It's so stupid, feeling the way he does, because the first thing Nate learns about Monty is that he's going to marry Clarke. He's been her personal guard for two days when she introduces them, casual, clearly not particularly invested in the whole thing.
"Right, you haven't met my betrothed yet," she says, with a roll of her eyes. "Monty, this is my new guardsman, Lieutenant Miller. Miller, this is Monty."
"Your betrothed?" he asks, surprised. As the princess, he'd assumed Clarke would have a marriage of some kind arranged for her at some point, but he didn't know there was anyone specific. Not that he keeps up with royal gossip.
"Practically since birth," says Monty, sounding as unimpressed with the arrangement as Clarke.
She sighs and drops her head onto Monty's shoulder. "You haven't figured out a way out of it yet, have you?"
"Have you considered having some kind of scandalous affair?"
"It would have to be incredibly scandalous."
"I can think of a few people who might be willing--"
Clarke laughs. "A short list of people who would ruin my marriage."
"It's a very short list," says Monty, giving Nate a look he can't interpret. "Anyway, it's nice meet you, Lieutenant."
He nearly says Call me Nate, even though he hasn't told Clarke that. And Clarke told him to call her Clarke immediately, shut down his calling her princess in two seconds flat.
But something about Monty makes him feel--friendly. It's new.
"Nice to meet you too," he says, and tries not to think about it.
Three days after that, he meets the short list of people who would ruin Princess Clarke's marriage, by which he means Bellamy Blake.
"Who's this?" asks Bellamy, barely looking at Nate.
Clarke flops down next to him on the couch, too close for propriety. Nate would object, if he cared; it's his job to protect her from harm, not keep her from socializing.
"New guard," she says.
"Already? It's been like a week since you got the last one."
"Couldn't keep up with me." Clarke offers him a smile. "Miller, this is Bellamy Blake, my tutor. Bellamy, be nice. Monty likes him."
"Oh good, he can keep guarding you when you're married," Bellamy says, scowling at his book. But he manages a nod and mostly friendly smile for Nate when Clarke elbows him. "Nice to meet you, Miller."
"You too," he says. "What do you teach her?"
"Nothing," says Bellamy, and Clarke pokes his side. "Seriously, I'm not really your tutor anymore. I'm an adviser."
"You're the asshole who won't leave my library."
"Is that an actual job title I can get? Because that sounds perfect."
"Is that not your job title? I can get it updated."
"You're a brat," Bellamy tells her, and Clarke sticks her tongue out at him.
Nate hides a smile.
He's never been the type to ask very many questions; he tends to stay quiet and observe, and he's good at it. Not that it takes much skill to see the way Clarke and Bellamy look at each other, of course. Bellamy looks at her like she's already broken his heart, but he can't stop, and Clarke never looks as happy as she does around him, or as soft.
Monty is more difficult to figure out.
For one thing, even though Nate met him first, Clarke sees less of him. Once Nate's been introduced to Bellamy, he's a fixture, seems to just always already be where Clarke is planning to spend time, reading a book and interjecting into arguments as needed, not always on Clarke's side, but clearly always welcomed. They're less obvious with more of an audience, allies without quite so much teasing and touching, but--everyone must know. How could anyone not?
It takes a while to even find out who Monty even is, but two weeks in, after several stuffy, formal encounters, he shows up in Clarke's private rooms with Bellamy, a small group of other nobles, and a bottle of something that smells awful.
"Clarke said you'd trust us," he says, and Nate's heart lurches when he realizes he does. He's not supposed to. Bellamy, maybe. He's seen enough of Bellamy to have a read on him, to know that he'd never hurt Clarke. But he barely knows anything about Monty at all.
"Who have you got?" he asks, crossing his arms over his chest.
"You must know Bellamy?" asks Monty.
"Yeah," says Bellamy. "This is my sister," he adds, putting his arm around a dark-haired girl. "Her betrothed you should know too?"
Nate nods; he recognizes Clarke's self-defense instructor, Lincoln, although they've never spoken. Neither of them is very talkative. "And the blacksmith."
"Hey, Miller," says Raven. "How's the sword? You gonna let us in so we can get the princess drunk?"
"I need to taste it first," he says. "To make sure you're not trying to poison her."
Monty grins. "Don't worry. It wouldn't be a party without you."
He still makes sure to get Clarke's approval before he lets them in, but of course she's thrilled. He's expecting to feel left out, assuming, he thinks naturally, that Raven the blacksmith is involved with Monty, since everyone else is paired up, but it turns out she's attached to the prime minister's son, leaving Monty strangely separate from the rest.
