Actions

Work Header

Midnight Cinderella Imagines

Chapter Text

The Princess Elect’s fingers drum absently against the desk in the study.

Around her, the bureaucrats are gathered, a rumble of indiscernible noise murmuring through them. Behind her chair are Giles and Leo, and Louis is leant against her desk, while Alyn is stood near the wall with his arms crossed. Sid smirks away from his place behind Leo and Giles, leant half-upright against the windowsill. Giles sighs.

What’s the problem?

To put it simply, it’s the middle of summer, and Wysteria has been tasked by Stein to host an event between the two nations, somehow, to strengthen their relations and bring their people closer together. Every idea that’s been created has been either dismissed by the insatiable nobility, dismissed by Giles for being potentially suicidal for the country, or dismissed by Alyn for being a one-way ticket into a war.

Needless to say, she’s getting fed up. It’s hot, she’s bored, she’s surrounded by immensely attractive potential suitors, and she wants a decision made.

Sid snickers. “How ya holdin’ up, Princess? You’re looking pretty bored.”

She sends him a withering look, muttering, “I’m bored stiff. I just want a decision made.”

Louis makes a sound of agreement, tugging at his collar just a bit. “As do I. It’s too warm in here.”

“Tell me about it.” Leo drawls out, coming to perch on the edge of the desk, facing the princess. “Please, ___, just order them all to do something. Trying to make the stuffy lot happy is getting us nowhere, and I’m melting.”

Giles massages his temple, murmuring, “While I agree, please choose something suitable and appropriate. I am being entirely serious when I say things like this can end up in wars.”

Alyn rolls his eyes. “Geez. Just set up a game of capture the flag and be done with it. It’s what I do with my knights when they’re being fussy and won’t cooperate with each other.”

The princess stops dead. Her fingers cease their incessant tapping.

Leo chuckles, shifting around to face Alyn whilst pulling his shirt open even further, drawing some ecstatic squeals from the nobility watching him. “Alyn, we have to include the top diplomats and members of each country. Do you really think they’ll fancy running around a field and getting themselves all muddy?”

Alyn scowls. “If they were normal, they wouldn’t mind. It’s mud, not acid.” He scoffs, crossing his arms and averting his eyes. “Besides, who would the diplomats even be?”

Louis’ shoulders slump, beautiful face crestfallen. “Likely, it will involve the likes of myself, Leo and Giles, since we are at the top of the bureaucratic hierarchy. As for Stein, I would guess that the likes of Rayvis Harneit would be asked to attend, since he’s an archduke.”

The princess’ lips have been very slowly curling up into a grin. Now, her eyes practically blazing, she raises her head, drawing the attention of the suitors around her. Giles arches an eyebrow. “Is something amusing, Your Highness?”

She shakes her head. “No. Not at all.” She suddenly slams her hand down on the table and pushes to her feet, succeeding in making everyone in the room jump with fright. In a second, she’s speaking, declaring, “I have made my decision, and it is not something that has been discussed yet, but it’s not going to be. We are unable to make a unanimous decision, so I will make it on my own, as is my authority as the princess.”

Giles’ soul can practically be seen leaving his body and entering the atmosphere. The princess claps, announcing,

“This year, we will host a competition between our two nations, in a very simple and small-scale way! This is something that hasn’t been done before – we’re going to have a battle, named ‘Capture the Crown’!”

Silence. Complete and utter silence.

The monarch smiles smugly, moving out from behind the desk and calmly making her way to the door. “My decision is final. This is my order, as princess. I will negotiate with Stein. Alyn, Giles! Make the preparations – we leave for our allied nation tonight, and will have their agreement by nightfall. Am I understood?”

Giles doesn’t have the mental capacity in this moment to object. Alyn, exasperated but aware that there’s no use in attempting to change her mind, just groans and shoves off the wall, joining her at the door before leaving with her. It closes with a soft click.

Another heartbeat of silence.

And then, naturally, chaos.

The bureaucrats erupt in a frenzy, objecting instantly. Sid howls with laughter, and Louis drops his face into his hands with an inaudible whimper. Giles stumbles to the side, gripping the desk for support, and Leo just takes a second to process this before he collapses back, flopping back onto the wood beside Louis supine.

Only the princess… only the princess…

♡♔♡

Giles, Leo and Louis tried. They tried so, so hard, to persuade the princess to change her mind.

They failed. It was a valiant effort, though.

Now, they all walk down one of the corridors of Stein Castle, leading up to King Byron’s study, Albert and Nico leading them there. Alyn lags a bit behind, looking bored and uninterested.

“His Majesty is waiting for you inside, Princess.” Albert informs the sovereign, sounding less than pleased. He wasn’t impressed in the slightest by their hasty, unexpected arrival. “He informed me that the discussion to be had is just between the two of you, so we will wait outside. Please call for us if you need anything.”

The princess nods, expression calm and collected. “I will. Thank you, Albert.”

He nods back, coming to a halt before the door and knocking quietly. “Your Majesty, the Princess of Wysteria has arrived.”

“Send her in.”

The princess smiles at the sound of her fellow ruler’s voice. It’s been a while since she’s seen him. When Albert opens the door, she gives her escorts a nod, then slips inside, skirts fluttering behind her. When it’s shut again, Albert narrows his eyes, haze snapping to Giles. “I would appreciate it if you would explain just why the princess has decided to visit us so suddenly.”

The Chamberlain shares a look with Leo.

At the same time, the princess smiles brightly, making her way over to his desk. He visibly relaxes, returning the smile more subtly and gesturing for her to sit opposite him. “A pleasant surprise, Princess. It’s been some time since we last saw you.”

“Indeed, it has been. Unfortunately, though, I’m not here for pleasure. I have my decision in regards to the event you requested that we host this summer to strengthen our nations’ bonds.” She responds, now sat in the chair. His eye narrows with interest, and his smile morphs curiously, shifting into one of contemplation.

“Oh?” He leans forward, resting his cheek on his knuckles. “I’m glad, although I’m rather surprised by your wording, indicating that you yourself made the decision.”

Her eyes sparkle. “Yes. That’s because I did make the decision.”

He blinks. He wasn’t expecting that. “Without your nobility’s consent?”

She nods, expression sobering considerably. “Yes. They were increasingly unable to make any sort of decision nor come to a compromise with one another with the ideas that I put forward, so I took the opportunity to make the choice myself. It sounds unorthodox at first, but I would ask that you give me a chance to explain.”

His smile is gone as well, but his expression remains open. He nods, gazing down at her calmly. “Of course. I will do my best to keep an open mind about this. Present your idea.”

She straightens up a bit more, somehow, and exhales softly, then makes her bold statement. “I would like us to have a very small, very controlled game of ‘Capture the Crown’ with one another.”

The master of emotional control, Byron Wagner, genuinely can’t help but raise an eyebrow. “’Capture the Crown’? I assume this is similar to ‘Capture the Flag’.”

She hums in agreement. “Yes. It’s the same in essence, but simply different in that it would be smaller, and would consist of the crowns of both monarchs acting as the flags. The aim would simply be for each team to retrieve their country’s respective crown. I believe it’s a good idea, because while it will boost national pride, it will also enable the participants to see how much each side truly wishes to see their country prosper, theoretically increasing confidence between our countries in their plans to better themselves. However, I am aware that this is also a rather undignified, competitive game.”

She leans forward slightly, finishing strongly. “I propose that this game has a mere five participants on either side, including members of each royal court, using people in particular who we know will properly spread the word of the bettering relationship between us. I cannot have faith in any other method, because I think we both know that the nobilities of Wysteria and Stein are for some part unreasonable. By keeping the contest small and conducting it in an isolated location, it will minimise those involved, minimise the chances of a situation as a result of the nobilities, and allow the ultimate goal to be achieved, all while providing some harmless fun for those involved.”

His gaze never moves from her face. He thinks for a long, few moments, and she waits patiently, holding his stare.

Finally, he speaks again, asking only one question. “And who do you propose to be involved on each team?”

She smiles again, but there’s something close to satisfaction in her eyes, like she’s glad to be able to discuss this part.

“It worked out rather nicely, for the most part – the first candidates that came to mind were my preferred potential suitors for Prince Consort and those closest to them, meaning that the names I arrived with were Albert, yourself, Giles – since I quite frankly trust Giles with my life and don’t believe that he’d abuse his position – Leo Crawford, Louis Howard, Nico, Archduke Rayvis Harneit, Robert, and Sid. That would bring the total to ten, which would be preferable, but if I include myself, that brings the total to eleven. I’m not sure of who could be the sixth member of your team.”

Byron’s lips tighten, pursed tightly with his deep thoughts. He continues to study her, watching her closely. The seconds, then the minutes, tick by gradually, but she doesn’t falter, face set in confident determination.

Finally, a tiny, tiny little smile emerges on the young king’s face, gracing his chiselled, godly features. His eye glints with the blaze of the setting sun, swirling with a rare, playful glimmer that could melt the most frozen of hearts. “I have my answer, Princess of Wysteria.”

A breath-taking grin of her own forms. He reaches across the desk for her hand, and she extends it without hesitation. Her eyes track him as he slips his fingers under her own, raising the hand to his mouth. “And what would that be, King Byron?”

The smile shifts into a smirk, kissing at her flesh in a silent promise.

♡♔♡

Outside, Albert and Giles are both ready to lose it with stress.

Leo’s hand settles on his friend’s shoulder, and he gives the older man a marginally concerned look, advising, “Giles, you might want to breathe. I don’t think I’ve seen you take in a breath for two minutes straight.”

Said male hadn’t realised it himself. He heaves in a much-needed gulp of oxygen.

Then, the door opens, and Byron steps out before holding it open for the princess. He finishes saying something, to which she laughs angelically, nodding and exiting the room. Giles nearly collapses, and Albert just seems more worried, watching Byron smile softly and start walking down the corridor with her. Alyn and Louis share a baffled look, and even Nico pales, so used to his king informing him of what’s going on that he almost feels jealous of the princess.

Leo blinks once, then twice, then a third time, just to be sure he’s not hallucinating. “Does she remember we’re here? Or is he suddenly that charming that she’s forgotten?”

“No,” Alyn almost growls. “She’s smug. Look at her – she must have actually managed to convince him.”

She glances over her shoulder now, calling very coolly, “Alyn, Giles, Leo, Louis. Come – we’re going home. Everything’s taken care of.”

The three practically turn to stone. Albert and Nico all but sprint after their king, having learnt of her plan, and now succumbing to utter disbelief in that Byron might have agreed to it.

Not ten minutes later, the Wysterians are all in their carriage, and Alyn is on his horse beside it, still looking miffed at her self-assured attitude. Byron sees them off with a nod to the princess, and then they’re pulling away and returning to Wysteria, setting off on a long ride wherein the princess ends up nearly sending the three males riding with her into clinical shock at her results.

Byron just chuckles to himself quietly once they’re out of sight. Albert delivers him a wide-eyed, imploring look. “Your Majesty, please tell me you denied her this idea. Please, I beg of you to have rejected such a ridiculous plan.”

Nico just stares up at his king, gaze trained on the monarch’s face. Byron exhales softly, then turns around with a flutter of his cape, answering, “I hate to disappoint, Al, but I had no reason to refuse her.”

The knights nearly collapse. Albert can’t speak, so Nico does it for him. “K-King Byron?”

Byron finally allows himself an almost silly little grin, making his way back inside the castle, musing, “After all, who am I to deny true brilliance?”

♡♔♡

A month later, it’s time.

The terms have been set in further discussion between Byron and the princess; he requested that she be excused from participating, since she is, in all honestly, much more physically fragile than the other participants, not even because of her sex, but because she’s just petite and frail in build regardless. She agreed to this, seeing his objective point, and so offered in return that the king, whose health has improved steadily over the past year, will attend, seeing as he’s eager to get out and meet the representatives of Stein himself.

He’s also very much looking forward to hearing all the praise her potential suitors have for her, but he keeps that to himself.

The two teams’ members are almost completely convened. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, and all of the suitors but Giles are stood in the location of the “battle”, meaning a large field within the grounds of Wysteria Palace’s gardens, isolated and cut-off from the rest of the land by a ring of trees and vegetation. The sun is shining brightly, glaring down with an intense summer heat, on the field, painting it a gorgeous glowing jade. There’s a breeze, thankfully, stifling the temperature’s intensity enough to make it pleasant.

Along the length of the field is a large tent, like those used for outdoor soirées. Within it is a long, expansive table, set out with trays of food, from starters to mains to desserts, all at the moment covered and concealed to preserve them. The suitors are currently waiting inside the tent, clustered near the entrance.

Not too long later, thankfully, the princess emerges from the trees with Giles, the King of Wysteria tucked between them both, one hand in the princess’ and another on an ornate walking stick. He chats with her, evidently relaxed and pleased to be outside, while he’s escorted to the tent, a troop of Wysterian knights with him to act as guards. There are more dotted around the field of course, both Wysterian and Steiner, but that’s just to make sure everyone’s safe during the contest.

Well, in theory, anyway.

The suitors, Byron included, all kneel before the king when he enters the tent, and he simply smiles, instructing, “Rise, all of you. There need be no formality here, on this day.”

They do as he says. Byron gives the man a small smile, glad to see him again after so long. “It’s been some time, Your Majesty.”

The king laughs softly, releasing the princess’ hand to shake Byron’s gently. “Indeed, it has. Please, speak to me as you used to – we’re hardly estranged enough to need titles and honorifics again.”

Byron just chuckles quietly, nodding. “As you wish.”

The king sighs contentedly, taking the princess’ hand once more. She takes him over to the centre of the table, to the throne overlooking the field, where he thanks her and sits down with a grin. “Ah, it’s wonderful to be outside again, and on such a glorious day.”

She laughs softly, nodding. “It is.” As the few members of staff set about preparing a drink for the king, she wanders over to the suitors, beaming at them. “Are we all ready?”

Giles joins her and sighs, shaking his head. “Truly, Princess, if you weren’t so gifted and talented, I would think you were mad.”

“Some say madness is an obscure measure of intelligence.” Byron chips in lightly. He sends the Princess Elect an almost amused look. “Personally, I think this will be a rather interesting exchange. The only instances wherein we do things active in the presences of each other are when we are in hostile communications, so this will, perhaps, pave the way for a time when we can finally be relaxed and interact more freely with one another.”

Her eyes are practically glowing with life, and she nods fiercely, agreeing, “Exactly. Let this be the beginning of progress, toward a world where Steiners and Wysterians can finally be who they wish to be around each other, without all the formality and pretence of redundant tradition.”

She claps now, asking, “So, would we like to begin the competition? The sooner it starts, the sooner it ends.”

There’s a collection of head shakes, nods and dubious sounds. Not all are those of agreements.

She elects to ignore this, of course.

“Good.” She steps out of the tent, into the sunlight, with the ten following behind her. However, before they do so, all of them remove their swords and hand them to awaiting knights of both countries, and then Byron and Rayvis shed their capes, leaving them in their uniforms but now without the excess weight on their backs.

When the princess is in the centre of the field, she comes to a halt, turning back to them. “So, you all understand the rules. To my left,” She gestures in said direction.

“Is where the Steiner team will start. There is a podium there, as you can see, which currently holds my crown, representing Wysteria. On my right,” Another respective motion. “Is where the Wysterian team will start. The podium there holds King Byron’s coronation crown, representing Stein. It’s the task of both teams to retrieve their respective crowns from the opposing side’s podium, and then return it to their own podium, first.”

She pauses, then carries on, cautioning, “However, while this is a child’s game, we are not children, and the point of this is to better relations between our two nations, not worsen them. As such, this is not to be taken in a serious way. It should be, and will be, fun, and conducted in a respectful manner. No hostile actions are to be carried out, those being punching, kicking, scratching, biting, etc.

“To put it simply, there will be no fighting today. You may tackle your opposition, if you wish, but do not do anything more and most importantly, do not hurt them. Am I completely and utterly clear, considering that the diplomatic relations of our homes hang in the balance?”

Her long-winded explanation is met with nods all around. Satisfied, she grins. “As for the prize for the winner, that has yet to be decided. So, shall we begin?”

More nods. She gestures to her right once more. “Okay. King Byron, Albert, Nico, Rayvis and Robert, if you would, please go and stand on the podium over there. The rest of you, take your places on the Wysterian side.”

The suitors split into their teams of five, making their way over to their podiums. Albert and Alyn are glaring at each other across the field as they walk, Byron is expressionless, Nico now looks to some degree excited, Robert subtly, almost defeatedly amused, Rayvis is blank if not a tad irritated, Giles and Louis are identically exasperated, Leo seems cheerful and simultaneously somehow nervous, and Sid is blank for the moment, simply staring across at the other side when he reaches the end.

They’re all in position. The princess stands in between the two sides, out of the way of the potential conflict zone, with a gorgeous grin. “Are both sides ready? If you want to make any last-minute strategies, now’s your chance!”

Alyn huffs at the thought of this lot making a strategy, rolling his eyes. Deciding to stretch, he tugs at his arms, then shakes out his legs. This draws the attention of the Wysterians, who all look at him in synchronisation.

Bad choice.

Because then, they’re all left, staring in silent horror, as his bones seem to shift and move all over. He stretches his neck and fingers, cracking what sounds like every single joint in his body. They watch on like he’s grown four heads while his body pops, clicks and snaps inhumanly.

At the same time, Byron’s leadership tendencies have come out to play.

“All of you, I expect to win this.” He sends looks to those he refers to as he speaks, giving orders quickly but effectively. “Albert, keep Alyn at bay. Rayvis, you take care of Louis. Robert, you deal with Giles. Nico, you’ll go after Leo. Leave Sid to me.”

Albert’s face collapses into horrified, disbelieving shock. His mouth drops open, and he goes to protest furiously, but he’s cut short by the princess beginning to count down from twenty, causing the rest of his team to focus on Byron’s crown across the field.

It’s also now that Giles chooses to try and form a strategy, and hilariously, they’re near enough identical to Byron’s. “Alyn, you’re best-suited to stop Albert. Louis, stop Byron. Sid, run straight for the crown. I will stop Robert. Leo, you can have Nico. Rayvis can be dealt with by whoever has a spare moment.”

Leo blanches at the part about Rayvis, very briefly touching his hand to his forehead, chest, then left and right shoulders, before muttering out a rather blasphemous, “Lord in heaven, please don’t let any of us die because Giles is being stupid and is electing to ignore Rayvis. Also, please make Nico fall over.” He pauses for a moment. “And, please, let my abandoned future serve me well so I don’t pass out once I start running. Amen.”

Alyn fixes him with a heated glare. “If God’s real, he’s not going to help you.”

Sid sighs heavily. This whole thing is just stupid, stupid, more stupid, and a last little bit of stupid just to top it off.

The countdown is almost finished. The suitors tense, preparing for battle.

“Three, two, one, go!”

All of them lurch forward at once. Their speed is immensely impressive on a whole, but…

Well, let’s just say it’s apparent who exercises regularly and who doesn’t.

On the Wysterian side, Sid and Alyn are booth bounding forward, bolting across the field at a break-neck pace. On the other hand, Giles, Leo and Louis are immediately slower, but also weaker in stamina. Louis is straining after about ten seconds, and Giles fifteen, with Leo following swiftly afterward.

On the Steiner side, there are no weak points. Despite Robert’s docile and mostly sedentary nature, his… circumstances mean that he’s still very much in shape, and bounds across the field with considerable, focused speed. Rayvis is exactly the same, footsteps pounding against the earth while his eyes narrow in concentration. Byron keeps up with them both, even calmer than them, and Albert and Nico are darting ahead despite the latter’s shorter legs, their training giving them an edge over their team.

Albert and Alyn are like bullets, tearing across the space, and they’re heading straight for each other with a collective force that makes the princess cringe, covering her mouth with her hands.

Okay, maybe this was a bad idea.

Surprise, surprise.

The others haven’t failed to notice their teammates heading on the straight and narrow into death by blunt force trauma. Leo looks mildly worried, meaning deeply unsettled, and even Byron cuts a marginally alarmed look at Albert upon noticing his fierce pace. Granted, Byron’s thinking that he should probably worry about himself, since Sid’s barrelling straight at him and he’s got an extra two inches, as well as a bit more muscle, on him than the young king.

Sid’s not worried. He’s got a plan and doesn’t expect to have any contact with the Steiners.

Ah, false hope…

Nico and Leo are matched in speed, Nico’s determination balancing out Leo’s natural advantage of height, when paired with his slightly lesser pace. Rayvis and Louis’ eyes are locked together, never straying from one another, and if the princess wasn’t so terrified and drowning in regret, she’d find it rather alluring. Giles’ expression is grim as he runs at Robert, and the latter’s expression has remained the same.

However, Robert’s got a plan, so he’s smirking on the inside.

The princess shrinks back where she stands, not noticing the amused smiles the guards at her sides give her when she does.

They’re so close.

T-minus three seconds to impact.

Two.

One.

There’s complete and utter chaos. Madness is the only other word for it.

Albert and Alyn hit first. They slam into each other so hard their bodies catch on each other, and their legs are thrown out from under them, sending them spinning and crashing to the ground in a heap of limbs and Alyn’s cape, which he now regrets not taking off. Any grudges and grievances they’ve had with each other over the years now explode, resulting in them growling and grabbing at each other, rolling across the grass in a bundle of knightly fury and pride.

Moving on from that, there’s something even more mortifying than those two on the field.

Robert.

You’d think the painter wouldn’t be too keen on causing any damage or fighting properly, but… you’d also be completely wrong.

The second he comes in range of Giles, he swerves out of the way. He avoids the latter’s swipe of his arm, dodging out of the way and then swivelling around. In a move no one expects, his leg arcs up and around, swinging with such speed that it probably shouldn’t be allowed.

It collides with the back of Giles’ knees, quite literally sweeping his feet out from under him and sending him flying backward. As he goes down, Robert slams his hand against Giles’ chest, forcing him to crash against the ground with such power that he’s instantly winded, and essentially now useless.

The most frightening thing about this is that, after taking Giles down so mercilessly, Robert simply stands and smiles down at him, a kind smile with teeth and bright eyes, before he steps back and says, “No hard feelings, Giles. I owe this to Byron.”

Giles just coughs, chest and back aching and lungs spasming inside him.

Now, it’s time for the two ice cubes to collide.

Well, I say collide, but it’s not quite that.

It’s more like Rayvis has gotten hold of Louis’ arm so fast, he doesn’t have time to free himself before he’s thrown around, then launched backward and slammed into the floor hard enough to send the little breath in him rushing out. He chokes for a second, gasping in pain and from being winded, for the moment very much out for the count.

Now, logic would dictate that 6’0” Leo Crawford and 5’9” Nico Meier having a fight would end with Nico being pummelled into the ground.

Reality dictates that Nico is a scary little shit, and that you’re once again very wrong.

Leo’s swipes at Nico are well-aimed and fast. Anyone else would be out and down and hurting from them, but Nico’s height difference gives him the edge he needs to throw Leo off. He’s ducking and dipping around the taller male with such deft, nimble jumps and dances that Leo can’t get a solid hit in, and he swiftly loses his composure, enough so to give Nico an opening.

He takes it. He sprints at Leo from behind when he rolls up from a dodge, and his leg flies into Leo’s much like the way Robert did to Giles. Leo crashes down, but not before Nico sends his forearm slamming into his chest, knocking the breath out of him just before he hits the floor.

Things are not looking good for Wysteria.

Sid, a microsecond away from Byron, does not realise this, nor does he see Nico, Rayvis and Robert all sprinting straight at him from his downed teammates.

He barrels into Byron with his shoulder, succeeding in shoving him to the side with the brute force he uses. He smirks, making a beeline for the crown, thinking that he’s got this covered and sorted.

Surprise, Sid. Welcome to a little thing called life.

Nico, the dextrous thing, launches himself at Sid with immense speed, and using a power he should not be capable of, he pounces up and onto Sid’s back, arms locking around his throat and legs anchoring around his middle. He clings to him like a demented squirrel crossed with a koala bear, tipping back to throw Sid off-balance.

The expletives erupting from Sid are not for the faint of heart.

“You motherfucking little shit! Get the hell off me, you twisted, tiny bastard, or I swear to fucking God-”

You get the idea.

Amidst his screams, however, he doesn’t realise that the other three have now caught up.

Cue Byron, Rayvis and Robert throwing themselves at the poor male.

While the other three are still recovering from their unexpected windings, Sid crashes to the ground, two and two half-Steiners atop him, struggling desperately to keep him pinned down. He’s growling, shoving up and back at them, but there’s only so much even he can do when it’s these four in particular against one Sid.

“Hey, assholes!” He roars out, not amused in the slightest and extremely miffed that he’s taking the brunt of the damage. “You all wanna get your assess up and actually do something while I’m distracting the entire goddamn enemy team?”

They’re still recovering, poor things. It’s only been twenty seconds since the contest began.

Alyn has been wrestling with his rival this whole time, but now, he’s losing his temper and patience; they’re going to lose at this rate, and that’ll wound his national and personal pride immensely. He won’t disappoint his country, or his knights, or his king, or, most important, his princess.

Wait, what?

Albert currently has Alyn pinned to the floor under him, under his slight advantage in height and body set to trap him there. He’s not paying attention to his team swarming Sid, though, and Alyn swiftly comes up with a plan. An evil little smirk spreads across his lips, and he stills for a second, snickering out, “Hey, Albert. Surprise.”

He shoves one of his hands out from under Albert’s grip, fingers closing around Albert’s glasses.

Without a single shred of remorse, he chucks them a solid ten feet away from them both above his head.

Albert chokes out an indignant cry of shock, now blind and unable to work out where his own hands are, let alone Alyn’s.

Said knight uses this completely to his advantage, forgetting the rules for just a moment. His fist slams into Albert’s abdomen, but he doesn’t quite punch him, instead using the leverage to basically lift Albert up and throw him to the side, off him. He hits the floor hard and rolls, gasping for breath and curling in on himself around his stomach.

Alyn’s rolling up like thunder the second he’s free. He barrels it forward, making a direct beeline for the crown at such a speed that the princess wonders if he’s actually human. At the same time, the Steiners are still collectively restraining Sid, but Byron hears Alyn sprinting and glances to his side just as he bolts past. Instantly, he whips around to Nico, commanding, “Nico, get the crown! Go, now!”

Nico, the poor, dear boy, has never run so fast in his life.

Just as Nico takes off in pursuit of the crown, the other Wysterians have finally recovered from their hits and stumble upright, all three standing at the same time. It takes them a moment to get their bearings.

Albert’s scrambling around. His glasses are gone. Three of the Steiners are piled up on top of someone. Alyn’s going for the crown, thank God- oh, Sid’s the one being crushed and taking on three fifths of the enemy team, so that means-

Oh. Shit.

Nico’s bolting at the Steiner crown.

They all launch themselves into full-tilt sprints after him. He may or not be about to cry because it’s three on one – these three on one – and he personally thinks this is so, so, so unfair. Byron realises this himself, and becomes very aware that Alyn is perilously close to the Wysterian crown. He’s trapped, stuck for actions to take; Albert still cannot find his damn glasses for the life of him, and the combined efforts of himself, Rayvis and Robert are barely sufficient to keep Sid down.

If Sid gets up, Nico will actually end up dead, able to fly, in a tree or all of the above.

With no other choice, he reaches down and grabs Sid’s wrists in a painfully tight grip, then shoves them far up his back, twisting the thrashing male’s arms up. He howls in pain, something that makes Byron wince and internally apologise to his old friend, before he levels Robert with a deadly-serious stare. “Stop Alyn, both of you! I’ll keep him down! Go!”

They know when it’s wise to object to Byron. Now is not one of those times.

And so, the Bergenian Bros are up instantly, barrelling at Alyn.

Everyone on the floor or near to it, except for Albert, because he’s perpetually useless with his lack of glasses, can only watch and wait now. Sid’s growling even more, yanking on his arms and shaking at Byron, who’s straddling his back and trying desperately to keep him down. Nico’s nearing the Steiner podium, Byron’s crown clutched in his hands and Giles, Leo and Louis hot on his heels. Alyn’s nearly at the Wysterian podium, the princess’ crown gripped in his hands, and Rayvis and Robert are right after him just like the other three to Nico.

The princess has calmed herself by now and is sat next to the Wysterian king, watching the contest come to a dramatic, flourishing end. The king chuckles, picking up a macaron and commenting, “You really do know how to utilise your royal power wisely, Princess. It’s a good way to test your suitors’ abilities, too.”

She’s half terrified for their health, but she’s also sort of drooling on the inside because wow, they all look amazing battling it out like this. She almost doesn’t hear him, the macaron in her own fingers forgotten. “Yes… thank you. I was born to rule, I think…”

He howls with laughter. She can’t help but smile, laughing herself internally.

It’s going to be a tie.

Alyn’s nearly stumbling over his own feet, running at full speed for the podium. Nico’s the same, straining and pushing harder and harder to reach theirs first.

As predicted, they arrive at the same time. There’s chaos once again.

Both cry out, slamming the crowns on top of the podium. However, they didn’t seem to realise that they might need to, you know, stop when they reach them.

Both podiums tip over, sending the two with then to the ground, just as their pursuers launch themselves at them to prevent their victory.

The collections of screams that echo through the trees send birds flying away.

Nico’s basically dead, because he’s got three minimum-height 6’0” Wysterian men on top of him, and Alyn’s hurting because he’s pretty much been impaled by the edge of the podium.

Rayvis and Robert are regretting the past ten seconds because Alyn’s armour is hard and hurts. A lot. Especially when it chins Rayvis and stabs Robert in the shoulder.

For a long few seconds, there’s just panting, and gasping, and moaning and groaning, and if anyone were to hear it without visual context, there would be many serious concerns raised. Byron, just about thrown from Sid by this point, releases his arms and rolls off him, collapsing on his back beside him. Both heave in heavy breaths, and Sid looks about to pass out, well and truly crushed by the Steiners by this point.

Albert still hasn’t found his glasses. It’s an understatement to say he’s about to cry.

Seeing this, the princess bounces up with delight at the result, sprinting to the middle of the field and announcing brightly, “And, it’s a tie! Everyone wins!”

They all expect her to laugh and say it’s a joke. She doesn’t.

Cue ten men instantly wanting nothing more than death.

However, she swiftly lets them know that their efforts weren’t in vein, adding, “But, I’ve got a potential prize for all of you, since you all technically won. That’s if you’re interested.”

Heads pop up all over the field. Albert’s is facing a tree because he’s basically blind, but that’s beside the point.

“Since you’re all my potential suitors, would a kiss on the forehead suffice as a reward for your efforts?”

Leo rises like a phoenix from Nico, tearing up from him and darting over to her immediately. Nico shoves Giles and Louis off him with a whimpered apology, dragging himself up and almost limping over to her. Sid can barely move, but he manages to stand, teetering perilously as he stumbles to where she’s standing. He got jabbed with elbows so many times, and he can feel it so much right now.

Leo arrives before the princess, and she reaches up, cupping his face very gently and tenderly. She then leans up when he lowers his head, brushing a soft, slow, affectionate kiss to his forehead. She repeats this action with Nico and Sid, and even with their flushed faces from running, the distinctive explosion of red in their faces from their blushes can be seen instantly. She’s so cute and that probably wasn’t quite worth the pain but it’s still a hell of a reward.

They also may or may not stand there together, touching their foreheads like idiots and grinning because she kissed them.

Well, that, or because they can feel their concussions coming on.

“I will accept that reward, Princess.” Byron calls over to the princess from his place on the floor, leaning back on his elbows on the floor.

She grins and laughs, studying his windswept appearance and heavy breathing. She kneels next to him, cupping his face and kissing his forehead just as lovingly as she did with the others. She heads over to Giles and Louis as well, kissing them too and beaming proudly at them, before standing and walking away.

Louis’ oxygen-deprived brain and body just frazzle out completely. He’s trying so hard to stifle the massive grin breaking out on his lips and is covering it with his hand, but he can’t shake it off and just collapses back onto the floor in this dazed, loved-up bundle of icy fluff.

She then makes her way to Alyn, ignoring his sputtering and huffing when she takes his face in her palm and kisses his forehead. He erupts in an almost inhumanly strong blush, to which she just giggles, heading over for Albert. Still rooting around for his glasses, she spies them in the glass and picks them up, then heads over to him and kneels before his frantically-searching form.

“Albert,” She announces her presence, reaching up for his face. He freezes when her hand comes in contact with his face,

“Wha-”

She kisses his forehead tenderly, grinning all the while. His blush rivals Alyn’s and his failed attempts at further speech clearly show his embarrassment. She just laughs, taking his hand and pressing the glasses into it. He manages to put them on, staring after her with wide eyes as she walks away.

Last but not least, she arrives at Rayvis and Robert’s location of collapse, and kneels down to kiss both of their foreheads as well. Rayvis can’t help but smile, and then grin, and then look away with a massive blush because he’s ecstatic from the contact. Robert’s beaming away, eyes softer than ever, and is just as gentle when he reaches up, cradling her face as she draws back. He leans up, pressing his lips to her forehead as well.

That’s a guaranteed way to be glared at by nine people in a second flat. The princess just laughs, thanking him quietly, because she understands that he did it to congratulate her on her own victory, in making the whole day happen.

After this, the boys head inside for a while to wash and change, and also take stock of their injury inventory.

One word: Ow.

All of them are bruised and battered in some way from tackling, fighting, throwing and chasing each other, but Albert, Alyn, Nico and Sid are the worst off, practically black and blue from their unfortunate targeting by the others.

Once they’re changed again, they return to the tent in the field, where the princess and king are waiting. They’re sat down and invited to eat whatever they want for their efforts, and Albert, Nico and Alyn nearly cry because they’re knights and don’t usually get to eat at banquets, which is basically what this may as well be.

“Well, that was certainly an effective way to bring our nations together.” The king comments after eating a macaron. “Very well done, Princess. You never cease to amaze me.”

“Thank you very much, Your Majesty.” Said Princess Elect responds, grinning at him. He grins back.

“So, did this bring you any closer to choosing a Prince Consort?”

The suitors freeze. They didn’t realise that this could affect their potentials.

The princess just hums, eyes rolling around the expectant faces staring back at her around the table. Finally, she purses her lips, musing, “Maybe. I think it might have helped at least a bit with deciding.”

Giving away no hints, she plucks another macaron from the dish, singing out, “Your Majesty, perhaps we should make this an annual tradition, so as to keep bringing our countries together, while simultaneously helping me to choose a Prince Consort?”

The answer doesn’t come from the king. It comes from the ten men sat around the two monarchs.

“No.”

Chapter Text

The Wysterians

Alyn

  • He’s pretty clueless with languages.
  • Like, he’s a knight, so he can say the basics of, “Are you okay?”, “Do you need help?” and “I’m a knight.” in the languages of Wysteria, Stein and Laurelia, meaning in French and German, although Laurelia’s is a bit different.
  • But he’s never even heard of this 'Norsk', so he’s just shocked that you have, let alone being able to speak it with absolute confidence and certainty.
  • Also, he admittedly finds it incredibly just a little bit hot because it sounds like music when you talk in it.
  • He literally never takes his eyes off you the whole ball.
  • … and he also might just nudge his way around, eventually walking nearby you.
  • Of course, because he’s your bodyguard and needs to stay by you for safety, and that’s all.
  • He’s not there so he can listen to you speak it more.
  • I swear.
  • I’m lying.
  • He doesn’t even realise he’s blushing, but when the noblewoman wanders off, you point it out with a laugh.
  • He almost dies.
  • “Tch… what do you expect, when you stand there as this amazing princess who can just whip out a foreign language none of us has heard of? Geez…”
  • Needless to say, Alyn gets to listen to Norwegian all night long.

Giles

  • For a second, he has this moment where he completely hates himself.
  • He’s literally one of the masters of language in the palace, the other being Leo.
  • He taught you all the languages he thought you knew.
  • And yet, here he is, a failure because he doesn’t know the language of a country apparently close enough to make contact with Wysteria.
  • But then, the other suitors’ shock melts away and they start to admit to each other that they were all clueless, and it makes him feel a bit better.
  • He’s still shameful, of course, but not quite to the point of self-loathing anymore.
  • He watches you the whole time as you talk with the noblewoman, thankful and relieved to see the conversation flowing so smoothly.
  • And just… wow.
  • The confidence, the absolute pride and borderline smugness in your gaze set his body on fire.
  • He struggles to stay still, to say the least.
  • When you finally return to him with a beaming smile, his hand finds your back and he leans down, whispering in your ear.
  • “Many congratulations, Princess. I believe you just saved us from a rather unsightly diplomatic barrier.”
  • You hum, nodding up at him. “Thank you. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken that language, so it was refreshing.”
  • Giles’ gaze becomes impish, grin forming, roguish and teasing. “Perhaps you can teach me to speak it.”
  • If you think he’s making an innuendo, he’s not.
  • He’ll clear your work for the next three weeks while you cram teaching him it.

Leo

  • He’s pretty much the same as Giles.
  • Well, minus the self-hatred.
  • He’s heard of Norwegian and can pick it out when he hears 'Norsk', and so is surprised that someone from such a faraway country has come to Wysteria.
  • What baffles him even more is how you speak the language when he, and the other palace staff, as far as he’s aware, don’t.
  • But does he hang back like the other two and wait patiently for you to finish? Of course not!
  • He saunters over to you and the noblewoman, ignoring the bodyguards and sidling up next to you, giving a dazzling smile.
  • The noblewoman is instantly stunned, but you just laugh, introducing, “Frøken Næss, dette er Herr - Leo Crawford, en av paladsbyråkratene.”
  • Leo falls in love all over again.
  • Oh my God, it sounds so beautiful.
  • This language nut is about to lose his cool listening to you talk with such flawless pronunciation.
  • “Åh, jeg ser. Hyggelig å møte deg.”
  • Leo cuts you a look, pleading silently for translation. He has absolutely no shame in it.
  • “She said it’s nice to meet you.”
  • Cue the rest of the night being spent with you acting as a mediator between the two of them, until you’re exhausted and stuck somewhere in between your normal language and Norwegian.
  • Leo makes it up to you when he escorts you back to your room, though, and has you teach him some more… mature words.

Louis

  • He’s just amazed.
  • That’s literally all there is to say.
  • He thought he couldn’t adore you any more than he already does, but, well…
  • Whoops.
  • His eyes are constantly on you, following you around the ballroom, until he nearly falls over because his feet have gone numb from not moving.
  • But at the same time, he feels a bit lonely because he wishes he was the one talking to you for two hours straight, despite this being important for diplomatic relations.
  • So, he just waits like a puppy anticipating the return of its master.
  • A puppy pouting, anyway.
  • You come back to him eventually, tired out from the extensive conversation, and don’t move from his side all night.
  • He spends it praising you on your fast response and knowledge of the language, asking how you know it and where you learnt it.
  • Then, he comes back to your room with you, hellbent on pampering you for doing so well.
  • I’m not kidding - he goes all out.
  • First, he runs you a bath with bubbles and scented oils, washing your hair for you, before then 'helping' you get dressed and carrying you to bed.
  • Cut to him taking a full hour to give you a whole-body massage.
  • When I say the whole body, I mean it.
  • And he’s kissing every inch of skin he can while he does, still near enough singing and sighing out how much he loves you for getting through the night so well.
  • You have never been more motivated to learn another language that the staff don’t know.

Sid

  • Sid.Informant has stopped responding.
  • He honestly doesn’t know what the hell to do.
  • Smirk out of pride? Grin out of amusement? Stare in shock? Laugh because it’s hilarious?
  • Heck if he knows, so he sort of just watches you blankly, waiting patiently for you to come back to him.
  • But he can’t stop imagining you speaking whatever the hell this language is in bed and it’s hell heaven.
  • You finally return, just a bit worn out from talking for so long, so he holds out his hand for you and tugs you into his arms.
  • You snuggle into his chest and he nearly frazzles out.
  • God, she’s so cute. It’s ridiculous the way she can mess with me by doing the littlest things.
  • “How are things, Princess Translator?”
  • You snort into his chest, mumbling, “I just managed to get us a trade deal with a country up north, across the sea.”
  • He goes completely stiff.
  • “You’re kidding. One talk with that noble, and the country’s willing to trade with us?”
  • You’re smirking already. “Yep. Because, surprise, that woman was royalty in that country.”
  • He hates that every time he thinks he can’t love you any more, you go and prove him wrong again.
  • He leans down, breathing out against the shell of your ear, “Well done, Princess. I guess I should give you a reward for such hard work, right?”
  • And, there goes Sid near enough eating your face in the middle of the ballroom.
  • Giles bans him from balls for the next month.

The Steiners

Albert

  • As a tutor, and right-hand man to his king, Albert ends up in the same abyss of grief, regret and shame as Giles.
  • He’s a failure.
  • How can he not know this language?
  • At the same time, he’s just immensely glad that they have you there to quite literally save the day.
  • Also, it’s an understatement to say he’s proud as hell of you.
  • Still, he keeps an eye on you while you make your way around the room with the noblewoman, wary of the two bodyguards on either side of you.
  • He doesn’t even notice when Nico makes an innuendo about Albert enjoying you speaking the language of a night-time, although he does hear the sound of Byron scolding him for it.
  • Byron’s smiling tho.
  • However, after a while, he can see that you’re a bit worn out and need a break, and also knows that other people will want to talk to you.
  • As such, in true Albert form, he slides on over to you, full-on rescue mode activated.
  • He clears his throat, inclining his head respectfully. “Excuse the interruption, Princess, but you are needed elsewhere. Possibly, this conversation could be continued shortly?”
  • The relief in your eyes is hard to miss.
  • You get rid of it, though, turning to the noblewoman and saying something quietly. She bows with a kind smile, then turns away and leaves with her bodyguards.
  • At the same time, Albert guides you away and toward the balcony, where you sigh and lean against the railing, breathing out, “Thank you, Albert. I thought I’d be talking to her the whole night.”
  • He blushes faintly, but simply nudges his glasses up, then drops a hand atop your hair very gently. “It’s nothing. Thank you, for responding so quickly and communicating with the noblewoman. I’m…” He clears his throat again. “Very proud, and impressed.”
  • The delight in your face could melt him into a pile of mush, he’s sure, but your next words freeze him back together before he does.
  • “Thank you. But that wasn’t just a noblewoman - she was a queen.”
  • Say goodbye to Albert’s consciousness.

Byron

  • As a king, Byron’s all too aware that this is one of the worst situations a monarch can find themselves in - especially one with a position as unstable as the princess.
  • However, when you walk off in complete confidence and composure, talking in the same language as the noblewoman, it makes him realise that all over again that you really are destined to rule your country.
  • He smiles.
  • He smiles so much, watching you with this adoring gaze that no one other than you has ever seen.
  • The sight of it sends nearly all of the nobles around him into hysterics.
  • Some of them panic and think he’s sick.
  • Even when Albert informs him of this, and Nico falls about with giggles at the effect one expression can have on the bureaucrats, he doesn’t hide it or stop gazing at you.
  • She’s always been different. She never fails, never ceases, to amaze me.
  • He’s glad when you return to him, though, since you look just a bit tired from talking so much.
  • He sweeps you into his arms, guiding you into a dance when the rest of the room starts to do the same.
  • “Well done, Princess. We were all caught off-guard by that language, but you were prepared for it. You should be extremely proud of yourself.”
  • He twirls you around, basking in the soft laugh you give when you’re curled back into his strong arms.
  • “Thank you. It was pure luck that I knew it, but I’m glad I did. That was a monarch - she wants to trade with Wysteria, and she immediately accepted when I told her Stein might be interested. I hope that’s okay.”
  • God, you’re precious. It shouldn’t be humanly possible to be so cute.
  • He lowers his lips to your forehead, brushing a kiss there ever so gently.
  • “That’s nothing short of amazing. Thank you.” He rests his forehead against yours, murmuring tenderly, “I love you.”
  • “I love you too.”
  • D’aww <3

Nico

  • I’m not going to lie, he panics.
  • A lot.
  • He’s terrified that you’re going to do the same, or cry, or be unable to find anyone to talk to this noble and that it’s going to harm your political stance.
  • But when you wander off chatting in fluent Norwegian, he’s practically got hearts in his eyes and sparkles around his face at Byron’s side.
  • “Oh, wow, look at her! She knows the language when none of us does! She’s so dependable!”
  • He just gushes for about three minutes straight about how amazing you are, and most of the suitors agree.
  • Not Albert, of course.
  • “Really. While it’s impressive that she knows a language seemingly none of us do, it’s hardly worth screaming about. Mind your conduct, brat.”
  • Nico doesn’t even wait for him to finish before he continues to praise you to himself, beaming away and bouncing with pride.
  • Byron just pats Albert’s shoulder when the taller male sees he’s being ignored.
  • When you come back to them after a while, looking pleased, Nico bounces forward and grabs your hands, squeezing them with an animated, “That was amazing, Princess! I can’t believe you knew that language!”
  • You end up giggling, squeezing his hands back and responding proudly, “Thank you! I’m just so glad it was a language I knew, or else that could have been really bad!”
  • Nico leans down now, stopping bouncing to press his forehead against yours, beaming down at you and whispering, “You’re the most wonderful princess. The only other times that I’ve seen you so beautiful are when you’re nak-”
  • Smack.
  • Your hand clamps over his mouth, cheeks flushing instantly. “Nico! Shush!”
  • He laughs for twenty minutes straight, and you nearly pass out, while the other suitors watch on cluelessly.
  • Poor you, Princess… prepare to be eaten up later.

Rayvis

  • He cringes on the inside upon hearing the completely foreign and unidentifiable language.
  • He has no idea what to do or how to help, and is very aware of how his heart thuds away in his chest the second he realises the problem you have.
  • But then you’re remedying that very issue in seconds, wandering off into the ballroom with the woman and speaking her language, and Rayvis can only stare after you.
  • What?
  • How can you know that language, when no one else does? You were a commoner, and were taught the basic languages of nearby nations by Giles and Leo, but they don’t know it.
  • He’s so confused.
  • Impressed, and thoroughly relieved, but very, very confused.
  • But the second he sees Robert’s own bafflement shift into understanding, he realises that there must be a simple reason for it.
  • “Do you know something?” Rayvis questions quietly. Robert grins just a little.
  • “I might just. If you want to know how she knows that language, ask her yourself when she returns.”
  • And then the painter wanders off himself, looking uncharacteristically smug and proud.
  • Rayvis really despises Robert sometimes.
  • However, he does what Robert says and waits, trying not to let his relief show when you glide back over to him with a smile.
  • He gazes down at you, too confused to sugar-coat this. “How did you know that language? Giles and Leo don’t even know it.”
  • You just laugh quietly, moving closer to him. Rayvis doesn’t even realise that he’s reaching out for you, and then suddenly his arm is tucked around your waist and you’re held against his side.
  • He’s blushing.
  • Whoops.
  • “I have lineage from that country, so my mother knew the language and raised me speaking it as a second language.”
  • Oh. That was simpler than he expected.
  • Feeling to some degree silly for his response, he sighs, tugging you closer and resting his chin atop your hair.
  • He finds himself smiling softly, uttering, “It’s lucky that you did. I’m proud of you, for reacting so quickly. Well done.”
  • He gives you a very quick kiss as a reward when no one’s looking…
  • Meaning a not-so-quick kiss that’s impossible to miss ;)

Robert

  • He’s only confused for about ten seconds, and then he remembers something pretty important.
  • You have heritage from that country; your mother and father both spoke it because their parents came from said country a long time ago, so you speak it fluently.
  • He remembers how you used to slip into it sometimes when you were younger, and he’d end up useless until you reverted back because he couldn’t talk to you.
  • So, he just laughs to himself and grins, not at all worried about your ability to communicate with the noble.
  • But he’s also enjoying the shock on the other suitors’ faces while they watch you inadvertently save Wysteria’s diplomatic reputation, and as such keeps this knowledge to himself.
  • After a while, you’re looking like you’re ready to stop talking to her, though, and Robert heads over, interrupting gently, “Pardon the interruption, Princess, but you have other business to attend to with some of the nobles shortly.”
  • You could kiss him right there for saving you.
  • You excuse yourself from the woman’s presence and she leaves with a gentle smile, to which you sigh quietly and step closer to Robert. His arm curls around you without him even thinking about it.
  • “Thank you for that. She’s really nice, but I think she could talk forever.” He laughs at this, pressing a tender kiss to your temple.
  • “I’m sure she could, considering that she was speaking with the most beautiful and charming princess on the continent.”
  • Your cheeks dust with a rosy hue.
  • Score one for Robert.
  • He keeps you close to him while you both head off, going to greet some of the other nobles around the room together, but he steals a very quick kiss before you get started.
  • “However, it’s been far too long since I’ve heard you speak in Norwegian. Perhaps you could speak it for me later tonight; I’ll be sure to visit you in your chambers.”
  • Score 9000 for Robert ;)

Chapter Text

The Wysterians

Alyn

  • He’s not bothered in the slightest.
  • Sorry to disappoint, but he really doesn’t care.
  • He’s like dead on the inside with stuff like this and is far too arrogant prideful confident to be scared by 'silly things' like haunted houses.
  • But he does it to make you happy, anyway…
  • … and also to see you scream and maybe use him as protection because that shit is adorable and he loves it.
  • He rolls his eyes at every jump-scare there is because to him it’s just ridiculous.
  • Like, how is this scary…?
  • But then he sees that you’re genuinely getting spooked by the loud noises and flashes, so he stops being a prick moody and holds your hand through it, or tugs you into his side if you’re really uncomfortable.
  • He scolds you for coming in in the first place, but he secretly thinks it’s a very good thing that you did ;)
  • He’ll protect you from anything.
  • Also, he may or may not end up accidentally punching one of the props that swings out in front of him and breaks it and you both have to run out really Goddamn quick like shiiiiit-

Giles

  • He’s confused at the logic of them in the first place and basically interrogates you as to your reasoning for going in one in the first place.
  • You almost back out just because he makes you feel guilty for wanting to go in.
  • But he sees that you want to try it and relents, although granted he ends up teasing you about making sure to stay as close to him as possible, “So as to not get lost or too afraid.”
  • Yeah right ;)
  • Giles + you + dark place + tense atmosphere = one thing:
  • GET READY TO FOR A BILLION SURPRISE KISSES
  • He makes sure to keep you by him through the whole thing, and you’re freaking out at the loud noises and jump-scares so much at first.
  • However, he then starts to analyse them and go through the psychology of haunted houses because he completely didn’t research this a while ago out of boredom and breaks down exactly you’re perceiving everything as frightening.
  • If you’re into psychology, it helps, and you end up enjoying the house!
  • … if you’re not, well… you’ll be bored stiff enough that nothing will be frightening anymore -w-
  • He also gives you the occasional kiss and will hug you for a few minutes if you’re really freaked out because he’s a sweetheart and doesn’t want you to be upset <3

Leo

  • It’s all his idea.
  • He knows you’re jumpy and easily spooked, so he thinks this will be the perfect way to get you jumping into his arms out of fear.
  • He’s cliché like that.
  • However, he sort of forgets that he’s also a tad jumpy, so this is destined for failure.
  • It’s all good at first when there are only little jump-scares, and he keeps you held tight to his side to keep you safe.
  • But then the bigger ones start and chaos ensues.
  • Every time there’s a louder scare, you both scream and grab onto each other, although to give him credit, he does sort of hide you behind him in the process.
  • Poor Leo. He tried.
  • But near the end he gets an ingenious idea;
  • SELFIES MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER, RIGHT?!
  • So he whips out his phone and starts taking stupid selfies with you on the way, and you both start to just scream-laugh every time a jump-scare happens because it ends with the most unflattering pictures ever taken.
  • But then Leo drops his phone and it cracks.
  • Never again. 

Louis

  • As soon as you brought this up, he was saying no.
  • No, nope, nei, iie, nein, nyet-
  • He does not deal well with horror, much less loud noises and scares.
  • But the thing is he also can’t actually say no to you; only plead for you to change your mind right up until the point where you both go inside.
  • He’s so jittery, he’d jump at a gust of wind.
  • Good luck if you think you’re going to be able to use your hand during this - he’s taken it hostage and he’s not giving it back any time soon.
  • He doesn’t scream when he’s scared, but he drags you against him and holds you so tight, it’s actually really cute -w-
  • But then this really bad, really big jump-scare happens and you both just lose it.
  • You literally sprint through the rest of the house, dragging each other along, until you break out of it and nearly trample the people waiting outside to go in.
  • There’s just this moment of silence-
  • Like;
  • We’re alive. Holy shit.
  • And then you’re both bursting into hysterics and killing yourselves screaming with laughter because you realise how ridiculous the whole thing was.
  • Never again, though. Afternoon tea is the way to go.

Sid

  • Most would probably go, “Sid acts all tough, but he’d probably end up scared!”
  • Nope.
  • He’s just as dead inside as Alyn.
  • This boy has seen a lot of shiz and it takes a hell of a lot to frighten him.
  • … meaning, having the opportunity to see you stricken with fear and panic, in a supposedly healthy way, will be both amusing, interesting and entertaining for him.
  • So, he picks you up and literally carries you inside despite you screaming in protest and begging someone to save you.
  • You use him for cover and cling onto his jacket from behind, so he’ll take the brunt of the scares.
  • While he’s miffed because he can’t see your face, he also finds it adorable.
  • But the ride-makers know your ways, Princess, and they’ve got every angle covered.
  • A scare happens right behind you with a majorly loud bang, and you shriek, basically flying around to be in front of Sid, before throwing your arms around him.
  • He laughs, but he stops being mean and hugs you, assuring you that you’re safe and nothing in here will actually hurt either of you.
  • You punch him in the chest to prove him wrong.
  • He ignores it because you’re scared kinda
  • So for the rest of the house he lets you have a piggyback ride and you use his shoulder to hide when you’re scared.
  • EVERYONE WAITING OUTSIDE JUST GUSHES AND COOS WHEN YOU COME OUT BECAUSE HOLY GOD IT’S SO SWEET

The Steiners

Albert

  • So, he told you from the start that it’s a bad idea.
  • … he really, really told you so. Still, he goes in regardless.
  • It’s completely not because Nico taunted him into thinking he’d be abandoning you in your time of need…
  • Anyways, he’s making sarcastic or critical commentary the whole way, saying about how the attraction itself is dirty and not well-kept.
  • Believe it or not, it helps!
  • Why?
  • Because it makes you laugh so hard you barely even notice the jump-scares.
  • And then he starts getting flustered and confused about why you’re laughing and it just gets better.
  • He genuinely thinks you’re going to pass out from laughing for so long.
  • You’re nearly at the end when there’s a big jump-scare, and it actually startles Albert, but then frightens you enough that you slip, nearly tripping over mid-laugh/scream.
  • He catches you, though, and you just end up gasping out that you can’t breathe because you’re stuck between laughing and wailing out of fear.
  • He picks you up.
  • He doesn’t even bother trying to walk you through the rest of the way;
  • He just carries you out while you try to remember how to breathe ;-;

Byron

  • He’s like Giles, although to a degree more understanding since he takes a humans-are-weird-and-like-subjecting-themselves-to-torturous-borderline-dangerous-activities perspective.
  • But he still ponders why one would enjoy it.
  • He’s holding your hand at the start, silent, and wonders what the scares are going to be like.
  • But when one of the props pops out from the wall and you scream, he literally just stares at it for a moment.
  • “… was that supposed to be frightening?”
  • As soon as he sees how tense you are, he realises that he’s definitely…
  • missing a few DNA segments or neurons or something vitally important to his humanity 
  • … different.
  • Oh well. At least it means he can support you during it.
  • He keeps you against his side while you both go through, and while he doesn’t criticise you in the slightest for being scared, he does explain every now and again that there’s no reason to be afraid because nothing can actually hurt you.
  • But that’s not the problem.
  • It takes you three tries to make him understand that the fear is because of the noises and shock of the jump-scares.
  • You think he’ll click on and stop trying to help at this point.
  • No chance.
  • If you were hoping for something romantic, brace yourself for immense disappointment;
  • He literally stands behind you the rest of the way covering your ears.
  • You conclude afterward, when you can think straight again, that this was a massive failure and that Byron is not compatible with recreational fear.

Nico

  • God help you.
  • This boy is as easily-spooked as you if the situation’s not actually serious.
  • So, the whole time you’re both in there, there’s screaming.
  • And more screaming.
  • And shrieking.
  • And at one point crying but he insists that it wasn’t him.
  • It was.
  • He eventually hugs you against his chest really tight and focuses on you, walking together, while he grips your hands.
  • The people watching the CCTV accidentally explode into confetti because it’s just the sweetest and more innocently adorable thing ever.
  • When you both stumble outside and realise you’re out, you literally both collapse to your knees and he hugs you so hard it nearly kills you ;-;
  • But you don’t mind ;)
  • Everyone else is just looking on like, “What the fuck…? Kids came out a minute ago laughing…?”
  • Neither of you care and go to get something to eat while you recover.

Rayvis

  • This one is not amused.
  • He doesn’t like loud noises, doesn’t like mindless recreational activities that induce fear and panic, and really doesn’t like being in such situations without good reason.
  • Is, “But I want to see if I can get through without screaming!” a sufficient reason?
  • Heck no.
  • However, it comes from you, so screw his chances of being able refuse!
  • He’s completely silent and glaring at the walls the whole time, walking ahead of you because he just wants to get it over with.
  • You basically have to run to keep up with him, and that makes him more on edge because he knows it’s you but it feels like he’s being chased and it makes him panic and just shi-
  • BANG
  • He screams.
  • You scream.
  • You end up clinging onto each other and then near enough running the rest of the way.
  • All dignity has been lost.
  • As soon as he’s out, he lets go of you and storms away, not wanting to be anywhere near people or the house and needing to calm down.
  • You spend the rest of the day apologising.

Robert

  • He has no interest, personally, but he can understand your curiosity so he just goes along with a smile.
  • But this one is the most dead on the inside.
  • Like, he’ll still jump when startled in any other circumstance, but because he knows they jump-scares are coming, there’s just nothing.
  • He’s empty.
  • Wake me up inside-
  • I’m kidding; he’s still smiling the whole time and it’s the only thing keeping you calm.
  • … he elects to ignore the fact that he’s certain his hand, two fingers, wrist and upper thumb are broken or fractured.
  • He lets you cuddle into him and murmurs that it’s alright when you jump at the loud noises, but he has to admit that you’re adorable even when you’re afraid.
  • He just loves that you cling to him for support and comfort because it makes him feel loved and he’s basically sparkles and rainbows the whole time.
  • But at one point you get genuinely badly scared by a simulated scream, and end up stopping completely, shaking and covering your ears.
  • He just hugs you so gently and strokes your hair, assuring you that it’s all not real and that you’re completely safe.
  • His voice is so soothing, it’s impossible to stay worked up with him there.
  • So, he keeps your face buried in the side of his chest and tucks his arm around your waist until it’s done, and then he takes you for your favourite food to make you feel better because he’s 100% boyfriend material

Chapter Text

The Wysterians

Alyn

The Fear: Losing his armour.

  • Okay, so Alyn’s constantly in danger, right?
  • And yeah, he can protect himself well, but that becomes a hell of a lot harder if someone swings a sword at you and it goes straight through your chest and kills you.
  • So he’s low-key scared of losing his armour, and this does happen one day.
  • He flips his shit.
  • He’s immediately questioning every knight he can see and ordering them to look for them and they’re all-key scared to death that he’s going to kill them if they don’t find it.
  • He basically turns the palace inside out.
  • Until they’re found in Leo’s room.
  • “Ah, Sebastian must have stolen them. Sorry about that. Bad parrot.”
  • “LEO-”

Giles

The Fear: Spilt teacups.

  • Oh, lord, the horror.
  • The horror, when one is working at their desk, going through piles and piles of documents and vitally important things that are - no joke - about the running of the country…
  • You spill your tea.
  • The scramble to empty that desk is so real and it genuinely gives Giles anxiety every time he has tea on his desk.
  • So usually he’s really, really careful when he has a teacup next to him.
  • No problem, right?
  • Cue Michelangelo jumping up onto the desk and knocking the damn teacup over.
  • INTRODUCING PANIC! IN THE PALACE

Leo

The Fear: Losing his glasses.

  • Okay, so you’d think Albert would be the only one genuinely worried about this.
  • You’d be very wrong.
  • Leo needs his glasses to read, and he spends his life reading.
  • Be it documents, parliamentary bills, or just the books he spends his spare moments (when not with the princess <3) reading, he literally cannot live without constantly ingesting knowledge.
  • So if he loses his glasses, it’s like the end of the world.
  • He will honestly scour every inch of the palace and send everyone into a panic thinking something’s dreadfully wrong.
  • But no, he just needs to find his spectacles.
  • whaT DO YOU MEAN THAT’S NOT DREADFUL THO
  • But anyways, they turn up in his pocket after five days and Leo literally collapses because he hasn’t slept and spends the next week hating himself even more than he already does

Louis

The Fear: The teeth on his favourite hair comb snapping.

  • … I’m not kidding.
  • This guy has to maintain his image because otherwise the nobility will absolutely d e s t r o y  h i m.
  • He takes time making sure his beautiful blond locks are perfectly floofed in the morning… and then in the afternoon…
  • And then in the night if sexy times are upcoming ;)
  • But then the teeth on it wear as a result, and one day he’s just idly brushing his hair, thinking nothing of it, and:
  • Snap.
  • LOUIS’ WORLD JUST CRUMBLES
  • He’s nearly crying I swear to God.
  • I mean he can get it fixed pretty easily, but what is he going to do in the meantime? He can’t just use any other brush or comb!
  • But he needs his floof. He must have the floof.
  • So he just doesn’t go outside until it gets fixed.
  • … problem solved.

Sid

The Fear: Jess messing up his bed covers.

  • So we know Sid’s not too bothered about cleaning Jess when she gets dirty.
  • But to think that he’s A-okay with Jess messing up his bed covers, chewing them or getting them dirty?
  • You are gravely mistaken.
  • He just loathes messy beds. It’s just something he can’t bear to look at because he actually really likes things to be neat and organised considering his job.
  • But also: his bed is where he has sexy times if not in the princess’ room in the palace, so it needs to be constantly ready.
  • Sexy times are always a possibility.
  • Bed must always be ready for sexy times.
  • But it just looks profoundly wrong when it’s all messy and you can’t just slide in with ease and it’s horrible to look at and just-
  • God help Jess if she screws them up.
  • T h e  b e a s t  w i l l  b e  u n l e a s h e d.
  • Meaning she’ll be locked out of his room for a maximum of a day and then he’ll grumble and let her back in anyway.

