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Among Another Sort

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               “No. Absolutely not. I won’t do it.”

               “Cloud, be reasonable.”

               “Over my dead body.”

               “If you don’t, it might be over all our dead bodies.”

               He would be lying if he said he wasn’t tempted to throw something,

               “You have other children! Send one of them!”

               “They were very specific in their demands. It has to be you.”

               “You mean your court was specific with how they would meet the demands.”

               “… It was the best solution.”

               He winced.

               He deflated.

               His mother came up behind him and rested her hands on his shoulders. She leaned forward and met his eyes in the mirror in front of him.

               “Cloud, you are my son. I have many, but you are the son I chose. If I could send a different son, I would, but the rest of the court won’t have it. I may be queen, but I can’t spit in their faces when we’re already on the brink of war.”

               “I’m a changeling, I’m not expendable.”

               His mother sighed. She spun his chair around and crouched down in front of him. She took his hands in hers.

               “You know that I agree. But the Seelie care about few things more than bloodline. I wonder often if it wouldn’t have been better for me to leave you in that cradle by the river. It is no kindness to force you to be a second-class citizen in your own home, I know that. But I don’t regret my decision, and I plan to do everything I can to keep you. Even if that means marrying you to an Unseelie prince.”

               Cloud bowed his head and looked at their hands for so long that she eventually reached out and smoothed the hair from his face.

               “Please, Cloud,” she said, in a voice that was as kind as it was hurt, as quiet as it was sweet.

               It was another long moment before he nodded.

               She smiled softly and stood. She cupped his face in her hands and pressed a kiss to his forehead.

               “Thank you, my son.”

               She left and, more so than usual, it felt like she brought all the light and warmth of the room out the door with her. In her absence, he was left cold and bereft.

               Forced to marry a man he didn’t know, from a clan he didn’t like, for the sake of people who didn’t like him.

               Sometimes he wondered if he wouldn’t have been better off left in that cradle by the river.

 

               “That’s absurd. No. I refuse.”

               “Sephiroth, be reasonable.”

               “Under no circumstances. I don’t want a Seelie prince, much less their cast-off reject. This is a slight, you understand. They’re not giving up anything they value or care about. None of their court would shed a tear if I killed him on our wedding night.”

               “Queen Claudia would. He’s her favorite son, both courts know that. They won’t bother to protect him, but she will.”

               His brow twitched in irritation.

               “He’s human, Mother.”

               “He’s as Seelie as he is human.”

               “Culturally, maybe, but every bone in his body and hair on his head is human.”

               “We aren’t the Seelie, Sephiroth; we’ve never cared much for bloodline.”

               He scowled. A cheap argument.

               “To a point. There are court members who are of mixed blood, and court associates who aren’t fae at all, but there has never been a changeling royal.”

               “Perhaps it’s time for a new tradition, then.”

               “Mother.”

               She climbed from her throne and came to him, her stride slow and steady. When she came to a stop, she reached up and placed her hands on his shoulders before sliding them down, holding him by the forearms.

               “Sephiroth, we need this. We can’t afford war, but it’s fast approaching. And I have full faith that you can handle one simple human.”

               There was a long moment before he sighed, conceding the point, his ego finally soothed. He nodded.

               She smiled.

               “I’m sure you’ll have him wrapped around your finger before he can blink.”

               He snorted, and she laughed, and the matter was settled.

               She reached out and cupped his face, pulling him down to kiss his forehead. Then, she turned and went back to her throne. He understood it to be the quiet dismissal it was and left.

               As he walked out of the throne room, he felt a warmth curl in his stomach. Oh, this would be tedious and dreadful. It was an obligation. But, if he did this correctly, he could turn the entire endeavor in his favor.

               He could use a new pet anyway.

Chapter Text

               Cloud had been very nervous as a child, and could still be nervous about some things, but had largely grown out of it. After all these years at court, he long since stopped blinking twice at meeting new people. There were new dignitaries and ambassadors and visitors all the time, and those of older bloodlines loved to see him. He was an oddity to them, some fascinating bauble, and he had learned to accept that condescension with a polite smile. He understood that a human royal was an intriguing little curiosity to them and not much more. Moreover, he understood the way they clung to bloodlines, and that he would never be more than his birth parents, regardless of the fact that the best thing they ever did for him was abandon him.

               So while he was very accustomed to meeting new royals whom he expected to look down on him, meeting such a noble whom he was going to marry was very different.

               Cloud knew very little of Unseelie marriage customs, but marriage within his own court was a very permanent thing. There were, generally, two types of marriages: love and political. Love marriages were rare; it took fae many years to find someone they could settle down with for the rest of their long, long lives. Political marriages, however, were common as copper. Tying two families was an easy way to shift political lines and grab for more power, and there were few things fae cared more for than politics. When life is centuries and centuries long, there is little that is new except what the fae themselves make. The squabbling and maneuvering and clever tricks kept them entertained, and the risk involved had most fae truly hooked. Marriages, similarly, had to have high stakes to be worthwhile, so there was no way out of a Seelie union.

               It was never something Cloud had thought much about before, but a marriage he couldn’t escape was becoming more and more daunting. He had never truly expected to marry at all; he couldn’t stomach a partner who looked down on him the way most Seelie did. But it looked like he would have to.

               The intimidating permanence was lingering in his mind the entire morning as he made himself presentable. Storm-sky blue taffeta that matched his eyes and silver that contrasted with his hair. Carefully cut garments that extended the lines of his limbs and accented the narrowness of his waist and hips, in Seelie fashion. His usual glitter-dusting, made for him by the pixie maids, that made him glimmer in a way that echoed fae glamor enough that matte nature of his skin didn’t make him stick out like a sore thumb.

               He spent hours painstakingly carving out his appearance, determined to do what he could to help this go smoothly, and a good first impression would go a long way. He tried on and discarded enough outfits that there was a small mountain on his bed by the end of it, but eventually he was satisfied with his work. And it was a near thing at that; he had to scramble for his finishing touches before his mother arrived to take him for the introduction.

               “Cloud? Are you—oh, Cloud.”

               His head shot up to look at her, brow pinched in concern.

               “What? It’s awful, isn’t it. I did too much again. Do you think I have time to start over?” he said, already jumping from his boudoir and going for his closet when his mother stopped him with a touch. She turned him toward her, hands on his shoulders, and she smiled.

               “No, Cloud. You look wonderful. As handsome as a mother could ask for,” she said, sweet and warm like honey.

               He gave a slow, small smile, but that too betrayed how nervous he was. She seemed to take that anxiety as her cue.

               “It’s time,” she said, stepping away. When Cloud swallowed hard and nodded, she led the way from the room.

               They wound their way through the halls to the throne room, where Claudia sat on her throne, Cloud standing just off her right shoulder. Claudia knew her son well enough to understand that, if she let them sit there and wait in silence, he would only wind himself in tighter and tighter knots. Instead, she roped him into easy conversation, keeping him distracted until a page came to announce Queen Jenova and her son. She gave Cloud’s hand a squeeze and one last smile before allowing the Unseelie royalty to enter.

               It wasn’t what he was expecting. Or maybe it was, on some level.

               He was very used to being out-classed physically. Fae, particularly the Seelie with their strict rules about bloodlines, were beautiful to a fault. When they chose to actively use their glamor, they were otherworldly. He, in comparison, would always be plain, no matter what he did. But he had hoped that might not be the case with the Unseelie prince. Unseelie bloodlines were muddier, with more mixed race people. He had hoped that maybe Sephiroth’s bloodline wasn’t so pure, or maybe that the Unseelie were naturally not as beautiful as the Seelie, which was something many Seelie liked to claim.

               That couldn’t be more wrong.

               Sephiroth was beautiful.

               He arrived dressed in nothing but pitch-deep black, in leather armor and a velvet cape. He wore no jewelry, and if it weren’t for the silver embellishments on his armor, he would almost seem to be dressed plainly. But it wasn’t his clothing that was alluring.

               His face was breath-taking. His hair fell around him like moonlight. His eyes shone.

               And for a second, Cloud was awe-struck.

               And then he remembered the tenets of the Unseelie Code.

               Glamor is free.

               Fae couldn’t turn their glamor off entirely, but active, senseless use of glamor was frowned upon. Seelie were never wasteful with their glamor, and use of it in trickery was severely frowned upon.

               It had never occurred to Cloud that Sephiroth might arrive wrapped in glamour.

               All that initial awe was immediately soured.

               There was wanting to make a good first impression, and then there was manipulation. This was decidedly the latter.

               Still, when Jenova and her son reached the throne, he succeeded in keeping his face perfectly polite.

               “Queen Jenova, it is an honor to have you in my home,” Claudia said, and Jenova smiled.

               “It’s an honor to be here.”

               Claudia stood and ushered Cloud forward.

               “Jenova, this is my son, Cloud.”

               He bowed politely, and when he looked up, she was giving him that Condescending Fae Smile. Like he was a dog who had done a trick. It was a little more difficult to fake his smile.

               “A pleasure to meet you, Cloud.”

               “Likewise, my lady.”

               Jenova then gestured to her son, who had yet to actually look at Cloud, his eyes instead trained on Claudia.

               “My son, Sephiroth.”

               He offered his own pristine bow, and Claudia gave him her warm smile. Cloud found himself feeling that Sephiroth didn’t deserve it.

               “It’s lovely to finally meet you, Sephiroth. I’ve heard so much.”

               “All good things, I hope.”

               Claudia laughed brightly and said, “All good things.” She then turned to Jenova and said, “We have some things to discuss. Would you like to come with me? We’ll leave the boys to get acquainted.”

               “Absolutely,” Jenova confirmed. When Claudia passed and lead them from the throne room, she called over her shoulder, “Behave.”

               Claudia laughed again and Jenova echoed her quietly before the door closed behind them.

               For the first time, Sephiroth looked to Cloud, who had a very difficult time remembering that he now had reason to dislike the Unseelie.

               “Cloud, is it?” he said, and his voice was deep and silken in a way that made Cloud want to shiver. He wondered if that, too, had glamour, and that thought only irritated him more.

               Instead of acting on that irritation, he offered his best court smile. He knew it was charming and sweet. He had decided, many years ago, that it was best to give the court what they wanted. If they wanted to infantilize him, then they would get a pure ray of sunshine. Appeasing them sat poorly with him, sat very poorly, but he had his mother’s reputation to uphold, and making waves would ruin it.