It's nothing special, he tells himself, that he decides to settle in next to Monty. It just makes sense, even though he likes Raven a great deal, and Bellamy and Clarke too, and barely knows Monty.
"How's guarding the princess going?" Monty asks him, apparently genuinely interested in the answer.
"She's a pain in the ass," Nate says, and Clarke grins.
"This is why I trust you to get drunk with me. I didn't get drunk with any of my other guards."
"And that's why she didn't keep any of her other guards," Monty says.
It's true; being the princess's personal guard sounds like a dream position, a sign of favor. But Nate's already lasted longer than her last ten guards. Apparently trusting that she knows what's best for her is difficult for a lot of people, and she's not willing to put up with anyone who can't do that.
Nate holds up the bottle of foul liquor to toast Clarke and drinks; she takes it back from him and does the same.
"You think she's going to keep me?" he asks Monty, when the group's focus leaves them.
"You passed the two tests."
"I like you," says Monty, which makes his stomach flip. "And you didn't say anything bad to Bellamy."
"I told him he was a dick the other day. And today. I tell him that a lot."
"You didn't say he's--" Monty looks away. "You don't know much about him, do you?"
Nate considers the question. "I know he's Clarke's best friend."
"He's a bastard. Him and his sister both. His mother married a knight, but--" He looks down. "The rumor is that the knight couldn't have children, but he wanted them desperately. He beat his wife for not producing heirs, so she produced one. Bellamy was too dark to be the man's son, but no one remarked on it, until they found out about Octavia."
Nate remembers the story, suddenly. A noblewoman who had hidden the second child she had out of wedlock, only for the girl to be found, and both children tested by court mages and found to be bastards. Her husband had been furious.
"The knight wanted the whole family executed or exiled. Clarke intervened."
Nate glances in the princess's direction, but no one else is paying them any mind. "What did she do?"
"He was seventeen when Octavia was discovered. Clarke and I were thirteen. We'd seen him reading in the library." He ducks his head, cheeks coloring. "We both had a crush on him back then, honestly. But I never got up the courage to talk to him. She did. They weren't friends yet, but--"
"I remember when that happened," Nate says. "I didn't know it was him. But--his mother killed herself, didn't she?"
"Yeah. And Clarke convinced her parents to take Bellamy and Octavia into palace service and let him be her tutor. Her first few guards were friends with his father, so you can imagine how well that went." Nate snorts, and Monty grins. "Exactly. She's never liked having personal guards, and he just made it worse. And he's--" He looks over at the two of them himself; Clarke is tucked into Bellamy's side, laughing, and Bellamy is smiling the wistful smile he gets when she's not looking. "There have been suggestions that their friendship isn't entirely appropriate."
"I can't imagine why," says Nate, dry. He looks at Monty, but his face is all warm fondness. "It doesn't bother you?"
"I don't want to marry her."
It feels like giving some part of himself away, to just talk to Monty. He's never been very comfortable with the nobility. His family is high-ranking, but in the way of soldiers; they've risen through the ranks and proved themselves with service, not with blood. He doesn't know what, exactly, Monty is to the court, but he's engaged to the princess, and that must come with some great station.
But he wants to know him better.
"How did you get engaged?" he asks.
Monty gestures to Raven, and she passes the jug of spirits back. Monty takes a gulp. "My parents were killed when I was a child," he says. "I barely remember them. They were--" He laughs a little. "They were the king and queen of Halcyon."
Miller's breath catches. He knows the story of Halcyon, too; the kingdom had been at war with Dicyia and almost entirely destroyed, the king and queen slaughtered. Arcadia had taken the survivors in, but Miller had never heard anything of the prince.
"Yeah," says Monty, ducking his head. "I don't spread it around much. The engagement was arranged as part of the agreement with the surviving courtiers from Halcyon. I was adopted by some of the Arcadian nobility, for my protection. So no one would know I'm--who I am. But I was still their prince, and they wanted me to be--important."
"So they set up a marriage."
"Yeah," says Monty. He looks down at the jug, but doesn't drink, passes it back to Nate. "It might be different if I hadn't grown up with her. But this way, at least, she's one of my closest friends. I'm never--" He starts, flushes and looks away.
"I'm not interested in women either," Nate says. He tells himself it's a kindness; it's not unheard of, a preference for the same sex, but it's not something spoken of often. Monty could like both, of course, but--he doesn't think so.
And, really, he wants Monty to know this about him too.