The Steiners

Albert

The Fear: Losing his glasses.

  • I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory.
  • If Albert loses his glasses, as we have seen on many, many, many an occasion, he will be rendered quite literally useless.
  • His job as Captain of the Royal Stein Guard?
  • He wishes.
  • His duties as Byron’s right-hand man?
  • Forget it.
  • His ability to even navigate without near enough killing himself on one of the suits of armour that’s holding an axe???
  • PLEASE JUST DON’T.
  • WE’VE SEEN THE DESTRUCTION IT CAUSES.
  • WE’VE EVEN SEEN THE PRINCESS END UP FALLING INTO A FOUNTAIN BECAUSE OF IT.
  • JUST DON’T.

Byron

The Fear: Cloudy nights.

  • This one’s unexpectedly more serious than the others, but it’s still his petty fear, I think.
  • So, on cloudy nights, you can’t see the sky.
  • Byron lives to see the sky, especially at night, because he adores to gaze up at the stars so much.
  • Imagine how he feels when the clouds roll over some nights, or the mist or fog obscures them from his view, and leaves him alone amongst a sky that now looks empty and dark, devoid of the little lights he’s always looked to for comfort and calm?
  • It really gets to him.
  • He’ll never do anything about it because he can’t, and can make himself wait, but he’ll always say the same thing as what he said a long time ago.
  • It was the first night that he can remember when he couldn’t see the stars because the fog was so thick, and he just stood in the gardens, waiting for it to disappear.
  • He was speaking to himself, but his voice sounded like he was praying for the heavens to clear and show him the light again.
  • “I hate the fog.”

Nico

The Fear: Someone taking one of his swords or daggers.

  • This one’s for an honest, actually sensible, legitimate reason.
  • He’s got swords and daggers; we know this. He likes duelling and fighting.
  • And that’s all fine, since he’s a knight and you should expect that from him.
  • His fear is that someone could take them, and then do something and frame him for it.
  • If he had just one sword and dagger, there’d be no problem, but because he has several, it’s a genuine possibility and it terrifies him.
  • So, that’s why he always keeps the ones he doesn’t carry kept away completely safe in Stein Castle and makes sure the ones he carries are never out of his sight unless he’s sure they’re safe.
  • Plus he’s just possessive so he doesn’t want anyone touching his babies weapons.
  • Hands off, Al. (ง •̀_•́)ง
  • Bonus: I headcanon that when Nico gives the princess his dagger in Leo’s (?) route, he makes it clear it’s significant to him that he’s letting her have it.

Rayvis

The Fear: The strings on his violin snapping.

  • I’m not as sure about this one because I don’t know Rayvis very well.
  • However, I know he plays the violin, and relatively often, and also was willing to teach the princess at one point.
  • So, I would think that it’s pretty important to him and that he would care about it considerably.
  • I also like to headcanon, again uncertainly because I don’t know him enough, that he would play it to relieve stress and calm down.
  • As such, if the strings on it snap, I feel like he’d be really bothered by it and would get a sense of pain, since it’s something he treasures so much and it’s sustaining damage.
  • Needless to say, he’d replace the strings muy muy pronto, and would look into ways to prevent them from snapping again.
  • He makes sure to play gentler next time as well.
  • No more hardcore violin solos, Rayvis.
  • As an ex-violin player myself I feel this hard

Robert

The Fear: Someone finding his 'secret' sketchbook (this is not dirty, believe it or not.)

  • Robert has a sketchbook that he hopes no one will ever see.
  • It’s full of depictions of his darkest, most desperate days, when he’s felt low or something’s gotten to him.
  • He’ll draw, write, doodle… anything. It depends on what he feels like doing.
  • Sometimes it’ll be something pleasant that he gets down, despite his mood. A gentle flower. A rough sketch of the night sky.
  • Sometimes it’ll be darkness. Tears. A memory of a fire he could never hope to have put out.
  • Sometimes, it’ll be the princess; the blinding light he sees, every time without fail, on those dark days, guiding him back and out of the depths and into safety once more.
  • But he couldn’t bear for anyone to see it because to see it would be to see the inner workings of his mind and heart, and that’s something only he can ever bear witness to.

Chapter Text

The Wysterians:

Alyn

  • So he and the princess are chilling in the stables with the horses, obviously taking care of them and not having a rather hot moment together sssh-
  • But the princess is basically pinned against the wall and Alyn starts kissing her neck, so her head turns to the side, and he tells her to open her eyes so he can see them.
  • Big mistake.
  • She does as he says, only to spot the massive cockroach skittering straight her head on the wall.
  • She shoves Alyn back and screams, throwing herself behind him and shouting incoherently.
  • He’s so confused at first, like what the hell did he do?
  • But then he notices the cockroach now chilling where he head had been.
  • And he laughs.
  • He can’t stop laughing for five minutes straight and ends up hunched over, in pain, genuinely losing his shit. 
  • Even Leo ends up popping his head around the corner because he could hear him from inside and got worried Alyn had lost his marbles. 
  • The princess is an emotional wreck because she’s embarrassed now and hides her face in her hands.
  • He eventually stops and straightens up, granted legitimately crying because it was so funny.
  • And then he picks up one of the brushes for the horses so calmly, nudges the cockroach, it hops onto the end, and then he goes off to release it into the grass in the field.
  • He barely holds back more giggles when he returns and hugs the princess.
  • “Geez. I’ve seen you throw yourself into danger without hesitation, and yet you end up losing it over a cockroach?”
  • He kisses her forehead, letting her bury her red face in his chest until she calms down.
  • “You know I’ll always protect you, even from a little bug like that.”
  • To this day, she still insists that it was the biggest cockroach in Wysteria.

Giles

  • So he’s in the middle of a lesson with her in the study, and he’s leaning against the desk while she’s sat in front of him in the chair, reading the book he gave her.
  • He’s mid-sentence, explaining something, when suddenly he stops dead, eyes focused on the back of her chair.
  • “Princess, please stay very still for a moment. Keep your eyes on me.”
  • Nice way to make someone want nothing more than to look where you’re looking, Giles.
  • But she manages to do it, even though she’s basically stone because she’s pretty sure it must be a bug or something.
  • He uses the empty goblet on the desk and a piece of parchment, moving over to the chair and very calmly but quickly trapping the cockroach inside before it touches her.
  • Then he just wanders over to the window, and she’s so confused the whole time.
  • “Giles, what was it? Was it an insect?”
  • He opens the window and chucks it out, then closes it and turns back with a pleasant smile.
  • He is not telling her it was a cockroach because she will flip her lid, guaranteed, the second she finds out.
  • “Worry not, Princess. It was merely a little caterpillar; it’s safely in the bushes now. It was only young.”
  • He pretends not to hear the thud of the not-so-little not-so-young cockroach landing in the plants behind him.
  • The window stays shut for the next month year week.

Leo

  • I’m not even going to sugar-coat it; it’s their day off, and Leo’s got the princess pinned to the couch in her room.
  • Things are getting pretty heavy and Leo’s shirt is half open when the princess suddenly stiffens.
  • Leo pauses, wondering what’s wrong, when he sees her staring up at the back of the couch…
  • … and at the massive cockroach chilling on the back of it, seeming to be staring straight at them both.
  • Leo’s not quite scared of insects per se, but he doesn’t exactly like them.
  • Which means he really doesn’t like them.
  • But he’s got to protect his princess, right?
  • So he gets up really slowly, reaching over for the empty bowl on the table they had food in earlier, as well as an envelope that had an invitation to a party in.
  • “Don’t move, Princess. I’ll take care of it.”
  • Yeah right.
  • He carefully moves toward it, bringing the two items together, ready to trap it inside.
  • SURPRISE, CRAWFORD.
  • The cockroach leaps off the back of the couch and straight at him, landing on his inconveniently bare chest.
  • Leo has never screamed at such a high pitch in his life.
  • He literally flies back and ends up hitting the floor, swatting at his own chest in complete panic.
  • The princess just stares at the floor next to him, where the cockroach is now skittering away and heading for the balcony.
  • She’s trying to stifle her giggles so hard, since she’s not scared anymore.
  • “Leo. Leo. Leo? Leo-”
  • She eventually bursts into howls of laughter, unable to speak, and just points to the balcony.
  • Leo pauses mid-panic, staring at the bug now innocently popping through the gap in the railing and disappearing from sight.
  • He could cry.
  • She doesn’t stop laughing for another ten minutes straight, and he spends the entire time lying back on the floor, blushing so bad with embarrassment, and covering his face in his hands.
  • So much for looking cool.
  • She loves him more for his effort, and thanks him with a kiss, even if she’s giggling away through it.

Louis

  • This one is a contradiction when it comes to insects.
  • He adores all living things - because, you know, animals are his remainder of reasons for living, other than the princess - but they just creep him out for the most part.
  • Butterflies? Cool. Caterpillars? Bearable.
  • But moths, flies, worms and especially cockroaches?
  • NO.
  • So, when he’s enjoying tea with the princess in his room and chatting about random things, he nearly dies when he sees the cockroach skitter out from the underside of the couch and onto the cushion next to the princess.
  • Blonds can fly now, apparently.
  • He launches himself away from the couch and drags her with him, ignoring how she has no idea what’s going on and is staring at him like he’s lost his mind.
  • And then he just stares at the cockroach with such conflict you’d think it was a baby.
  • The princess eventually notices it and stops, dead silent.
  • He thinks she’s going to freak out and scream or jump away.
  • He ever expected her to turn around, grab a platter from the table and prepare to obliterate it from existence.
  • He grabs her arms and drags her back, to which she whirls around on him, exclaiming, “Louis, what are you doing? I’m only going to shoo it outside!”
  • Okay so maybe she wasn’t quite going to obliterate it but it still makes his heart hurt, the poor thing.
  • “You can’t hurt it. It’s a living thing. Can’t we just… move it outside, instead?”
  • Cue the deadpan look she gives him.
  • Really, Louis?
  • And so, the princess then has to go about retrieving a cup, wrangling the cockroach under it and trapping it with the platter, then releasing it very gently outside onto the balcony.
  • “Louis, I think we need to talk about your moral codes.”
  • The doors are never opened again.

Sid

  • So, he’s in the middle of eating the princess’ face when this happens.
  • She’s on top of him on her bed and he’s feeling her up shamelessly, starting to bite at her neck.
  • His eyes open just as he’s about to tease her, and there it is.
  • A cockroach, sat on the headboard, chilling there like it owns the place.
  • Sid is not scared in the slightest.
  • No, he’s pissed, because the insect is interrupting his sexy time.
  • Thinking it’ll prevent her from seeing it, he flips her under him, telling her to keep her eyes closed because she’s making such a gorgeous expression.
  • Naturally, she’s the type think, "Screw you.” and disobey to make him even more riled up.
  • So, naturally, she opens her eyes.
  • Fuck.
  • Cue her knee jerking up into Sid’s crotch so hard he flies off her, rolling across the bed, before crashing to the floor in a 6′2″ pile of pain and regret.
  • She scrambles away from the bed, screaming and babbling, thinking he was just going to carry on with a cockroach inches away from them both.
  • He’s too busy moaning in pain to respond.
  • But when he can breathe again, he groans out that he was going to trap it and put it on the bedside table while she was distracted.
  • Oops.
  • She spends ten minutes with him in her lap, stroking his hair and apologising profusely for kneeing him so hard
  • But when he recovers she tells him to get rid of it because she’s still terrified.
  • “… Princess.”
  • “Yeah?”
  • “It’s gone.”
  • “SID-”

The Steiners

Albert

  • They’re both in the library, sat next to each other, reading in peaceful silence.
  • The princess is leaning against Albert just a little, all nice and cosy, and has her head on his shoulder.
  • Aw.
  • Oh wait.
  • Say goodbye to that.
  • Albert suddenly notices a really soft scratching sound to his left and looks up, glancing to his left…
  • … only to be met with the beady stare of the huge cockroach exceedingly close to his face, sat on the back of his chair.
  • It’s also behind the princess’ head.
  • This is dangerous, computes Albert’s brain.
  • Danger must be removed, concludes Albert’s brain.
  • And also, he doesn’t like bugs.
  • So, he does what he must.
  • He closes his book slowly, then curls the arm closest to the princess around her back, very carefully tugging her against his chest, eyes never leaving the cockroach.
  • The princess is so confused.
  • “Albert? Is something wrong?”
  • He just holds her tighter, raising the hand with the book over her head so she can’t see what he’s doing. He’s also blushing btw..
  • “Not at all. Just trust me, and stay still, please.”
  • She’s like no problemo, even though she’s curious, and just cuddles into him because she’s loving the side hug
  • He narrows his eyes at the cockroach, plan already formed.
  • WHACK.
  • The princess literally jumps out of her skin at the sound of the book smacking into the back of the chair, face whirling around so she can look at Albert.
  • And she goes into clinical shock because he’s actually smirking. She has never seen him smirk before. No one has.
  • “… Albert?”
  • Ping~
  • He just chuckles despite his blush, tugging her up and standing with her, trying not to look too satisfied at the dinging noise the cockroach made when it flew into the wall.
  • “There was an ant on the chair. I will have the library cleaned immediately. Let us continue this in my room.”
  • It’s the smoothest thing he’s ever said in his entire life.

Byron

  • They’re both sat together in The Garden of Stars, on the side of the fountain, the princess sat on his lap and his arms around her waist.
  • They’re just talking contentedly about things and looking up at the stars.
  • It’s all very calm and peaceful.
  • But then when the princess turns to look at Byron, she notices the cockroach perched near them on the side, very innocently may I say.
  • And, well…
  • ShE fReAkS tHe FuCk OuT
  • She’s usually calm and quite composed, but she’s deathly scared of insects.
  • So, when she jumps and yelp in fright, jerking to the side and almost falling out of his arms, it’s an understatement to say he’s confused.
  • He keeps her there, though, and looks to the side quickly.
  • … he can’t stop himself from smiling.
  • “Byron, let me up! Why are you-”
  • “Ah, so you’re afraid of cockroaches?”
  • “I’m phobic of insects in general, Byron! Please let me up!”
  • He just holds her tighter, monitoring the 'frightening' being, and squeezes her gently, asking, “Is it really doing you any harm?”
  • She’s not amused.
  • “That’s not the point! I’m terrified of them, and have been since I was little! Please let me up!”
  • He can only laugh softly.
  • He actually finds it very interesting but also completely adorable that he’s finally discovered something she’s genuinely afraid of.
  • So, he just collects her in his arms sideward on, standing and wandering down the path, smirking just a little at how she burrows into his chest for safety.
  • “You never cease to surprise me, Princess. Let us return to my room. You’ll soon forget all about your fear.”
  • The combination of adrenaline and blood rush makes her pass out.
  • Oops.

Nico

  • Okay, heads up: both the princess and Nico are equally terrified of bugs, so this was always destined to end badly.
  • Basically, they’re in the royal carriage, all chill and happy, the princess sitting contentedly with her legs on Nico’s lap while they’re on their way to Stein for a visit.
  • But some idiot, meaning Nico, didn’t check the carriage before they got in, and the curtains covering the windows - because they don’t have glass in them - have been open the whole time.
  • It’s also summer.
  • So, naturally, a cockroach has decided to make the carriage its new home.
  • Neither of them notice its presence until it literally skitters up the side of the seat where they both are, speeding straight at them both.
  • Cue Nico channelling his inner squirrel whilst also discovering new limits to his vocal range.
  • Both he and the princess are shrieking like mad and fly off the seat over to the other side of the carriage, Nico clutching the princess to his chest and glaring at the offending cockroach.
  • It doesn’t care.
  • It doesn’t even hesitate and comes to a happy stop atop the cushion where they were both seated.
  • Arrogant prick.
  • The screams of the two have drawn the attention of the knights, perhaps fortunately and perhaps unfortunately, and the whole procession comes to a halt while Alyn rides over, then pokes his head inside.
  • “What happened? What is it?”
  • The two are shaking with fear, and Nico points to the cockroach.
  • Alyn could kill them both in that moment.
  • “You’re kidding me. All that noise, just for a cockroach? Just throw it out the window!”
  • Nico’s pride is hurting right now, but he’s also far too scared to save it, so he thanks his stars when the princess whines out, “Alyn, please get rid of it!”
  • Cue many a “Tch” from him while he reaches inside and just picks it up, then lobs it away from the carriage before muttering to himself about them both being stupid and returning to his horse.
  • They never let go of each other for the rest of the ride.
  • This is also the reason why Wysterian carriages start to have glass fittings installed in windows.
  • Modern-day Wysteria can thank that cockroach for the windows they now have in cars.

Rayvis

  • These two have a rather awful confrontation with their cockroach.
  • They’re not even out of bed when it happens.
  • It probably got in the night before when the balcony doors were open, but the two hadn’t noticed, so now, they’re lying in bed, the princess cuddled back against Rayvis’ chest with his chin on her shoulder.
  • It’s also morning, and the light’s coming in through the curtains enough to make the room visible.
  • He’s busy kissing her neck, running his hand down her stomach, and her eyes are closed from the pleasant sensations running through her.
  • But then they hear this little sound, like something’s been dropped onto the cover.
  • Both of them open their eyes and look:
  • shiiIIITTTT.
  • THERE’S THIS MASSIVE COCKROACH LITERALLY INCHES AWAY FROM THEM ON THE PILLOW.
  • IT’S EVERY HUMAN FOR THEMSELVES NOW.
  • The princess screams and launches herself over Rayvis, tumbling out of bed and collapsing onto the floor.
  • Thank God she has her nightdress on.
  • Rayvis rolls out after her, getting his foot caught in the cover and falling onto the floor in a surprisingly graceful lump of pale, groggy perfection.
  • The princess skitters back like there’s a monster coming to eat her.
  • Rayvis just glares at the bed, more embarrassed and irritated than scared.
  • So he just stands up, swipes the goblet from the side and finds a piece of paper.
  • No more Nice Mr Harneit for you, cockroach.
  • He literally scoops it up and covers it before it can flip itself the right way up, then stalks over to the balcony doors - only in his trousers, might I add - and opens them.
  • He swings the goblet forward with such speed the poor little creature soars out, then disappears into the bushes below with another thud.
  • He’s so miffed.
  • Not a nice way to wake up. At all.
  • Still, he heads back inside and closes the goddamn doors, then chucks the pillow it landed on onto the couch before returning to the princess.
  • “It’s gone now. Come. We have time, so let’s just calm down.”
  • And he carries her back to bed and kisses her until she’s not shaking anymore.
  • Aw, Ray <3

Robert

  • These two are in the gardens of Wysteria Palace when it happens.
  • Robert is painting a picture of the dahlias in front of him while the princess watches, since it’s his day off.
  • He also encourages her to try painting every now and again and helps her with her brushstrokes and it’s adorable.
  • Anyways, he’s got her on his knee and is assisting her with painting the outline of a flower when they both spot it.
  • The cockroach pops up at the top of the canvas, crawling over the top and stopping in the corner.
  • Robert goes still instantly because he knows she’s always been scared of insects, and used to find cockroaches particularly intimidating.
  • But he’s far too composed to find them frightening at all which is a blessing.
  • So he just rubs her side gently, patting it, before he says, “Princess, stay still for a moment. I’ll get rid of it. Don’t panic, alright?”
  • She’s terrified, but she trusts him way more than she’s scared of the offending bug.
  • So she lets him sit her down on the chair, then gets up and finds one of the empty pots he has for washing his brushes and gets his sketchbook as well.
  • He’s just not afraid at all and she can only marvel at him while he does this.
  • But he catches her looking and knows she’s on edge, so he gives her a toothy grin and a subtle wink before turning to the canvas.
  • Everything is red, her face, her skin, her cheeks.
  • He still respects the cockroach since it’s a living thing and is harmless, really, so he’s very gentle when he traps it inside the cup and slides it onto his sketchbook.
  • And then he just wanders off for a moment, releasing it into the bushes, before coming back to her.
  • He has to laugh a bit at her amazed expression, slipping under her on the chair and cuddling her from behind again
  • He just kisses her temple, then her forehead, murmuring, “You’re adorable, Princess. You never change.”
  • GAHHHH ROBERT WHY YOU SO SWEET MY TEETH HURT.

Chapter Text

The Wysterians

Alyn

  • Okay, so I see Alyn as having three kids, believe it or not; twin boys and a girl, all triplets (the boys monozygotic and the girl fraternal)...
  • ... but it wasn’t exactly expected so Alyn ends up sat there once they’re born in clinical shock like, “I’m too good at this...”
  • Giles and Leo are both present when he says this and they lose their shit and end up howling with laughter.
  • If labour didn’t just kill you, the embarrassment will.
  • He is fiercely protective of his kids. God help anyone who gets too close or so much as looks at them the wrong way because he will end them, I kid you not. (Pun very much intended.)
  • But he turns to mush when he’s with them.
  • He spends time with them whenever he can because he’s so busy, but he seriously ends up just running around after them every time.
  • There’s three of them and one of him; it’s painful, even if he’s spent his life as a knight.
  • You’ll very often emerge from meetings or salons, only to hear the sound of him shouting in the courtyard.
  • You get so smug because you know what’s happened.
  • You go out, only to find him on the floor, the three toddlers clamped onto his back, arm and leg, cheering that they took him down and that they’re stronger than him.
  • You get him back for all his teasing over the years and tell them to tickle him while they’re at it.
  • Expect a rough night of not sleeping ;)
  • But when they’re older, he teaches them all how to fight and protect themselves, wanting them to all be equally capable of defending themselves even though he’d rather just protect them himself.
  • They’re such memers tricksters and he hates it so much because they know how to catch him off-guard.
  • You may or may not have given them some pointers with this.
  • But the three are so close and are really protective of each other as well, and everyone finds it adorable because even when they’re teenagers, they all stick together and the boys are just wonderful toward the girl and promise to protect their little sis and just awwww <3
  • Bonus: The girl takes Alyn’s sass and wit into her very soul and he regrets every choice he’s made by the time she’s eighteen.

Giles

  • Two girls for him, as is canon, called Lara and Lily!
  • Daddy’s girls. That’s all I’m going to say.
  • As we see in his Ever After, they love to disobey him and use you as cover because you usually brush off their behaviour and his attempts to tell them off.
  • Needless to say, he’s quite strict on a whole with their upbringing, but in a very controlled and healthy way.
  • I will not deviate from my belief that he helps them to learn the languages they need to know by talking to them in said languages at random.
  • Like, he’ll walk in to see them both and they’ll greet him normally, but then he’ll suddenly turn around, hugging them, and go, “Bonjour, mes trésors. Comment êtes-vous les deux aujourd'hui?
  • And at first they just sit there like “What in hell is he talking about?”
  • But then Lara clicks on and huffs out a very simple, “Très bien, papa.”
  • He. Is. So. Smug. All. Day.
  • He’ll personally tutor them if he has the time to or his work is cancelled for some reason, and they both love and hate it.
  • Because half of the lesson is gruelling and intense and you end up snickering because you’re just there thinking, “Been there, done that, never again.”
  • But then once they finish it’s hella worth it because he’ll take them into the gardens afterwards and play hide n’ seek or tag with them.
  • When he mentions 'punishing' them for running in the corridor in his EA, he means tickling.
  • It’s just the go-to every time.
  • Like, if they do something wrong, he’ll just sweep them up and tickle them at the same time while pretending to bite them and they love it so much it’s just adorable.
  • He would read to them every single night without fail though.
  • And when they’re older they will just be unstoppable and so intelligent and sassy and hooooOOOOooo boy, good luck to anyone who tries to outsmart them.
  • But Giles will turn into his cool-and-about-to-kill self if anyone threatens them.
  • He still has his sword. He’s still happy to use it.
  • Including on potential suitors, so watch out o.O

Leo

  • One boy and one girl, and the competition is just fierce.
  • That includes competition with Leo.
  • He’s constantly eager to learn and for them to learn as well, so he’s always teaching them new things and gets them into a variety of books right from when they’re younger.
  • He will lie with them every night without fail and read them something before they sleep, but then he usually ends up falling asleep with them in his arms and you nearly die every time you see it.
  • Like gahhh, they’re all so cute.
  • Because he hasn’t exactly taken the best care of his own health, he’s just obsessed with theirs, both mentally and physically.
  • So if he thinks something’s up, he’s on them instantly, making sure they’re okay and feeling alright.
  • It just amazes him every time he sees them because he’s only ever had you and Alyn to truly care about since his parents died, and now he’s got these two little lives that he would take on the world for.
  • He’ll every now and again get kind of emotional, usually when he’s had a hard day or something, and will just sort of collapse to his knees next to them or whatever they’re sitting on and hug them so hard, genuinely trying not to cry because he loves them so much.
  • And they’re both so intelligent that even when he does this early in their lives, they just hug him back and tell him they love him with all their hearts and think he’s the best dad ever.
  • He cries a lot with them but it’s usually happy tears and he loses his shame about it after a few years.
  • He makes sure they can both fight well but doesn’t want to force anything on either of them and so lets them choose what they want to do.
  • But he’s a bit smug when the girl ends up becoming amazing at fighting and can hold her own against the knights on the odd times that she spars with them.
  • He just watches her, practically sparkling with pride and hearts in his eyes <3
  • At the same time, the boy isn’t as interested but ends up memorising the whole Wysterian constitution and all its laws by the time he’s a teenager and Leo just gushes over him because it’s so impressive and he adores his dedication.
  • He’s proud of them both though because they’re both so intelligent and capable and kind.
  • He’s also the type for dad jokes.
  • Sorry not sorry~

Louis

  • One girl for Lou-Lou, and she’s the most pampered princess in the world, I swear.
  • He just adores her so, so much and, from the moment she’s born, doesn’t spend a moment he has free away from her. He’ll do anything he can to make sure you can get time off as well, so you can all be together.
  • When she’s very young, he takes on the most care of her out of all of the suitors when their children are at this stage; he’ll be the one a lot of the time to go and feed her himself, or soothe her if she’s crying, or play with and entertain her if she’s bored.
  • He doesn’t care that the staff are ready to do it - he wants to be there himself, seeing her growth, even if he’s got a country to run at the same time.
  • And he’s so, so protective of her.
  • Whenever he holds her, he does it absently; he doesn’t just cradle her, but shields her against his chest and strokes her face so she’s nearly hidden, but it’s an unconscious thing.
  • It’s purely out of love and the desire to keep her safe.
  • When she gets a bit older, as such, he’s a bit hesitant to let her explore and start to develop a sense of independence, but you remind him that he can’t conceal her from the world because it’ll only hurt her.
  • After you tell him this, he changes a lot. In a good way.
  • Instead of hurting himself by leaving her to others, and instead of hurting her by keeping her hidden, he’ll take her outside as much as he can, doing anything and everything with her.
  • He’s got some time between meetings? A moment after a discussion with the bureaucrats? A break after work or, thank God, a day off?
  • He’s there with her, showing her all the beautiful things in the world.
  • He’ll take her around the gardens, showing her flowers and butterflies and animals, explaining to her the sanctity of life and how important each and every living creature is to the world.
  • As such, she grows up immensely mature about the world and has a great respect and appreciation for life.
  • When she’s in her teens, he takes her mental health so seriously and makes sure at all times that she’s coping with the pressures of the nobility and her status.
  • He also makes sure Sid stays far, far away from her, although he doesn’t know that they’re secretly besties because Sid will sneak around the palace to her and tell her stories about Louis when he was younger, and you before she was born.
  • Anytime she needs comfort, though, she’ll be just as happy to go to Louis and ask for a hug, and he’ll hold her for however long she needs and listens to everything that’s worrying her, and then do whatever is necessary to fix it.

Sid

  • One boy, and Christ, it’s manic.
  • When he’s a newborn, Sid just can’t get over the fact that this tiny, tiny little human is his child, and he’ll just sit or lie with him on his chest when he’s got the time, feeling the wonderful warmth his little boy is radiating out into him.
  • But then he becomes a toddler, and all hell breaks loose.
  • The kid picks up on Sid’s sense of humour, wit and sarcasm shockingly quick, and you just end up groaning to yourself every time you hear him make a quip at one of the guards or bureaucrats that sounds horrifically like Sid.
  • Said father gets smacked for it. Hard.
  • Needless to say, there’s just banter, all the damn time.
  • The kid will sass Sid and outsmart him, and then Sid’ll get put-out because this infantile homo-sapien is acting like he owns the world and he is hIS FATHER-
  • “Sid, stop rising to him. You’re just egging him on.”
  • EXCUSEZ MOI?
  • Sid gets so offended. Thus, it begins.
  • “He started it!”
  • “No, mum, he did!”
  • “He did!”
  • “He did!”
  • But the banter is a good thing because it means they grow up as best friends, and that when he’s a teenager, the kid has immense trust and faith in Sid, as well as you, of course.
  • Anytime something’s up, he’ll feel able to go to Sid and ask for advice, and Sid will never patronise him for it because he’ll know that it’s genuine.
  • They also play-fight every now and again because the kid ends up as 6′1″ and is determined to beat Sid in a fight.
  • They always end up bruised and Giles almost murders them every time.
  • Sid loves taking you and him out every now and again though, to go on a boat ride around the coast, and the kid just ends up in love with boats and the ocean.
  • But then he tries to climb up the mast and both of you almost die.
  • “Oi! Do you wanna fall and die, and then for me to get decapitated by Giles for it? Get down, idiot!

The Steiners

Albert

  • One boy for Albert, as well!
  • Albert is so, so, so gentle, but at the same time so, so, so protective.
  • Like, he just handles him so carefully and cautiously when he’s young because he’s never handled a newborn before and he’s terrified of hurting him.
  • But he just can’t stop staring at him.
  • He’s gazing down at this amazing little life, seeing his own features and yours reflected in his face, and it stirs something in him so deep that it genuinely takes his breath away every time.
  • He comes to love holding him but also loves to rest him against his chest and shoulder and let him sleep there.
  • It brings him this immense, baffling sense of peace, standing there rocking from side to side with his son sleeping against his chest.
  • He’ll often mumble to himself, uttering his thoughts very softly.
  • In a way, it’s almost like an escape for him, when he’s got idle thoughts he doesn’t need to talk to anyone about but wants to say out loud, just to get rid of them.
  • With Albert’s reserved attitude and your similar mannerisms, though, his son ends up quite timid and quiet.
  • At first, it actually scares Albert, because he’s afraid that you’ve both raised him wrong and made him more withdrawn than he should be.
  • But then you’re reassuring him, pointing out how he comes alive when he’s learning and studying things, how he’ll light up when he spends time with Byron and Nico or less frequently sees Robert.
  • You show him how determined he is, just like Albert, to be better and improve himself through hard work and dedication, and how beautiful it is when he succeeds because he smiles and it just lights up the world.
  • After that, Albert doesn’t worry. Instead, he’s proud and supports his son no matter what.
  • He teaches him to fight, of course, even though he’s not really keen on violence and prefers more peaceful solutions. They’ll often spar until they’re both exhausted, especially when he’s in his teens, and will collapse onto the floor together.
  • And he praises him. Albert has no end of praise for him and has no problem with telling him when he’s done well.
  • He’s still strict, of course, and will reprimand him when he needs to...
  • ... but he never needs to, anyway, so it’s okay <3

Byron

  • One girl for Byron, called Emma, as seen in his EA!
  • Oh my God, he doesn’t outwardly show it too much, but he adores her and fawns over her so much on the inside.
  • Every time he looks at her and sees her charismatic attitude, the way she just draws people in even when she’s very young, he’s just filled with love for her because he knows she’s going to be so strong and loved by so many.
  • He doesn’t see her as much as he’d like, so he makes a point of cherishing and making the most of the times when he can see her.
  • He’ll ensure that he gets time in the Garden of Stars with her, kneeling next to her and pointing out all the different constellations, teaching her about science and the world and everything they know of how it works.
  • She loves it. She becomes so curious, she can’t get enough of knowing things, no matter what they are.
  • When she’s not studying Albert’s curriculum of, “To Be A Princess (And Eventually Queen)”, she’ll be found working her way through the books in the library, discovering everything she can about any topic or field she can find.
  • Her inquisitive nature just makes him love her more because he knows that from it, she’ll never neglect her people - she immediately clicks on when they talk about ruling that she has to think of them first, and her curious ways mean she’s always asking how things are in town and wanting to go down there.
  • So, he takes her. He shows her.
  • Every week when she’s in Stein, he’ll go down with her and walk around, explaining where things have been changed, where things maybe aren’t as good, and what plans are in place to improve those problems.
  • She’s so aware.
  • Even in youth, she just understands and feels everything from the people, most likely because of your naturally loving nature.
  • She grows up obsessed with chess and gets fiercely competitive with Byron over it, of course.
  • He’s much calmer and still plays for pleasure, but he does enjoy the odd spark of competition when she vows to beat him.
  • He makes sure she understands though, when she’s a teenager, that she has to prioritise herself and her duties properly, but never feel like she’s alone with it all.
  • He reiterates to her that it’s okay to be human and feel and fall down at times, and that you and him are there for her whenever she needs help or comfort.
  • And she does this. Anytime she’s unsure, she goes to you both and is honest. She can bear her heart before you both because she knows you both love her unconditionally.
  • And Byron, when she turns nineteen, is more than certain that she’s a princess who will not need a prince by her side to rule Stein.
  • He watches her celebrate her birthday in a state of peace, confident that you’ll both hand Stein over to her one day and that she’ll do nothing but make it flourish, just like she has.

Nico

  • Two girls for Nico! I can’t see anything else because of My Sweet Baby...
  • They’re little shits just like him.
  • They pick up his mischievous, evil ways very young, and end up as two bouncy balls of energy that strike fear into anyone who’s near them because they’re almost certainly up to something.
  • It’s safe to say Giles blames Nico entirely for this.
  • Nico takes this blame gladly.
  • He loves playing little tricks on people with them, from little things like nicking Leo or Albert’s glasses, when the latter comes to Wysteria or they go to Stein, to bigger things like letting Alyn’s horse out of its pen so he ends up sprinting after it for ten minutes straight around the training field.
  • It’s hilarious for them. You end up groaning every time and just leave them to it because it’s pointless to attempt to stop them.
  • In all seriousness, Nico makes sure to teach the girls that happiness is the most important thing in the world, and raises them with the ideal that just smiling at someone can make a huge difference to their day if they’re feeling a bit down, and so to always show everyone their beautiful smiles.
  • However, he doesn’t neglect to tell them that it’s okay to be sad, as well.
  • He’ll often hush them when they’re upset and lie down with them in his arms, telling them that everyone gets sad and cries, even him.
  • He’ll often mock hurting himself and crying, which makes them laugh and cheers them up at the same time.
  • And when they’re upset, if they’re out and about somewhere, he’ll kneel in front of them and, one by one, take their hands and press his forehead to theirs just like he does with you, kissing their foreheads and telling them that it’s a magic trick to make their sadness transform into happiness.
  • Alternatively, if this doesn’t work, he’ll indulge his their sweet tooth tendencies and get them something sweet to make them happy again.
  • Although they get more mature when they’re older, they’re still very cheery and full of energy, but also unstoppable because they’re twins; they’ll often utilise their similar looks to get each other out of work or appointments.
  • Nico finds it hysterical.
  • You find it hysterical when Giles tells him off for it.
  • Again.
  • They also assist Nico in teasing Albert incessantly when they see him, and will often do things like “Thanking him the Wysterian way”, meaning a made-up tradition that gives them an excuse to kiss his cheeks and near enough send him to the floor with embarrassment.
  • Also, Byron loves them so much because they’re just hilarious to him as well.
  • He feels sorry for Albert... but he still loves them and spoils them when they come over.
  • He dies when they call him “Uncle Byron” tho bc it’s so nice to have a familial name and he just m e l t s.

Rayvis

  • Like Alyn, I see him having two dizygotic boys and a girl, but not triplets; the girl would be younger because I’m a sucker for little-sis-big-bro relationships.
  • He’s quite a calm person, so I think he’d be really composed and cool as a parent as well, but he’s much softer around his kids and smiles a lot more.
  • It takes him a while to wrap his head around the fact that he’s a dad when the boys are born, and then when the girl comes around soon after, it’s just round two of clinical shock for him.
  • But he loves them so, so, so much.
  • Despite having little time to spend with them because of his duties and things he has to oversee, he makes a massive effort to be there for them, especially in their early childhood.
  • They’re all quite curious and creative naturally, so they'll often spend their free time in the playroom, reading together or practising painting, or sometimes instruments.
  • He won’t always interact with them when they do, simply letting them explore and develop on their own so they gain a sense of independence, but he’ll sit on a chair and watch them with this fond, adoring, loving gaze, a little smile on his lips and expression completely relaxed.
  • If they ask him for help or to join in, though, he’ll always do so, asking them questions to further make them able to problem-solve while still supporting them.
  • He’ll play the violin for them every now and again, and it just entrances them.
  • He’ll usually sit with them on the floor or couches while he does, eyes closed, playing songs he’d play for his parents or ones from his homeland, because they can’t identify them or understand their significance.
  • But sometimes, he’ll be so tired from work and things that he’ll end up falling asleep watching them, sat in his chair.
  • They’ll all notice after a while and climb up, the girl tucking herself under one of his arms, and the two boys doing the same with his other arm and then lying on his lap.
  • And you walk in on it and burst into tears because they’re just a scene of perfection, and his arms curl around them more even though he’s asleep and it’s so sweet it could kill you.
  • He’s also one who agrees that they should be taught to fight, but it shouldn’t be a main focus.
  • Instead, he makes a point of teaching them the vital parts of ruling and of being responsible for one’s country.
  • He also scolds them instantly if they lie.
  • He can’t bear it, so he teaches them from youth that it’s not something they should ever do.
  • When they’re older, they can all play the violin proficiently and will play for him together and he may or may not cry just a bit afterwards when he’s with you because it strikes him so deep.
  • He’s happy when it comes down to it though, so it’s okay.

Robert

  • One boy and one girl!
  • Robert’s got a lot of experience with kids since he was a tutor, so he knows his shit with raising them.
  • All the life lessons? Ready and waiting.
  • Perfect methods of positive and negative reinforcement, and then punishment? Done.
  • Effective strategies in place to make them learn as efficiently as possible? He’s got it covered.
  • These kids will be raised perfectly. Robert’s been the victim and deliverer of mistakes more than enough to know what not to do and what to definitely do.
  • He’s immensely, immensely affectionate with them, right from the start.
  • Even when they’re newborns, he’s cradling them and holding them any time he can, kissing their tiny heads and playing with their fingers, lying back with them on his chest and whispering nonsense to them to soothe them.
  • He’s just so grateful the whole time that he has them there, that he’s been blessed with these beautiful angels who’ll, so long as he lives, never see the suffering and horrors that he has.
  • At the same time, he wants them both to be truly happy and live almost as a way of redeeming himself for everything he’s done in the past.
  • So, right from the get-go, he throws himself into being there as much as humanly possible in their education.
  • He’s constantly reminding them of their people, of the duties and responsibilities that they have and gently making it clear to them that they will definitely face hardships, if or when they rule the country, since it’s possible that the girl might not with the hierarchical system.
  • But he’s never harsh with them, never impatient or mean - he takes his time, teaching them properly and making sure they understand everything they’re being taught.
  • If they have issues with their languages, he’s there, helping them to comprehend why this verb ends up conjugated that way or where which accent goes in this word.
  • He’s just so attentive to them. He’s always aware of how they’re feeling and if they’re coping alright, and if not, he’s on the case straight away, doing what he can to make a time for them to relax and have some fun.
  • He doesn’t want them to feel that their position and duties are a burden, never.
  • He wants them to adore it, and to adore the people they’re responsible for.
  • That’s why he goes out into town with them frequently, all through their upbringing right until they’re teenagers. As they get older, he gradually exposes them to more serious things, but in a way that it simply lets them see that there are always places that need improvement and help.
  • But they love him for it.
  • They grow up feeling ready to lead and rule, and with him always there, supporting and loving them in every step they take. He’ll often hug them, will always praise them and tell them how proud he is.
  • Even when they learn who he truly is, they love him no less, because the man he is now is not the man he used to be.
  • But when lessons are all said and done, they’ll always paint together or play music together if they’ve got the time.
  • Right from when they’re little, they’ve got paintbrushes in their hands, canvases scattered around them all in a beautifully chaotic mess, and Bergenian lullabies spilling from their lips.

Chapter Text

The Wysterians

Alyn

  • Hold the fuck up.
  • Why is Alyn’s girlfriend squealing and giggling about another boy? Like, what?
  • He will no joke sprint through his and Leo’s manor from the kitchen with his fucking red “Kiss the Cook” apron on and bolt into the living room.
  • “Ahh, Yuki, you’re so cute! You’re such an ass, but you’re still adorable! Gahh, I love you so much!”
  • Eh?
  • He goes full-on knight-ninja stealth mode and creeps over to the back of the couch, peering at your phone.
  • He nearly dies.
  • Otome. You’re playing otome.
  • It just confuses the living shit out of him.
  • Like, he’s your boyfriend.
  • So, you know, you should love him.
  • Not some fictional character.
  • No less some fictional character who is seemingly similar to him in personality and - just a bit - looks.
  • As such, he scowls, leaning in close and snapping, “Why are you playing that?”
  • Your phone learns how to fly that day.
  • You explain to him after recovering from your mini heart-attack that you adore the characters but only truly love him, thinking it’ll appease him.
  • He’s not convinced, tho.
  • So he just heads back into the kitchen, finishes putting the cake in to bake, then returns to you in complete silence.
  • #shitshitshitshitshitshit
  • #quietAlynisscaryAlyn
  • He throws you over his shoulder, and it’s off to the bedroom for you two.
  • “I’ve got an hour until that cake finishes baking. By the time I’m done with you, there’ll be no room for thinking about that ‘Yuki’ dickhead.”

Giles

  • So Giles is reading a book on his iPad when you come back with some tea for you both after insisting on making it.
  • You sit down with them and cuddle into him, and then you get your phone out and after a few minutes you start giggling.
  • He thinks it’s a funny picture at first and just smiles because he loves your laugh.
  • But then you make that noise.
  • That squeal-breath-scream-giggle that he’s only ever heard from you when he’s really surprised you with something and he looks over so fucking fast.
  • “Who on earth is Hideyoshi?”
  • You lose your shit, I tell you.
  • “He’s- ahaha- he’s- er, this character, who- pffft! A character in my game who’s really like you. He acts like a mum all the time and takes care of everyone. I love him.”
  • Giles.Boyfriend has stopped working.
  • Say what? You love a character in your game?
  • He doesn’t say anything after that for a while and pretends to read, amused by your love, but he secretly reads as you read Hideyoshi’s story in the event you're in.
  • He’s about as loving as a stone wall.
  • He calls you his sister.
  • But then Giles realises he can use this to his advantage.
  • He puts his iPad down, and then he’s tackling you back onto the cushions, plucking your phone from your hand and humming, “I see. So, you love this character, even though he refers to you as a little sister?”
  • You can see he’s got you. You’re blushing so hard and low-key about to die.
  • Your hands are pinned in a second, the phone pressed between yours and Giles’, and then he’s leaning down to whisper in your ear, “What a naughty girl you are. If he’s like me and treats you as his little sister, then that must mean you have a…”
  • He doesn’t need to finish.
  • You stop playing it immediately… or at least while he’s around.
  • He never lets it go, though.

Leo

  • He’s cuddling you on the couch while Alyn’s upstairs, and has you laying back against him, between his legs, while he watches you play on your phone.
  • He’s chill, you’re chill… everything’s very chill.
  • That is until you open up a game that has a very familiar name.
  • “Ikémen Sengoku?” He asks, blinking. “Isn’t that an otome?”
  • You give him a sheepish grin. “Yeah. I downloaded it the other day because the history looked interesting, but it’s sort of got me hooked. One of the characters is just like you.”
  • That piques his interest, although he’s feeling increasingly less comfortable with you having another person of interest. Real or not real doesn’t matter.
  • You show him a few stories and parts with your favourite character, and he soon realises that he knows the name. “Mitsuhide Akechi. I’ve heard of him.” He studies his rather precise emotional and mental reasoning, as well as his teasing ways, and swiftly realises why you took a liking to him. “Well, I can see the similarities between us.”
  • But then he starts to run his hands over your stomach while you’re reading, teasing his fingers under the hem of your shirt and purring, “Princess, you don’t love him more than you love me, do you?”
  • You’re melting.
  • “No, of course not, Leo. I just enjoy the game, that’s al- ahh-”
  • He’s biting your neck now. He slips the phone from your hand, then returns to palming his way down your stomach to your thigh, whispering, “Tell me everything he does and says, and I’ll do them a thousand times better.”
  • You’ve never said, “Deal.” so fast in your life.
  • You also have no further need to play IkéSen after that.

Louis

  • So Louis is basically mentally destroyed when he sees that you play it.
  • He’s got his head in your lap, resting there peacefully and hugging your stomach, completely unconcerned.
  • That is, until he glances up and catches what’s on your phone.
  • He recognises it instantly.
  • It’s an otome.
  • Paniccccccc-
  • “Princess? Is that an otome game?”
  • You’ve been giggling to yourself and fawning over it this whole time, but now you break out of it, giving him a bright smile. “Yeah, it is! It’s Ikémen Sengoku.” You notice his rather distraught expression now, though, and put your phone down to stroke his hair. “What’s wrong?”
  • He’s basically crying by this point.
  • “If you have me, why would you need to play an otome game? It’s about romance, isn’t it?”
  • For a few seconds, you just stare down at him.
  • And then you’re bursting into adoring, loving laughter, and leaning down to hug his head against your chest, nuzzling your forehead against his hair. “Oh, Louis, I don’t play it because I actually love any of the characters like that. You’re the only one I love - just like a TV show or film, I love it for the story and setting, and am fond of the characters. However,”
  • You kiss his nose softly, murmuring to your borderline-breakdown boyfriend, “You’re my world, Louis. No one could ever come close to you - not even Ieyasu, a character who’s shockingly similar to you.”
  • Oh. That’s fair, he supposes. It isn’t really different than if you were to watch a TV show or something like that.
  • But still, he’s feeling a bit put-out.
  • So, he reaches up, threading his fingers through your hair and wrapping his arm tight around your waist. He pouts unknowingly, mumbling, “Can you show me you only love me?”
  • Oh, yes, you can indeed.
  • You end up playing IkéSen very little after that.

Sid

  • Good luck, Princess!
  • When you’re both chilling in his bedroom, lying back-to-chest with him behind you, you’re both idly on your phones in comfortable silence. He eventually stops what he’s doing and peers at your phone, curious about what you’re giggling into your hand about.
  • Hang on a tick.
  • Masamune-
    “I wasn’t planning on letting go of my sweet kitten from the start.”
  • Oh, this is priceless.
  • He takes full advantage of learning this. He doesn’t even care.
  • “Now, ain’t this interesting? My princess is into otome. Never knew that.”
  • You freeze.
  • He chuckles darkly, coiling his arms around you and breathing into your ear, “You like being called ‘kitten’, huh? Guess I’ll have to start taking tips from your game and using them myself if I get blushes like that from it.”
  • Nononononononononononoooooooooo-
  • His teeth are on your jaw, and his hands are roaming all over your stomach and sides. He tugs you back against him harder, clamping down and biting on your neck with careful but delicious pressure.
  • Your phone tumbles from your hands. He grins against your neck, chucking it away from you both.
  • “Tell me, kitten. What else does he call you? What does he do to you? What does he say to make you all hot and bothered?”
  • RIP you.
  • “S-Sid! Shut u-u… ah… ngh!”
  • The sadistic, cruel laugh that rumbles out of him makes you shake in his arms.
  • “Tell me, kitten. I’ll get it out of you either way.”
  • It’s a long, long day for you.
  • He doesn’t mind you playing it… as long as he’s there when you do, so he can see exactly what it is that gets you going and he can use it himself ;)

The Steiners

Albert

  • Uh oh. Bad, bad, bad idea.
  • This one is not a suitor you’d want to catch you playing this game.
  • He looks over by pure chance when you bounce down next to him on the couch, giggling away under your breath, and he pauses upon seeing the character on the screen, peering over at it.
  • Sasuke. A man, with brown hair, glasses and a ninja outfit.
  • And what he’s saying is:
  • “No need to worry. We can enjoy our lives here, together.”
  • … what?
  • “Princess,” Albert doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s staring at the screen, although a frown is gradually forming on his face. “Could you perhaps explain to me why that character is saying such an intimate thing to you?”
  • You tilt your head, surprised by the way he’s just about glaring at your phone. “This? It’s an otome game.” He stares at you blankly. “It’s a dating sim.”
  • … okay, this has to be a joke. He can’t wrap his head around it at all.
  • You’re his, not this character’s. You belong to him like he belongs to you. You’re his girlfriend; why would you be playing a game like this?
  • It makes him just a bit annoyed, and even though he shakes off the thought when it comes, he knows he’s feeling jealous.
  • “And why would you be playing it, considering that you have a real partner?”
  • You just stare at him for a moment, and then you’re snickering, responding, “Albert, I’m playing it because it’s interesting and has a good storyline. Don’t worry - you’re the only one I love. He’s just a character.”
  • Naturally, you saying that sends him into a furious blush that he takes a good three minutes solid to recover from.
  • He grumbles about the game to himself but soon quietens when you sit on his knee, letting him watch you play.
  • He basically tears the game apart after that.
  • The bugs that make it crash.
  • The laggy UI.
  • The strange music.
  • The cliché situations.
  • The fact that the heroine hasn’t been killed yet.
  • You give up after ten minutes and hide the app.

Byron

  • It’s night-time and you’re staying over at Byron’s.
  • It’s late, and he’s ready for bed, while you’re just about finished, when your phone buzzes next to him on the bed. He glances over at it, reading the notification.
  • “Lucky Time for the Behind the Myth event happening now! 2x glamour for the next 24 hours!”
  • He wonders what on earth it means.
  • As such, when you come back in your pyjamas and climb over to him, burrowing into his side as he wraps his arms around you, he drops his chin atop your head and asks, “What’s the notification on your phone? Something about ‘Lucky Time’, and ‘glamour’?”
  • You laugh at that, unlocking your phone and opening IkéSen. “Oh, it’s just a special period of time in an event in my game. You’ve heard of them, right? Otome games?” His raised eyebrow communicates his answer. “It’s a dating sim, about the Sengoku Era in Japan. It’s really interesting and has some gorgeous artwork. The characters are based on real warlords.”
  • He takes all of this in, but only two words are really making an impression on him.
  • Dating sim. Meaning, romantic relationship simulation game.
  • “So, you play as the partner of one of the characters in this?” You hum, doing your glam offs.
  • It’s at this point that Nobunaga pops up on the screen with his poetic statement about missing the player, and his voice rumbles through the speakers, making you grin. Byron blinks. “How strange.”
  • You can only laugh, snuggling into him and assuring him, “But don’t worry - you’re the only one for me. The characters are great and all, but I love you the most. Honestly, I’m really interested in just learning about the Sengoku through it, since everything sinks in easier than if I did it just through reading.”
  • The happiness in your expression as you navigate through the app entrances him. He smiles softly, pressing a kiss to your hair. “As long as you are happy, and are still mine, I have no problem with this.”
  • And so, he sits with you from now on when he’s able to, and will read along with you, discussing the Japanese culture and history with you in the process.
  • But when things get hot and heavy in the game… well, they do in real life, too ;)

Nico

  • Oh, boy.
  • There’s no messing about with this one - he’s fully aware of what otomes are, and has heard a lot about this one in particular from his ventures on the internet.
  • As such, when he noses at what you’re doing over your shoulder and sees the recognisable icon in the corner, he’s blurring into action.
  • He swipes your phone and sprints off through the manor, hearing you shouting and screaming, chasing him.
  • He’s in hysterics; this is great!
  • As he’s running, he’s reading at the same time, grinning widely at the character on the screen.
  • Mitsunari, apparently, who’s making tea, and gradually getting better at it with a hidden strategy to ensure it’s perfect for the player.
  • She chose a character just like me <3333
  • He’s never felt so smug in his life.
  • He bolts into his room, and then you’re barrelling in after him, tackling him to the floor.
  • You both scramble about for the phone, shouting and screaming incoherently at each other. You end up flipped onto your back, and then he’s straddling your hips and pinning your hands down, smiling down at you with angelic innocence.
  • “Aw, you play otome, Princess? I didn’t know! Guess what?”
  • You huff. “What?”
  • He leans down, ghosting his lips over your cheek. He feels you shiver and grins, subtly sliding the phone away from you both with his fingers. “I’m a little bit jealous. Why do you need those characters when you have me?”
  • And then he’s making out with you, there on the floor, looking for all the world like he’s just attacked you.
  • And this is when Albert storms inside.
  • “You brat! how many times have I told you-”
  • Cue Albert realising the situation he just walked in on.
  • Nico just grins at him. “Hi, Al. How're you doing?”
  • He’s blushing all the way back to his room.
  • Needless to say, Nico persuades you out of playing it, or into being with you when you play.

Rayvis

  • This one doesn’t beat around the bush when you open the app, sat on his knee while he reads a book on his own phone.
  • As soon as he sees the blond man on the screen and reads the words underneath, “I won’t let you go. Stay here in my arms.” he all but freezes around you.
  • You don’t notice, too busy fawning over the fictional character on the screen before you.
  • That is, until he locks his own phone, then reaches down to take your chin between his thumb and index finger, coaxing your face upwards. You blink, focusing on him after a moment. “Rayvis? What is it?”
  • He tries to keep the unease out of his expression, but God almighty, it’s hard. He squints. “What is that you’re playing?”
  • You tilt your head, momentarily taken aback. “Wha- this? Ikémen Sengoku?” When you point to your phone, he nods, and you giggle just a bit. “It’s an otome - a dating sim. This one’s about the Sengoku Era in Japan, so it’s really interesting.”
  • That doesn’t quite make him any happier with you playing it. His brows furrow in a very slight frown. “I see.”
  • You can translate the expression easily, though, and just laugh as you reach up with your other hand, cupping his cheek. “Rayvis, it’s a dating sim. They’re characters, and nothing more. Okay?”
  • You lock your phone and sit up, shifting so you’re sat cross-legged on his knee. “You’re my world. I half play it for history, since it’s so different to anything I’ve ever studied before. There’s nothing to worry about.”
  • He knows you’re being honest. As such, he can only sigh softly, murmuring,
  • “I know.” He strokes your hair back and away from your face, arching an eyebrow. “But can I at least be there when you play it, when it’s possible, so that I can better try to understand it?”
  • You kiss his forehead, and he wraps his arms around your waist, relaxing into your gentle touch. “Of course you can. I’ll have you hooked in no time.”

Robert

  • You’re chilling with him on the couch when it happens with him, simply draped across his body, laying atop his chest. He’s stroking your hair and back, and you both talk about the randomest things for a while.
  • And then your phone vibrates, startling you both when it vibrates in your pocket all of a sudden.
  • You pull it out sheepishly, to which he just grins, asking, “What is it?”
  • You hum, turning it to show him. “It’s just a reminder. I’ve got more chapter tickets for my game that I play, so I can read more of it now.”
  • He’s clueless. “A game that you read?”
  • You laugh, going onto IkéSen and giving him a run-down of visual novels, and then otome games.
  • He watches with fascination as you take him through all the different parts of it, and he’s admittedly very impressed by the complexity of the app.
  • It doesn’t concern him in the slightest; he knows you love him and has complete faith in that. It would be ridiculous to worry over a game, when it’s completely normal to fall in love with characters in the likes of films and TV shows.
  • But also, he just adores the way your face is so animated and lit up; it’s clear that you really enjoy it and love playing it, so he’d never want to take that happiness from you.
  • As such, he lets you talk through your favourite character, Kenshin, and even listens to the voice clips you have of him. “He certainly has a soothing voice.”
  • “He does, but,” You lean up, giving him a sweet kiss. “I love yours a lot more.”
  • God, that stupid, silly little grin of his just won’t calm down.
  • He can’t help it. You’re just too cute.
  • Soon, he’s reading through the story with you and listening intently as you explain what you know of the Sengoku Era, and commenting with knowledge of his own.
  • He’s not interested in the characters in a romantic respect, but he’s literally obsessed with the history in minutes.
  • He never misses a chapter from then on.

Chapter Text

The Wysterians

Alyn

  • HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HAAAAALLELUJAHHHH, HALEEEEILUUUUIJAAAAAAH!
  • But like seriously:
  • A L Y N
  • H A S 
  • F O U N D 
  • H I S 
  • S O U L M A T E
  • As soon as he finds out, when you sneak into the knights’ barracks kitchen and are in the middle of decorating a gorgeous, three-tiered, he nearly collapses.
  • He’s just stood at the doorway in silence, staring, mouth hanging open.
  • Like damn, his girl can bake, and she’s amazing at it.
  • He can’t stop watching your face though. The concentration and focus in it are just beautiful.
  • He tries to keep it a secret that he knows but starts to visit the kitchen whenever he’s got a free moment, just to see if you’re there.
  • But one day, you both go, planning to cook something, and he guesses it’s time to tell the truth.
  • He just kisses you, hard and deep, before tugging you inside, closing the door and pressing you up against it.
  • “Tch.” He tuts, sighing into your mouth. “When were you going to tell me that you’re an amazing cook, dummy?”
  • You both cook together from then on and it’s adorable because he always makes up some bullshit excuse to hold you or put his arms around you while you do stuff <3
  • He also wonders where the cakes go, since he nor his knights get any.
  • He finds out the next day when he goes to visit Giles and finds him, Leo, Louis, Nico, Robert and Sid all chilling and eating them together -w-
  • He tells you to never give them anything anymore. 

Giles

  • So this one’s all high standards and fine dining, right?
  • Plus, he’s a sweet tooth, just to stop it off.
  • So, naturally, when he’s with you in a villa on the way to Fairmark, and you offer to cook dinner and dessert, he’s taken aback.
  • “Princess, you need not trouble yourself with cooking-”
  • “Please, Giles? I’d like to make something for us, and the knights, as well. I never get to in the palace. Please trust me - I can cook well.”
  • He couldn’t say no to your sweet face.
  • However, that doesn’t mean he just leaves you to it.
  • He hovers like a worried mother, floating around you and subtly-but-not-subtly watching everything you’re doing out of pure fear of you hurting yourself with something.
  • He’s basically deceased when you pull out a large knife to chop vegetables with and start slicing a carrot with horrific speed.
  • “Giles, you look like you’re going to pass out. Please, sit down, okay? I’m fine, I promise.”
  • It does not help. At all.
  • However, when everything’s done and you’ve made dinner for everyone - meaning yourself, Giles, Alyn and a troop of knights - and bring them all in to get stuff, he realises just how much of an idiot he is to have doubted you.
  • He’s also miffed to hell at the way the knights are practically drooling and throwing themselves at you for cooking for them.
  • And then Alyn ruffles your hair, mumbling playfully, “Hey, so you’re not completely disaster-prone. Thank God.”
  • “Oi, you. Go and eat, mister.” You poke his arm with a grin, to which he just snorts and wanders off with his knights to eat.
  • You both sit down to eat after this.
  • Bye bye, Giles!
  • It’s so good. The main meal, the flavours, the texture, the consistency, and the cake oh my God-
  • He’s actually blushing ever so slightly because he’s genuinely being sexed up by food.
  • He cannot sing his praises for you enough afterwards and you never hear the end of how talented and amazing you are.
  • You also have a very pleasant night with him as a reward for your work.
  • And he lifts the ban on you cooking in the palace as long as he can watch you because it’s like art he still doesn’t trust you with knives.

