Everyone at court knows when Robert de Vere has written to his mother, because she’s never at court anymore except when she has news of him for King Richard. It’s a strange correspondence – there’s always a good deal of court gossip about the sorts of things de Vere might be willing to write to his mother to convey to his erstwhile royal lover, but since his exile it’s all they’ve been able to manage: any efforts to contact the King directly were intercepted and burned by the Lords Appellant. But no one could begrudge a man contact with his mother — not even Gloucester and Arundel – and, perhaps more to the point, the dowager Countess of Oxford is not an easy woman to say no to.
It is right before Christmas, almost five years to the day de Vere fled the field at Radcot Bridge, when she arrives at Sheen dressed in black.
Robert de Vere’s death had been fairly ordinary, in the end, nothing you could put into an advice-for-princes poem about the inevitable fall of royal favorites. He’d died in a hunting accident, his thigh torn open by a wild boar – the same fate as Adonis. Richard could probably find it in himself to appreciate the parallel, on some level.
“I suppose it’s for the best, in the end,” the Duke of York says to his son, privately. “For Richard, at least. Did you know he tried to get Parliament to undo de Vere’s banishment?”
“I’d heard,” Edward says. In fact he’d been the first person to hear about it, or so Richard had said, and when Richard had outlined his plan for repealing him Edward had felt the blood drain from his face and tried to smile in a way that felt natural, because who was he to begrudge Richard the presence of the man he loves?
“He always was infatuated with that boy,” York continues. “At least now he’ll have to put the past behind him.”
Edward says nothing to that, because he doesn’t really want to talk to his father about Richard’s ability to hold grudges and he certainly doesn’t want to talk to him about his own mixed feelings about Robert de Vere. He’s known for years that Richard loves him — Richard’s old tutor Sir Simon had called him the king’s sworn brother, which Edward had already come to suspect was a euphemism even before the day he’d been hiding in an alcove in the library poring over a copy of Twici’s Art of Venery until they’d come in, Richard pulling de Vere by the hand and the door slamming behind them, and then Richard had had his back pressed up against the door and de Vere was kissing him ferociously and Edward had felt the earth shift under him and his knees turn to water even though he was sitting down. There had been no way to flee the room without being seen, and if he’d interrupted them by making his presence known Edward had been quite sure that he would have died of embarrassment on the spot. He can’t remember now whether he’d been consciously aware before then that men did that with other men, rather than that particular desire being his own particular burden, but the knowledge that Richard did that with other men — as the sounds in the room gave way from the soft squishy sounds of kissing and laughter to the rustle of clothing and muffled gasps and groans he’d pulled his knees as close to his chest as he could manage, closed his eyes tightly, and tried to ignore the fierce ache in his groin and concentrate on keeping his breathing inaudible.
After that he’d hated Robert de Vere, who was beautiful and charming and desired by Richard and made Edward so jealous he could hardly think. And then word had come to London that de Vere's army had met with Henry Bolingbroke's at Radcot Bridge, that he'd fled the field and Henry's men had found some of his armor and equipment on the frigid banks of the Thames, that he had surely drowned in his attempt to escape, and Edward had felt a small and unwelcome spark of glee that was itself drowned in a flood of guilt. If he knew he would never see Richard again -- he doesn't even have an end to this sentence, just a picture in his head of an endless grey nothing.
Edward can't help but remember that feeling now that de Vere is truly dead. In the years since his exile, Richard has taken Edward into his favor, seated him on his council and made him Lord High Admiral of England even though he hasn't been on a ship since he was nine and had been desperately seasick the whole time. He knows Richard is fond of him, even loves him, as his cousin if nothing else. He’s seen Richard’s eye on him when they’ve bathed together or changed clothes after riding, and it’s been appreciative enough to make Edward feel warm all over. But if Richard finds him desirable it’s merely in the abstract; it’s never gone farther than that, and now he’s jealous of a dead man.
Richard’s court always keeps Christmas in the highest of styles, even in times of great difficulty — he’d done so five years ago with de Vere exiled and the Lords Appellants breathing down his neck. This year is no different. Edward keeps his eye on Richard throughout the feasts; the King smiles and talks and eats and the jewels in his crown and robes catch the light from the candles so his face and hair shine like the gold bits in an illuminated manuscript. It’s dizzying to look at him.
But none of the mirth is real. He looks like an extremely expensive automaton. Every so often he reaches under the table to clutch Queen Anne's hand, and it's the only time he seems like a creature of flesh and blood.
Edward is lying on top of his bedclothes, his head swimming just a bit from an overabundance of wine, when his bedroom door opens. He's just about remembered how to sit up when Richard, barefoot and in his shirt without even a dressing-gown, crashes through the bed-hangings and curls up pathetically on Edward's bed, flinging an arm around his waist and pressing his face into his side.