               “Yes. Sephiroth, right?” he said, in a voice that was as warm as his smile. He watched Sephiroth pause and tilt his head curiously.

               “I’d like to skip the rest of the pleasantries, if we can,” he said, and a muted version of Cloud’s sunny smile returned.

               “If you’d like.”

               “I’d also like to drop the court-manners. They’re exhausting and not something we’ll be able to keep up if we’re wedded.”

               Cloud hesitated. He could feel his smile go stiff as his mind scrambled, weighing good impression against his request against appeasement. Eventually, he sighed, but he let the act drop.

               “You have a point.”

               “Thank you, now—”

               This was, in a way, its own form of appeasement.

               And when he appeased, he committed.

               “If we’re trying to me authentic, I’d appreciate you dropping your glamour.”

               Sephiroth paused and blinked in surprise.

               When would the fae stop underestimating him?

               Cloud raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms.

               “I’m human, Sephiroth, not stupid.”

               The Unseelie coughed lightly and shifted.              

               “Noted.”

               He obliged, and that’s when Cloud realized he was truly fucked.

               He was as handsome without the glamor as he was with it. That ethereal, unnaturally alluring quality was gone now, and he looked a little less perfect, but he was still beautiful. Among the Seelie, he’d seen many, many beautiful people, and Sephiroth might have been the most beautiful to date.

               It took Cloud a beat longer than he was proud of to snap himself out of it, but he managed.

               “Come on, I’ll take you somewhere where we can at least sit while we talk,” Cloud said before leading his way to a door on the side of the room. He reminded himself pointedly that he couldn’t let Sephiroth off the hook entirely for his glamour trick, though he did still need to find a way to make this work.

               “Thank you,” Sephiroth answered.

This conversation was going flat quickly.

               They walked in silence until they reached a lounge chamber, with a scattering of plush chairs in the typical style that modeled tree branches, flowers that glowed softly lining the room, and a large window to let the sun in. When Sephiroth entered and sat, Cloud shut the door. He hoped that Sephiroth would think of something to say, but he seemed determined to be unhelpful.

               So, equally unhelpfully, Cloud turned around and said, “Honestly, I don’t have a clue what to talk about.”

               Sephiroth snorted in amusement, the faintest curl on his lips. Cloud cursed his heart for stuttering. The Unseelie propped an elbow on the armrest and rested his cheek on his knuckles.

               “Not much experience outside of dealing with courtiers, then?”

               “Never much of an opportunity.”

               The boredom remained in his pose but faded in his sharpening eyes. Cloud knew what he was going to say before it was out of his mouth.

               “Because you’re a prince or because you’re a changeling?”

               Cloud mirrored him, propping his chin in his palm.

               “I don’t know, Sephiroth; you’re a prince. Have you had dealt with people other than courtiers?”

               He blinked in surprise, apparently not expecting an attitude from a human Seelie. He’d have to learn quickly.

               But then that small smile snaked back onto his lips.

               “Point taken,” he conceded. “I guess I’ll have to teach you the art of ordinary conversation, then. What are your interests?”

               They devolved into aimless conversation. It was a dance of sorts, each feeling the other out. Sephiroth tested him, poked and prodded, to see if he was clever, if he was submissive, what he knew, what he would tolerate. Cloud was largely left playing defense, aiming to prove himself, but he had stopped seeking Sephiroth’s approval. Instead, it came down to sheer hard-headedness and need to be contrary. He was being underestimated, and while that wasn’t something Cloud wasn’t used to, it was something he wouldn’t tolerate in a husband. If this was to work, Sephiroth would have to learn that he was more than expected.

               But eventually their dance came to a close, as their mothers summoned them back to the throne room. When they were there, they were informed that they would be given the opportunity to further get to know each other during the Wild Hunts. Both were quick approaching, and in the old traditions, the Seelie Hunt would be on the new moon, the Unseelie on the full; both Cloud and Sephiroth would attend each.

               Claudia and Cloud bid Jenova and Sephiroth farewell with all the polite formality required, the casual time spent in the sunlit room set aside.

               When they were alone, Claudia turned to Cloud and said, “What do you think?”

               He couldn’t say, “He’s gorgeous and a challenge and I hate this situation a little less now,” primarily out of pride.

               Instead, he shrugged and said, “He’s interesting.”

               However, Claudia knew her son, and knew he was omitting some factors.

                She smiled with a mischievous air and said, “Oh?”

               Cloud, damn him and his pale skin, blushed.

               “Yes, Mother, interesting, that’s what I said.”

               “Hmm, I thought maybe there were some other words you might have forgotten. Is ‘handsome’ one of them?”

               “I apparently have a Hunt to prepare for, excuse me.”

               Claudia laughed and called to his back as he fled the room, “The Hunt isn’t for another week!”

 

               “Well, what do you think?”

               Jenova and Sephiroth sat in their carriage as it flew through the sky, quickly approaching home.

               He thought many things about the changeling. That he was a pretty little thing, whose lack of glamor didn’t make him any less attractive, and there was something charming about the way he was dressed up like a fine porcelain doll just to meet him—though the Seelie did have a bad habit of bedecking themselves at the slightest cause.

               And certainly, that this would be less boring than he expected. He thought he was going to meet a meek, weak little rosebud, pretty but delicate, something he could cultivate with care to become exactly what he wanted. That wasn’t entirely untrue, but his rosebud had thorns. Cloud was a challenge he wasn’t expecting. He had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. He was knowledgeable. He refused to yield easily, which was distinctly against the reputation he had. He was said to be the model of court manners and compliant to a fault. Either that version was a front, or the one he met today was, and he was betting it was the prior. There was something distinctly appealing in the idea that Cloud let his real self be seen, but only to him.

               “He’s… interesting.”

               Jenova arched an eyebrow.

               “‘Interesting’ is high praise, from you.”

               “He’s earned it. He’s a human and a Seelie, but he acts like neither. He’s a conundrum.”

               She laughed.

               “Good. At least he’ll be able to keep you entertained for a while.”

               Sephiroth smiled in return.

               “For a while, yes.”

Chapter Text

               “Do you know much about the Seelie Wild Hunt?”

               “Only that it’s… different.”

               Cloud stepped aside to let Sephiroth through the portal before following him to the mortal world.

               “What happens on the Unseelie Hunt?”

               Sephiroth glanced over his shoulder, a smirk on his lips.

               “I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.”

               Cloud wasn’t sure what to make of that.

               “Well, I guess we’ll figure it out. Everyone starts as part of the host and then breaks off, we can go from there.”

               Sephiroth seemed faintly surprised, but conceded. As they watched the host lift from the ground as one unit and quickly followed suit. Sephiroth’s wings were feathered (an unusual trait in a fae) and jet black as his clothes. Cloud simply lifted from the ground where his bare feet had been buried in the grass.

               “How are you doing that?” Sephiroth said, watching him closely.

               Cloud grinned and said, “Who knew an Unseelie prince would be so surprised by a little magic?”

               He flew off, leaving Sephiroth to give chase. They remained toward the back of the host as they flew over the countryside. There were horns and drums being played, laughter and yelling, a general lack of decorum. There were bottles of wine being tossed from person to person, fae tumbling and looping in their flight.

               The Seelie Wild Hunt was, in the end, a celebration. They did as they would, breaking off from the host and sometimes returning to it before the group made it back to the Faewild. This was a night of trickery and theft. Everything was up for grabs, but the prize targets were the strangely potent human liquor and the human children who would become changelings. Spoils were brought back to the host for bragging rights, but others stayed longer on the ground. Boasting wasn’t limited to what was stolen, however. The true test was how many humans one could trick into entering the Faewild. The stories of the luring would be told until the next year, when more stories would be made.

               Cloud explained this to Sephiroth as they flew, as different Seelie broke off for their own adventures.

               “What are your own trophies of the Hunt, then?” Sephiroth asked, watching as Cloud shrugged.

               “I don’t usually go.”

               “Why not?”

               He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

               “A few reasons.”

               “Is it because you don’t like targeting humans?”

               Cloud looked at him like he had six heads and then laughed.

               “I don’t care what harm comes to them any more than you do.”

               “I doubt that.”

               “Doubt all you want. It has little to do with being a changeling.”

               “But it does have something to do with being a changeling.”

               Cloud cursed his slip.

               He had been facing Sephiroth, arms wrapped around his knees as he flew backwards. He shifted so they were shoulder to shoulder, and the movement was not lost on the Unseelie.

               “I don’t usually have anyone to go with. Mother doesn’t attend; she’s too busy.”

               Sephiroth hummed, and Cloud’s eyes cut to him, watching him closely for a look of pity. When Sephiroth noticed, he turned to the Seelie and raised an eyebrow. Cloud blinked in surprise, but turned to face forward again.

               “Do you attend your Hunt?” Cloud asked, determined to change the subject before they could circle back around and actually end up in pity.

               “Every year,” he confirmed, glancing to Cloud.

               “You like it?”

               “It’s interesting,” he said, as if that explained everything.

               Cloud found it cryptic, but left it alone.

               “Do you have something you want to hunt?” Cloud asked.

               “This is your Hunt,” he answered, in that same self-explanatory tone.

               This time, Cloud sighed. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was exasperated or irritated.

               “The other reason I don’t usually attend is that I’m a bad hunter,” he said, looking pointedly forward and hoping his ears weren’t burning.

               Though they clearly were.

               “Why is that?” Sephiroth asked, and it was enough that Cloud turned to look at him in confusion.

               “Isn’t it obvious? No glamour, only borrowed magic. When I hunt, it’s just with simple tricks and relying on a childish face to get them to trust me. If you want a fun Hunt, you’ll have to lead it.”

               “In due time, when it’s my Hunt. This is yours. Lead.”

               Cloud was ready to insist, but he just had to make it a challenge.

               He heaved another sigh and said, “Alright, but it’s going to be boring.”

               “You’ve yet to be boring. I’m not sure you know how.”

               Cloud’s eyes shot toward him for a second before he turned his back and began descending. Sephiroth wouldn’t have been sure he heard him at all, if it wasn’t for the bright blush on his cheeks.