Leo

  • So he’s just wandering through the palace one day looking for you, since he knows you’re free right now but couldn’t find you in any of your usual places.
  • So, he wanders into the knight’s barracks, running into Alyn on the way. Naturally, the latter scowls the second he see his big brother. “Ugh. Let me guess - you’re looking for the princess. She’s in the kitchen.”
  • With that, he stalks off, muttering to himself on the way and giving Leo no chance to respond.
  • So, he just chuckles to himself and heads to said location, curiosity well and truly piqued.
  • The kitchen, huh? She’s cooking something?
  • He creeps over to the door silently, peeking around the frame since the door’s open. He can smell something amazing already.
  • His face gentles instantly, eyes taking on a loving shine.
  • There she is.
  • You’re stood at the counter, what looks like a cherry pie baked and sitting on a plate. Drizzled and set out beautifully, with fresh fruit and what looks like cream on the side. A smaller pie is on a suitably tinier plate, a piece of it missing.
  • You chew the slice you’ve got, humming delightedly. Your eyes sparkle as you nibble on another piece, sighing out, “So good. I’m so glad it turned out right.”
  • Leo grins, gliding over to you, unable to stay away any longer.
  • His arms suddenly bind around you, startling you so violently that you shriek and send your elbow flying back into him.
  • He hunches over, groaning, as you realise it’s him and begin to spew out apologies. “Oh my God, Leo! You terrified me! I’m so sorry - I didn’t mean to hit you! I just got scared and panicked and-”
  • “Ah, geez. Princess, please stop apologising for me being a moron.” He laughs out hoarsely, straightening up once the pain disappears. He hugs you again, chuckling out, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have snuck up on you like that. So, this is where you’ve been?”
  • You hide your face in his chest with a sheepish smile. “Sorry. I really felt like making something and Alyn let me come in here, since I’m not allowed in the normal kitchen.”
  • He just kisses your forehead, then your nose, whispering, “Don’t apologise, my wonderful, talented princess.” A wicked grin slips onto his lips. “So, do I get to taste it, too?”
  • “Yes, of cours-”
  • He tastes it straight from your mouth ;))))

Louis

  • It’s a bit of an understatement to say Louis’ a bit picky with his food with the way he’s been raised.
  • However, when you tell him that you’re going to spend your free time today cooking something, he’s so curious that he doesn’t even think about whether you’ll be good or not.
  • So, he follows you into the knights’ barracks kitchen when you inform him that you’re not allowed into the main one, then sits down and watches as you mill about with tools, utensils and ingredients.
  • Honestly, he sits there completely love-struck.
  • he’ll have his chin in his hands
  • and he’ll never stop watching you
  • and he’s got this adorable little smile because he just adores you and the little things you do
  • and just gaAAAHHH LOUIS.ICEBERG HAS STOPPED RESPONDING
  • When you ask him if there’s anything he’d like you to make in particular, he suggests his favourite food. You start working on it delightedly, and it basically ruins him that you’re making this food because he asked for it.
  • Every couple of minutes, he just remembers that and gets this gorgeous smile that he has to hide with his hands before you catch it.
  • After a while, he gets up, wandering over to you. He tucks his arms around you from behind, propping his chin up on your shoulder with a soft, quiet hum of, “Is there anything I can help with?”
  • You giggle, collecting a part of the meal onto a utensil and blowing on it, then lifting it up to his mouth. “You could taste this for me.”
  • He eats it without hesitation, having full confidence in your abilities after seeing you cook with such confidence.
  • And it’s worth it.
  • He actually moans a little bit because it’s that good and it’s his favourite food -w-
  • It’s safe to say he remains attached to you the rest of the time and ensures that he’ll be with you when you’re cooking whenever humanly possible after this.
  • But he also sort of distracts you while you’re cooking since he constantly steals kisses from you or nuzzles into your neck and one does not simply cook with an angel trying to get their attention like Christ on a bike Louis ;-;

Sid

  • This one hears about it through word of mouth, of course.
  • He’s wandering around the palace after finishing up his meeting with Giles when he hears two of the maids chattering excitedly with Nico, and the latter chirps out, “I know! She’s so talented and it tastes so good! I’m going to persuade Giles into letting her use the main kitchen so she doesn’t have to stay in the knights’ one in their barracks.”
  • No doubt they’re talking about you, of course.
  • Smirking to himself and now curious, he chuckles, diverting towards the lower levels of the palace.
  • In minutes, he’s down there, and leans against the door frame of the kitchen with a massive, cocky grin.
  • You’re humming to yourself quietly, finishing the last touches onto your dish, beautifully laid out and coloured exotically. Sid just can’t stop smiling, studying the intense concentration with which you handle the food and place each individual element. 
  • She’s so cute.
  • When you move back a safe distance from the food and wipe your hands with a cloth, sighing in satisfaction, he swiftly but silently makes his way over, deciding to surprise you.
  • In a second, he’s locked his arms around you, and you yelp in surprise before whipping your head around, seemingly ready to whack him with the material. “Sid!” You cry, tension rushing from you the second you recognise him. “You scared the life out of me!”
  • He just snorts, eyes glittering with mischief. “Sorry not sorry, Princess. You’re too easy a target to resist scaring.” His eyes touch on your dish, and he tucks you against his chest, inquiring, “So, what’s this and who’s it for?”
  • You huff, reaching out for the utensil and collecting some of the food onto it. “It’s for anyone, actually. I just like cooking. I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind.” Your expression becomes hopeful, and you offer it up to him. “Want to try it?”
  • He laughs but nods, opening his mouth. You feed him it and watch pensively, studying his expression.
  • He’s got two words.
  • “Holy shit.”
  • Oops.
  • “It’s that bad? Are you serious? Agh, no! I thought it was okay-”
  • “Princess, cool it, will ya? It’s goddamn gorgeous! I said holy shit because it’s so nice!”
  • “You could have said something else, then- mmf!”
  • He kisses your half heart attack away and proceeds to eat the whole thing.
  • You do end up whacking him with the cloth, after all, and it takes you a few days to forgive him for scaring you -w-

The Steiners

Albert

  • He finds you in the barracks kitchen in Stein one day, after not being able to find you in the evening, and he just freezes.
  • What? She’s cooking?
  • This is strange for so many reasons.
  • “Princess?”
  • You whip around, evidently startled, before you heave out a sigh and collapse back against the side. “Albert, oh my… you scared me.”
  • He does feel bad; he can see he took you entirely off-guard. “Apologies. I didn’t intend to.”
  • He steps further into the room, nudging his glasses up, subconsciously because he’s with you and he’s happy. “But may I ask why you’re cooking yourself? If you wished to eat, you could have requested something from the staff.”
  • You shake your head, laughing out, “No, I wanted to cook! I actually really enjoy it - I used to cook for myself when I was a governess, but since I’ve become princess I’ve not been allowed to do it, so I thought it would be nice to make something while I was here.”
  • His heart twinges; now he feels really bad, even though it’s still strange to him.
  • “I see.” He clears his throat, stepping closer. “Well then, is there any way I can assist you?”
  • You beam at him, delighted by his offer, but shake your head all the same. “No, thank you. I’m almost done, but I suppose you could taste it for me, since you’re an amazing cook.”
  • Blushy blushy <3
  • He averts his eyes, trying not to collapse at how adorable you are. “I am hardly good enough to be called amazing. I am simply capable of what is expected of me as King Byron’s advisor.”
  • He’s edging closer as he says all this tho.
  • He tries the food, not quite knowing what to expect.
  • But then wow.
  • Like, WOW.
  • “This is… delicious. Truly, it’s wonderful, Princess. Very well done.” He manages to say around his mild food-induced pleasure. You beam away, sighing out,
  • “Thank goodness. I didn’t have anyone in mind when I made it, and we’re both free, so how about we have it together?”
  • He’s never said yes so fast in his life.

Byron

  • Similarly to Albert, he’s unable to track you down after he finishes with work, and wanders idly through the castle until one of the knights recalls seeing you heading toward the barracks.
  • It’s odd, and mildly concerning, but Byron shakes it off and heads down anyway.
  • And then he just stops dead in the doorway to the kitchen, having spotted you in there, a gorgeous smell emanating from the room down the hallway.
  • He’s instantly puzzled, although in a less concerned way than Albert. He knows you’re aware that you can ask for food at any time if you want it, so there must be a reason for this.
  • He’ll just ask. Honesty is the way to go, right?
  • “Good evening, Princess.”
  • You jump just a bit at his voice and whip around, a knife clutched in your hand. You relax upon seeing him stood there, and he smiles as he approaches you, listening to you laugh out, “Good evening. Finished with work?”
  • He nods, stepping up in front of you and studying your creation. It’s a cake, decorated intricately and professionally. His smile widens, and then he’s looking at you again. “Indeed I am, and it appears you are, as well.” He tucks a stray hair of yours back as you giggle, observing, “I didn’t know you cooked.”
  • You hum quietly, setting the knife down. “Yes. I just haven’t been able to since becoming princess since I’m not allowed in the main kitchens, which is why I’m down here. It’s relaxing, so I thought I should make something while I had some free time and the kitchen was empty.”
  • He nods once more at this, understanding where you’re coming from. “I see. I’ll notify the staff that you’re to be allowed into the main kitchen, so you don’t have to be isolated here when you feel like cooking.”
  • He cups your face, watching you beam up at him beautifully. “Now, you seemed to be about to cut this when I walked in. Correct?”
  • You pick the knife up again, grinning at him. “Yes. Would you like to try it?”
  • He’s swift to lean down at this, tugging you against him and purring, “Of course. As long as you feed me, or I taste it straight from your mouth.”
  • Say goodbye to your consciousness, Princess.

Nico

  • He thinks he knows everything about you by this point and is certain he’s got all your skills and talents down because of how observant he is.
  • So, when he smells something amazing from the knights’ barracks kitchen, he wanders down there, wondering if Alyn’s cooking something again.
  • However, he only finds you there, dolloping whipped cream onto delicate, beautiful little cakes, then decorating the cream with a variety of fruits and decorative leaves.
  • Hang on. She made these?
  • Thinking it best not to shock you when you’re doing such precise work, he waits patiently at the door, beaming away at your tense, focused expression. He has to stifle his giggles at the way you’re so meticulous about the placing of the fruit, and ends up snickering quietly but adoringly into his hand to conceal his amusement.
  • Eventually, you finish and stand straight with a soft huff.
  • It’s time, he decides.
  • “I didn’t know you cooked, Princess! That’s so cool!” He sings, dancing over to you. You whirl around, blinking in surprise. “They’re all so pretty. How come you didn’t tell me you liked cooking?”
  • You give him a grin in response, letting him tug you into a hug and nuzzle his forehead against yours. “I’m not allowed in the main kitchen, so I forgot how much I love it, but then I remembered about in here today and decided to make something sweet.” You pick up one of the cupcakes, raising it to his mouth. “Want to try one?”
  • He’s so happy. He gets you, and cake? This is heaven.
  • “Of course! Thank you, my love!” Laughing at your blush, he sinks his teeth into the cake, tugging off a sizeable chunk of it and chewing slowly.
  • He moans without restraint. He’s never tasted anything so amazing.
  • “Princess, this is so gorgeous. It’s the best cake I’ve ever had.” He almost whines out, earning a relieved chuckle from you.
  • “Really? Thank you, Nico. I’m so glad you like it.”
  • Cue him reaching down for you, curling his fingers around the back of you’re head. “You’re welcome, Princess. If you don’t quite believe me, though, here; I’ll let you taste it.”
  • … you spend a long time 'tasting' the cake.
  • Until Alyn walks in and nearly throws up and then Nico dies laughing.

Rayvis

  • He’s staying in Stein Castle and emerges from a meeting when he catches the scent of something heavenly.
  • He’s curious, since it’s not time for meals to be prepared or cooked in the castle, and yet this smell is so strong.
  • So, with some time and curiosity to kill, he heads off to find the source.
  • He eventually arrives at the barracks kitchen, where you’re leaning over the counter, nibbling at an extravagant plate of food, arranged beautifully and full of no-doubt flavourful, colourful accompaniments.
  • He feels so many things all at once, and it’s honestly kind of confusing.
  • But one thing he knows he feels is pride; you must have made that, and that’s amazing, because it looks like something the chefs would make.
  • “Princess,” He draws your attention, making his way over. You jerk upright, but your eyes are shining as you watch him approach, and your lips are instantly split in a breath-taking smile. “I wasn’t aware that cooking was a hobby of yours.”
  • You beam at him, scooping up a bit of the food and answering, “I haven’t been allowed to use any of the main kitchens since I’ve become princess, but it’s something I really enjoy. I used to cook all the time when I lived on my own.”
  • Now, you hold the fork up, offering, “Would you like to try it?”
  • You’re nervous, he can see, just a bit. Somehow, it’s quite adorable.
  • As such, he sighs quietly, but he nods. “Thank you.”
  • He holds your hand delicately, leaning down to close his mouth around the utensil.
  • Instantly, he’s hit by these amazing combinations of flavours and textures, and it’s so good that he has to take a moment to appreciate them, keeping the empty utensil in his mouth. When he finally releases it and looks up at you, there’s nothing but praise in his eyes. “That’s truly impressive, Princess. Very few meals I have ever had could better this.”
  • He takes the utensil and sets it down, then opens his arms, letting you fly into them with a relieved smile. He hugs you gently, hearing you mumble, “I’m so happy. Thank you, Rayvis.”
  • He just chuckles a little, kissing the top of your head and stroking your hair. “You’re very welcome, Princess. You should be truly proud of what you’ve made. Thank you.”
  • Gawd, you’re both so sweet.
  • You also both spend the evening sat in your room, sharing the meal and sneaky little kisses, back in your room.
  • Get some, my lads ;)

Robert

  • So, Robert saw when you were younger that you had a natural talent for cooking.
  • Ever since you were little, you’d be always trying to start cooking and would often wander off from lessons to make food.
  • It used to make Robert laugh so hard that he’d be doubled over, watching your independent but infantile self bumbling about in the kitchen, barely able to reach anything, while you recited to yourself the recipe for whatever you were going to make.
  • As such, when he hears you reciting a very familiar recipe in the hallway, he can’t help but follow behind you curiously.
  • He ends up in the knights’ barracks kitchen, where you wander in and set about preparing to cook the dish. He chuckles softly, thinking about how you’ve stayed the same after all this time.
  • It’s this that drives him to step closer, greeting, “You always were so fond of cooking, Princess. I’m glad to see it’s a love you haven’t lost.”
  • You jump a bit, but then you’re laughing and nodding, cutting up one of your ingredients with a soft blush. “So am I - I still adore it, even now.” You sigh heavily. “I’m just sorry that you had to deal with me as a child. God, that feels so wrong to say…”
  • He attaches himself to you from behind now, propping his chin up on your shoulder and his hands on the counter, on either side of your hips. You cuddle back into him, listening to him utter, “Princess, if you think you were awful as a child, then I must have been a complete and utter demon. Besides, it’s paid off, has it not?”
  • You have to give him that. You nod. “That’s true, I guess. Thank you, Robert.” You pick up a strawberry, cutting its stem off and offering the rest to him. “Want one?”
  • He grins, but somehow, there’s an impish glint in his eye. He pops the smaller end of the berry into his mouth, then nudges your face toward his, murmuring in a sultry, smooth purr, “I will indeed, if my princess will join me.”
  • You’re so, so, so red.
  • Still, you take him up on the offer and play prehistoric Pocky with him until you run out of strawberries and have to change your meal plan because of it.
  • He helps with it all, though, so it’s all good.

Chapter Text

Part I: Reveal

So, the princess has been on the throne for a year, and it’s her anniversary for this in a few days. So far, it’s all been going extremely, extremely well.

… er, aside from the countless people who tried to dethrone, sabotage, undermine, kidnap and kill her in the first few months, but that’s not important.

As of now, things are peachy and Wysteria’s just getting better and better by the day; industry is growing, trade is boosting, diplomatic relations are flourishing and respect for the young monarch is exploding across the whole nation, not to mention in other countries, namely Stein and Laurelia. As such, you’d think she’d have nothing, really to worry about.

However, you’d be wrong.

Because with the anniversary coming up, it’s also raised the very good point that the princess has yet to choose a Prince Consort to stand by her side.

However, when the princess was questioned about this by Giles several days ago, her answer was a simple one. 

“I don’t know yet, Giles. You said it yourself a few weeks ago – you think I’m capable of ruling alone, and the king has said the same. I think, maybe, I don’t immediately need someone to rule beside me. I’ve come this far on my own, and everything’s stable.”

Giles regretted agreeing with the king as soon as she replied with this.

Why?

Because he, along with every other one of her main potential suitors, is hopelessly, painfully in love with her.

Thankfully, none of them is aware that they have competition.

And none of them has made any move as a result of their feelings, for the sake of allowing the princess to focus on her position as princess and duties as a ruler.

That is, until today.

You see, Wysteria is hosting a ball in commemoration of the anniversary, and Byron has decided to visit Wysteria to discuss several things about it like security, its theme, and how Stein can assist with its planning.

This means that all ten suitors, coincidentally, end up in the same room together while the princess finishes her meeting with one of the bureaucrats.

Although Nico seems a tad on-edge due to the whole used-to-be-a-butler-but-got-found-out-and-fled-back-to-Stein thing, things are okay. Byron is chatting pleasantly with Louis, Giles and Albert, Rayvis is murmuring in a low, debatably unfriendly tone to Robert, Alyn is leaning against the fireplace and watching on antisocially, and Sid, Leo and Nico are talking amongst themselves.

But then a seemingly odd, idle, completely innocent comment from Byron sends the whole thing into chaos.

“So,” He responds to Giles’ remark that the princess is content to rule alone. “Would I take it, then, that a marriage proposal from Stein would likely be met with a declination?”

Albert’s eyes snap to Byron’s face. Alyn straightens up, expression betraying panic. Giles stiffens, tension lining his face. Leo’s head whips around, eyes homing in on Byron. Louis almost chokes on his tea, staring with wide eyes at his old friend.

Nico’s whole body tenses, mouth agape with shock and devastation. Rayvis frowns, deeply, already icy eyes practically frozen solid. Robert’s lips press into a tight, forced line, pain flitting across his expression and through his eyes. Sid scowls, hostile and threatening, straight at Byron. 

Said monarch doesn’t outwardly react to any of these responses, other than sitting back in his place on the couch more, then narrowing his eye and declaring, “And that would confirm the suspicion I have had for approximately three months, now.”

“And what would that be?” Alyn snaps. Byron allows himself a small if mirthless smile.

“That you are all in love with the Princess of Wysteria, as I am.”

Silence. Absolute silence.

And then, of course, there’s a knock, followed by the door opening.

The boys all wipe their expressions instantly, acting natural, but the princess immediately senses that something’s up when she walks in, hesitating just a bit.

“You’re all here. I’m sorry - my meeting went on for longer than it should have. Am I interrupting something?” She asks timidly, worry passing over her expression. Byron elects to answer, assuring her,

“No, you’re not interrupting at all. Don’t worry - I understand that your meeting must have been important.”

She smiles, gracefully making her way over to the seats. The only seat left is next to Byron, something the boys hadn’t questioned nor had issue with at the start of the day.

Now, they’re groaning on the inside.

But her smile.

God, her beautiful, gorgeous, breath-taking, irresistible smile.

It entrances them all.

She sighs softly, sitting next to Byron and nodding. “Yes, it was rather important, about one of the regions that needs its industries strengthened to boost the local economies.”

Byron makes a sound of acknowledgement. “Of course. Perhaps there is something that can be done between Wysteria and Stein to mutually boost the relevant industries and better areas in both countries.”

She beams delightedly at this, her own head bobbing up and down. “I’m sure there will be something! Thank you very much!”

“You’re welcome. Shall we begin the meeting, then?”

And so, it begins…

The Battle of the Princes 2017: The Right Way.


Part II: Consideration

After the meeting, the boys all leave and separate, needing time to think, mull over and plan their response to the new information they’ve gained.

They’re all in love with her.

They don’t have the luxury of time with her anymore.

Any of the nine others could steal her away at any second; she shows no preference, and so could fall for any of them, if they actually try.

As such, they need to get moving. They have to steal her heart, so they don’t end up with their own broken.

But the Steiners are returning to Stein in the morning. They only have today to do this.

And so, the race for the heart of Wysteria takes place this very same day.


Part III: Action

After the meeting and the rest of her work is done, it’s late in the evening, bordering on seven o’clock. The princess wanders out into the garden for a walk, needing to clear her head. Distracted by her thoughts of industry, trade, diplomatic relations, her anniversary ball and the increasing pressure to choose a Prince Consort, she’s hardly focused on her surroundings.

Consequentially, she doesn’t hear the footsteps nearing her, even as they end up right behind her.

Suddenly, fingers clamp around her arm, firm but not painful, to spin her around. Sid smirks down at her, grinning away like the devil on a hot day. “Hey, Princess. Guess ya still haven’t learned to pay attention to what goes on around you, huh?”

She blushes faintly, an indignant, cute frown forming on her face, lips pursing in a small pout. It sets Sid’s insides on fire. “I was thinking.”

He snorts, reaching up with his other hand to ruffle her hair. He snickers when she squeaks, shoving fruitlessly against the touch. “Yeah, I gathered that.”

He finally stops but doesn’t release her arm, instead slipping his hand around her face, cupping her cheek with a gentleness that shocks her to the core. He gazes down at her, watching her stare back at him in evident surprise. His grin softens into a more genuine smile. “And I’m guessing your worry comes partially from needing to pick a Prince Consort, right?”

Her lips tighten just a little. He sees it in her eyes instantly; she’s struggling with it. She’s finding it hard to choose, and she’s feeling guilty for it.

“Look,” He murmurs, smile barely existent now. “I know I can be an ass and tease ya all the time, but I’m here for you. If you need me, I’m ready to help. I thought you wouldn’t last five minutes, but you proved me wrong this whole time and I’ve got real respect for you because of that. So just listen for a sec, okay?”

“Sid-”

He coaxes her against his chest, releasing her arm to rub very gently at the low of her spine, the hand on her face sliding around to cup the back of her head. She freezes, stunned by his uncharacteristically tender and serious behaviour. He holds her there for a moment, soothing a pain she hadn’t realised she was suffering, before then murmuring,

“I always tease you about picking a prince and all that, and I know you might just want to rule on your own. I get it, trust me - I don’t blame you. But, when it comes down to it, you’ve got to weigh up and make a decision that’s best for both you and Wysteria. Don’t sacrifice yourself, because that won’t help anyone.”

He chuckles, dropping a very swift kiss to her hair. “And if you’re ever stressed out, remember…”

He pulls her flush against him by her waist, dipping his head down to whisper in her ear with a roguish grin, “If ya ever need cheering up, come to me. I’ll bring your smile back brighter than it ever has been.”

“Like hell, you will.”

The icy words are snapped out a second before everything moves.

Sid’s jerked back and to the side, so sharply and with such force that he almost falls, swiftly righting himself. In an instant, Louis has moved in front of the princess and nudged her closer to him, shielded by his body. He glares at Sid, and the latter now glowers back, real, molten fury boiling in his intense eyes. Louis scowls.

“It’s not your place to touch her so casually. Remember your position and give respect where it’s due, Sid. Leave. Now.” His words are delivered even more harshly than the first he spoke to the princess. They’re openly hostile, intended to make it clear that Sid’s not wanted in the slightest.

But does that stop Sid?

Of course not.

He snorts, granted humourlessly and with a still irritated expression. “Oh, yeah? Talk to me then, ice sculpture. Better yet, try. Do it. Go on.”

He stalks closer, until he’s inches from Louis, staring down at the comparatively smaller blond with a fierce, challenging glint in his eyes. “Prove your worth, Lou-Lou. You love to yap and pretend you’re heartless, but there’s nothing but melted ice inside there. You could never protect her. You could never be king.”

“Enough!” Louis suddenly hisses out, body trembling with rage. “You could hardly do it yourself, Sid! You’re far too self-centred, cruel and thoughtless! You’d have Wysteria crumbling in days!”

“You little bastard-”

“Hey! Stop it, right now! Both of you!”

The order whips out from the princess so suddenly, but with such deadly-serious, steely command and power that it cuts Sid off mid-insult. She shoves her way out of Louis’ arms and then between the two, forcing them apart and away from each other. Her eyes waver, but her voice doesn’t, as she looks between them, expression appalled.

“Enough. This is ridiculous and is getting nowhere. Sid, he was right, in that you shouldn’t have just touched me and assumed I didn’t mind. However, Louis, I’m capable of saying no. I was surprised, but I wasn’t scared or uncomfortable, so you shouldn’t have assumed I was.”

She draws her hands away from them both, but Sid catches the one that was on his chest, giving it a warning squeeze.

“Sure thing, Princess. I know you’re all shy, but you like my hugs. You can deny it all ya want, but I know you love them.” He glares over her at Louis, drawling, “But don’t trust the ice cube. He ain’t the perfect, pretty little thing he likes to make himself out as.”

Louis takes her other hand, his grip like feathers in contrast to Sid’s. He coaxes her toward him, returning Sid’s bitter glare. “I’m hardly the one who is not to be trusted. You hide in the shadows and use people for a living. Don’t dare to refer to yourself like you’re a saint.”

Sid moves closer to her, and so does Louis. She ends up crushed between the two, hands trapped in theirs, noticeably warm chests pressing against her arms on either side. Louis’ free hand finds her back, and he speaks to her lowly, never moving his eyes from the object of his hatred. “Princess, come. I need to have a word with you.”

She’s blushing immensely from the proximity, of course, and is glad for the excuse to escape and calm her face. “Okay. But both of you, let go, calm down and back off. Now.”

They do as she says. They would never refuse an order from the princess, after all, not even now because of her authority, but simply because their hearts are theirs.

Eager to be given a chance to calm down and increasingly stressed, she sets off into the gardens, heading for the inner courtyard, where Louis once told her about also believing in the white flower tale, of being granted a single wish. Once she’s there, she slumps down onto the side of the fountain, feeling wound up, emotionally compromised and tired from the sudden confrontation.

Louis watches this with increasing guilt. He swallows hard, realising how selfish both he and Sid are being.

He moves toward her, lowering himself to one knee before her.

She stills completely, heart suddenly pounding at the position, it reminding her immensely of one of proposal. He holds his hand out, silently asking for hers, and this time she gives him it willingly. He raises it to his lips, lowering his head and closing his eyes.

She’s rendered breathless. The beaming rays of the setting sun give his hair and almost godly, heavenly glow, burning bright, almost to the point of it being blinding. His pale pallor is only emphasised by the light, as are the dark shadows cast against his cheeks from his long eyelashes.

The strands of his hair tickle over her skin, just like the first time.

He brushes a very gentle, but subtly loving, kiss to her flesh. Tender. Meaningful. Very not-Louis, but as Sid’s odd behaviour was, somehow fitting.

It’s like she’s seeing a side of them she didn’t know existed today. She wonders what’s happened to the two.

“I’m sorry, Princess. Our actions were selfish and have caused you harm, and that was never, at least, my intent. Forgive me.”

His whispered words are so soft, they’re almost inaudible. She’s never heard him sound so broken before. “Louis…”

Just like before, though, the serene moment is shattered by a - to the kneeling suitor - very much unwelcome new voice. “Oh, am I interrupting something? Since when were you two so close?”

Louis stiffens, and the princess’ eyes fly up to the door into the palace.

Leo leans against it lazily, a picture of perfect, calm, cool sexiness. She’s certain his shirt’s unbuttoned a bit lower today, and gets the feeling that she’s right when she sees the very seductive, enchanting glitter in his scarlet eyes. He saunters forward, gaze never straying from the princess. “Hm? You look upset, Princess. Are you okay?”

He sees Louis tense further. His suspicions are confirmed. A small smile tugs at his lips.

“Ah, I see. So, this isn’t a proposal, but an apology?” Suddenly, despite his calm expression and smile, there’s growing hostility in his eyes, dancing and daring Louis to speak the words. “Did you hurt her, Louis? Was it you who upset her?”

Louis’ jaw clenches. His grip on her hand tightens considerably. “I may have upset her, but I have apologised, Leo. It’s hardly your business.”

Leo just chuckles, but it’s dark, once again with that threatening undertone that’s not in the slightest disguised or hidden. “You’re wrong about that, Louis. See…”

All of a sudden, he’s taking her other hand, tugging her up from the fountain and into his arms. He’s holding her against his chest before Louis can stop him, and her hand slips away from him as he stands, whipping around. Leo ignores the princess’ surprised, embarrassed squeak and gives Louis a warning look over her head, finishing,

“As her tutor, and being as close as I am to the lovely lady, if she’s upset in the slightest, it’s very much my business. I’d suggest that you avoid doing whatever it is that upset her from now on, or we’re going to have a serious problem.”

He knows he’s no-doubt doing the same thing. He’s too miffed to care.

“Now, then.” He peers down at her flushed face, smiling kindly. “Come with me, Princess. I’ll have you cheered up and smiling again in no time.”

With that, he guides her inside by her waist, ignoring how she casts an apologetic glance at Louis. The blond stares after her with pain swimming in his cerulean hues, and then she’s gone.

He sinks to his knees, collapsing back against the fountain, before gazing out at the sun setting over Wysteria.

“Leo, that was rude. You didn’t need to speak to Louis like that.” The princess scolds Leo quietly once they’re in the palace corridor, frowning up at him just slightly in response to his narrowed eyes and firm grip on her waist. “What’s wrong? You’re not normally like this-”

“No, I’m not.”

His words are barely audible. He suddenly stops, turning toward her and gently backing her up against the wall in between the windows. She stares up at him, wide-eyed, as he plants his hands on the wall on either side of her face, his own suddenly very, very close to her. She can’t help but jump slightly, surprised by the sudden proximity, but she’s not scared. She’s worried, more now than before, because they’re all acting strange, and she wants to know why.

“Then why?” She forces back the nerves from gazing down at her so intensely, asking the honest question. “You, and Louis, and Sid, have all been acting strange when I’ve spoken to you since the meeting. All of you, including Albert, Alyn, Byron, Giles, Nico, Rayvis and Robert, were all tense when I came into the room for the meeting this morning.” Her expression crumbles with obvious concern, eyes soft and voice even gentler. “Please tell me what’s going on, Leo.”

His heart aches. It throbs and swells inside him, begging for him to release his feelings there and then.

He steps closer, until his front touches hers ever so slightly, before removing his hands from the wall. Instead, they lower to her face, cradling her jaw and cheeks with impossible, delicate care. She blinks, taken aback, but then freezes when he rests his forehead against hers, whispering in an almost hoarse, broken voice, “You.”

Her pupils expand just a little. He manages a tiny smile, brushing his thumb over her cheekbone. “You’ve done nothing wrong, Princess, but…”

His face inches closer. His nose ghosts against hers, lips millimetres away. “You’ve got us all completely at your mercy-”

“Hey!”

The thunderous, livid shout sends Leo reeling back, head whipping around in surprise. The princess, blushing like mad and increasingly confused, almost collapses back against the wall, breathing hard and trying to make sense of what’s going on. She looks down the corridor as well.

Alyn storms straight over to them both, scowling like hell has risen. “What do you think you’re doing, Leo? You have no right to touch her like that. Take your lack of self-control somewhere else.”

Leo’s eyes are sharp, hard and unforgiving for once, and meet Alyn’s furious ones straight on, his voice now lashing out harshly. “If she was uncomfortable, I would have stopped. I was answering a question.”

Alyn just scoffs, shoving his way in between Leo and the princess. “Yeah, right. With your mouth, and not words?” He just ignores Leo’s heated glare, turning instead to the Wysterian monarch. “Hey. You okay?”

Still trying to recover from the confusion and onslaught of unexpected information, she forces out a weak nod. “Yes. I’m fine, Alyn. Don’t worry.”

His scowl deepens. “Tch. Yeah, right. Enough of this – you look like you’re going to pass out. Come here.”

With that, he reaches down, scooping her up and into his arms. Leo laughs mirthlessly, asking, “Are you serious, Alyn? Tell me off for touching her face, and then pick her up anyway?”

Alyn rolls his eyes, shoving past Leo and carrying the now-squirming princess down the corridor. “She’s shaking like a leaf because of you. I’m taking her away from you so you can’t harass her anymore.”

Leo’s glare intensifies. “I’d watch your words, Alyn. You might be a knight, but you’re not above me. Remember that.”

Alyn stiffens slightly, arms constricting around her more and stilling her entirely. His response comes out biting, hostile and almost threatening. “I will. But if you cross the line, I’ll treat you just how I’d treat anyone else.”

He turns the corridor at this point, out of Leo’s sight completely. He makes his way downstairs and through the rear of the palace, heading out to the stables and riding fields. There, he comes to a stop, shifting her against his chest a bit before huffing and staring down at her.

“Geez. He’s such a pain.” His scowl has lessened gradually walked, but now it returns, and he almost snaps, “Why didn’t you push him away or tell him to stop? Are you going to choose him?”

Alyn immediately regrets it. He sees it click in her head, sees her mouth pop open with shock.

This must be about who I’m picking as Prince Consort. But why? Why would they be acting so aggressivel-

She goes still. Her eyes drop to his chest.

Oh.

They must not want each other to be chosen. Perhaps, somehow, they’ve developed feelings for her without her noticing. Which means…

“Alyn, is there a reason why you’re all acting weirdly today? Every time someone gets close to me, one of you stop them. Is… is there something I should know?”

He’s thankful for the armour preventing her from feeling his pounding heartbeat. Panicking, he tuts, setting her down on her feet. “There’s no reason, okay? Don’t think about it. Just ignore everyone and go back to your room.” He pauses, makes a face, and then grumbles, “Actually, I’ll take you up. Come on.”

“Not quite.”

Another new voice speaks from the open side of the stables. The two turn to them.

Rayvis studies Alyn with an unreadable but intense expression, eyes calculating and sharp. Alyn’s body instantly tenses, and his scowl shifts into a glower as he retorts, “Why’s that, and who are you to decide what she does? She’s done with work for the day.”

Rayvis arches an eyebrow delicately. He approaches the princess slowly, but with purposeful, confident strides, coming to a stop before her. “I am not deciding for her. I simply have yet to request for some of her time, and so she is not necessarily returning to her room yet.” His icy eyes shift to her, and she almost shrinks back under the intense, unrelenting power of his gaze. “Princess, may I speak with you?”

Oh, dear. A glare from Alyn, and a stare from Rayvis? God have mercy upon her.

She can’t just refuse Rayvis, even if it hurts Alyn, for whatever reason. She swallows, glancing at her bodyguard. “I’ll speak with him, Alyn. I’ll be fine – I’ll return to my room afterwards.”

The pain that flares inside his eyes is like a stab in her heart. She wonders why.

“Whatever.” He simply mutters, turning on his heels and skulking over to the door back into the palace. On his way, though, he still calls over his shoulder, “Archduke Harneit, make sure you treat our princess with appropriate respect. Princess, you know to shout for me if you need me.”

Rayvis’ glaring, frozen eyes practically drive daggers into Alyn’s back as he heads inside, disappearing in a flourish of swirling crimson material.

Once he’s gone, though, Rayvis just shakes his head. Then, he holds out his hand, his voice and expression softening when he offers, “Perhaps we should take a walk in the gardens. I assure you, I have no plans to harm you, like your knight seems to be under the impression of.”

The princess is becoming more and more certain of this by the second. Rayvis isn’t the type to offer physical contact like this.

She tries to shake off her growing unease, taking Rayvis’ hand. He places it in the crook of his elbow, escorting her away from the stables and back into the gardens. The sun is kissing the horizon now, scorching away the details of the distant mountains in a fiery, passionate sea of reds and oranges. Rayvis walks with her in silence until they’re out of the bright glare and shielded by the hedges, surrounded by the topiary arches adorned with roses that Rayvis seems to love so much every time he comes to Wysteria Palace.

It’s now that he begins to speak, tone sombre. “You’re troubled by something. Explain it to me.”

She’s slightly shocked by the just-about-order, and for a moment can only watch him, guessing he’s a part of this as well. When he doesn’t comment on her prolonged staring, she answers, eyes drifting to the roses. “Everyone who was in the meeting this morning that I’ve spoken to since has been acting strange, in some way or another, and I felt like I walked in on something important when I entered today. I’m confused as to what’s going on.”

He’s silent for a long few seconds, until finally he responds with a simple, “And do you have any idea why that might be?”

She swallows, hesitating just a bit. She can’t just tell him the reason when it’s indirectly insinuating that he might have feelings for her, if he’s affected by this as well!

“I…” She trails off, taking a moment to consider it. “I have an idea, but I’m not very confident in it.”

He comes to a gradual stop, bringing her to a halt as well. He shifts closer, to face her properly, before raising the hand attached to the arm she’s holding. It rises to her face, and he brushes his fingers over her hair, conflict swirling deep in his hues. The affectionate touch only makes her more confident in her theory, and she finds herself blushing at the way he’s gazing down at her. “And now?”

Her heart jumps. Is this really happening? Are they all seriously fighting… over her? Does that mean even the others she hasn’t seen since are the same?

“I’m more confident in it now.” Her confession is very soft and quiet, but he hears it loud and clear. A tiny little smile dances on his lips, gracing his delicate features, before his gloved fingers curl around her cheek, holding it tenderly. His other hand does the same, and he cradles her face as if handling the most precious, fragile glass doll in the world. Her heart thumps faster, and she becomes very, very aware of his proximity as he steps closer, murmuring,

“Then what is your response?”

My response? He’s basically just confessed for himself and the others, and he wants me to give him a response now?

Her lips part, but no sound comes out. Her eyes skitter away, unsure and undecided.

Perfect timing, then, for the night in shining armour to arrive.

“Archduke Harneit. I would suggest you remove your hands from her. Now.”

The Rayvis’ eyes snap to the side, icy hues frosting over instantly.

Robert stands nearby, under one of the topiary arches. His face set tight, his expression is entirely serious, and his body language practically exudes threat as he approaches the two. When Rayvis only scowls, his eyes take on a warning glint, and his tone darkens like the earth during a solar eclipse. “I will not repeat myself. Take your hands from the princess. You hardly have the right to be so friendly with her.”

Rayvis drops his hands, but he doesn’t move away from the monarch, instead retorting sharply, “And you do?”

The smile Robert gives him is not kind.

“No, not at all,” He concedes, stepping up beside her. His hand settles on her shoulder, but his gaze remains fixed securely on Rayvis, easily the coldest she’s ever seen it. “But I certainly have more right than you.”

Ignoring Rayvis’ glare, he turns to look at her, asking, “Princess, if I may, I’d like to have a word with you in regards to official palace business. Is now possible?”

She winces on the inside. If it’s palace business, she can’t say no, but she feels cruel just leaving Rayvis like this. Her heart squeezes with discomfort once more, but she forces it back and makes the right choice. “Yes, it is.” Her eyes drift up to Rayvis, apology churning in her irises. “I apologise, Archduke Harneit.”

The tightness in his expression loosens at this, and he simply sighs softly, reaching down for her hand. He lifts it to his mouth, brushing a kiss over the top of it and sending tingles up her arm. “You needn’t apologise. I will take my leave, then, Princess. Goodnight.”

With that, and a last glower at Robert, he stalks off through the hedges once more, disappearing into the roses with a flutter of his cape.

Robert sighs quietly, expression almost torn and conflicted. She stares up at him, worry and another familiar sensation rising in her. “Robert? Are you alright?”

He presses his lips together, hard, for a long few seconds. Then, he lets his breath out slowly, coaxing her with him through the hedges. “Yes. I apologise for that.” He still looks marginally uncomfortable, and this only deepens when he asks, “Princess, what did Rayvis say to you?”

He might already know about this. There’s no point in hiding it.

“He was helping me to figure out what’s been going on today – everyone who was in the meeting this morning has been acting odd since then, and I had an idea of why that is, so he was clarifying it for me.” He’s staring straight ahead of him now, as opposed to at her, while they walk. He’s unnaturally stiff, as well, she notices. “Robert? Do you know why this is happening?”

He’s dead silent for a long, long time. She waits patiently, until at long last, they both reach the stairs that lead up into the rear segment of the castle. He comes to a stop there, hair blazing an intense, gorgeous, golden hue from the last rays of sunlight. He looks down at her with such conflicted eyes, pain well-hidden but not invisible in his body. She finds herself frowning a bit with worry, her own eyes flickering between his almost desperately.

It hurts. It makes the ache that never leaves burrow deeper into his heart.

“Oh, Princess, you’re better off not knowing. You’re really, really much safer if you’re to remain as you are.”

Like he’s always done when she’s been worried and come to him for comfort, he reaches up, tucking her hair behind her ear, then settling his palm on her cheek for a few brief moments. Despite the strangeness of the action considering that he stopped Rayvis from doing it, she can’t bring herself to stop him, and instead finds herself missing, almost craving, the contact when the hand drifts away.

But then, he’s taking her own two in both of his, raising them to his lips. He closes his eyes, hair obscuring his face and tickling over her skin. She sucks in a quiet breath, feeling him kiss each of her fingers on the upper bones, nearest to her knuckles. It makes her sad, somehow, giving her a sense of grief, as he sweeps affectionate kisses over her skin.

When he finally raises his head, his eyes are imploring. They beg her to do what he says.

“Don’t try any harder to work it out, Princess. It will only cause you more pain.”

“Robert…”

“Ah, Princess. Here you are.”

The two jump slightly, Robert’s hands jerking away from hers, as they both whirl around to the source of the words.

Giles stands at the top of the steps, arms crossed and a pleasant smile on his face. His eyes crinkle with the light expression, but there’s something much darker simmering beneath it, boiling and churning quietly in the background. He uncrosses one arm to hold it out in offering towards the princess, speaking casually, but in a tone that she knows means he’s displeased about something. “Princess, if you will, please come with me. I believe it’s best for you to get some rest, after such a hectic day. You’re looking rather tired.”

His bloody amber eyes snap to Robert’s face. There’s a hostility there that’s very rarely seen in the usually-polite Chamberlain. “Wouldn’t you agree, Robert?”

Her heart’s been thudding away this whole time, but now she can feel the adrenaline zipping through her. Something’s seriously off.

And this is only confirmed when Robert drops his gaze to the floor, relenting, “Yes, of course. She needs to rest as soon as possible. Forgive me for keeping her.”

Giles only chuckles, but it’s not amused, not at all. “Forgiven.”

The princess can only look between them. Her stomach churns.

It doesn’t sound like he’s forgiven him.

Nonetheless, she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to protest or ignore Giles’ not-an-order-but-not-a-request suggestion. She sends Robert a quick look of apology, then hurries up the steps, lifting her skirts so she doesn’t trip on them.

When she’s up and beside Giles, she takes his hand, and he holds it like he does when he’s guiding her into a dance lesson sometimes, hold gentle and careful but still firm. She tries to shake off her increasing confusion as he takes her inside the palace, glancing back at Robert.

His eyes don’t move from the floor, but his fingers clench, curling into a forceful fist. Her insides sink.

“Princess.” Giles speaks her title softly, but she snaps around all the same inwardly worrying about what she’s done wrong.

“Yes?” He continues to walk down the corridor with her, not speaking another word. She’s going to go mad if they all keep acting so strangely and remain so vague. “Giles?”

All of a sudden, she’s practically flying, twirled around with such speed and control that she can’t understand what’s happening until she stops.

Until she stops, yes, with her back against the wall, head braced by Giles’ forearm, while the other releases her hand. Inches from her, her throat’s suddenly extremely thick and her heartbeat is pounding away; they’re in a corridor. If someone sees them and gets the wrong idea…

“Giles, what are you doing? Someone might think-” She tries to explain to him, but she falls silent when he plants a hand next to her face on the wall, leaning in close. The amber hues glint almost dangerously in the candlelight, and his face is nothing but serious and intimidating as he studies her, interrupting her almost harshly,

“I believe you told me that you felt content to reign alone, Princess. Pray tell, then, why you were allowing Robert to touch you in such a familiar manner just now.”

What? I’m being blamed because everyone’s acting strange?

Her frustration mounts. Everything bursts out of her all at once.

“Giles, this is all that’s been happening to me, ever since that meeting, without fail. Sid, and Louis, and Leo and Alyn, Rayvis and Robert… they’ve all been acting completely off all day. They- they seem like they might- I don’t even want to say it because it can’t be true! They’ve never acted like this before, and now I’m so confused and things keep happening, and I’m not even being consulted as to whether I’m okay with them or not! I just- I- I’m confused, and- and…”

His expression crumbles. He instantly, instantly regrets taking his anger at the situation out on her like this.

But there’s no time for apologies, of course. Not today.

“Sir Giles, as much as I am aware that the princess is no concern of ours and that Wysterian matters are your own, I do not think it’s wise to intimidate her in this way.”

Albert.

The knight stalks toward them down the corridor, a fierce scowl on his face. He eyes Giles carefully as the latter straightens up, then does the same with the flustered, frustrated, exhausted princess trying to keep it together where she leans heavily against the wall. “Similarly, it’s rather concerning to me that it sounds as though she is being blamed for something she has no part in.”

Giles frown deepens, but there’s shame there now, as well. He puts a good amount of distance between himself and the princess, and Albert, gently, takes her arm, easing her closer to him. “Princess, it’s unbecoming to be in this state in a public place. Come, so that you may regain your control.”

She doesn’t have the strength to fight him. She can only let him lead her away by her arm, through the corridor and away from a now-shameful Giles, until they both reach an empty room.

He steps inside and shuts the door behind them both, then pauses for a long few seconds, considering his options. It’s in these few heartbeats that she notices him shaking ever so slightly, only a fine tremor, but one substantial enough to be seen. She freezes, trying to compose herself and simultaneously understand what’s wrong with him.

Before she can, he decides. He releases her arm, only to then face her, wrap his arms around her back and hug her against his chest.

She very rightly stiffens at first, completely shocked by his action. He tenses himself upon feeling this, cheeks flushed a bright, vivid crimson, before he rests his hand against the back of her head, cradling it against his jacket. When he speaks, his voice is a low, gentle murmur. “I believe this may help you to calm down. If so, I will do it until you have worked through whatever has made you upset.”

Of all the suitors she’s encountered so far, this one is, somehow, the most painful.

Because it basically confirms her suspicions. She knows Albert would likely never do something so intimate with someone, unless he felt particularly comfortable or close with them.

So, for him to hold her now, like this, with such care, affection and tenderness, it speaks volumes, only giving gravity and evidence to her thoughts.

She swallows hard, feeling a wave of weakness wash over her. He holds her tighter, and she buries her face in his chest, trying to breathe through the confusion. His trembling stops after mere seconds, and he exhales slowly, as if ridding himself of whatever tension or emotion was plaguing him beforehand. His fingers find her hair, and the gloved appendages sift through the strands gently, his other hand settled very gently against the small of her back.

Her eyes close.

What am I going to do? I know so many would be grateful, honoured, flattered or all three by being fought over, but this… this is so painful. I don’t know what to do.

“Princess! Where are you? I know you’re here somewhere… I know this palace pretty well, even if I’m back in Stein permanently now!”

Albert groans, muttering under his breath, “That brat and his incessant interfering.”

He lets go of her, and she straightens up with a heavy inhale, giving him a grateful nod. “Thank you, Albert. I feel much better now – I appreciate it.”

He clears his throat, cheeks still faintly flushed. “Yes, well… you’re welcome. It would have been disgraceful for me, as a knight, to do nothing when your tutor was so obviously making you upset.”

She winces a little, eyes dropping to the floor. “He wasn’t… I mean, he just misunderstood something.”

“Princess! Ooh, perhaps in here?”

The door opens with a click. Nico pops his head in, still clad in his Steiner uniform, before beaming and singing, “Hey, Princess! I’ve been looking for you-”

His eyes settle on Albert, and instantly, his smile disappears. He steps into the room fully, moving to stand beside the princess. “Oh. What a surprise to find you in here, too, Al. What were you doing with the princess?”

Albert scoffs, glaring down at his young companion. “Nothing at all, brat. I was merely discussing with the princess the expectations she must meet in her position. Don’t presume, especially with that inappropriate mind of yours.”

Nico would normally make some cheeky comment back at that, but now he just returns the glare, expression turning stone-cold and emotionless. “Yeah, right. But don’t act like you’re a saint, Al. You’re not even close.” His hand slips into the princess’ now, and he tugs her back, toward the door. “Come with me for a bit, please, Princess. I need to talk with you.”

Another one. She internally moans.

More complications. Nico’s involved too? So, it’s basically safe to say that Byron’s in on this as well.

Before she can say goodbye to Albert, she’s dragged out of the room and hurried down the hallway by her former butler. Nico’s terse expression doesn’t change at all as he escorts her away from the room, then up the stairs and in the direction of her room.

“Nico,” She manages to gasp out, words slightly hitched from his swift pace. “What’s wrong? Why were you acting like that toward Albert?”

He slows, then gradually stops, halfway down the corridor. Swallowing hard, he turns to face her, letting go of her hand to cup her face. She’s barely even surprised by it considering the day she’s had, but she can’t stop her blush when he lowers his head, letting his forehead settle against hers with featherlight gentleness. His thumbs smooth over her cheeks very softly, and his wide, amber eyes swivel between hers, searching for something she can’t see. “Nico?”

“Princess,” His whisper is almost inaudible, but it comes out broken, his voice cracking in the middle. It breaks her in two, watching as those usually vibrant, animated eyes fill with tears. “I don’t want him to steal you away from me. I can’t let him. He can’t have you.”

She can’t say anything. It’s the closest any of them have come to confessing to her entirely, and she has no idea what she’s supposed to say. She doesn’t know where she stands with them all. She doesn’t understand any of the feelings she has toward them, not the emotions she experiences when she’s with them all. She doesn’t know if she holds something more for one of them or not.

But she’ll hurt them either way. Choose one, and hurt nine. Choose none, and hurt ten. Choose either, and she’ll suffer.

She’s trapped. In the space of a day, she’s become cornered by love.

She doesn’t realise she’s finally started to cry until Nico’s thumbs brush away her tears, and he nudges his forehead against hers harder, whispering, “I’m sorry, Princess. I’m so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”

She can’t look at him. Her eyes focus on his chest, where her hands are gripping his jacket so hard her fingers are hurting.

Thankfully, she’s spared from any more words that might further endanger her sanity, not two seconds later.

“Nico, I believe you should return to your room. I would speak with the princess.”

Here he is. The most influential, powerful, terrifying, strongest and advantaged of her suitors, Byron, strides down the corridor with confidence that right now honestly frightens her. Nico tenses up instantly, like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t, and he immediately draws his face back, away from hers. After a moment, he forces his hands away as well, lips sealed in a tight line. Byron nears the two of you, and it’s now that he steps back, then to the side, bowing low.

“Goodnight, Princess. Please be sure to get some rest and sleep well.” He backs away, inclining his head to Byron as well. “Goodnight, King Byron. Please, make sure you get some rest as well, for the ride back home tomorrow.”

Byron nods to him, voice taking on a less sharp edge than when he first spoke. “I will. Make sure you do so yourself, Nico. Goodnight.”

Said Meier ducks his head momentarily, then reluctantly turns and heads off down the corridor, leaving the two heirs alone.

The princess clenches her fists against her thighs, trying to ward off the mild shaking coming on in response to the heavy emotional burden settling with increasing weight on her shoulders. Byron notices this instantly and narrows his eye, but for some time, he doesn’t move nor say anything. He just watches mutely, observing, like he’s sussing her out. Eventually, it becomes almost uncomfortable, and given the circumstances, concerning to her. “King Byron, you said there was something you wanted to speak to me about?”

Another couple of seconds are spent in silence. At long last, he answers, tone blunt. “The others have been making their feelings more apparent throughout the day, have they not?”

She reels back slightly, the anxiety that’s been pooling in her exploding inside of her. How can he, of all people, suss that out from maybe a minute of seeing her? “Excuse me?”

He narrows his eye even more, stepping closer to her. “After seeing Nico touching you in that manner, and seeing how nervous you look, along with Albert’s report that Giles was rather closer to you in the corridor, it’s logical to assume that we’ve all had the same idea to our problem. And, with your current expression of worry and concern, I’d also assume that you’re close to, if not completely aware, of our reasons for acting in this way today.”

The word panic is nowhere near close enough to sufficient for describing her feelings right now. What in hell is she supposed to say?

“I… I’m not sure if I’m right, King Byron.” She manages to force out, thinking it best to play this off in the hopes of escaping the situation faster.

Unfortunately, it does the opposite; as soon as he hears those words, he does the exact same as the rest of them.

Only, somehow, this feels much, much, much more serious.

His hand slides around her waist, pulling her flush against him, stomachs and chests touching. She barely has time to process this when he brings his hand up to cup the side of her face, tilting it up so he can gaze down at her. Her thundering heartbeat hammers harder, and she tries to remember to breathe, at this point just baffled and simultaneously far too coherent with this problem to feel said confusion.

“I believe this makes it rather clear what this situation is about, Princess. If it was not obvious, I will make it explicitly so now.”

The hand on her face slides around to the back of her head. He leans down, murmuring in a simple yet seductive purr, “We have all seemingly lost our hearts to you, and are very much willing and ready to fight for yours, now that we know we are not the only ones after it.”

Scrap the whole breathe-so-you-don’t-pass-out plan, then.

It’s almost impossible to clear her expression of her pure, unadulterated amazement, horror and worry. She tries to form some sort of a response, but he hushes her need to when he lets her go and looks into her eyes once more, reassuring her, “Considering how much it’s evidently overwhelming you to have this sort of pressure from so many, I will speak with the others and request that they keep their actions to a minimum. However,”

He steps past her, reaching up to touch her cheek very lightly on the way past. It’s just a brush of his fingers, but it’s so kind and somehow so sad, that it brings the tears to the surface even more. Then, he’s on his way, finishing over his shoulder,

“We cannot wait forever. Bear that in mind, and do try to come to a decision. Goodnight, Princess.”


Part IX: Fate

She can’t think. Even when he’s long gone and the corridor is completely silent and empty, she just stands there, trying to process things. It takes a solid four minutes before she can get herself to move, and even then, she has no idea of where she’s going. Her head a mess and emotions even more chaotic, her body guides her on its own, manoeuvring her through the corridors and hallways at a borderline rushed pace to get her away from her stressors.

The guards call out to her, asking what’s wrong and if something’s happened. She shouts back breathlessly, dismissing them or assuring them that she’s fine. They can only watch as their princess, teary-eyed and breathing hard, hurries to the main stairs, skirts fluttering around her legs like flower petals.

Ten people have feelings for me. Ten people love me.

She’s looking, but she’s not seeing. One hand against her aching heart, she’s not able to move her dress out of the way properly.

I don’t want to hurt, and I don’t want to hurt them. What can I do? How do I fix this?

She’s almost at the bottom when she trips, just like that first night, all over again. That temporary rush of gravity, that momentary fear and lurching sensation of falling. She cries out, thoughts recoiling back to the present.

Last time, I was caught by-

Strong, warm, steady arms lock around her at the last microsecond, sparing her from the pain of falling. Her eyes close, just or a moment.

Thank God for whoever it is. But their heart… it’s racing so fast, I can feel it all around me.

Her eyes rise to them. This time, her soulmate laughs, but it’s kind. Familiar words reach her ears, no different than the lulling, loving whisper of an angel before her.

“What is Her Royal Highness doing here at such an hour?”

Chapter Text

The princess has always been just a bit bad at hiding things.

But this time, she's hell-bent on keeping this to herself.

You see, the princess actually has a hidden talent, a natural gift she's nurtured and developed on her own over the years. That thing would be drawing. Be it painting, drawing with pencils or even with chalk, she loves it and has expanded her abilities. She's always learning and improving, always getting better, and is already able to create beautiful pieces of art.

Unfortunately, though, she doesn't quite believe in herself, not enough even to tell her beloved Alyn about the hobby.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, she has been working on a portrait of said knight in her sketchbook. It's an upper-body shot of him smiling, his face set in that beautiful, rare, relaxed expression he only ever shows her. She can never stop her own lips from curling up when she goes back to drawing it, the thought of his expression and the reason for it existing causing nothing but joy to explode within her.

One day, she's sat at one of the white tables overlooking the gardens on her day off, the sun shining down on her. The grass, hedges and bushes all glow with a vivid, bright spectrum of greens, dusted with the many flowers blooming amongst them. She sighs to herself contentedly, absently sketching the sight before her. She only lasts mere minutes before her thoughts roll back to Alyn, and her fingers move of their own accord, flipping to the back of her sketchbook. The portrait of him immediately boosts her motivation to draw; he's on a patrol, she was told this morning, and so he couldn't share the day with her.

At least with this, it feels like he's there.

She smiles softly, summoning his face in her mind. She goes back to adding every little detail she can think of, every strand of hair, every little bit of light, every clasp and piece of his uniform. It relaxes her greatly, soothing and calming her. The world around her fades away, and she's lost to the gentle strokes of her pencil against the parchment, lost in the focus of perfecting the portrait.

She's so lost in it, as a matter of fact, that she doesn't hear the quiet footsteps behind her, even though It's completely silent outside.

Suddenly, arms clamp around her upper body, trapping her own arms at her sides. She almost jumps out of her skin, releasing a brief, startled scream, before it's muffled by a pair of familiar lips. It takes her a moment to process the unmistakable scent and strength around her.

And then she realises that it's Alynright thereright in front of her portrait.

She squeaks with panic, fumbling around with her lower arm in a desperate attempt to close the sketchbook. Apparently thinking that she's squeaking out of surprise or fear of being seen, he grins against her mouth, deepening the kiss. The spinning of her head makes it hard to think, and the pleasure of his kiss scatters her ability to concentrate. The sound of the sketchbook being flipped over, thankfully closing in the process, makes him pull back, glancing down at it curiously. He blinks.

"A sketchbook?" He murmurs, seeming mildly taken aback. "Is that yours?"

She blanches, scrambling for words while also trying to play down the panic she’s feeling. “I- N- No! It’s, er, it’s…” Her thoughts go into meltdown, and she says the first logical thing that comes to mind. “It’s Robert’s! He let me have it for a while to look at his sketches! He’s such a good artist, I wanted to see his work…”

He stares at her blankly for about ten seconds straight, and then he raises an eyebrow. “You do realise that was the worst lie ever, right?”

She winces.

Oops. He sees right through me when I lie.

She diverts her eyes to the table, feeling a burst of self-consciousness. She picks the sketchbook up, cradling it against her chest. “It’s nothing, Alyn, really. There’s nothing to look at.”

He observes her now more subdued state and the mild worry in her tone, and he sighs softly. Without saying anything, he moves around to be in front of the chair, gently holding her upper arms to pull her to her feet. When she gives him a confused look, he shakes his head, sitting down himself.

Then, he tugs her onto his lap, taking the book and putting it on the table. Her cheeks are flushed as she sits there, hands braced against his chest, and she hides her expression behind her hair when he peers up at it. A hand on the small of her back, the other reaches up to cup her cheek, the cool metal of his armour starkly contrasting the warm skin.

“Hey.” He murmurs, stroking a thumb over her cheekbone. His lips curl up just a little. “Since when did you start lying to me?”

Her head jerks up, eyes flying to meet his. Her response is both guilty and defensive all at once. “I wasn’t! I just didn’t want you to- well-” She cuts herself off, something preventing her from getting the words out. His lips tighten now, eyes narrowing.

“Oi. Whatever it is, stop hiding it from me. I want to see it. I don’t care what it is or what you think of it. Okay?” The arm around her waist tightens, bringing her to be pressed up against him, faces inches apart. He lets his forehead rest against hers, staring up at her with calm, honest, loyal scarlet hues. The sunlight reflects off his hair, the rays highlighting and accenting the strands’ natural russet tints. His expression softens, fingers tucking her hair behind her ear. “Just tell me, or better, show me.”

His words help to soothe her worries, and she swallows hard. She reaches behind her to take the sketchbook, opening it to the back page. She pauses for a moment, hesitating. He gives her an encouraging nod, and she exhales softly, turning the unfinished portrait around.

For a few seconds, her eyes drop to the other side of the book, staring into the blankness of the parchment.

He’s silent for a moment.

“Silly.”

Her eyes dart up at the unexpected word, and for a fleeting heartbeat, she thinks he’s talking about her art. But then, she sees the proud, granted exasperated, smile on his lips. He leans forward to put the book on the table, and when he does, she notices how his cheeks are just slightly dusted with pink. He cups her face with both hands now, that rare grin gracing his features once more, the exact one she’s been trying to immortalise in her drawing.

“Why would you even hide that? I don’t exactly agree with the subject of it, but you’re an amazing artist, Princess. You need to be more sure of yourself. It’s amazing.” The praise causes her heart to thud hard in her chest, throat swelling with emotion. A shuddered breath escapes her with relief, and he rolls his eyes just a bit. “Geez. You haven’t changed a bit.”

She blinks. “What?”

He doesn’t answer now, at least not to the question. “You showed me, so let me show you now.”

And with that, he’s kissing her, right out in broad daylight. Her fingers rise to curl around his wrists, clinging onto him while her eyes flutter shut. His grin doesn’t fade as he kisses her again and again, deeper and deeper, taking her breath away more every time. His right hand slides down to her neck, grazing over her shoulder, before then trailing down her side. Her own rests atop his shoulder while he takes hold of her hip, the touch warming her whole body.

She knows she should most definitely not be doing this outside when nobles or, worse, Giles or Leo could be walking around.

But she just can’t stop. Even Alyn, the one in the palace who is the most easily embarrassed, doesn’t seem to feel like stopping either.

She must try, though. Otherwise, they could both land themselves in big trouble. “A-Alyn,” She manages to mumble into the kiss, breathless and head spinning from the intensity of it. “We can’t do this here.”

His teeth lightly clamp down on her lower lip, exerting just enough pressure to draw a quiet moan from her. “Can’t we?”

His hand slides down, palming her thigh and sending waves of pleasure rolling through her. The intimacy of the contact in such a public place is both terrifying and exhilarating all at once. He releases her mouth, focusing on her neck. He sucks on the skin underneath her ear, feeling her fingers digging into the part of his shoulder that’s not covered by his armour. “Who’s watching, Princess?”

Excitement rushes through her. She can barely formulate a response, too busy focusing on his fingers now teasing her thigh, slipping under the skirt of her knee-length, rose-hued dress. Her eyes force themselves open hazily, attempting to check if anyone’s around. “Someone could see… ah…”

She can’t finish her sentence. His hand ghosts up further, teeth grazing over her collarbone, then biting down on the flesh. Delicious, irresistible pain sparks through the skin, sending her back arching into him and her head flying back. His low, dark chuckle could be the death of her, as it rumbles through his chest and into hers, throaty and husky against her collar. “Well then, you’d better keep an eye out. I can’t see anything behind me.”

He’s so mean… but he’s also very much not. I wouldn’t have him any other way.

She tries desperately to open her eyes and look out for anyone, but every time, his mouth moves to a new location, and the surge of fresh pleasure sends her eyelids shut before she can stop them. “Alyn!”

His grins are beautiful, but his smirks are lethal. He bites down on her chest, just above her breast. He tuts, sucking on the newly-made mark as if to set it in place and claim it as his. “If you keep calling out like that, someone will definitely-”

Abruptly, his words cut off. His head snaps up, whipping around to his right. His hand removes itself from her thigh, swiping her book from the table. Confused, still stuck in a pleasure-filled haze and unable to process what’s going on, she watches him with a baffled expression. “What is it?”

He sets the book on her lap, grunting out, “Something that just ruined my day.”

Without warning, he hooks his arm under her legs, standing up in an almost rolled, fluid movement, the princess cradled against his chest. She squeaks in surprise, skin burning. His is considerably similar. “Ruined your day?”

He whips around, about to begin stalking toward the palace with her in his arms.

He comes to a jerky halt, though, when he sees a certain white-haired bureaucrat stood before him.

Leo stands in the sunlight, light seeming to practically radiate from him. A hand in his pocket and the other at his side, glasses perched on his nose, he watches Alyn scowl. The marginally younger Crawford tightens his grip on her, silently letting her know that she’s not getting down any time soon. Embarrassed beyond belief, she avoids looking at Leo, clutching her sketchbook to her chest.

An amused, easy smile graces Leo’s lips. “Hey, Alyn. What’s wrong with the princess? She seems awfully flushed. Is she sick?”

Alyn narrows his eyes. “She fell asleep drawing while the sun was high and is overheated. I’m taking her inside to cool down.”

Something foreign flickers in Leo’s calm gaze, something intense and dark and almost frightening. Even the princess feels the burning look and glances up, finding herself going completely still in response.

What’s wrong with him? Leo?

“Right.” He speaks the word lazily, lightly, but there’s tension in his voice that wasn’t there before. He saunters down the steps to where Alyn is stood, and the princess feels the latter gripping her harder with every second that Leo moves. “’Cause I could have sworn I saw something different when I was taking a walk just now. I don’t know, maybe the sun’s getting to me, too.”

