will help, though. I’m sure of it.”
And then she was gone, and that left Ferio alone with Fuu - not a deliberate goal, but one he was going to savour accidentally managing anyway. “Would you like another drink, or anything to eat?” He waved at her mostly-empty glass. “I mean, we should probably get to know each other a little, if we’re getting married…”
Fuu laughed, and for the next - well, it was at least an hour, possibly longer, he wasn’t taking attention away from his companion to track it - they talked. About the ship, about where they came from - Ferio had been to Tokyo once, but that once was a long time ago, and he’d only hit the tourist highlights. But he and Fuu agreed they liked Tokyo Tower better than the Eiffel Tower (better snacks!) and then wandered off track into a detailed discussion of how to promote a tourist industry for about ten minutes before they got onto films, and it went on from there. The most tantalising hints of a wicked sense of humour peeked out around sharp insights and a completely genuine interest in everything and everyone about her, and Ferio was hooked.
By the time Hikaru came back with the first mate and his promise the Captain would come along and pretend to marry them if they went to the onboard chapel now, Ferio was almost wishing he could marry her for real. He did manage to insist they stop off at the jewellery boutique (handily opened for them by the first mate), and got away with buying Fuu a nice ring (gold, with an emerald, it matched the little earrings she was wearing) by threatening to buy her a crown-shaped monstrosity which would have covered half her finger, and picked a patterned band out for himself; if nothing else, it would be a lasting memento of a wonderful night.
The rest of the night was muted by a complimentary-champagne blur; he remembered the feel of her hands on his, the ring sliding onto his finger, and not much else.
Ferio woke with a splitting headache. He and his ‘wife’ had drunk far too much celebratory champagne after their fake-wedding. He rubbed a hand over his face and the cool metal on his left hand made him freeze and remember the details of the previous evening. Holding his hand above his head, he stared at his hand, running his thumb over the smooth metal on his ring finger.
His bank account was probably going to be unimpressed with him, but he didn’t care. A smile grew on his face as he ran through the snatches he did remember - most of them just Fuu.
Rolling over, he caught sight of the paperwork he’d thrown on his bedside table last night. It looked very… official.
He picked the papers up, staring at them. They looked very authentic. A little too authentic, actually. And that was his actual signature there, next to Fuu’s, and her friend Hikaru’s as witness.
There was a serious need for caffeine if he was going to deal with this. Clambering out of bed and out into the shared living room, he made a beeline for the kettle, thankful that Clef had insisted on bringing one with them. Armed with a strong mug of tea, Ferio sat down on the sofa and studied the papers. They couldn’t have actually… could they?
He didn’t have too long to think about it because Clef’s bedroom door opened and Umi stepped out, wearing one of Clef’s t-shirts and a pair of his shorts. He blinked at her in surprise as she unabashedly bid him a “good morning” and crossed the room to the kettle.
“I take it you had a good night, then?” he asked, more than a little startled at the turn of events.
Umi shrugged. “Well, you did ask me to keep him distracted.”
She was just setting the kettle back down, when Clef came bursting out of the bedroom holding up his phone, a picture of the ceremony up on the screen. “Ferio what is this! Did you get married last night?”
It was a good thing Umi hadn’t picked up the mugs yet because she doubled over laughing, looked up at Clef’s face, and folded back down again laughing harder. “It’s not real! It was a prank, kinda, Ferio wanted to get you to relax-”
“...You were in on this?” Clef asked, and Ferio straightened up slightly, seeing the danger there too late. If Umi really had slept with Clef just to keep him distracted-
But Umi was already wrapping her arms about Clef and pulling him in, laughing against his shoulder as he wrapped one bewildered arm about her back. “Yeah, a bit, mostly it was a good excuse to come talk to you. I wasn’t planning on the rest! Anyway, I did tell you Ferio said you needed to relax.”
Clef sighed. “Okay. So you wanted me to relax - and Ferio decided making me think he’d gone off and got married was a good way of doing that?”
Ferio looked at the marriage certificate, and back up. “...Er. I was going to point out how nothing terrible had happened and I wasn’t going to actually go do anything like that! Only, um.”
The two of them snapped round to look at him with near-identical serious expressions. It would have been hilarious under other circumstances. “What do you mean ‘only, um’?”
Ferio held up the paper, sheepishly. “I’m not sure it was quite as fake as we planned.”
There was a pause, before Clef groaned, and Umi shot across the room. “Fuu got married without me?” Umi wailed, ripping the paper out of his hand to stare at it. “But I’m supposed to be her bridesmaid!”
“Hikaru was our bridesmaid?” Ferio offered. “Photographer, too.”
“I was meant to be bridesmaid too! And her maid of honour! With Hikaru!”
Clef cleared his throat, lips twitching, and got thumped on the shoulder for that implied commentary about her status as a ‘maid’. Ferio was very glad he’d accidentally married Fuu, and not Umi, it seemed less dangerous. But the momentary interlude passed, and all three of them stared down at the papers again.
“Why aren’t you taking this more badly?” Umi asked Clef, who shrugged.
“Because I’ve thought it was real since I saw those photos?”
“That was only about a minute longer than I’ve been worried about it!”
“Yes, well. I’ve been waiting for Ferio to do something disastrous since we got here. This… isn’t actually as bad as some of the things I was dreading. ...Which isn’t to say marrying yourself to a complete stranger wasn’t a terrible idea, Ferio! What possessed you?”
“It wouldn’t have been legal without a marriage licence though, right?” Ferio tried, weakly, at which point Clef pointed to the licence number scribbled in the top corner of the form.