               They landed behind an expensive manor, touching down on a set of stairs that led into a basement, landing quick enough that Cloud almost stumbled. Sephiroth landed easily next to him.

               “How will you get them to let you in? No one’s here,” Sephiroth asked, glancing back up the stairs. They had seen no one outside the home.

               “Being human has its perks,” Cloud said, pulling a set of metal items from his belt, which he held up for Sephiroth to see, though it was clear the Unseelie didn’t recognize what they were. Cloud knelt in front of the door and inserted them to start picking the lock. “I’m not bound to your rules. I don’t have to tell the truth, for example. I also don’t have to be let in anywhere.”

               “But that’s—”

               “Very wrong, by our standards, I know. Most people don’t like being around me when I do things like this; it makes them uncomfortable. They don’t like it when I can do something they can’t.” Cloud paused and glanced up at Sephiroth. “I hope you’re not going to start spouting moral codes at me.”

               Sephiroth had a strange look on his face. If Cloud didn’t know better, he’d say he looked charmed.

               “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said lightly.

               Cloud nodded and returned to his work, only to have Sephiroth crouch down next to him to watch a second later. It was highly distracting, as he was pushing into Cloud’s personal space, and the fact that Cloud didn’t mind was even more distracting.

               “How does this work?” Sephiroth asked.

               “Human locks are mechanical, not magical. There are pins inside that are pressed into place by the shape of the key. I’m just pressing them in without the key.”

               “You make it sound simple.”

               “It’s not particularly complicated, just delicate. Luckily, I’m pretty good with my hands.”

               Cloud meant it to refer to crafting, to woodworking and carving and sculpting and drawing. He meant that he was dexterous. He didn’t mean to lead Sephiroth’s mind off in a completely different direction, and was so focused on his task, that he missed any double-meanings.

               Before Sephiroth could decide whether or not to call him on it, just to see that blush again, there was a click, and the door swung open. A proud smile flickered across Cloud’s face as he stood and pulled the door wider, gesturing for Sephiroth to enter: an invitation from a human to a fae. When he stepped inside, Cloud followed.

               Cloud went to a lantern hanging on the wall. He dipped his hand into another pouch on his belt and, when his fingers were lightly coated in a strange powder, he put his hand in the lantern and snapped his fingers. The motion produced a spark that quickly caught, lighting the lantern, which Cloud took from the wall. He blew the remaining powder from his fingertips and went to search the cellar.

               “Do you want to stay here or go back to the others once we have what we want? The wine’s here, by the way.”

               Sephiroth crossed to the shelf Cloud pointed to and took a bottle off the shelf.

               “I’d like to stay here, if you don’t mind. The Hunt is fun, but I’d rather talk to you.”

               Cloud glanced over his shoulder at Sephiroth, who was busy uncorking his bottle.

               “I’m surprised you aren’t bored after I talked your ear off last time.”

               “Didn’t I tell you? I don’t find you boring,” he said casually.

               Cloud would have looked back to him again, but he could hear Sephiroth approach and look over his shoulder, leaning into his space.

               “What are you doing?” Sephiroth asked.

               “I prefer whiskey over wine,” he said, taking a bottle from the shelf. He looked up just in time to see Sephiroth wrinkle his nose.

               “It isn’t sweet enough,” he said, and Cloud laughed; it was good to know Unseelie also had the typical weakness to sweets.

               “I’m not a huge fan of sweet things,” Cloud said, turning around. He expected Sephiroth to back up, for them to go find somewhere to sit and drink. He didn’t expect the way Sephiroth chased him, taking a tiny step forward, taking just a little more of the space between them.

               “Strange.”

               “Fae like sweets more than humans do, if the amount of honey on everything is anything to go by.”

               “That isn’t what I meant.”

               “… What did you mean?”

               “It’s a strange sentiment, coming from one so sweet.”

               There was a long pause before Cloud burst into helpless laughter. He laughed longer and harder than he meant to, and even once he stopped, he had to hide the lingering smile behind a hand. He almost lost it again at the perplexed look on Sephiroth’s face.

               “I wasn’t sure if you were flirting before, but I’m pretty sure now. That was a terrible line, Sephiroth.”

               Sephiroth cleared his throat.

               “I wouldn’t have been so heavy-handed if you had picked up on it sooner.”

               “I’d have gotten there if you gave me a chance to.”

               “I’m not particularly patient.”

               “I’m starting to realize.”

               “You haven’t answered.”

               “You haven’t asked me a question.”

               “Cloud.”

               “Out of curiosity, how does that sort of line usually work out for you?”

               “Cloud.”

               “Really, does that work with the Unseelie? Or do you just not have to try very hard when you’re that handsome?”

               It was Sephiroth’s turn to blink.

               After a pause, Cloud smiled sweetly and said, “Is that answer enough for you?”

               “… Yes.”

               “You don’t sound very sure.”

               “I am. I just didn’t expect it to be this easy.”

               Cloud leaned back against the shelf, whiskey bottle dangling from one hand.

               “I want this to work, Sephiroth.”

               “For the sake of your people?”

               “I’m marrying you for their sake. I want this to work so we aren’t both miserable.”

               “This could be a formality. We wouldn’t even need to share a home.”

               “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”

               “No. I’m just not interested in taking this any further if you’re agreeing out of a sense of obligation.”

               “Listen to me, Sephiroth,” he said, with a small rising in the previously missing seriousness. “I owe my mother quite a bit, but I owe the Seelie nothing. I feel no obligation toward them.”

               Sephiroth’s brow creased.

               “Then why agree at all?”

               “The Seelie mean little to me, but a lot to my mother. I agreed for her sake, not theirs. Are you doing this out of obligation?”

               “I agreed because I owe it to my people to keep the peace.”

               “Let me rephrase. Are you pursuing me for the sake of the Unseelie?”

               It was carefully worded. Fae couldn’t lie.

               “I’m pursuing you because you interest me.”

               Technically the truth.

               Cloud paused, looking over Sephiroth’s face very carefully before coming to a decision.

               He stood up on his toes, and, with one hand placed on Sephiroth’s arm for balance, kissed him.

               When he pulled back, he watched Sephiroth carefully reach over his shoulder to put his bottle down on the shelf. He then plucked the whiskey from Cloud’s fingers and set it next to his own wine while Cloud watched his movements in silence.

               Sephiroth reached down and cupped his face like he was a fragile thing, tilting his face up gently to kiss him in return. It wasn’t what he expected. It was soft, it was sweet, it was very contrary to his existing understanding of the Unseelie.

               Instead, it was Cloud who deepened the kiss. Who wrapped his arms around Sephiroth’s neck and pulled him down, moving with a fervor that surprised Sephiroth at first, but was quickly reciprocated.

               The bottles rattled when Cloud was pushed against the shelf, Sephiroth’s hands running down his torso to hold him by the hips. They weren’t quite pressed together, but it was a near thing. The soft, sweet kiss turned into something heated and heavy with an alarming quickness that neither had anticipated.

               They would never know just how far out of hand things would have gotten if the door to the cellar hadn’t banged open.

               A man came in, grumbling to himself about greedy dinner guests, and only just barely glanced up in time to see the two in each other’s arms. Right before Sephiroth grabbed his wine and Cloud’s whiskey and, wrapping one arm around Cloud’s neck so they were in contact, transported them back to the Faewild.

               When they reappeared, it was in the small lounge with the large window that they had spoken in when they first met. The quickness of the movement over-balanced them, knocking knees into the couch, where they both fell in a graceless heap, Sephiroth only just managing to keep the bottles out of harm’s way.

               Cloud barely registered the way he was artlessly half-in Sephiroth’s lap, propped on one elbow against the couch, his legs twined with Sephiroth’s. He was quick to pull away, that damnable blush returning.

               Sephiroth watched as he righted himself with a look of amusement, but kept his remarks to himself. Instead, he uncorked Cloud’s bottle and handed it to him before repeating the motion with his own. He held it out toward Cloud in a toast.

               “To a successful Hunt.”

               Cloud laughed brightly before knocking his bottle against Sephiroth’s.

               “To a successful Hunt.”

Chapter Text

               Cloud wasn’t quite sure what to make of the recommendation that he “dress sensibly” for the Unseelie Hunt. It was a passing comment made by Sephiroth when he left that his mother later echoed. It wasn’t like he dressed impractically for the Seelie Hunt, but when he left he saw the distinct look of relief on his mother’s face when she checked his (relatively) simple hunting clothes.

               He was even less sure of what to make of Sephiroth’s words immediately before they left.

               Before the Unseelie let them pass through the portal, he pulled Cloud off to the side.

               “I want to warn you. The Unseelie Hunt is little like the Seelie version. It’s dangerous, and it will be particularly dangerous for you. If only until we return, I’d like you to stay near me, in arm’s reach if you can. And remember, we can leave the Host at any point, you just have to say the word.”

               He refused to acknowledge the flutter in his stomach at the thought of Sephiroth being protective.

               “You know I can take care of myself, don’t you? Humans couldn’t intimidate me less.”

               Sephiroth took his hand and turned to lead him through the portal, muttering something that he could have mistaken, but thought was, “It’s not the humans I’m worried about.”

               That is, he wasn’t very sure of what to make of Sephiroth’s words at first.

               They were barely a minute from the portal when an Unseelie swooped up toward Sephiroth and, leering at Cloud, said, “You sure started early.”

               Cloud was certainly uncomfortable with the look he was given and not sure what that meant either, but the way Sephiroth stared the fae down was very clear.

               “He’s off limits.”

               The Unseelie looked at him in confusion.

               “But—”

               “Off. Limits. Make sure the rest of the Host knows, and if anyone approaches me about it again, I’ll be holding you responsible.”

               Cloud watched the exchange, even more confused than the newcomer was. The newcomer who, at the threat, frowned, but flew off and began speaking to others who in turn spoke to others around them, passing word to everyone they could of the prince’s strange decree.

               “You understand that that was ominous, right?” Cloud said, finally looking at Sephiroth after watching the spider web of information spread.

               “It was necessary,” he said in a tone that was very final and brooked no argument. He seemed to have forgotten that Cloud wasn’t a member of his Court, and was very hard-headed besides.

               “It was cryptic. What happens on this Hunt?”

