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The first time Marx ever loses his crown is a full fifteen years into his life, and only ten into hers. She had crept into his chambers in the wee hours of the morning to pilfer it from his bedside table. He knows because he asked her. Sloppy, he tells himself - for a child to have been able to steal from the crown prince of Nohr.

But what he doesn’t know is how she waits in the corridor for hours, pointed ear pressed against the door, legs wobbling from standing for so long, feet numb and turning vaguely blue against the cold stone floors. He doesn’t know that she waits until she hears his breathing slow in such a way that ensures he won’t stir even if the door creaked. Not that she would let it - she opens it slowly, so slowly she can see the Nohr gloom beginning to brighten through the crack in the curtain. How she only opens it barely more than a crack, just big enough for her slight body to slip through. How she creeps, feet having already walked this path a hundred times in preparation for this. The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is it’s weight, and it dips in her careful hands, scrapes against the table. He doesn’t know how she holds her breath as he stirs in his sleep from even that little noise, doesn’t know that he’s far less sloppy than he thinks he is.

If he had known all of this, perhaps he would’ve understood that even as crown prince, he never could’ve stopped her.

But he doesn’t. He doesn’t know that he never had a chance against her. Not now. Not ever.

He confronts her about it last, not ever suspecting her. Not understanding why she would ever want such a thing badly enough not to just ask him for it. Never seeing the way she clasps her hands together tightly and closes her eyes, trying to believe it’s someone else’s - someone bigger, stronger, like the princes in her storybooks. Only ever sees the edges of her heated gaze as she turns away, always thinking it a coincidence, never once thinking that she could think of him as the sun.

What was a star to a star after all? If you burned that brightly, surely any other light in the universe would be no different than darkness.

And so he stands in her doorway, not expecting an answer. But she fesses up easily, lips curling into a small smile, eyes dead serious as she tries to gauge his reaction.

“Sorry, I just wanted to try it on,” she says, speaking casually as if talking about some old rag, while offering it to him on upturned palms carefully, as if intending to coronate him.

“And?” he asks, much to her surprise. “How was it?”

“It… Fit,” she stumbles over her words, caught off guard.

He knows she’s lying. The circlet would never fit someone as small as her unless she intended to wear it as a necklace. But he doesn’t know why she would. Doesn’t notice the way her fingers curl just so when his hand brushes hers as takes it from her palms. And so he files the incident away in his mind, and goes on with his day, once again crown prince.

The next time he sees her, she has his circlet again.

Except, he hasn’t taken his own off. His circlet, its pattern is etched into her face. Perched on her cheekbones, they frame her eyes. She does not look away. She meets his gaze straight on and he cannot look away.

It suits her. Much better than it does him, he thinks. Had her gaze always been so fervent? It had, he knows it had, but before he could forget. He could push the heat of her gaze out of his mind, pretending like she didn’t have such a hold over him, and in the long stretches of time when he didn’t see her, he could believe that was the truth.

He cannot forget now.

He cannot forget what she’s done to herself. He cannot forget her sharp face and earnest gaze, peeking up at him without flinching, as if they were equals even now.

He reaches out in awe, pushing her hair away from her face, fingers barely brushing her cheeks. The juxtaposition of her hard look and the softness of her skin makes his hands tremble upon contact. Under his touch, he can feel her breath hitch, is acutely aware of the way her chest rises and falls more rapidly in his periphery vision. He is forced to look at her, at himself, reflected in her, forced to confront everything he’d ever pushed to the back of his mind, with a single glance from her.

His thumbs smooth across her soft cheeks and her eyes flutter almost shut like a cat enjoying bathing in a spot of sunshine. But then he sweeps his way upward toward those markings and she jerks her head away from him, catches his hand. Looks at him sideways as if she knows what kind of power just a look has over him, but still, even without its directness he feels it, feels bare, flayed and vulnerable, like he’s ripped his own chest open and and she’s peeking inside sideways to see the way his racing heart beats.

“Don’t,” her voice is softer than he expects, for having upset her. “They’re still fresh; they need a little more time to heal.”

Wordlessly he drops his still extended hand as he notices the redness of her skin under the black. It hits him then, what exactly she’s done to herself.