“She really got married without me!” Umi wailed, and turned on her heel, storming down the corridor between the bedrooms and out of the suite.
Clef looked at his phone, then back at the door, and at his phone again. “...But I didn’t get her number yet.”
Shaking his head, Ferio picked up the marriage certificate and stared at it again. “She’s also wearing your clothes, so I guess she’ll come back sometime? ...Shit, I’m married, and I don’t have my wife’s phone number! I don’t even know which room she’s in! Clef, do you-”
“Know which suite they have? No. But I didn’t marry anyone. ...I’m calling Emeraude.” Clef stalked back to his room, phone to his ear.
Ferio leapt to his feet. “Clef! No!” He made a grab for the phone, but the call connected, and he heard Emeraude’s voice. Given the time that meant Clef had used her private number. The for-emergencies-only private number.
Of course, the next words out of Clef’s mouth were “Your brother got himself married last night.”
He grabbed the phone out of Clef’s hand, not even confirming it was his sister before launching into, “more importantly, Clef got laid last night!”
Clef yelped and grabbed for the phone. Ferio sidled out of his reach and shot back into the main room.
“And she’s hot! I’m feeling very confused right now, Em. Very confused.” Ferio managed to hit the button to put Emeraude on speakerphone, and twisted away from Clef again, holding the phone out of his reach- he wasn’t that much taller, but it sure made a difference sometimes.
“Ferio, did you really get married last night?”
“I didn’t mean to!” He protested.
His sister sounded exasperated. He could picture her unimpressed look beaming at him across the ocean. “How can you accidentally get married?”
“Well… Um. It was a joke?”
“It was meant to be a joke, it just - the paperwork looks rather real. We haven’t checked yet, it might just be a really good fake? But I think you’re missing the most important thing here! Clef had sex! With a person!”
Clef hissed, making another grab for the phone. “That is not important!”
“It’s not as important,” Emeraude said, down the phoneline, and Clef glared at it, then Ferio, and gave up and stomped off to where Umi had left the tea brewing, muttering about betrayal. “But Ferio, seriously. Did you actually get legally married last night?”
Ferio took the phone off speaker and dropped down at the table, pulling a face. “...Possibly. I think so. I guess we’ll talk to the Captain today, see if we can work out what happened. I’ll let you know what comes up? I guess there has to be a way to undo this - can’t you normally, what’s the word for cancelling a marriage? Not divorce, the one which means it wasn’t real.”
Emeraude sighed. “Annulment?”
“That’s the word! Make it not-have-happened.”
“It’s normally a bit more complicated than that. But, please, do go and talk to the Captain - and I will be contacting them later today, once I’ve spoken to you again. For now, please try not to do anything else so foolish?”
Ferio rolled his eyes. “I’ll try,” he promised. “Not sure what else I could manage, but I’ll do my best not to find out.”
He hung up, and traded the phone back to Clef for one of the cups of tea. He’d barely taken a sip when there was a knock at the door.
Fuu didn’t crawl out of bed until Hikaru coaxed her out from under the duvet with promises of coffee. Which was a bit of a feat given room service hadn’t even arrived with it. She reached out onto the table for her glasses, and was sitting up by the time the knock on the door came.
Her champagne-addled head was in no way prepared for Umi blasting into the room past the poor caterer, shouting. “Fuu! You got married! For real!”
Hikaru blinked, staggering around Umi. “Wait, for real?”
“Yes! The paperwork is real!” Umi waved her hands at them. “How did you not notice? How did none of you notice?”
“Huh,” Fuu looked at her hand and the pretty little gold band on her finger, emerald shining at the centre of it. Everything was still strange and fuzzy enough that this felt more like a dream than reality. “I guess it’s a good thing he bought me a nice ring then?”
Umi flailed at her. “What are you sayi-” She stopped. “Wait. What ring? Let me see!” She practically pounced on Fuu as she grabbed for her hand. She was only momentarily distracted by the shine of the stones before she started to wail again. “I wasn’t at your wedding!”
Fuu pulled away, rubbing her head - Umi’s shrieking was doing nothing for her headache, and reached for the breakfast tray as Hikaru sat down on the other bed with it. This was all too much to be thinking about before she’d even had her morning coffee.
Hikaru, bless her, pulled Umi away and sat her down on the other bed, handing her a cup of coffee before giving Fuu one, and then went to find the piece of paper that they’d been given the night before. Fuu had passed it over to Hikaru without more than a glance, then - now, she studied it more closely, and Umi was right. It did look rather real.
...It was a good thing she’d been wearing a nice dress, if those were going to be her actual wedding photos…
...She’d married a Prince?
This was all very silly. But Hikaru was answering Umi’s questions about what had happened, and as the coffee started hitting, Fuu actually took in what Umi was wearing, which was - quite obviously not Umi’s clothing. “...Umi, last night, did you…”
Umi blinked, looked down at herself, and swore. “He still has my dress!” She complained, and after a moment added “Ah, and my room key. And my underwear!”
Fuu blinked, and took another mouthful of coffee, trying to come up with some way to respond to that. Fortunately, she was saved the need for coherent thought by a knock at the door just as Hikaru came out of the bathroom. Umi proceeded to flee into the bathroom, despite having apparently run through the corridors dressed as she was now, and Fuu pulled a robe about herself before nodding to Hikaru, who opened the door.