               “You’ll see soon enough, I’m sure.”

               “But—”

               Cloud was stopped in his tracks when he heard a bloodcurdling scream.

               That was immediately followed by cheers and whoops and laughter.

               His eyes cut to Sephiroth, but the Unseelie wouldn’t look at him.

               “Sephiroth?”

               He glanced at him, and then turned to face him.

               “Cloud, our mothers agreed to have us go on each other’s Hunts for a reason. They seem to be a crash course in what it means to be Seelie and Unseelie. It wasn’t difficult for me to accept yours, but I don’t think you’ll have the same ease.”

               Another scream.

               “If we marry,” Sephiroth continued, “you’ll be a prince of the Unseelie as much as you are of the Seelie. You aren’t in line for the throne, but I am. I will be King and you will be my husband and I need to know that you can stomach this. We won’t work otherwise. I expect this will be a lot for you to handle, but if you can’t manage this, you can’t manage my Court. A lot is riding on how well you take tonight.”

               Cloud looked over him very carefully for a long moment. Eventually, he nodded.

               “I told you, I’m committed to making this work. I’ll stomach what I have to.”

               Sephiroth looked relieved, but not quite convinced. He shifted from where he had been between Cloud and the host to fly by Cloud’s shoulder.

               “It will only get worse from here, but if you need to leave, we’ll leave. We don’t have to stay here the whole night, just long enough for us both to know that you’ll be able to tolerate it.”

               Cloud glanced at Sephiroth, determinedly not mentioning again how it was an ominous thing to say, but then, he didn’t really need to. After that initial, introductory scream, things took off.

               Very literally.

               Cloud watched mutely as the fae swept low to the ground and snatched unsuspecting humans from the ground and dragged them into the air. Some were brought immediately back to the Faewild, which was the most palatable thing Cloud saw. Some were dropped from the height just so they could watch them fall. Some were tossed from fae to fae, who seemed to delight in their terror. Some were bruised, some were beaten, some just outright ripped to shreds.

               More than once, someone approached Sephiroth, attempting to draw him into the fun, though he politely declined. He stayed adamantly by Cloud’s side, though he didn’t say a word. He didn’t try to excuse what was happening. He didn’t try to apologize for the clear fact that Cloud’s presence was the only reason he wasn’t also participating. He didn’t try to offer explanations or platitudes. This was a hard truth, a bitter pill, but it was Cloud’s test to pass or fail; he would neither help nor harm his chances.

               Cloud, similarly, didn’t say a word. He was much too conflicted to talk. Part of him was horrified at the blatant disrespect for life, but he was even more horrified that his disgust ended there. He always expected, deep down, that there was still some human part of him that clung to his genetics. That, in the end, he would always be defined by his birth parents, much as the Seelie Court had always told him. He knew that, should a human watch this spectacle, they would be repulsed. Mortified. Terrified. At the carnage and the casual cruelty, at the delight in the suffering of people whose position they could have so easily been in.

               But that relatability was absent. Those weren’t his people. Just as any fae would tell you, they were lesser. His folk were just plainly better. He didn’t condone wanton brutality against anything: human, dog, or insect. But he found that the three weren’t that dissimilar in his mind. This was something to wrinkle the nose at, not gasp and flinch from.

               He wasn’t sure if he should be proud or horrified at that truth.

               He watched the majority of the night, only twitching away from the violence when the gore threatened his own clothes; more a concern for his garments than the victims.

               Sephiroth, meanwhile, watched Cloud watch the Hunt. Going into this, he hadn’t been quite sure what to expect from the changeling. He never acted very human, but that meant nothing. Neither a human nor a Seelie would like watching the Hunt very much, it was just a question of the level of distaste. He didn’t need Cloud to like it, just to tolerate it.

               As he watched, he cursed himself quietly. Cloud wasn’t quite indifferent to the scene, but he was indifferent to the suffering, and Sephiroth found himself charmed. He saw Cloud snort in amusement more than once at less gruesome antics, saw him yawn a few times, saw him relax more and more as the night progressed. His little human, acting so fae.

               He cursed himself for being charmed, but more so for the curl of possessiveness that warmed his stomach.

               Eventually, two Unseelie backed far away from each other before flying quickly at one another, ramming two human’s heads together so they burst like melons. It was, unfortunately, close enough that Cloud got hit with the backsplash. He clicked his tongue and wrinkled his nose, and Sephiroth tried to quash the flare-up of possessiveness at the sight.

               “Alright, I think I’ve seen enough,” Cloud said, and Sephiroth couldn’t help but smile.

               A fair place to draw the line.

               “Come, then; we’ll get you cleaned up,” Sephiroth said, holding out a hand. Cloud took it and, in a blink, they were back in Sephiroth’s palace in the Faewild.

               They were in a large bathroom, covered in marble and red jasper, with most of the furniture and items being at least partially silver. Sephiroth gestured to the edge of a large pool, with a small waterfall at one end and steam rising from the water. Cloud sat on the edge of it, plucking at his garments to see the damage, while Sephiroth fetched a towel from a cabinet. He approached and sat next to Cloud, their knees brushing. He dipped the towel in the water and then glanced up at Cloud in askance, who nodded and shifted nearer. Sephiroth spoke quietly as he dabbed the gore away.

               “I’m surprised that went as well as it did.”

               “Honestly, I am too.”

               Sephiroth looked up at Cloud, who smiled and shrugged.

               “I always doubted if I was quite as Seelie as I thought I was,” Cloud said. “It’s both nice and concerning to find out this way that I was right.”

               “Well, it’s a good thing that came from tonight.”

               “More than one good thing came from tonight.”

               “Oh?” Sephiroth said, glancing up at Cloud again.

               “That was our last big concern, right? About this working, I mean. We can tolerate each other and each other’s cultures. The rest will fall in line from there.”

               Cloud hesitated when Sephiroth frowned and paused, staring at his hands.

               “This isn’t working.” Cloud’s heart stopped as Sephiroth looked back up. “The whole thing will have to be washed. Would you like me to get you something else?”

               “Wait, what?”

               Sephiroth looked at him strangely.

               “Your shirt. The blood isn’t coming out. Do you want something else to change into? You’re now both bloody and wet.”

               Cloud blinked at him before laughing.

               “You scared me—you should have led with the fact that you were talking about the shirt.”

               Sephiroth’s smile was a soft echo of Cloud’s.

               “Apologies. You haven’t answered the question, though.”

               Cloud paused for a long moment, appraising Sephiroth, before nodding with mischief in his eyes.

               “How about,” he said, yanking the shirt over his head and dropping it to the floor, “I take this off and you don’t get me anything else quite yet?”

               It was Sephiroth’s turn to laugh.

               “You really weren’t bothered by tonight, were you?”

               “I’m very bothered that you aren’t kissing me right now.”

               “Demanding little thing.”

               Sephiroth reached out and took a gentle hold of Cloud’s chin, holding him still so he could press a soft kiss to his lips.

               When he began to pull away, Cloud made a noise of frustration and reached out, grabbing Sephiroth by the front of his shirt to pull him in closer and kiss him properly.

               Unfortunately, the move also made them overbalance and fall directly into the pool.

               The two came up spluttering and blinking the water from their eyes.

               They blinked a few more times in surprise before Cloud devolved into helpless laughter.

               “I’m sorry!” he said between laughs. “I didn’t mean to.”

               “Oh no,” Sephiroth said in a painfully deadpan voice. “I guess you’ll have to make it up to me.”

               He stripped his own sodden shirt off and tossed it out of the pool, flicking his long hair from his face as he did so.

               The water was deeper than it looked, Cloud standing upright but in up to his shoulders. He grinned as Sephiroth approached.

               “You don’t have to keep using bad lines on me, you know,” he said, voice dipping down into a whisper as Sephiroth moved in close, settling his hands on Cloud’s hips. He pushed lightly, making Cloud move further and further back.

               “Humor me,” he said, as Cloud’s back finally hit the wall.

               “However you’d like,” Cloud promised, still smiling when Sephiroth leaned down to kiss him.

               As before, Sephiroth was gentle, as if afraid to break Cloud. As before, Cloud demanded more, this time fisting his hands in Sephiroth’s hair and pulling him closer until they were flush against one another.

               Time both stopped and sped up. They seemed trapped in some endless moment, just a long, long slide of lips and tongues, wet hands sliding through hair and over hips. The only thing that broke them out of it was Sephiroth slipping his knee between Cloud’s thighs and pressing just enough that he was able to breathe in Cloud’s moan.

               Sephiroth’s hands reached around, cupping Cloud’s ass and pulling him closer, but the additional pressure made Cloud drop his head back against the wall with a groan. His hands dropped from Sephiroth’s hair to his shoulders, his fingers digging in as his hips stuttered forward automatically.

               “Fuck,” Cloud breathed, eyes shutting as Sephiroth began to kiss down his neck.

               “Fuck,” Cloud repeated, as Sephiroth slipped his hand around to cup him through his pants.

               Sephiroth smiled against Cloud’s neck before returning to his work, determined to mark Cloud as his.

               There were many things Cloud wanted to do in this moment. There were many things Cloud had thought of doing in moments like these, ever since that first kiss. Unfortunately, he could think of none of them; Sephiroth was determined to stop him from keeping a coherent thought in his head, and he was succeeding.

               Sephiroth’s fingers were deft as he undid the laces at the front of Cloud’s pants to free him, and equally deft about repeating the motion with himself. Cloud was only too happy to comply when Sephiroth urged him to hitch one leg up and around the Unseelie’s hips. Neither needed prompting once Sephiroth’s hands lined them up and surrounded them with heat.

               Cloud was clinging to Sephiroth, his nails digging into his back, his leg pulling him closer as they moved together. He was panting and overwhelmed and Sephiroth refused to give him a moment to catch his breath.

               Time stretched and stopped again into another long instant of wet and heat and pleasure. It could have been a moment or a millennia before Sephiroth yanked him down over the edge, keening. When he came back to himself, both of them were panting, Sephiroth’s forehead now pressed to his shoulder. Eventually, Cloud turned and kissed his temple, and it was enough prompting to get them moving again. They untangled themselves slowly, with many lingering touches and slow, soft kisses. It was a slow process that brought them to the edge of the pool, but they got there eventually (if reluctantly). They moved in silence, not quite daring to say anything, as they climbed out. As careful as he was quiet, Sephiroth dressed Cloud in his own simple black tunic and, with a simple touch, removed the water from both shirt and pants.