"Richard?" Edward says, tipsiness and fatigue making his greeting over-familiar. Richard likes it when you act like you're his equal, in private anyway, right up until he doesn't, so it's usually best to start with "your majesty" and adjust downward once you’ve gauged his mood. "Are you all right?"
"I'm drunk, Edward," Richard says, unnecessarily, and then he giggles, high and a bit desperate.
"It is Christmas," Edward says. "We're drunk and it's Christmas." He's giggling too, before he can stop himself. "Also I can feel your feet through my stockings."
"It's cold." Richard pouts in that annoyingly fetching way he has. "You're nice and warm." He tightens his grip around Edward's waist so that he's halfway on top of him, and presses his face into the hollow of Edward's shoulder so that Edward's now lying on his back. He is definitely feeling warm by now. "Anne fell asleep and now I'm lonely."
"Richard…" Edward starts, but all he can think of to do is to wrap his arms around Richard and stroke his hair.
"I'm tired of being sad," Richard mumbles into his neck, as his hand moves up to rest on Edward’s chest, where it begins tracing lazy circles.
"I know," Edward says. “I’m sorry – “
"Don't say anything comforting," Richard says. "You always do that."
"I -- " Edward begins. "Shut up and kiss me," Richard says. "You want to, don't you? You don't hide it very well." His hand has found its way to Edward’s midsection by now.
Edward almost can't hear himself speak over the pounding of his own heart in his ears. "Always," he gasps out, "but -- you need to move your face."
Richard laughs and then he's lying on top of Edward for real and his tongue is in Edward's mouth and it tastes like wine -- probably this is because they're both drunk but maybe Richard is always like that, like you can get drunk just by being around him. Edward cups Richard's face with both hands and Richard runs his own hands through Edward's hair, leaving it standing almost on end. Nor is it the only part of Edward that's standing almost on end at the moment. Richard pulls away from him and kneels astride his hips, which does not exactly alleviate the situation; he starts in on the buttons of Edward's doublet, but as he's not especially used to dressing and undressing unassisted, it's more of a struggle than either of them is willing to bear, until Edward finally has to shove him off and attack the buttons himself. He’s already straining against his hose as Richard draws his own shirt over his head and then returns to tug helplessly at Edward’s laces.
“Stop helping me!” Edward laughs, swatting carefully at Richard’s hand, and Richard sprawls out to watch Edward undress. His pale skin is flushed against the embroidered coverlet.
“God, you’re so beautiful,” Richard says, grabbing Edward’s hand as soon as he’s shed the last pieces of clothing and pulling him down onto the bed, kissing him fiercely and wetly, his hand curling between Edward’s legs. Edward has dreamed about this moment before, many times. In his dreams it’s less sloppy, less sweaty, and the room doesn’t usually feel like it’s spinning.
…in his fantasies, he also lasts substantially longer.
Richard laughs and kisses Edward again as he presses him onto his back so that he can thrust against his thighs; Edward’s hands roam over Richard’s back until Richard stills and cries out and presses his face into the hollow of Edward’s shoulder.
"Richard," Edward breathes into the King's hair. Richard’s lips brush against his skin. He’s sticky with sweat and come and his mouth still tastes of wine and he wonders why he thought he'd ever had any idea what contentment felt like before. "Richard."
Richard makes a sound that Edward thinks is more laughter until he feels the hot tears fall onto his skin.
"Do you know what Robert’s mother told me?” he says, through his tears, and Edward shakes his head, although he doesn’t think Richard can see it. “He died with my name on his lips. They won’t even let me mourn him, Edward.”
Edward’s heart slams against his ribcage, but he wraps his arms more tightly around Richard and forces out some words of consolation. You always do that, Richard had said.
“He loved you,” Edward says, his voice sounding wrong to his own ears. I love you, he thinks, except Richard has propped himself up on his elbows and is looking at Edward like he’s said it aloud.
Has he said it aloud? He must have, because Richard’s face falls and he says, “You shouldn’t.”
“I do, though, I know you loved him and -- I can’t be him like you want,” Edward says. It all comes out in a rush, because of course that’s why Richard came to his room tonight, why else would he have done it? Robert de Vere had had dark hair and green eyes too, and he’d loved Richard until the day he died, and maybe if you were drunk enough you could pretend –
“Don’t tell me what I want,” Richard says, and for a moment Edward fears he’s going to get up and leave, but he bends in for a gentle kiss. Afterwards he smiles in a way that makes Edward want to weep. "You're nothing like him," he says.