He first sees him as they drag him into their palace, and it’s like getting the air kicked out of him. He’s a young man with boyish looks, and his electric blue eyes stare at him, as if peering into his soul. He wears only a pair of loose trousers, and the expanse of skin he displays is impossibly pale for a desert dweller and has the light sheen of sweat across it, as if the man has just come from training.
The man stands next to a finely-dressed woman—the queen regent, he realizes from the way she directs the soldiers who have captured him. The queen is beautiful, yes, but he can’t take his eyes away from the man. Something inside him pulls him towards the man, wanting him to draw closer. The soldiers lead him away, but he turns his head to look at the man until they round a bend and he couldn’t see him anymore.
He can’t keep his eyes away from the centurion prisoner. Ever since the warriors had dragged the man into the palace, he’s been finding excuses to walk by the room the man is being kept in, to lurk in the shadows, watching the prisoner through the open doorway. What is it about this foreigner that draws him towards him? What is it about this man that made it feel as if his world had collapsed down to a single point of focus when he first laid eyes on him?
The centurion is locked behind iron bars in the center of the room, and there are always three guards in rotation watching him. The man watches them in turn, eyes half-lidded but alert, sitting cross-legged on the floor. He’s been stripped of his armor, dressed in a loose tunic and trousers. The clothes do nothing to hide the strength and feeling of danger contained within the man’s body.
He can’t remember that last time he’s seen such a man, felt such fascination.
His sister, of course, notices his preoccupation. (There isn’t much he could hide from her.) They usually spent their afternoons together, draped over each other and catching up with their studies, but he’s wandering the halls again, drawn back to the room where the centurion is. She finds him outside that room, tucked into an alcove.
“What is it, Leto? You’ve been watching the centurion for hours,” she says to him.
“You don’t feel it too, Sister?” he asks, eyes still fixed on the man.
“Feel what? From the centurion?”
“He draws me in like a moth to a flame. What does our aunt plan for him? He does not deserve to be caged like an animal.”
“She hasn’t said.” She looks at him, and he knows she reads his expression easily. “…you’re infatuated with him.”
“Ghani! I am not,” he protests.
She shakes her head. “I know that look on your face; do not deny it.”
He exhales sharply, keeping calm. “He fascinates me, yes, but I’m not infatuated with him.”
Ghani looks very unconvinced, and even he realizes he isn’t going to win this discussion. He looks away from her, looks back at the man still sitting behind bars.
“Leto, his people are trying to invade our kingdom. What is it that you wish to achieve from this?”
“Yes, the fact hasn’t escaped me. I just—” He stutters to a stop when the centurion suddenly looks up, his gaze cutting through the shadows and straight into his eyes.
He’s caught in the soldier’s gaze for too long, and he is thankful that he doesn’t flush easily as he tears his eyes away. He ignores the knowing look on his sister’s face, instead grabbing her arm and pulling her away.
A cough startles him from his light doze on the cell floor. He uncurls into a crouch immediately and is stunned again by those penetrating blue eyes from before. The young man, almost a boy, kneels by the bars, wearing now a simple white tunic and sand-colored trousers tucked into like-colored boots. He holds a water-skin and a slab of bread.
The sight of the food brings back awareness of the hunger gnawing low in his stomach. He hasn’t eaten in two days, and his captors have only given him a cup of water a day.
He is, understandably, more interested in the man though.
The stranger licks his bottom lip before speaking, and Quintus is distracted by how red they are.
“Food?” the man says in Latin.
His eyes widen; he certainly hadn’t expected anyone in this desert kingdom to know Latin. The language of Arrakis, he has found, is exotic and lyrical, and impossible for him to understand.
The man holds out to him the water-skin and bread, but all Quintus can think to say is “You know Latin?”
The stranger shakes his head and says, “Little.” And then again, “Food?”
Quintus eyes the food warily, but whether the food is poisoned or not, he suspects he’d be killed in the next few days. Better to die with some food in his belly. Besides, his instincts tell him the man could be trusted, at least this much. He edges over to the bars, sitting but half a meter from the man. The man passes him the food, fingers brushing his, and it’s as if a shock runs through his body. He nearly drops the bread and looks from the man’s hands to his face. The other must feel it too, the inexplicable pull that draws Quintus closer to him. It’s why the man is here, surely.
“What’s your name?” he asks. “I am Quintus,” he adds, pointing to himself.
The man hesitates before answering, “Leto Atreides.”
Leto Atreides, prince and heir of Arrakis. He didn’t know whether to curse his luck.
“Your highness,” he finally says, bowing his head.
A smile pulls at the corner of the prince’s lips. Then he looks pointedly at the bread and water-skin still in Quintus’ hands.
With that cue, Quintus can’t hold himself back anything longer and wolfs down the slab of bread. It’s cold, but fresh enough and soft, infused with the spices so sought after by Quintus’ people—the spices are why the Romans are trying to invade Arrakis.
He tilts his head back as he drinks from the water-skin. When he lowers the skin back down, it’s to see the prince’s eyes fixated on his throat, before glancing back up to his eyes. Leto looks up at him through his lashes with a smile, a little shy and a little sly.
Good Gods is the man beautiful.
There is the sound of footsteps and the clanging of metal outside the room, and both of them are standing in a second.
The prince glances over his shoulder before saying something in his own language. He then adds in Latin, “Must leave.”
Quintus passes back the water-skin, and the prince stares at him as if he wants to say something, before turning away instead. Without a thought, Quintus thrusts a hand through the cell bars and grabs Leto’s free hand, stopping him in his tracks. He pulls the hand through the bars and brushes his lips to the back of the prince’s hand. The pale skin there is soft and smooth, and he resists the urge to press his cheek to it.
Leto looks at him with amusement in his eyes and twists his hand in Quintus’ grip, so that his fingers brush against his unshaved cheek. Quintus’ eyes flutter shut for a second at the caress, and he re-opens them to see a soft smile on the prince’s lips.
“Good night,” Leto murmurs before pulling his hand away and disappearing out the doorway.