               He gently took hold of Cloud’s hips once more and stepped close.

               “I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” Sephiroth said in a whisper. “Hopefully before the wedding, but everything seems to be so rushed that I don’t know. But, hopefully, soon.”

               Cloud stood on his toes and pressed a kiss to his lips.

               “Whether or not it’s the wedding, I look forward to seeing you again.”

               Sephiroth returned the kiss, though this one was slower. The two drew it out, knowing they were at the end of their time.

               “I should send you home,” Sephiroth said reluctantly.

               “You should,” Cloud said with equal reluctance.

               Sephiroth touched his cheek and kissed him one last time, whispered goodbye, and then suddenly, Cloud was looking at his own throne room.

               Claudia looked up, surprised but not startled, until she realized that it was her son, when she became both concerned and relieved.

               “Cloud, you’re home. Are you okay? I was—… I was needlessly worried, apparently.”

               Cloud looked at her in confusion as she melted into a grin. She propped her elbow on the armrest of her throne and rested her cheek on her knuckles.

               “I take it you had a good night,” she said, pointedly flicking her eyes down.

               He glanced down and, plucking at the shirt he forgot was Sephiroth’s, turned bright red.

               “It’s not what you think,” he said. “The Unseelie were reckless and I got blood-splattered, he just gave me a change of clothes.”

               “Uh-huh.”

               “Really!”

               “Sure, Cloud.”

               “Mother, come on, it’s true!”

               “Then why is your neck bruised?”

               Cloud’s eyes shot wide. He slapped his hand over his neck. If he wasn’t blushing before, he sure was now.

               Claudia laughed, loud and bright, and waved him away.

               He took the opportunity and bolted.

Chapter Text

               Having left off on a distinctly pleasant note, both princes were interested in meeting again before the wedding, but there was simply no time. Unbeknownst to them, their mothers had planned the wedding for a week from the Unseelie Wild Hunt. Claudia had given Jenova much assurance that Cloud would manage the Hunt just fine and that there was no reason to delay. Jenova didn’t quite believe it, but intended to go through with the wedding regardless of how Cloud felt about the Hunt. She needed them married, not happy.

               Still, it quickly became clear that it would take that full week to prepare for the ceremony anyway. Weddings were always grand with the fae, but the Seelie had a special penchant for extravagance even on the average day. A wedding between a Seelie and Unseelie prince to make peace between the two factions? Both sides were pulling out all of the stops.

               There were concessions to be made to traditions from both parties. The union would be finalized with handfasting in the Seelie style and a kiss for the Unseelie. Cloud would wear Seelie white and Sephiroth Unseelie red. The toasts were to be done with Seelie lavender-honey wine. The Unseelie wedded couple’s first dance was together, but the Seelie traditionally danced with their parents first. As the toasts were to be done in the Seelie style, Cloud and Sephiroth’s first dance would be together, in Unseelie fashion.

               It was an endless dance of concessions. Both factions had to be appeased. Enough had to be given that both sides knew the other had given something up, soothing egos. Enough had to be done in the traditions of each group that both the Seelie and Unseelie would recognize the marriage as valid.

               In the end, they settled on a neutral location for the ceremony itself: what was simply known as The Wood. The Wood was the magical heart of the Faewild; the ground itself oozed magic, the air thick with it. It could become poisonous if one remained too long without having built a tolerance, but there were a few that lived there. Old, old fae bloodlines, from before the Courts had even developed. Bloodlines that had no allegiance and would swear no allegiance. There had been wars fought for the Wood and the old folk living inside it, but the magic outpouring made it a stronghold. It couldn’t be taken by force and there were no words possible to convince those who lived inside to swear fealty to anyone other than themselves. Those inside the Wood lived in tribes, though there was one Chief recognized by all that settled inter-tribal disputes.

The current Chief had had their position for millennia and refused to offer a name; some speculated that they had forgotten it after all these years. They were implacable, but they were totally neutral. When Claudia and Jenova approached the Chief about having the wedding inside the Wood, they were immediately laughed at, until it was clear that they were serious. The Chief, much like their people, couldn’t care less for the world outside the Wood, but they knew that if war burned the Faewild down, it would take the Wood down with it. They agreed, but only under the condition that the entire wedding be guarded by the tribes. They would keep the peace better than any biased soldier, and they would keep the curious riff raff out from where they didn’t belong in the Wood.

When the nobility were told that the ceremony would be in the Wood, there were mixed feelings. There was a general excitement that they would be allowed into the Wood, where most of them didn’t dare go out of fear of the insular tribes that seemed to have little patience for outsiders.  But there was also concern about the magic poisoning, and if the wedding itself might not make them all sick. Claudia and Jenova had asked the Chief about this, who had just shrugged at them and said that their people didn’t get sick from the Wood; this was a concern for the queens, not for them. The queens insisted to everyone that asked that one evening in the Wood wouldn’t harm anyone (and they hoped they were right).

               They were proven to be right when they had their workers (always under the supervision of the tribes) setting up for the ceremony in the days beforehand. It seemed like it took at least a day to make the average fae magic-sick, and most minds were put at ease.

               It took the full week, but eventually, the little space they had been afforded in the Wood was made ostentatious enough to please both the Unseelie and the Seelie, and the day itself was at hand.

               Cloud had taken a sleeping draught the day before to be sure he was well rested, but still rose with the sun. It could take him hours to get ready on special occasions, but today he had to pull out all the stops. His hair was brushed and blown, twisted and braided and curled. His hair would never be tame, and he knew it, so he leaned into it. It was left wild, curled a little to make it more so, but tempered by a neat nest of braids that ran throughout. It was sprinkled in morning dew held in place with magic, with crushed hummingbird feathers that made it shimmer and sparkle. White flowers, everything from lilies to baby’s breath, were woven in, making his hair a delicate work of art that should, by all rights, have fallen apart within minutes, but would remain for as long as it needed to by virtue of a few simple spells.

               His face was done both traditionally and tastefully. There was a trend with the Seelie now for bright, bold colors on the lips and eyes, for sharp edges and points and large sweeps of color where there should have been neutrals. It was artistic and it was beautiful, and it was something Cloud was quite good at, but it wasn’t what was called for. Instead, it was simple peaches and blushes and light accents to his features. His wide eyes made to look wider, the blues of his eyes brought out, his already full eyelashes made thicker and longer.  By the end of it, he seemed to be glowing, almost radiating. He looked almost fae.

               The garments themselves should have been the simplest part, after everything else, but this, too, had to be overcomplicated to be Seelie. His robes came in a thousand parts and layers, silks over satins over taffeta over lace, all in varying shades of white. Different garments had parts cut out to reveal what was underneath, the layers of fabric creating a swirling tableaux. It had a high collar and long, flowing sleeves and a tunic that you couldn’t quite tell the end of between all the layers. Somewhere along the line, the tunic turned into tight trousers, though the seam itself was almost impossible to find. The center point of it all was a cut out over his navel that reached through all the layers down to show a little window of skin where one bright swirl of crimson was painted around his navel: a concession to Unseelie wedding red. The color was echoed in the paint across his nails, both on his fingers and the tips of his toes, revealed by the way he was barefoot, with the exception of the glittering bells and braids and chains around each of his ankles.

               Cloud had been sure that they would be done with plenty of time, but in the end, they cut it very fine, even with the help of the maids. Everything from there seemed to happen in a rush, and before he knew it, he was standing at altar in the Wood, watching his mother retreat down the aisle to her seat, leaving him to wait for Sephiroth.

               He should have expected what he saw.

               Cloud had only seen Sephiroth with glamor once, when they first met. He had thought him to be ethereal, then, but it had all been soured by the fact that he had chosen to use it for their first meeting. Considering the way that every fae present was wrapped thoroughly in glamor (weddings being one of the few occasions that Seelie found it acceptable to use glamor at all), he really should have expected the way the air rushed from his lungs the second he saw Sephiroth.

               He had only ever seen the Unseelie in black, as it seemed to be his color of choice. It was an amazing difference to see him wrapped in color, in that bright celebratory red of the Unseelie. He wore no tunic at all, but a red satin jacket. The jacket itself was left almost entirely open, cinched only at the waist by a wide, white belt, his own concession to Seelie wedding white. The cut of the jacket left a wide, deep V that revealed his well-muscled torso, accented by white leather straps that crossed his chest. On his shoulders sat golden, ornate pauldrons that were echoed in wide golden bracelets that sat over his jacket on his wrists. His pants and gloves were made of a matching red leather, as were his tall, thigh high boots, covered in golden straps and buckles.

               Cloud wasn’t sure if it was all that red or all that glamor or just him, but Sephiroth’s eyes seemed to glow like stars.

               Sephiroth was, quietly, feeling much the way Cloud was, and he wasn’t sure if he was displeased about it, though he was certainly surprised.

               They were surrounded with glamor the way planets were surrounded by stars. Everyone around them seemed to dazzle, and it should have left Cloud looking quite plain. It did make him look quite plain, in comparison. But, now, Sephiroth had his own comparison to make. He knew what Cloud looked like when he was trying to impress, how he looked when he was being practical, how he looked half-naked and without pretense. He knew that Cloud likely didn’t have much say in how he was presented (Sephiroth surely hadn’t), but when Cloud was looking at him that way, it felt like it was all for him.

               To himself, he’d called Cloud a rosebud many times before. Delicate and pretty, but with thorns. Now, it was easy to forget the thorns; Cloud was nothing but beautiful like this. He wasn’t sure what magic they did, but it was so easy to forget that he was human. Or it would have been, if it all wasn’t so fragile, making the outfit a reminder of his humanity. Something so fine made something deep inside him curl. It was the beauty of glass, that would look so much more beautiful broken into pieces, the light refracting off in a thousand more directions. He knew that, at some point that night, he’d get a chance to peel (or rip) away all those layers, deconstruct all that fine work that had been done for him, and a part of him ached for it.

               They shared that quiet moment of surprise and want in the briefest pause before the music around them swelled and the ceremony itself had to continue, without either of them having given away anything.