He comes to a gradual, slow stop before Alyn, that little smile never leaving his lips. His eyes change now, though. They morph into something else, something that the princess has never seen before and immediately feels unsettled by. Leo’s words are spoken cuttingly, but warningly, as well. “You’re pushing your luck, Alyn. You should be grateful that it was me who saw this, and not the nobles or even Giles. They’d be much less forgiving of it, that much I can promise.”

Alyn scoffs. The princess’ heart is thundering, panic overwhelming her, along with guilt and worry. “There’s nothing to forgive. I’m making sure she doesn’t get heatstroke and collapse. It’s my job.”

Leo arches an eyebrow, the smile fading from his face. “Your job, huh?” He spins on his heels, holding up a dismissive hand and waving it lazily. “Fine, fine. Whatever you say, little brother.”

He tilts his head, pausing for just a moment, to muse very lowly, “Strange, though. I didn’t know resuscitation and touching like that was involved in preventing heatstroke. Maybe I should try it sometime.”

A deep, dangerous growl works its way up Alyn’s throat. Leo chuckles, bouncing off and toward the palace once more. “See you later. Don’t get caught again!”

Alyn doesn’t so much as move a muscle until Leo’s well out of sight, at which point he lets out a sharp, sudden breath, snapping, “I hate him. He’s so full of it.”

The princess swallows thickly, not wanting him to feel like that toward Leo. She reaches up to lightly touch his cheek, cradling it in her palm tenderly. “Alyn, don’t say that. He’s your brother. He shouldn’t have said it like that, but he wasn’t wrong. We shouldn’t have risked it.”

He rolls his eyes, starting toward the rear entrance. “I don’t need him to tell me that. He’s just doing it to get under my skin because he’s got nothing else to keep him busy enough.”

Taking a secluded, long path to the royal quarters, he lets out an aggravated breath. “The other nobles are out today; there’s a big meeting going on down in town to do with the council, so they’re not here. I knew that, so we were safe. He shouldn’t have been here.”

But why, then? Why would he be in the palace when he has duties elsewhere?

She frowns, feeling a swell of concern for Leo. “I wonder if something’s wrong, if he’s deliberately ignoring his duties.”

He grunts. “Maybe. Heck if I know.”

Upon reaching her room, he nudges the door open, then closes it behind him before wandering over to the couch. He drops onto it, settling her on his lap again, before he huffs and mumbles, “Enough about him. I don’t want to think about it.” He pokes her hand, holding her pencil. “You must want to finish your drawing, right? I’m guessing it’s easier to do if you’ve got a live subject in front of you.”

She freezes in place, eyes going wide. “You don’t mind?”

He snorts, managing a smirk despite his mood. “Nah. After that, all I want is for you to look at just me. Not him, and not anyone else.”

He gets so possessive when Leo’s around. It’s cute, in a way.

She finds herself smiling at her thoughts, and she prepares to start drawing, teasing, “You were the one doing that out in the open, and now you’re jealous?” His face swiftly turns red, and she fails to stifle a giggle, poking his warm cheek teasingly. “You’re cute.”

He seems to almost choke on air at the questionable compliment, a scowl settling on his features. “I am not cute.”

She laughs under her breath, tracing over some lines on the parchment. “You are.” He mutters that he isn't again, and she relents this time, staying quiet. Her pencil darts and brushes over the parchment in swift, precise lines and curves, dots here and shapes there. She becomes wrapped up in it once more, eyes flickering between his face and the sketchbook without her even noticing his intense gaze.

He can feel a smile coming on. He quickly stifles it.

Goddammit. How is it that even the littlest things about her make my heart beat so hard?

He wonders if she can feel the pounding of said organ, trying to keep his breathing calm and paced to counteract the involuntary bodily response. He suddenly becomes much more aware of how it feels to have her there, for her to be on his knee, looking back and forth between him and her drawing. The set of her face, in absolute concentration and focus, is almost alluring, something about it stirring a fire inside him hotter than anything he's ever felt.

I need her. The portrait can wait.

Desire boiling and rising inside him far too swiftly, he reaches down to grasp her hand, preventing her from drawing. She snaps out of her daze and looks at him properly now. Immediately, she notices the flushed skin of his cheeks and the undeniable want in his eyes. Her own heart starts to flutter in her chest, and she becomes transfixed by his stare.

"Alyn?" She manages to get out, anticipation beginning to rush through her blood like molten rock. His lips tighten just slightly.

Then, in one swift, impressive movement, he removes the sketchbook from her lap, putting it on the arm of the chair with her pencil. In the same motion, he stands, collecting her in his arms once more. She clings onto him, heartbeat becoming rapid almost instantly. He bounds over to her bed, setting her down on it before shifting to hover over her. His knee sits between her legs, and his hands plant themselves on either side of her abdomen, head lowered to be very, very close to her own.

His lips are on hers before she can even speak. He kisses her hard, deep and with a passion she's only felt several times in her life, sending her body into chaos. Her hands find his face, tugging him down to her and bringing his body closer. He leans down with a quiet groan, sliding a hand under her to bring her back up. It arches toward him, her stomach pressing against his own, and he can't stifle a breathy growl at the heat that pools in his abdomen in response.

His other hand begins to work at his armour, his body almost melting inside it, and the princess breaks the kiss with a slight gasp as she pants out, “A-Alyn? Right now? I thought you were on patrol.”

He snorts, smirking. The vast majority of his armour is unfastened now, and he deposits it on the floor, practically ripping off the jacket he has on underneath. Shirtless, he swoops in to attack her collarbone, mumbling, “We finished early; it was quiet today.”

Her knee nudges up against his hip, muscles tensing with excitement. “Oh. That’s- g-good… ah…”

Her sentence trails off into a quiet moan when he sucks on the dip of her collarbone, trailing his tongue across the flesh. His fingers slide up her calf, slipping under her knee before gradually ghosting up her thigh. His fingers tease it, now just as warm as her, as opposed to the chilled metal of his armour earlier. She grips him harder, spine curving with pleasure at the simple but indescribable touch. He grins into her throat.

“I guess this means you won’t be able to finish your drawing for some time.” He breathes out, tone low and gravelly, lips now resting against the shell of her ear. His teeth nip at the lobe, drawing out a soft, quiet whimper from her. His hand disappears under the skirts of her dress.

“But it’s okay, because you’ll get a long, good look at me for the whole day, and all through the night, too. Get ready, Princess.”

And throughout said day and night, if there’s one thing the princess becomes sure of, it’s that Alyn is most definitely a man of his word.

Chapter Text

“So, relations between Protea and Wysteria have been rather strained lately.”

The princess keeps a calm appearance as the words leave the mouth of a rather irritated Protean noble, sat across from her at a meeting. It has just started, and is about the terse relationship which has gradually been worsening between Wysteria and Protea. Wysteria has attempted to satiate the rather cruel nation, becoming more lenient with trades and offering more aid in the instance of a crisis, but nothing seems to be working to make the Proteans happy with them, apart from one ultimatum of an offer.

“Unfortunately, yes. It seems that the situation is degenerating rather quickly.” The princess forces back a grimace, lacing her fingers together atop the table. “Wysteria is doing its best to meet the needs of Protea, but-”

“It is not enough.” The noble snaps, his patience evidently thinning, and quickly so. He looks extremely angry, his features and body language expressing aggression in every way. “We have already made it clear that nothing less of the acceptance of the King’s marriage proposal will work. It is necessary for our countries to be able to work together.”

The princess can’t help but wince a little bit as he raises his voice at her, which makes a certain knight behind her scowl at the noble. “I understand that the proposal is what has been offered, but unfortunately it is not something Wysteria agrees on. I do not feel that I need to rule with someone else, for the moment at least, and am not willing to-”

The noble snarls, cutting her off. “What, save your country from its imminent death? Because I assure you, without someone else to rule Wysteria with you, you stand no chance of surviving yourself, let alone the nation.” He scoffs, abruptly standing up. “It appears that you are not willing to listen to our offer and compromise, so I will take my leave. Goodbye and good luck, dear Princess.”

Without another word, he stalks around the table, growling at the guards in front of the door. They immediately move and open it, and he shoves past them without a word. They grumble, closing the door again.

At the table, the princess heaves out a breath and lets her face fall into her hands, body trembling ever so slightly. Giles is frowning, staring at the floor, and Alyn is watching the shaking princess with hidden worry in his eyes. Giles quickly notices the princess’ distress and approaches her, placing a hand on her shoulder from behind. Alyn’s throat seizes up painfully, seeing her jump slightly with nerves.

“Worry not, Princess. We have done all we can to meet them in the middle; they are being excessively unreasonable, and to offer no alternative to marriage is unacceptable. We will have the support of the other nations in this decision. I will not allow the likes of Protea to cause Wysteria, to cause any of us, any more grief.” The princess inhales deeply, nodding, before drawing her hands away from her face. Her eyes are slightly moist, but she blinks the liquid away as she stands.

“Is Duke Lockham leaving?” She asks, voice unsteady with worry.

Giles gazes out of the window for a moment, frowning slightly. “I would imagine so, or soon if not now.” He turns his gaze back to her, eyes softening. “You should return to your room for a little while, to give yourself time to relax.”

She nods again, twisting her fingers together in front of her stomach as she glances at Alyn and forces a smile. “I will. Thank you, Giles.”

She then turns and leaves the room, her footsteps echoing through the room with her quiet thank you as the guards open the door again. They’re smiling now, though, trying to cheer the stressed girl up.

Immediately, Alyn scowls, letting out a growl. “How dare they treat her like this, treat Wysteria like this! Who do they think they are? Forcing her to marry that good-for-nothing king? It’s sick!” He shakes his head, his hands curling into fists at his side as Giles watches him almost sadly. “They can’t do this. They can’t blackmail her into it. They have no justification.”

“I know.” Giles sighs this out, sounding tired and frustrated but less obviously so. “I will see what I can do to resolve the situation as much as possible.” His expression hardens now, his eyes taking on a serious edge. “Perhaps you should go and make sure that she is alright. I imagine she’s rather upset at the moment, and I’m sure she would appreciate your support.”

Alyn breathes out slowly at that, knowing Giles is right and that he needs to help her through this. After all, she’s the one with a forced marriage hanging over her head.

When he’s calmer, he nods to Giles, leaving the room. He makes his way through the corridors and is in the one connecting to that of the princess’ room when he hears her voice.

When he hears her, she’s screaming, afraid and desperate and in pain.

“Alyn! Alyn, help me! Please! Help-” She cuts off with a choking sound.

He’s never run so fast in his life.

“Princess!” He roars, sprinting along the corridor and to her room.

When he gets there, he pushes the door, but it doesn’t move, apparently locked from the inside. His heart pounds, his pulse racing and thundering in his ears with panic and fury. He wastes no time in stepping back, then throwing himself forward. He kicks at the door, putting all his momentum and rage into it as his foot connects with it, close to the lock.

Instantly, it breaks and flies open, slamming against the wall inside with a deafening bang.

As soon as it does, Alyn’s vision goes blood red.

Inside, the princess is being pinned to the wall by Duke Lockham, his hands wrapped painfully tightly around her throat, fingers crushing and digging in. He can see her body sagging, collapsing against the wall, as the Duke squeezes harder.

“Let her go!” Alyn all but screams, launching himself forward and throwing his body into the Duke. He lets go of the princess, and as Alyn hits the floor with the noble under him, he sees her form drop to the ground limply. He snarls with fury, not hesitating in punching the Duke straight in the jaw. As he cries out, head hitting the ground, Alyn hits him again, this time on the side of his skull. He goes still instantly.

He wants to do more to him, to hurt him so badly, but he knows he can’t.

He forces himself off the noble, his mind now whirling to the princess. With panic in his eyes, he jumps over to her, collecting her in his arms as he pleads, “Princess, open your eyes! Come on, wake up, Princess. It’s okay, you’re safe.”

When she doesn’t respond to him, his heart feels like it falls straight through his chest. With a painful swallow, he forces himself up, cradling the princess to him as he dashes out of the room.

Stay with me, Princess.

His breath rushes out of him as he runs down the corridors again, to the palace doctor. He glances down at her, his chest constricting as he sees her simply hanging in his arms, eyes closed, face emotionless.

“I love you, Princess. Don’t leave me.”


After about two hours, a very violent arrest from Alyn and a lot of persuading from Leo and Giles for the Duke to not be beheaded on the spot by said knight, he is sat in the chair next to the princess’ bed. His elbows are on his knees, mouth pressed into his knuckles, as she sleeps. He watches her closely, monitoring her, making sure she’s breathing properly.

She has a bruised, damaged throat and is probably going to be spending the next few days at least resting, but Alyn’s just glad that she didn’t suffer anything worse. He’s livid, obviously, but his homicide levels aren’t at critical yet, like they would be if she came particularly close to death or a long-term injury.

He exhales slowly, shaking his head. His heart twinges at the thought of not getting to her in time, of her dying, of having to stand at a funeral, knowing that he wasn’t fast enough-

A small, weak cough escapes her, drawing his attention back to her and out of his thoughts. He moves forward immediately, ready to shout for the doctor if she needs him.

“Hey, Princess.” He reaches out to take her hand, squeezing it as gently as he can. She lets out a soft moan, her eyebrows scrunching together, before her eyes flutter open.

Alyn’s chest instantly loosens, the pressure decreasing, as he sees this. He finds a small smile spreading across his lips, watching as she looks around confusedly. She slowly blinks, her gaze moving around the room, but it quickly settles on Alyn as her fingers grip his a little harder.

The look of love, concern and relief in her eyes melts him.

“Alyn,” She tries to say, but all that comes out is a short syllable, which cuts off halfway as she makes a choking sound. She coughs painfully, wincing, as he watches with a frown. He can’t bear sitting so far from her anymore, and he gets up quickly, perching on the bed next to her as she looks up at him with confusion.

“Come here.” He sighs out, winding his arms around her as he lets go of her hand. He pulls her body against his, shivering at the feeling of her delicate frame next to his larger one. “What am I going to do with you, Princess?”

Now not coughing, the princess smiles meekly, ignoring the pain in her throat as she rests her head against his shoulder. He shakes his own head, pulling her into him as he presses his face into her hair. “S-Sorry.”

As much as he wants to be angry at the raspiness of her voice, he knows that it would just make her upset, so he tries to calm down and be a bit nicer. He manages a smile, pulling back a bit to look her in the eye. His expression softens as he sees her tilt her head up, staring at him with a questioning gaze.

He then snorts, lifting his hand and flicking her on the forehead gently.

He lets out a quiet laugh at the surprised expression on her face, and the way she jumps a bit at the sudden flick. Then, her face shifts into one of disgruntlement, and she frowns at him, but her eyes are playful. He snickers, but it quickly stops as she reaches up to poke his cheek, the touch sending warmth rolling through him. He feels his cheeks heating up quickly, the urge to kiss the hell out of her becoming very strong.

Instead, though, he allows himself to smirk, murmuring to her lowly as he leans in close to her face, “Oh, is that how it is, Princess?”

Being careful of her throat, he proceeds to quickly send his fingers grabbing at her waist. He watches her pupils widen, a little squeak escaping her as her body jerks under him. A surge of pride shoots through him as a smile quickly grows on her face, spreading into a grin when he tugs her against his chest and tickles her stomach as well.

She can’t laugh because of her throat, but the little puffs of air coming from her every few seconds tell him that she’s trying to. He finds a grin of his own forming as her frame wriggles against him, so delicate and different to him, but still so strong and so beautiful. He watches her features, seeing the tears in her eyes from laughter, glistening in the light of the room, her gorgeous smile seeming to make the whole room blur away. Her hands are grasping at his arms, trying to pry him away in a futile attempt to get him to stop.

He loves the feeling of having her so close, so happy and protected. He doesn’t want to let her go.

He isn’t going to, he decides.

He stops in his torture as he thinks this, now crossing his arms over her stomach as he lets his head fall into the crook of her neck, sat behind her. Breathless, still smiling away, she drops her head against the side of his, her forehead pressed into his soft hair, lips at his ear. He shivers involuntarily, face hot, as her breath wafts over his earlobe, and he reaches around to take her hands.

He squeezes them ever so gently, tenderly and lovingly, before speaking into her shoulder softly, the words still hard to say but so worth the joy they bring him. “I love you, Princess.”

He feels her skin become warmer at this, and he lifts his head as he glances at her, lost in her eyes. He watches as she grins, then slides one of her hands out of his to cup his cheek, stroking it gently as she mouths, “I love you too, Alyn.”

It’s strange not hearing the words verbally, but they still send his heart pounding away inside him. He rolls his eyes, but he then closes them, letting himself relax into her touch. He opens his eyes after a moment, watching her as she smiles and brushes his hair out of his eyes. He brings her in as close as he can, cradling her to him, breathing in her sweet smell and enveloping her with his warmth and strength.

His voice is so soft now, so quiet but still audible, as he rests his forehead against the side of her neck. He feels her embrace him, holding him just as tightly, as he presses a very tender, very light butterfly kiss against her bruised throat.

“I’m not letting you out of my sight again, Princess. I’m going to do everything to protect you, I swear it.”

She smiles again, her face glowing, fingers running through his hair with the most tender of touches. Even with the pain in her neck, she manages to murmur back just as softly, just as loving,

“Thank you, Alyn.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, you’re pretty good at this now.”

Alyn smiles just a little, sat behind the princess on his horse while she guides it around the training field at a steady gallop. It’s a pleasant day, the sky clear and a lovely azure above them both. It’s quite warm, so Alyn’s glad that he’s only got his training clothes on rather than his full uniform.

The princess is in a dress, even though he thinks she should wear pants for things like training because it would make it easier, but practically it’s not very sensible; in a moment when she might need to ride a horse, it’s probably going to be unplanned, and she’s probably going to be in a dress anyway.  

Said princess glances back and up at him at his words, cheeks flushing with blood, before she grins beautifully, eyes lighting up and almost taking his breath away. “I feel more confident now. It’s all thanks to you, Alyn.”

His insides squirm and twist in an oddly pleasant way, smile widening without him even thinking about it. His arms, already somewhat around her so that he can loosely hold the reins as well, now curl around her stomach to bring her close to him. He smirks slightly, resting his lips at her ear. He watches smugly as she tries to focus on riding with him so close, and his eyelids flutter closed at the soft, rosy fragrance he can smell coming from her.  

“What’s my reward, then? You owe me for teaching you so well.” He teases her in a low voice, the sound rumbling through his chest against her back. Even with the steady swaying and bouncing of the horse’s movements, he feels her tremble a bit in his hold, skin becoming warmer against him.  

“I-”

She goes to respond, but she stops short at the sound of a muffled shout coming from the tree line nearby. She brings the horse to a gentle but swift halt, head whipping to the side. Alyn’s own head snaps up, body straightening and teasing mood vanishing instantly. His eyes narrow, taking in the still trees, only moving every few moments with the gentle breeze. It’s completely silent apart from the rustling of plants and leaves, but Alyn knows that someone’s there.

He could confront them, but it would be a stupid decision. He’d have to leave the princess on her own, and while she has been having self-defence lessons and knows how to fight pretty well now, he’s not taking the risk.  

He moves his hands forward on the reins, intending to ride back to the palace.

But all of a sudden, there’s movement from the trees, and everything happens very quickly from then on.  

Obscured by the vegetation and dim lighting from the thick canopies of the trees, four horses bolt out of the forest and onto the field, with what looks like bandits on their backs.

Alyn’s eyes widen. He thought the whole palace grounds were safe and secured. He set the patrol routes himself; how the hell did these guys get through?

The bandits ride over swiftly, and even when Alyn tugs the reins and his horse lurches forward, he’s quickly surrounded by them. They draw their swords, glaring forcefully at both him and the princess. She’s gone tense in his arms now, and he pulls her against him hard, having no intention of letting them get to her. He scowls deeply, turning around briefly to watch as four more bandits run out on foot. They come over to block any escape route Alyn could have used if he doesn’t plan on running them over.  

“Alright, Crawford. Give her here and we might let you live.” One of the bandits on a horse snaps, moving it forward. Alyn bares his teeth, drawing his own sword in a quick, precise motion.  

“I hope you’re joking. Stop this now, and you might live to see another day. You’re not getting her.” He retorts, trying to intimidate the bandit. Unfortunately, all he gets in response is a scoff, followed by a sarcastic,

“And you’re going to stop all of us, are you? The big, tough Alyn Crawford? You’re all bark and no bite. You’re nothing.” The man jerks his chin toward Alyn. “Deal with this moron. Now.”

The bandit on the horse to Alyn’s left lurches forward, slashing his sword at Alyn’s arm. He manages to pull back and dodge the swipe while grabbing the reins hard in one hand, then swivelling his horse around so fast that the bandit doesn’t have time to react. Alyn’s sword arcs at him without him hesitating, all the way from his lower neck to his stomach; he knows that he has to hurt or kill these guys if he wants to keep both of them safe, and that’s something h’s prepared to do.  

There’s the sound of cloth ripping, then skin tearing. The man lets out a howl of pain, and Alyn pulls his horse back, turning to his right just as blood pours from the man’s torso. He falls to the floor in a bloody heap. His horse kicks wildly to get him off, succeeding in knocking one of the bandits on his feet to the ground. The princess turns her head away just as the horse stomps on him, apparently panicking and not aware that the bandit is under it, and the sound of his scream echoes through the field. Alyn hears bones snapping, and knows the bandit’s probably going to die.  

Another bandit swings his sword at Alyn, who blocks it, knocking him back.

But in doing this, he can’t protect his left side, nor his back.  

“Alyn!”

The sword of the bandit behind Alyn swings around, going straight for his exposed spine. The princess moves faster than he can, throwing her body around and sending her elbow into Alyn’s side. Pain shoots through his ribs, but panic swallows it whole in a microsecond when he feels himself falling off the horse. He tries to hold onto her, and the horse, to stay upright, but she shoves him down and onto the floor.  

He hits it just as he hears metal make contact with skin, and he looks up in horror.  

The princess lets out an agonised cry, blood dripping down her chest where the sword cut. It doesn’t go in deeply when it slashes through her flesh, since she is further forward on the horse, but it’s enough to make a gash in her otherwise unmarked skin. Now on her side on the saddle, the remaining bandit rides forward quickly, the others jumping back. Alyn lurches up, onto his knees, only to be met with a foot slamming into his chest and pushing him back down. 

Growling and roaring with rage, desperate to get to the princess and help her, he attempts to throw himself up. Before he can, he’s pinned down by more of the bandits, who restrain his arms and legs, then start to kick him in the ribs and stomach, giving him several punches to his head.

He’s consumed by agony, spreading through his whole body and clashing with the fury pulsing through him. He can only watch, crimson-tinted vision blurry, as the princess is dragged from Alyn’s horse and onto the first bandit’s one, thrashing and kicking at him.

And his blood boils when he sees the bandit lift his sword, slamming the hilt of it into the side of her head.  

“You bastard!” He bellows through the pain, mind going into overdrive. How dare he. How dare any of them touch Wysteria’s princess - his princess.  

He manages to kick back the bandit that’s pinning his legs down, only for said man to stumble to his feet, squinting at something behind Alyn. “Shit! The guards are going to arrive for their patrol soon! Let’s move! Get Nathan on his horse!”

The other bandits waste no time. One of them lifts his sword, holding the hilt above Alyn’s head. “You’re lucky we’re not planning on killing anyone, Crawford.”

The butt of the sword slams into Alyn’s head. There’s a brief second of blinding, white-hot pain, and then his senses cut off and he’s gone.  

───── †⋅♛⋅† ─────

Alyn comes back to reality quickly, in what only feels like a short amount of time.  

And the first thing he hears makes him want to punch himself.  

“Hey, Alyn! Can you hear me? Come on, Alyn. Get up, or we’re not going to understand what’s gone on here.”

Leo. Ugh.  

Alyn’s eyes open slowly, body aching. He can still feel the grass under him, and the wind caressing his skin, so he knows he’s still outside. Above him, he sees the faces of Leo and Giles, staring down at him with obvious worry. Leo lets out a breath when he sees this, shoulders sagging with relief.  

“Finally. It’s not like you to be lazing around on the job.” He jokes, apparently trying to make the situation a bit lighter.  

The situation.  

Princess!

“Shit!” Alyn throws himself up, wincing at the pain blistering through him, before he takes in his surroundings. His horse is stood a bit away, with maybe ten of his knights with their horses. He shoves himself to his feet, hearing Leo’s strangled noise of confusion behind him.

“Alyn, wait! You need to sit down – you’re hurt-” Alyn whirls around, turning on him with blazing, rage-filled eyes.  

“Stop worrying about me! The princess is gone!” He snaps, running over to his horse.  

Behind him, he hears Giles respond, voice extremely terse and serious. “What do you mean, gone? I thought she was with you for a lesson.”

Alyn rolls his eyes, pocketing his sword, which he picked up on the way to his horse. Jumping up and onto its back, he answers, his voice almost a growl. “Bandits came out of nowhere and attacked us. They got in somehow. I wasn’t expecting them and there were eight. They knocked me out and took her. It’s my fault.” He looks around his knights. “On your horses, now! The princess is in serious trouble! Move!”

The knights, hearing the absolute power and authority in his shout, scramble to move and do as he says, mounting their horses swiftly. He doesn’t give anyone time to question him, rather spurring his own steed into motion and making a beeline for the trees. “With me, now! Look for signs and traces of movement on horseback!”

He sets off into the woods, observing the surroundings closely and trying to work out where the bandits would go with her. There are hoof marks in the soil, thankfully, so they evidently would have taken her somewhere quite far away. He grits his teeth, following the tracks through the woods. His mind is racing, along with his heart, chest swelling with guilt and an overwhelming sense of complete failure.  

It’s his duty to protect her. He swore to guard her life and keep her safe. Look at him now.  

“Captain!” One of his knights shouts, drawing his attention away from his self-deprecating thoughts. “There’s an old, unused church nearby, just outside of the palace grounds! Could they have taken her there?”

That’s a good point. These guys are amateurs at best, since they’ve made no attempt to hide their route, and so probably haven’t planned this out particularly carefully. He supposes it’s the best guess to go with.  

“Possibly! Let’s try it anyway!”

He continues to follow the tracks, listening to his knight as he advises him on the structure of the church and its layout. From the sounds of it, it’s going to be an all-out ambush, but with this number of knights and two of the bandits wounded, they’ll win for sure.

He spurs his horse on, faster and faster and faster, but it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough. He needs to get to her. The bandit said they had no intention of killing anyone, so it’s unlikely that she’s in mortal danger, but her injury was already quite severe and he imagines that she’ll try to fight her way out when she comes around.  

The thought of them hurting her more, of them doing something to her, so much as laying another hand on her-

“There it is.” Alyn hisses out, coming to a stop just before the start of a clearing, where he can see the old church standing. Outside its front doors are two of the bandits from earlier, their many horses stood around them, grazing idly. Molten lava may as well be flooding through Alyn in this moment from the anger that’s boiling in him, and he sees one of the bandits look over, probably having heard their horses’ approaches.  

“Come out, Crawford. We know you’re there.” He calls, sounding very smug and pleased with himself. Alyn trembles with rage, but he slowly dismounts his horse, taking care not to be seen. The other knights do the same, using the bushes and trees to mask their presence.  

“John.” Alyn murmurs, moving to hide behind a tree. The other knights do the same, and the one Alyn spoke to glances over from the next tree. He’s a marksman specialist, having mastered the bow and arrow, as Alyn did a few years back. It’s what he needs right now, to get this done efficiently. “Give me your bow and arrows.”

The knight hesitates for the briefest of moments, but then seems to come around and realise that it’s not a request. He takes the weapons off and hands them to Alyn quickly, so as to not be seen by the bandits. The captain throws the arrow quiver over him before taking an arrow out, then getting it ready on the bow. Notching it into place, he gets another and holds it in his fingers, pulling the string back with the free hand.

He breathes slowly, steadying himself, settling his rage for the moment. He moves out from the tree as little as possible while raising the bow, crouching to hide amongst the grass and vegetation.  

The bandit is in his sights, and Alyn knows he’s close enough to hit.  

He’s not taking a single chance. These men are going to die today. If the princess’ life is at risk, it’s a necessary evil.  

“Scared, Crawford? Thought so. Give us some bells and we might consider letting her go. Or maybe we’ll give you one of her arms. Depends on how tight you’re feeling.”

Alyn aims the bow upward so that the arrow should land in the bandit’s chest. He holds his breath, feeling his arm strain from pulling the string back again.  

Satisfied with the angle, he releases the string.  

As it flies through the air, heading exactly where he planned, he gets the next arrow ready.  

The bandit barely has time to let out a shout of alarm, and then the arrow sinks into his chest, knocking him to the floor with the force of it.  

The other one lets out a gasp, then a cry of horror. Alyn runs forward, bounding out of the trees while aiming for the bandit. Said man sees this and freezes in place, and Alyn uses the window of opportunity to pull the string back. By the time the bandit has spun around and started to run for the church doors, the string is released and the arrow lands right in his heart, through his back. He collapses to his knees, then onto his side, before going still.  

“Move. Set up a perimeter around the church, cover any and all exits.” Alyn orders, and the knights fall into step with him as he cautiously approaches the run-down building. He can see several stones on one side that he can use to climb up to reach the roof, where he can see a hole roundabouts big enough for him to shoot through. “On my mark, move in. Kill anyone you see that’s not the princess. We’re not taking prisoners today. She’s already hurt, so we need to get her out as quickly and safely as possible.”

“Yes, sir!” The knights reply in unison, setting themselves up around the front doors. From what the other knight said earlier, there’s only the main chapel in this church since it’s quite small, and so they should be able to clear it in a minute flat if things go smoothly. The princess should be somewhere in the chapel.  

Alyn takes in a breath, putting the bow over his chest, before taking a run up to the side wall. He pushes off hard and latches onto the crevices and protruding stones, hearing the knights’ gasps of amazement as he does. On any other day he’d roll his eyes, but now he just focuses on climbing up, making sure the stones are solid enough for him to use.  

He gets up in maybe twenty seconds, ignoring the unpleasant sensation he gets when he sees that he’s two stories high. Moving extremely carefully along the roof, he makes his way to the hole, drawing the bow again.  

He peers inside cautiously, making sure to stay low so he probably won’t be detected.  

Inside, he sees that the remaining six bandits are in there, waiting around idly. One of them is the one he hurt earlier, and Alyn notices that he’s got a thick bandage across his chest, stained with blood. One of them doesn’t seem to be paying much attention, staring at the floor, while the others are on alert. The one who was stood on by the horse is sitting down, seemingly badly hurt and breathing heavily.

Two of them are stood in front of the altar.

Behind them is the princess, on the floor, hands bound behind her back.  

Alyn’s heart thunders in his chest. It’s hard to see from where he is, but his stomach lurches when he realises that there’s more blood on the skirt of her dress, and his throat thickens at the thought of her being more injured than earlier. His own pain is still there, ribs aching, head pounding, even his eyes hurting, but this is so much worse. Seeing her like that, knowing that this is his fault, is more agonising than all of the torture in the world.  

Underneath the hole is a set of wooden planks that support the roof. Mapping it out in his head, he knows that he can jump onto one, walk across two more, then jump onto the wall and climb down it quickly.  

He raises his bow, notching an arrow and aiming for the head of the bandit near the princess. He gets another arrow ready.

Fire.  

The arrow shoots straight down, piercing through the bandit’s skull. Alyn uses the brief window of surprise and realisation to get the next arrow on the string. He has raised the bow again just as the bandit next to the other lets out a shriek of terror, jumping back and whipping his head up.  

Alyn fires again. The arrow hits him in the heart.

“Now!” Alyn shouts. He hears the doors open and the sound of his knights running in, followed by screams and metal on metal. He puts the bow over him again before carefully lowering himself through the hole, dropping onto the beam lightly. It creaks a little under his weight, but he stays low and moves cautiously, crossing the two beams that allow him to reach the wall. Grabbing onto the stones and using a pillar to support him, he makes his way down, dropping onto the chapel floor.  

Turning around swiftly, he sees that the two bandits are more than taken care of, now bloody and motionless on the floor.  

Princess.  

Throat thickening and tears threatening to spill over, he sprints up to the altar, falling to his knees before his princess. Moving her dress aside briefly, he sees that she has another gash on her thigh, and that it’s quite deep and still bleeding. The wound on her chest seems to have clotted to some extent, but bubbles of blood are still forming through the older liquid.  

He can see her chest rising and falling shallowly. He places his fingers against her pulse point, feeling her heartbeat thrumming under his skin. It’s slow and somewhat weak, but it’s there. Her skin is cold, so unlike the way it’s usually warm and full of life.

A few tears escape his eyes, guilt and sorrow swallowing him whole. He undoes the rope securing her hands together, then shifts her to be sitting up, leaning her against his chest. He doesn’t think she’s awake, but he has to make sure.  

“Princess?” He whispers, stroking a thumb across her worryingly bloodless cheek. She doesn’t move, eyes closed and expression blank, head limp where it rests against his shoulder.  

A sob almost rips its way out of him. He swallows it back, swiping at the tears, before he collects her in his arms bridal style and holds on tight. His knights watch him with worry and their own form of pain for their princess, even though it’s absolutely nothing in comparison to his. He carries her down the aisle, in a way he never thought he’d have to.  

He thought that the day he would carry her down the aisle would be the happiest day of his life.  

This… this is hell. It makes him think that think is the world’s way of telling him that he doesn’t deserve to marry her.  

He makes his way out of the church, calling back, “Take care of them. You know what to do; bring the bodies back to the palace. I’ll explain to Giles what happened once she’s safe. John, Alexander, with me.”

“Yes, sir!” There’s a chorus of the knights’ responses to his orders before he hears them moving around, most probably getting ready to move the bandits’ bodies. He picks up his page once he’s out of the church, and he ends up running to his horse, albeit trying his best not to jostle her too much in the process. They have nothing to treat her with here, and although he hates to ride with her when she’s so injured, he doesn’t want to risk waiting for reinforcements if they asked for them.  

He hears Alexander and John, two of his most experienced knights, catch up to him now. Granted very reluctantly, Alyn gives the princess to Alexander for a brief moment so that he can mount his horse, and the sight of her in his arms sends his heart aching and thudding hard all over again. He reaches down to take her, lifting her up and onto the saddle in front of him, before he sits her as best as he can for the ride.

He has to pause, though, when John unclips his cape and offers it up to Alyn. John gives him a tiny, strained smile. “She should be covered, both so she doesn’t get sick since she’s lost so much blood and she could get cold, and so that no one sees her if any citizens are in the forest.”

Alyn realises that he’s right and takes the cape with a nod, fixing it over her to cover most of her body and her head, which is resting in the crook of his neck. “Thanks. We’ll sort out a new one for you later.”

John gives him a gentle grin, climbing up onto his own horse, Alexander having already done the same. “Don’t worry about me, Captain. Let’s just get the Princess back and back to full health first.”

Alyn couldn’t agree with him more.  

───── †⋅♛⋅† ─────

The ride back to the palace is, thankfully, short and uneventful.  

The princess doesn’t wake up, but every few minutes, Alyn slows down to check her pulse. He can see bruises forming on her now, on her head and wrists, as well as her upper arms, and thinks grimly upon riding through the palace gates that they probably threw her around upon reaching the church. Bile rising in his throat at the thought, he pushes the mental images away, instead focusing on sliding off his horse with her.  

The guards open the doors immediately, and in the entrance, he sees Giles, Leo and the palace doctor waiting, the latter holding a large back presumably full of medicinal equipment.

Giles seems to almost collapse with relief at the sight of Alyn, although he sees mild shock and what looks like sorrow in his eyes when he sees the princess’ limp form. There are no bureaucrats around like there normally is, so Alyn guesses Leo might have herded them out of the corridors and into meeting rooms or something along the lines.  

It’s better if they don’t find out about this, at least for a little while.  

The doctor motions for Alyn to follow him, starting to walk in the direction of the princess’ chambers. Alyn walks after him, Giles and Leo stepping up to be on either side of him. Leo goes to touch her forehead, but Alyn gives him a harsh glare and moves her away, not wanting anyone but him and the doctor to touch her. Leo quickly retracts his hand, expression remorseful.  

The doctor speaks now, seriously and rapidly. “Come, I’d like to get her to her room before I treat her. Quickly now. What are her injuries?”

Alyn responds in a blunt voice, tone cutting and sharp and very, very, very angry. “She was knocked out with blunt force to her head, she’s got a gash on her chest, one on her thigh, and some bruising.” Alyn struggles to say the last word, but he amends his sentence when he realises that it’s not quite true. “A lot of bruising.”

The doctor looks back with wide eyes but doesn’t stop in his stride, instead speeding up. “My God. What on earth happened?”

Alyn’s throat thickens once more, and he scowls, anger building in him like fire. He feels Giles and Leo watching him closely, and answers while trying to not recall the incident in too much detail. “We were attacked during our riding lesson. The bandits must have gotten through the patrols around the castle somehow, and they came straight for us. I wasn’t fast enough to stop them, and one was behind me. She pushed me out of the way of a sword, but it left her vulnerable. She didn’t…”

He’s struggling to keep himself together. He lowers his head, using his hair to hide his guilty eye and expression. “She didn’t have time to move out of the way. The sword got her chest instead.”

He can’t look at them. He can’t bear it.  

The doctor asks no more, and they walk to her chambers swiftly, none of them speaking. Once inside, the doctor instructs Alyn to lie her down on the bed, which he does before stepping back. The doctor nods to them all, inclining his head toward the door. “With all due respect, Sirs, it would be best for you all to leave while I treat her.”

Giles and Leo nod, faces grave. Alyn’s eyes don’t move from her face, but he takes a step back, swallowing thickly. Leo puts a hand on Alyn’s shoulder gently, but Alyn shrugs it off, not wanting him to be gentle or kind.

He doesn’t deserve it. He failed her, and failed the trust that was placed in him to protect her. He’s not worthy of any sort of sympathy or consolation.  

Sickened by his failure, he spins around on his heels and stalks to the door. Throwing it open, he leaves and walks down the corridor a bit, so that he’s maybe fifteen feet from the door.  

Everything hits him. The reality of what’s just happened slams into him so hard that he falls back against the wall, hands clenched at his sides.  

He almost lost her.

He’s the reason the princess of Wysteria, the one he believes is truly the best-suited person on earth to rule the country, could have died in the past hour.  

His fist slams into the wall, fury spiking. He lets out a sharp, infuriated breath, stuck between wanting to lock himself in his room and staying here, wanting desperately to cry but not willing to here.  

Leo and Giles come out of the room, and Alyn doesn’t so much as look up. He hears them approach slowly, almost carefully, and can feel their eyes on him. He wonders how badly he’s going to be punished, and how much more he’ll be able to punish himself for his mistakes.  

“Alyn.” Giles’ voice is oddly soft when he says his name, not quite gentle but still… kind. “I’d like you to tell me what happened in full. Now, if you wouldn’t mind. I understand your distress, but I need to know what happened today.”

Alyn nods slowly, knowing that even if it does distress him more to recount what happened, he deserves it. That’s the bottom line, in his mind. It’s what he gets for not being prepared.  

“We were having our riding lesson and heard someone in the trees. We were about to come back just in case something was going to happen when the bandits came out.” Alyn starts to explain. Giles holds a hand up, stopping him there.  

“How many were there?” He asks. Alyn keeps his eyes on the floor.  

“Eight.” Giles nods, lowering his hand. Alyn continues. “They ambushed us and surrounded us before we could get away. I don’t know how they got in. I set up the patrols so that every inch of the palace’s perimeter is protected at all times, so I have no idea how they got through unnoticed. One of them slashed at me behind me, and I was fighting another one, so I didn’t see him.”

The lump in his throat becomes painful. He swallows again, trying to clear it so he can speak without his voice trembling. “She did. She pushed me off the horse to get me out of the way, but she turned, and he- his sword, it… it got her instead.”

The pain in Alyn’s body is too much now, coupled with the unbearable mental agony he’s suffering through. He slides down the wall to the floor, sitting against it, muscles shaking. Knees pulled up defensively, his arms rest atop his knees, head lowered while talks.

“One of them pulled her onto his horse while we were both distracted, then hit her in the head with his sword hilt. That’s why she’s unconscious. After that, the others started to focus on me. One of them said that the guards would be due to be patrolling soon, so he somehow knew the timings of the patrols within the palace as well as around the perimeter. I’m guessing someone on the inside’s leaking information.”

He rubs his hands over his face, trying to squash the tears attempting to form in his eyes. “Anyway, they all left, and one of them knocked me out like they did to her. When I went after her, we found them in the abandoned church just outside the grounds. We killed them all. It was necessary to ensure she was safe. When I got to her, she had the wound on her thigh and had the bruises. I’m guessing she might have woken up briefly, and that she tried to get away.”

Alyn falls silent, shoulders shaking with a fine tremor. Leo crouches next to him slowly, then lowers himself onto one knee before gradually reaching out. His hand cautiously places itself on his shoulder, and then he speaks, his voice uncharacteristically sombre and quiet.

“Alyn, it wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known that there would be bandits within the grounds. You couldn’t have prepared for it.” Leo’s eyes study him for a moment, and Alyn sees him frown in his peripheral vision. “You’re hurt. Let me have a look.”

Alyn’s lips press together tightly for a moment before he mutters lowly, “I’m fine. Just leave it.”

Hurt flashes through Leo’s hues for a brief second, but he tightens his grip on Alyn’s shoulder, moving in a bit closer and speaking more firmly. “You know, you’re not going to do this for me and I’m aware of that. Fine. But do me a favour.”

Alyn’s eyes rise up to meet Leo’s. He stares at his twin, the carbon-copy orbs of his brother watching him with an almost unnerving fire that, even in this moment, rivals his own. “Don’t go punishing yourself, because when she wakes up, she’s going to want to see you. You, being you, are probably going to try to stay away from her, and that’s going to hurt her more than anything. Don’t forget that, because all of us care about her too. Don’t hurt her by hurting yourself, because it won’t change what happened and won’t help anyone. When she wakes up, let her see you on the mend, not in the process of destroying yourself.”

Alyn can’t think of a single word to say for a long few seconds. There have only been several occasions in his life when Alyn has had Leo talk to him like that, so seriously and almost threateningly, but what he says unfortunately makes sense. He doesn’t want to hurt her, of course not. He doesn’t agree that he shouldn’t punish himself, but… he can at least do it when she’s not there to see it.

“Fine.” Alyn snaps, diverting his gaze. He sees Leo smirk, but before he can glare at him, he hears footsteps to his left down the corridor, the opposite way to the princess’ chambers. Glancing over, he sees Louis make his way toward the three of them. His usually inexpressive face betrays a good amount of surprise at Alyn sat against the wall, and he quickens his pace to stand before the three.  

“Alyn, are you alright?” He asks, almost sounding worried. Seeing Alyn’s mute nod, he looks to Giles, asking, “Is the princess okay?”

Giles nods, seemingly electing to ignore Alyn’s heated stare from the floor. “She is in more than capable hands. We are monitoring her situation, but I’m sure she will be fine.” A hint of a smile plays on Giles’ lips. “My, my, Duke Howard. You almost sound concerned for her. I never thought I’d see the day.”

Alyn sees a light blush paint itself across Louis’ pale cheeks, and he lowers his eyes, frowning just a bit. “I wasn’t… the other nobles wanted to know. They asked me to come and see what’s happening. I’m guessing you’d rather me not tell them, though.” Giles nods. Louis moves his gaze back to Alyn. “You have a bruise on your cheek, Alyn.”

Without another word other than the obvious, Louis spins on his heels and makes his way back down the corridor, disappearing out of sight and leaving the three in somewhat confused silence.  

“Well,” Leo comments, sounding almost thoughtful. “That was slightly out of character for him.”

Giles nods, a smile forming on his lips properly now. “Indeed. Wysteria’s ice sculpture appears to be thawing out at long last.”

Leo grins, giving Giles a sidewards look. “I bet the nobles in the palace will be delighted. They might actually have a chance for once.”

They both chuckle at that.

Alyn doesn’t laugh, instead keeping his gaze fixed on his hands, feeling the throbbing pain all over him still as severe as before.  

He’ll make sure he doesn’t hurt her.

He can’t say the same for himself.  

───── †⋅♛⋅† ─────

What feels like an eternity later, Alyn has had his injuries checked by the doctor’s assistant. He’s got at least three bruised ribs, at least thirteen separate surface bruises and roundabouts nine cuts scattered across him. His side is quite badly bruised, and he’s probably got some internal bruising as well, but nothing life-threatening.  

He’s stood outside her chambers now, waiting for the doctor to finish. His arms are crossed and he’s still in his training clothes, more because he doesn’t want to be away from her should the doctor finish.  

When he finally does, he comes out and gives Alyn a friendly smile. “Sir Giles informed me about what happened and how you feel that this is your fault. It’s really not, Sir Alyn, and I can assure you that she’ll make a quick recovery. The gashes were fortunately not too deep, but she will need at least a week or so to recover and she will probably have scars where the skin has been cut.”

He nods respectfully, eyes softening as he walks past. “She’s desperate to see you. She was asking for you as soon as she woke up, you know. She really, truly cares for you. If I might say this, be careful not to push her away out of guilt, Sir Alyn. It will only hurt you both more.”

He leaves it there, setting off down the corridor with his bag. Alyn goes to the door immediately, knocking lightly. “Princess?”

When she speaks, relief hits him like a tidal wave, his breath rushing out of him at the beautiful sound. “Come in.”

He goes in, shutting the door behind him.  

My princess.

She’s in a nightgown, tucked into bed up to her waist, and is laying back against the pillows. Although her cheeks are still a bit too bloodless for his liking, she doesn’t look like she’s in much pain, and she seems relaxed. Her stunning eyes remain on his face, never moving an inch, and a smile breaks across his lips.  

“Alyn.” She breathes out, reaching a hand out to him.  

His composure crumbles.  

He goes to her without a second thought.  

He strides across the room to her, taking her hand in his and clutching it like his last thread of life. It’s warm, something that makes him want to cry with happiness, and her grip is somewhat weak but still definitely there. He falls to his knees next to the bed, ignoring her shocked gasp, before bringing her hand to his lips. He whispers into it, voice muffled, not wanting to show so much emotion to her but unable to hold it back at all.  

“I’m so sorry. I failed you. I should have been faster, I shouldn’t have let them take you-”

“Alyn Crawford, look at me right now.”

He freezes at the use of his full name, lifting his eyes to meet her gaze. She frowns, shifting up carefully to be sat up a bit more, before she leans forward to move her hand out of his and place both of hers on his cheeks. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you at all even consider blaming yourself for this. You could never have known it would happen, Alyn. I know you like to punish yourself when things go wrong, but you have absolutely no right.”

He scowls, going to protest, but she presses her thumbs against his lips before he can. “Alyn, you came for me. You found me and brought me back. Yes, I’m hurt, but so are you. We were taken off-guard, and that’s not something that can be blamed on either of us, so don’t go taking the guilt on yourself. I want you to be happy that we’re both alive. Either of us could have died today, but we didn’t, and you are to thank that I’m alive right now. You got me here, along with the knights. You saved me.”

His chest aches. He always says he’ll never cry in front of anyone, but everything is thrown out of the window with her.  

He can’t hold the tears back anymore.  

She pats the bed next to her, and he moves up to sit there without a word. She pulls his head forward gently, and he lets her settle it against her chest, fingers stroking through his hair with the most tender of touches. “Cry, Alyn. You’re human. You can cry in front of me. Let it out.”

His eyes touch on the bandage across her chest and shoulder. He loses it.  

He cries into her skin, clinging onto her, arms curling around her waist so tightly that he is sure he must be crushing her. She keeps her lips pressed against his hair, murmuring to him softly, gentle, soothing words of encouragement and comfort. He tries to apologise again, the guilt driving him to do so, but she simply hushes his efforts and holds him close to her. That kind, lovely smile never leaves her mouth, always there even when he grips her waist and sobs into her flesh, overwhelmed by his own emotions and how intense they are.

A few minutes pass, and his tears eventually dry up, leaving him breathing heavily into her shoulder, still clutching her to him. Her fingers continue to thread through his locks of hair, and she presses a soft, calming kiss to the crown of his head.  

When his breathing settles and he’s calmed down, emotions evening out again, he presses his face into her damp skin harder, mumbling, “Thank you.”

She just laughs, albeit slightly weakly. “You’re welcome, Alyn.” It’s now that she moves her hands to lightly pull his face up, letting her look into his face. She peers at him, eyes studying every inch with such intensity that he has to look away, a blush rising in his cheeks. Her fingertips brush over his cheekbone, and she speaks in a quiet murmur. “You’re bruised. How badly hurt are you? Have you seen a doctor?”

He nods, nuzzling his face into her palm with a small frown. She watches, transfixed, as he presses his lips to her flesh, reaching up to cup her hand where it rests against his cheek. “I’ve got some bruises, rib bruising and internal bruising. Other than that, I’m alright. I’ve seen the doctor’s assistant, who’s basically a full-time doctor anyway.”

Her face falls at his words, lips tugging down. He just gives her a wry smile, shaking his head. “I’m fine. Stop worrying about other people when you’re hurt yourself.”

Her cheeks tinge slightly with a rosy dusting, but she manages a small smile herself, countering gently, “You’re my prince, Alyn. I’ll always worry about you. You know that.”

His face practically explodes with colour now, heart thudding way too hard and fast for his liking. He wonders how he still deserves such an amazing princess after the way he failed her so badly. “Geez, I know you will.” He reaches down to place his forearm on the pillow next to her head, since she’s slid down a little in the bed since he’s sat up, and now brings his other hand up to very lightly flick her on the forehead. A grin forming at her look of surprise, he places his other hand on the other side of her head, sighing out, “Silly.”

She simply grins back, lightly tugging his head down so that she can rest his forehead against hers, staring up at him with kind, loving eyes. His own hues mirror the emotions as he playfully gives her a nose kiss, rubbing his against hers for a fleeting moment. A quiet, breathy laugh escapes her before she leans up, pressing her lips to his.  

And he falls into that ethereal world that she always takes him into when she’s with him like this, forgetting all the pain in his body and mind, focused solely on the sensation of her warmth under him, and her safe at last in his arms, smiling and happy and real.  

Who is he kidding?

His mouth fits against hers perfectly, catching her whispers of his name, her content sighs and smiles.  

He won’t punish himself for this. Not this time.  

Chapter Text

───── †⋅♛⋅† ─────

Stein Castle is alive and bustling, the corridors filled with knights as they patrol the hallways. A cacophony of sound blurs together from the ballroom in the centre of the castle, where a ball is being held to commemorate the birthday of the King of Protea. Although the country is notorious for being uncooperative with other nations and not very trusted, King Byron, the Princess Elect of Wysteria and the King of Laurelia all decided that they should try to encourage more positive relations with Protea, and that this would be an optimal time to do it.

So now, Byron stands atop the staircase of the ballroom in his most regal attire, watching the different political parties and nationalities mingle. The Proteans don’t seem to be too keen to mix with anyone else, but the nobles of the other nations are actively attempting to speak to them, trying to get them to ease up a little.

The Princess of Wysteria is currently stood on the ballroom floor with Leo Crawford, watching the party go on with a smile. She looks beautiful in her royal blue gown, strapless with the corset part decorated with diamonds. The skirts have the same diamonds scattered over them, giving them the appearance of stars in the night sky. “Maybe we’ll be able to get Protea to open up to us, even just a little bit. I know they’re not the most talkative of countries, but they might be able to trust us a bit after this.”

Leo nods, narrowing his eyes as he subtly keeps tabs on the King of Protea. “Honestly, I don’t know, but I hope so. It’d be nice to break down the tension that’s been between them and the rest of the region for countless years. I wouldn’t get your hopes up, though; it seems the Protean nobles are as untrusting as ever.”

The princess looks at him, seeing him incline his head towards a group of the said upper class. She watches, face falling for a moment, as she sees one of the nobles being spoken to by a Wysterian noble. The Protean bares his teeth, hissing something that sounds rather unfriendly, before stalking off to the other side of the room. The princess sighs softly, lacing her fingers together in front of her.

She turns her head for a moment, catching Byron’s gaze as he looks at her across the room. She quickly smiles, not wanting to worry him.

Her attention is drawn away from the young monarch, though, as a hand suddenly clamps down on her shoulder. She jumps slightly, surprised by contact, before whipping around and moving out from under the hand. She sees a Protean noble stood there, a somewhat frightening smile on his face as he holds two glasses of what she guesses is alcohol. She glances around, seeing several other Proteans offering drinks to the nobles of the other countries.

“Princess,” The noble starts, eyeing her closely. “We would like to thank you, and the other nations, for hosting this party in our king’s honour. We brought our finest, richest wine to show our appreciation, and we would love for you to try it.”

The princess’ instincts immediately tell her to decline, since she doesn’t particularly like drinking alcohol anyway, and even less when around the likes of the Proteans. However, she can’t refuse; it would be political and diplomatic suicide to do so, for both herself and Wysteria.

So, she forces herself to nod, smiling politely. “Of course. Thank you very much.”

The noble grins, handing her the glass of wine. She takes it, watching him lift his own glass before taking a sip from it. She mirrors the action, raising the glass to her lips.

As soon as the wine touches her tongue, she knows that something is wrong.

There’s something off about its taste. It’s nothing like anything she’s ever had, and it has an aftertaste that reminds her of metal. She manages to keep her expression clear as she swallows the mouthful, feeling it burn her throat as it goes down. She lowers the glass as she smiles at the noble, thanking him, “The wine is lovely. Thank you for allowing us to taste it.”

He just smirks now, responding, “The pleasure is all ours, Princess.”

He walks off, disappearing into the throng of Protean nobles like a ghost. The princess watches as a few other nobles, both Wysterian and Protean, drink the wine, their faces showing obvious displeasure. One of them makes a face, asking in disgust why the Protean nobility would ever give wine like this to anyone. The princess goes to help and to try to deescalate the situation, but she quickly notices that a Protean is watching her, staring at her. His eyes flicker to her glass for a moment, and then they narrow slightly.

Her heartbeat quickens, panic rising in her. She inhales deeply, making herself take another sip of the wine. It’s just as sickening as the first sip, and she notices that she’s starting to feel dizzy. A throbbing starts to form in the back of her head, pain shooting through her skull and pulsing behind her eyes.

She scans the room, looking for Byron. She needs him. Something’s wrong with her.

She finds him conversing with some Wysterian nobles, but she doesn’t want to interrupt him, so she instead finds Giles Christophe, her advisor. He is stood at the back of the ballroom with Alyn Crawford, her bodyguard.

Relief floods her body, and she wastes no time in walking over to them, politely excusing herself when she passes the nobility.

Upon reaching him, Giles immediately seems to sense that something’s wrong. His face fills with worry as he meets her halfway. “Princess, is something the matter? You look ill.”

Now that she’s with someone she trusts, she feels her body start to shake, since she was holding the trembles back when she was on her own. “Something’s wrong, Giles. I felt fine earlier, but then one of the Protean nobles gave me this wine and asked me to drink it. I drunk it, of course, but something was off with it. It…” Her vision suddenly starts to spin, black spots appearing in front of her eyes. “It… I think…”

Giles’ pupils widen as he takes the glass from her, handing it to Alyn before he reaches out to her. “Princess-”

Before he can get hold of her to steady her, her limbs stop responding, and she collapses to the ground.

“Princess!” Giles shouts, Alyn doing the same as he crouches down next to her. The latter puts the wine on the floor next to her as he feels for her pulse, finding it steady but faster than normal. He grits his teeth, seeing her body trembling violently, the blood in her cheeks disappearing quickly. Her breathing quickens, and she seems to be in pain as she lies there, unconscious, quiet whimpers escaping her.

Across the room, Byron’s head snaps to the side, hearing the panic in Giles’ voice as he calls to the princess.

“Excuse me.” He says bluntly, not even sparing the nobles he is talking to a glance as he makes his way across the room. He pushes his way through the crowds, hearing gasps and cries from some of the Wysterian nobility. He is near enough running when he reaches her.

His whole body freezes for a second, and his mind goes into overdrive. His eyes settle on the princess’ limp body, and he’s immediately overwhelmed by guilt and agonising worry.

She can’t be dead. She can’t. I need her. I can’t lose her.

He wastes no time in running over, crouching next to Giles as he runs his hands over her face. He feels her pulse, his breath rushing out of him at knowing that she’s breathing. Giles shifts out of the way as Byron pulls the princess into his arms, supporting her upper body with one arm as his other hand holds hers. A lump forms in his throat, tears threatening to make themselves known as he feels her hand, so weak and lifeless in his.

I should have protected her. I should have stopped this from happening.

Nico and Albert, both in their Steiner uniforms, rush over now, and Albert scowls as he picks up the glass. He lifts it to his face, sniffing it for a moment. His face twists with disgust, and he hands the glass to Nico as he murmurs, “Poison. It’s one that has been historically used in Protea, if I recall correctly.”

Nico sniffs the wine, nodding. His expression is grave as he sets it down on the floor, then places a hand on his sword, looking up at Byron. “King Byron, what would you have us do?”

Byron has been watching the princess’ face, drawing together a plan. He knows what he will do. He raises his eye, his stare so intense that it could break down even the strongest person under the weight of it. “Find the nobles that did this. I want an inquiry into this, and I want to know who orchestrated it. Make sure that the nobles from the other countries are checked for poisoning as well.”

His eye moves to focus on a Laurelian noble, who has started to cough violently across the room, swaying where he stands. “I believe this was a premeditated attack, and I am going to punish everyone involved.”

Nico and Albert nod, expressions serious, before they start to call across the room to the guards by the doors to open them for Byron and any other nobles who have been poisoned, but to not allow anyone else to leave.

Byron quickly lifts the princess, scooping her up and into his arms as he cradles her body protectively. The nobles move out of the way, not daring to cross him, as he walks through the ballroom. Power and fury practically radiate from him, and several of the nobles start to glance at each other unsurely as he comes close to them. They all know what he’s capable of, and they all know, just from looking at him when he watches the princess, that he would kill for her without a moment’s hesitation.

As he exits the ballroom, heading straight for the castle doctor, his expression darkens. His eye glints with rage as he tightens his grip on her.

I will find every single person who was involved in this, and I will make them suffer.

He glances down at her face, his heart twisting at the thought of the princess, of his princess, being hurt.

They will never come anywhere near her again. I swear it.

───── †⋅♛⋅† ─────

Byron stalks out of the interrogation room, hearing the whimpering of the terrified Protean noble in there. He is one of the prime suspects of the poisoning, and Byron made sure to make his questioning as scarring as possible, so as to stave off his desire to murder the cowardly noble. For now.

The princess was taken to one of the guest rooms, the one she usually stays in, while the doctor treated her. He was able to quickly identify the poison and had medicine to counter its effects, but due to the fact that he needed to get it out of her body as quickly as possible, Byron was asked to leave, for both his sake and the princess’.

So, he has been conducting the investigation into the poisoning while he waits for news from the doctor.

He is about ready to interrogate the next Protean when one of his knights descends the stairs into the room, bowing respectfully before speaking. “King Byron, the doctor has finished treating the princess, and she is awake.”

Byron’s chest twinges, heart stuttering with relief. If anything had happened to her, if she had been unable to fight the poison… he doesn’t know what he would have done.

Back to the present, Byron reminds himself to respond, nodding and replying, “I will go and see her now. Thank you.”

The knight bows again, stepping out of the way. “Of course, King Byron.”

Byron wastes no time in leaving the interrogation room, his footsteps quick and purposeful as he makes his way through the castle. His thoughts are centred on the princess, on how he is desperate to see her, to hold her in his arms again and to feel her warmth, to see the beautiful eyes he falls in love with every time he looks into them. He wants to have her close and feel her there, safe and protected and away from the Proteans, to see her happy and healthy once more.

His heart is racing by the time he reaches her room.

He stops in front of her door, taking no notice of the guards on either side of it as they bow to him. He knocks on it lightly, calling, “Princess?”

A beat of silence passes, and then her voice calls back to him, the relief and joy clear as she speaks. “Come in.”

He opens the door, slipping inside before closing it behind him. His eyes settle on her, and it’s like he falls in love with her all over again.

She is lying in bed, a cotton nightgown covering her, the covers pulled up to her waist. She looks somewhat weak and her hands shake every few seconds, but her expression shows nothing but love as she watches him enter. Her stunning eyes soften upon seeing him, and the sweetest of her smiles appears as she lifts a hand, reaching out to him.

He bounds over to the bed, sitting next to her as wraps his arms around her waist, feeling hers go around his neck. He embraces her tightly, his own muscles shaking with relief at seeing her awake. Her fingers sift through his hair, stroking it soothingly, as he rests his face in the crook of her neck. He breathes in deeply, safety and security settling around him as he identifies the vanilla perfume she always wears.

They stay like that for a few long minutes, just appreciating each other being there. The princess eventually pulls back, cupping his face in her delicate hands as she asks, “Are you alright? Were you poisoned?”

A smile graces his lips. Of course, even after being poisoned herself, the princess automatically worries about him first. Even though it makes little sense to him, it’s something that he absolutely adores about her, something that he clings to and values in her. “I am fine, Princess. Several other nobles were poisoned, but they have been treated and are recovering. You seem to have been given the strongest dose of the poison.”

She processes this for a second, and then she sighs softly, nodding. He lifts his hands to her own, bringing them away from his face so that he can press his lips to her knuckles. His eyes flutter closed, all of his worries and concerns fading away as he focuses on her smooth skin, on the warmth coming from her, on her beautiful fingers as they curl around his.

He raises his head after a moment, letting go of one of her hands to brush her hair back from her face. “You should sit back. You’re still weak from the poison.”

She shakes her head at this, but she’s smiling, and she relaxes into the pillows anyway. “I’m fine, Byron. Honestly, you needn’t worry so much; it’s going to take more than a little poison to kill me.”

Even though his chest tightens at the last part, he finds himself smiling as he leans forward, resting his forehead against hers. He stares into her eyes, gazing into the universe inside of them, so complex and breath-taking and fascinating. “How cruel of you, to ask me not to worry about you. You are my Princess. I will never stop worrying about you, so long as I live.”

Her breath catches in her throat at his words, a dusting of pink rising in her cheeks. “Byron…”

His body prickles, warming at the sound of his name on her lips. It’s strange; when they first met, he didn’t consider ever being close enough to her that she could address him with just his name, but now, he loves it. He loves that she speaks to him as Byron, rather than King Byron. It sends his heart racing, because it shows how much she loves him.