The Captain stood there, looking rather hung-over and also decidedly hang-dog, and in fairly short order (bar a pause to get dressed) all three of them were being escorted by him to a private, complimentary, apology-and-planning breakfast. Ferio was already on the other side of the table, with his friend and the first mate. Eagle was smiling, but it felt… a little forced. The friend, Clef, seemed to have stolen a whole four-person teapot and was clutching it like a lifeline.
Ferio was resting his head on one hand, listening to Eagle but not looking at all awake yet. Fuu could see the glint of gold on his ring finger, and pressed her thumb surreptitiously to her own wedding ring, pressing against the reality of the metal.
She wished she could remember more of the night before. Instead of the detail of what they’d talked about - and they had talked for hours! - she had flashes of Ferio smiling at her, the warmth of his voice. The moment he’d decided it was a good idea to show her how to juggle and went hunting for something to juggle with.
His hand on hers sending a thrill down through the centre of her.
And though they had been flirting (both of them, shamelessly), he hadn’t ever attempted more. (In contrast to Umi, who had apparently got his so-serious friend into bed within a couple of hours of meeting.)
Fuu liked that - the gentlemanly thing, getting to know someone. That he hadn’t even tried to push. She just wasn’t sure whether he really had been being a gentleman, or whether he wasn’t actually interested in her at all. Which would be inconvenient, because not only were they apparently married, but she had had more fun last night than she’d ever had on a date. Only it had all apparently gone wrong somewhere, and she didn’t know how he was going to take that...
Ferio looked up then, and saw her, and the most incredible expression lit his face - half happiness, half ‘oops?’, and all-over inviting her to laugh with him at the situation they’d got caught up in. He stood and pulled out the chair beside his so she could sit down, and Fuu’s chest grew lighter.
He didn’t blame her. He wasn’t angry.
Fuu took the offered seat, and Ferio managed in short order to supply her with a glass of juice, another mug of coffee, and one of the fresh-baked pastries that were out on the table. He was also completely ignoring both Eagle and the Captain; Fuu smothered a smile at the frustrated edge to Eagle’s expression.
“Would you like anything else?” Ferio asked her.
“No, this is lovely, thank you.” She took a sip of the juice - orange and mango, sharp and sweet altogether - and nodded at the empty plate by his hand. “But don’t you want something? Or did you eat already?”
Shaking his head, he reached for a pain-au-chocolat, and - started to unwrap the layers of the flaky bread. “I wouldn’t start anything without you. Just because I’m the one with a fancy title doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be treated with the same courtesy - and anyway, you’re a Princess now, too.” He scrunched up his nose at her. “I still don’t know how that happened, but - I’m sorry for getting you caught up in this.”
Fuu lay her hand on his arm, gently, and he stopped shredding the pastry for a moment. “I agreed to take part. And it seems to me that we’ve both been caught up.”
At the end of the table, Eagle cleared his throat. Fuu looked up, startled to see that Umi had managed to displace Eagle in the seat beside Clef, and get a cup of tea out of him. Ferio noticed, too, a small amused huff escaping him. Hikaru was on the other side of the table, talking to the Captain - Lantis? - quietly. “If we are all ready to begin…” Eagle said, exasperation now clearly colouring his voice.
Lantis just looked at Eagle until he subsided, settling back in his seat, and then Lantis took over. “Thank you for coming here this morning,” he began, voice steady and sombre. “Firstly, I must apologise on behalf of this cruise line and on my own behalf, for my actions and those of Eagle last night.”
Fuu had a flash of the wedding the night before - that voice declaring sincerely that they were now husband and wife, and Ferio kissing her so-softly on the cheek.
Not that Lantis had actually been sober at the time, as it turned out. Which had led to the unfortunate actual marriage.
“So when Eagle explained that a young couple had decided to get married, I filed the licence application as usual - I did not take in that it was to be a fake wedding. We have all the guest’s details on file, and Eagle had told me your identities so I could make a registration page for you - only he meant for it to be a mockup of one, for you to sign to have photos taken. Autozam is our home port, and our weddings are licenced there; the whole licensing process happens automatically, it only takes a few minutes, and as your identities had already been confirmed when you came on board it only took a few clicks. And with a valid licence, the marriage registration form is legal once signed.”
“In other words, Fuu really is married,” Umi stated, flatly. “Congratulations. Given Ferio’s a real Prince and all, I think you’ve just created an international incident.”
Clef lay a hand on her arm, and Umi - settled. Which was… something. “Oh, I don’t think we can blame the Captain for not understanding such a hare-brained scheme, especially when he was off duty.” Clef frowned at Ferio. “After all, he’s not the one who came up with such a piece of nonsense!”
Shrugging, Ferio ate some of his bread. “It was only meant to be a joke!”
Hikaru spoke up before anyone could start arguing about the ‘how’ of all this. “It’s happened now. The question is, what do we do?”
“Get it annulled,” Umi said, firmly. She looked to Eagle and then Lantis, face hard. “Right? You filed it - it’s your mistake. You need to work out how to unfile it as soon as possible.”
Lantis took a deep breath. “We can apply for marriage licences and register ceremonies, but we on this ship cannot apply for either annulment or divorce. To do that, you have to appear before a magistrate in Autozam. We have already started work to get an appointment for you when we dock there, at the end of the cruise.”
“...That’s more than two weeks from now,” Clef pointed out, and he and Umi were a united front somehow - sat with their arms crossed, glaring at Eagle and Lantis. “When this hits the papers - which it will, unless marriage registrations are not published in Autozam? We are going to have to explain it to the press. ‘We got married as a joke but it wasn’t meant to be real so we’ll be undoing it in a week’ doesn’t make good publicity for Ferio or Cephiro, but it’s going to be a lot worse for you.”