"If I have to marry a woman, I'm glad it's Clarke," he says. "But--"
"But you don't want to marry any woman, and she's in love with someone else," Nate says, taking another drink and passing it back to Monty.
Monty sighs and takes a drink himself. "Exactly, yes."
The party seems to be some kind of initiation, because all Clarke's friends start coming around more, especially Monty. Absurdly, Clarke isn't supposed to be alone with Monty, but her mother has decided Bellamy and Nate are appropriate chaperones, which is, frankly, ridiculous. The danger of Monty and Clarke doing anything remotely inappropriate is nonexistent, while Bellamy always comes across as being roughly ten seconds from asking Clarke to elope with him.
"It probably won't be so bad, when they get married," Bellamy observes one afternoon. It's one of the few times he and Nate are actually serving as something like real chaperones, watching the royals argue about some old magic tome.
Nate likes Bellamy a lot too. He thinks they're getting to be a kind of friends; Bellamy is an outsider in court himself, and Nate can sympathize with that. He never had any illusions about being his father's legitimate son, could see from the color of his skin and the way his mother acted that something was wrong. He's never felt like he belongs here, and Nate thinks he'd probably be gone already, if not for the princess and his sister.
"Yeah?" Nate asks. "Try it again. Sound a little more excited."
"Shut up," he says, without heat. "It won't. Monty's great. He likes me too. And it's not like--" He huffs, not looking at Nate. "I've met some of the other princes of the realm. She could do a lot worse."
"Way more convincing."
"Dick." There's a pause, and then he adds, "Don't pretend you're happy about it either."
"None of my business," says Nate.
He snorts. "Yeah. It's none of mine either."
"Bellamy!" Clarke calls. "Get over here."
He claps Nate on the shoulder. "Duty calls."
"Just warn me when you're going to steal her," he says. "So I don't get executed for failing to protect her."
"Shut up!" he calls over his shoulder, cheerful.
Nate doesn't spend all his time with Clarke, just most of it, and he knows her well by now. He knows she's smart and passionate and practical. More than that, he knows Clarke will never actually run away with Bellamy, because Clarke is, first and foremost, a leader, and she'd never leave her country behind.
So when her mother says, "It's time to talk about your wedding," he has no idea how she'll respond.
Monty isn't there, nor is Bellamy; it's just the Queen and the Princess and their guards. Nate keeps his eyes forward, but he can see the way Clarke's shoulders tense.
"I've made my feelings on that clear," Clarke says. "I don't think it's a good idea."
"We made an agreement--"
"Neither the prince nor I are interested in this marriage."
"You are a princess, Clarke. You don't have the freedom other women may have with their marriages. You have many freedoms they don't, this is--"
"This is stupid, and you know it," she says. "Monty is the prince of a country that no longer exists. His nobles are prideful, and I understand that. But he doesn't want this any more than I do."
The Queen scoffs. "Don't make this about him, Clarke."
"Why not? He's not a prince, not in any of the ways that matter. He's a gifted mage and I want to keep him in my court. He's one of my closest friends. I love him. But we shouldn't marry, and I think we should be looking for a diplomatic way to leave the arrangement."
Clarke's smile is calm. "It would look bad if I turned down one prince and married another."
"He's a good choice," she says.
Nate watches the Queen's jaw work. It's almost fascinating, seeing her reigning herself in, trying not to scream at her daughter. Clarke's going to be a great queen. "He doesn't even know who his father is, Clarke."
"He's intelligent, well-regarded, and capable. He's a good leader, and the two of us work well together. Monty doesn't want to marry me, doesn't want to be a king, and doesn't like attention. I love him, and I want him to be a part of my life, for the rest of my life. But it would be idiotic to go through with the marriage. And I think you know that."
There's a long pause, and finally the queen says, "We're not done talking about this."
"Obviously not," Clarke agrees. "I know you think I'm being stubborn and selfish," she adds. "And--I am. But that doesn't mean I can't also be right. And you're being just as stubborn as I am."
Clarke jerks her head and Nate follows her out; she surprises him by slumping against his side.
"Do you think I'm right?" she asks.
The question catches him off-guard. "Me?"
"I know you're not exactly an unbiased citizen anymore," she says. "But you're the closest person I have I can talk to about it."
Nate swallows. "I think you're right about--he'd be a good king. And I think Monty doesn't want to be one." He swallows. "Monty doesn't like big groups of people or diplomacy. He'd be happier being an adviser. He's a smart guy and he has a lot of good ideas, but he doesn't see himself as a leader. I think he could be, but he'd have to want it, and he doesn't. I don't think being married to you would make him happy."