And he loves her just as much, if not more.

He smiles gently, moving his lips to press against her forehead ever so lightly. His voice is tender and quiet as he speaks, his breath warm against her skin. “I love you.”

He feels her go still under him, and then her face becomes even hotter under his mouth. He laughs softly, pulling back to watch her as she blushes, grinning just a little as she murmurs back, “I love you too.”

He gets that sensation again, that feeling of fire and love blossoming and spreading through his chest. He strokes her cheek, sighing out, “I think I should leave you to get some rest. You need to sleep, to make sure that you regain your strength.”

Her gaze is ever so sweet as she smiles up at him. “That’s true.” She then laughs lightly, the sound sending shockwaves of happiness through him. “I guess we’re not having any more parties with Protea for now, then.”

He shakes his head, raising an eyebrow. “I’d say that we’re not having any more parties at all, with the way this one went. You certainly aren’t having any more Protean alcohol.”

She lets out another peal of giggles, nodding. “I can’t argue with that.”

He lets out a satisfied sigh as he stands, bending down to cup her cheek and kiss her forehead one last time. He then steps back, telling her, “I’ll be back in a little while, alright? If you need anything, ask the guards and they will find whoever or whatever you need.”

She nods again, giving him a bright smile. “Okay. See you later.”

He gives her a small smile of his own back before turning, leaving the room even as his heart yearns to go back to her. He shuts the door, seeing Nico and Albert stood in the corridor, waiting for him. He motions for them to follow him as he sets off down the hallway, asking, “What is it?”

Nico answers, talking over Albert even as he starts to respond first. “One of the Protean nobles confessed and has given us the names of all of the people involved in the poisoning. We have what we need to put them on trial, and with the evidence, we’ll almost certainly be able to convict them for treason and attempted murder.”

Byron’s expression darkens again, but he nods as he speaks, his voice low and serious. “The other leaders are still here, are they not?” Nico nods. “Good. Tell them that we need to convene the international court, and that we’re going to try the nobles involved.”

Nico nods at this, placing a hand over his heart and bowing deeply. “As you wish, King Byron.” He then breaks off from the two, heading down a different corridor and out of sight.

Byron glances at Albert, his voice becoming even quieter, more dangerous and completely frightening. “Go to the executioners, and tell them to be prepared should the nobles be convicted.”

Albert nods, doing the same as Nico did as he bows respectfully. “Of course, your majesty.”

He makes his way down the hallway, turning at a corner, and Byron is left alone as he makes a beeline for the interrogation room. He finds himself smiling as he sighs, his thoughts becoming dark once more.

Now, they will never be able to hurt her again.

The castle’s bells ring around him, like they’re signalling the punishment to come.

They won’t be alive to.

Chapter Text

Giles stares down at the beautiful creature before him. Still, quiet, breathing softly, and wonderfully warm, his princess sleeps in his arms fitfully. Her face set in peace and tranquillity, she remains blissfully unaware of his gaze. He cradles her ever so gently, like she’s made of glass. Her back to his chest, arms wrapped around her protectively, he smiles angelically.

His mind is content, thoughts an ocean of love and adoration. She has him entirely; he’s a slave to her every word, her every action, her every expression and smile and laugh. All of her, absolutely everything, is nothing short of breath-taking to him.

He loves her so, so much. It almost hurts.

And it’s on morning like this that he realises it all over again, harder and harder, more and more.

Soon, he’ll stand at the end of the piste, watching his princess finally become his once and for all. He’ll be able to see her standing there in white, becoming his wife, before she becomes the queen not too long after.

He lies there for a short eternity. His nose remains buried in her soft hair, breathing in her wonderful scent, eyes almost closed. It’s still early, so it’s dim in their bedroom, but he gazes down at her regardless. No matter how poorly, he will never refuse an opportunity to appreciate her.

Soon, though, she shifts in his arms, the silk of her nightdress tickling against his chest. He lets out a gentle sigh. His lips hover over her ear, resting there very lightly. Despite his warmth all around her, enveloping and encasing her, he feels the very slight tremble of her limbs from a shiver. Her spine shakes just a little, and he smiles once more, before he breathes out ever so slightly. Her eyes are still closed, but he knows she’s awake.

“Good morning, Princess.” His murmur purrs out into the shell of her ear, low and sweet and sultry. He catches the curl of a smile gracing her lips, and he observes it stretch into a beautiful grin with all the adoration in the world. He moves the arm under her neck so that he can reach down to slip his fingers through hers, while his other hand slides up her arm, skin grazing over the flesh with a delicate, feather-light touch. She shivers again, body curling back into him, while her fingers entwine with his. “I believe we have a day off today.”

She releases a contented hum, nodding slowly. When she responds, he buries his face in her throat, nuzzling into her warmth and dusting kisses across every inch of it. “Ah… yes, we do…” Her eyes drift closed again. “What should we do?”

He exhales, revelling in the shudder that runs through her as a result. “I have no preference. As long as I can spend the day with you, what we do matters little to me.” He punctuates the reply with tender kisses to her neck, hearing her quiet inhalation when his lips close over her pulse point. “Although, I recall Alyn informing me last night that the lake in the palace grounds has frozen over from the last cold snap of winter, over the last few weeks.”

At his words, she stills entirely.

Then, she shoots upright, head swivelling around and body freeing itself of his grip. He stares up at her in surprise, the expression becoming even stronger when he sees the excitement burning in her eyes. “It’s frozen over? So we can go ice skating?"

Baffled by her swift change of mood, but nonetheless entertained and adoring of her enthusiasm, he nods. "Indeed. I take it that you wish to do so?"

At her sheepish smile and slightly flushed cheeks, he merely chuckles, sitting up straight. The blanket falls away from his chest, leaving it bare, pale and unmarked before her. His fingers slide around her head, threading through her hair and coaxing her closer to him. Entranced by her eyes, so full of life and yet wondering at the same time, he hums to himself, murmuring, "Then that is what we shall do. But, first…"

He hooks his arm around her waist, tugging her against him in a swift, smooth movement. She ends up straddling him, blushing immensely, while he locks his arm around her lower back and keeps his other hand in her hair. Her own hands find his shoulders, and he sees her swallow, body temperature rising where she sits against him. He quirks an eyebrow. "Can you guess what I require if we are to go ice skating today?"

Her already burning cheeks somehow become brighter. Her gaze drops away from him for a moment shyly, something that sends his heart stirring and leaping in his chest. However, it then lifts and returns to him, her hands drifting up to cup his face tenderly. Her eyes seem to smoulder with an intense, passionate strength, and it draws him in, encircling his mind like a snake constricting its prey.

"Yes." She breathes out, voice barely even a whisper. She shudders when his fingers trail up her spine, tracing each and every vertebrae with a ghostly touch. "This."

And with that, she kisses him.

It sends his body into a frenzy. Everything inside him melts, blazing and churning with a desire he can't possibly ignore. Her soft lips, her intoxicating scent, her warm, supple skin in his hands. He loves all of it, every single thing, and it drives him wild to even begin to think about the things he wants to do to her.

Her thighs tighten around his hips, fingers cupping and cradling his jaw lovingly. His hand rakes down her back, squeezing and palming all the way to her hip, before he uses it to tug her against him as close as he can. A breathless, panted moan escapes her, and her fingers slip into his hair, gripping just enough for a surge of almost painful pleasure to wrack through him.

"God, Princess…" He manages to groan out, tipping her back until she's lying under him, sprawled out in a beautiful, hot mess of limbs and skin and heat. His fingers tease the flesh of her inner thigh, nudging her nightdress up just enough to earn a whimper from her. He grins majestically. "I don't think the ice will hold if we go now, so hot and bothered. Allow me to rid us both of this incessant heat."

Some time later, after some… cooling down, the Princess and Giles make their way down to the lake in the palace grounds, he in his casual clothes and her in a shorter dress than usual, with thick tights and a coat to shield her from the cold. True to Alyn's word, the water has frozen over entirely, and now sits there, a grand basin covered in a sheet of thick, strong ice.

Alyn accompanies the two at first to test its safety, and after deducing that it's fine, he wanders off into the woods to give them some space. Giles carries their ice skates, made for them with the latest design some time ago in winter. Upon seeing the ice, the princess seems to practically glow, bouncing up and down with elation next to him. "It's really frozen!"

Curious as to why she's so excited for this, he nods, asking, "Indeed. Is there a reason why you're so eager to do this?"

She gives him a grin, one that's almost mischievous, her eyes sparkling and glittering with life and a secret enjoyment he's never seen before. He'd be a liar to say it wasn't one of the most beautiful things he's ever seen. "Yes. I actually spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence ice skating when I wasn't learning or tutoring; it's one of my favourite things to do."

He raises his eyebrows. This is certainly new to him. "Is that so? I was unaware."

She laughs lightly. "I didn't think you'd know, even though you did a background check on me when I first came here. I went down to the lake in the woods a lot and skated all through the winter, or anytime it was safe to skate."

She just keeps on surprising me. Amazing.

He watches amusedly as she takes her skates from him, then blinks in surprise at the evident skill and precision with which she puts them on. Her fingers move swiftly, nimbly, and with a practiced ease that impresses him considerably. When she's all done-up, she glances up at him, tilting her head. "Are you coming?"

He snaps out of his daze, nodding. "Of course."

Truth be told, he's bluffing.

He's never ice skated in his life.

Still, he keeps a cool, calm façade, putting the boots on as professionally as he can. That doesn't lessen the nervousness he feels at the prospect of doing this, though, and he quickly decides that this is probably going to end badly. This is confirmed when he stands in skates for the first time, feeling wobbly, unsteady and very uncomfortably out of control. He can't keep his expression clear while he straightens up.

A tinkling laugh before him makes him glance up.

The princess gazes at him adoringly, eyes soft and kind. "Giles, you've never skated before?"

That much is obvious; it'd be useless to deny it. "Perhaps."

Meaning, yes.

She grins even more, coming over with little difficulty, before she takes his hand. The warmth of her fingers around his is comforting, and her confidence in her abilities significantly improves his own.

"Well then, I'll teach you! You're always teaching me things, so consider this me showing my thanks for it. You never know when you might need to skate!" She chirps out. She holds his other hand, very lightly tugging him back and toward the ice. He sighs, but he's willing to try.

"Alright." He eyes the lake warily. "Although, I think this will end rather dismally if one of us falls; I imagine the ice will not hold if we do."

She just shakes her head. "It's fine - Alyn measured it earlier and told me how thick it is. It might be quite new, but it's thick because of the cold, and it's white, so we're fine. It'll hold." She gives him a gentle smile. "Besides, I won't let you fall. I promise; I'll keep you on your feet."

He finds himself smiling back at her, unable to suppress it at the determination in her eyes and voice. "If you are certain."

Her head bobs up and down. "Definitely." She tugs him again, stepping back. "Don't lock your knees in place; that'll make you much more likely to fall. Make sure they're bent slightly, and keep your feet apart like you normally would, or just a bit more than normal. Keep your upper body raised as well - don't hunch over, or you'll lost your balance."

Now I know how my lessons must feel to her. It's rather overwhelming, to have so much information thrown at me all at once.

He makes a sound of acknowledgement, adjusting his posture accordingly. With his knees bent slightly, his torso straight and vertical, and feet in a more logical position, he immediately feels steadier. "This admittedly feels much better."

She beams at him. "See? Now, just walk with me, keeping all of those things in mind. It'll feel strange at first, but just trust me, okay?"

He has no reason not to; he trusts her with his life, body and soul. "Okay."

She steps onto the ice with a fair amount of caution, but it doesn't respond to her presence at all, not making a single sound or change. Satisfied with this, she glides back just a little, enough to bring him to the edge of the bank. "Just put one foot on it first, to give yourself time to get used to it."

He does as she says. Immediately, he understands what she means; the sensation of standing on something so slippery, smooth and different to anything he's ever been on before momentarily takes him by surprise. He pays attention to how his shifts in posture affect the way he moves on the ice, and when he feels like he understands enough, he very carefully steps onto it completely. She grins, nodding with an encouraging glint in her eyes. He stays upright, maintaining his posture meticulously.

"Good! You've already got really good balance from dancing, so I think this will start to feel natural to you quite quickly." She observes, praising him lightly and squeezing his hands. The words and simple action make his heart squeeze just a little, and a swell of pride stirs in him at the thought that he's succeeded. "Ready to move?"

He releases a quiet breath, experimenting with shifting his feet now, to get used to the way it feels. "Yes."

With a nod, she pulls very slowly backward, bringing them both into a slow, steady glide further onto the ice. Once again, it feels very strange and borderline wrong, but when she gives his hands another squeeze, he's reminded of her instructions and corrects himself. He holds onto her tightly, using her to maintain his balance, but she doesn't seem to mind at all. She watches him carefully, looking for signs of uncertainty and him losing his balance.

For a long time, she simply glides with him, guiding and teaching him, letting him see that the ice is not his enemy. He quickly comes to understand this, comprehending that, as long as he holds himself correctly, it's not as dangerous as he first thought. As he notices her skates move in line with each-other, her skating effortless and comfortable, this only becomes more and more clear to him.

She trusts herself and the ice. I need to do the same.

After a few minutes, she beams again, asking, "Do you want to try moving your feet now, so you can start skating yourself?" Seeing his mildly concerned glance, she giggles. "I'll keep hold of you."

With slight hesitance, he agrees, and she begins to teach him how to skate. "Move your feet outward, one at a time, just a bit. It's like you're pushing them out, but then afterward, bring them back to where they started."

She slows down to allow him to experiment again, and he swiftly sees what she means. He feels the sudden acceleration in response to the tiny movement of his feet, and he can't help but blink in surprise. "I see… how strange."

She makes a sound of approval. "Now, just do that with both feet, like you're walking. Control it so they don't go out too far, but do it enough to give yourself momentum. I'll match your pace."

He does so, and soon, he feels himself developing a strange fondness for the sensation. The wind, albeit cold, rushing through his hair and caressing his face, the smooth ice beneath him, the effortless movement across the surface… it's so foreign and unknown to him, but he begins to enjoy it and appreciate it more and more. As his confidence increases, as he manages to pick up speed and becomes surer of himself, the excitement of it picks up as well.

It doesn't take long for him to start grinning, moving almost entirely on his own; without him realising it, she's been loosening her hold on his hands. One slips away from his, and at first it shocks him enough to break him from his flow, but her reassuring nod takes him straight back into it. She reduces how much she's supporting him steadily, her fingers loosening again and again, until she's barely even touching him.

Finally, feeling that he can support himself, she lets go.

It takes him a good few seconds to right himself, and he stops actively skating to do so, but he doesn't fall. She skates backward, staying close so as to catch him if he falls, but not hovering right next to him anymore. He doesn't realise it in the slightest, but they've been skating for hours now, with his gradual adjustment to the ice taking them right through the day.

She smiles with that loving, adoring look again, that one of contentment and pride, when she sees that he's learnt how to skate all by himself in a mere day. It's amazing, and her heart swells with love for him at his achievement.

He finds himself becoming oddly tired though, by this point; while he hasn't done anything overly strenuous, he's been moving in ways his body never has before, and it has taken its toll on him. Observing his increasing exhaustion, she slips her hand into his and guides him back to the edge of the ice, bringing him to a slow halt.

"Take a moment to catch your breath; you shouldn't strain yourself too much in one day, and it's cold out here. Shall we go back to the palace in a little while?" She advises him, sounding almost like him. He blinks, now on solid ground again and sitting on the grass.

"I don't mind." He finds himself giving her a teasing smile. "Why don't you skate a little more? I would love to see the Princess become an Ice Princess."

A faint blush rises up in her cheeks, but her eyes glimmer in response to his words. Her head bounces up and down, joy and elation clear to see in her face. "Are you sure?" He returns the nod, and she beams at him. "Okay!"

And with that, she's off.

And seconds later, Giles is blessed with witnessing figure skating for the first time in his life.

The sport has only just started to emerge across the region, and as such isn't seen too often, but has become increasingly popular in recent years. Giles has read a book on it that was brought from another country about two years ago, detailing the rules of this "figure skating" and the things that figure skaters must do. He vaguely remembers there being mentions of people even jumping and spinning on the ice. He didn't think it possible up until now.

But all of his scepticism disappears as soon as she starts to skate.

He becomes entranced by her, as her form glides across the ice gracefully, elegantly, and with a beauty that he never could have imagined. This is different to dancing. With dancing, there's steps. There's moments of slowing or stopping to account for transitions and elements, there's a limit to the possible speed, keeping the dancers constrained to a maximum pace. With the skating, the princess slides across the surface with a lithe, perfect, continuous momentum, untouched and unbroken. Her feet transfer her flow between themselves, keeping her going.

And even though there's no music, he can practically hear it.

Her arms reach out, moving with regal, intricate patterns, worlds apart from the way they are when she dances. Her body does the same, and now, he can see why she chose to wear a shorter dress despite the cold. Her legs work in conjunction with her other limbs, moving, bending and extending out in time with the rest of her body.

And when she starts to add in more complicated moves, his lips part in amazement. He can only watch from the bank, unable to look away from his princess as she does a small but perfect jump, becoming a silhouette against the sun dropping down behind her. She spins in mid-air, landing effortlessly, all the while her face in set in true joy. She does it again and again, building up that momentum and then leaping up, before landing once more.

For a long time, it goes on, continuing to enrapture him, deeper and deeper, harder and stronger.

When the sun's light has almost been obscured entirely, though, she throws in a last little element. She suddenly stops gliding around, instead throwing her leg up and around. It sends her body into a controlled, perfect spiral, arms crossed over her chest. She spins with breath-taking speed, head tipping back.

One arm reaches up toward the heavens, balance untouched by the movement. It slowly lowers down once more, fingers closing around something he can't see. Her knuckles touch her lips, as if she's taken a piece of the sky for herself and is kissing her claim on her.

And then she slows, coming to a gentle stop, arms dropping to her sides once more.

He can barely remember to breathe.

She seems to come back to herself, remembering where she is, and a fierce blush spreads across her face. She glides over to the edge, eyes diverted toward the ground shyly. He wonders why on earth she seems worried about what she just did.

His shoes back on by this point, he stands now, stepping up to her. His fingers curl under her jaw and around her cheeks, cradling her face very delicately. He tips it up, and her eyes rise up to his, somewhat unsure. "Princess," He breathes out, still feeling the effects of her performance. "What's the matter?"

She lowers her eyes to his chest, responding in a quiet mumble. "I just- I think I got a bit carried away. That wasn't exactly the most Princess-like or lady-like thing to do-"

Before she can speak another word, he swallows her worries in a deep, ardent kiss, all of his love pouring out from him. She leans into him, eyes fluttering closed. He breaks away for just a few seconds, to brush his thumbs over her cheekbones and whisper,

"___, such absolute beauty, grace and elegance is nothing short of the epitome of what it means to be a princess. I do not believe that you doing things like this is anything close to unacceptable or unlike what a princess should do, let alone a woman in general. You are truly, entirely gifted and talented, and I want nothing more than for you to be able to fully enjoy that talent, as you just did."

He curls an arm around her lower back, still holding her face ever so tenderly. His eyes have closed by this point, and he feels no need to open them when he rests his forehead against hers. There's a connection between them, something so strong and absolute that it's unexplainable. He feels like their minds become interconnected, as though he can feel everything she feels and that she can do the same with him.

"Be yourself, ___. Be yourself, as you just were, and I have no doubt that the world with fall to its knees in awe, because you are an undeniable light in a room consumed by darkness. Shine as you just did, and you will feel nothing but happiness."

Their lips come together again, in a kiss full of love, adoration, pride and strength. He's exactly right, and he knows, deep in his heart, that she will become a queen that any country would be honoured to have. He knows, because he sees her true self, sees her beautiful soul and heart, and he knows that in this world, strength like hers is a force that little can overcome.

He knows that very well. He knows, and feels nothing but appreciation for it, because he has the privilege of loving the bearer of that strength, stood before him.

Believe in yourself, my wonderful, beautiful, unbreakable princess. Believe in yourself and who you are, and you will be remembered for centuries.

Chapter Text

♡♔♡

Monsieur Giles: I'm not opposed to your punishment, considering that you broke the rules. However, I also prefer to see your lovely smile, and the beautiful look of victory you will have once you finish them all. Strive for greatness, Arden, and the world will bow before you. Also... I have a little punishment of my own waiting for you once you're done.

That’s what Giles sent you earlier, when you asked him to provide you with motivation to finish the lines you chose to do as punishment for having your phone out in class. You instantly couldn’t wait, looking forward to Giles’ own punishment, since it’ll no doubt be much more… pleasurable.

It’s safe to say the lines were completed quickly.

Now, you stand at the fountain in central Wysteria, deep in town where there’s a statue commemorating Wysteria’s successful departure from war and social unrest. You gaze down at your phone, reading over Giles’ latest text.

Monsieur Giles: Wait by the fountain in town for me. I’ll be there shortly.

Your insides flutter. The anticipation is killing you.

However, you don’t have to suffer it any longer, as a second later, familiar, warm, strong arms wrap around your waist, a solid body hugging you from behind. “Finally,” Giles breathes out into the shell of your ear, sending shivers rattling down your spine. “I’ve found my naughty girl, and can deliver my punishment to her.”

Without him holding you up, you’d be on the floor.

“Giles!” You exclaim, cheeks flushing at his words. He chuckles, brushing a kiss against your cheek.

“You’re adorable, ___. I could say something entirely innocent and it could make you blush like a rose in bloom.” He grins majestically at your indignant huff, catching your hand in his larger, warmer one. He tugs you away from the fountain, explaining, “Now, let us go. Your punishment, and then your concurrent reward, await.”

That makes you blink. You walk with him as he makes his way through the streets of town, asking confusedly, “Wait, reward? What reward?”

The grin never leaves. Now, it just stretches into a smirk, and his voice is almost frustratingly smug when he responds, “The reward I intend to give you for surviving your punishment.”

If you weren’t excited, thrilled, healthily worried and moderately turned on at this point, you sure as hell are now.

In no time, Giles guides you into the tourist part of town, where one of its main attractions is; a space inside the main shopping centre where there are walls of mirrors all around, like a fun house at the fair, making an intricate maze of mirrors that spans out over an are large enough to host at least a couple of hundred people.

Giles takes you over to the entrance to the maze, escorting you inside. Some other people are milling about, marvelling at the room of mirrors, some considering entering and others delving in immediately. You can’t quite work out what the relevance of this is yet, but you’re eager to learn, and start to realise exactly what he’s doing when he guides you deeper and deeper into the maze.

“Now,” He finally breathes out, coming to a slow stop in what must be the centre of the maze. It’s completely empty, at least as far as the mirrors allow you to see, and you can’t hear anyone around. However, you know there are other people inside, children included. “We can begin.”

Without further warning, his tall frame spins, twirling graceful around to face you. It’s almost entrancing, watching his eyes focus in on you, sparkling with an undisguised, lustful desire, lips set in a sinful smirk and hair whipping around with his movement. His hand still enclosed around yours, he tugs you toward him, pulling you into him with enough force to nearly tip you over. You fall into his arms. He catches you without fail.

And then he’s spinning again, and before you can process what’s happening, you’re against the wall and he’s kissing you.

His lips close over your own, deep, raw passion flowing from him and into you. He traps you against one of the mirrors, pressing his body against yours, and your nerve endings all but set alight in response to the proximity. Your shocked squeak is muffled by the kiss, but it does nothing to dampen the mild terror that runs through you when you realis that you could be very easily caught doing this.

“G-Giles,” You gasp out, attempting to interrupt the kiss. He doesn’t let you, stealing your mouth again and fixing his hand against the back of your head, preventing you from escaping him. It’s almost impossible to even mumble it against his lips. “What if someone-”

His free hand finds your thigh. Your body trembles with delight, and the roguish grin that dances on his mouth against yours sends your head spinning. “This is your punishment, for being a rebellious princess.” He purrs, catching your lower lip in between his teeth, his own applying enough pressure to send a wave of pleasure wracking through you. He releases it, taking a moment to marvel at your flushed face, heavy breathing and quaking body.

“I’ll decide when it’s over. You must remain quiet enough that we are not caught. If we are, well… there will only be one of us feeling embarrassed over it.”

He wants me to stay quiet, when he’s kissing me like this, in public? He’s insane.

As ridiculous as this is, so are you.

And that’s exactly why you tuck your lip between your own teeth with excitement, peeking up at him with a teasingly innocent gaze. “I’ll try.”

Consider the beast inside Giles well and truly unleashed.

He palms your thigh, not hard enough to hurt but enough to make it tense up underneath his touch. He consumes you in another scorching kiss at the same time, then another and another, not giving you a single reprieve or moment to breathe.

The hand on the back of your head drifts down to your waist, where he grips it hard, tugging your pelvis toward him. With your head forced back against the mirror from the ferocity of the kiss, but then him keeping your lower body away from it, it forms a delicious arch in your spine, and means that his hips end up pressed gloriously hard against your own. Heat sears through your muscles, collecting and pooling deep inside you.

It’s too much. It’s too good. It’s too irresistible.

A very soft moan drips from your lips, audible even through the kiss.

Instantly, he separates from you. Well, at least, he does with his mouth. “Oh? What was that I just heard?”

Your eyes fly open, panting away, heartbeat thundering inside you. You made a noise.

The glint in his eye becomes just a little bit sadistic, in that borderline dangerous, taunting way you just can’t resist. The fingers of the hand on your thigh tease their way upward, grazing their way up your jeans, then around the back of your limb. You grip onto his coat, shuddering with please. He leans in close, lips hovering over the end of your jaw. “You’ve just earned yourself a much more torturous punishment, Princess.”

In a second, he’s got you by your legs, hauling you up so that you’re braced against him, said limbs locked around his hips. He grips onto your upper thighs, and you immediately lower your head when he gives you an expectant look.

It’s time for round three of kiss-the-shit-out-of-___, and this time, his tongue’s been invited to play.

You can’t function enough to even try to fight him, and your mouth falls open when his tongue prods at your lips. Eyes fluttering shut with dizzying pleasure, you stifle another, very strong moan, feeling the warm, wet muscle seek out yours enchanting it into an addictive dance, twining and toying with it in a way that makes your whole body feel weak. In the same heated moment, his hands squeeze at your thighs, fingers dangerously close to the inside of them. They clench around his hips, that same coiling inside you tensing further.

When the hands move, sliding up to your rear, you almost lose it.

“Don’t make a sound.”

The order comes just as he squeezes, gripping at you through your jeans. The sensation sends an insurmountable wave of lust rolling through you. Your teeth seek out his lower lip and, out of instinct, wanting nothing more than to please him, you bite down on his lip to silence your passionate cry.

The growl you receive in response is like heaven, or perhaps hell, itself.

Before you can process the fact that you managed to stay quiet even with that kind of touching, your feet touch the ground again, and his hands shift from your behind to your face. He brings you into an almost unbearably intense kiss, tongue seeking out yours once again. You cling to him, barely able to stand.

And then, he draws back. You sway just a little, eyes drifting open.

His cheeks are flushed, lips swollen, and his eyes are dark with desire. However, they’re also proud and loving, and the smile he gives you is gracefully kind, expression soft and voice gentle.

“Well done, Princess. You endured the punishment with only one mistake. I’m impressed.” His thumb brushes over your cheek, the other hand’s fingers feathering over your jaw. He leans down, whispering very hotly into your ear, now in a sensual and seductive utter, “And, you look thoroughly loved, with your expression like that, eyes glowing with lust and lips flushed with blood. I could devour you, could ravage you, right this second.”

You can’t find words to respond with, not with the extra boost of blood now rushing to your head from his words. It occurs to you very suddenly that you’re still in public, and your eyes snap to the side, checking the mirrored maze for people. Very thankfully, it’s empty. Giles chuckles at this, musing absently, “I think I’ll bring you here more often. It was glorious, to be able to see your expressions of pleasure and passion from so many wondrous angles. Indeed, I’ll make this a place we frequent more often.”

“Giles!” You manage to exclaim at long last, embarrassment overtaking you. “Stop it!”

He just howls with laughter, reaching down to twine his fingers through yours. “You’re forever a delight to tease, ___, truly. You’re beautiful.” Your mind whirls with joy at his words, more so when he dusts a kiss against your forehead, breathing out, “I love you, ___.”

You can’t stop the gorgeous smile that slips onto your lips. You lean into his touch, murmuring in return, “And I love you, Giles.”

He sighs contentedly, then gently coaxes you with him toward the way out of the maze. “Come. It’s time for your reward.”

You’re able to gather the composure to tease him, humming, “Another maze?”

He just laughs. “No, unfortunately. We’re going for afternoon tea. After all, you need something to calm that furious blush of yours.”

“Giles! Shut it!”

Chapter Text

Sharp, scarlet eyes glare down at the parchment gripping in the hands of their owner. A fierce, unforgiving look of utter contempt, hatred and fury blazes inside the hues, smouldering and swirling with flames known all too well by the one who feels them.

It’s very, very rare that Leo loses his temper. Very rare, indeed.

Today, as such, is rare.

“Goddammit!” He growls, fingers crushing the parchment mercilessly. It crumples under the intense pressure, although with the force he uses, steel would probably bow and break as well. He lashes it at the wall of his office, slamming a hand against the top of his desk. “Goddammit… you bastard…”

The cause of Leo’s rage has always been the same, and it’s no different now.

The letter he just threw contains a threat against the princess, once again from those who oppose the Princess System. It warns her that something’s coming, and that she should prepare herself for the worst. It details how those behind the letter, not expressed in any way that’s really helpful at all, of course, are going to take her out, destabilise Wysteria, then build it back up in their image, no doubt twisted and cruel and set in ancient, despicable ways.

That, naturally, would make Leo enraged regardless. Someone’s threatening the only thing on the planet, the only person in the world, that he loves, cares about and cherishes, his own life included.

However, he’s livid right now because of something else: while the letter doesn’t verbally show who it’s from, Leo knows. Leo knows, because he recognises the handwriting and the seal on the envelope.

It’s that of Lord Beckett.

He’s a friend and fellow noble of Lord Aubin, Leo’s traitorous uncle. The latter is the ultimate object of Leo’s hatred and fury; if Leo’s ever going to commit murder, it’s going to be against Aubin, or anyone who stands between Leo and the chance to murder him. Beckett was exiled from Wysteria several years ago for conspiracy to treason against the late king, and hasn’t been seen or heard of since.

Leo exhales sharply. For now, he needs to focus, he reminds himself. He mustn’t let allow himself to lose his cool and composure, purely for the princess’ sake. He can’t afford it. Giles, Alyn, Louis, Sid and the princess have already seen the letter, they having been at the palace when it arrived.

Leo was out doing an inspection of the region of Wysteria that he oversees and likes to take care of, and he just returned. After a rather stressful day of answering the people’s questions, remembering their concerns and requests, and then taking their criticisms and dealing with the incessant fawning of his “fans”, he wanted nothing more than to come home and sweep his princess into his arms, to hold her close and forget all of his pains, to just focus on her and her light, her warmth and happiness.

And, yet, here he is. His only love, his life, his everything, threatened again.

Not only that, but now not in the palace at all, having been evacuated from the palace not an hour before he returned, due to an uproar that’s been building swiftly from the opposing nobility. They were apparently going as far as threatening her in front of Alyn and Giles, and the latter two had no choice but to remove her from the palace while they calm things down, baffled by the sudden change in their attitudes toward her.

Leo is not happy. He is royally, absolutely, disturbingly pissed off, and wants nothing more than to lose it in front of the nobles that are causing them all grief.

“Fuck you all.” He spits, swearing and meaning it for the first time in months, other than when it’s been out of please.

He snatches the letter from the floor after jerking away from his desk, lashing his door open hard enough that it slams against the wall, sending a violent tremor though the bricks. He stalks out, hearing Sebastian’s panicked squawk at the sudden noise, before the parrot dives off his perch and flies out with his owner.

He lands atop Leo’s shoulder, eyeing the fair-haired male as he storms down the corridor like death itself. “They can all go fuck themselves. Stupid, arrogant, stuck-up, selfish pricks…”

“Leo, angry. Leo, angry. Nobles, stupid. Noble, stupid.” He repeats, head quirking to the side, tilting just a bit, as he looks for confirmation from Leo. The latter gives him a controlled stroke along the feathers of his neck, fingers trembling with the adrenaline surging through his veins. It feels like his blood’s on fire.

“Yeah, I am angry, and they are stupid. Don’t say that around them, Sebastian. I’m serious – they’ll serve you for dinner.” Another squawk, but this time horrified and accompanied by a less-than-welcome flap of his wings right in Leo’s eye. He forces himself not to shove the parrot off his shoulder out of irritation.

“Sebastian, parrot! Not dinner! Don’t eat!” He cries out. Leo can only sigh in aggravation.

“Keep your beak shut and they won’t.”

He arrives at Giles’ office now. Alyn is with the princess at the villa with an escort of knights, but the Chamberlain remained to deescalate the situation as much as humanly possible. Leo hears the commotion from halfway down the corridor, and this only serves to bolster his fury, the thought that the nobles in there are probably behind this blurring his vision with crimson.

He shoves the door open, not remotely in the mood to put on a smile. They’ve lost the privilege of seeing it, every single one of them. The door slams open, booming thunderously against the innocent wall.

Inside, Giles is rubbing his temple, his own anger clearly breaking through the surface of his usual calm outward appearance. Relief flushes through his eyes upon noticing Leo enter, and the other bureaucrats around the room fall silent, shocked and stunned by the visible, undeniable, outright intimidating aura exuding from the eldest Crawford.

“So,” Leo starts, tone completely unamused and deathly serious. “Some of you are unhappy with the Princess System? And you feel like you’ve got the right to get rid of her and take the country into your own hands, when some of you can barely uphold a single district without it collapsing into ruin?”

There’s a synchronised gasp of offended surprise from many of them. Several try to speak, but his voice booms through the room just like the slam of the door, overpowering them completely.

This is what happens when you push Leo over the edge. His second side, his true, darker nature, comes out to play, and it intends to end the game with checkmate no matter what happens.

“Silence!” He roars over the protests. They all quieten, sending each other glances and looks of unease, guilt, fear or uncertainty. Several display panic. He makes sure to note the faces and names of the ones who look outright suspicious.

“I’ve completely had it with all of you. I’ve appeased you all and made compromise after compromise to make our use of the Princess System as comfortable and easy as possible, and so has Giles, and Duke Howard, and Alyn, and a hell of a lot of other people who really shouldn’t have had to spend so much time on people like you, who refuse to listen to reason and drop your pretentious ideologies for the sake of pride. Do you want to know another person who’s done even more than us, worked even harder and spent more time and energy and bent over backwards to make you all happy?”

The parchment is slammed against the top of the desk, a sharp crack echoing through the room in response. The bureaucrats visibly jump, startled by the blatant aggression in Leo’s body language, usually so cool and level-headed. Pain lances through his hand, wrist and forearm, but he doesn’t register it through the adrenaline.

“The princess. That beautiful, wonderful girl who defied all odds and proved to every single one of you that even a commoner can become worthy of the title of not only princess, but also queen. She’s brought more harmony, cohesion, peace and prosperity to Wysteria than there has been over the past century and a half. To top it off, she’s managed to finally bring about honesty and cooperation between us and Stein, and Laurelia, and quell the disputes that have been escalating because of Protea. But that’s not enough, right? She’s not a blue blood, so all of that counts for zilch, yeah?”

More and more of the nobles seem to be realising the weight of Leo’s words now, and appear to be realising just how ridiculous their opposition to the princess is. Leo’s shoulders tremble. He shakes his head, watching a few of them duck their own out of shame, guilt or regret. “Good. I’m glad at least a few of you seem at least partially capable of compassion, considering that your actions say you’re all completely heartless and narrow-minded.”

Several of them wince at that. Leo leans back against Giles’ desk, exhaling slowly, attempting to soothe the growing frustration brewing in him. He lowers his voice, and it comes out husky now, rough and deep with his anger and shouting. “I didn’t want to have to explode and go off on one like this, and have no doubt a good few of you will try to make my life hell from now on. I don’t care. Do what you like – you all know I have very little to lose.”

Several nobles seem distraught at that, and even those who aren’t seem to lose colour, hearing Leo refer so bluntly to his life and past. His eyes turn hostile. They’ve already been scorching with rage, but now they’re clearly threatening.

“But, I can promise you this. I might not care if you mess with me, but if any of you so much as touch the princess, or try to hurt her or move against her, so help me God, I’ll show each and every one of you that this is only a fraction of the anger I’m capable of. I’m done with being nice, because it’s gotten us nowhere. I’m sick of being kind when all it does is end in more suffering for people who don’t deserve it.”

The vast majority of the nobles are completely terrified by this point, believing every single word coming from Leo’s lips. It would be unbelievably stupid to question his vindication; one look at his eyes makes it very easy to understand that he’s absolutely serious.

“Right, then. Go on. If you want to target me, do it. If you’re going to threaten me or swear that I’ll pay, feel free. If you want to calmly and peacefully discuss further compromises we can make to satisfy you all in regards to the Princess System, we’re both here to talk. Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

The two expect uproar. All they receive is silence.

Giles blinks, taken aback by the lack of objection. Leo’s eyes narrow, and his grip on the desk tightens. “For the love of all that’s holy… you’re telling me that, after all the fuss you were all kicking up to Giles just now, you’ve all forgotten what you want to say or don’t want to say it, because I’ve told you off like I should have a long time ago?” He shakes his head. “Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.”

He’s in the process of massaging the bridge of his nose out of stress when a female voice speaks up, very much timid, to some degree afraid and completely sincere. It’s a noblewoman Leo vaguely knows, a young one from a high-ranking, old family in Wysteria.

“Leo… I can’t speak for the rest of us, but I see now that my opposition to the Princess System was petulant and childish. I hadn’t considered the impact of the princess’ actions so far in her rule. I was unfair in that respect, and I realise now that I haven’t given her nearly as much credit as she deserves.”

She bows her head, further stunning Giles and causing Leo’s eyebrow to arch up. He’s not nearly as impressed as his friend. “I apologise. My family members aren’t present here, but I will convey to them everything you just said and do what I can to lessen or remove their opposition to the princess. I hope you can forgive my actions.”

Tch. I have to practically scream at you for you to understand that you’re a selfish, thoughtless brat. You don’t deserve the title, money and power you have.

Leo doesn’t vocalise this, as much as he really, really, really wants to. He just sighs, nodding slowly. “As long as you understand our position and even just work toward tolerating her, that’s a massive improvement. We don’t want to clash with any of you or drive a wedge between those working in the palace. We want to make us all stronger together so we can better serve Wysteria.”

The woman nods, expression determined. “Then I’ll do what I can to help you achieve that.” She turns to her fellow bureaucrats, her status making her powerful and influential despite her tender age. “All of us should leave for now and reflect on our words and actions. Those who still feel the same can return to raise their concerns in a more peaceful and respectful manner tomorrow. For now, let us go.”

There’s the odd grumble or mutter here and there, but the cluster of bureaucrats file out of Giles’ office without any further protest. Giles and Leo watch them go, the former’s expression a picture of rare, stunned amazement, and Leo’s that of rare, unfiltered irritation.

The door shuts quietly. The office is silent for a long, few seconds.

It occurs to Leo after approximately six seconds that he probably just screwed himself and the princess over. Significantly.

Groaning, he sits back on Giles’ desk, elbows dropping onto his knees and face flopping into his awaiting palms. He groans into them, closing his eyes. He feels like his body is made up almost entirely of stress right now. “That was stupid. That was really, really stupid. I’m an idiot.”

Giles final breaks out of his shock, turning to the male beside him, studying him swallowing himself up in his own whirlpool of dark thoughts, regret and exhaustion. Giles’ hand comes to settle very lightly atop Leo’s shoulder, the one Sebastian isn’t occupying in a moment of rare silence, settling there in a timid attempt to calm the fuming Crawford.

“I don’t agree, actually. While that wasn’t the most diplomatic way to approach the situation, I think you just made more progress than we all have combined over the period of time in which the princess has been with us. They might be rather displeased with you scolding them, but I think your words most definitely got through to them and has made them think seriously about their views. That’s a step in the right direction, for certain. I believe good will come of this, Leo.”

His hand squeezes lightly, gently. “Well done. Don’t regret it, Leo. Whatever repercussions come of this, we will handle and deal with them calmly, as we always do.”

Leo grunts, feeling only microscopically better at the comfort. His insides twist with unease, and a wave of discomfort washes through him, causing a shiver to slide all the way from the low of his spine up to the base of his head.

It’s a painfully familiar sensation, and one Leo never ignores.

Something’s off. I don’t like this. I need to see that she’s alright.

“I want to see her. I don’t feel right, Giles. Something’s off, and it’s not just because I’m angry. I need to see for myself that she’s safe.” He declares, jerking upright sharply enough for Giles to retract his hand, and for Sebastian to nearly tumble straight off his shoulder. Leo ignores him. “She’s in the southern villa, right? Near the lake?”

Giles blinks, then frowns, arms crossing habitually. “Well, yes, she is. She’s already with guards, and Alyn himself, Leo. She’s more than safe-”

Leo whirls around, spinning on his heels. He’s making a beeline for the door, cutting Giles off mid-sentence. “Sorry, Giles. I’ve got a gut feeling, and it’s a feeling that’s never been wrong. I need to see her.”

With that, he rushes out. Giles stares after him, completely and utterly speechless for once in his life.

Leo darts through the corridors, glancing out of the widows on his way. Twilight has arrived, and the sky is collapsing into the deep embrace of dusk, the horizon inflamed with the last of the sun’s kisses dusting the expanse in a breath-taking ocean of molten orange.

I’ve got time. If I ride out now, see her for a little while, and then ride back, I can be back before it gets dangerously late. I can make it.

Sebastian flies alongside Leo now, giving up on hitching a ride on his shoulder. He follows his owner the whole way through the palace, past some of the still-reflecting nobles, until he finally gets outside and bolts for the stables. Several of the guards there watch him warily, sending each other confused glances when he throws open one of the pen doors, saddling up one of the horses as fast as he can.

“Sir Leo,” One guard starts, approaching the fair-haired man cautiously. “May I ask why you’re leaving the palace at this time of night? It’s nearing evening-”

“I’m leaving the palace right now, Sir Knight,” Leo responds, sarcasm dripping into his tone just a bit. He hops onto the horse when the saddle’s secure and reins are on, giving the knight a stern look. “Because I’m going to verify the safety of the princess. Don’t try and stop me.”

He’s not going to give the knight a chance to stop him, anyway. Just in case. He doesn’t feel like getting put on house arrest for murdering one of the palace’s knights.

He spurs the horse into action, riding at full speed toward the gates. The knights there seem panicked by his swift approach, but throw open the gates upon seeing that he’s not going to slow down at all. Leo rides through, wind whipping his hair around his face wildly and chilling his skin. He ignores this, focusing on navigating to the south of Wysteria.

It’s more dangerous, but it’s the fastest way. The woods it is.

He steels himself, controlling the horse effortlessly. “Come on, girl.” He encourages the horse, desperation leaking into his voice. “Nearly there.”

The trees blur around him, animals scurrying away from the pounding of the horse’s hooves. Leo ducks out of the way of branches, listening to the breaths whooshing out of the horse’s lungs, feeling the strength of its muscles under him. It reassures him, just a little.

I’ll get there in time. I have to. If I don’t, it’s over. I couldn’t carry on without her.

Thanks to the horse’s speed, it’s not long before he breaks out of the forest and onto the path leading to the villa. It’s a short ride along it, and then it comes into sight, the regal mansion coming into view around a thicket of trees and bushes. Relief surges through him; everything looks fine. He can see guards outside the doors, stood ready and waiting to respond to anything, calm and composed like they should be.

And, as Leo would expect of them, they approach his horse when he comes to a stop before them, holding their hands up. He slides off the saddle, patting the creature’s neck and murmuring praise to it. He rests his forehead against it for a second, trying to calm his shallow, erratic breathing. “Sir Leo, why are you here? The princess is here so that she can be separated from the palace staff-”

“I wasn’t followed, don’t worry. I checked the whole way here.” Leo huffs out, finally standing straight and levelling the two guards with looks of absolute seriousness. “The situation at the palace still isn’t under control. I want to see the princess to verify her safety.”

The guard’s expression morphs into one of uncertainty. “I don’t think you’re allowed, Sir Leo-”

“Move aside.”

Leo’s lips twitch up for the first time all day.

Thank God for little brothers.

Alyn emerges from the mansion, slipping through the doors before closing them again. The guards separate and shift out of the way immediately, saluting their captain. He rolls his eyes, stepping up before Leo.

“At ease.” The two lower their hands, and Alyn’s gaze settles on his brother, identical eyes meeting Leo’s. “Why are you here?”

Alyn knows Leo well enough to understand his next words. “I had a gut feeling I needed to be here. A bad one.”

Alyn remains silent, but his pupils expand ever so slightly, just enough for Leo to catch. He’s heard that voice, seen that look and body language, several times before. Leo’s senses are impeccable, except for his sight, and that includes his sixth sense. He’s always known when something’s been coming, when something’s off or dangerous. Alyn very rarely trusts such unfounded tip-offs, but this is an exception.

He trusts his brother, at least this much.

“Come inside. I’ll take you to her – she’s fine.” He murmurs lowly. The guards stare at him in bafflement, but he takes no notice, swivelling around and heading back to the doors. Leo follows behind, overwhelmed by that sensation of having a cord bound, constricting, around his throat. It tugs him toward the house, instincts guiding him toward the one he needs to be with.

Alyn doesn’t speak as he guides Leo through the villa, to the parlour. He knocks, only calling now, “I’m coming in. I’ve got someone who wants to see you.”

With that, he opens the door and steps inside. Leo heads in behind him, shutting the door.

The princess sits, untouched, unharmed, unmarked and completely relaxed on one of the couches. She sips at her tea, but pauses when the two enter, eyes rising to Leo.

He can’t help the shuddered breath that rattles out of him. His mind practically implodes with relief and joy.

You’re alright. I love you. God, I love you so much.

“Leo? I didn’t think you were allowed to come here. Are you okay?” She sets her cup and saucer down, rising to her feet and approaching him with a mildly curious expression. Along with that, though, there’s elation dancing in her eyes, pure happiness and pleasant surprise swirling in the hues.

She’s so beautiful. Just a look from her, and I lose my heart all over again.

The stress of the day rushes through him. He observes Alyn pointedly turn away out of the corner of his eye, sending Leo a nod before facing the window.

Thanks, Alyn. I owe you one.

He almost stumbles toward her, throwing his arms around her waist. She stiffens, stunned by the sudden embrace, but he takes no notice. He crushes her against him, feeling settled and content at long last with her finally in his arms. He presses his lips to the crown of her head almost forcefully, trying to convince himself that she’s truly safe and unharmed.

“Princess,” He chokes out, his usually smooth, untouchable, cool exterior crumbling, words trembling with heavy emotion. “God. You’re okay. You’re safe…”

Her hands, resting tenderly against his chest, slide up gently, arms looping around his neck, hugging him back with a careful, comforting pressure. Her fingers seek out his hair, threading through the pale strands, brushing them down with a feather-light touch.

“Of course I am. What’s wrong? Was there another threat letter?” Her body tenses against him, fingers pausing. “Are you hurt? Did something happen?”

He shakes his head, a real, genuine laugh spilling over his lips at the sudden interrogation. “No, no, don’t worry. Nothing happened. I just…”

I don’t want her to worry.

“I just needed to see you. Rough day, I guess.”

His lip doesn’t curve up at the side.

I’m not lying.

The tension gradually leaves her. She nods, sighing softly and burying her face in his chest. Her fingers return to their ministrations, and he embraces her tighter, basking in her sweet scent and warmth against him. “Well, you’re here now. I’m here.”

Alyn allows Leo to stay for the next hour after that, just on the off-chance that his feeling is right. When nothing happens, Alyn isn’t even miffed, instead looking like he just dodged an arrow by the skin of his teeth.

Leo sits on the couch, the princess cradled in his arms, sat daintily on his lap sideward. He plays with her fingers absently, repeatedly returning to brush his fingertips over her fourth one, the ring finger. His eyes are lidded, heartbeat thumping steadily under the princess’ hand, resting against his heart. It’s a bit faster than usual, granted, but it’s always like that when he so much as thinks about her.

It’s peaceful. Alyn remains gazing out of the window overlooking the western side of the villa, perched atop one of the tables, arms crossed habitually.

Everything goes to hell in three seconds flat.

Leo’s eyes fly open.

The first thing he feels is a very odd, very much unfamiliar sensation. It’s like an invisible force nudges him in the back, rocking him forward ever so slightly.

The princess’ eyes are just opening in response when a thunderous explosion erupts behind them, from the southern side of the house.

The intensity rocks the house, vibrating through the floor. The sound of glass shattering sounds immediately afterward, but Leo doesn’t have the time nor chance to turn toward it. A second, stronger pulsation slams into him, and the sound of splintering wood, shattering bricks and snapping furniture fills the air. He’s launched off the couch, thrown forward, the princess still in his arms.

He manages to land on his knees, the shock of falling on them sending pain lancing through his bones. He collapses to the floor, the heir to the Wysterian throne now under him. He curls over her, using his body to shield her by instinct. Something sharp slices against his head, something else slamming into his back. Agony throbs through his ribs for a moment.

Everything stops. It’s silent, other than what sounds like the ceiling collapsing behind him.

His ears ring. His head feels fuzzy. He can’t think. Somewhere close by, Alyn coughs, the noise hoarse and pained. Leo gasps in a breath, ribs and lungs aching, protesting against their use aggressively.

There’s voices behind him. He can’t even move.

All of a sudden, hands are on him. They grab his shoulders and arms, ripping him backward and off the princess with violent force. He’s slammed back against the floor, panic, confusion and fright wracking through him. His vision blurred, he can only try to blink away the lack of focus and study the faces hovering above him.

He doesn’t need to see one person to identify them, because in that moment, they speak, and it’s a voice he knows all too well. “Dear me. That was dreadfully easy.”

Aubin’s friend. I knew it. I knew something was going to happen.

Fury pours into Leo’s veins. He thrashes against the hands restraining him, sight finally sharpening. He growls, kicking at his assailants, who attempt to duck out of the way of his attacks, more often than not in vein. They grunt each time he gets in a successful kick. “You bastards! Don’t touch her! I’ll kill you!” Leo roars. There’s a chuckle below him, near where the princess is.

“Oh, Leo! I haven’t seen you in so long! How have you been?” Lord Beckett snickers. “I suppose you’ve been living the high life, ever since you testified against me at my trial. It seems you’re just as delusional now as you were back then.”

One of the people on either side of him, who he sees now are missionaries, pouches Leo straight in the jaw. His head snaps to the side, temple smashing against the floor. He howls in pain, head pounding and vision blurring again. He hears Alyn growl from the side, and the sound of intense struggling.

“Leo!” He yells. The sound of something striking flesh comes straight afterward, and then Alyn chokes, gasping for breath. Fury consumes Leo’s mind.

“Alyn!” He cries out in response.

No, no, no. Everything I live for is in this room. Don’t take them away from me. Don’t give me real reason to stop living.

The rage is incomprehensible.

“Now, here you are, Princess. It’s about time I met you.”

A thud. The princess screams in pain, and he hears the sickening sound of a body colliding with the wall.

Don’t touch her with your filthy hands. Don’t you dare.

“You never should have been chosen. The position was never yours to take. I’ll rectify Giles’ mistake of electing a commoner as princess right now.”

I’ll kill you.

Something happens to Leo in that second, something he’ll never, ever, ever be able to explain.

An inhuman sound of pure, unadulterated rage rips out of him. His body flies forward, arms tearing out of the grips of his assailants. His eyes whip around, homing in on the one to his left. His sword’s out in a second.

He doesn’t hesitate. No mercy will be given to those who cross Leo Crawford.

The blade arcs out, the motion perfect and smooth and controlled even through his anger. The missionary’s throat seems to almost pop open, blood spurting from the deep gash with each of the last beats of his heart. Leo wastes no time, using the distraction of horror to whirl around on the second missionary. He can’t draw his sword in time, and Leo cuts open his neck just like the first, watching him writhe in agony, clutching at his neck, before collapsing to the ground.

Someone runs at him from behind. He spins around, sword coming up, only to be met with a solid, powerful blow from another missionary. Now that he’s turned, he can see that Alyn had five on him at once, but that now two of them have abandoned him to come after Leo. Baring his teeth, he dances back, then swoops in again, engaging in a fierce, fast duel with the missionary. The second jumps around the side of the first to catch Leo off-guard, but he’s ready.

The second one’s sword arcs to the side, heading straight for Leo’s throat. He ducks and swivels around, grabbing the arm of the first as his sword slices through the air in the opposite direction. The missionary is spun around and yanked to the side, then back, to where Leo was just stood microseconds ago.

His comrade’s sword buries itself in his neck. The second one yells out a sound of sheer, mortified horror.

That is, before Leo jumps up behind him, sending his sword across the back of his neck, severing every connection his brain has with the rest of his body. He slumps to the floor, not dead but unable to control his body in the slightest.

“Come here, Princess!” Beckett roars. Leo whirls around, wide eyes homing in on his other half.

She’s lashed to the floor by Beckett, head cracking against the ground. Blood is streaming down her head already, from her temple, and her cheeks are littered by smaller, shallower cuts. More cover her arms, and one lines her collarbone, streaming crimson down her chest. There’s more on her abdomen, and some on the skirts of her tattered, ripped dress.

She skitters back from Beckett, gaze never straying from him. Her expression is a picture of terror. She hits the wall, and he closes in on her, raising his sword.

Leo lunges.

Don’t take her away from me! Don’t you fucking dare!

His sword bursts through Beckett’s chest, managing to pierce through the gap in his ribs. It rips through his lung and knocks around the front of the ribs, the tip emerging through. He gasps in agony and shock, sword clattering to the floor, before he stumbles back and stares down at the tip of the offending weapon. His face is a picture.

A picture Leo doesn’t want to see anymore.

He yanks the sword out, and with the block removed, blood pours from him on both sides. Leo shoves him back, tumbling and ending up as a pathetic, desperate pile of disgrace and pain at Leo’s feet. Leo won’t give him the chance to be saved. He has to eliminate anyone like Aubin, and anyone who would do something like this. He will not allow his princess to be endangered by mistakes like Beckett.

“Princess,” The words is said quietly, hoarsely, over the sound of Alyn shoving the last of the missionaries away from him and to the floor. The brunette’s sword slices straight through his heart, the other two already down and out for the count. The princess never removes her eyes from Leo, not once, despite this. “Look away. I don’t want you to see this.”

She’s never, ever, ever heard him use that voice before. It’s frightening. It deeply, truly, admittedly unsettles her.

So, she does as he says. She squeezes her eyes shut, turning her head away. Leo doesn’t speak anymore. He can’t be bothered doing the dramatic and giving Beckett any parting words. He just wants this done and over with so he can take care of the woman he loves.

His sword opens up a new, perfectly shaped hole in the noble’s throat, much wider than his bugging eyes and sagging jaw. The gargles that cough out of him for the next thirty seconds only serve to provide Leo with a sense of finality, of closure, and even a bit of satisfaction. He stills, eyes becoming devoid of life.

Alyn breathes heavily to his side, clutching at his stomach, where a flower of crimson is blossoming out into his uniform. The tip of his sword sinks into the floor, and he leans on it heavily, face betraying real, serious pain. He forces himself up, though, before hauling himself over to the princess and kneeling. Leo does the same, collapsing to his knees before her, sheathing his sword.

Her eyes are still closed. She’s waiting for him to tell her to open them. Something about that makes his already aching chest throb even more, and tears spring to his eyes.

He cradles her face is his bloody hands, whispering, the sound croaky and rough, “Princess, it’s over. You can open your eyes. Look at me.”

They’re open in an instant, and then she’s gasping out a ragged, pained breath, relief rushing into her eyes. “Oh my God,” She forces herself up, onto her knees. Then, she throws her arms around not only Leo’s neck, but Alyn’s as well, gripping them both with trembling hands. “You’re both alive. Thank God. I’m so sorry. We need to get you both back to the palace-”

The Crawford twins hug her back, for once not fighting, and for once completely on the same page. Leo hushes her, exhaling shakily. “Princess, look at yourself. You’re not exactly unharmed. We need to get you safe as well.” Alyn pulls back, and she lets him, watching him heave himself to his feet once more. Leo needs her close to him, needs her in his arms. He’ll go crazy if he doesn’t.

So, ignoring the agony searing through pretty much every one of his limbs and appendages, he tucks his arms under her thighs and back, lifting her up and keeping her locked in his grip. Alyn starts toward the door, and he follows, studying the princess pushing back, staring up at him with wide eyes. “Leo, I can walk! I’m fine! You’re hurt – there’s no reason for you to carry me-”

She stops short at the desperate, imploring look in his eyes. The familiar, painful sadness lurking in the scarlet is something she’s seen one too many times. Her lips part, but she doesn’t speak now. He doesn’t either, praying that she understands.

She does. Of course she does.

Her mouth closes, and her arms secure themselves around his neck, letting her take the majority of her weight. She buries her face in his throat.

He presses a shaky kiss to her bloodied cheek. His words barely qualify as a whisper. “Thank you, Princess.”

Her fingers seek out his soft, pale hair once more, and her response is just as quiet. “Thank you, Leo.”

He carries the heir to the Wysterian heir through the ruined mansion, stepping in pools of blood and over bodies. Knights and missionaries line the ground. The entire southern side of the house is non-existent. The remaining knights are moving their dead, some weeping, some furious, some numb. Alyn’s back is to Leo, but he can feel his twin’s suffering. He doesn’t even need his sixth sense to detect it. He stares at the dark head of hair in front of him, hoping that, somehow, Alyn hears his unspoken words.

I’m sorry, Alyn. They didn’t deserve to die.

They get outside, where a group of the most uninjured knights are stood, the horses ready to escort the princess back to the palace. Leo mounts his horse, Alyn temporarily taking her from him while he drags himself up, before he hands her over again and climbs onto his own horse. Neither of them speak.

But just before they set off for the palace, the princess held tightly in Leo’s arms, side-on in front of him, the twins’ eyes meet. Alyn’s, for once, hold no ill will toward Leo. They only hold respect.

His inclines his head, just slightly, before spurring his horse into movement.

Something in Leo’s heart twists a little, but amidst the chaos, it’s a nice feeling. It’s almost like hope. It’s tragic that he can’t hear the thought in Alyn’s head.

Thank you, Leo, for protecting us both. I owe you one.

♡♔♡

Everyone who was in the mansion at the time of the attack and lived, meaning Alyn, Leo, the princess, and the remaining knights, is gradually brought back to the palace over the next few hours. More doctors are brought in as well, to deal with the countless injuries suffered by them collectively.

By the time Leo’s been patched up, it’s well into the early hours of the morning. Even more exhausted, now from a combination of stress, tiredness, pain, injury and general misery, he needs to see her, even just once.

Luckily, when he heads to her room, he hears voices inside and sighs with relief. He knocks weakly, leaning against the door. “Princess? It’s me. Can I come in?”

Her answer comes immediately. “Yes! Come in, Leo!”

If she had said anything else, he probably would have collapsed there and then.

He enters the room, finding Giles, Louis and Nico stood around the princess’ bed. They turn upon hearing him enter, only in his white shirt, jewellery and trousers with his boots. He didn’t have the energy to dress properly. They also take in the sight of the bruising on his cheek and jaw, the other bruises peeking around the lapels of his shirt, and the agonised stiffness of his body when he closes the door behind him.

“Leo,” Giles breathes out. “Thank heavens you’re alright, if that is an appropriate way to phrase it. How do you feel?”

Leo clears his throat, wandering over to the bed, feeling that invisible cord tugging him over once again. “I’m alright.” He answers, voice still rough and throaty. “A bit sore, but otherwise I’m fine.”

Nico and Louis shift out of the way, allowing Leo to see the princess.

Several, very small strips of cloth have been fixed to her face, scattered here and there, covering cuts she suffered. The same can be said for her arms and chest, although the one on her collarbone is considerably thicker and bigger. She looks alright, other than being exhausted like him, and her eyes are both bright but heavy as they settle on him. “Leo.” She sighs out his name, reaching out to him immediately. “Are you okay? How badly hurt are you?”

He takes her hand immediately, cradling it in both of his and brushing his lips over her fingers. His eyes flutter closed, and he mumbles his answer into her hand, fingers trailing over her soft skin like she’s the rarest gem in the world. “I’ve got lots of cuts and bruises, I had a mild concussion for a while, the doctor thinks I’ve got internal bleeding and there’s a gash on the back of my head.” He kisses her ring finger, asking in return, “How about you? There’s nothing serious, is there?”

Giles, Louis and Nico share a simultaneous look of knowing. Giles chuckles to himself, and Nico giggles quietly, leaving Louis to simply blink. Giles ushers the two from the room, shutting the door behind them gently. As soon as they’re gone, Leo slumps down, sitting beside the princess heavily and now clutching at her hand. “I’ve got lots of cuts and bruises like you, and a bigger gash on my stomach, as well as a possibly fractured rib. The doctor says it’ll heal as long as I’m careful and just take it easy for the next few months.”

While he’s not happy in the slightest about her being injured point blank, he’s glad there’s nothing life-threatening. He heaves out a heavy breath, very carefully lowering his head until it settles atop her chest. He forces down the urge to burst into tears there and then, overwhelmed by how awful this whole day’s been.

“That’s-” His voice breaks. He squeezes his eyes shut, cursing inwardly when he feels moisture drip down from his eyes, tickling over his temple and soaking into the soft flesh of the princess’ chest. “Th-that’s good. I’m so glad you’re… you’re…”

He can’t do this. He’s not that strong.

She knows this very well.

Her arms curl around his head. She decorates his hair and forehead with tender, loving kisses, hushing his attempts to speak. “Let it out, Leo. If you need to cry, cry. That’s what I’m here for. Lean on me, and depend on me. You can trust me with your heart. You know that. You don’t have to try to keep your cool around me all the time.”

As soon as she speaks the words, there’s no going back. It’s just one of those things. When you’re that close to falling over the edge, to have someone tell you, with nothing but sincerity and kindness, that you can fall if you need to, it’s impossible to hold on any longer.