“Accidentally marrying people without their consent - that’s illegal, isn’t it?” Umi added. Fuu started to speak, but Umi held out a hand at her; Fuu tried not to smile, and let her friend continue. “And with Ferio involved, if we go to the press, it won’t be a small story.”
“There’s a ten-day delay in publication of marriages,” Eagle was explaining. “And the Prince’s name is not well-known in Autozam, so even then it’s likely no one will notice-”
“Not likely to isn’t a guarantee.” Umi shook her head. “We need a plan, now. Right?” She was asking Clef, not Fuu or Ferio, and Clef nodded.
Together, the two of them were a slightly terrifying team. Ferio shook his head, and leant into Fuu’s side. “I suggest we let them get on with it,” he murmured. “Clef’s actually pretty good at this stuff. Your friend seems to have a knack for it, too.”
“Ah, is that why he’s your babysitter?” Fuu asked.
Ferio smiled at her - not the neat-and-tidy smile that the captain had been given, nor the amused grin he’d shot at Umi and Clef, but full on beaming at her. It was reminiscent of Hikaru at her happiest, but Hikaru’s smiles didn’t make gravity lose its grip on Fuu’s chest.
“Hey, given we’re married and all… could I get your phone number, maybe?”
Fuu hid her own smile as she leant down for her bag, and got her phone out. “Certainly - so long as you also give me yours.”
“You strike a hard bargain, Ms-formerly-Hououji.” Ferio paused, tilted his head, and trying to read the slight smile Fuu was wearing. He could spend hours doing just that - watching her, trying to learn her moods, her preferences. “Or do you want to keep your name? I could take yours, too - that might be nice, actually, mine’s made up. Grandmother picked it - it’s the village our summer house is in.”
Fuu blinked at this, and blinked again when Clef turned from the negotiations to add ‘It’s a castle, Ferio. It’s a summer castle’ over the table.
Ferio winced. “It’s a very little castle?”
“...I was planning on keeping my own name, but you would be welcome to use it - only would that not have been part of the marital paperwork?”
“I- oh, maybe. Maybe that means I have taken your name!” Ferio pulled the papers back out and flicked through them, skimming through faster than Fuu could have read them. “...ah. It looks like we both just used our original names.”
“Ah.” She smiled at him. “Well, you could take my name later, if you wanted to. But I’d rather take your phone number. It seems more useful?”
So they swapped numbers, and for the rest of the week made good use of them - after all, Fuu pointed out, if Ferio was going to do things backwards then shouldn’t he be courting her now they were married? But they truly got along, with an ease which surprised both of them.
They had a lot of opportunities to test this, as Hikaru had signed up for every activity the cruise offered and was making friends with the instructors and her fellow students with a near methodical thoroughness, and Umi and Clef kept vanishing together. It didn’t seem to be helping Clef relax, but at least he wasn’t fretting over everything Ferio did now, and in unguarded moments, he sometimes even looked happy.
Ferio hoped Clef was happy, because Ferio himself certainly was.
On the day they arrived at their last stop before setting out over the actual ocean towards the Americas, instead of bumbling about the coastline of Europe - a beautiful Mediterranean island with a good selection of ancient ruins, watersports, and beach bars (something for everyone!) - Ferio didn’t need to text and find out where Fuu was; they’d already arranged to meet up ready to disembark.
When he found her, she was leaning on the railing looking out into the distance, and he had to stop a moment just to appreciate how cute she was; she had these pink shorts with a belt tied up in a bow, a loose sleeveless top with a little lacy collar in one of those creamy shades he never knew the name of, and this little green cardigan which left her forearms bare for him to admire.
It was a perfectly sensible get-up for exploring some ruins, especially with the sneakers she had on; it was also cute as heck. He shook his head, grinning, and made his way over. “Did you pack an entire colour-coordinated wardrobe?”
Fuu smiled back at him, and picked up her rucksack. “Well, we didn’t have much luggage allowance,” she pointed out, even as she twined her fingers in his. “It made sense to only bring things that match.”
“You have exceptional taste,” Ferio told her. “In clothes, cruise lines… people…”
She laughed, and took his hand. Fuu wanted to look around the ruins and Ferio had no objections to this. They didn’t stay with the official tour, though; Fuu had a map, and it didn’t take too much persuasion for Clef to agree to act as tour guide, even though it wasn’t his era. Ferio had seen the set of books Clef had brought with him - how he’d managed to pack any clothes was a miracle - so they didn’t just get a tour with their own private historian, but one who had just read through all the latest research on these sites with great interest, who dissected the theories even as he explained them and came up with a few additions of his own.
Umi, in a pink-and-yellow sundress rather less subtle than Fuu’s outfit, came along because, “well, Hikaru’s off trying out the water skiing, so why wouldn’t I hang out Fuu? It’s not like you two are on a date, not when Clef here too.” (Ferio didn’t point out that her coming along made it more like a date, because now they were double-dating. It seemed unwise. Neither Clef nor Umi were managing to articulate what their relationship was yet.) They were halfway around the final site which was open to the tromping hordes of tourists when Umi managed to start an argument with Clef over the exact purpose of one of the rooms - it sounded like she’d been paying a lot of attention, or she’d been sneaking off with Clef’s books.
Ferio rolled his eyes, held out his arm for Fuu to take, and wandered slowly on. “I hope that was enough history for today. I give them five minutes before they get distracted again.”