               Sephiroth walked down the aisle with a measured stride, tuning out the whistles from the Unseelie (a common wedding behavior much frowned upon by the Seelie). When he reached the dais the altar was on, he stepped up lightly and took his place next to Cloud.

               “You look beautiful,” Sephiroth whispered.

               Cloud flushed and opened his mouth to retort, but was cut off by the officiant.

               Somehow, they had gotten the Chief to conduct the wedding themselves. They were the strongest neutral power in the Faewild, making them the best suited for it, but neither Claudia nor Jenova expected them to agree. The queens expected they did so to keep an eye on the proceedings.

               (When the tribes members asked the Chief why they agreed, they had simply grinned and said, “I like a good wedding.”)

               “Welcome,” the Chief began, their booming voice silencing the whistling Unseelie. “We are gathered here today, bathed in the holiness of the Wood, to celebrate the wedding of Cloud and Sephiroth. You have all come here, for your variety of reasons, to bless and support this union.

               “This union is both a conventional and unconventional one. Many marry for love and joy, and that marriage is a gift given freely between partners. However, this wedding is a sacrifice, offered freely between partners. Two families, large and all-encompassing as they seem, are being brought together today, by the goodwill of two, at the cost of their own potential love lives, for the sake of others. This is no new concept, and may not be one that everyone here agrees with. I ask that today, differences be set aside, in honor and respect of the sacrifice these two make.”

               It wasn’t what anyone expected. There was much glancing between each other in the crowd. Jenova looked stormy, though Claudia only seemed amused. Everyone expected the same platitudes, the talk of love and commitment, for the ugly truth of the matter to be swept under the rug. They should have expected something else when they asked the blunt, matter-of-fact Chief to perform the rite.

               “This is a sacrifice, but it is up to you whether or not it will be a loss. I hope, as I hope the rest of those gathered here do, that you will find this to be an unexpected gift, and that true companionship will grow from the seed planted today.

               “Cloud and Sephiroth, please join hands, look at one another, and remember this moment in time.”

               The two had already been looking at each other, neither quite sure what to make of the Chief’s words so far. They had been sharing that quiet confusion and trying not to let that mutual bafflement turn into obvious amusement. Sephiroth took Cloud’s right hand in his and then, crossing his wrist over the other, took Cloud’s left hand in his.

               A Seelie who was a prominent member of the Court that Cloud utterly despised for his blatant condescension had been chosen as the one to pass of the binding rope, made of red and white silks, to the Chief. Cloud wished fervently that the role hadn’t been chosen for political reasons.

               The Chief began winding the rope around their hands as they spoke.

               “Sephiroth, please repeat after me. Cloud, I take you as you are.”

               “Cloud, I take you as you are,” Sephiroth repeated, in a voice that started quiet but quickly rose to the volume the audience was expecting.

               “I vow to respect you as my equal and always treat you as such,” the Chief said, eyes on their work, only continuing after Sephiroth had repeated them. “To listen to you and to trust you, to protect you and to support you, to give freely and expect nothing, and never let those outside this union prevent me from upholding this vow.”

               Cloud felt something in his chest constrict at hearing Sephiroth say the words. He knew this was a formality, that Sephiroth hadn’t even chosen the words himself, but he was still fae, and fae couldn’t lie. This was binding. Oh, there would be ways to work around it; Sephiroth was clever. But the thought of Sephiroth agreeing to treat him, a changeling, as an equal made his throat tight.

               Which made it difficult to repeat the same vow himself, but he managed.

               The Chief timed things perfectly, tying off the rope just as Cloud finished repeating the vow.

               “Sephiroth, do you take Cloud to be your husband?” the Chief asked, looking down to Sephiroth, and somehow, it seemed to be a sincere question. As if this was something they had chosen for themselves.

               “I do,” he said, and somehow, he said it as if this was something he had chosen.

               Cloud’s heart skipped a beat.

               “Cloud, do you take Sephiroth to be your husband?”

               “I do,” Cloud said, a little more enthusiastically than he had planned.

               The Chief unwrapped their hands with impressive speed, and then gestured them together. They stepped into each other’s space and the Chief draped the rope over their shoulders, forming a large loop around their necks, before tying that off as well.

               “Then kiss, and be bound in the ways of both your peoples.”

               Sephiroth lifted his hands to cup Cloud’s face and, as he did so, said, “Pretend it’s just us.”

               Their lips touched, utterly chaste, and the audience cheered. But Sephiroth knew what was expected, even if Cloud did not, and shifted, slotting their lips together and deepening the kiss. Cloud blushed a bright red, and the cheers turned to catcalls and wolf whistles as their tongues met.

               Try as he might, Cloud wasn’t quite able to pretend like it was just them.

               As was customary, they only pulled away when they were out of breath. Cloud’s eyes opened slowly, looking a little dazed, and the smile he gave Sephiroth was almost sheepish. Again, Sephiroth felt possessiveness twist in his stomach, but no longer felt the need to quash it.

               After all, Cloud was his now.

Chapter Text

The wedding itself had been, frankly, magical. The reception? The reception was trying everyone’s patience.

The transition from wedding to reception remained positive. The couple held hands and, in a shower of flower petals, led the way through the Wood to a large clearing that was bedecked to such a level that no fae could have looked at it and wondered what the occasion was. They led the way to the long table where they were seated in the middle, the queens on either side of their sons. There were tables scattered in a wide ring around the clearing, leaving space in the middle for dancing with a bar located on the opposite side of the clearing from the wedding party’s table. Cloud and Sephiroth sat in the seats that were clearly theirs based on the sheer amount of decorations (flowers and crystals and curved, weaved strands of light) on and about their chairs. As they sat, the rest of the guests filtered in, the band in the ceremony location dying down and the one in the clearing picking up. Guests began finding their tables and devolving into general merrymaking while Cloud and Sephiroth stayed in one place to make themselves convenient.

Jenova and Claudia had barely had a chance to sit before other guests began making their way up, giving the couple their congratulations. Both princes were coming down from the high of the ceremony and into the depressing reality of politicking. They both fell into regal formality as they spoke with guests who seemed to only be interested in addressing Sephiroth. Every now and then the rare Seelie, usually one of some stature who knew they couldn’t ignore Cloud and remain on Claudia’s good side while the queen was right there, spoke with Cloud first. But, somehow, they always turned back to Sephiroth.

Much to Cloud’s mortification, more than one Unseelie gave them brash “good luck” wishes for their wedding night, some going as far as to make recommendations that left Cloud so red in the face it felt like it might catch fire. Sephiroth, who had been expecting the interactions, took it all with good grace and a pleasant smile and the occasional returned innuendo. More than once, however, some Unseelie pushed their luck, eyeing the Seelie prince a little too closely, making their remarks just so, making Sephiroth’s returned quips barbed in a way that was barely hidden. More than once, this seemed to be some sort of test, where the Unseelie would smile afterwards, pleased that he staked his claim.

It left Cloud wondering how he would ever make it through the night.

Mostly, it was a heavy reliance on alcohol. Even Sephiroth, who, being the heir apparent, had more experience in the limelight, found the reception taxing and turned to the strange, spiced liquor the Unseelie had brought, apparently a favorite of his. Cloud stuck to the Seelie honey-wine and arguably drank too much to survive the night.

Before either could get in over their head, though, the conductor of the small orchestra stepped away to call for the couple to have their first dance.

“Finally,” Cloud grumbled into his wine cup, which made Claudia laugh outright and Sephiroth’s lips twitch up for a half-second.

Sephiroth stood with a practiced flourish and extended his hand to Cloud, who put down his glass to slip his hand into his husband’s. He stood and they made their way around the table and into the ring the guests had made. They came to face one another, Cloud resting one hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder as Sephiroth slipped his hand onto Cloud’s waist.

The band picked up and Sephiroth began to lead them in their first dance as husbands.

“The wedding was nice, but I’m tired of tonight,” Cloud whispered, voice just hushed enough that the guests wouldn’t pick it up.

Sephiroth huffed a laugh.

“It is dragging on, isn’t it?”

“I’d be having fun if it weren’t for all the dignitaries.”

“The entire wedding is dignitaries, Cloud. Neither of us really have friends.”

Cloud wrinkled his nose at the unfortunate truth.

“That doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.”

“That’s true, you don’t. But there is tonight to look forward to, if it will help keep your mind off the present,” Sephiroth said in a purr, dipping his head to whisper in Cloud’s ear.

Cloud, who couldn’t quite help but shiver. He blushed soon after.

“I think the dignitaries put a few thoughts in your head,” Cloud grumbled, flustered.

“Nothing that hasn’t been there since the last Hunt,” Sephiroth hummed, voice curling in amusement.

“You should get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Or you should let yours linger there. It might help you decide just what exactly you want from tonight.”

Before Cloud could retort, the song wound down to a close, and without the dance and the music, there was no way to keep their conversation private. Sephiroth kissed him soundly, to the hoots and hollers of the crowd, before putting his lips next to Cloud’s ear again.

“I look forward to seeing you distracted the rest of the night,” Sephiroth whispered, causing Cloud to flush again. When Sephiroth caught the sight, something curled on his lips that might have been amusement or might have been lust. He led Cloud by the hand back to the table where he pulled Cloud’s chair out for him like a gentleman, just to have an excuse to run his hand over Cloud’s shoulders on his way to sit down himself.

And, gods damn him, he was right. Cloud was distracted the rest of the night. Every time his mind drifted, it went down a dark path to what could be done in the dark later that night. It was a very, very near thing keeping the blush off his face and he failed entirely every single time Sephiroth gave him that knowing look and a smirk. More than once, Cloud turned to his glass just to have something to hide his bright red face behind. That didn’t last very long before Sephiroth, with a knowing twinkle in his eye, recommended aloud that he slow down so he would last through the rest of the reception, to which Claudia agreed. When Cloud scowled at him, he could hear Sephiroth choke back a laugh.

Still, the night had to come to an end eventually. Seelie, at the end of the night, followed the wedded couple to their method of transportation or destination for the night, singing loudly in a dancing processional. The Unseelie hooted and hollered and chased the couple instead. The compromise made was that they would still dance after the couple instead of the chase them, but they would catcall and shout in the Unseelie fashion.

Cloud didn’t realize until they were making their way to the carriage just how bad an idea this was. At least if they were being chased, it would be over quickly, instead of this slow march.