“Madora…” is all he says as he pulls her into an embrace. How long had it been since he’d held her? Since he’d even said her name?

Madora. Ruler. Despite being a stolen princess, despite being locked away, despite never have even been considered for the throne - she took the token of her namesake anyway, and etched it into herself so that none could take it from her.

He shudders as he holds her.

-

The next time he loses it, it is ten years later on a boat to Hoshido, and she is now a commander, same as him. He sits on the edge of the bed lacing his boots as she gazes out the port window, out to the open sea.

“It’s a fine day for sailing,” he muses, and briefly wonders what compels him to say that. The words are wasteful, unnecessary. Or they should be. But he hasn’t seen her in so long, and now he catches himself gazing at her idly, until her own gaze slides over to him, and he can’t do anything but avert his eyes, embarrassed. Or speaking easily, in hopes she might indulge him. But she stares out onto the sea, strangely distant after their initial reunion, and he can do nothing but helplessly stare at her profile. At the way she props her elbows on the window sill, chin resting against clasped hands, body in an unnatural position, too tall in her heels, yet still managing to be poised. The slant of light the setting sun casts on her makes the pink in her hair stand out, eyes glinting blood red, even sharper as she squints directly into the light, defines the curves of her body he perhaps noticed, but never wanted to acknowledge.

He feels small, somehow.

It isn’t a bad feeling.

He finally tears his eyes from her, glancing at the window too, to try and see what she’s looking at even though it should be impossible at this angle. But it isn’t. Because in her vague reflection on the glass, she’s looking directly at him, watching him like a cat watches its prey. Their gazes lock and he thinks he sees her smile, but then she turns around and her mouth is the same hard line it’s been since they’ve boarded the boat. She stalks up to him and there’s a moment he thinks she’s angry, and his breath catches in his chest because he doesn’t know what he would do if he upset her, ever. But she puts a knee on either side of him, almost straddling him, but not quite low enough - close as they can be without actually touching.

It’s a challenge.

And he has to swallow the breath caught in his throat to keep his cool. He doesn’t know what she wants. To see who would give first? To see if he would back down, lean back to get away from the intimacy of their position, the magnitude of her being? He wouldn’t. Perhaps it was stubbornness, perhaps it was… He pushes the thought out of his mind. It is stubbornness that makes him hold his ground, and nothing more, even as he is wrapped in sultry scent of her perfume, can taste her breath on his lips. No, he won’t back down here, and straightens his back, puffs out his chest, and he can feel himself wanting to come even closer, that this isn’t enough, that perhaps lessening the distance between them to absolute zero still wouldn’t be enough, but he won’t know unless he tries and-

Perhaps this is the game she intends to play. Not to see which one would back down first, but which one would push forward, break an unspoken boundary, and he was so close, so close to giving in and pulling her hips down on top of his, crashing his lips onto hers, sliding his fingers into that open skirt and under the infuriating lace of her panties.

That wouldn’t be a bad way to lose, he thinks.

Her lips curl into a roguish smile and she leans forward and he can feel her breasts press against his chest as she plucks the circlet from his head. She bounds over to the full length mirror in the room even as the boat pitches and rolls beneath her, heels clicking a jaunty rhythm, leaving him nonplussed in the wake of her sudden absence. He stares forward blankly, trying to process all that’s happened in such a short amount of times, and it is only when she crowns herself and turns to him with a smile wide enough to show her pointed teeth is he able to refocus.

“How do I look?” she singsongs.

He is quiet. Without a word he stands, and she quirks an eyebrow. His boots thud heavily against the floor, and compared to the lightness the sound her heels made, he sounds tired, old. Perhaps he is, compared to her. Perhaps she deserves better than a war-torn man, forced to grow up before he knew what being grown-up meant, already battered and worn.

Still, he is selfish.

And so he catches her by her hips, snakes his arms around her waist. Even with heels on, she is small against him, fitting easily in his arms, against his chest. She tries to look at him, tilting her head up, wriggling against him in a way he wishes she would and wouldn’t. He steps back, pulling his hips from hers lest she continue, and tilts her chin gentle so she meets his gaze in the mirror instead. She’s still at last, her eyes flickering between his gaze in the mirror and trying to look up at him again. He doesn’t blame her. He looks hungry, starving. It’s hard to look at himself, so he keeps his gaze trained on her. Perhaps that makes it worse.