Leaning into him, Fuu smiled brightly, looking about as they wandered. There was another group of tourists just starting to walk up the hill, but they were a long way from the crest where Fuu and Ferio walked, alone but for the arguing they’d left behind. “And you would be happy for the change of entertainment, as well?”
“Ruins are all well and good, but - I mean, I kind of live in one? One which isn’t ruined, I mean. Not that it’s quite this old, but…”
“Thank you for indulging me,” Fuu said, and stood on tiptoes a moment to brush a kiss against Ferio’s forehead. “Would you like to go find a quiet beach for a while? Perhaps even some lunch?”
“You are a goddess,” Ferio told her, sincerely. “You must be; you read my mind.”
The cruise had booked out what seemed like a good half the coastline for the enjoyment of its passengers alone; they walked casually down the hill enjoying the sunshine and the way the only people they met were the locals, who rolled their eyes at Ferio asking if they minded being overrun with tourists.
“Well, of course?” one woman said, pinning up some ‘rustic’ and already-dry washing to hide the windows of her house (“you all take a lot of photos of shit you don’t need to see”) and her satellite dish. “This is our home, not a movie set, but the money’s good, and we don’t let too many come through. It’s easier when you’re an island. Why d’you care?”
“My country’s hardly got an economy and we’re trying to push the whole ‘ancient-villages lost in time in the wilds of the mountains’ thing to pull the tourists, but I’d like to know more about the downsides and how to mitigate them first. It’s an open border, so we can’t really stop them getting in-”
The woman snorted, and grabbed a pen and notepad out of her ‘washing basket’. “Here - I’ll give you the email for the Island Council. They’ve been writing reports into that shit every year since the 90s. I’m sure they’d love to have a rousing debate over it with you.”
“Awesome, thanks!” Ferio took the addresses - and took a photo, pinging an email to his sister before he could drop the paper in the sea. When he looked up, Fuu was considering him carefully. “...Sorry, I guess I got distracted.”
Her smile was bright as the sun. “It’s fine. Shall we go on?”
They gave their names to the lounging swim-short sporting security guard at the bottom of the hill, and not only did he let them into the reserved area of the sea front, he waved the head waiter from the closest little restaurant over. They were lead to the other side of the building from where everyone else was wandering off.
“For you, there has been a special arrangement,” he said, beaming. “For - the paperwork error, I think the captain said? He contacted me personally! This beach - out beyond those trees is three hundred metres of private beach, just you, no one else! And there is a picnic spread, in the hut, and hammocks under the trees - the next three hours, a private paradise! And we can make all the drinks you want, if you should run out. There.” He looked as satisfied as though he himself had made every snack in the ‘picnic’ and arranged every hammock and grain of sand for them. “How do you like it?”
“It will be wonderful, thank you,” Fuu said, before Ferio could respond. He blinked at her, but she was smiling the polite-bland smile at the waiter, corners of her eyes crinkling up at some private thought.
Well, if Fuu wanted to enjoy a ridiculously expensive apology - probably that Eagle’s idea, Ferio recognised a bribe when he saw one, and Lantis didn’t seem the type - Ferio was up for that.
Fuu excused herself into the ladies room to change, and Ferio found the men’s to scramble into the swimming trunks he’d barely remembered to grab on his way out the suite that morning. He ordered them a couple of drinks while he waited for Fuu, and she reappeared just as he was about to pick them up.
It was a good thing he hadn’t, as he’d only have dropped them. Fuu had a deep green halterneck swimming costume, all ruched fabric, and a long crochet skirt wrapped about her waist. It should have been a modest outfit, as these things went. It was, really - apart from the way it left her back entirely bare, and the way the lace of that skirt did more to highlight her legs than to hide them.
Crochet normally made Ferio think about doilies. He wasn’t sure he could handle it being sexy.
But handle it he would have to. Fuu was picking up her drink, with a satisfied smile for his expression, and making her way down the deserted slip of beach. He followed, and by the time they reached the surf they were hand in hand again.
They rounded the stand of trees which veiled the beach from the restaurant-and-bar, and ‘private paradise’ was right enough. The beach was shockingly pristine, enough Ferio wondered if they shipped in sand, and there was a little shelter at the back of it - old stone walls and a tiled roof, a long couch and a low table set up with the promised picnic basket. A couple of hammocks hung under the edge of the trees, in the dappled shade, and over the gentle surf the sea stretched out to the horizon, dotted with tiny islands and little sailing boats, no sign of the monstrous bulk of the cruise ship.
“Food, first, I think?” Fuu said, and they explored the basket together; bread baked with tomatoes and rosemary and olive oil; cheese and cured ham and grapes. Little pots of couscous with roasted vegetables, others of salad and dressings, one just of olives. More oil to dip the bread in. They ate slowly, savouring it and the sunshine, the breeze sweeping gently across the beach and making the trees rustle faintly.
Ferio tore a final piece of bread from the loaf and dipped it in the oil before eating it; Fuu laughed, and took his hand in her own. “What did I do?” He asked, leaning back against the couch.
“You’ve got oil all down your arm,” Fuu told him, and turned it so he could see the trickle running slowly down his forearm - he’d been too distracted to even notice.
“I guess you can’t take me anywhere. I’ll go wash that off-” he began, but Fuu’s grip on his hand tightened, instead of letting go.
“Let me,” she said, and then she was carefully licking the oil from his skin, and Ferio’s brain went very, very quiet. She kissed his wrist, and then the palm of his hand, before turning her head up towards his in an open, smiling invitation.