When he looks at Clarke, she's biting her cheek, trying to keep a smile in. "That was even more biased than I was expecting," she says, and Nate feels his cheeks heat up. "It's a good thing. Will you go get him? And Bellamy too. I want to get drunk with people who understand."
He goes to Monty first, finds him in his tower, bent over a book. His hair is falling in his face and he's wearing his spectacles. There are ink smudges on his face and hands; this is how he gets when he works, and Nate always feels like he's winning something when he gets to see it. It feels like a blessing.
"Miller," he says, surprised. "Where's Clarke?"
"Getting alcohol, I assume. She's--the Queen wanted to talk about the wedding. She wanted you to come commiserate."
"Shit," says Monty. "Is there a date?"
"Clarke's still trying to talk her out of it."
"I think she must have a chance. If she didn't, the Queen would have sent Bellamy away already. It's a miracle she hasn't. I wouldn't say everyone knows, but--"
"I think she's trying to gather support for their forbidden romance," Monty says, with a crooked smile. "And I wish her luck."
"What about you?" Nate blurts out.
He frowns. "What about me?"
"What do you want? If you don't marry Clarke."
"Oh," he says. He looks at Nate through his lashes, a small smile on his face. "I'd like to be happy." The moment stretches, and then he clears his throat. "Should I bring some of my own alcohol?"
"Great. Lead on, Miller."
"Nate," he says.
"My name. It's Nathan Miller. I--you could call me Nate."
"Nate," he agrees, like he's testing it out. "Let's go."
They grab Bellamy, who asks no questions, because all anyone ever has to say to Bellamy is, "Clarke wants to see you," and he'll follow. It's probably the kind of impulse he needs to learn to reign in, if he's going to be a king. That's how people get taken away and assassinated.
"There has to be a good way for us to not get married," Clarke tells Monty when they arrive, by way of greeting. Monty puts his arm around her and squeezes.
"I could run away," he says.
Clarke hugs him around the middle. "A good way for us to not get married without your having to leave."
"I don't have to run away forever. Did you start drinking without us?"
"Well, cling to Bellamy instead," he says, dislodging her and giving her to Bellamy. Nate's still not clear exactly how much Clarke and Bellamy have discussed their--whatever it is that they have. He thinks they've probably tried to avoid the topic, because their hearts will be broken enough already if Clarke can't change her mother's mind; they don't need to have said it.
Just the way his arms come up around her and his lips press into her hair is enough to half-break Nate's heart.
Monty presses his shoulder against Nate's; he's one of the least unbiased people in the castle, without a doubt.
"Let's get drunk," Monty suggests, and Nate snorts.
He ends up with Monty asleep on one of his shoulders and Clarke on his other. Her fingers are tangled with Bellamy's, and he can see Bellamy's thumb stroking her wrist.
He smiles a little when he meets Nate's eye, wry. "So, this sucks," he says, and Nate snorts.
They get Clarke into her bed, and eventually manage to get her to let go of Bellamy, and then the two of them drag Monty back.
"She made a pretty good argument," Nate offers.
"I'm not holding my breath," he says. "But--thanks."
There's no more mention of the wedding from the Queen for a few weeks. Monty has been talking to the remaining Halcyon nobles, trying to convince them that he shouldn't marry, but he doesn't have a backup plan like Clarke does. He doesn't have anyone else he'd like to marry.
"Well, I don't--I couldn't marry anyone," Monty says, ducking his head. "I mean, even if I had someone, I wouldn't be able to marry him."
"We get it," says Bellamy, not looking up from his book. "I'm pretty sure we know who--"
Clarke kicks him, and he kicks back. Monty is still blushing.
"Do they know?" Nate asks, hoping to make him feel better. "Your nobles."
"Not yet," he says. "I'm hoping I can convince them without--it was less accepted in Halcyon than it is here, and I think it could hurt my case. The might think marriage to a princess would fix me."
"You don't need fixing."
"I know," says Monty. He smiles and nudges Nate with his shoulder. "I can always run away until Clarke gets married to someone else. If I have to. I don't have a country to desert."
"Where would you run?"
"I haven't decided yet."
"Sounds dangerous," says Nate. "Let me know if you do, you're going to need some backup."
"Don't worry. You'll be the first to know."