“…I think,” he begins, voice low and gravelly in his throat, “that you look like a queen.”

She does. She would look like a queen with or without his circlet. But right now, in his arms, she looks like his queen.

The thought feels like fire in his mind.

She looks at herself in the mirror quizzically, then straightens herself, folds her arms over his own, and holds her head high.

“Good,” is all she says. But then, he can feel a sharp intake of breath, the way she holds it in her belly, hesitating, and- “That’s what I want to be, after all.”

“Really.” It isn’t a question.

“Really.”

“Perhaps, when Hoshido is conquered, you can have it,” he says, not wanting to believe the fantasy, the lie his mind has already jumped through hoops to get to.

“I don’t want to be queen of Hoshido,” she says impudently.

“Then what do you want to be queen of?” he somehow manages to say easily, though he swears his breath is trapped in his lungs.

“Everything.”

She leans her head back onto him, satisfied with that response. The boat lurches, and he takes a step forward to steady them, and they are unbearably close again. His eyes narrow into a look beyond hunger, into something almost beastly, primal, and he leans down to hide such a look by nuzzling against her hair and neck.

“Then you will be.” Queen of Hoshido. Queen of Nohr. Queen of him.

He murmurs it against her neck, again and again, reveling in the way his lips brush against her skin, the way his teeth scrape against her flesh.

“Report! Lord Marx, Lady Madora!” a soldier bursts into the room, stopping him before he goes too far.

He hisses as she silently returns his crown, and when he turns he doesn’t see the way she trembles, suddenly unbearably cold.

Madora. 窓裸. An uncovered window. Transparent. Bare. Unadorned.

A ruler without a crown.

-

The third time, it’s less losing it, and more lending it out.

He hands it to the jeweler to appraise the type of metal used. It’s the first time he’s without it that he doesn’t feel naked, vulnerable.

The shop is just outside the castle walls. In fact, he can see his room from here. There’s a shadow at the window and he wants to believe it’s Madora. She would be brushing her hair idly at the window sill, still in her nightgown, brows slightly furrowed as she fights sleep because she was finally sleeping again. With him, he reminds himself. Every night she curls up in his bed to sleep with him.

He smiles absentmindedly to himself.

“Prince Marx,” the jeweler interrupts his thoughts. “I’m finished.”

“Then, you will be able to fulfill this request?”

“Yes, it should be simple enough. The design is more complex than yours, but quite sturdy.”

“And- about the design. Is it alright?”

“What, my lord?”

“I- I’m asking if the design is appropriate.”

The jeweler is quiet for a moment as he follows Marx’s gaze, thinks of his absentminded smile, and the furrow conspicuously absent from his brow.

“Yes,” he says slowly. “It’s quite elegant. Fit for a queen, even.”

The next day, he journeys back to his room at noon, with not one, but two crowns.

Turning the knob is difficult. Shooing his retainers out of his quarters is difficult. Putting one leg in front of the other is difficult. When he enters the room, he almost shoves the other circlet into a drawer because the easiness of giving up is tempting.

But looking at her, curled up on his bed, tangled in the covers, clinging to the pillow he has to use as a substitute for himself every morning he wakes earlier than her - that isn’t so hard. And thinking of her waking up, eyes puffy and hair tangled, disheveled and knowing only he ever gets to see that - that’s easy too. And thinking of her by his side, always, through the years on a throne of her own, in his bed every morning and every night, and all the ways he’d tell her he loves her and all the ways he hopes he can make her smile - it’s natural as breathing.

And suddenly, giving up seems to be the most difficult option he has.

He watches her a moment longer, trying to memorize every detail of this vision, just in case it is to be the last time he wakes up to her.

“Madora,” his voice gruff, strained.

She stirs from under the covers and he holds his breath.

Madora. Ruler. Even if she was never meant to be one, he would make her one now. If she didn’t accept her own crown, the crown of Nohr’s future queen, then he would give her his own. This was her brithright. The fruits of her conquest. The right of her namesake.