Ferio leant in and kissed her. Not urgently - he didn’t want to rush. Not this. But thoroughly. Her hair was silk under his hands, and her hands drew shudders from him as they ran over his back, under his shirt.
The couch was plenty large enough for two people to stretch out on it without falling off, and, as it turned out, comfortable too. “After all,” Fuu murmured, breath hot on his ear. “We’re already married, aren’t we? So why not.”
The next morning, he and Fuu left his room to find Umi already making tea in the living area with Clef’s kettle, wearing one of Clef’s shirts again, though at least she’d managed to find her own pyjama shorts by now. She blinked at Fuu, opened her mouth, then shut it again. Fuu smiled at her benevolently, and Ferio watched Umi visibly give in and start laughing.
“Well, it’s not like I can say anything! Here, do you want some coffee? Or tea?”
“Coffee would be lovely, thank you.”
“Guess Hikaru had the place to herself last night.”
“Unlike you, I did let her know where I was,” Fuu said, with a smile, and Umi rolled her eyes.
“It’s not like there were many options - with you two, or with Clef. D’you want coffee too, Ferio?”
Clef emerged from his room while Umi was handing out coffee, more asleep than awake from the way he blinked at Fuu in confusion. Umi handed him a mug and he hugged it close, flopping down into one of the chairs. “Huh,” he said, and that was it. Which was rather anti-climatic. Not that Ferio wanted any drama, but usually his hooking up with someone would have got at least a little lecture.
Then again, he’d already gone and married Fuu a week ago. So sleeping together wasn’t quite the hasty leap that it might have been.
He was just deciding the lack of drama was rather nice when there was a rattling thump of someone knocking on the door. They all stared down the corridor in confusion - Umi, being more awake than the rest of them (Ferio suspected she was on her second cup of tea already), went to answer it, and ushered in an agitated Eagle with a handful of paper.
“...Good morning?” Ferio said, and got glared at. He blinked. Nothing so far had actually made Eagle glare at anything. What could…
Eagle dropped the papers on the table in front of Ferio and Fuu; it was a handful of print-outs, front pages of several of the gossipy end of the newspaper spectrum in a scattering of different languages, plus at least one magazine cover… and all of them had photos of Fuu and Ferio, holding hands, walking about the ruins together. One was a shot of him kissing her cheek. Another, fuzzy enough it was clear that it had been taken over a long distance, of them dressed for the beach, arm in arm and each with a drink.
‘Is this Prince Ferio’s New Flame?’ screamed the headline over that one. ‘Playboy Prince starts a new game?’ shouted another. Ferio winced at a third, with the sub-heading ‘while his sister invests in revitalising their tiny nation, Prince Ferio of Cephiro spends his time idling away the hours and his inheritance on a luxury cruise.’
Another had a small photo of Clef and Umi in one corner, tagged ‘who are these women who have seduced the Prince of Cephiro and his companion?’ Clef spotted that one before Ferio could do anything about it, and audibly growled. He snatched it up, nearly upsetting Ferio’s drink, and tore it apart.
“...I guess there was a reporter in the tour group visiting after us,” Fuu murmured.
Eagle huffed. “You were meant to be subtle. Headline news is not subtle!”
“That kind of newspaper isn’t exactly serious, either,” Ferio pointed out. “What were we meant to do, not get off the ship?”
“You didn’t need to be all lovey-dovey in public! Everybody on this ship has signed an agreement not to use any photos or information gathered while on board without explicit permission from the company. It’s a standard policy to make sure we’re in control of our own press and marketing, but it also protects you. But only while you’re on board.” Eagle glared. “Lantis could lose his job over this, you realise? If this goes badly - Lantis could lose his job.”
Umi got in Eagle’s way. “You’re the one who persuaded him to take part in the marriage - which was meant to be a fake, remember? Just a photo op? And he’s the one who filed papers illegally. So if he loses his job, I don’t think it’s going to be Fuu’s fault, or Ferio’s.”
Eagle turned his glare on her a moment, before going back to Ferio and Fuu. “Congratulations on making it impossible to get an annulment, by the way - consummating the marriage later invalidates the annulment claim. Let me know if you want our help filing for divorce instead.” With that, he turned on his heel, and stalked out of the room again.
Ferio blinked, and then looked at the papers, then Fuu. “Uh. Do we know if he’s right about that?”
“We can check,” Fuu said, quietly, and went to get the information leaflets Lantis had got for them about annulment law in Autozam. “...Ah.”
“Does ‘ah’ mean it’s really a problem?” Umi held her hand out for a copy. “...Ah.”
“You’re as bad as she is!” Clef grumped, dropping the shredded paper into the bin and standing to look over Umi’s shoulder at the leaflet. “...Well, shit.”
“I take it Eagle was telling the truth?” Ferio said, from his seat. Fuu dropped back into hers beside him, nodding and reaching for her cup, but it was Clef who spelled it out.
“Autozam doesn’t have a clause for ‘got married for a joke’, so we were going to file on the basis you were both under the influence of alcohol when you got married so couldn’t consent. There was plenty of evidence you’d both been drinking in the club, so that would have been easy enough - but consummating a marriage later on indicates you’ve consented to it going forward, so makes it impossible to claim lack of capacity. Well, you can still claim ongoing lack of capacity, but I don’t think we’ve got grounds to say you don’t have the ability to give consent in general.”
“...And there’s no other way to apply for an annulment?”
