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A Noble Heart

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He’d expected shock. That was sort of the standard reaction to this sort of news. Still, Quentin wasn’t sure how Dean would react after the shock part.

For the moment, Dean had his hands over his face, his bright-red blush still visible through his splayed fingers. “You’re the Crown Prince of the Westlands,” he said, for the third time so far.

“Hasn’t changed in the last twenty seconds or so,” Quentin replied.

Dean shook his head and lowered his hands. “I mean-- I’ve been making out with the Crown Prince of North America.”

Quentin shrugged slightly. “Look at this way,” he said with forced levity. “You didn’t know I was the Crown Prince when the making out started, so no one can accuse you of being a social climber.” Even as he said it, he knew it was a Toby thing. Covering up nerves with quips.

Dean snorted. “Right,” he said, shaking his head. He sighed, and looked over at Quentin. “You’re serious. You’re not just saying this to mess with me, you are literally going to inherit North America someday.”

Quentin nodded. “Yeah. I mean-- yeah, I’m serious.” He kind of hated it when people put it in those terms, honestly, though he wasn’t sure what part he hated more-- the thought of being responsible for a continent, or the thought of his parents not being on their thrones. They could and probably would step down someday, but… there was always the chance he’d inherit under far worse circumstances.

Dean let out a heavy breath. “Wow.”

“I-I just wanted you to know,” Quentin said, scuffing his feet on the sand. “Not a lot of people do, but…” He liked Dean, a lot, and it felt wrong keeping it from him. Dean nodded, still looking shocked, and Quentin sighed. This didn’t seem to be going very well at all. “If… If this makes things too complicated, I understand--”

“What? No!” Dean shook himself and reached over to grab Quentin’s hand. “No, it’s not-- No. This doesn’t change anything, not really. You’re still you.” He gave Quentin that lopsided, warm grin that had become awfully familiar over the last few months; Quentin grinned back, even as he felt the tips of his ears heating up.

“Okay,” Quentin replied after a few moments. “Good.”

“So, uh… you can’t really talk about it much, right?” Dean asked. “The whole prince thing.”

“Well, technically, I’m not supposed to talk about it at all,” Quentin replied. “Blind fosterage and all. But I kinda outed myself during the whole…” He waved his free hand in the air for a moment. “Y’know, thing, with Arden.” ‘Thing’ wasn’t really a good description, but it seemed impolite to refer to the situation that led to the current monarch gaining her throne as a mess, catastrophe, or disaster. Maybe more accurate, but still impolite. “So I still can’t talk about it in public, but if it’s just us…”

Dean pointedly looked up and down the stretch of beach they were sitting on. “This count?”

“So long as there’s no Selkies hiding over there,” Quentin replied, nodding at the water.

“There aren’t,” Dean said with casual certainty.

Quentin chuckled. “Okay. Uh… I mean, is there anything you wanted to know?”

“Did you really live in an ice palace?” Dean asked immediately.

“Yup.”

“How does that even work?”

“Magic,” Quentin deadpanned, and laughed again at the unimpressed look Dean gave him. “It was mostly ice,” he explained. “The foundation was stone, and some of the floors were wood. But almost everything else was ice.” So many different types of it, too: the ancient, blue-black glacial ice of the walls, thick and impenetrable, down to the paper-thin, crystal-clear ice that made up the windows.

“Wait-- some of the floors were wood. Were some of them ice?” Dean asked, eyes wide in fascination. Quentin nodded. “How did you not fall down all the time?”

“Well, the ice floors were kind of rough,” he explained. “Not totally slick. But if you got a running start, you could still slide a long ways.” He smiled at the memories bubbling to the surface. “My little sister and I used to race down the main hall to the throne room, see who could go the farthest.”

“You have a sister?”

Oh. Right. He had to explain that, too. “Yeah. Penthea. She’s five years younger than me.”

Dean frowned. “And you haven’t seen her since you came out here?”

Quentin shook his head. “No. We write letters, but… I haven’t seen her.”

“Wow.” Dean looked down at the sand. “I can’t imagine going that long without seeing Peter.”

“Yeah. She was only seven when I came here.” It hurt to think about, how much she’d grown up while he was away. How much he’d grown up. They’d be almost strangers to each other, whenever he finally went back.

“At least you can keep in touch,” Dean said. “Dad’s told me about blind fosterages where even that’s not allowed.”

“Well, I think I’ve probably gotten some special treatment,” Quentin said with a shrug. Then he snorted and shook his head again. “And then Toby’s more than made up for it.”

“No kidding,” Dean said. Quentin chuckled; Dean barely knew the half of it. “What was it like, growing up there?” Dean asked after a few moments. “I mean, I know what it was like growing up in the palace back home, but the land kingdoms do things a lot differently.”

Quentin nodded, idly rubbing his thumb over the back of Dean’s hand. From what Dean had told him, the Undersea’s nobility was-- not exactly egalitarian, not the way Toby would define it anyway, but more involved. Duchess Lorden helped out with the defenses and diplomacy and even seasonal harvests. Luna worked in her gardens, or she used to, but she was unusual. Quentin couldn’t imagine Sylvester harvesting corn alongside his servants as a matter of course.

“It was… isolated,” Quentin finally said. “Sheltered, I guess. My parents couldn’t risk anything happening to either of us.” Because if their political rivals had taken him or Penthea hostage, his parents would have had to make the only choice they could. The Westlands had to come above all else; they couldn’t allow themselves to be manipulated or controlled by anything, even the threat of harm to their own children. So they’d done everything in their power to make sure that no threat could come to them, at least until Quentin was old enough for his fosterage. And sending him to a distant kingdom was supposed to be safe.

At least none of the people who’d hurt him out here were doing it to blackmail his parents.

Dean nodded in understanding. “And everybody you do get to see treats you differently,” he said with a sigh. “I mean, it probably wasn’t as bad for us as it was for you, but I know what you mean.”

“Yeah.”

“You, uh, you don’t have to go back anytime soon, right?” Dean asked with a sidelong glance.

Quentin shook his head firmly. “Unless something really bad happens, I’m here at least until I earn my knighthood. And I don’t think my parents are in any rush to step down.” He’d have to go back eventually, start making the connections in his parents’ court he’d need one day. Not that he was really looking forward to it-- his memories of the court in Toronto seemed so stifling compared to life here. To be fair, part of that was probably because he’d been the sheltered Crown Prince, not an anonymous foster, but he’d come to realize that wasn’t all of it. A lot of the nobles, people who’d been kind to him, people he’d looked up to as a child, had more in common with Riordan or the ex-Queen than Toby or even Sylvester. They’d have been horrified by the life he was leading out here: best friends with a Prince of Cats, squired to a changeling, dating a mixed-blood noble from the Undersea.

“That’s good,” Dean said, squeezing his hand. He let out a deep breath, and for a moment, Quentin thought he was going to ask something else about the whole Crown Prince thing. But instead Dean just looked back towards the museum on the cliffs above. “You want lunch? I think Marcia said she was making crab cakes.”

Quentin started to stand almost before Dean finished. “When don’t I want lunch?” he asked, pulling Dean along with him.

“When you’ve just finished eating?”