A month before Clarke's eighteenth birthday, she gets summoned to a meeting. Monty is there already, with the nobles from Halcyon, and Clarke's mother and her friend Wells. She sits next to her mother, with one seat between her and Monty, jerking her head for Nate to take it.
"Princess Clarke and Prince Monty have asked to be released from their arranged marriage," Queen Abigail says, once everyone has arrived. "Arcadia is willing to grant them this. I hope Halcyon will also be willing."
Clarke and Monty are sitting straight, proud, and united; Nate feels a little strange between them, sitting at the table like he belongs, like he's a part of the discussion.
But they're his friends; he can be here for them.
Monty's nobles are convinced that Arcadia thinks they can get more political advantage from their princess's marriage if Clarke is released; Nate can hear Clarke's breath stop when the Queen says, "If the princess is released from this arrangement, she will not marry a prince. You have our word."
"And why should we believe you?"
"Because the princess and I have discussed it," Monty interjects. Nate can see his hand shaking under the table, and he takes it, impulsive, stupid.
But Monty squeezes his fingers and doesn't let go.
"If she and I don't marry, she has promised to marry an Arcadian man with no title. Our desire to not marry has nothing to do with Arcadia making a more beneficial alliance. I will remain a valued member of the court, a trusted friend and adviser to the princess, and I will always have a place here regardless. The only purpose a marriage will serve is making both of us unhappy."
"Your Highness, you deserve--"
"I'm the prince of a kingdom that no longer exists," says Monty. "I don't want or need a princess." His fingers tighten on Nate's, out of sight. Private. It's what Nate can do for him. "If you care about me, not as a status symbol for a fallen country, but as your prince and your friend--you will let us dissolve this marriage arrangement."
The nobles confer, and their leader finally says, "We want a written contract that Princess Clarke will not marry any other prince," he says. "No foreign noble. An Arcadian."
Clarke lets out a soft, strange noise, and Nate takes her hand too, for good measure.
"We have already prepared such a document," says the Queen. She looks like she's smelling something rotten. "All it requires is signatures."
It's over in all of ten minutes, the engagement dissolved, Monty and Clarke free. There's another half an hour of diplomacy before they're released, but Clarke manages to maintain dignified politeness until they're out of the room, even though Nate can see her practically vibrating with excitement.
When they're finally dismissed, she tears down the hallway so fast Nate and Monty can barely keep up. She bursts into the library and throws herself into Bellamy's arms with enough force to nearly knock him over, and Monty averts his eyes, smiling.
"Nothing see here," Nate tells the poor librarian, offering a tight smile. On the one hand, he's pretty sure the princess isn't supposed to kiss her tutor in the castle library, but he's not going to be the one to tell her to stop.
"So, what happens to you?" he asks Monty.
Monty smiles with half his mouth; it feels safe now to admit that it's his favorite of Monty's smiles. "Happiness, I hope."
"Cool," says Nate. "I hope so too."
Clarke and Bellamy get married on Clarke's eighteenth birthday, and Nate tries not to be hurt when she tells him he's not going to be her guard anymore.
"You know all the other guards are impressed I've lasted this long, right? They're going to think I finally fucked up. They're going to laugh at me, Clarke."
"Uh huh," Clarke says, sounding unconcerned. "You'll live. Monty wanted a guard. He is a prince. He can have a guard of his own."
Nate swallows. "Monty."
"He requested you personally," Bellamy adds. He's reading, his head in Clarke's lap, while she plays with his hair. Nate thinks it's likely that there's never been an Arcadian royal as excited about her marriage in the history of the country.
"Oh," he manages.
"So, yeah," she says. "I'm not going to find another guard as great as you, but it seemed selfish to say no." She grins. "Still mad?"
"Furious. Am I dismissed?"
"You'll need to report to your new position, of course." Her smile is soft. "Thanks, Miller."
"See you later, Princess."
Monty's in his tower, reading, like he usually is, but Nate can see the tension in his shoulders when he hears Nate come in. He stands, awkward, smile hesitant, and Nate crosses the room, takes Monty's face in his hands, and kisses him.
For a second, he's terrified, because he's kissing a prince, and he didn't even ask first.
But then Monty's arms are hooked around his neck, and Monty is smiling against his mouth, and then laughing, and Nate is grinning too.
"I hear I'm your new personal guard," he says, kissing him again, longer, deeper, tangling his hand in Monty's hair.
"I hope you don't mind," Monty teases, tugging him back toward the bed. "I think it's probably a demotion."
"I'll get over it," Nate says. "You are still a prince."
"Well," he says, laughing. "As long as you'll get over it."