“Aside from alleging that it was filed illegally without your knowledge.” Clef hesitated. “That… would mean taking Lantis to court, and proving you’d made it clear that this wasn’t a real wedding. I don’t think you want to do that to Lantis, and the press coverage would be…”
“A disaster,” Ferio supplied, and sighed. “...Couldn’t we just… not mention that it’s been consummated?”
The noise Fuu made was less than impressed.
“Uh, Given I am sharing a suite with you-” Clef waved his hand in a small circle “-they are going to ask me if I know anything, I would assume.”
“...Well, you haven’t actually seen anything?”
“Yes, I haven’t, but Fuu being in our rooms in the morning wearing a nightdress isn’t unsuspicious, Ferio!” Clef was starting to look worried.
“Neither of us are lying for you.” The glare Umi shot Ferio shut down any argument he might have had. She gave Fuu an apologetic look and a “sorry, Fuu,” before narrowing her eyes at him again, her hand on Clef’s shoulder.
Fuu looked at Ferio thoughtfully. “...I guess we’ll have to get divorced, then?”
“I guess.” Ferio leaned back, running a hand through his hair. “Or we could… we could try being married?”
He looked over and Fuu was just staring at him.
“I mean! ...We didn’t have a pre-nup or anything so you might as well try being married to me, then we get a divorce in a year once the fuss is quieter and my sister’s new economic programme is up and running so she doesn’t kill me for ruining all the press about Cephiro, and you’ll get like five turrets of our ridiculous castle to call your own-”
Fuu blinked. “I don’t think it works like that?”
“Maybe not?” He shrugged. “But? ...I really don’t want to mess things up for Em. We could just - try it - for the rest of the cruise, at least? If you can’t stand me, we’ll get a divorce anyway - I’m sure we can work out how to do that without it being too dramatic. Em will have some ideas, she’s good with the press. But if we get along then you could have a - a gap-year! In Cephiro.”
“Please?” He was aware he was begging, and that was probably undignified, but he didn’t want to divorce her-
He didn’t want to divorce her.
Ferio’s eyes went wide as he stared at Fuu, his breath coming fast as it hit that he already couldn’t imagine life without her in it, without being able to sit down with her at the end of the day to complain about everything that had gone wrong and have her laugh at him. Without her smile, her voice. Her hand in his.
Before he could find words for any of that, Fuu was nodding, cautious. “I suppose we can try?”
This wasn’t going to be a problem at all.
Umi and Fuu left soon after that, headed off to find Hikaru, and clean clothes, and probably for them both to contact their families - which Ferio needed to do, too, only he was still rocking slightly from his own realisations. But when Clef picked up his phone, face somewhat grim, Ferio shook his head.
“I’ll call. I should call, too. This isn’t your fault, Clef.”
Clef looked down at the table. “I was meant to be watching out for you-”
“No, you were meant to be on holiday. I’m just an excuse to get you to actually take a break.” Ferio folded the print-outs up. “None of this is your fault, Clef. Besides, I’m old enough to make my own mistakes without help, I promise! ...I’ll call Em. You go read a book or something and try not to worry about any of this.”
Having said that, it took Ferio a good five minutes to work himself up to calling, and Emeraude picked up saying “yes, I’ve seen the papers,” instead of hello.
It didn’t take long to explain they’d messed up the chance to get an annulment, and he could actually hear it when Emeraude flopped back onto a chair - it creaked loud enough to echo down the phone line.
“You idiot,” she said, sounding weary.
“I think I like her, Em.”
“Well, I should hope so,” Emeraude told him. “It’s generally a bad idea to sleep with people you don’t like-”
“No, I mean - Em, I think I really like her,” Ferio said, urgently, flopping down on the bed. “I don’t want to get a divorce! And now she thinks I want to fake being married for a year, and-”
His sister sighed down the phone at him. “You really do get yourself into messes, don’t you? Ferio, I’m sure she likes you. She wouldn’t be putting up with any of this nonsense otherwise, and from what Clef’s been telling me, I think she sounds like a good person. I’d have like to meet her before you got married, but-”
“What do I do?” Ferio asked, plaintively.
“You’ve got time, little brother. Don’t panic! Just - keep getting to know each other, and if you find a good moment, tell her how you feel. Don’t complicate things any more than you need to.”
“Okay. Okay, I can do that.” He took a deep breath. “You’re not… disappointed in me for not getting the annulment, are you? I mean, we still could, but - I don’t want to do that to the captain, and-”
“I’d really rather you not get him into trouble, actually.” Emeraude said, suddenly serious. “As it turns out - well, you know Zagato has an estranged brother he hasn’t seen since before he moved to Cephiro?”
“.......No,” Ferio said, trying not to laugh. It explained why Lantis had been oddly familiar, but really? “He can’t be, that’s ridiculous!”
“Ridiculous or not, it seems to be true. Zagato came to talk to me yesterday, they’re now in touch for the first time in at least a decade.”
“So yours isn’t the only life having a turn for the ridiculous right now! Anyway, I’m sending LaFarga out - Clef was meant to be having a holiday, not actually playing bodyguard, and now he’s in the papers too… well, it looks like you might need a bit of security when you’re out and about. And I want contact details for her family, please! Apart from that, just keep your head up, Ferio. It’ll blow over. It always does.”
Not too far away, Fuu had had a somewhat similar conversation with her parents, who were very confused by this whole thing, and pretty much handed her off to her sister as soon as they’d confirmed she was still married and not now going to get an annulment. (Fuu had skimmed over why that wasn’t going to work now.) She’d managed to beat the Japanese press, at least, so they weren’t going to be as startled if it hit the news at home at least.