She holds him in her arms, soothing and comforting him. He gasps out sobs into her chest, clutching at her body, finally letting her see him completely vulnerable and weak. She doesn’t mind, of course not. She wants this. She wants him to shed his tears and bear his heart to her. She wants nothing more than to shoulder his burdens and be there for him to cry to when he can’t hold himself together anymore.

She wants to support him. She loves him, and will be by his side no matter what.

There’s no flirting this night, no jokes, no innuendos or teasing. There’s only tears and sobs, comfort and kisses, whispered words and sweet nothings. She tells him that he’s going to be okay, that today is a blip of darkness in a world pouring with light. She promises him that it’ll get better, that things like this are just tests of will, one of the world’s cruel ways of judging the strength of one’s heart, mind, body and soul.

What she says gets through. He clings onto her body, and to her every syllable, every sentence. Even after seeing his dark side, she loves him no less. Even after knowing that he’s killed people, even after witnessing him kill right before her eyes, she will always love him. That will never change.

Not even the most dangerous part of him, his alter ego, can tear them apart.

Chapter Text

The candles in the palace study glow dimly in the twilight, flickering every now and then with the occasional breeze. The Princess sits at the desk, her head down, eyes skimming over the words in the book she's reading. It's one about Fairmark, the kingdom she and Leo visited a few weeks ago. It was such a beautiful place and she truly loved being there. She hopes she can go again sometime, especially with Leo.

Her cheeks tint with a rose hue, and her lips curl into a smile. The candlelight casting soft shadows against her cheeks, she finds herself staring off, her thoughts revolving around the fair-haired bureaucrat. Just thinking about him, her skin prickles, tingling and warming. It's late and she’s doing some extra reading, and he has been in a meeting all day, so she hasn't seen him at all. She misses him terribly, craving his arms around her, his teasing touch and wonderful words, his soft, gentle embrace.

She's so spaced out, wanting to see him, that she doesn't even hear the food to the study open.

Leo enters after a hard day meeting with the other bureaucrats, having seen the candlelight from under the door when he was in the hallway. He pauses, noticing the Princess sat at the desk, her head resting on one hand while the other rests on the book in front of her. She doesn't move as he comes in, so he guesses that she's lost in her thoughts and hasn't noticed him.

He smiles softly at the sight of her, working so hard and so late. She does everything she can to be the Princess she is expected to be, even though she receives so much hardship from the likes of the nobility over trivial things. He loves that she won't give up, that she'll keep fighting for Wysteria and its people.

Keeping his footsteps light so as to not be heard, he creeps over to the chair. He licks his lips, failing to stifle a grin upon noticing the Princess’ small smile, her closed eyes, and the necklace settled around her beautiful throat. It's the one they made together, then duplicated for Leo.

Reaching her, the scent of vanilla and flowers consumes him. It makes his body flush with heat, with desire.

He leans over the chair in a swift, second-long movement, his hands planting themselves on the desk either side of her.

She lets out a short, surprised scream, jumping up. Her eyes fly open, and she whips around to face him with confusion. Upon seeing that it's him, she freezes for a second, then heaves out a breath, placing a hand over her heart.

“Leo!” She squeaks out, her voice an octave higher than usual. He smirks. “You scared me!”

He just finds himself laughing softly, curling his arms around her waist. He revels in her warmth and the security feels with having her so close, nuzzling his face into he juncture of her neck and shoulder. Breathing in deeply, like he's trying to lose himself in her gorgeous smell, he hums out in response,

“That was sort of the point. Sorry, Princess; you just looked so innocent and happy, and I thought I should keep you on your toes.” Glancing up at her face around her jaw, he sees her roll her eyes playfully, her delicate hands placing themselves on his forearms over her stomach. The touch is so gentle and tender, it sends his heart stuttering, fire coursing through his veins.

He clears his throat, bringing himself back to the present, before he brings his lips up to hover just next to the shell of her ear. He feels her shiver, her fingers tightening around his arm. He smirks again. “Still, you're really cute, all zoned out like that.” He knows just how to tease her, and secretly hopes that he's right as he whispers lowly, “We're you thinking about me, Princess?”

Victorious pride explodes in his chest, inflating his already huge ego, when he sees a blush form in her cheeks. He was right, then. He smiles kindly now, tightening his hold on her; it gives him a sense of safety, knowing that she's thinking about him even when he's not there. He wouldn't expect her to always be thinking about him, of course, but he likes the thought of her mind turning to him every now and again. It shows that he means a lot to her, that she loves him.

He'd be a liar to say she's not in his thoughts the majority of the time. He loves her with every fibre of his existence, and he'd never have it another way.

Back to the present, she answers his question, mumbling shyly, “Yes, I was.”

He rocks her from side to side, still leaning over the chair. He ignore his back crying out at the awful posture, murmuring in a low, suggestive tone that never fails to make her tremble, “And what sort of things were you thinking?”

She shudders a little, leaning into him more. Her blush gets brighter, but her face is hidden by her hair as she speaks. Her voice is soft, somewhat embarrassed, and also completely honest. “I was thinking that I missed you.”

His heart races in his chest.

God, I love you so much.

He can't keep the thousand-watt grin off his face. Needing to stand up, he gently pulls her to her feet, never removing his hands from her waist as he does. He turns her around to face him, stepping in close. Their bodies touch slightly, and it sends flames and sparks rolling through both of them.

One hand holding her to him, on the small of her back, his other reaches up to gently brush a strand of hair back into place. His fingers slide through the locks tenderly, running through them for a few precious seconds, before he cradles her head in his hand. The other moves now, of its own accord, to cup her warm cheek. His fingertips smooth across the skin, scarlet hues watching every tiny change in her expression, absorbing the details he’s already memorised so many times.

He speaks now, in that voice that melts her completely. It's the one that's full of love, full of passion, full of desire, full of strength, and full of so many other things that she would never be able to explain it in words. It's the voice he uses for her, only for her, in moments like this. It's the voice that tells her everything’s alright, that he's here and safe and loves her with all he is.

“I missed you too. I missed you so much, I wanted to run out of that meeting and steal you away. I wanted to have you in my arms and see your smile, and make you laugh and giggle in that adorable way you always do. I want to take you away now and spend forever with you. I want my Princess.”

He hears the quiet catch of her breath in her throat at his words. He's not usually like this, but he just puts it down to not seeing her all day. Every single syllable, every letter and sound, is true. He does want that. He wants it all. Her wants her.

And she's the same.

“You have me.”

She speaks without hesitation, such strength in her voice that it sends a shiver rolling up his spine. Her eyes hold love and adoration, watching him so closely, studying just like he did to her. It makes him feel excited, and makes him want to do a lot of very inappropriate things to her, but it also makes him want to scoop her up in his arms and never let her go.

He decides to do both at once.

His grin returns full force.

In a smooth, single motion, he releases her face, then reaches down to curl his arms under her back and knees. Standing up straight and adjusting to the new weight, which is more from the dress than the Princess herself, he watches her squeak. She grips onto his jacket lapels, pupils wide. “Leo?” He can see her blushing intensely, and can feel her body warming against his. It takes all his willpower not to kiss her right there and then. “What are you doing?”

His grin widens a bit at the confused, excited and embarrassed sound of her voice. He starts to walk out of the study, knowing that someone will check in shortly and douse the candles. “I’m taking my Princess to her chambers. She’s all mine, and I’m going to show her that I’m all hers.”

She stares at him, skin turning even redder with each passing second. She glances around as he steps out into the empty corridor, watching for signs of life. “But you- what if someone-”

“Princess,” He interrupts her gently, starting off down the most obscure path to her chambers. Leaning down a little, he rests his forehead against hers, feeling the heat coming from her, her soft breaths wafting over his skin and sending prickles across his nerves. “It’s late, and the guards should be the only people around. Even if someone sees us, I’ll just tell them you fell asleep in the study after working so hard.”

She seems hesitant, but now that they are about halfway there and it’s completely silent in the hallway, she relaxes slightly. Nodding without moving her forehead from his, she reaches up to wind her arms around his neck, supporting some of her weight herself. He chuckles, shifting her up to be more comfortable and secure.

He reaches her chambers without an incident, entering and shutting the door behind him with his foot. Carrying her over to the bed, he puts one knee on it, laying her down with that same gentleness that makes her heart flutter in her chest.

Propping himself up above her, his hands on either side of her head, he watches her. It’s fascinating to see her reactions to him, her responses to his actions and movements. Her breathing quickens, lips parting beautifully, when he takes her hands in his, holding one next to her head without pressing down too hard.

The other he holds up, lips quirking, before he slides his palm around to cup the back of her hand. Eyelashes batting, he closes his eyes, hiding the scarlet orbs from sight. His mouth brushes across her palm, butterfly kisses scattered over the flesh, trailing all the way up to her fingertips.

Both his and her heart pounding, he opens his eyes just enough to meet her gaze. He smiles lovingly, pressing a longer, deeper kiss to the last joint of her ring finger.

It's a silent promise, a promise to a future they will have together. A promise to show everyone that they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together. A promise of a family one day, of travelling the world and seeing its wonders, of watching time tick away until it's over.

Her vision shines, centring around him, highlighting all of the beautiful colours. Her heart soars. It almost hurts, to feel so loved and wanted, so cherished and adored. She never wants this to end. She wants to stay with him, to be in his arms and have him in hers. She wants to never let go of him. These moments, they're the hint that keep her going. When life has played its ace and thrown all her cards away, he's the one she turns to. He's the one who's there to help, to let her cry, to cling on to him and listen to his words.

“Leo…” The name falls from her lips like a prayer, full of all the love she has in her body and soul. He smiles.

“Yes?” She moves her hand, still held in his tenderly, to cup his cheek. Her thumb brushes across the skin under his eyes, feeling it warm under her touch. He shudders, staring down at her like she's the only thing in the world.

“I love you.”

It's so easy to say, but at the same time so hard. They're normal words, but they mean so much. They are strength, loyalty, passion, soft kisses and lingering cries in the night.

He almost loses it. His control hangs by a thread, battered by lust and love and desire. He lowers his head, lips hovering over hers.

“I love you too.”

After that, there aren't any more words.

Because in this moment, they don't need them.

Chapter Text

Leo’s head rests very gently against the door to the princess’ chambers.

She hasn’t been seen all day, not by anyone, not even Nico. Her room locked, she’s isolated herself from the palace staff, apparently wanting to spend her rare day off alone.

Leo knows better. He can feel it deep inside him; something’s wrong.

Giles sighs next to him, arms crossed and expression lined with concerned tension. “As you can see, she’s not responding to our efforts to communicate. I’m baffled as to what’s wrong with her – I didn’t sense that she was ill or feeling down at all yesterday.”

Leo shakes his head. “Because you won’t. She’s gotten good, too good, at hiding when she’s hurting.” Trying to swallow back the rising pain searing inside his heart, he knocks very softly on the wood, calling in tenderly, “Princess? It’s me. Will you let me in? You don’t have to talk to anyone else if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to talk to me if you don’t want to. We just need to know you’re okay.”

Leo prays for the first time in a long time. He counts the seconds, straining his senses, pleading for her to open up to him.

There’s a very quiet click. His breath rushes out of him, relief slamming into his heart like an arrow fresh from its bow.

He sends Giles a nod. “Leave her to me.”

The Chamberlain couldn’t say no if he wanted to, not with the blaze simmering in Leo’s scarlet eyes, and certainly not with the irrefutable tone of his voice.

“Of course. Please ensure that she has whatever it is that she needs, then.” Giles inclines his head, stepping back and turning away. Leo makes a sound in the back of his throat, opening the door and slipping inside.

His chest constricts, throat thickening, in a mere second. Devastation rolls through him.

The chaotic cluster of blankets form a protective barrier around her body. It’s not enough to obscure the trembling of her fragile form beneath them, nor does the pillow hushing her agony muffle the sobs tearing from her chest.

He’s never moved so fast in his life.

He bolts over to the bed, pouncing up like a cat and kneeling beside her. His hands settle on her shoulders through the cover, and he massages them as soothingly as he can, uttering in his gentlest, most tender whisper,

“Hey, hey. Princess, what’s wrong? Are you hurt? Sick?” She only sobs harder, shaking fingers fisting into the pillow. He can feel tears coming on himself; seeing her in such turmoil, witnessing her suffering so much, is torture to him, and more so because he realises now that he’s been missing her hurting in a big way, all this time. “Sweetie… Princess.”

His arms curl under her torso, lifting her very gently from the mattress. She releases the pillow, hands instead rising to her face. She cries into her palms, letting him raise her up, then turn her around and out from under the covers. Ignoring the fact that she’s only in her nightdress, he crosses his legs under him, boots on and all, before settling her in his lap sideward on. His hands settle on her head and waist, and he lets her bury her covered face in his chest, sobbing like the world’s collapsing around her.

It hurts. God above, it’s the most painful thing he’s ever felt, to have her in such pain in his arms.

He rocks back and forth just a little, rhythmically, barely enough for her to feel it. He strokes her soft hair, brushing it back and away from her damp hands, while his other hand rubs against her side with a comforting pressure. His lips settle against the crown of her head, and he dusts the lightest yet most loving of butterfly kisses along the skin there, painting it with affection and care. This only induces more violent, wracking sobs from her.

He doesn’t care, not in the slightest. If she needs to cry, done. She’ll cry.

And he’ll be there to wipe the tears away when she’s ready to stop, and he’ll kiss her beautiful smile back so she can shine brighter than ever before, and he’ll do it again and again and again because he loves her more than anything else in the whole world.

“Okay, Princess. Alright…” He breathes out, pressing another kiss to her forehead. “I’m here now.” Her body curls in on itself, legs recoiling in until they’re tucked against her chest. She’s almost non-existent in comparison to his larger frame. “There, there, ___… it’s alright. I’ve got you. Cry to me, Princess. Let it all out.”

She does as he says. Deep, agonising cries rip their way out of her body, each one more painful than the last. Leo can barely breathe, his throat constricted with emotion, mind whirling with guilt and self-loathing and remorse.

He has to get better. He has to learn to read her even more, so this never, ever, ever happens again.

“L-Leo-” He deciphers his name, choked out amidst a heavy sob, muffled by her hands. He kisses her temple, on alert instantly. “Leo-”

He swallows back the lump in his throat, murmuring, “Sssh, Princess. Don’t rush yourself, okay? If you can talk, that’s fine, but only talk if you’re ready. It’s alright.”

She stifles another sob, gasping out around the erratic movements of her lungs, “I- I- so… sorry-”

He cuts her off instantly, as soon as he hears the attempt at an apology. “No, Princess. No apologies. I don’t care what the reason is for you being upset – you don’t need to apologise for it. Okay? If you try to say sorry again, I’ll kiss you until you stop.”

He hopes that will make her smile or laugh, but she only whimpers around the next sob that manages to break through. One of her hands leaves her face, and its arm curls around his neck, clinging on like she’s hanging on to her own life. He rubs the small of her back and strokes her hair in calming, repetitive motions, breathing out, “If you can tell me what’s wrong, and you want to, you can. Tell me, Princess, so I can help you. Don’t try to deal with this on your own.”

As soon as the words leave his lips, she breaks down. Everything she’s been hiding, concealing and locking inside of her, obscuring behind a fragile, forced smile comes out. The perfect, sweet, cheerful princess finally crumbles, revealing the vulnerable, susceptible girl that’s been desperately hiding away her pain underneath the façade.

“I- I can’t… it hurts, Leo. It hurts so much. It’s just a part of- of my life now, but it… it still hurts. The nobles are always cr- criticising me, always trying to push me down or harm me. They never leave me alone. They won’t trust me.” Another wracking sob. Leo’s spine rattles, breath quivering with his own oncoming tears. “I can’t change who I am, and- and I won’t! I’m… I’m proud of that. I was a commoner- and I- I know that, but I’m trying. I’m trying to make everyone happy, but it’s never enough. They’ve always got something else to say… always got something else to attack me for…”

Leo’s heart aches like there’s a ton of bricks crushing it. He’s felt this himself one too many times, has suffered the same emotional battering, all his life. It’s never something that goes away.

She swallows hard, reaching up now to grip onto his neck with both arms. He continues to rock gently, listening to her mumble out in a thick, despairing whimper, “I just couldn’t keep it together today. I… I can take it, the hatred and disapproval, and the criticisms. I can handle it most of the time and put on a brave face like a princess, should, but today it just… it just got to me…”

She’s not sobbing now, but rather crying out quiet, hitched little wails, tears still streaming down her cheeks. Leo shifts her in his arms, nudging her legs out so she’s straddling his hips. He paints her throat with soft kisses, murmuring into her flesh, “I know, Princess. I know it hurts, because it hurts all of us. Everyone who’s a part of this world suffers from the same thing, even those who do it to people. I’m sorry that you have to bear with it and have to deal with awful people like them. If I could take them away forever and make it so that you never have to see them again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

A long, slow kiss to her collarbone. “But I can’t, so I’ll do this instead. I’ll tell you this. I never want you to hide your pain from me, ___. If you’re hurting, I want you to come to me straight away, no matter the time or place, and let me know about it. If you need to cry, I want you to cry to me. If you need a day off, I want you to ask for one.”

He draws back just a little, releasing her waist to cup her face, then coax it up, out from the cover of his neck. She keeps her eyes on his chest, they being red and puffy from crying, while her cheeks are damp from her tears. More still pour out, but they’re slower now, gradually decreasing.

He smoothes away the moisture, then brushes her hair back and tucks it behind her ears, gazing up at with nothing but love, adoration and support. “Promise me, Princess. Promise me you’ll start caring just about yourself, and that you’ll start being selfish from now on. It kills me, seeing you like this. I want you to be happy, so promise me that you’ll let me make you happy.”

The microscopic amount of strength in her expression crumbles. She raises her hand to her mouth, teeth finding her finger. She bites down, trying to prevent the oncoming torrent of tears from escaping. “I p- I promise.”

Despite the situation, he manages a very soft smile. “Okay. Thank you, ___. For now,” He shuffles back, laying back against the pillows and draping her over his body, cradling her against his chest. When she’s settled and he’s embracing her waist and head again, he kisses her hair, whispering, “Just get it all out. I won’t say anything else now until you’re ready to talk. Cry for as long as you need, sweetie. I’m here. I’ll always be here. I’ll never leave your side.”

She does exactly as he says. She pours out her heart, gushing out every facet of pain that’s been festering within it like a plague. She wails to him and forces all of her frustration out, gripping his jacket so hard he has to take her hands himself, for fear that she’ll hurt her fingers.

It takes a long time, and so it should. She’s been bottling everything up, fighting her emotions and stifling them for the sake of everyone but herself, for far too long. Now, it’s all coming out.

By the time the sobs quieten again, fading into weaker cries, then less frequent whimpers and finally into hutted, ragged breaths, she’s exhausted. He feels her body loosen up completely, going limp against him. Her expression is a picture of strain and tiredness in so many ways, and it’s heart-breaking to him.

“There, there…” He mumbles at this point, feathering kisses along the crown of her head once more. “There’s my beautiful, wonderful, brilliant, amazing ___.”

She soon goes almost entirely still, except for her uneven breathing. Leo kicks off his boots, tugging the covers over them both. She ends up like a doll in his arms, frail and trembling and broken now, but getting better already, soon to be standing even taller and prouder than before.

He doesn’t call her strong, and he doesn’t call her strong for a reason.

Because, in this moment, right now, she is crumbling. She is feeling weak and defeated and overwhelmed by pain, and to call her strong would be to dismiss her suffering.

But that’s what it means to be human. To be human is to fall down, over and over again, to have those times of weakness and vulnerability. To be human is to break down and collapse under the pressure. To be human cannot be to always be strong, because if humans spent their entire lives strong, they would not be human anymore.

This is the hard part, Princess. This is the fall. Right now, you’re weak, because the world has hurt you and you’re doing your best to cope with everything it’s forcing you to bear.

When Giles comes in very hesitantly to see how she’s doing, Leo’s expression doesn’t change. He gazes at the Chamberlain with a calmed rage, explaining to him what happened, and ordering him to be even more vigilant from now on and be monitoring her for signs that she’s struggling. Giles doesn’t fight him in the slightest, and doesn’t raise the point that Leo has work to do today. Instead, he merely accepts Leo’s instruction and leaves.

He sets off, going to find out every single noble that the princess has dealt with in recent weeks.

This is the hard part, but it won’t last forever. Things will get better, and you’ll stand up again, shining blindingly bright and stunning the world, because you’ll be strong once again, stronger than you’ve ever been before.

Chapter Text

Leo frowns to himself.

It's time for his lesson with the princess, but she hasn't turned up yet. It's unlike her to be late, and he’s  usually notified if she's unable to attend for some other reason, so he's starting to become worried about her.

He turns to the window with a sigh, seeing Sebastian perched on the windowsill. It's stormy outside, the sky covered with billowing, dark clouds, torrential rain hammering the ground, and thunder rippling through the air. There's the occasional bolt of lightning, branching down from the heavens and spiking out in a brilliant, blinding flash.

Sebastian flaps his wings erratically for a moment, squawking out, "Rain, can't fly! Want to fly!"

Leo hums in response, reaching down to lightly stroke the mass of feathers under Sebastian's chin. "It'll die down later. We'll just have to wait it out."

That receives an irritated squawk in response, to which Leo just smiles, leaning against his desk.

Where is she?

His insides start to twist uncomfortably, mind descending into a mass of unpleasant thoughts and ideas about why she might be late. At first, he just shrugs them off, dismissing the thought that she's sick or hurt or for some reason unable to come. After a while, though, as it turns half an hour past their lesson start time, then forty-five minutes, then fifty, he starts to panic. His heart aches, stomach clenching with worry. 

Maybe something's happened to her and there's been no-one to tell me.

His grip on the table tightens.

What if someone's tried to hurt her?

His patience runs out.

He pushes off the desk sharply, startling Sebastian in the process. He takes no notice, though, and instead swings the door open, shutting it behind him and setting off down the corridor. He can't even force a smile onto his face when he walks past the bureaucrats in the palace.

Princess... please be okay. Don't leave me.

His footsteps are purposeful and serious as he makes his way through the corridors, taking the quickest route to her room. He briefly looks into Giles' room on the way in case he dragged her off for a surprise lesson, but he finds neither of them there. Frown deepening, he quickens his pace.

Finally, he reaches her room.

Only to find Giles stood outside it, a frown on his face as well, looking to some extent helpless and unsure.

What's wrong with her? Why is he here?

Leo stops a bit away from the door, trying to keep the small amount of anger rising in him out of his voice. "Giles, what's going on? Is the Princess in there?"

Giles whips around at the sound of his name, and almost immediately, a subtle hint of relief crosses his face. "Oh, Leo. Yes, she's in here, but she won't come out at all, nor will she let me in to ask her why she didn't go to your lesson. She sounds distressed."

Oh God. Is she hurt? Sick? Has something happened?

His mind whirls with possibilities, but before he can even stop himself, his legs have started moving, taking him to the door. He knocks on it lightly, despite his desperation to see her. "Princess, are you okay? What's wrong?"

There's a pause. After a few seconds, he hears her say his name, very quietly, but also in a way that makes him certain she's in pain. "Leo?"

He drops his forehead against the door, relief rushing through him. She's conscious, at least. "It's me. Can you let me in? I won't make you come to lesson, I promise. I just want to know what's wrong and help you."

There's more silence. Leo starts chanting in his head for her to open the door, wishing and hoping and begging for her to let him in.

There's a quiet click as the door is unlocked.

"Just... just you, Leo. Please." Her weak words are almost inaudible through the door, but the two outside hear them. Although looking marginally surprised, Giles nods, stepping back. 

"I'll cancel her lessons for the rest of the day. Report to me what's wrong with her later." Leo nods back, and Giles lets out a soft sigh, but then turns around and heads down the corridor.

Steeling himself, Leo opens the door and slips inside. He freezes.

The princess is sat on the floor, leaning against her bed, fully dressed and seemingly ready for the day. Her arms are wrapped around her legs, which are pulled against her chest tightly, and her face is buried in her knees.

He immediately guesses that she's sick or hurt, and without hesitating, he rushes over to her, dropping to his own knees in front of her. He places his hands on her shoulders cautiously, and his heart sinks when he feels her jump just a little at the touch. 

“Princess, what’s wrong? Are you sick? Hurt? Talk to me. Please, tell me what’s happened.” He pleads quietly, trying to peer at her face around her knees. She goes tense, and what sounds like a soft moan of pain escapes her. He swiftly looks her over, spying for obvious injuries, and finds none. He becomes even more confused. “___, come on. Don’t suffer on your own. I’m here for you. Let me help you.”

There’s a ripple of thunder outside, followed by the distinct sound of a close lightning strike.

She lets out a frightened cry, hands flying up to cover her ears. Able to see her expression just a bit now, he observes the evident pain in it, and his mind goes into overdrive. She’s scared of the thunder and lightning, that much is clear, but what’s hurting her?

He leans in close, kneeling so that his legs are on either side of her, before he wraps his arms around her and pulls her against his chest. There’s a fine tremor running through her, he realises, and her breathing is shallow. “Princess, tell me what’s hurting. Have you got a stomach ache? Did you injure yourself?”

For a few moments, she doesn’t respond, but then she gives a tiny shake of her head. “I… migraine.”

His breath rushes out of him all at once, more relief flooding him. Although he hates that she’s in pain at all, he’s glad she’s not seriously hurt. He can help with a migraine, easily. 

“Okay. I’m going to close the curtains and get you some medicine for your migraine, and then I’m going to stay with you all day, until the migraine and the storm are both gone. Does that sound good?” There’s another tiny, almost unnoticeable nod.

He reluctantly lets go of her to stand up, immediately kicking into the same mode he’d always go into for Alyn if he was sick, hurt or upset when they were little. He strides over to the windows, closing the curtains so that they obscure the view to outside completely and muffle some of the thunder after locking them all. 

Finished with this, he returns to her, crouching down in front of her. She’ll just make herself worse sat on the floor, so he gently rests his hands over hers on her ears, murmuring, “Let’s get you in bed, and then you can relax more easily.”

She seems reluctant to move, but she does after a second, reaching up to wind her arms around his neck as he curls his own under her back and legs. He lifts her up, cradling her against his chest for a moment, before he plants a knee on the bed and keeps hold of her, proceeding to pull the covers back while balancing her carefully.

Finally, he lowers her down onto the mattress. He releases her to get medicine and a drink, but she doesn’t let go of him, instead tightening her grip on his neck and burying her face in his shoulder. His pupils dilate slightly with surprise, and he goes still, staring down at her. “Princess?”

Her words are barely audible. “I’m scared, Leo... it hurts.”

His heart twists in his chest, thoughts reeling so many different ways that he almost gets whiplash. He finds himself smiling weakly, though, before he rests his forehead against hers, taking in her pained expression. “I’m only going to get you some medicine, I promise. I’ll be back before you know it. Okay? I’ll get you some warm milk as well.”

Her eyes, having been shut the whole time, now open slowly. His throats tightens, a lump forming in it, when he sees the beautiful hues he loves glistening with tears. Before he can lose his will and decide not to go, though, she nods just a little, whispering, “Okay. Come back to me.”

He cups her face in his hand, feeling her soft skin to be somewhat chilled against his own warm flesh, before he presses a very tender, very loving kiss to her forehead. “I will. You’ll barely even notice that I’m gone.”

She lets go of him now, sinking back against the mattress. He pulls the covers over her, tucking them around her to stop her from getting any colder, before forcing himself to his feet and away from her. It takes all of his willpower not to run back to her and just scoop her into his arms, but he manages to silence said urges, instead exiting the room and closing the door behind him.

But once he’s out, he takes his words seriously. He promised never to lie to her again. 

He practically sprints around the palace, first going to the doctor and requesting some medicine for headaches and migraines. The doctor gives him what he thinks might help, since such pain can often only be treated with time and sleep, but Leo thanks him nonetheless and carries on. He goes to the kitchen, where he makes some hot milk while politely responding to the excited questioning of the staff in there. He nicks a few sweets like chocolate, as well, before briefly popping in to see Giles. 

“She’s not well; she’s got a really bad migraine, so that’s why she was struggling to talk to you earlier.”

He leaves out the part about the thunderstorm. He guesses she didn’t want Giles to know, and that’s why she wouldn’t let him in or speak to him. 

Done at last, he returns to her room and goes in, shutting the door again. She’s curled up in bed, face contorted in pain, and is almost completely obscured by the covers. He sighs quietly, smiling, before he sets down the tray of things on the bedside table and perches next to her. One of her eyes opens just slightly, very briefly, before she closes it again and winces. There’s a tug at his heart once more. 

Preparing the medicine and the hot milk, he reaches down to brush her hair back from her face, stroking her cheek soothingly. “How are you feeling? Is the pain any better?” She shakes her head. His smile fades. “Worse?” A nod. 

He wishes he could take the pain away for her, and wishes that he could snap his fingers to stop the storm. He wishes he could do something to take it all away, or to prevent her from suffering. It’s almost unbearable, sitting there feeling fine while she’s struggling so much. 

He finishes with the medicine and curls his arm around her middle, slowly pulling her up to be sat straight. He can’t help but smile, teasing in an attempt to distract her, “Here, I’ve got some medicine for you. If you don’t drink it, I’ll have to feed it to you, won’t I?”

She manages to open her eyes and glare lightly at that, which he guesses is more a product of her pain than annoyance. Still, he sees her cheeks become slightly flushed, to which he grins and brings the medicine up to her lips. He helps her to take it, cradling her head when she leans against him for support, before then giving her the milk afterward. She drinks it slowly, seeming grateful for the sweet taste as opposed to the medicine’s bitterness.

When he’s done, he puts the cup back on the tray, then lies her back down and tucks her in again.

He eyes the lit candle on the bedside table, then glances back down at her. “Do you want me to put the candle out? It might help the migraine, or help you get to sleep.”

She nods tiredly, murmuring, “Yes, please.”

He just returns the nod, dousing the candle. The room is filled with darkness, the only sounds being the rain outside, the distant thunder and lightning strikes, and their soft breathing. He leans over her, draping his body across hers and reaching up to stroke her cheek soothingly again. She leans into his touch, definitely feeling cooler now despite being under the covers. He wonders if she’s made herself sick from fear and stress. 

He shakes his head, sighing to himself. “Come here, Princess. You’re freezing.”

Before she can quite process his words, he pulls the covers back and slips his boots off, then gets in beside her. He pulls the cover over them both, hearing her small sound of surprise when he circles his arms around her once more, holding her close to him. He keeps a hand on the small of her back, the other resting against the bottom of her head, stroking her hair in repetitive, calming motions. 

“Thank you, Leo.” Her grateful mumble is muffled against his shoulder, but he hears it and grins, then brushes his lips against her forehead.

“You’re welcome. Is the pain getting any better?” He asks in return, feeling her fingers curl around the material of his jacket’s lapels. One of her palms remains on his chest, where his heart is. His pulse races at the sensation, body warming and emotions flying all over the place, but he forces them to settle. 

Today isn’t the day. Today, he’s taking care of her. 

She snuggles into his warmth, nuzzling her face into his neck. Love and adoration wells up in him at how adorable she is, even with a migraine, and he shifts to be on his back with her draped over him. He sees her wince again, and another pained whimper escapes her. She tenses again when a loud lightning strike hits, most likely close to the palace. 

What can I do for her? Maybe I should try getting her to sleep.

“Princess,” He murmurs gently, mouth hovering next to her temple. She lets out a weak sound of acknowledgement. “How about I sing to you? Would that help you to get to sleep?”

She’s still for a moment. The rumbling of thunder ripples outside, and she swiftly nods, pressing her face into his throat harder, as if she can push her way out of existence to escape the noise. 

He doesn’t mind singing. He’ll often hum to himself while he works or has nothing to do, and has often sung to her at night, sometimes for no reason at all. She loves his singing, she’s told him, and it always calms her down. 

So, he clears his throat dramatically, as if he’s preparing to belt out an opera song. Although she doesn’t laugh, he sees her lips twitch up marginally, fighting to curl into a smile through the migraine and fear. He thinks of an old lullaby he remembers hearing around the towns, one he’s heard being sun to children to soothe them or put them to sleep. 

“Dark the stars, and dark the moon. 
Hush the night and the morning gloom.
Tell the horses and beat on your drum.
Gone their master, gone their son.”

It’s a simple song, with simple notes and subtle changes in the pitch, but it’s that same consistency which makes it so relaxing. Almost instantly after he starts singing, he feels her lose some of the tension in her muscles, and feels her heartbeat against his chest start to slow. He keeps his mouth pressed to her temple, singing to her quietly, voice low and deep and soft.

“Dark the oceans, dark the sky. 
Hush the whales and the ocean tide.
Tell the salt marsh and beat on your drum.
Gone their master, gone their son.”

Her breathing slows now, becoming more gradual and settled. He finds himself oddly grateful for being able to sing, relief and happiness rushing through him at the thought of her being able to drift off and miss the bulk of the migraine. Hopefully, when the storm settles, it will as well. He keeps singing, though, intending to do so until he’s absolutely certain she’s under.

“Dark to light, and light to dark. 
Three black carriages, three white carts.
What brings us together is what pulls us apart.
Gone our brother, gone our heart.”

Her body goes completely limp against him. He kisses her forehead lightly, grinning to himself, and holds her against him even tighter. In the dark room, he can barely see anything, but when the next strike of lightning hits, it sounds like it’s further away. He hopes it’ll die off, or at least move away from Wysteria soon. Closing his own eyes, he allows himself to relax as well, letting out a quiet yawn and finishing his song. 

“Hush the whales and the ocean tide. 
Tell the salt marsh and beat on your drum.
Gone their master, gone their son.”

As soon as the last word leaves his lips, Leo rests the princess against his side, still lying on his back, and gives her a short, but still very gentle and loving kiss. He keeps her safe and protected in his arms as they both fall into deep, dreamless sleep, and they remain there, content and happy, until the dawn breaks over the horizon the next day. 

Chapter Text

Louis’ breath drifts out of him in a delicate, weary sigh. Sunshine beams through the window nearby, where he sits mutely, disinterested, in the parlour of Wysteria Palace. The light is a stark contrast to his mood; surrounded by the predictably frivolous, facetious or downright uncaring nobility, the unwelcome, shrill laughs and boisterous conversation is only serving to increase his irritation at a concerning rate.

He sips at his tea, basking in the soft, creamy texture and subtly sweet scent. It helps to calm him, thankfully, so he focuses on it entirely, blocking out the irrelevant jabbering of the upper echelons of Wysterian society.

That is, until something is mentioned that he actually cares about.

“Oh, Madame Merchand!” A young, female noble giggles out, leaning shamelessly against the side of a male noble Louis is quite sure she’s not romantically involved in. He doesn’t fail to notice how he’s palming at her thigh with a satisfied smirk, and that she doesn’t even seem to realise or care about this. “I hear you’ve been grumbling and whining about the Princess Elect a fair bit in recent weeks. You’re ruthless when you harbour a grudge. I wonder, do you have something in store for our dear princess?”

Louis’ eyes snap to the said noble. Madame Merchand, with long, voluminous brunette hair curled into perfect ringlets and cool, calm grey eyes, levels the younger girl with a subtle smirk.

“Why, of course not, my dear. It would be illegal, in the first place, to even think of doing something against her.” She plucks a strawberry from one of the bowls on the table, settling back on the couch where she’s situated. She makes a point of biting into it slowly, enticingly, eyelids fluttering shut as she tilts her head back, letting the juices drip into her mouth. All eyes are focused on her.

But Louis’ eyes are on her out of disgust and suspicion, not attraction. Not in the slightest. His expression clearly communicates how unimpressed he is.

Madame Merchand finally closes her mouth, chewing and swallowing the strawberry with a satisfied hum. She twirls the stem between her thumb and index finger, studying it intensely. “In fact, I plan to get to know the princess better very, very soon. I think, perhaps, we may be capable of getting along if we both strive for a compromise, so I already have things laid out and ready to understand her better.”

Liar.

Unease rises in Louis, and he frowns just a little, eyes dropping to his cup. He sips at it again, thoughts darkening by the second.

She’s dangerous. I’ll have to warn the princess about her.

Unfortunately, his expression stands out amongst the sea of amused, interested or approving looks she’s garnered. Her sharp, almost sadistic stare snaps to his face. “Are you alright, Duke Howard? You’ve been even less talkative than usual today.”

His annoyance increases. He doesn’t attempt to hold back his biting words in the slightest. “In all honesty, Madame Merchand, I’ve remained silent because I have no interest in this conversation in the slightest. There’s hardly anything of substance being said, nor anything that should be discussed in a place like this.”

Immediately, the glittering in her eyes shifts into a smoulder, unimpressed and not happy at all. Her rouged lips twist just a bit, morphing into a very slightly spiteful smirk. “Oh? Our conversation bores you, does it? And you feel that we are discussing something inappropriate for this situation?”

She lets out a peal of tinkling laughs, but it’s like the sound of metal rattling together, shrill and harsh and completely fake. Then, she’s standing, rising with undeniable grace, elegance and control. She makes her way around the table situated between the parlour’s chaise lounges, crossing through the middle of them to approach the one he’s sat on. Instinctively, a healthy dose of fear and nervousness bubbles inside Louis, while he simultaneously allows himself to glare at her nearing form, eyes daring her to try something.

He’s really, really, really not in the mood, less so now because she’s practically just announced that she plans to do something to the woman he loves.

“Duke Howard,” She almost coos, breathing out his name in a way that Louis knows would fell many people instantly, surrendering their will to hers. Fortunately, he’s not swayed. He’s not even close. “You really must learn to relax. Allow yourself to be happy and enjoy life for once; if you forever cling to the rules and laws, you’ll never advance nor progress. You’ll grind to a halt and begin to rot.”

She comes to a stop herself, stood before him, her red dress flowing around her like a fountain of blood. Her fingers drift up, catching his chin, thumb brushing over the space under his mouth smoothly. Repulsion surges through him, accompanied by disgust and discomfort. His glare intensifies, and he sets his now-empty teacup down with its saucer, depositing it away from him on the chaise lounge. Her smirks widens, and she leans down face hovering very, very close to his, tone dropping to a sultry, seductive purr.

“You should let me show you how to enjoy yourself, Duke Howard. I think…”

Without warning, she forces his head back against the chaise lounge, dropping down to be sat on his lap sideward-on. He feels physically sick, shocked and revolted by her touching and sitting on him.

“That I could thaw the ice around your heart with ease.”

He loses his patience. He’s had enough of this disgraceful behaviour.

He restrains himself, not using excessive force, and takes hold of her arms firmly. Her eyes dance for a second, victory flaring in them briefly.

Only to then be dominated by shock as he shoves her to the side, sending her tumbling off his lap and onto the chaise lounge. She releases his chin, catching herself with a stunned look. He scowls, jerking up to his feet.

“Enough. Don’t presume that you can touch me. I have no interest in what you offer, and I’m not at all impressed, either, by your words where the princess is concerned. I would advise that you reconsider carefully your stance with her and watch your words. You may be powerful, Madame Merchand, but you are not above the law nor the Princess Elect.”

The disdain in his eyes intensifies. “I don’t care if you make me a focus of your boredom and try to harm me. I don’t care in the slightest. However, think carefully before you do, because you are the one who will suffer for it.”

With that, fuming and livid and disgusted, her leaves the parlour, not giving a single backward glance.

He storms down the corridor, no destination in mind. He’s too furious, too disgusted, to come up with one.

Because now, somehow, he feels guilty. He feels guilty because he was just touched by another woman, even if it wasn’t his fault. His heartstrings are tugged by the emotion, and his throat thickens, eyes gaining a very slight sheen. He swallows hard, waiting until he’s a safe distance from the parlour before stopping.

When he does, he leans against one of the windowsills overlooking the courtyard. His shoulders tremble with his clashing feelings, and he drops his face into his palms, trying his best to breathe through the frustration that his trembling is creating.

“Louis?”

He stiffens, freezing for just a moment.

Then, he jolts upright and whirling around, blond locks whipping around his face with the speed of the motion.

Leo stands in the corridor, thankfully, maybe three feet away from him. Louis heaves out a ragged breath of relief, glad it’s Leo and not one of the less forgiving nobles. The Crawford approaches him, concern swirling in his scarlet eyes.

“Hey. You okay? What’s up?” Louis instinctively looks away, feeling ashamed that he’s been seen in this condition. Leo’s face falls, and he places a cautious, gentle hand on Louis’ shoulder. “Did something happen? Is the princess okay?”

Louis manages to respond, but only to the last question. “The princess is fine.” A swell of anxiety surges through him, and he exhales shakily. “At least, for now.”

Leo stills. Then, he gently takes Louis’ upper arm, coaxing him down the corridor with him. “Come on. Let’s go to my office, and you can tell me what happened.”

Louis doesn’t argue, thinking that it might be best to give out warning about this not only to the princess, but to those responsible for her safety.

So, he spends the next few minutes stood in Leo’s office, recounting what the nobles were talking about and what Madame Merchand did. The fair-haired male frown deepens gradually, until finally he shakes his head when Louis finishes, muttering,

“There’s something wrong with the nobility, I swear… all of them, their blood’s made up of poison. Their personalities are toxic.” He straightens up from his position, leaning against his desk, to pat Louis on the shoulder and assure him, “Thanks for telling me. I’ll let Giles and Alyn know, since I’m guessing you might want to tell the princess. Right?”

Louis’ cheeks gaining a very faint dusting of pink. Leo smiles gently. “Thought so. It’ll be fine, Louis, and it’s not your fault.”

The blond blinks at the last part, eyes popping with surprise. His friend chuckles softly. “It’s obvious – you can see it in your face. You look as guilty as a kid that’s been told off by its parents. She touched you, Louis, not the other way around. You did nothing wrong, so don’t blame yourself. Okay?”

Admittedly, Louis is touched by Leo picking up on his guilt and being so sensitive to his feelings. He doesn’t speak to any of the palace staff excessively, if he thinks about it, and probably interacts with Giles the most, if not Sid, albeit unwillingly. As such, it’s nice to know Leo cares and is willing to comfort him.

His head drifts up and down. He inclines it gratefully, gaze dropped to the floor. “Okay. Thank you, Leo.”

“No problem.”

After leaving Leo’s office, Louis ponders what to do. He doesn’t have any more business here, but he also doesn’t want to leave without seeing the princess. He’s not been named as her Prince Consort yet, but he loves her with all she is, and knows that he needs to warn her about Madame Merchand before something bad happens.

Determined to have a moment alone with her, he heads for Giles to see where she is.

The Chamberlain tilts his head curiously when Louis enquires about her schedule for the day. “The princess?” He repeats, arms crossed habitually, sat in his chair in his office. “She’s rather busy today. She’s just finished her riding lesson with Alyn, and departed with Madame Merchand for her manor. Why?”

Louis’ blood runs cold.

“Madame Merchand?” The panic in his voice is impossible to miss, prompting Giles to frown slightly and sit up, uncrossing his arms. Louis heart thunders in his chest, pain aching through it and adrenaline surging through his veins. His fists clench at his sides. “Right now?”

Giles nods. “Yes. Is there a problem?”

Louis is already spinning on his heels, before he finishes the sentence. Dread surges through him, and he can only gush out over his shoulder,

“I think she’s in danger.”

With that, he sprints out of the office, ignoring Giles’ shout of his name.

He races through the corridors of the palace. He can feel it; his instincts are telling him something’s wrong, that she’s in trouble. It’s the same feeling he’d get when he was younger and knew he was going to be punished by his “adoptive” parents, usually for something didn’t deserve to be punished for. The gut feeling, that ethereal sensation of just knowing, has never failed him.

This is why he sprints straight past Alyn as he enters the corridor, the russet-haired knight exclaiming, “Louis, hey! What the hell-”

“The princess is in trouble!” He yells back, not stopping in the slightest. Alyn cusses behind him, and then Louis hears his rapid, pounding footsteps, following in his direction. Louis sighs inwardly with relief; if anything happens, he feels better with Alyn there. It’s another person to protect the princess.

What if she’s taken somewhere? What if she’s kidnapped? What if she’s killed?

The thought nearly sends Louis crashing to the ground. His throat thickens again, tears returning to his eyes.

She can’t die. She’s so important, too important, to too many people. She’s the ruler of Wysteria and the one person who can make it an even stronger nation. She’s admired by so many all through the country, and in others, as well.

He pants away, throwing himself through the doors to outside, then making a beeline for the stables.

And she’s my everything. She’s my world, my love, my life. She’s the most precious person on earth and the only person I truly care about. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love her. I cherish her and need her with me. I can’t live without her anymore.

He almost breaks down right there.

Forcing the sobs back, he bolts to one of the palace’s horses in the stables, swinging the door to its pen open. He wastes no time in practically flying up and onto its back, just as Alyn emerges and sprints over, doing the same with another. He urges his out of the pen, and it takes off in a full-force gallop, hooves pounding against the stone floor.

Alyn joins him swiftly, and they both ride for the gates, the knights there rushing to open them upon seeing the duke and knight riding toward them at high speed.

“Louis!” Alyn heaves out. “Tell me what the hell’s going on!”

Louis does as the captain says, telling him everything he heard today and warning Alyn about Madame Merchand’s ruthless nature, as well as the several times in the past when nobles who’ve crossed her have ended up dead or worse. Alyn scowls, riding with Louis for her manor. “Goddammit! Giles sent two knights with her to accompany her, since Nico was occupied, so she should be safe. These damn nobles, always working for themselves!”

Louis swallows hard.

They’re the worst of humanity, truly. They’re the pinnacle of mankind’s disgrace.

Louis has been to Madame Merchand’s manor before, for a soirée, and navigates through Wysteria’s forests easily to get there. Alyn trusts him, not questioning his ability to take them there in the slightest. The blond can’t stop thinking about the princess, insides churning, nauseated at the prospect of her being hurt because he’s not moving fast enough. He knows the horse is running at its fastest, but he can’t ignore the possibility that he won’t get there in time.

And then she’ll be hurt, or even killed, and everything will fall apart. And it would be my fault.

Just a few tears escape, dripping over his eyelids and down his pale cheeks. He swipes them away furiously, determined to arrive and take her away from danger looking strong, not lot he’s barely holding himself together.

The ride is torturous, but soon, the two arrive at the grand estate.

Immediately, Louis’ heart sinks.

Two guards stand on either side of the front door, dressed like knights, but something’s off about them. They don’t hold themselves the way the other knights do, and their swords are different, smaller and weaker-looking than those of Alyn’s knights.

“What the hell?” Alyn almost growls, riding up the path with Louis. They slow and come to a stop before the doors, dismounting their horses swiftly. Alyn scowls. “You two aren’t knights. Why are you wearing those uniforms? Answer me – who are you?”

The guards share a brief look, remain silent for a moment, then turn back to Alyn.

Without saying anything, they suddenly lurch toward the two, swords out in a split second.

Alyn tuts. “Really? Fine. Come here, then.” He jerks his own sword out, arcing it forward and meeting the first guard’s blow so hard he stumbles back, almost falling over entirely. Alyn’s boots slams into the other’s stomach, sending him to the floor. “Louis, go! Get the princess! I’ll take care of these two!”

Louis nods fiercely, bolting to the door and throwing himself at it. It doesn’t budge, instead just rattling in the frame, locked solidly. Panic overwhelming him, Louis kicks at it as hard as he can, but it doesn’t buckle even with the force he uses. His eyes whip around him.

I need another way in.

As soon as he thinks this, his eyes settle on the windows to what he remembers is the living room. He’s running before he’s even got a cohesive plan in mind.

He draws his own sword, arm flying up to shield his face. The hilt smashes right through the thin, weak glass, and it shatters, falling away from the window frame like knives. Louis wastes no time, launching himself up with one hand, legs sailing over the windowsill and into the room.

Inside, it’s empty, the luxurious living room eerily absent of life.

But it’s not silent in the house, not at all.

“Stop! What are you doing? Think about thi- ah! No! Stop, please!”

Princess!

“___!” Louis roars her name, thundering through the room, following the direction of her shouts. “Princess!”

“Louis!” Her anguished, choked cry yells out to him again, coming from what sounds like the study. “Louis, help me! Please-”

He’s there before she finishes, slamming the door open and darting into the room.

The princess is on the floor, pinned by Madame Merchand. In the latter’s hand is a dagger, dipping with fresh, crimson blood, inches from the princess’ face. A gash lines her cheek, oozing more of the substance, trailing down her skin. There’s more blood on the floor, and on the princess’ hands. They’re wrapped around the noblewoman’s wrists, preventing her from ending her life there and then.

Both of them look up when he bursts into the room. The princess’ whole face seems to explode with relief. “Louis!”

Madame Merchand scowls, grip on the dagger tightening.

That falls apart, though, when he raises his sword, stalking toward her. “Release her this instant and your life will be spared. Touch another hair on her body and you won’t see another sunrise.” He’s right in front of her now, his sword coming to settle, pressing just a little bit, against the front of her throat. His voice becomes seething, absolutely infuriated and unforgiving. “Move.”

She trembles just slightly, her own rage boiling in her eyes. However, she seems to choose her own life over her pride, dropping the dagger next to the princess at long last. She stands slowly, then backs up when Louis nudges the sword into her flesh a bit harder.

Footsteps pound through the corridor. “Louis! Princess!”

It’s Alyn. Louis inwardly thanks his stars that Alyn ran into him on his way out of the palace. “In here, Alyn!”

The captain rushes inside, not the slightest bit bloodied or injured. He catches up with what’s happening in an instant, sword in hand, and storms over to Madame Merchand. He all but drags her away, out of the room, probably to keep her with the likely-restrained guards.

Louis collapses to his knees beside the princess, tears flowing from his eyes, sword clattering to the ground.

“Princess… ___... I’m so sorry.” He whispers, words wavering under the influence of heavy emotion. She heaves in desperate, gasped breaths, hands settled on her stomach, gripping her dress tightly. Louis inspects it, swiftly noticing blood blossoming out into the cream material. He swallows hard, his fingers brushing over her cheeks, smoothing her hair back in an attempt to cam them both. “How badly hurt are you? What did she do?”

She winces, panting out, “She managed to catch my stomach with the dagger. It’s not deep, but she punched it afterward. She got me in a few other places, as well.” Her arms rise up, littered with smaller, shallower cuts. She reaches out to him, expression desperate, frightened and weak. “Lo- Louis. Louis-”

He scoops her up in his arms, cradling her against his chest and gripping her so tightly it’s probably painful. He stands, carrying her out of the room with hurried steps while trying to keep her still, as she anchors her arms around his neck and clings to him. He kisses her forehead hard, tears still streaming down his cheeks. “Stay with me, Princess. I’ve got you. I won’t let anyone hurt you now.”

She manages a nod, face contorted with pain. Louis jogs outside with her, where Alyn is just finishing restraining Madame Merchand, the two guards already on their knees, wrists and ankles bound, looking haggard and wounded. Alyn’s eyes widen with alarm when he sees Louis carrying her. “Is she hurt?”

Louis nods, hurrying past him and to the horse he was riding earlier. “Yes. She’s been cut on her arms, face and stomach, the latter being deeper than the rest.” Alyn darts over, rushing to finish tying the noblewoman up, before taking the princess from Louis. Said male hops up onto his horse, then reaches down again, taking her from Alyn and settling her in front of him on the saddle. “I’ll take her back to the palace. You stay here with them – I’ll tell Giles to send some knights here with chains.”

Alyn exhales slowly, then nods, probably not fond of the thought of leaving the princess’ life in someone else’s hands. After all, he’s her bodyguard – her safety is his main priority. “Okay. Get her to the doctor as soon as you get in – I can handle waiting a few minutes while you get her seen to.”

Louis nods once more. “I will. Thank you, Alyn.”

He doesn’t wait any longer. He spurs his horse into movement, embracing the princess and gripping the reins in front of her stomach tightly. He tries to keep her still, so as to not jostle her and worsen her bleeding, while doing what he can to keep the horse moving as fast as possible. When he glances down at her face, he sees that her cheeks are bloodless, her breathing is shallow, and that her eyes are closed. Pain is written across her features, and her hands grip his wrists tightly.

His stomach twists, clenching in a sickening way.

She’s hurting. She’s suffering, because I didn’t move fast enough. I failed to protect her.

He doesn’t contemplate forgiveness. He just needs to get her back home and safe. He’ll deal with his guilt later.

He thought the ride to the manor was bad, but now, it seems like nothing. It’s awful, holding the Princess to him, riding through the woods and forest to get to the palace, while simultaneously manoeuvring in such a way that she’ll be seen injured by the least amount of people. After all, if the citizens see their princess unconscious, bloodied and seemingly dying in the arms of a potential Prince Consort, there’ll be chaos.

Thankfully, he arrives at the palace without any interaction with the public. He rushes through the gates, the knights heaving them open as fast as possible when they see the princess. He dismounts his horse and slides off with her upon getting to the front doors, rushing inside with her held to his chest once more. Once inside, he’s sprinting up the stairs, just as Giles emerges from the corridor and comes to a halt at the top. He pales immediately, eyes wide, upon seeing her.

“Get the doctor, now! Bring him to the princess’ room! Send for a dispatch of knights to go and help Alyn at Madame Merchand’s manor! Hurry!” Louis snaps out his onslaught of orders, prompting Giles to jerk into action. He focuses on the knights at the doors.

“You two, gather the dispatch and go, now!” They blur into motion without hesitation. Giles all but bolts back down the corridor ahead of Louis, splitting off to the left to find the doctor. Louis pants for breath, lungs heaving and throat hissing with the exertion of running so fast and far, and the stress of everything happening. He doesn’t care in the slightest, pushing through the increasing lack of oxygen for his princess.

Upon reaching her room, he fumbles with the door using his elbow, managing to get it open and stumbling inside. Taking her over to the bed, he lays her down very carefully, making sure to set her head on the pillow gently. He then peers down at her stomach, nudging the split fabric of her dress apart and swiping very lightly at the blood on her skin. It smears over his gloves, but right now, he couldn’t care less. This matters more.

He holds his breath, analysing the extent of the damage.

The air whooshes out of him. It’s not deep enough to threaten her life.

A rumble of chaotic voices sound down the corridor. Louis straightens up, body whirling around, hand reaching for the hilt of his sword defensively. He’s so wound up and stressed, he’d kill anyone right now if they so much as tried to harm her.

However, it’s only Giles and the court doctor. They both rush in, breathless and flushed from running, and scramble over to the bed. Louis shifts back a little to let the doctor work, but doesn’t stray too far, feeling like the invisible ribbon that binds him to her will choke him if he moves any more than this. The doctor gets to work on bringing out tools and things he needs, requesting for some water, and Giles hurries off to retrieve it. Louis ignores the doctor’s request for him to leave at first, refusing to go until Giles returns with the water, then urges him out with a firm hand atop his shoulder.

The Chamberlain doesn’t let go of Louis once they’re outside the room. He guides him all the way to his room, Louis wandering alongside him numbly, empty and settling deeply in the final stages of shock. Giles takes Louis inside his temporary bedroom, closing the door behind them both.

Now out of sight of anyone he couldn’t bear to see him like this, the strength rushes out of his body all at once.

His heart’s hammering, too hard and too fast. His head is spinning, vision burring and shifting erratically. The fringes of his sight are swirling with darkness, and his balance is completely off. His muscles tremble. He can’t feel his legs.

Oh.

Before he registers what’s happening, the blackness swarms the centre of his vision, obscuring it completely in a tormenting spatter of black spots. He feels the rush of gravity around him just as his ears ring, shrieking painfully. Nausea wracks through him. Giles’ panicked shout of his first name sounds far away, distant and a mere echo, the surprise of Giles using his forename not remotely noticed by the blond’s poor mind. Louis barely registers the sensation of the older man’s arms shooting out, catching Louis heavily before he hits the floor, knees colliding with the ground with a sharp crack.

Princess… I’m so sorry.

He’s lain down supine, legs bending up at the knees automatically, his body attempting to curl in and shield itself from the pain and stress it’s suffering like it always has in the past. He groans softly, feeling the world spinning even with his eyes securely closed.

“Duke Howard? Duke Howard!” Giles calls to him, voice for once betraying alarm and concern. Louis can barely breathe let alone think nor talk, trying to force oxygen into his air-deprived body. His hands rise, obscuring his face. Shame, guilt and regret surge through him, immense and so strong that it’s painful.

“I’m sorry.” It’s the first thing he manages to choke out when he has enough energy to speak. “I failed her. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t protect her.”

Giles is hushing him, murmuring in a soothing tone, “Duke Howard, calm yourself, please. You have not failed her at all. You managed to bring her back to us alive, and that is what matters the most. Our princess, the heir to the Wysterian throne, is here because of you.”

The blood on his gloves and clothes suddenly seems to reek to him, the smell becoming overpowering and sickening. He yanks his gloves off, lashing them to the side, before jerking upright. Louis’ eyes open, but it serves him little, considering that his vision is almost indiscernible through his built-up tears. He all but tears his coat off, then his cravat, trying to escape the scent of blood. It’s on his shirt, though, so he can still smell it without his outer layers of clothing.

He howls out a keen, mourning the princess’ health and happiness, not thinking about his own in the slightest. He draws in on himself, knees tucked against his chest, arms locked around them so tightly his bones cry out in protest. Forehead crushed against his forearms, he gasps out apologies, over and over and over again, unable to fend off the wracking guilt inside him.

Giles can only watch on in despair for a long, few heartbeats. Finally, he calls for a servant to run a bath, managing to convince the suffering duke to bathe and clear his head. Louis only does as he says because, if he refused, his guilt would only worsen; he’d be inconveniencing Giles even more than he already has.

Truth be told, once he’s stripped and in the almost-burning water, he starts to calm down. He can’t smell the blood anymore. The steam rising steadily around him is soothing, something about it settling his rattled nerves and reining in his scattered emotions once more.

I want to see her, even though I don’t deserve to. She must be so disappointed in me.

Pain erupts in his heart, aching from loss he has no reason to feel. Unfortunately, Louis is vulnerable to guilt. He can’t stop himself from jumping to conclusions, even if they make little logical sense.

By the time Louis finishes up in the bath, dresses in fresh clothes and dries his hair, it’s been a good while since the doctor has treated the princess. Giles visits Louis, entering after the latter calls him in before asking gently, “How are you feeling, Duke Howard?”

Louis’ eyes drop to the floor. He’s so embarrassed that Giles saw him in such a state. “I’m better than earlier. I’m sorry that you had to see me like that, Giles. I apologise for losing my composure.”

Giles just shakes his head, arms crossed, before he approaches the blond and responds, “Duke Howard, you have nothing to apologise for. It’s only natural that you reacted in such a way, considering your feelings toward the princess, and the injuries you witnessed in her. Alyn told me what happened, so you need not worry about giving an account of it all yourself.”

That’s a relief. Louis doesn’t want to think about it. “Thank you.” Giles nods, a majestic smile on his lips. Louis’ chest tightens again. “How is she?”

The smile widens. “She’s well. Her injuries are substantial to say the least, but should heal swiftly, considering that she’s already awake and has been responding rather animatedly to Nico and Leo’s attempts to cheer her up.”

Louis blinks at that, the ache in his heart worsening. “What do you mean?”

Giles claps a hand on his shoulder, answering, “Duke Howard, she’s desperate to see you. Please, for her sake, go and see her. As I said, you did nothing wrong. You saved her life. She can’t cheer up entirely because she’s adamant she needs to see that you’re alright with her own eyes.”

I’m hurting her by staying away. I’m hurting us both. I have to see her.

Louis swallows hard, then nods, steeling himself. He doesn’t bother putting his spare coat on, instead making his way to the door in just his white shirt, vest and cravat. “Thank you, Giles. I will go and see her.”

Giles just watches on, almost amused, before shaking his head. “You’re very welcome, Duke Howard.” He steps out of the room, eyes trained on Louis’ back as he heads off down the corridor with purposeful strides. “My, my, Duke Howard. You used to lock everything inside, but now, you bear your heart like the princess does her crown.”

Louis doesn’t hear this, of course, too focused and hellbent on righting the wrongs he’s committed throughout the day. He feels oddly bare without his coat on, particularly when he passes two noblewomen in the corridor and they giggle delightedly at the sight of him. He hates the attention. He’s always loathed it, growing up scrutinised, leered at, stared at with filthy, disgusting looks. It’s no different now. When these so-called “nobles” set their eyes upon him, it sickens him. He feels violated just knowing they’re studying him and thinking likely-immoral things about him.

Thankfully, he reaches the princess’ room soon after. Nervousness rises in him, but he forces it back, knocking very lightly on the door. “Princess? Are you awake?”

There’s a murmur of sound. He hears her voice amongst it, and the pressure that’s been mounting in his chest evaporates, flooding from him in an instant.

She’s really okay. She’s alive, at least.

The door opens, revealing Leo and Nico stood on either side of it. Leo gives Louis an easy, albeit marginally teasing smile, nudging past him and giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Good to see that you’re alright, Louis. And, thank God you’re finally here, so our dear princess can relax.”

Nico giggles, bouncing past the two and winking. “She’s been really worried about you, Louis. Make sure you give her a big kiss to make it up to her!”

Louis’ cheeks flush almost instantly. He hears the princess’ cried words from inside. “Nico, stop it! Shush!”

The terrible two burst into laughter at that, and Leo nudges Nico away from the door, down the hallway. “See you later! Feel better, both of you!”

Louis forces himself not to glare at their retreating forms.

Instead, he steps inside, shutting the door behind him. His nerves frazzle a little bit again, but he forces his eyes up to the one and only, most important person in the world to him.

Thank God. Thank you. Thank you for keeping her with us.

The princess is sat up, granted at a 45-degree angle, in bed, her torso cradled by countless pillows and cushions. She looks tired, pallor not quite normal for her, skin bloodless enough for it to be noticeable. She gazes over at Louis, relief bursting inside those gorgeous eyes of hers, filling her whole expression with light and life around the pain he can see she’s suppressing. There’s nothing but love exuding from her, apart from joy and gratefulness.

“Louis!” She breathes out his name, voice trembling just slightly. She raises her hand, reaching out toward him.

I could never refuse you. I could a long time ago, before I lost my heart to you. Now, you could tell me to travel the world a hundred times and I would do it.

He’s moving before he can even process the unconscious action.