If Cloud thought the innuendo earlier was bad, he was severely underestimating the Unseelie.

His face was all but aflame by the time they finally got into the safety of the carriage, wherein he promptly collapsed and hid his face in his hands with a groan.

“You have to admit, some of those were good suggestions.”

“Sephiroth, don’t.”

“You don’t think they were?”

“I don’t think they should have been shouted at us!”

Sephiroth hummed and said, “Seelie sensibilities.”

Cloud slumped lower in the seat.

Sephiroth stood from where he was sitting across from Cloud and went to settle on the seat next to him as the carriage began to move. He set one hand on Cloud’s upper thigh and leaned in to his hear.

“Let me distract you,” he murmured.

Cloud peeked through his fingers at Sephiroth, who reached up to ease his hand away. Cloud let him.

With Sephiroth’s hands guiding him, Cloud shifted until he was straddling Sephiroth’s laps, his knees framing Sephiroth’s hips. Sephiroth reached up to trail his fingertips over Cloud’s cheek.

“Did I tell you that you look beautiful?”

The smile Cloud gave was slow, but it lit up his whole face.

“You did.”

“You are.”

“Even without the glamor?”

Sephiroth’s brow pinched. He rubbed his thumb over Cloud’s cheekbone.

“Does that bother you? Not having glamor?”

“Of course it bothers me,” Cloud said, as if it should be obvious, and he was perplexed that Sephiroth had to ask.

“Why?”

“For a thousand reasons. It marks me as human. I will always be the most plain in the room, even on days like today when I shouldn’t be. We’ll always look like an uneven set, considering the way you look with your glamor.”

That last point caused a deep frown on Sephiroth’s face.

“Has anyone tried casting it on you?”

“… What? Is that even possible?”

Sephiroth shrugged.

“I’ve never heard of it being done, since all fae have glamor. But I don’t see why not.”

“I… no. No one’s ever tried it on me.”

“Would you like me to?”

Something in Cloud’s chest clenched. Sephiroth didn’t know what he was offering. This was a chance for a normalcy he’d never had. His breath hitched.

“Yes,” he whispered.

Sephiroth nodded, but he took Cloud’s hand.

“I’m happy to try, but Cloud, I need you to know that whether or not you have glamor makes no difference to me.”

Cloud squeezed Sephiroth’s hand and said, “Sephiroth, I appreciate the sentiment, but please, just try.”

A smile flickered on his lips. Sephiroth nodded and cupped Cloud’s face in his palms.

It took him a second to figure things out. He was very used to casting glamor on himself, but had never done it on someone else. It was like the difference between doing a complicated braid  you taught yourself to do on your own head and suddenly trying it on someone else’s. The angle was all wrong, but the motion was familiar. After a few false tries, he finally found it, and the sight took his breath away.

Cloud had been beautiful before the glamor, but with it? He was ethereal.

But something about him looked dazed. Hazy. Once the stun of Cloud’s beauty passed, he was concerned.

“Cloud?”

“Yes?” he answered, but something about him sounded far away. His eyes weren’t quite focused until Sephiroth spoke, when they zeroed in on him. They were incredibly intense, as if Sephiroth was all that existed. The end-all, be-all of the world. The rush that look gave him was heady.

“How do you feel?”

The smile that took over Cloud’s face was slow but brilliant.

“Amazing,” he breathed. His eyes fluttered shut and his head fell back as he breathed, his hands finding Sephiroth’s shoulders for balance. Sephiroth cupped Cloud’s hip, thumb rubbing circles over it thoughtfully.

“You look… different,” he said. ‘Different’ wasn’t the word he wanted, but it worked well enough.

Cloud looked back up at him with a dazzling smile and said, “I hope so.”

His eyes had changed. They were bright green, glowed slightly, and had cat-slit pupils. Sephiroth looked on, marveling.

“You have my eyes.”

“What?” Cloud asked. He still seemed dazed, not quite present despite how narrowed in he was on Sephiroth.

“Your eyes. They look just like mine. It must be from my glamor,” he said, trailing one fingertip around the edge of Cloud’s wide, wide eyes.

Cloud hummed and leaned into the touch.

Sephiroth reached up and pulled him down to kiss him the way he wanted to the second he saw him with glamor. Cloud had always been willing with him, never seemed to have even the inkling of declining, but he was strangely pliant now. Like putty in Sephiroth’s hands. He moved easily, like water through his fingers, and he was much, much more responsive than he ever was. Every motion Sephiroth made was given a match by Cloud, a perfect match, like they were moving in synch, like Cloud could feel every whim of Sephiroth’s and was eager to please.

And then Sephiroth realized that he could feel Cloud, and not just physically. There was some magic tying them together. Some strange tie of the glamor binding them. The connection hummed between them, something passing between them. He could feel Cloud’s nearness, his contentment, his desire to do whatever Sephiroth wanted of him.

He hesitated.

He couldn’t help himself.

“Cloud?” he said as he pulled away.

“Sephiroth?” he answered, eyes warm as the afternoon sun

“Stand up.”

Without a beat, Cloud climbed off Sephiroth’s lap and back to his feet.

Sephiroth watched as a shiver ran through the human.

He could feel Cloud’s satisfaction running through his own bones.

“What was that?” Cloud asked quietly, in wonder.

Sephiroth did wonder.

“Back in my lap.”

Cloud obeyed, and this time the shiver was stronger. Cloud bowed his head, pressing his forehead to Sephiroth’s shoulder, his hands fisting in his coat as he gasped. Sephiroth ran his hands up Cloud’s back, amazed.

Cloud listened to him. Cloud obeyed him. Cloud wanted to obey him. He got something (possibly off) at obeying him.

The feeling of such power at his fingertips zinged through him like electricity. He had Cloud in the palm of his hand. He’d agreed to this in the first place because he’d wanted a new pet. Like this, he certainly had one. He had a Seelie prince as his own, Queen Claudia’s favorite son. He could bring the Seelie to heel like this. He could end the conflict in favor of his own people and have a very, very pretty new toy. He could come out of this the undoubted winner.

The thought passed through his mind, but it left a sour taste in his mouth.

He quickly removed his glamor from Cloud.

Who gasped and sat upright as if someone had just dumped cold water down his back.

“What was that for?”

There was a polite knock on the carriage door.

               They were both so distracted. How long had it been since they reached their destination?

               “Leave,” Sephiroth called. “We’ll find our way from here.”

               “Very good, sirs,” the driver called back, and they could hear feet trailing away.

               “What was that for?” Cloud asked again, smacking Sephiroth’s shoulder.

               “What was what for?”

               “Why did you remove the glamor?”

               “Because you were acting like a puppet, Cloud. The glamor seems to give me some sort of control over you. I didn’t think you’d appreciate me taking advantage of it.”

               Cloud blinked. He paused. He looked thoughtful.

               There was a long moment before he shrugged.

               “I wouldn’t appreciate you taking advantage of it. But I don’t think you will, and I trust you.”

               That was almost as heady as the power itself.

               It was one thing to take control over someone, and another entirely for control to be offered willingly.

               “You want me to… cast it again?”

               Cloud blushed, but nodded.

               “It felt good. Really good, to listen to you.”

               Sephiroth looked at Cloud with something akin to awe.

               “And you trust me to use it?”

               “I trust you not to ask anything from me that I wouldn’t give you anyway.”

               “I’ve done nothing to earn you having this much faith in me.”

               “I’m a good judge of character, and besides, if you were interested in hurting me in one way or another, you never would have worked so hard to make this work in the first place.”

               Sephiroth knew that wasn’t quite true.

               But he also knew he had no intentions of doing anything to Cloud that he wouldn’t agree with.

               “Fine. But if you don’t like anything, I want you to tell me.”

               Cloud smiled and leaned in, speaking with his lips ghosting over Sephiroth’s.

               “Maybe you should tell me that once I’m under your spell.”

               Sephiroth’s eyes flashed.

               He grabbed Cloud’s wrist and moved him gently but quickly from his lap, hauling Cloud out of the carriage.

               “I’m finding a bedroom. Now.”

               Cloud’s laughter chased them inside.

Chapter Text

Cloud moaned as he was slammed back into the wall before the door even shut behind them, his hands pinned to the wall as Sephiroth cast his glamor again.

“Stay like that,” he ordered before pulling his hands away and watching as Cloud stayed exactly as he left him, disheveled and beautiful. He stepped away and locked the door behind them. He doubted anyone would walk in on their wedding night, but he had no interest in being interrupted and was taking no chances.

Sephiroth stepped closer again, until there was just a ghost of a breath between them. He settled his hands low on Cloud’s hips and dipped his head to kiss just below his ear.

“You will tell me if I tell you to do anything you don’t want,” Sephiroth murmured, watching a shiver run through him.

“I promise,” Cloud answered with a hitch in his breath.

“Good boy,” he praised, lips ghosting over Cloud’s ear. He watched the second shiver with a deep curl of satisfaction.

He ran his hand up Cloud’s chest and then down it, letting his fingertips catch over the layers of Cloud’s tunic.

“I wonder how long they spent wrapping you up like a present for me,” he said, kissing down Cloud’s neck.

“Hours,” Cloud admitted, voice turned breathy.

“I wonder if I should take it off piece by piece.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“I wonder how long you would last before the anticipation made you rip all those layers off yourself.”

Sephiroth.”

“Maybe we should find out.”

“Just get me out of this.”

Sephiroth leaned away, watching with heavy lidded eyes as Cloud looked up at him with his own twin set. A smirk curled on his lips.

“Ask me nicely.”

Sephiroth watched with satisfaction as Cloud, breathless with his arms frozen in place above his head, whispered, “Please take my clothes off.”

The smile Sephiroth gave was all predatory.

He trailed the fingertips of one hand over Cloud’s neckline and watched with approval as he tilted his head back, baring his throat. Then he dug the fingers of both hands into the collar and ripped. The tunic, made of gauzy fabric and lace, split easily beneath his fingertips and the layers fluttered as they slipped, held only in place by virtue of Cloud’s hands being above his head. Sephiroth used his teeth to pull off his gloves, eyes roving hungrily over Cloud as he did so. The second they hit the floor, Sephiroth spread his hands over Cloud, running over his sides and up his stomach and chest. Cloud arched beneath his touch.