Kuu was also confused, especially when Fuu hid herself in the bathroom with the phone to admit ‘I think I’ve fallen for him.’
“...Well, congratulations, you’re a princess now?” Kuu said.
“Fuu, he married you, and since then from what you’ve said he’s taken you on dates to ruins and beaches and clubs, and you’ve managed to get him into bed. I did have a look on the internet, I know what they say about him being a ‘playboy’, but he really does look like he’s been sincere about every relationship he’s been in. And there haven’t been as many as the press want you to believe!”
“...I’ve been trying not to look him up,” Fuu admitted, twining the ends of her hair about a finger. “But he’s been so nice, all this time, and he’s doing this to help his sister, and… I don’t think I want to get a divorce.”
“It’s only been, what, a week? Two weeks?” Kuu said. “Are you sure?”
“...Yes,” Fuu admitted, quietly.
“...Then I suggest you just let yourself enjoy being married to him,” Kuu said, and actually sounded serious about it. “At least until you’ve finished the cruise, and then see what you want to do, that’s another week to think about it - ooh, does he have a castle? Can I come stay with you?”
“Kuu!” She laughed at her sister, and at herself. “...Yes, he has a castle. Well, his family has a castle. More than one, I think?”
“Definitely stay married to him, at least long enough for us to come on holiday!”
Fuu laughed, finally relaxing, and hung up. Enjoy it and see where it went. She could manage that.
Umi was waiting outside the bathroom for her, and Hikaru was sat on the bed. “...Are you okay?” Hikaru said, quietly.
Fuu nodded. “I’m good,” she promised, and it wasn’t a lie. “I have a year to persuade my husband that he wants to stay married to me. That’s plenty of time to come up with a plan.”
Hikaru and Umi looked at each other, and then started to laugh. “Oh, I don’t think it will take that long!” Hikaru said, jumping up to hug Fuu.
Umi joined in, spinning them in a circle in the tiny gap between the two beds. “I don’t think it’s going to take a plan! But if you need our help, you know where we are. Right, Hikaru?”
As it turned out, both Hikaru and Umi were right.
Ferio had expected some excitement after the whole headline debacle. He’d expected a few photographers, maybe a reporter or two. He hadn’t anticipated the storm of flashbulbs awaiting to mob them when they hit the next port, nor the number of questions being shouted at them.
He tugged Fuu back into the ship with him, into the deserted corridors. “I’m sorry, because of me you’ll have to put up with this kind of thing now-”
“Well, for a year, at least,” Fuu said, quietly, and Ferio flinched.
“Fuu- Fuu, I don’t want to get divorced,” he blurted, and she stared at him. “I love you. I do, I want to marry you. Properly. On purpose! I don’t want you to leave, I want to - to dodge reporters with you for the rest of my life.” One of her hands was rising to her mouth, her cheeks flushing, and she didn’t say anything.
Ferio dropped to one knee, there in the corridor. “Hououji Fuu, I love you. Please, will you - please will you be my queen?”
Fuu’s eyes were very wide. “...Your sister is the Queen,” she pointed out, her voice wavering.
“You’re my queen,” Ferio told her, and it sounded stupid, but it was true.
“...Yes,” Fuu said, and then she was pulling him up off the floor, wrapping her arms about him. “Yes, Ferio, I want to marry you - be married to you. Yes. To everything!”
By the time they’d made it back home, Emeraude had spun the story - with the help of Fuu’s family - into a long-distance romance where the two of them had already been engaged and just skipped ahead sooner than originally planned. Other magazines were running with titles like ‘Love at First Sight: The Girl the Prince Couldn’t Let Go’ and Ferio had to admit that version - especially as it was closer to the truth - was a more interesting story. (And he was pretty certain his sister had ‘leaked’ those versions, too.)
But really, Ferio didn’t mind what anyone believed. All he cared about was the woman beside him on the dais and the fact he was allowed to marry her - as there was nothing in Cephiran law to say you couldn’t marry the same person twice - properly this time, in front of all their friends and family.
Umi and Hikaru stood beside Fuu, with her sister - and Umi was the maid of honour this time. Hikaru had insisted, laughing, as she had been everything the time before and Kuu didn’t mind. Besides, Hikaru had a new job, and it was hard to get time off to make all those arrangements. She was beaming almost as much as Fuu was, though she was looking in a slightly different direction. (She’d spent about as much of the last three months in Cephiro as Fuu had. ‘On wedding business’, she kept saying. It would be interesting to see what excuse she gave after today - and she’d never once actually stayed in the guest rooms set aside for her.)
Zagato was officiating, which - given he and Lantis had nearly the exact same voice - kept making Ferio want to laugh, because it sounded just like their first wedding dropped into a new setting.
Nearly the whole country had turned up - not that the population was really all that large - and a royal wedding was definitely a draw for the tourist crowd. Emeraude had perhaps gone a little over the top in the publicity, and she and Umi had had far too much fun with the arrangements. Did there really need to be three choirs? Okay, maybe there were only three professional choirs in all of Cephiro, so it was probably polite to invite all of them. And the music was spectacular, but still.
All of it paled beside Fuu, in an elegant cream dress which definitely resembled the one she’d worn for their first wedding. Only this one was full length, with a delicate veil pinned into her hair. With Fuu standing in front of him, Ferio couldn’t find the will to care about the crowds, the choirs, the people.
“You may kiss,” said Zagato, and Fuu’s hand was gentle on his cheek, her mouth soft under his lips, as the crowds cheered loud enough to shake the castle.