-

And on one lazy morning four years from then, Marx awakes to find his circlet missing from his nightstand, not unlike a day fourteen years prior.

Of course, this time is a bit different, as the king of Nohr should never be seen without his crown. And so he drags himself out of bed, rubbing his eyes as he opens the door to his office to see his small violet haired son, circlet in hand, matching its pattern to the markings on his wife’s cheeks.

“Father!” the boy shouts, climbing off his mother’s lap and dropping the circlet to run to his father’s embrace. Madora catches the crown before it clatters to the floor, smiling though she knows she still grips it too hard.

“Did you wake your mother up, Siegbert?” Marx tuts, scooping his son up, and places a kiss on his forehead. Siegbert goes quiet and looks down.

“Of course he didn’t,” she says, exaggeratedly rolling her eyes. “I’m perfectly capable of waking up before you.”

“I wonder…” he says, and she lightly smacks his arm before going up on tip-toe to crown him.

“Father! Father!” Siegbert says as he helps Marx tug the circlet into place. “Did you know - Mother’s markings are the same as your crown!”

“Are they now,” he muses. “You’re such a clever boy.”

Siegbert giggles happily, and then is silent. “Will I- get them too?”

“Of course not,” Madora says before Marx even has a chance to reply. “You’ll get your own crown. Just like auntie Camilla. Or me.”

“But you also have Father’s…”

“Yes, well…” she sighs and smooths Siegbert’s hair, choppy in the front because he’d already tried to imitate his mother’s blunt bangs. “It isn’t something you need.”

“But… Why did you need it?”

“Because… This might sound strange to you, but I wasn’t always to be queen, you know.”

Marx murmurs a, “Yes, you were,” under his breath, but says no more at the sharp look his wife gives him.

“I wasn’t to be queen, and I wasn’t family with your father or auntie Camilla or Uncle Leon or Auntie Elise, even though I lived with them. I had no family. So I did something very foolish because I thought I could force myself to have something I wasn’t supposed to. In the end… These markings weren’t necessary.”

Siegbert is quiet again, reaching out a small hand to stroke his mother’s cheeks.

Marx looks her in the eye. “Do you regret them, though?”

“…Never. But I don’t want my child to know such loneliness that he thinks hurting himself is the only way to be part of something.”

“So Mother… Got these markings because she was lonely?” Siegbert asks, and Madora pries her eyes away from her husband, hard expression turning into a smile as she does so.

“Yes… I suppose you could say that.”

“Then I never wanna get them. Because I’ll never be lonely. Because mom and dad will always be with me.”

Madora smiles in earnest. “Well said,” Marx says, placing another kiss on his son’s cheek, then leans in to give Madora one too, “both of you.”

She returns the kiss, and murmurs softly against his lips, so Siegbert doesn’t hear, “Two kisses for him before giving your wife even one, hm?”

“Tsk, always a sore loser,” he says, and chuckles when she raises her eyebrows. “I’ll make it up to you later.”

“When is ‘later’?” she pouts.

“Right now, if you want,” he says, putting Siegbert down. “Go find uncle Lazaward, and tell him to get auntie Pieri to make you breakfast, okay? I’m sure she’ll make you sweets, if you ask.”

Madora looks about to protest, but Siegbert is already halfway down the corridor before she can open her mouth.

“Mm, don’t make that face,” Marx teases gently, pulling her close and slipping a hand under her robe.
“Tsk… I’ll make this face until you make me make another one, how’s that?”

“You say that as if it’s hard,” he muses as they stroll back to the bedroom, “But I am worried. …Are you okay?”

“I will be as soon as you get your silly robe off.”

“Madora…”

“I’m alright, okay? It’s something he’d ask about sooner or later… And something I’ll have to explain to the rest of our kids, someday.”

“The rest of them?”

“Mmhm. That’s what we’re doing right now, right? You’re making it up to me by… potentially making more little heirs? Two birds with one stone and all that?”

He only chuckles in response as he pushes her onto the the bed. He wouldn’t mind having his crown taken another time or two.