When he’s in proximity of her, he takes her hand, cradling it like the most precious of treasures. He lifts it to his lips, painting it with delicate butterfly kisses, dusting the skin with love and affection. He basks in the blessed warmth of her flesh, breathing in her familiar, comforting scent, nuzzling his mouth against her fingers and palm.

I’m so glad you’re alive. I don’t have the right words to say it.

“Louis,” She utters his name once more, fingers tightening around his. She gives him a very gentle tug, easing and coaxing him closer to the bed. When his leg brushes the side of it, she pulls him down to her very gently. He lowers himself down, perching beside her, letting her guide him. After all, he’s punishing himself; he’s only doing what she tells him to do because he feels like he doesn’t deserve anything more.

But, naturally, that all falls apart, the guilt, doubt and self-loathing crumbling within his mind, when she releases his hands, her own drifting up to his face. She barely takes one look at the self-induced misery swirling in those beautiful pools of cerulean, and then she’s smiling very softly, thumbs smoothing away the tears he didn’t realise had cascaded down his pale cheeks.

She hugs his head to her chest, embracing him there, resting his ear against her heart.

He counts the beats, listening with every inch of his focus, taking in the proof that she’s alive.

One, two. Three, Four. Five, six. Seven, eight. Again.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

You’re alive.

She kisses his hair tenderly, understanding his pain, knowing him well enough to feel the agony he’s putting himself through. “You saved me, Louis.” She whispers. “You saved my life. She would have killed me if you weren’t there, and Alyn told me you came because of a mere indication from her in the parlour. The fact that you came just from that is something I’ll be eternally grateful for. If you keep hurting yourself because you think you’ve done wrong, you’re going to make us both hurt and I don’t want that.”

His arms slide around her, slipping under her back. He grips her to him, holding on tight, tears streaming down his face and into the soft flesh of her chest. His breath hitches quietly, catching in his throat. An almost inaudible, strangled sound escapes him, to which she threads her fingers through his golden locks, murmuring,

“I won’t order it as your princess, Louis, because I shouldn’t need to. Stop blaming yourself, and stop hurting yourself, for something you’re not guilty of. Be happy for me.”

I don’t want to hurt anymore.

He swallows hard, forcing back his guilted thoughts, silencing them and isolating them to the cage at the back of his mind he never dares to venture to. “I’m so-” Her hand presses against his head, the other massaging his nape, muting his apology before it can form. He exhales shakily. “I love you.”

Her eyes drift closed. She can barely feel the throbbing of her injuries, the aching masked and shadowed by the love and adoration she has for the man in her arms. “I love you too, Louis. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

No one expects it.

The royal carriage rides through the forest obscuring the border between Wysteria and Laurelia, the latter having just been visited by the princess. Tired from the beneficial visit and successful trade agreements, she leans into Nico’s side, eyes closed and a soft smile on her face. Their relationship is known to those in the palace, although he’s not been announced as her Prince Consort just yet.

Nico watches her, gaze gentle and loving, an arm curled protectively around her waist. He smiles, lips against her hair, listening to her slow breathing and feeling her warmth next to him.

All hell breaks loose mere seconds later.

There’s a sudden shout of alarm from outside the carriage. Nico jerks upright, the princess doing the same. She lets out a choked scream of horror when a blade suddenly appears at the window on the right side, stabbing into one of the guards atop his horse. The carriage rocks unsteadily, the soldiers now screaming to one another, as more assailants converge on the group.

“Nico, what should we-” The Princess’ panicked question is cut short by the sound of glass smashing, and both she and Nico whip around to the left of the carriage.

An arrow flies in through the shattered window, and before Nico can move her out of the way, it embeds itself in her abdomen. Her face contorts with shock, confusion, pain and fear.

“Princess!” Nico all but shrieks, grabbing hold of her and pushing her down onto the floor, out of view of the window. There’s another thunderous bang, and then the carriage tips over onto its side, throwing Nico into the right hand-side window. He feels it crack under him, pain scorching through his back. He guesses some of the glass has pierced through his clothes.

Forgetting about himself, he turns to the princess, who was thrown against the right side as well, but closer to the seat rather than the window. She is unmoving except for the trembles rattling her body, and the heaving of her chest with her laboured breathing. His stomach lurches, mind descending into a flurry of rage, panic and fear. He can see blood spreading through her dress where the arrow has become lodged, seeping through and growing out at a rapid pace. Blood seeps through her fingers, resting around the wound, dripping out fast.

She can’t- I can’t lose her, not now, not like this!

Shock setting in, Nico doesn’t hear someone climb up onto the side of the carriage, and doesn’t see them until they drop inside.

A boot slams down against his ribs, drawing a howled, horrible scream of pain from him. He’s almost certain he feels something crack, and then he’s kicked against the other seat, opposite to the princess. His head smashes against the wall, and his vision swims, blackness taking over his sight swiftly.

“Nngh…” He moans out, trying to push himself up despite the agony in his ribs and head, and the fact that he can’t see. “Princess-”

Another kick in his stomach sends him collapsing down completely, consumed entirely by the pain. His sight returns just a little, blackness fading away enough for him to see a silhouette of a man before him. He watches, distraught and helpless. The man bends down to hook an arm under the princess’ middle, lifting her up against him before then seemingly giving her to someone waiting above, on top of the carriage.

“Quick, the guys are nearly all dead. Go.”

Nico’s fury reignites. For a second, the agony blisters away, leaving one thing in his mind.

I’ll kill you.

He retrieves his dagger from his jacket, ignoring the damage to his body, and lurches forward.

“You bastard!” He screams, plunging the knife into the man’s throat without giving him time to react. He jerks it to the side, slitting it open completely, and the spray of blood that coats his clothes doesn’t even register with him. He simply kicks the man back and out of the way to bleed, then reaches up to grab onto the side of the carriage where the door is open.

Growling at the pain searing through him, he heaves himself up and out, taking in the scene around him.

There are bodies everywhere.

He can see that at least half of the Wysterian knights are down, dying or possibly dead, the others still engaged in combat with whoever the attackers are. He spots Alyn, surrounded by three of them, with Giles at his back. The former glances up at Nico, chest heaving, before he snaps,

“Go and get her, now! In front of you!”

Nico doesn’t need to be told twice.

He leaps off the carriage and onto one of the horses, now without a rider, spying into the tree line of the thicker forest. He catches a glimpse of a horse riding in, and he spots the flash of the princess’ dress at the front.

“Yah!” The horse lunges forward, galloping at high speed into the thick vegetation. Although the attacker’s got a lead on him, he’s only got one person on his horse, and he’s no doubt lighter than the man. He spurs the horse on, readying his dagger in his right hand and pulling out a throwing knife with his left. “Come on!”

He observes the attacker glance back, and the fear on his face becomes apparent when he sees Nico pursuing him. Nico scowls, mind calculating that he’s now in throwing range of him. He weaves through the trees expertly, having done it so many times before, driven and determined to make this man have the worse, most prolonged, most torturous death possible.

How dare you.

He bares his teeth.

How dare you touch my princess.

His arm pulls back, aiming, body going rigid.

How dare you hurt her.

He launches the knife as hard as he can without throwing off the trajectory. Thankfully, it flies despite the air resistance and opposite force of the riding, and he watches it shoot at the man’s back. In those few seconds, he calls on gods, he prays, he hopes and wishes and swears to give anything for this one moment.

Don’t miss. Please, for her, don’t miss.

He sees the man’s body jerk forward, the knife hitting him just to the side of his spine. He shrieks in pain, and then he tips to the side, pulling the princess off the horse with him. Nico can only grit his teeth, imagining the amount of damage the fall will do to her, especially with her injury. He braces himself.

They both hit the floor and roll, and he can barely stop himself from bursting into tears when he sees the arrow snap in half, then bury itself deeper in her stomach.

He races over and practically throws himself off his horse upon reaching them, sprinting straight at the attacker. He yanks the dagger out of the whimpering man’s back, ignoring the shrill cry of pain he lets out. His amber hues practically burn and smoulder with rage, and when he speaks, his voice is as lethal as the knife in his hand.

“I haven’t got time to make you hurt right now. My Princess matters more than you do.” Without any more words, he sends his boot flying into the man’s head, seeing his body jerk before going still. If he dies, he’ll just have him left somewhere to rot in exchange for depriving Nico of punishing him.

Now, said Meier whips around to the princess, sheathing his dagger and throwing knife before collecting her from the grass. He cradles her against him, the damage to his ribs and head now dulled by gripping, suffocating fear and panic. He swallows thickly, reaching down to press his fingers to her pulse point.

He immediately collapses around her, hunched over her and clutching her to him with shaking hands. She’s alive. Her pulse is there, weaker than normal but there nonetheless. “Princess…” He chokes out. “___...”

It’s now that footsteps make their way toward him. He throws his head up, eyes hostile, dagger in his hand in a second. He swiftly recognises the people approaching him and lets out a heavy breath as Alyn, Giles and four knights, all bloodied badly, run to him.

“Nico,” Giles gasps out, sheathing his sword. He drops to his knees in front of him, asking quickly, “Does she just have the one injury?” Nico nods mutely, having not seen anything else that could have badly hurt her. Giles’ pupils widen just a little at the younger boy’s silence, but before he can question him, Nico decides that he needs to move.

He has to get her back to the palace. Once she’s with the physician, she’ll be safe. She’ll be treated and she’ll survive. But he has to go now.

He stands up with the princess in his arms, chest aching and brain pounding away, before approaching the horse. He manages to get up without putting her down, then pulls her against his chest atop the horse before taking its reins. He hears Alyn snapping at him, asking him what the hell he’s doing when she’s so hurt, but he takes no notice.

He simply stays silent, letting the horse shoot off through the forest. He keeps a throwing knife in his hand and surveys his surroundings at all times, not letting his guard down one bit. He keeps checking the princess, making sure she’s breathing, hoping to any and all the gods that he’ll get her back in time.

After what feels like an eternity, he arrives at the palace. The guards seem stunned out of their minds when they see him ride up to the gates, bloodied and with an even bloodier princess in his arms, but they let him through when he tells them that they were attacked. He can barely process anything as he sprints through the corridors with her, heading straight for the physician.

He’s too distraught. He’s too ashamed. He’s too angry, frustrated, sickened and hollow. There’s so much going on in his head, the chaos has given way to silence. All he knows is that he has to get her safe.

Once she’s with the physician and he starts to treat her, the nurses and other, less experienced doctors all helping, he leaves the room with great reluctance. He stares at the door for a long few seconds, trying to think or feel something. The pain is there, obviously, but that doesn't give him anything. It tells him nothing.

His mind is empty; he doesn’t know what to do, despite having been trained so much to be able to deal with things like this.

By the time Giles and Alyn return with the knights and wounded, but thankfully no dead, he has shrugged off his jacket and put it on the floor, avoiding getting blood everywhere, before collapsing against the wall. His breaths are shallow and difficult, hissing through his lungs, eyes squeezes shut and head throbbing. He trembles where he sits, body still in shock and confused by the injuries he’s sustained.

But he doesn’t plan on getting them looked at, not until he knows she’s made it.

When Giles and Alyn come to the door, presumably to wait for the results from the physician, they seem stunned by his presence.

“Nico,” Giles mutters, frowning immediately and crouching in front of the rose-haired boy. “You must have your injuries seen to. It will not help to just ignore them.”

He reaches out to touch Nico’s shoulder, but the latter reaches up quickly, fingers latching around Giles’ wrist. He’s not in the mood for this. He just wants to see her and see that she’s okay. He doesn’t want to be babied or coddled. He’s had enough of it. “They’re fine, Giles. I’ll take care of them later.”

Alyn scoffs, stepping closer. “Look, we get that you’re worried about her; we are as well. However,” Giles retracts his wrist, and Alyn crouches down in front of Nico, levelling him with an equal stare. “If you walk in covered in blood and hurt, possibly more than you realise because you haven’t been checked over, what’s she going to say? Is that really going to make her happy?”

Nico lowers his gaze, considering his words. He knows they’re true, but he still doesn’t want to leave her. Despite his roots and where he grew up, he still has distrust of the people in the palace and feels slightly uneasy about putting any distance between them, especially after today.

But he wouldn’t want to upset her any more than she already is.

He frowns slightly, fingers digging into his arm through his sleeve. When he lifts his head he can feel the dried blood on his neck flaking and cracking. “Okay.”

Alyn nods, and he reaches out to pat Nico on the shoulder lightly. The action is oddly comforting, especially when Alyn gives him a small smile. “Good. She’ll be fine; she’s a tough little Princess.”

Of course she is. She’s so unbelievably strong, and has such breathtaking composure and willing considering how she came to be the princess. He has full confidence that she’d cling to her life even with the worst of injuries.

Nico nods again silently, then inhales deeply and heaves himself to his feet. He groans at the pulsing in his head, then gasps sharply and bends over when his ribs are consumed by by aching, consuming pain once more. His hand flies up to his side, and he hears Alyn let out a frustrated breath.

“Geez, you’re that badly hurt and you didn’t tell anyone?” He scowls, then takes hold Nico’s wrist and puts his arm over his shoulders. “Don’t stress your ribs if they’re injured. Let’s go; lean on me while we walk.”

Although reluctant, and with a worried glance back at the door, Nico finally nods and leans against the Crawford, letting him handle some of his weight. Alyn takes him to his room with some slightly ill-humoured quips that Nico guesses are an attempt to brighten his mood, but he just can’t do it today.

With the severity of the attack and the Princess’ injuries, as well as his own, he can’t find it in him to smile.

Following Alyn’s immutable orders, he has a bath after it’s drawn, allowing him to fully examine his injuries. He stands in front of the mirror beforehand, shirt on the floor, and frowns at the collection of dark bruises painting his side. They almost make up a twisted bouquet of flowers up his ribs, spreading just a little into his stomach. He also reaches up to the back of his head, feeling dry blood matted in the locks.

What a wonderful knight I am.

He sighs heavily, proceeding to have a bath and rid himself of any and all traces of blood. When he’s as good as new, as much as possible with the circumstances, he gets dressed in a shirt, trousers and his boots, but he leaves his jacket off out of tiredness and convenience. This proves to be a wise decision, as when Nico steps out into the corridor, one of the palace doctors are waiting there. She deflects Nico’s questions about the princess, not allowing him to ask anything until she has looked him over.

A fractured rib, at least three or four others bruised, possible bruising of the lungs and a gash on the back of his head.

He waits, albeit impatiently, while the doctor stitches up the gash, since it’s too deep to leave alone, before giving his hair a quick rinse again and drying it off. As soon as this is done, the doctor tells him that the princess is fine and that, while the wound was deep, the arrow didn’t puncture any organs, most likely because of the decreased speed from breaking the window. Nico collapses onto the couch upon being told this, dropping his head into his hands.

She’s okay.

His chest, while permanently aching and hurting even worse when he breathes, flutters with relief. The dark thoughts that have plagued him since he returned finally start to disperse, and he thanks whatever powers or forces there are over and over again, be it gods or luck or fate, for keeping her alive.

Thanking the doctor for her help, he heads straight for the princess’ room.

When he gets there, he’s instructed to wait by the physician still tending to her and checking that she’s stable, and so he sits down next to the door, drawing his knees close to him despite the shooting pain it elicits from his ribs. His thumb finds his mouth automatically, and he chews it absently as a means of coping with his mental suffering.

Just as Nico is about ready to doze off, head dropped against the tops of his knees, a gentle hand rests itself atop his hair. He jerks up quickly, still jittery from the day’s nerves, only to find Leo kneeling down in front of him, with Giles and Alyn stood behind him. Leo grins, taking his hand away.

“How are you feeling? I hear you got pretty thrown around.” While the words are to some extent provocative, they’re spoken kindly and almost teasingly, in a way that somehow lift Nico’s mood just a little. He stretches his legs out, managing to return to smile, albeit not as brightly as usual, and it’s certainly not genuine.

“Fine! And nah, I just let them feel like they were winning a few times.” He glances at the door, seeing it closed. “Is she okay?”

He asks it calmly, but his insides are churning. Swells of guilt, conflict and concern grip at his conscience, creating a bubble of anxiety in his gut that he can’t settle.

Leo keeps grinning and nods, standing up with a sigh. “She’s just fine. She’s awake now, and the physician’s happy, so you can see her.”

Nico lets out a breath if relief, pushing himself up to his feet. He winces at the sharp pain in his ribs, and how his head pulses even harder now he’s stood. “Thank you.”

Leo just waves breezily, spinning on his heels and starting to walk away. “Mm-hm. Just be gentle with her; she’s fragile at the moment, after all.”

If looks could kill, Leo would be so, so dead.

However, he doesn’t react to the unamused expressions on Giles, Alyn and Nico’s faces, instead patting Alyn on the shoulder while he saunters past. “Make sure you get yourself checked by the doctor, or you might hurt something important. That wouldn’t be very pleasant, would it?”

Alyn scowls at his back, snapping, “Shut it.”

Leo chuckles, turning the corner.

Nico just turns around to the door now, more occupied with the thought of seeing her again. Giles and Alyn watch as he knocks on the door in his usual pattern, expression uncharacteristically terse and almost nervous.

Truthfully, that’s what he’s feeling. He wasn’t able to protect her. He couldn't keep her safe, like he’s always said he would. If he’d have reacted faster, he could have taken the arrow for her or gotten them both out without being harmed. He failed her, the one person in the world he would never want to betray.

“Nico?” Her voice calls from inside, to some extent weak but still very much his princess. “Come in!”

She’s really okay.

He steels himself, ignoring the intense stares of Alyn and Giles behind him, and puts on a bright smile despite not quite feeling it. He opens the door, slipping inside.

The princess is in bed, settled back against the soft, fluffy pillows around her, covers pulled up to her shoulders. She beams upon seeing him enter, relief, love and adoration flooding her eyes. His composure almost cracks, and immediately she seems to sense that something’s off with him. The smile fades, replaced by a look of concern. “Nico, what’s wrong?”

I’m so weak…

He manages to force a response out, not moving from the door, unconsciously restricting himself because of his failure. “Nothing! I’m just really glad you’re okay!” He can’t hide the vulnerability in his voice, nor can he make his smile convincing. It’s not real, after all. He’s too distressed for it to be real.

“Nico.”

His heart pounds away for a few seconds at the caring tone of her voice, at the way it pulls him in and strips away any masks he has in place. He clasps his hands behind his back, fiddling with his fingers out of nervousness and guilt.

She just gives him a sad but almost secretive look, lips turning up just a little bit. She opens her arms, stretching them out to him.

The smile crumbles.

He bounds over to her, jumping onto the bed so that he can collapse – granted carefully – against her, locking his arms around her and clinging to her like she’s his last thread of life. He buries his face in her shoulder, pale hair tickling over her skin. Her own arms come up, curling around his neck and head, fingers threading through the soft strands.

“I’m sorry, Princ-” He starts to apologise, but she interrupts him with a quiet hushing sound, shaking her head.

“Don’t you dare say sorry, Nico. It wasn’t your fault in any way, and you couldn’t have done any more than you did. We didn’t know. There wasn’t enough time to react.” He goes to dispute her, but she only hugs his face against her shoulder harder, muffling his attempt at speech. “Nico, don’t. Please, don’t blame yourself. You saved me, and maybe the others as well, from further harm. This will heal in time.”

She smoothes her hand across his cheek, then his hair again, before she goes still. After a moment, she suddenly stiffens, exclaiming, “Giles said you were badly hurt! Are you sure you can be sitting like this? He said you fractured a rib!”

Feeling her hands place themselves on his shoulders, most likely trying to sit him up, he tightens his grip on her middle and curls himself over her more. Even though his ribs are aching, his head is pounding, and it hurts just to breathe, he’d rather die than be anywhere else. He’d prefer to just be knocked out as opposed to having to let her out of his arms again.

“I’m fine, Princess. Can I just stay here with you?” He peeks up at her, giving her the look he knows never fails. “Please? This is the best medicine I can take. I feel so much better being here with you.”

He can see her inner conflict immediately. She frowns just a little, brow furrowing in that adorable way she always does. His lips ease into a small, weak, but real smile, and she finally heaves out a long sigh. He can see disapproval in her eyes as she nods, shifting so that she’s a bit more upright against the pillows. “You know that’s not fair.”

He finds his smile widening, and he nuzzles his face into her neck, cherishing the feeling of her warm throat. Taking in a breath, he smells the sweet scent of her shampoo, enveloping his senses. He relishes in the sensation of her hands in his hair, of her lips coming to rest against the crown of his head. Her chest rises and falls under him, granted shallower than usual, most likely from her injury, but it’s still soothing to him. Gentle, nimble fingers brush over his hair in repetitive, calming motions. He closes his eyes.

And he stays there for the rest of the day, encased in her kindness and her strength. When the doctor comes in to check on her, Nico only leaves for a few moments, then blurs back to her as soon as he can.

And no one, not even Giles when he comes to say goodnight, breathes a word when he finds Nico under the covers, still in his day clothes, forehead touching the princess’ in sleep.

Giles simply chuckles at the sight, quietly bidding the two a well-deserved sleep, before he returns to his room, making the arrangements for Nico to have a few days off as well.

Chapter Text

A wild fire dances in Robert’s eyes. He drapes the princess across the mattress of her bed, hair splayed out around her head luxuriously. She pants beneath him, gaze dark with passion and lips swollen from his kisses.

He takes his time in climbing onto the bed, his own eyes lustful and filled with a delicious, desiring sin. His mouth curls up into one of his rarest expressions, a smirk forming there, teasing and with clear intent written all over it. She whimpers with need at the sight, reaching out for his touch desperately.

He slips his hand into hers, raising it to his mouth. Brushing his lips over her knuckles, he dusts a fleeting kiss against the ring on her fourth finger. Her breathing becomes heavy, hard and fast, and a husky, rumbled laugh resonates out from deep in his throat. The dangerous sound elicits a violent shudder that wracks her whole frame, making her tremble under him.

“Tell me what you want, my queen.” He purrs out. His teeth graze over her palm, his hand turning it upward, so that he can suck on the soft flesh. When she simply keens, unable to speak with the intensity of the anticipation gripping her, his smirk widens. He shifts to rest his mouth against her wrist, where he breathes out, tone almost impossibly calm and composed, “Tell me. I cannot give you it, if you do not tell me what it is that you seek, can I?”

Her skin is practically molten. Her eyes dart away, head ducking with embarrassment at his seductive words. Her free hand grips the pillow, fingers clenched in the material with her frustration. When she responds, it’s a laboured answer, spoken in a heady, needing voice. “I want you. I want you, Robert- I need-” She peeks up at him through lidded hues, strands of her hair tickling the skin of her forehead. “I need you. Please, Robert. I want-”

His smirk has already softened. It’s a smile that graces those gorgeous lips now, loving and kind, while simultaneously pleased and tantalising. He exhales against her flesh, warm air caressing her wrist, before he presses another swift kiss to her wrist. “As you wish. Worry not; I will give you what you want.”

Now, he lowers her hand to the pillow, holding it there before pinning it above her head. Her chest heaves as he does the same with her other wrist, using one hand to envelop both and keep them trapped there. Restrained and exposed to him, she can barely stay still, body yearning and aching for his touch. One hand now free, he lowers it to her thigh, the skirts of her dress having ridden up to expose the limb already. She shivers as his fingers trace the underside of it, only very, very lightly, but enough to drive her insane.

Meanwhile, he buries his face in her throat, busying himself with lavishing her neck with kisses, light bites and the occasional rose-hued mark. She’s entirely at his mercy, writhing and crying out from his touches, trembling and beautiful and all his. His fingers ghost over her hip, then down to her inner thigh, where he caresses the supple flesh. The sensations descending on her body are almost overwhelming. She cries out his name, almost in pain with how much she needs him.

“Robert! Please!” He simply grins, eyes shining with desire and need, now unabashed and soon to be unleashed. He shifts upward, so that his lips hover millimetres above hers, where he gazes down at her with an expression more complex than anything comprehensible to mankind.

Love. Want. Adoration. Pride. Desire. Infatuation. A need to protect. A wish to make her the happiest woman alive. The look of a man who has nothing else, but who needs nothing else.

“Ssh.” He hushes her, very softly, very soothingly. His hand rises to thread through her hair, then cradle her head with the utmost tenderness, thumb massaging the space behind her ear in calming, repetitive motions. “You don’t have to wait anymore. I’m here. I will always be with you, and will always be yours, and yours alone.”

He kisses the corner of her mouth, feeling her trembling beneath him. His eyes meet hers at long last, and they become locked in a smouldering, scorching gaze of love, lust and passion, swirling between them like fire. “The king has arrived. And he is the queen’s to command, to fulfill her every single wish.”

Chapter Text

Sid’s breath rushes out of him in pants, laboured and panicked and desperate. The streets of Wysteria flash by around him as he sprints through the streets, the citizens watching him with surprise. He pays them no mind, indigo eyes darting around.

I have to find her.

He grits his teeth, shoving through the thick bands of people without stopping. There are shouts around him, some angry and some concerned and some confused, but he can’t hear what they’re saying over the pounding of his heart in his chest. He’s screaming on the inside, his mind overwhelmed with fear and grim determination.

She’s in trouble.

He’s getting close to where they said she’d been earlier. Fury pulses through him as he remembers receiving the worst, most dreadful piece of information he’s ever had in his life.

“Sid! Sid, you’ve got to hear this!” One of Sid’s contacts calls, breathless, as he runs into the bar. Ignoring the looks of the other bar dwellers, Sid glances behind him, pupils expanding at the worried look on his contact’s face.

“What is it? Calm down - you look like you’re going to have a heart attack-” He starts to speak, but his contact doesn’t even give him the time to be concerned for him. He comes in close as he speaks in a low, quick rush, panic evident in his voice.

“It’s the Princess. I heard a group of guys - shady ones, dangerous looking ones - talking about the Princess coming into town today. They talked about hating the Princess system, and one of them said he was going to find her and kill her once he got her alone. He said he heard her talking about going to the new flower shop in the north of town.”

Sid’s heart stops, his body going rigid.

No!

He barely registers his body moving, throwing him from his seat as the bartender shouts after him, snapping that he owes him money for his drink. He doesn’t care. He has to save her.

Now, he takes a shortcut through a side street, his quick footsteps echoing and bouncing off the stone walls.

“Don’t you go getting hurt on me. Don’t you dare.” He pants out, trying to stop himself from becoming completely hysterical.

Nearly there.

His chest is burning, lungs at their limits and muscles painfully tight as he runs. He ignores it all, taking it like a punishment for not finding out about this sooner. He’s going to find her, and make sure she’s okay, and then he’s going to hunt down the bastards who wanted to hurt her and he’s going to make them pay. He’ll make them regret ever threatening the Princess.

Finally, thank God, he reaches the shop. He sprints inside, the brightness of the interior contrasting greatly with his gut-wrenching fear. He takes in the single room, seeing her nowhere. He cusses under his breath, turning around and bolting out again.

He then runs around the back of the shop, down the alley and into one of the darker side streets.

Everything inside him, all that makes him who he is, that keeps him alive, shatters around him.

The Princess is on the floor, her body limp. Her eyes are closed as she lies on her side, and he can see the crystalline tear tracks on her cheeks, glistening in the light. Her long, white dress, is stained with crimson, blood blossoming out from a wound in her stomach. It pools around her, surrounding her like a horrific, scarlet flower blooming around her.

His stomach lurches, and for a second the world spins, his brain going into overdrive.

His body reacts before his mind does, and he feels himself wanting to cry, but he forces it back as he sprints over to her. He leans down, placing his hands on her face and whispering to her desperately. “Princess, wake up. Come on, Princess - talk to me. Let me see those pretty eyes of yours, okay?”

She doesn’t move. He swallows the lump in his throat, feeling for her pulse for a few dreadful seconds. His breath rushes out of him with relief as he feels it, thrumming weakly against her neck.

He wastes no time in picking her up, cradling her in his arms as gently as possibly, like a glass doll. He then runs down the side street, breaking onto the main road and looking around for a way to get her back to the castle quickly.

He grunts, knowing that there’s a stable nearby, before he starts to run again. He glances down at the Princess every few seconds, the screams of terrified citizens muffled around him, with only one thought in his mind.

You’re going to live, Princess. I’m not letting you go anywhere.

Hours later, Sid is sat on the Princess’ bed. He is perched next to her prone body, watching her breath slowly and deeply. He has her hand in his, holding it tightly, as he waits for her to wake up.

No one, not even Giles or the doctor or Alyn, dared to tell him to leave her. They know better.

He stiffens as she inhales much more deeply, and then lets out a small moan of pain. He immediately leans forward, putting his other hand on her cheek. He cups it, fingers brushing over her cheekbones ever so gently. “Come on, Princess. Wake up for me. I’m getting all tired over here.”

He jokes, knowing that he doesn’t want her to see him upset when she comes around. She moves her head slightly, and then, finally, her beautiful eyes open, taking in Sid’s form for a few precious seconds. He finds himself smiling down at her, his smirk forming naturally, despite how enraged and jittery he is. He just wants to embrace the fact that she’s okay, that she’s alive.

“Heya, Princess.” She blinks up at him for a moment, looking confused.

“Sid?” Her voice is weak as she says this, frowning a bit. “What happened?”

His smile falters a little, but he manages to save it before she notices. “You were attacked, Princess. You were hurt pretty badly, but I got there in time to save you. You’re lucky you weren’t hurt any worse.”

She processes this for a moment. “What… Why? Who did it? What made them-”

Her questions are cut off as he rolls his eyes, curling his body over hers as he swallows them with a kiss. She goes still for a second, and then she relaxes, her own hands coming up to cradle his face as she kisses back. He feels her smiling into it, her lips soft against his.

Not wanting to push her when she’s so fragile, he pulls back a bit, smirking down at her. “Don’t worry about it, okay? For now, you just need to focus on getting better, so that I can train you up to be able to kick anyone’s ass if they get close like that again. Don’t be doing that whole I’m-going-to-worry-about-everyone-else-first thing.”

She stares up at him for a moment, his kindness warming her entire body. Then, a soft, beautiful laugh, although weak, leaves her. “I’m not allowed to worry about the guys that attacked me?”

He snorts, shaking his head. “Nope. I’m going to take care of them, and you’re going to make sure you heal properly so you can get back to working too hard.”

She’s still concerned, obviously, but she’s relaxed and able to forget about everything for now. She’s not in much pain, so she must have been given some medicine while she was asleep to lessen it.

“Don’t put yourself in danger, Sid.” His smirk widens, and she frowns a bit. “I’m serious! They’re not worth getting hurt!”

He just laughs, nodding. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get grumpy face to come help if you want. He’s going after them anyway.”

She seems a bit happier with that, and she sighs, nodding and leaning back against the pillows. “Okay.” She brushes some of his hair out of his face, watching him as he watches her. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

He rolls his eyes again, saying in a teasing, warning tone, “What did I just say about worrying about people?”

A blush rises in her cheeks as she looks away, and he shakes his head, curling his body over to rest his forehead against hers. She stares up at him, her eyes full of concern and love, and his own eyes reflect the emotions back. He smiles, not smirking this time, as he holds her face in his hands, his fingers soft as they rest on her skin. “I’m not hurt, so don’t get all worried, okay? If I find out you’re worrying about people, I’ll have to distract you from it, won’t I?”

He grins impishly at that, seeing her blush worsen as heat radiates from her face. He chuckles contentedly, then presses his lips to her forehead before pulling back. “Giles is coming so I’m probably going to have to go, but I’ll be back to see you later. ‘Kay?” He smirks, ruffling her hair playfully and grinning as she tries to escape his hand. “Stay out of trouble, trouble. Don’t make me get all scared again. That wasn’t fun.”

Her expression softens at that, and he can practically see her apology before she even says it. So, he presses his thumb to her lip, chiding jokingly, “Don’t you dare try to apologise, Princess.” He gives her a quick, light tap on the nose, then stands up as he hears footsteps approaching the door.

Giles, the palace doctor, Leo, Alyn and Robert enter after knocking and being called in, and Giles raises an eyebrow. “Are you alright, Princess?”

She nods, giving them all a bright smile. “Yeah, I’m okay.” She laughs, the sound making Sid’s heart flutter in his chest. “Sore, but I’m fine.”

Sid laughs at that, reaching down to take her hand and squeeze it gently. “You’re a tough little Princess.”

The doctor steps forward now, standing next to the bed with a kind smile. Giles motions for the others to leave, saying, “Sid, if you would, the doctor needs to check that the wound has clotted properly.”

He gives a miniature eye roll, which draws a giggle from the Princess. “Fine, I’m leaving.” He then lifts her hand up, kissing her knuckles quickly before releasing it. “See you later, Princess. I’ll be back.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Sid! I mean it!” The Princess laughs out as he leaves, and he exits the room with a loud chortle.

When the door closes behind him, he sees Alyn stood there, leaning against the wall. Sid smirks. “She doesn’t want me doing anything in my own, but I should be able to track these assholes down quickly. Fancy going to find them and make them suffer?”

Alyn says nothing, but a small, determined smile crosses his lips. Leo nods, and Robert sighs with a smile of his own.

Sid lets out another dark bout of laughter, setting off down the corridor.

I’m going to find these guys and they’re going to regret ever being born.

The Princess’ face flashes through his mind, and he’s filled with desire, wanting to make them pay for even daring to lay a hand on her.

No one hurts the person I love.

He smiles to himself once more, nodding.

No one.

Chapter Text

Warmth ripples through your body and radiates around you, enveloping your soft skin in a gentle embrace. You inhale and curl up, moving closer to the source of the heat. A low, rumbled chuckle pulls you out of the dregs of sleep, allowing your eyes to open at long last.

As your eyelids flutter, exposing your beautiful orbs to the world, bright light swarms your vision. You squeeze them shut again and duck your head, pressing your face into the warmth once more. Slow, steady breathing surrounds you, and you feel the mass beneath your hands moving, rising and falling with each breath. You gradually get your eyes used to the light, and when you do, you look into the face of the man lying under you.

Sid, otherwise known as Lloyd Grandier, simply stares back at you, his blue-black hair slightly messy and his ponytail looser than usual. It looks good, though; it gives him a normal, yet completely dangerous appearance, added to by his indigo orbs as they watch you amusedly. He is on his back on the bed with you laying atop him, and your face is level with his, even though your body is considerably shorter.

Sid is often away from the castle, doing work elsewhere, but is in Wysteria for the next few weeks. Because of this, he’s been staying in the castle, and has taken it upon himself to spend as much time with you as humanly possible. Your relationship is known to those in the castle, but there has been no action in regards to him being the Prince Consort because of complications.

“Good morning, Princess.” His voice is low and gravelly, with that rough edge that sends shivers rolling down your spine. His arms, around your waist and holding you in your position, tighten slightly, and then he suddenly rolls over, manoeuvring you to be under him. He hovers above you as your breathing quickens, blood rushing to your skin as he lowers his mouth to yours. He places his hands on either side of your head, smirking against your lips as he murmurs, “I see you slept well after last night.”

You squeak at that, embarrassed by the impish tint in his voice. “Sid! Don’t say things like that!”

His smirk widens, and he shifts to be balanced on one forearm, his other hand trailing across your cheek. Sparks and even more warmth tingles through your skin at the touch, making you exhale shakily as he moves his lips to your ear. “Why? I love seeing you look like this, all worked up and shy.”

You go to say something, even though you aren’t quite sure what you are going to come up with, when he starts to plant kisses across your skin. You go still for a moment in surprise, and then a soft moan escapes you as he sucks on the space behind your ear.

Your hands reach up, one moving to grip his arm while the other rests on his bare chest. You feel the muscles under the skin, strong and tightened like steel, moving as his hand drifts downwards from your face. It ghosts down your neck and shoulder, then traces the curves of your sides, covered only by the nightgown you are wearing. Shudders wrack your body as his fingers teasingly slip down, drifting across your thigh.

He moves his lips now, kissing down your neck and sucking hard on your pulse point. You let out a gasp as he nips at the area, your nails digging into his chest in response. A quiet groan escapes him at this, and he lowers his body down, pressing it against yours as his hand moves up again. He laces his fingers through yours, pressing it against the silken sheets while his left hand lowers down to hold your hip. Your legs automatically move to be around his waist, which makes him laugh as he pays equal attention to the other side of your neck.

“You’re certainly eager this morning, aren’t you?” His words are smug and taunting as he continues to claim your throat as his, and you can’t find the coherency to respond properly.

“Sid…” His name falls from your lips and your hands move of their own accord, threading through his soft hair. You pull it gently, knowing that he quite likes the feeling, and manage a grin when he shudders above you. The grin is quickly swallowed by his mouth as he kisses you deeply and ardently, taking away all of your thoughts.

You pull him as close as possible, opening your mouth when his tongue slithers across your lip. It reaches in and twists around your own, ridding you of oxygen as your heart pounds in your chest.

You eventually have to pull back, gasping desperately for breath as he watches you again. His smirks slowly turns into a genuine smile, his left hand rising up to cradle your burning face. His other hand still holds yours, and he rests his forehead against yours before kissing the skin there. “You alright, love?”

Your heart stutters at the nickname he uses for you, and you remember how he said that he never uses it with anyone else. You manage a nod, swallowing and trying to stop your body’s desire to lose control. “Yeah.”

He smirks again, sending adrenaline shooting through you. He then kisses you, softer and slower than before, as he wraps his arms around you. You cup his face, fingers brushing over his jaw and cheekbones.

All you can think about is him, his strong smell, his protectiveness over you, how much he loves you and has the ability to trust you with who he is. You love him with all you are, and you are grateful for him because he makes you remember who that person is; he keeps you focused on what’s important but makes sure you can cope with it all, and he ensures that you have times to be happy in-between work.

“___…” He breathes your name against your lips, his voice so quiet that it’s almost impossible to hear. He holds you closer and kisses you again, then pulls back to look you in the eye. Your own open again, having closed. You notice that, although his skin is already slightly flushed, it now becomes more visible as he whispers, “I love you.”

Your already fast heart rate becomes even faster, and happiness explodes in your body. A beaming smile forms on your lips, and your gaze becomes softer as you whisper back, “I love you too.”

His eyes take on a look of adoration as he hears your words. He presses his lips against yours, again and again and again, until you know that it’s nearly time to get up.

When you do, you sigh gently, detaching your lips from his as you brush his hair out of his eyes. “I need to get ready soon.”

He groans and drops his head onto your chest, tightening his hold on you as he mutters, “Can’t you just take the day off?”

You laugh at that, running your fingers through his locks and tightening his ponytail. “Unfortunately, no. I think Giles would kill me if I tried.”

He huffs out a breath, which tickles you as he his breath wafts over your chest and shoulder. “If he ever touches you, I’ll be the one killing him.”

Mildly concerned but still flattered by this, you kiss his head, replying, “Thank you, but please don’t. You’d get hurt or worse, and it would destroy me if you were.”

He tilts his head up at that, frowning. “I still don’t understand how you can care about someone like me. I mean, it’s dangerous, and I’m a bastard most of the time anyway.”

You shake your head immediately, rubbing your thumbs over his cheekbones. “That’s not true, not the last part. The first part is only partially true, and it’s much less dangerous than my own job; being the princess has already been extremely dangerous so many times, and I’ve accepted it. I know the risks of it, and of this, and I’m more than happy to embrace them. You are kind, as much as you try to deny it, and you are sweet, Sid. You care and it shows to me, and I cannot tell you in words how much I appreciate the things you do for me.”

His frown deepens. “What do I do-”

You cut him off, pulling him up to kiss him before speaking again. “You do a lot of things, some you probably aren’t even aware of. I’ll tell you everything you do, but not now.” You smile, laughing out, “It’ll take too long, and I don’t want to be told off by Giles today.”

He makes a face, nuzzling into the crook of your neck. “Fine. But don’t push yourself - you always do it, and you shouldn’t.”

You smile at this, nodding. “Okay.” You then glance up, seeing the sun getting higher on the horizon. “I need to get up, Sid.” He lets out a growl in response, saying nothing. You roll your eyes and try to sit up, only to have him stop you and use his body to pin you to the bed. You try to push him off, but it’s a fruitless attempt, seeing as he lets all of his weight rest on you every time you try. “Sid!”

“What? I’m comfy. I’m not moving.” You squirm under him, letting out noises as you try to force him off. You end up only tiring yourself out for the moment, falling back onto the sheets with a huff. You eye his head, somehow still on your shoulder after all your struggling, before getting an idea.

You grin and twist your torso to the side, shoving his head off and watching it hit the pillow. He immediately sits up, giving you a bewildered, almost offended look. You use the opportunity to push him to the right, then jump up and start to run to the bathroom. You hear him hit the bed before standing up, and then panic when his footsteps approach you quickly.

“You’re going to regret that.”

Just as he says this, his arms lock around your waist and haul you up, onto his shoulder. You scream, unable to balance on your back, and he turns you over to be on your front instead. He is smirking, you see, as he starts to walk back towards the bed.

“Sid! I need to get ready! Seriously, Giles is going to get really angr-”

Your voice is cut off by a knock, and then a certain butler’s voice sounds through the door. “___?”

You near enough try to throw yourself off Sid’s shoulder as the door opens, but he keeps you there, an arm across your legs and a hand on your back. You let out an indignant cry at this as Nico steps in. He goes stone-still as he takes in the sight of you over Sid’s shoulder, struggling all the while, with Sid looking completely at ease. And bare-chested. He does have trousers on, though.

“Sorry for interrupting, but it’s time to get ready, ____.” Nico looks like he is stuck between being disturbed and confused, and his eyes remain on Sid the whole time, only flickering to you for brief moments.

“Y-Yes! I’ll get ready straight away!” You nod, saying this quickly, before whacking Sid’s back. “Put me down, Sid!”

He lets out a long, heavy sigh, putting you back on the ground. You are blushing profusely, embarrassed by being seen in such a position. He smirks at this before walking over to his shirt, which is draped over the back of the chair of your vanity table. He picks it up and throws it on, buttoning it up in a lazy fashion before getting his shoes on.

When he has done this, he picks up his coat from the chair and walks towards the door, going near you in the process. He gives you his signature smirk, which makes your heart jump a little, before placing his hand on your hair and kissing your forehead. “See you later. I’ll find you when your lessons are done, alright?”

You nod, trying to ignore Nico’s strange look as he watches the conversation. “Okay. See you later.”

He nods back before leaving, eyeing Nico amusedly as he does. When he has gone and the door shuts, you immediately start to apologise. “Sorry about this, Nico. I was trying to get ready but he wouldn’t let me-”

You are stopped shirt by Nico’s peals of laughter as they erupt from him, and your expression quickly becomes confused. Nico giggles for a few moments before calming down, at which point he shakes his head with a grin. “Why are you apologising, ___? It’s fine! We’re not late, and I get it - you want to spend time with each other. That’s okay!”

You heave out a sigh of relief at this, nodding once more. “Thanks, Nico. You’re the best.”

He just laughs, and then helps you with everything you need to get ready. When you’re ready to change into your dress and the maids arrive, he steps up to you, leaning in and winking. “Oh, and ___?” You stare at him, wide-eyed, as he steps back and adds, “You’re still blushing. You almost look like a tomato.”

He proceeds to leave the room quickly, and you let out a squeak as he does. “Nico!”

You just hear his laughter fade away as he leaves the room, and you shake your head as the maids come in. Turning around to go to the full-length mirror, you catch a glimpse of what looks like a note on the vanity table. You go over and pick it up, then read the message on it, written in handwriting you know all too well. A smile graces your lips, and your mind leaps with joy at the words.

“One day, I’ll have you all to myself, all day long. I promise. For now I’m staying in the shadows, but I’ll meet you in the light soon.

Wait in the courtyard when you’re finished with your lessons. I want to hear all the things you say I do for you.

Until then, ___, my beautiful Princess.

Sid.”

Chapter Text

Sid just can’t stop smirking. 

He practically waltzes through the corridors of the palace, swaggering his way past maids, guards and bureaucrats like he owns the place. Not caring in the slightest about the looks he’s receiving, he pointedly ignores the stares and judging whispers of those around him. He simply heads through, taking the path he’s already walked so many times, only one objective in his mind.

Today, I get her all to myself.

The smirk widens, eyes intense and deep, becoming more confident with every ticking second. Some of the maids move out of the way of him when he nears, his aura of completely calm self-assurance more than a little intimidating. He barely notices. He only pays attention when he reaches the door he’s waited days to come to, the last thing between him and his true source of happiness.

He doesn’t bother knocking. He simply opens the door, slipping inside silently, before shutting it behind him.

His eyes soften immediately, smirk shifting. It morphs beautifully into that wonderful smile he’ll never show anyone else. It’s a secret expression, one he didn’t know existed before he met her.

His princess. His wonderful girl. His other half.

She’s still in bed, as he predicted; it’s only early, about half seven in the morning, but it’s her day off. She likes to lie in and sleep longer on days off, especially recently; she’s had a lot on her mind, so he was confident in that she’d still be unconscious when he arrived.

Nodding to himself in satisfaction, he approaches the bed slowly, waiting to see if she’ll wake up. When she doesn’t, he chuckles lowly, heartbeat picking up just a little. He perches next to her on the bed lightly, so as to not jostle her, before he plants a hand on either side of her face. She sighs softly in her sleep, breathing deeply, expression peaceful. His smile widens, but he decides to be nice and let her sleep because of how stressed she’s been.

The surprise can wait a little longer. We’ve got all day; Valentine’s Day isn’t restricted to a few hours. I can wait.

Making a decisive sound, he lowers his face to rest in her neck, burying it in her throat. Her warmth could melt him, spreading through him and sending his insides into a frenzy. He breathes in the scent of the bath oils she uses, strong yet soft and always so sweet. It’s addictive, almost like alcohol. He could get drunk on her in seconds.

His eyes drift closed for a moment, and he lowers his body down to rest against hers just slightly, enough to relieve the pressure on his arms but not crushing her. He basks in her form under him, calm and content, elated to just have time to feel her there. Not being with her is torturous at times, so to have a blissful moment like this, with her safely in his arms, is a godsend.

“Mmn…” A quiet, sleepy sound escapes her, so low that he barely catches it. He does, however, and sits up, hands still braced on either side of her. The smirk returns. One of her hands reaches up, clumsily nudging her hair out of her eyes and rubbing at them groggily. “Sid?”

Something in his stomach twists, clenching in a way that’s oddly pleasant.

Only she could give me feelings like this, sensations that I never thought could feel good, but are so pleasurable every time. She drives me crazy. Just one word, and I’m hers.

“Morning, Princess.” He murmurs, still watching her, gazing down at her tired form beneath him. She stills for a second, a slight frown appearing on her face. He can practically hear her thoughts, and they’re only confirmed when her eyes fly open, honing in on him with obvious confusion and surprise. He snorts. “What’s with the face? It’s not nice, looking at someone like that when they’re there first thing in the morning.”

“S-Sid! What are you doing here? Why-” She starts to rattle out questions, cheeks swiftly turning pink with that adorable blush of hers. He rolls his eyes playfully, moving forward to lean in close to her. She’s so close, he feels the molten heat pouring from her face. “It’s my day off, isn’t it? Don’t tell me-”

Geez. She really has only just woken up.

He lifts his right hand, sliding it around the back of her head and securing it there. Muffling her words, he swallows her voice with a kiss, earning a brief squeak of surprise from her. His body flushes with heat, muscles tightening and heart pounding with excitement. Desire rushes through him, skin burning around her. She falls back against the pillows, eyes fluttering shut, while her delicate hands seek out his jacket. She clings onto him, pulling him closer to her, before she loops her arms around his neck.

The feeling of her so warm and alive against him almost sends him over the edge, but he forces himself to remember his plan.

He separates his lips from hers, seeing her breathless and flushed, eyes opening halfway. The lidded gaze she fixes him with practically destroys his remaining restraint, so he speaks quickly, preventing himself from kissing her again. “It is your day off, don’t worry. Before you start freaking out, you haven’t forgotten anything.” He grins devilishly. “Well, not something quantifiable, anyway.”

He can almost see the cogs turning. After a moment, she lets out a slightly strangled cry, pushing up so that she’s sitting straight. He doesn’t move, leaving their faces inches away from one another. “It’s Valentine’s Day! But, you said you had things to do! I didn’t think you’d be able to come, since you said you’d be busy!” She exclaims, bafflement and mild concern evident in her tone. He snorts.

“I made time. I finished up all my jobs early, so I’m pretty much free all this week now.” The smirk returns. “You’re in for a heck of a day, Princess. First thing, I’m here. Second thing, we’re going out, so get yourself ready to go out.”

Ignoring her squeak, he tugs the covers back, exposing her uncovered legs, thighs barely concealed by her nightdress. Another wave of heat hits him, and he slips his fingers under her calf, watching her shiver and tremble under his touch. The fingers slide up the back of her thigh, and he lowers his lips to her knee, where he presses a swift, fleeting kiss to the flesh. “I can help, of course.”

“Sid!” She all but cries, skin even more flushed now. “I can do it myself, thank you!”

She’s all worked up. Cute.

He lets out a low, rumbled laugh, but he relents nonetheless, not wanting to delay the surprises any longer. He forces himself up, gliding off the bed and over to the door with a smug look. “Yeah, sure you can. I’ll wait outside; call me when you get your hair stuck in the ribbons.”

“Shut up!” She exclaims. He hears the pillow fly through the air before it reaches him, and he simply catches it with one hand, needing only to glance over his shoulder to do so. She frowns up at him, but she’s pouting, telling him that she’s just disgruntled and not actually angry. She crosses her arms, standing up. “Out.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He drawls, tossing the pillow onto the armchair nearby. Snickering to himself at her huff, he opens the door, slipping out and shutting it behind him. He leans against it lazily, tucking his hands into his pockets, eyes staring off down the hallway. He runs through his plans for the day, finding himself feeling increasingly excited and eager to get moving. He can’t wait to see her face when he takes her to it.

The maids, upon seeing Sid stood outside, ask him why he’s there. Upon learning that the princess is going out, they rush inside to help her to get ready. Within ten minutes, she emerges from the room, and Sid’s rendered momentarily stunned.

She’s wearing a dress which has white velvet wrapped around the tops of her arms to keep it in place, exposing her neck and shoulders, the material held together in the centre of her chest by a midnight blue rose. Her arms are covered up to the elbows by gloves of midnight satin, complementing her graceful hands and fingers. The rest of the dress is indigo, apart from the white satin material draped around her hips. Intricate white details have been embroidered into the skirts, almost dripping down from the waist, elegant and dainty and the depiction of royal finery.

Her hair is styled and framed around her face in loose curls, bouncing with her every movement. Her makeup is light but effective, accentuating her already gorgeous features and giving her an air of breath-taking, youthful power.

One of the maids steps out of the room, offering a black cloak to the princess with a beaming smile. She also hands her a bag, reasonably sized, in the shape and style of a rose matching the dress. “Here, Milady. Although it’s pleasant outside, you don’t want to be caught off-guard if it suddenly rains. And your bag.”

The princess gives her a beatific smile in return, face practically glowing. “Thank you! Please, take some time off today. Even if you have duties to attend to, make sure to have some time to yourselves or your loved ones.” At the maid’s honoured nod, she turns to Sid, eyes glittering like jewels. “Ready?”

He gives her a lopsided grin, trying to ignore the fluttering of his heart in his chest. “Yep. Better prepare yourself, princess. Let’s go.”

He holds his hand out to her. She slips her gloved one into his, nodding, after she puts her cloak around her and fastens it at the neck. He sets off down the corridor, not walking too fast for her, but keeping up a reasonable pace. He keeps her close, appreciating the content sensation he gets from having her at his side, while they make their way to the entrance.

“Where are we going?” She asks, puzzled, when Sid stops outside Giles’ room. He gives her a wry grin, briefly letting her hand go to knock on the door. Giles opens it, smiling slightly at the sight of them both, before he returns back into his room for a second.

“You’re in luck. The weather seems to be favourable today.” He comments, coming to the door once more, a roll of parchment in his hand. He gives it to Sid, and the latter takes it with a nod.

“Yeah. It’s all sorted if it does start raining, though. Thanks, Giles.” He responds evenly, levelling the man before him with a controlled smirk. Giles just raises an eyebrow amusedly.

“I will hope for optimal conditions all day through. Go on, but be mindful of your surroundings. I have not allowed you to go without an escort lightly.” Sid rolls his eyes at the reminder, taking the princess’ hand again.

“Yeah, yeah. It’ll be fine.” He shrugs the comment off, giving a lazy wave with other hand. “See ya.”

“Thank you, Giles!” The princess calls back as they start off down the corridor again, glancing over her shoulder at the approving smile her tutor is giving her.

“You need not thank me, Princess. Thank your dependable Prince Consort, instead.” He muses, disappearing back into his room. Mild irritation sparks in Sid, but he ignores it, deciding it best to not let it get to him. The princess watches his smile fade into a line, tilting her head.

“Sid? What is it?” She asks, voice timid and concerned but still strong. He shakes his head.

“Nothin’. Don’t worry about it. It’ll make sense later.” He dismisses the question breezily. Although she frowns slightly, she leaves it alone and trusts him on it. She doesn’t question him further. 

In minutes, they’re boarding a carriage and head off away from the palace. Sid’s arm curls around her waist, pulling her against him tightly on the plush seat. He closes his eyes for a moment, chin resting atop her head. She cuddles into him contentedly, smaller frame warm and protected, and most of the ride is unusually silent. Typically, they’d talk more, but with the early time and the fact that neither of them have been awake for too long, neither are particularly energised.

Maybe twenty minutes have passed when she speaks, her voice tinted with worry. “Sid, something’s off. What’s wrong?”

He snorts. “Like I said, nothing. Stop worrying, will ya? I’m just tired. Been running around Stein and Protea for weeks.”

She makes a sound of acknowledgement. “Maybe you should take some time off. Your work’s flexible, isn’t it? You can take some time off if you need it.”

If his eyes were open, he’d roll them. “Geez. I’m fine. Let a guy rest his eyes for a while, will you?”

He can feel her frowning. “Sid…”

He sighs into her hair. Then, he leans down, taking her chin between his index finger and thumb. He lifts her face up to be on level with his. Eyes briefly opening, he sees her momentary look of surprise.

He consumes her lips in a scorching kiss, eyelids drifting closed again. She curls her fingers into his jacket lapels, responding to it immediately. He releases her face to plant his right hand against the carriage wall next to her head, the other arm curled around her waist tightly. Her legs move on top of his, practically pouring with heat even through her dress.

His mental clock rings. One of his eyes peek open, snapping to glance out of the window.

Perfect.

The arm around her waist slides up, fingers winding through her hair, until they come to rest over her closed eyes. She stills against him, taking in a soft breath and breaking the kiss. He keeps his lips hovering over hers when he speaks, voice low and husky. “Do you trust me?”

He can feel her shuddering under him, thighs tensing up atop his. The sight of her there is almost too much to bear. “Yes.”

His heart pounds even harder. He finds himself grinning wolfishly, expression lighting up. “Good.”

Without warning, he tugs her toward him, locking his now free arm around her middle to sit her on his lap. She lets out a slightly strangled noise of surprise, eyes still covered, but she manages to cling onto his shoulders all the same. “Sid! What are you doing?”

He snickers, feeling the carriage come to a gradual halt. “Making sure you trust me.”

When it stops, he opens the door and sides out, setting her on her feet on front of him. Not letting her take in her surroundings, he removes his hand. Then, he swiftly puts her hood up, blocking her vision around her. When she gives him a bewildered look, he just shakes his head, slipping his fingers through hers. “Don’t look around you for a minute. It’s a surprise.”

She arches an eyebrow, looking marginally suspicious bordering on concerned, but she eventually nods. He can tell she’s suppressing her curiosity. “Okay.”

They both start to walk, her head lowered, hood obscuring everything other than the ground. Sid guides her forward, down a path, until he reaches the spot where he wants to show her it all. It’s silent around them, the area empty and tranquil.

“Okay,” He finally relents, glancing down at her. He lightly brushes her hood back, letting it fall and settle around her neck. “You can look now.”

Her eyes rise up, and almost instantly, her jaw drops.

Before the princess is the western pier. The sea spans out before them where they stand on the path to the harbour, glittering in the sunlight but calm, only a very gentle sea breeze whispering through the air. Seagulls cry out to one another where they’re gathering, on the pier itself and on the masts of boats. There are many of the latter, all different shapes and sizes but all beautiful and elegant. The odd people are scattered around one boat, a large one in dark wood, the sails a deep, strong crimson, while the rails and decorations are accented with lighter wood.

“Sid… this is…” She can’t seem to be able to take her eyes away from the harbour. Sid grins, ego practically bursting through his chest with inflated pride. “It’s amazing. I’ve never been here before.”

He nods, giving her an encouraging tug forward, before he walks again. She falls into step beside him, and he explains while they do. “I know. I remembered you saying about it, and then Giles mentioned the other day that you’re trying to enter into negotiations with Carallia. He said you’ve never been there either and that you wanted to go, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.”

Her head whips around now, eyes honing in on his face, wide and shocked. “We’re going to Carallia?” Seeing his smirk, she stares at him for a long second. Then, a beaming smile slowly graces her lips, features almost glowing in the sunlight. He can see the appreciation in her eyes. “Thank you, Sid. I’m really happy that we can go there together.”

Ah, geez. The things she does to me just by talking…

“Yeah, you’re welcome.” He leans down, trying to mask the pounding of his heart by speaking lowly, asking in a sultry purr, “How are you going to show me your appreciation?”

With his face hovering next to hers, lips at her ear, he can feel the heat practically pouring from her skin. She gives him a playful glare, exclaiming, “Sid! Stop it!”

He snorts, but he withdraws nonetheless.

I’ll save that for later.

“Come on. They’re ready for us to board.” He laughs out, squeezing her hand gently. She’s blushing profusely, evidently embarrassed, but she nods. Her nimble fingers return the squeeze softly.

Sid sorts out all of the evidence needed to prove their payment, and with no problems, they’re allowed onto the boat. Sid curls an arm around her waist, keeping her steady, while they walk up the plank, then guides her over to the railing at the front of the boat. The sun is bright but low on the horizon with the early morning, and now it scorches the sea before them, melting it in a fiery blaze of orange and gold.

Giving a nod to the ship’s captain, since they’re the only ones crossing the sea today, Sid then stands behind the princess. He plants his hands on the railing on either side of her. Feeling smug and rather proud, he rests his chin on top of her head, staring out at the water. He’s oddly at peace, standing there with her safe before him, happy and excited. When he glances down at her, he sees that she’s got that expression again, the one that has the power to practically crush his resolve.

That gorgeous smile. Those electrifying eyes. The gentle expression. The hidden elation her body is betraying. The light dusting of rose across her cheeks.

I’m crazy for you, princess. You don’t have any idea how much you’ve got me wrapped around your fingers. As if I’d ever tell you that, though.

She seems to feel his stare and glances up, the action in itself adorable to him. He raises an eyebrow. “What?”

She grins, a teasing glint appearing in her eyes. “You were staring.”

He tries to ignore how hard his heart is thudding at that little gleam, but he can feel himself blushing just slightly, body reacting strongly, instinctively, to her. He’s a slave to her every word. “Yep. What are you going to do about it?”

He doesn’t know what he expects, but he knows it isn’t for her to turn around, then reach up and pull him into a deep kiss.

He stiffens at first, genuinely surprised, but then the shock wears off and his seductive side comes out to play. He moves forward, until she’s pressed up against the railing, trapped in his arms. He kisses her hard, passionately, almost roughly, but she does exactly the same. Even with the breeze, even with the occasional spray of the sea against his cheeks when the wind picks up, it does nothing to calm the blaze inside him.

She’s like a drug to him, deathly addictive and consuming. Now he has her, he’ll never let her go.

The ship jerks into movement all of a sudden, ripping him from his increasingly possessive thoughts. He opens his eyes, pulling back just as the princess stumbles into his chest with the movement. Unable to suppress an amused smirk, he locks his forearm against her back, stomach pressing against her own. She blushes deeply, to which he snorts. “You trying to tell me something?”

“No!” She exclaims in response, looking slightly mortified at the insinuation. He expects her to turn around while they’re sailing, but she doesn’t. Instead, she buries her face in his chest, holding onto his coat tightly. Thinking there’s something wrong, he stills, going to ask her what it is. She speaks before him, though, preventing him from doing so. “Thank you, Sid. Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be able to spend today with you.”

Ah, heck.

His chest tightens, heart thudding again. The smirk softens into a gentle, loving smile, another one he’s never shown anyone else. Bringing his hand up to her hair, he strokes the locks tenderly, leaning down to plant his lips against her head. She’s so warm again, he observes, but then he swiftly realises that he’s the same. “You’re welcome, Princess.” His mouth curls up, and a low chuckle rumbles out of him. He can feel her confusion without even seeing it. He kisses her hair softly, then leaves his mouth hovering over her ear to whisper,

“But the surprises aren’t over yet, trust me.”

Half an hour later, the boat docks in Carallia.

Almost immediately, the country’s reputation of being “prosperous”, “relaxed” and the “land of flowers” becomes very apparently true. Everywhere, there are bundling markets, thick crowds of shoppers, and both townspeople and nobles seem to be integrating with each other as if the social gap isn’t there in the first place. As far as can be seen, people are laughing, chatting, walking with each other and relaxing, from couples to families to workers.

And along with this, everything, everything, is consumed by flowers.

The princess stares in awe, eyes circling around her gradually. Roses line the lamps up the streets, and wreathes of flowers are strewn over anything and everything. From the stalls selling varieties of items to the fronts of shops, colourful flowers have been hung, draped or tied to all things possible, creating a lush, inviting, breath-taking paradise of natural beauty. Even in the midst of the town, it doesn’t feel like it, with stretches of fertile, jade grass separating roads and shops.

The town has very obviously taken Valentine’s Day seriously, as well; as Sid and the princess stroll through the streets, holding hands tightly, they can see couple after couple meandering, wandering aimlessly in a blissful haze of love and complete relaxation. Here, promise rings are bought, loving gazes fixed together as they’re fitted onto the fingers of their owners. A little bit away, a young couple both turn to one another, hands behind their backs. At once, they produce bouquets of twelve roses each, their cheeks flushed but grins blindingly bright. They fall about with kind laughter, accepting the mutual gift from their other half, before they set off down the street again.

By this point, the princess is absolutely glowing. Sid’s almost in pain with how hard his heart is pumping, insides churning and clenching at how elated she looks. Her palm is warm against his, fingers curled around his own tightly, almost clinging onto him.

"Sid," She finally breathes out, sounding almost like she’s choked up with emotion. “This is amazing. It’s so beautiful. It’s incredible.” She turns to him, her gorgeous eyes shining with a thin layer of tears. “Thank you. I know I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again. I’m so grateful for this. It’s perfect.”

A wave of satisfaction, and another, slightly less powerful, boost of pride washes over him. He’s glad, admittedly a lot more than he ever thought would be possible, that she’s enjoying herself so much and loves Carallia so obviously. He’s wanted to bring her here for a long time, but he had to build up his trust with Giles, Leo and Alyn before they would allow it. He worked hard, putting in much more effort into his own work as well as palace business, in order to do so.

Now, though, he realises that it’s all worth it. He’d do it again and again, a second and third time, a fourth and a fifth, forever. To be able to see such pure happiness in her and know that he’s the reason why she’s feeling such joy… it’s the most gratifying thing he’s ever felt in his life.

He squeezes her hand lovingly, rubbing the pad of his thumb over the knuckle of her own. “Yeah. I’m glad you like it. You’re welcome.” Glancing around him again, he smirks in satisfaction, musing, “I’ve wanted to bring you here for ages. Giles wouldn’t let me without an escort, so I had to be real nice to him to convince him.” His gaze returns to her, and he can feel his own skin flushing, just like her own. “But it was worth it, right?” 

She nods fiercely. “Yes!”

He grins again, eyes honing in on his second surprise for her. “Good. Come on.”

Laughing at her surprised squeak when he tugs her forward, he leads her through the crowds, heading straight for a large stall full to the brim with flowers. The man and woman running it spot him approaching, and immediately, they start to speak to each other excitedly, expressions animated. Sid stops before them, the princess confused but curious at his side.

“Hey. Here to pick up my order.” He tells them with a nod. The man’s head bobs up and down, and the woman looks delighted, eyes flicking back and forth between the princess and Sid.

“It’s all ready for you. Oh, my. You’re such a beautiful couple!” She focuses on the princess, gushing, “You look absolutely beautiful, Miss! Your dress is stunning!”

The young monarch’s cheeks tint with a rosy dusting, but she laughs lightly, responding, “Thank you so much! The flowers here are amazing! The colours are so vivid and bright.”

The man, having stepped behind the stall momentarily, returns now. His hands are behind his back, and he practically bounces over, chirping, “There’s a lot of technical nonsense like keeping them in the right conditions, but most importantly of all, you have to love the flowers. If you don’t treat them with the utmost care and respect, it’s impossible to produce flowers in their most beautiful condition.”

Sid lets go of the princess’ hand now, instead raising it to clamp it over her eyes. Her strangled shout of shock earns laughs from the two at the stand, but the man swiftly hands the bouquet behind his back to Sid, who takes it with his free one. The collection of flowers, all in perfect condition, stand out from the rest. They’re a collection of blue flowers, since she told him a while ago that she’s come to love blue a lot more as a result of being with him.

Shifting so the flowers are hidden inside his coat, he removes his hand from her eyes, taking her right one again. She blinks up at him, still seemingly processing what just happened, but he just smirks and gently pulls her away from the stall; he’s already paid for the flowers, but he doesn’t want to give her them out in the open like this.

“Thanks.” He tells the two store venders over his shoulder, giving them a grateful nod. “I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome! Have a lovely day together!” The woman replies kindly, almost looking in awe at the two. The man tucks her under his shoulder, waving.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” He calls after them.

“Thank you!” She says, mimicking the wave with her free hand.

Sid guides her through the town again, using the quickest route to get out of the thick of it. They eventually come out of the town and into a more forested, hilly area, where Sid navigates his way up a fading path. The trees, flowers and vegetation are lush and vibrant around them, rich in colour and life, untouched by human hands. The smell of bark and moisture is deep but somehow soothing to him, and once they move further in, the noise of the town fades into a distant murmur. Eventually, all that’s left is the chirping and singing of birds on branches, and the wind whispering around the leaves.

Finally, he reaches his destination. They break through the trees, coming out onto what is a steep hill that used to be a cliff, the face of it nearly overgrown with plants but still visibly made of rock. It’s high up, and when they walk to the edge, it’s possible to see all of Carallia stretching out below them. The princess looks out in amazement at the town they just walked through, then to the side, toward the area of town they didn’t get to. Carallia Palace is visible in the distance, bright and gleaming in the sunshine, and the sea embracing the city spans out before them, still and calm with the gentle weather.

And when they look behind them, through the trees, they can see the rest of the region. Another country is vaguely able to be seen a good distance away, in a flatter part of the land.

“Hey.” Sid murmurs, the flowers now hidden behind his back. He lets go of her hand once more, lifting it to cup her face, fingers holding it tenderly. He gives her his trademark smirk, but his eyes are twinkling with a loving kindness, and a rare, sweet shine, one that takes her breath away every time. She beams up at him, the joy in her face as clear as day. He leans down, kissing her forehead very tenderly, in a moment of more muted affection. Then, he pulls back, finishing, “Happy Valentine’s Day, princess.”

He brings the flowers around now, handing them to her. She gasps quietly, staring down at the collection in awe. Just that expression alone is enough to make his insides warm pleasantly. He points to each type of flower, explaining what they are. “There are bluebells, globe thistles, lupine and perennial geraniums. Flower language and meanings are fiddly, but when you pick the nice ones, bluebells mean delicacy and loyalty, globe thistles mean patriotism and heroism, perennial geraniums can symbolise gentility and elegance, and lupines show imagination.”

“Sid… they’re beautiful. How did you find them all?” She asks incredulously, fingering the petals of the globe thistles very gingerly.

“I’m an information dealer. Finding out stuff like this is a breeze.” He answers dryly, but he’s smirking. He narrows his eyes, studying her body language and coming to the solid conclusion that she’s happy. “You like ‘em?”

Her head bounces up and down, features all but glowing with happiness. “I love them, Sid. They’re so beautiful. Tha-”

Before she can say it again, he dips down, taking her face in his hands. She stops short, then releases a muffled sound of confusion when he kisses her deeply. He breathes in her scent, savouring her warmth and the feeling of her mouth against his, all the while holding her gaze. Both of their eyelids are partially closed, further enhancing the love and passion in their eyes. He pulls back slightly, just enough to murmur against her lips, “This is the second surprise. There’s one more after this.”

She blinks. “Another one?” A very, very slight frown appears on her face. “I only have one surprise for you.”

He finds himself laughing at how worried she is over something so silly, planting a hand on her hair and ruffling it playfully. “Hey, don’t make that face. I’m spoiling ya this time, since you’ve been working so hard and doing so many hours lately. Stop worrying, will you?” When she huffs, cradling the flowers against her chest, he rolls his eyes. Bending over to rest his forehead against hers, he swallows back his pride, admitting, “Anything from you means a heck of a lot to me, so stop sweating it. I’m happy seeing you happy.”

She swiftly finds her smile again, but it’s more teasing now, and he can feel him skin warming once more. He straightens up and turns to stare out at the city, and she steps up beside him, leaning into his arm. He curls it around her waist instinctively. She laughs softly, the sound like a tiny piece of heaven to him. “You’re such a softie, Sid, behind all the tough bravado.”

He pinches her side lightly, drawing a yelped shriek from her. He snorts. “Watch it, princess.”

The next few hours are spent with the two touring the town, taking in all of its sights, from landmarks to shops, to restaurants and flower fields. Soon, the sun is dipping toward the horizon, nearly ready to kiss this side of the earth goodnight, the sky a blazing war of amber and indigo around it. Sid takes her back into the middle of town, escorting her to the town square. There, couples are gathered, many talking excitedly and animatedly, hands clasped or arms around each other, some in tender embraces.

It’s so open and blatant, it takes Sid aback just a bit. He was told that people here are “relaxed” and that affection was a common sight on Valentine’s Day, but this is something else.

Still, he carries on, not stopping until he reaches the centre of the crowd. Now amongst the many bodies stood in the square, they’re anonymous, just two faces in a sea of many more. He nods to himself, glancing down at the princess. She’s still studying the people around her intently, apparently just as surprised by the displays of intimacy as he is. He grins at her wide eyes, then brings a hand up to cup her face. Her head swivels around, and she seems to realise that she was spacing out, blinking.

“What’s going on? Is this some sort of festival?” She asks, voice both curious and incredulous. He strokes his thumb over the soft skin of her cheek, explaining,

“It’s a tradition here. During the day, the couples will go around and shop together, although they have an emphasis on buying flowers since that’s the main industry here. Then, when sunset hits, everyone gathers here and waits for the sun to touch the horizon.”

He tips her chin up and to the side, so that she’s looking toward where the pier is. In the distance, a monument stands tall and proud, a large orb with a gap in the centre. It’s laden with all types of flowers and decorations, and inside the circle is a silhouette of what looks like two angels, their wings spread wide, hands joined. The space under their joined wings and above their entwined hands, a diamond of vision amidst the black, allows them to see the sea and horizon. The sun is very gradually falling toward it.

He leans down, murmuring into her ear, voice low and rumbling out of his throat. “When it touches, you’ll get your last surprise.”

He could get drunk on her scent alone, the smell of rose and vanilla perfume almost driving him insane. When she visibly trembles before him, his body flushes with despite, and his voice drops to a low purr while he simultaneously attempts to keep his thoughts – and words - clean. “Legend says Carallia was created by angels, and that they bestowed the gift of fertile land on it before they left the earth. The country has never once experienced a drought or problems with growing things.”

She gives him a shocked look, tilting her head. “Is that really true?”

His lips twitch into a smirk. “Don’t know. That’s what the locals say, at least.”

"That's amazing. It's such a wonderful story." She breathes out, staring off at the angels before the flaming sky. Then, she jerks around, gasping out, “The surprise! I almost forgot!”

He snorts, watching her reach into her bag, where her bouquet is propped up inside. “You only just remembered?” He ruffles her hair playfully, only finding himself more amused when she sends him a half-hearted glare. “That’s my girl.”

“Shush.” She huffs, pulling out a long, thin box, all black with an indigo ribbon wrapped around it, forming a silk bow in the centre. She holds it out to him, a beaming smile appearing on her face. “Here. This seems like nothing, considering everything you’ve done, but-” Seeing his look, telling her to stop apologising, she sighs lightly. Then, she shakes her head, carrying on in a firmer voice. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Sid. I’m glad I got to spend the day with you.”

Something in his chest aches at the sincerity and kindness in the way she says it. There’s so much love and adoration in her eyes, it’s almost unbearable. He could stare at her all day, every day, just watching the expressions she’s capable of. There’s never a moment when she’s not breath-taking.

Realising that he hasn’t responded yet, he lets a real, genuine smile grace his lips, features shining with rarely expressed joy. “Thanks, princess.” He places his hand over hers around the box, feeling the warmth in her flesh despite there being a breeze. His natural teasing side makes a swift return, and he briefly leans down to whisper, “We can give each other all sorts of surprises later, in your room.”

“Sid!” She cries out, mortified. He howls with laughter, straightening up and taking the box from her. Tugging the ribbon lightly, he removes it, then takes the lid away to peer down at its contents.

He expected chocolate, simply by logic, and he’s right.

At the same time, he’s completely wrong. 

The chocolates have all been made, somehow, to be in specific shapes and have certain features. He can’t stop himself from gazing at them in amazement, studying the one that looks exactly like Jess, albeit without the white of her fur. Another looks like a wine glass, one resembles a crescent moon, a heart shape here, a star there… all seemingly crafted with a precision tool by hand, each tiny detail carved into the chocolate with the utmost care.

His stomach clenches, and love rolls through him once more.

Every time I think she can’t get any more amazing, she goes and proves me wrong again.

“You made these?” He asks, still staring down at them, but he’s smiling now. She nods mutely, and immediately, he sees that she’s nervous. Plucking the heart one from the box, he seals the lid with the ribbon again, meeting her gaze with his own intense one. “They’re amazing, princess. Seriously, I’ve never seen chocolates like this before.”

She grins, eyes lighting up with pride and joy. She takes the box and put it back in her bag. As soon as she has, he slides his hands around to cradle her face, the sun now millimetres from the horizon. The chocolate is still pinched between his finger and thumb, but she doesn’t look like she has even noticed. He rests his forehead against hers, his smile tender and loving.

“Thank you. I don’t know how, but every time I think I can’t get any crazier for you, you go and prove me wrong again and again. I love you, so damn much. I swear, sometimes it hurts, how much I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Her lips part, eyes swiftly moistening with elated tears. She brings her own hands up to hold his face just as gently, uncaring now of everyone around them, oblivious to them all.

“You’re welcome, Sid. I love you too, so, so much.” A peal of beautiful laughter escapes her. His heart twinges. “It hurts me as well, so we’re the same. Let’s spend forever together, and then we won’t hurt anymore.”

Forever, with the girl that I’m in love with. I can do that.

“Deal.” He nods, glancing to the side. Cheers and shouts or excitement sound all around them, almost deafeningly loud.

“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six!”

The sun’s reflection inches toward its own position in the sky, just about touching, the slightest connection between the heavens and the earth finally made. Sid places one side of the chocolate between his teeth, offering the other to her. Her cheeks burn, just like his, but she copies him and allows her teeth to close around the sweet. Her eyes close. His follow.

“Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”

The pair bite down, each taking a piece into their mouths. The taste of chocolate, different to anything they’ve ever experienced, blossoms out on their tongues, sweet and rich but slightly creamy, then curbed with the slight sharpness of alcohol. The taste, mixed with the burning of liquor, is intoxicating, and just one piece sends pleasure washing through them both, so strong and sudden that it’s almost overwhelming.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

The second they’ve swallowed the chocolate, their lips come together, hard and fast, passionate and raw with the intensity of their emotions. Love swells between them, swirling and enveloping them like the taste of the chocolate, and for a long for seconds, all they can sense is each other. The screaming of other couples fades away. The buzz of excitement in the air is numbed, lost to the molten heat coiling in them. The breeze cases to exist. All they can feel is the other in front of them, their skin touching, their bodies so deliciously close.

They don’t even notice as petals are release by couples around them, fragments of colour and life flowing around their blissful oblivion.

All of this happens in mere seconds. When they have to break apart to breathe, they’re both flushed crimson, but they don’t move away from each other. They don’t move a muscle. The princess gazes up at him with lidded eyes, swirling with want and adoration. “I love you.”

He smoothes his thumb over her jaw, returning the deep stare with just as much desire. “I love you too.”

The rest of the night is lost to a haze of chocolate, alcohol and dancing in the town square. The flame of their love doesn’t dwindle once, not even when they return to the palace and stumble into her room.

The sun may have set their hearts alight when it fell into the fire, but it continues to scorch them both, the embers always simmering away into their forever.

Chapter Text

Life as a Prince Consort is hectic. Life as a king is chaotic.

Sid learns this very swiftly, after rising to the former position, then the second. Now the king of Wysteria, alongside his queen, they rule over the nation together and have eased it into an age of peace, prosperity and security together.

Each of them have areas they focus on; Sid mainly works on maintaining order among the nobility and listening to the concerns of the upper echelons, while the queen does the same with the general public more often, pouring time, effort and care into ensuring that her people are safe, comfortable and happy, and that if they aren’t, something’s being done to rectify this.

With all of this going on, there’s a certain duty both of them have that’s been sort of brushed to the side, forgotten and dismissed by them both as a side-line job to take care of whenever it sort of… happens.

Now would be the time of that happening.

It’s the morning. Sid lies in bed, listening to the birds chirping outside, and feeling the warmth of the sunlight streaming in through the doors to the balcony. Chest bare and only trousers on, he’s very comfortable, relaxed and at peace and content to lay there.

Well, to an extent. There’s one thing that’s missing from this picture.

He sits up after a few minutes, feeling like something’s off. He listens carefully, eyes homing in on the door to the bathroom. The queen got up a few minutes ago, saying she needed to use it, and of course he thought nothing of it. She’s been in there for some time now, though, so he’s starting to get worried.

Hm. Maybe she’s sick.

He rises, shrugging off the sheets and heading over to the door. He knocks lightly, calling in, “___, you okay?”

There’s a cough from inside, which immediately confirms his suspicions. His hand lowers itself to the handle. “Y-Yeah, Sid. I’m fine. Don’t come in, please.”

He narrows his eyes, but at the same time, he snorts. “Are you on the toilet?”

A peal of embarrassed laughter sounds from her, albeit hoarsely. “No, I’m not. Geez, Sid…”

“Well then, I’m coming in.” He insists, opening the door.

The princess is hunched over the – at this point in history – equivalent of a toilet, something only affordable by the wealthiest in the region and a luxury enjoyed in Wysteria thanks to the other countries of Europe. She’s trembling just a little, forehead braced on her forearms, breathing just a bit heavily. She groans upon hearing him come in, then hurry over to her, crouching down on one knee at her side, ignoring how enticing she looks in her short white nightgown. “Didn’t I just tell you not to come in?”

He brushes her hair back, placing a hand on her forehead and retorting, “No, you asked. I refused.” She glares up at him, saying nothing. He rubs her back soothingly, questioning, “Did you throw up?” He suspects so because of the very slight smell lingering in the toilet, but he doesn’t want to assume anything. However, she nods, confirming his suspicions.

“Yeah.” She sighs, leaning into his hand, still on her forehead. She doesn’t feel overly warm or feverish, which makes him think that it must be something she’s eaten or had to drink as opposed to something as simple as illness. “I guess it must have been something I had to eat, or drink, or something like that. I feel fine, other than just a bit shaken up from being sick so suddenly.”

He nods in understanding, rising and heading into the main bedroom. He retrieves the glass of water from her side of the bed, returning to her with it and kneeling again. “Here, drink this. I’ll let Giles to go easy on you today, and to let you off if you start feeling sick. Yeah?”

A grateful smile graces her lips, and she takes a few long sips of the water before nodding. “Yeah. Thank you, Sid.”

He brushes the pad of his thumb over her cheekbone, leaning in to kiss her forehead gently. “No problem. Hold on to your glass.” Ignoring her look of confusion, he scoops her into his arms without warning, laughing boisterously at the squeak it draws from her. She grips the glass hard, trying not to spill it as he walks into the bedroom and over to the bed. He sets her down on it carefully, perching next to her and tucking her hair behind her ear. “You sure you’re okay to work?”

She rolls her eyes playfully. “I’m fine, Sid, honestly. It’s probably nothing.” She sips at her water again, a teasing smile tugging at her lips. “You’re cute when you get worried.”

Now it’s his turn to roll his eyes, but the blush in his cheeks is unmistakeable. He plucks the glass from her hands, setting it on the bedside table once more. She can only watch, baffled, as he stands and reaches over for one of the pillows.

But then lets out a strangled choke of a giggle when the pillow plonks straight into her face, sending her flying back against the mattress. He grumbles to himself, stalking off to get ready for the day. “Damn women… they never miss a thing.”

Her howling laughter can be heard through the entire wing of the palace.

♡♔♡

The next morning starts similarly. Once again, she’s sick, and it’s now that the doctor gets involved.

The queen starts to notice other things in her changing over the next few weeks, of course, that the doctor and even Sid miss. She feels strange. She’s constantly feeling more fatigued than normal. Foods that she thought she loved, she now can’t bear, but at the same time she’s increasingly hungry. Even her breasts feel tender, when that’s something she usually only experiences on her period.

Speaking of that, she realises after another week, she’s late. She’s never late.

It all clicks one afternoon when she’s changing for her next meeting, stood before the mirror in her and Sid’s bedroom. She stares at herself, eyes wide, mind calculating and analysing everything she’s feeling. The symptoms run through her head over and over and over again.

Sickness. Tiredness. Sore breasts. Aversion to certain foods, but an increased appetite. A missed period.

A sudden cry of shock erupts from her, startling the maids stood around her and drawing screams from them as well. She covers her mouth with her hands, exclaiming, “Oh my God!”

“My Lady?” One of the maids all but shouts, swiftly descending into panic. The queen waves her arms about, hushing them all.

“It’s fine, sorry! Don’t worry, it’s nothing!” They’re only perfecting her already seamless appearance, so she nudges her way out of the circle of staff, calling over her shoulder, “Thank you! Sorry, I need to speak to someone urgently!”

Ignoring their protests and objections, she bolts down the corridor, a hand flying down to her lower abdomen. Tears prick at her eyes, elation rushing through her.

I might be carrying a child. Sid and I might finally have a family of our own.

She bolts to the office where she, Sid, Giles and Leo usually work, hearing all three of their voices inside. She raps on the door quickly, calling, “It’s me! Can I come in?”

The door opens almost instantly, revealing Louis stood there as well, expression betraying surprise for once. “Your Majesty.”

She gives him a smile, squeezing past him and into the room. Sid, Giles and Leo all study her, dubious, curious and concerned, but none of them speak. Her heart pounds away, but she forces herself to calm while she speaks, announcing, “I don’t know it for certain yet, but I think I’ve worked out why I’ve been ill lately.” Louis steps closer, showing just a bit of relief himself. She can’t stop herself from beaming, arms wrapping around her abdomen. “I think I might be pregnant.”

There’s silence for a single heartbeat.

Leo reacts first, a huge smile spreading over his lips. He bounds over to her, taking her hands and squeezing them tightly. “Are you serious?” She nods fiercely, to which he tugs her into a friendly hug, congratulating her, “I’m so happy for you both! Congratulations, if you are!”

“Before we get too excited,” Giles approaches Leo, detaching him from the queen with a warning hand on his shoulder. “Let us consult the doctor first. He can see if he can verify this first.”

All of them agree to this, but Sid still hasn’t spoken a word so far. The queen returns to her room, and the doctor heads in after, leaving the four males outside, with the inclusion of Alyn once he’s called up to them. Leo explains the situation animatedly, Giles intervening where appropriate.

Louis levels Sid with a blank stare. “You’ve been oddly quiet this whole time. Are you unhappy about this?”

Sid doesn’t move his eyes from the door, not even as he answers, his tone undiscernible. “No. I just don’t want to get my hopes up, in case she’s not.”

Louis blinks, then makes a sound of acknowledgement, smiling just a little. “She looked so happy at the thought, though. I think I’ve only ever seen her like that when you both get married.”

Sid’s two seconds away from making a less-than appropriate response to that when the door opens. The doctor comes out with a wide smile, the queen right behind him. He bows, announcing, “I believe Her Majesty is most definitely pregnant, and with a rather strong child, at that.”

The joy Sid’s been bottling and shoving back inside this whole time explodes from within.

He grins so widely it almost hurts, joy surging through him. He’s going to be a dad. He’s actually going to have a child of his own, a tiny person of his own blood to raise and nurture and protect. It’s almost too perfect. He can barely believe it.

For now, though, he can’t contain his elation.

He bounds over to the queen, sweeping her into his arms and twirling her around. She laughs delightedly, holding onto his neck and resting her forehead against him while he spins around. She giggles out her question, cheeks flushed with happiness. “I take it you’re happy about this, then?”

He sets her down at last, tugging her into a tight embrace against him. “Are ya kidding? I’m ecstatic. I get to have my own kid to take care of.” He leans down, cupping her face gently and kissing her forehead. “Thank you, ___. You have no idea how happy I am right now.”

She just grins back, cradling his face as well and whispering back, “You’re welcome, Sid. Thank you, because this was half you, you know.”

Leo bursts into hysterics. Sid guffaws, while Alyn and Louis blush in synchronisation, and Giles smirks in satisfaction, crossing his arms as he always does. Sid shakes his head, hugging her tightly once more.

“Long live the queen. Geez… long live the goddamn queen.”

♡♔♡

Sid never realised how much of a rollercoaster pregnancy would be. It’s like ice skating; one minute, you’re fine. You’re steady, know what you’re doing and feel confident.

The next minute, you’re on your arse wondering what you did to deserve the fall.

The nine months are unbearable, but beautiful, and somehow something he wouldn’t want to miss for the world. Sid becomes even more protective and possessive of the queen, not allowing anyone near her unless he’s there, or Alyn, Giles, Leo, Louis, Nico or Robert are. Even when King Byron and Albert Burckhardt congratulate the two at a ball thrown in honour of the coming child, Sid’s wary of the both, keeping the queen tucked securely against his side.

She doesn’t mind it, though. She quite enjoys the protective side of him.

♡♔♡

Things are going swimmingly, Sid thinks one evening, getting ready for bed. The queen slowly walks over to the bed in her nightgown, abdomen distended from the presence of the child growing inside of her.

Suddenly, she stops, eyes wide. Sid’s head snaps up instantly. “What’s wrong?”

She blinks, expression confused. “I don’t know. I’ve been having little pain for a while, but nothing to bad. But, now, something’s happening. I can feel pressure, like-”

Without warning, fluid gushes from the queen and onto the floor. It’s almost surreal, the sight so strange, neither monarch can react for a second.

Then, Sid kicks into gear. He’s been prepared for this.

He bolts over to her, knowing her water’s broke and that it’s time. He takes her arms, helping her stay upright, until the fluid stops. Then, he helps her over to the bed, laying her down with extreme caution. “Stay there. Don’t do anything until I get back, okay? I’m going to go and get the doctor.”

She nods, breathing slowly, determination in her eyes. She’s just as ready as he is.

It’s those eyes that sends him tearing through the room, boots thankfully still on, before he swipes his shirt and throws it over him. He’s sprinting out of the room at a full-tilt run, long legs sending him practically flying through the corridors. He reaches the doctor’s room in a mere twenty seconds, and then he’s banging on the door hard, shouting, “Doctor! The queen’s water’s broken! She needs you!”

The sound of fumbling and things scraping against the floor sounds, and then the door swings open. The doctor emerges, stumbling out with several bags of equipment. “Yes, Your Majesty!”

“Go to her – she’s in our room. I’ll get Giles.” He orders, prompting the doctor to nod and rush back to their bedroom. Sid diverts, sprinting through the corridors once more and reaching Giles’ room soon after. More furious knocking. “Giles! It’s time – ___’s water broke!”

Swift footsteps approach the door. Giles all but launches himself out, and the two take off without another word, hurrying for the royal bedroom. Sid’s thoughts are whirring a mile a minute.

This is it. It’s unlikely, but there’s a chance she could die during this. It happens. Or, if she doesn’t die, the baby could. It could be stillborn, or be ill or harmed in some way. All of this could have been for nothing. If either of them don’t make it, I don’t know what I’ll do. It’d destroy be to lose either one of them.

The moment they arrive at the room, he forces the negative thoughts away.

No. She’s strong, and the baby will be just like her. They’ll make it through this, and I’ll be there every step of the way with them both.

They both head inside, where the queen is now propped up, listening to the doctor’s low murmurs to her at her side. She nods, concentrating intently, not even looking over when the two rush inside. Giles barely seems to notice the dark area of the carpet where her water broke, instead darting over to the other side of the bed with Sid. They remain there while the doctor talks the queen through what she needs to do, not breathing so much as a word the entire time.

When he finishes, he relays the instructions to them, telling them to prepare themselves for a long night. Sid holds the queen’s hand, letting her grip it tightly, silencing and obscuring any and all fear or nervousness that comes his way.

Or, well… he tries, at least.

♡♔♡

The next eighteen hours are easily, easily the most stressful Sid has ever had in his life. For the most part, it’s been filled with his wife’s screams of agony and exertion, or if not that, then the incessant insults she’s been flinging at him this whole time. For example…

“You did this to me, Sid! You bastard!”

“If you complain about me holding your hand this tightly one more time, Sid, I swear, I am going to rip it off!”

“Don’t you dare complain about pain when I’m in labour!”

“So help me God, if I see any of you making faces because of how much I’m screaming anymore, I’m kicking you all out! To hell with needing to verify the birth and all that!”

Yes. Louis, Leo and Giles have had to be present to verify that the child is the queen’s, meaning that the insults have not been limited to Sid. He’s feeling rather glad about that. He admittedly does feel just a tad sorry for Louis, who hates loud noise in general, having to stand so close to someone screaming so much.

Oh, well. At least he’s not sat next to the source of the noise and having his hand crushed by her.

He does what he can, sat there. He encourages her, praising her when he can get a word in, assuring that it’s nearly over every time she starts to struggle despite it being a complete guess and oftentimes a lie.

It’s been almost nineteen hours when the queen gives a last, powerful push, and there’s a sudden movement from the doctor, followed by a breathless gasp from the exhausted monarch. She quivers like a leaf in the breeze, eyes barely open, gaze centred on the doctor. He beams, hands fiddling with something between her legs, before he reaches a bloodied hand out for one of the towels prepared earlier.

His hands rise, lifting a bundle of tiny, twitching limbs in the cloth. It squirms, barely-existent fingers and toes reaching out, grabbing and flexing mindlessly.

Sid’s heart feels like it could explode, but also like it’s stopped completely.

Oh. That’s my child.

The thought hits him hard. He watches, almost dazed, elation erupting in his mind. He can only stare on, eyes tracking the new-born, as it’s carried over to the queen. She releases Sid’s hand, seeming almost love-struck by the sight of her child. “Your Majesties, congratulations.” The doctor breathes out. “Congratulations on your new baby boy.”

A boy. I have a son. I never really cared what sex it was. Even so, having a little boy... wow.

Sid doesn’t even feel the tears escaping his eyes, trailing down his cheeks, when the baby is settled into his wife’s arms, squirming about against her chest. For a few minutes, the five of them just appreciate the beautiful baby writhing about, and then a laugh breaks out between them all when he finally starts to cry. The queen breaks down into elated sobs, managing to birth her placenta in the meantime. Finally, Giles speaks, his tone adoring, awed and joyous all at once.

“Congratulations, Your Majesties.” He grins away, asking, “Have you a name ready for him?”

Sid’s eyes meet the queen’s. They’ve already decided, and had both sex’s names prepared, a long time ago. She beams away at him, sniffling, before whispering, “Here, hold him. He should have a minute with you, too.”

He’s still trying to work through the shock of having a child, but he manages a smile at long last, choking out around his tears, “Yeah. Yeah, thanks.”

He reaches down, taking the tiny person before him into his arms and cradling him against his chest. It’s unreal, holding his new-born child there, the existence he’s waited nine months to meet finally birthed and safe and with them. He has his own family now, truly.

The queen laughs breathlessly, turning to the three. “All of you, say hello to Prince James Alexander Arnault.”

Leo, unable to wipe his smile off his face, swipes at his eyes, chuckling out, “James, after Archduke Grandier, and Alexander, after the late king?” She nods, confirming his suspicions. He heads over to her, giving her a very gentle, congratulatory hug, then gazing down at the child in awe. “He’s beautiful, truly. I’m so happy for you guys. He’s so loved already.”

She sniffs again, watching him draw back. Giles kisses her hand, still cool, composed and formal, but he then closes his other one over it while he says, “I’m elated for you both, ___. Congratulations.”

Even Louis comes over after Giles has moved away, giving her hand a very timid, very light squeeze. “Congratulations, Your Majesty. He’s beautiful.”

She grins up at him, reaching up to stroke the little tufts of hair matted against the baby’s head. Sid’s still gazing down at the new-born, entranced by him, unable to focus on anything else. Her action finally brings him to his senses, though, and he lowers the child into her arms again, knowing that the baby boy needs to remain with her for now. He strokes the queen’s cheek very softly, brushing a kiss over her forehead, then her cheeks, before her lips.

“I love you, ___. Thank you so much, for giving me a child of my own. He’ll be the happiest kid in the world.” He murmurs, watching her with absolute adoration and affection. She nods, humming out tenderly,

“I love you too, Sid. And forget everything I said through that whole thing – it was the pain talking.” All of them laugh or chuckle at that, and Sid howls with his own laughter above her. He rests his forehead against hers, and they both close their eyes, their child safe and secure between them both. “And how couldn’t he be the happiest child ever? He’s so loved, already. He’ll be even more loved, all through his life. He’ll be safe and protected, always.”

“Always.” Sid confirms. He presses a last, loving kiss to her lips, ready to turn the page to the next, biggest, hardest and most gratifying chapter of his existence. “Our little life.”

Chapter Text

“You can’t be serious. I told you. I told you I wanted nothing to do with all this, and I still helped to get it sorted.”

Your voice is snapped at your sibling, who is stood in front of you, scowling deeply and obviously furious. You’re enraged yourself, but you can control it ten times better than them. You only look marginally irritated, which seems to be bothering them even more.

Some time ago, your sibling and dad decided to get the living room renovated and, even though you’ve been studying hard for the start of your last year in college, they still dragged you into doing large portion of the housework. You’ve hurt your hand from screwing things in and painting, writing now hurts like a bitch, you’re shattered from doing so much in such a short amount of time, your routine has been thrown off and you’re pissed. Yesterday, both of them promised to leave you alone and let you relax since they know you like your time to be mostly spent alone.

But then, of course, not two hours later, your sibling asked you to help take a door off, and then your dad asked you to put it back on later.

“And now you’re having a go at me for being annoyed, when you said that I was done and asked me to do more not two hours later?”

They roll their eyes. “It was a five minute job! You’re so selfish; that’s a tiny amount of time and you barely had to do anything.”

Your teeth clamp down on your tongue to hold back a swear. Your body trembles with anger just a little. “That’s not the point. If you would actually listen and stop revelling in your own voice for once, doing the jobs is not the problem. The problem is you asking me to do jobs when you quite literally said to me yesterday, ‘You’re done now. We won’t ask you to do anymore now, we promise.’ That’s the issue I have with this whole thing.”

You see them give you a look of disgust, scoffing out, “That’s nothing to be complaining about. Plans change. Deal with it.”

You throw your hands up, exasperated. “I never wanted to be a part of this plan! You both chose to redecorate the whole goddamn room and give yourselves a deadline that’s way too soon, and now it’s my fault that I don’t want to help when I wasn’t even a part of these discussions?” You shake your head. “You must be able to hear how much of an idiot you’re being.”

They step up close to you, growling in your face, and it takes all of your composure not to move back. “It’s your fault because you’re complaining over things that don’t matter. Just get on with it; you usually just help out anyway, so we expect you to do it now. You never spend time with us anyway and you’re always going off on your own, so maybe we want to be around you a bit and this is a means of doing it.”

Your fury spikes.

“Don’t you dare say that to me! You arrogant, narrow-minded idiot! You spent the last few years coming and going, barely in the house, drinking and doing stupid shit and coming back to unleash your pent-up emotions on us! You made everyone in this house miserable just because you didn’t like the way things were with you friends. You drove me away by doing that. Don’t you fucking dare say that to me when you’re the reason I’m like this now. I used to love spending time with you and being around you, but after that, I learned that being on my own was so much better because I wouldn’t have to be around you-”

“___, stop swearing. Enough. Just stop it, will you?” Your mum cuts through your rant, looking strained. You turn your own scowl on her, saying incredulously,

“Are you kidding? You’re telling me off? I didn’t start this!” She just sighs heavily, and you know that she’s being a pacifist as usual and just wants everything to magically stop.

“I know you didn’t, but why not be the bigger person and stop it? You know you’re the calmer one out of the two of you; just end it here.”

You can barely believe this. She expects you to stop this, when you’re being attacked left right and centre for doing nothing wrong?

“You’d better be joking.” You practically hiss at her, seething and ready to seriously hurt someone. “I’m always the one ending things. Why should I? Why can’t I be the immature one for once?”

Your mum recoils back a bit at your sharp tone. “Because you are the mature one. And you are the one with the better temper of the both of you.

Your sibling whips around, raising their voice and directing it straight at your mum. “Oh, nice one! Thanks for the support! I always knew I wasn’t the favourite, even though I have no clue why that is!” They point back at you, not even bothering to look at you, like you’re just an object. “That antisocial, moody, unemotional loner and a failure of a person! Look at this! There’s barely any reaction there!”

They spin on their heels now, rounding on you. “You don’t care. You can fool them, but I you’re not fooling me. You’re fucking defective. You don’t love any of us. You just can’t wait to leave, and I can’t wait for you to go.”

Your heart feels like it’s been punched within your chest. Rage rolls through you, stronger than you’ve ever felt it before.

"Well, do you know what? I will be gone soon, don’t worry! I’ve got a job, and I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and do you know what else?” They narrow their eyes. You step up to them, looking them straight in the eye. “They’ve offered me an apartment to stay in. I got a promotion the other day and they want me to move closer to the bigger office in conjunction with the college on a program. So, there you go. I’ll be fucking gone in the next few weeks and you won’t see me again.”

Their expression freezes. You can see your mum and dad’s faces collapsing into shock, and a bitter, mirthless laugh escapes you. “Wish granted, you selfish, sick little bastard.”

You shove past them and storm toward the stairs, throwing the door open before bolting up the stairs. You make your way into your room, trembling with suppressed emotion and fury. You want out. You want to get out right now. You’re sick of this.

You slam the door to your room, locking it behind you. Your body moves of its own accord, mind reeling. You have several options, but only one is remotely appealing to you, and one that you think will work.

Sid, your boyfriend, the man you love and need with every fibre of your being.

He’s always been there to hold you up when you’ve fallen and always supported you, has helped you get through tough times with your family and made you laugh and smile along the way. You know that he loves the hell out of you, because before he met you, he used to be a bit of a playboy. He’d break hearts and toss his partners aside like they were nothing.

But the day he met you, that all disappeared.

Dragging your suitcase out of your wardrobe, you set it on the bed and start to pile things in, bits and bobs you’ll need for a few-day stay somewhere else at the very least. You pull your phone out after a few minutes, hitting speed dial one.

Holding it to your ear, you swipe at your eyes, feeling them burning with tears. The dialling tone sounds for only a brief moment before the call’s picked up.

“Hey. How’s it going? You okay?”

Just the sound of his low, smooth voice and cockily composed tone is enough to set a few tears running down your cheeks. Still, you keep your own voice steady while you talk, replying, “Hi. It’s good, I’m alright. You?”

There’s a momentary pause. When he speaks again, his light words are gone, replaced by heavier, sharper ones. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

Shit.

You wince, shaking your head. Of course he can tell. He knows you so well, he could never mistake your emotions. He can know what you’re feeling with even the briefest instance of hearing or seeing you, or even reading a text from you.

“I…” Your throat swells. You lean over your suitcase, trying to breathe through it and settle your rising emotions. “I’m…”

He talks again, sounding much more worried and very, very serious. “___, what’s going on? Tell me. What’s happened? Talk to me. Need me to come over?”

Your head snaps up, voice becoming louder for a brief second with panic. “No! No, I mean, don’t come over here. I had, well, a fight with them again. I’m just…”

It’s hard to tell him when you can’t cope anymore. It hurts to admit that you need help.

“I don’t want to be here anymore. I already accepted the college’s offer to move into the apartment with my job, but I…” Your teeth sink into your lip for a second. Your body shakes. “I hate it here. I can’t take it anymore. It doesn’t work; I can’t be here with them.”

He’s silent for all but two seconds.

“___, I’ve already told you this. My dad likes having you over here. Come stay with me; I seriously don’t mind. Hell, it’s great having you around. If you don’t want to stay, don’t stay. I’ll pick you up right now if you want.”

A burst of love, relief and simultaneous sorrow burst in your chest. Your breathing hitches, a sob almost managing to work its way out of you. “Are you sure? You should ask your dad just in case-”

“___, I’m literally sitting in front of my dad right now. I’m putting you on speaker, okay?” Your heart jumps a bit at the thought of talking to his dad, since you’re not exactly prepared for it, but you exhale slowly and nod to yourself, forcing your body to calm itself.

“Okay.” You hear the noise on the other end shift as the speaker comes on.

“It’s ___. She’s having some problems at home. Can she stay here? She’s got an arrangement with the college and her work to move into an apartment in a few weeks anyway, but her family are causing problems.”

You scramble to speak; he didn’t quite explain that as you’d like him to. “M-Mr. Grandier, I wasn’t considering staying any longer than just tonight if you wouldn’t mind – I mean, it’s just while I get something arranged for the meantime-”

“___.” You hear Mr. Grandier say calmly. Your words stop short, and your chest tightens with anticipation. “Please, don’t worry yourself about staying here. I don’t mind at all, and if anything I very much enjoy having you here. You’ve allowed Llo-” There’s a growl from Sid. “I mean, you’ve allowed Sid to stay with you for near enough a month on several occasions even when you were just friends, when the circumstances here were undesirable. I have no problem if you stay here until the arrangement with the college comes into effect, although I would like further details of that later, if possible.”

You nod to yourself again, letting out a relieved sigh. He continues, speaking in a somewhat softer and gentler tone. “I assume your parents aren’t aware that you are leaving your house.”

The lump in your throat returns. You swallow it back, busying yourself with getting the last items of clothing and utilities that you might need. You lower your voice, speaking quietly and casting careful, cautious glances at the door, listening for movement and trying to sense if anyone’s there.

“No, not yet. I was going to leave them a note telling them that I was staying at a friend’s house, but I wasn’t going to say who, and tell them the details of the college apartment arrangement I made. I don’t doubt that they might ask around if they can, though, and try to see if they can find out where I am.”

He makes a sound of acknowledgement. “I see. Well, legally, there is no problem with this. You are fully allowed to, by law, leave home if it is your wish, and this is even safer than the standard run-away plan because you already have safe arrangements with the college. As I said, I have no issue with this. You are more than welcome to stay here until it comes into effect.”

The tears return, and a swell of hope burns in your chest. “Thank you so much. I really appreciate this.”

You can feel his smile when he speaks again. “You’re welcome. When will you be coming over?”

You think for a moment. To be honest, you were planning to go in the night, so that they are the least likely to be around to try and stop you. “I was thinking of coming over at some point in the night. That way, they probably won’t be awake to stop me and they’ll have cooled off by morning to think over it properly.”

Sid speaks now, sounding gruff but satisfied. “I say get your ass over here now, but if you’re sure about it, I can do that. I’ll pick you up and bring you over.”

You shake your head, zipping up your suitcase and hiding it back in your wardrobe. You then get your basic things like your chargers, laptop, tablet and iPod, as well as your work and college folders and documents, before putting them in your backpack. “It’s fine. I’ll make my own way over, Sid. It’s okay; you’ll be tired, so I wouldn’t want you to be driving that late.”

“___,” He says flatly, and you know he’s not letting you get out of this one. “I’ve already agreed to not dragging you over here this minute. I’m picking you up whether you like it or not. Is around four alright?”

You find yourself smiling just a little as you drop down onto your bed, staring at the floor. “Yeah, that’s okay. Thank you, Sid, and you, Mr. Grandier.”

Sid snorts. “Stop thanking us, ___. Geez, I feel like I was an ass when I stayed over at yours now for not thanking you every five minutes.”

You hear Mr. Grandier sigh lightly. “Sid, language.” There’s a grumble that you can’t make out. “But you are very welcome, ___. If there’s any change, please let us know.”

You look at the clock. It’s eleven at night, so you doubt anything will change today. You might try to sleep. “I will.”

“We will see you tomorrow morning, then. Goodnight, and stay safe, ___.” Mr. Grandier says kindly. Your low mood lifts a bit at the way he looks out for you even though you’re just Sid’s girlfriend, but even so, he’s done it since you were little. You and Sid have known each other since you were both six, and you’ve been inseparable since. He knows you very well by this point, and evidently he cares about you quite a bit.

“I’ll talk to you on Messenger, ‘kay?” Sid adds, sounding almost smug but still satisfied and marginally relieved. You nod again.

“Okay. See you later.”

“Seeya.”

As soon as you hang up, you miss him.

Taking a minute to fully compose yourself and try to shake off your earlier rage, you rock back and forth where you sit, closing your eyes and imagining being safe in Sid’s arms. You can almost feel it, can sense his strength as he holds you, can smell his musky, intoxicating scent, can feel his warmth pouring into you while he keeps you safe and holds you close.

You look at the clock again, sighing softly.

This is going to be a long five hours.

∂∞∂

Time rolls around to ten to four. You’re already waiting downstairs.

You managed to sneak down at half three with your things, keeping quiet and using no lights, before making sure the family dog barely woke up at your arrival. Waiting patiently on the couch, you periodically peek through the curtains to look outside, your note of explanation next to you on the table.

This time when you get up and check, your phone buzzes, lighting up with a Messenger notification.

“Sid
I’m outside.”

Your heart thuds in your chest. You’re desperate to see him.

You swiftly but still cautiously get up, taking care to not wake the dog, before opening the front door. Slipping out with your suitcase and bag, the latter over one shoulder, you close and lock the door again, praying that they don’t wake up. Turning around, you see Sid’s black Volvo XC90 parked outside the house in the free space, and watch as the driver seat door opens.

He gets out, closing the door and walking around the car in all his beautiful, smooth glory. At 6”2 and in his typical dark blue coat with fake fur, he stands tall and strong, skin pale and unmarked in the moonlight. His intense indigo eyes never leave your face as he approaches the wall attached to the gate, one that comes up to his stomach.

Your insides flutter. You have to restrain yourself to prevent yourself from flying into his arms.

Instead, you make your way over, carrying the suitcase instead of rolling it. He holds his arms out over the wall, speaking in a hushed voice. “Don’t open the gate. It could wake them up. Here, pass me the suitcase and wait there.”

You do as he says, trusting that he knows what he’s doing. Although very teasing and sometimes very immature, Sid has a completely focused, serious side. You know that it’s kicking in now, and that you can put your faith in it. He takes the suitcase to the car, quickly putting it in the boot, before leaving it open and returning to the wall. You climb up to swing your legs over it, and he reaches out to lift you down by your waist, setting you on the floor gently. His palms are wonderfully warm against your sides, even through your jacket, and it’s almost impossible to not hug the life out of him when your eyes meet his.

He just smirks, although it slips into a grin a second later, before he tugs the straps of your backpack down your arms and swings it off you. Putting it in the boot as well, he casts a glance at your house, narrowing his eyes briefly. He then takes your hand and opens the passenger door for you, letting you jump inside. Closing it again and getting in on his side, he turns on the engine, and you can see him trying to be quiet when he pulls away from the house.

Your insides twist unpleasantly, coiling and churning with nerves.

You’re running away. You can’t rely on your family anymore. This is it. You’re on your own now.

Your eyes stay on the house until Sid rounds the corner and drives onto the main road, which is completely empty with the early hour. You slump against the comfy seat, letting out a slow, deep breath.

“Hey.” You turn to look at Sid, seeing him watching you out of the corner of his eye. He gives you a kinder smile than his usual smirk, coming to a slow stop at a set of lights as they turn red, most probably because they’re on a timer rather than because of the traffic. He reaches down to take your hand across the centre console, giving it a firm, warm squeeze. “You alright?”

You’re still sort of desperate to cry and want to do nothing but sleep, since you didn’t manage to have a nap while you waited, but you manage a small nod. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

You know he’s not convinced by his gaze alone, but he says nothing, apparently deciding to trust you for now at least. A tiny smile forms on your lips before you close your eyes, curling up in your seat and basking in the security you feel just from him holding your hand.

The drive is maybe twenty minutes long, since he lives on the other side of Wysteria to you, but that’s less time that usual because the roads are completely clear. On a bad day, it can take you forty or fifty minutes to get to his house in the car, although the average is around thirty minutes. You are borderline asleep when he rolls onto the drive of his large “house”, which is actually a mansion, but he’s not fond of calling it that.

He’s got a complicated past, and half of him doesn’t mind his higher position in the class system because of the fact that he was raised by and lives with Mr. Grandier. Mrs. Grandier died when Sid was only three, so he doesn’t remember her. He’s never really had a mother. His other half doesn’t accept his position because Mr. Grandier isn’t his biological dad, but he’s come to accept it a lot more over the past few years with some encouragement from you.

You hear his faraway chuckle through your sleep-dazed haze, and feel his hand slip out of yours before there’s a gust of cold air, then silence once more. You force your eyes open properly, squinting at the light of the porch lamps glaring into your sight, before you push yourself up straight and rub your face tiredly. It’s at this point that your door opens and Sid leans down, smirking at your sleepy expression. You frown slightly, unclipping your belt and grumbling,

“Leave me alone, I’m tired. I haven’t slept in twenty-one hours.” You swing your legs out of the car, about to stand up and get your bags.

Before you can, he leans down to sweep you off the seat and into his arms, carrying you like a princess. Your mind jerks into full consciousness, surprise taking over, while you slap at his arms and protest, “Sid, I can walk! Let me get my bags- hey!”

He rolls his eyes, kicking the car door shut before making his way to the front doors. You notice that one is slightly open, and you guess that he opened it while you were coming around. “___, you’re pretty much unconscious. I am not having you fall over from being half asleep and splitting your head open on my porch. Just enjoy it.”

Although your cheeks tinge slightly with pink, you know he’s not letting you go any time soon and just huff, deliberately letting all of your weight go limp in his arms. He grunts slightly, throwing you up to settle you better, and you can barely stifle your shocked scream when he does. He smirks again.

He goes inside, and you’re amazed as you always are by the grandiose décor of the house. The mix of dark blues and navy with hints of crimson, gold and silver never fails to impress you, and you find yourself staring at the engraved coving while he walks with you through the corridors. He takes you upstairs, where you know there is the master bedroom, Sid’s bedroom, then three other guest bedrooms. There were more downstairs, but they were converted into utility rooms and studies by Mr. Grandier a couple of years back.

“Seriously, Sid, I can walk. You didn’t lock the car behind you.” You mumble into his neck, reaching up to loop your arms around his throat and support some of your weight yourself. He snickers, eyeing you with a teasing grin.

“Have you forgotten that we’ve got security gates? Trust me, ___, no one would dare try to get in. Relax, will ya?” You grunt, seeing him nearing the guest bedroom next to his own. He opens the door without putting you down, letting you see the gorgeous room inside, similar to but not the same as his. There’s a double bed, a wardrobe, a desk, French doors and full-length windows which let you look out into the large garden outside.

Your heart beats a little faster in your chest. It’s like you’re moving in with him, even if just for a short period of time.

He shifts you in his arms as he approaches the bed, then without warning, chucks you onto it. You bounce before rolling onto your back, scowling up at him. “Sid! What the hell was that?”

He looks far too amused by this, answering dismissively, “Welcome to the house of Grandier, sweetheart.” He turns on his heels, putting the light on, since the room is only otherwise lit by the moonlight coming in through the windows. “I’ll get your bags. Stay here, or else Jess will wake up and you won’t get any sleep at all tonight.”

He glances back at you, narrowing his eyes, before he says in a taunting voice, “Then again, you look pretty tempting like that, all blushing and embarrassed. I might keep you up all night anyway.”

“Sid!” You exclaim, cheeks flushing even more. He just laughs darkly, shutting the door after leaving the room.

You sigh, falling back against the soft, fluffy pillows. Your heart’s racing like crazy just from his words, emotions off the rails and your earlier sorrow all but forgotten. You shake your head, but a smile is tugging at your lips. Taking your shoes off, you set them on the floor next to the bed, having already put on some leggings and a top you can sleep in so you won’t need to change now. It’s twenty-five past four, so getting changed now would be pretty painful, considering your lack of sleep.

Sid returns a few minutes later with your suitcase and backpack, and he smirks at the sight of you, sitting cross-legged on the bed, fingers fiddling with your phone case habitually while your eyes remain on the bed cover. You look up as he comes in, and he sets the suitcase on the floor before putting the backpack on the desk. He makes his way over to the bed, sitting next to you and studying you closely. Your eyes dance away, a light blush forming again, and he brings his hand up to cup your warm face.

“In all seriousness, you’re gonna be fine, ___. I promise, I ain’t letting anyone hurt you or make you unhappy. You know that, right?” Your throat thickens once more, eyes becoming moist at the loving, unusually tender tone he speaks in. Your lips are graced with a tiny smile, and you look up at him again, nodding slightly.

“I know. Thank you, Sid. I’m being serious as well; I’m really grateful for this.” Your gaze is steady and strong as it meets his, expression completely serious. He searches your face for a moment, seeming to look for something, before he gives you a small nod back.

“I know you are. It’s nothing you haven’t done for me, so don’t worry about it, ‘kay?” Seeing you take in a slow breath, body shaking just slightly, his lips twitch up. He removes his hand from your cheek to stand up, moving across to the windows to bring down the large blackout blind, then pull the curtains closed.

He knows you don't like him seeing you when you cry. He knows you hate him seeing you weak.

He shrugs off his coat and throws it over the back of the chair at the desk, then flicks the light off before returning to you, shutting the door on his way. He takes your hand and tugs you to be stood in front of him, sliding his free hand around your waist while the other remains around yours. He gives you a smile in the dark, although you can’t see it, before he speaks quietly, the low reverberations of his voice seeming to echo around the room. You find yourself shivering, feeling him tug you against him.

“If you need to cry, you can do it in front of me. You know you can. Let it out; it’s only gonna hurt, keeping it all pent up like this.”

You finally release your tears, burying your face in his chest. He lets go of your hand to bring it to the back of your head, holding you there, keeping you close while you let out quiet but pained sobs. It hurts him, of course, to hear you so upset, but this is the most he can do for you for now. He can’t turn back time, nor can he make you forget all of this, so he will do what he can do. He’ll be here for you and let you cry to him, let you show your weaknesses and drop your guard, because you can trust him to.

Your hands rest on his chest, gripping his shirt tightly. He rests his lips against your hair, frowning at the thought of your family upsetting you like this, other hand rubbing your back soothingly. You continue to cry to him, knowing that he doesn’t even care that his shirt’s getting wet with your tears, knowing that he doesn’t care if you’re weak in front of him.

After a few minutes, he reaches down to lock his arms around your thighs, lifting you up against him so that your head is level with his. You wrap your own arms around his neck, fists clenching tightly, while the last of your cries are muffled into his shoulder. He presses his lips against your own shoulder now, painting the skin with soft, gentle kisses, ones that aren’t borne of lust or passion but solely from love and care. They soothe you and calm you down, helping you to settle yourself once your emotions are out and you’re feeling stronger.

Finally done, you rub at your eyes with your sleeve, drying your face of moisture. “Thank you.” You mumble, breathing somewhat uneven but less laborious than before. You feel him smile just a bit into your flesh.

“You’re welcome. You owe me now, though.” It’s such a simple, teasing thing to say, but in contrast against how shitty your whole day and the past month or so has been with your family, it’s like a godsend to you. A weak, quiet but still there laugh bubbles over your lips, which makes him grin victoriously. “Come on. I never thought I’d be the one saying this to you, but you need to get to bed. You seriously need sleep, and I’m not letting you get up any earlier than twelve tomorrow.

While he says this, he walks over to the bed, still holding you against his front. He plants a knee on the mattress when he gets there, laying you down gently. You stare up at him in the dark, faintly seeing the outline of his face hovering above you. You slip under the covers, feeling them to be wonderfully, almost heavenly soft and smooth around you, almost hugging your body into them.

Without thinking, your hand rises up to where you reckon his cheek is, and you smile when you successfully hold it in your palm. You can feel his smirk even in the pitch black. “Are you staying?”

He snorts. “Is that an invitation?”

Your lips stretch into a grin, breathing now normal and mood lifting swiftly. “Maybe.”

You’ve stayed here a good number of times now, and while Mr. Grandier has made it painfully clear that he doesn’t want you both to be… ahem, messing around in that respect, he doesn’t mind you being close, even with things like sleeping in the same bed as each other. As long as nothing serious happens, he said, it’s something he’ll allow.

He grins back, and although you can't see it, you know it's there. “Well then, I accept. Are you sure you're ready? My hands might just start to wander, and I ain't sure if I'll want to stop them.”

You burst into embarrassed, surprised giggles, well and truly distracted from the situation. You slap at the arm next to you, propping him up above you. “You'd better stop them or I'm kicking you out of bed!”

You’re certain you see him roll his eyes. “You've been here for all but fifteen minutes and you're threatening to kick me out of my house?” Another giggle escapes you. You hear the sound of fabric rustling and buttons opening, followed by the light sound of something being deposited on the floor. Then, there is the distinctive thud of shoes being taken off and dropped next to the bed, before he manages to poke you in the side. “Scoot.”

You roll your eyes now, but you shuffle over to give him room. He slides in next to you, and just as you settle where you are a bit to his left, he reaches out to curl his arm under your middle and drag you back to him. You feel your back press up against his very warm, very solid chest, and your face heats up worryingly quickly at the fact that he's now shirtless and cuddling you. “Now, that's better.”

He leans down to nuzzle his face in your neck, humming lowly into the space under your jaw. Your heart starts to thump in your chest hard, skin setting on fire at the sensation of his smirk against your pulse point. You can feel the beating of his own heart against you, swift and hard, his own flesh almost unbearably but blissfully warm around you. His arm moves to rest under your head, creating a rest for you, while the other coils around your middle and keeps you close to him. Still blushing madly, you move into him as much as possible, basking in the security of his presence and strength. He chuckles into your neck, teasing,

“You trying to tell me something?” You roll your eyes, heartbeat speeding up even more, before you shake your head. He snorts, but you still when his hand drifts down your stomach, fingers just slipping under your shirt for a moment. “I’ll do what you want, just tell me.”

You slap at his hand, muttering, “You wish. Watch the hands, mister.” He just laughs again, but he secures his arm around your abdomen again, not making any more moves. Your hand rises up almost of its own accord, coming up to his face. Closing your eyes, your fingers sift through his hair, massaging his head where it lies in the juncture of your neck and shoulder. He lets out a slow, deep breath, and you feel the fluttering of his eyelashes, which is most probably from him closing his eyes. “Thank you, Sid.”

In that moment, you recall something that was sort of lost to the flames of today’s stress.

It’s Sid’s birthday. It’s past midnight.

Your presents for him were already in your backpack, you remember, since you had planned to come over to his house to celebrate anyway. That’s a relief, since you won’t have to go back to your house to retrieve them, and it means you can just have a lazy day in if Sid wants to.

Your lips are graced by a grin. “Oi.”

You feel him pause, muscles tensing slightly. “What?”

You snicker, turning your head to give him a quick, light peck on the forehead. He jerks back a little in surprise, and you let out a quiet giggle. “Happy birthday. I sort of screwed it up, but-”

He smirks widely, and before you can even finish, he swallows your words with a kiss. He presses his lips against your gently but still firmly, arm moving to turn your body around, so you’re on your back. Hovering over you, he consumes you in a deep, long kiss, resting his forearm next to your head. Your mind whirls, body immediately reacting and trembling at the sudden contact, but you embrace it. Your arms reach up to loop around his neck, bringing him even closer, eyes already closed.

A soft, shaky breath escapes you when he briefly pulls back, his breathtakingly intense eyes focused solely on your face. Leaning down to drape his body over yours, his forehead rests against yours lightly, and his hand comes up to cup your cheek tenderly.

“You didn’t screw it up. You’re here, and I’ll be able to wake up on my birthday with the woman I love right here when I do. It might not be for the best reasons, granted,” His lips twitch up, mouth moving to hover over your cheekbone, ghosting across the flesh and sending shivers rattling through you. Your eyes start to close, his husky, deep voice reverberating through you when he speaks again. “But we’ll make it a good thing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best present you could have given me. Thanks, princess.”

Your chest tightens, heart now pounding away. A wave of love, adoration and emotion rolls over you, and you nod fiercely, eyes opening again. Your gaze meets his, hands coming up to brush over his cheeks before cupping his face. He moves your hair back from your face, never once looking away from you. With anyone else, it would be uncomfortable if not painful to look at them for so long, but with Sid, it’s not. It’s embarrassing and exciting and strange all at once, but you don’t mind it. He stares at you with such a tender, strong expression, one of respect and love, that it makes you feel warm and safe and so, so happy just to be there with him. 

Your lips curl up, and you bring his face down to yours with a gentle pressure. Your foreheads touch again, and you close your eyes once more.

He doesn’t close his, of course.

You stay there for a long time, feeling secure in his arms, basking in his kisses, gentle and reserved for the moment considering the circumstances. He maps out your face with his lips, running them over your features, nuzzling into you, appreciating you and communicating his love with his actions.

But eventually, just as the sun’s fire peeks over the horizon, you finally drift into a deep sleep. Sid smiles just a little, satisfied, before he takes a moment to put both of your phones on silent.

If your family wants to speak to you, they can do it when you’re ready. For now, he wants you to sleep and relax.

Mere minutes after, Sid succumbs to the dark as well, settling you on his chest, locked tightly in his arms.

And he doesn’t plan on letting you leave them any time soon. He’ll always be there for you, for the rest of your lives.

Chapter Text

Hey, to anyone who reads this. I apologise for those who might get an email for this because of a user or work subscription - it's not a new story or anything like that, and neither will the sudden influx of emails that those who've subscribed to either myself or this work will get as a result.

I don't write for MidCin anymore, but want to tidy up my AO3 MidCin pseud, which is why this is happening; I have most of my fics for MidCin as standalone works on my account whereas I've found, from my IkéSen ones, that amassing them in a single work is much easier when it comes to people being able to find them and read them.

As such, I've decided to migrate those story (of which there are 24) over to this work and have this as the container for the majority of the stories I have for MidCin.

Those which are exempted and will remain standalone are the following:

  • Castle
  • Intra-Hearts (Prologue, Interlude and Epilogue)
  • Midnight Cinderella on Crack
  • One to Ten

The rest will be brought into this work shortly.

I apologise profusely for the email notifications this will cause, and the way it will make it seem as though this work has been updated with newly-written stories when these are old.

I really am sorry for this and I've been fighting over doing it for a long, long time, but it's:

  1. Really been getting on my nerves to have them all separate;
  2. Painful think of how awkward it must be for anyone who still reads my stuff despite me not being a part of the fandom anymore.

So, I've decided to go through with it after months of deliberation.

I'm extremely sorry for the inconvenience, and so randomly and all of a sudden. Please ignore this work if you have no interest in reading past stories I've written, and thank you very much in advance.

This is the only time this will be happening, that much I can promise absolutely. It only happened because I was inexperienced when I first set up my archive and didn't know that putting everything in one work is better than standalone ones and after this, I will not be changing anything on this pseud again (as it is dead and inactive in line with my MidCin blog).

!!!!

For those who have a subscription to me for either of my pseuds or this work, I would recommend turning off emails or unsubscribing for the next 3 days while I sort things out to avoid a load of emails coming in.

My sincerest apologies once again for this. Believe me when I say I have regrets because of this and loathe the inconvenience it may cause.

!!!!

 

As above mentioned, I will be posting 8 of my old stories per day and so will be done in 3 days' time.

 

I'm so sorry once again.