“You can move,” he said, and in an instant Cloud was on him, grabbing his hair in two greedy handfuls to pull him down into a kiss. There was no preliminary chasteness, no pretending that this was anything other than desire. Cloud’s tongue curled against his own as their chests were pressed flush, Sephiroth having to catch himself with one forearm against the wall because of the force Cloud pulled him with. Cloud’s enthusiasm as he mapped out the inside of his mouth made it all that much the sweeter.

When they pulled apart, Cloud’s pupils were blown wide, and he was sure his own were much the same.

“Bed,” he demanded and was immediately surprised by how rough his voice was.

Cloud slipped from beneath the cage of his arm and made his way slowly toward the bed, watching Sephiroth watch him as the layers of fabric unraveled and fell to the floor in a trail behind him. He crawled onto the bed to lean against the headboard, ankles crossed primly. He would have looked demure if he didn’t already look debauched.

“Pants off,” Sephiroth said, approaching the bed himself. He undid the pauldrons and let them fall the floor with a dull thunk. He slipped his jacket off as Cloud undid some complicated lacing at the front of his trousers. They watched each other as Cloud slipped his pants off and dropped them over the side of the bed, Sephiroth peeling off the leather straps that crossed his chest. It wasn’t entirely surprising to see that Cloud was as hard as he was.

“On your knees,” he ordered while walking around the bed, his steps slow, a wolf circling prey. When Cloud watched him make his way to the nightstand, he said, “Eyes forward.”

Cloud looked forward, now unable to see what Sephiroth was doing as he rustled in a drawer. The drawer closed and Cloud could hear movement, but there was a growing sense of anticipation as he waited, completely still if impatient. He felt the bed dip behind him, and he jumped when he felt a hand slip onto his hip. The hand moved, fingertips on his wrist this time; Cloud still startled, a small gasp escaping him. Sephiroth raised his hand and pressed a small, cold bottle into his palm, curling his fingers around it.

In his ear, Sephiroth whispered, “Prepare yourself for me. I want to watch.”

And then he was alone again on the bed.

Cloud watched Sephiroth as soon as he was back in view, eyes glued to the fae as he grabbed a nearby chair from a boudoir and dragged it until it was in front of the bed. He unscrewed the lid of the bottle and tossed it at Sephiroth, who caught it lazily with one hand before dropping it to the floor and settling in the chair. He lounged back in it, legs spread in the picture of confidence. The arrogance of the pose would have been a turn on regardless of the situation, but it did nothing to help in the moment. If the smirk that curled on Sephiroth’s lips was anything to go by, he knew exactly what he was doing to Cloud. He poured some of the lubricant onto his fingers, covering them thoroughly before placing the bottle on the nightstand.

“Start with one finger.”

Cloud obeyed, reaching back and working one finger inside himself, letting out a deep breath. One wasn’t bad.

Cloud refused to admit it, but he had no idea what he was doing. He had a limited amount of experience with intimacy. He’d been popular, for a time, when there was a brief craze about him. Some of the court found fascination with him, a human fae and Queen Claudia’s favorite. Being a changeling made him taboo, being a favored prince made him a conquest. There had been a season where it was a game among the fae to see who could bed him and to trade stories of those encounters. It was lucky that he was no fool and understood what was happening when there was a sudden rush of interest for him from people who never so much as gave him the time of day. In the encounters that he did allow, he appeased the way he tended to. He got the pleasure he wanted, so he didn’t mind playing the part of the meek little mouse that they wanted. They took control, and Cloud was content to let them have it (apparently a trend with him), which meant that his partner did his (usually hasty) preparation.

He knew what needed to happen, but he didn’t know how to go about it, what Sephiroth was expecting from him. He hesitated.

Luckily, Sephiroth was more than content to take the reins.

“Fuck yourself for me.”

Cloud shivered, the profanity coming out of that mouth being both unexpected and attractive, but he obeyed immediately.

He thrust his hand only a handful of times before Sephiroth called, “Second finger.”

This time, there was a twinge of discomfort, but the finger went in easily. He began working himself open, letting his eyes flutter shut.

“Eyes on me.”

His eyes shot open. Sephiroth had himself in hand, stroking almost teasingly as he watched Cloud with heavy-lidded eyes and wide pupils. The sight sent a spike of pleasure through him. Doing this himself had been awkward at first, but the look in Sephiroth’s eyes, the appreciation and hunger on his face erased every last hint of that. He moved with newfound confidence.

And he groaned outright, eyes widening just a hair as he hit a bundle of nerves inside himself.

“There it is,” Sephiroth said, voice husky. “Keep that angle and add another finger.”

The slight burn was easy to ignore, especially with the way it felt now that he found the right angle. His fingertips dug into his thigh and he didn’t realize that he’d begun moving his hips, fucking back onto his fingers almost desperately.

“Freeze,” Sephiroth ordered. “Curl your fingers where they are and repeat the motion.”

He shuddered as he stroked over that spot inside him, his legs shaking. He couldn’t help the moan that escaped him, or the way his nails buried little furrows into the skin of his thigh. He wanted to toss his head back, but Sephiroth told him to keep his eyes on him. He made a small noise of frustration.

It wasn’t long before he before he had to choke out, “Can—can I touch myself?”

“I was under the impression that you already were.”

Cloud glared, but it was lacking heat.

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. And no.”

The noise of frustration he made this time was not little.

“Please?”

“No.”

Please?

“While I like it when you beg, you’re asking for the wrong thing. Try again.”

It took Cloud a moment to think before he said, “Please, Sephiroth, fuck me.”

His eyes flashed.

Sephiroth was off the chair in half a second, barely bothering to say, “You can look where you’d like,” before he all but ripped his boots and pants off and climbed onto the bed. He pulled Cloud’s hand free with one hand and grabbed him by the throat with the other, pushing him until his back hit the bed. He splayed his fingers over Cloud’s throat possessively.

“Hands above your head and keep them there,” he said before shifting, snatching the bottle of lubricant and slicking his fingers and himself before putting it back on the nightstand. He moved down Cloud’s body as he complied, putting his hands above his head with a look of frustration. There was a flash of challenge in his eyes, but he said nothing, right up until Sephiroth took him in his mouth in one swift motion, when he cursed fervently.

He knew now why Sephiroth wanted his hands out of the way. He wanted to put them in Sephiroth’s hair, but this way, Sephiroth had every ounce of control. He set a slow, almost teasing pace before hollowing his cheeks out and sucking in a way that had Cloud’s toes curling and more curses falling from his lips. When he dug his heels in and tried to thrust up, Sephiroth pushed him back down with one hand before pulling off.

“Lie still,” he said, before going back to work.

Cloud cursed again.

Sephiroth spread his legs a little wider and slipped his fingers inside him. It wasn’t long before he found that same spot inside Cloud, fingers curling over it again and again. In conjunction with his mouth on him, Cloud was immediately overwhelmed. A gasp of pleasure escaped him.

“I—I’m close,” he gasped, desperately wanting to move his hands, his hips, something but unable to so much as twitch. When Sephiroth ignored him, he said with a warning in his tone, “Sephiroth.”

He was ignored again.

“Eyes on me,” Sephiroth pulled away to say before resuming his work. He held eye contact with Cloud as he brought him to the brink and then shoved him over, his face morphing in a show of pleasure—a sight Sephiroth drank in greedily as he swallowed. The sight made Cloud whimper.

“You can move, but leave your hands,” Sephiroth said as he crawled up Cloud, who made that little noise of frustration again. He kissed him hotly, a motion Cloud returned with passion despite the way he wanted to bury his fingers in Sephiroth’s hair.

Sephiroth trailed his fingers over Cloud’s cock, watching as he shivered again.

“Is that over-stimulating?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“What?”

Sephiroth gave him a wolf’s grin and hitched Cloud’s leg up around his hip. He lined himself up and then pressed in slowly, both fae and human groaning in sync.

They stayed like that for a long moment, until Cloud kicked at him with his heel and said, “Move, damn you.”

The grin Sephiroth gave him could only be described as shit-eating.

“Ask nicely.”

Cloud wanted to swear at him, but instead said, “Please move.”

Sephiroth leaned down and cooed into his ear, “Good boy.”

The praise sent a spike of pleasure through him.

Sephiroth’s thrusts were shallow and slow at first, giving Cloud time to adjust to the size of him, determined to make this comfortable and pleasurable for Cloud, determined to give and not just take.  The hard plane of his stomach rubbed over Cloud’s cock as he moved, the sensation nearly too much for the human, who dug his head back into the pillow and whined desperately.

“Faster,” Cloud demanded, breathless.

“Ask—”

Please.”

The laugh Sephiroth gave was low and set something in Cloud curling.

“Tell me if I’m too rough,” he ordered, waiting for a nod from Cloud before snapping his hips forward.

Fuck,” Cloud gasped, hands at an awkward angle above his head but fisting in the sheets nonetheless.

He did his best with his lack of leverage to meet Sephiroth’s thrusts, and while the effort was appreciated, it was also unnecessary, as Sephiroth was happy to put in all the work.

He was even happier when he found the right angle to make Cloud moan his name.

He stayed lined up exactly as he was, striking the bundle of nerves inside Cloud again, and again, and again until Cloud gave a sob of pleasure.

“Sephiroth, I’m so close,” he breathed.

“I know.”

“Please let me touch myself.”

“No.”

“Touch me then.”

“No.”

Please.”

Sephiroth leaned down and nipped Cloud on the lobe of his ear before whispering, “No. I like watching you writhe.”

Cloud cursed again.

It wasn’t long before Cloud tried again.

“Sephiroth, please, I need you.”

“Unfortunate.”

“Please.”

“No.”

Please.”

No.”

Please.”

Sephiroth leaned down and kissed him, successfully distracting him for the moment, until he thrust particularly hard. Cloud broke away with a cry.

“Sephiroth, please!

“There, you finally sound desperate enough,” he purred, kissing down Cloud’s neck, but still not doing anything. “But my answer’s still no.”

“Sephiroth, I will do anything you ask, just please, let me come.”

“You’ll come like this or not at all.”

“Sephiroth!”

Cloud.”

The groan Cloud gave was half-pleasure, half-frustration.

“I don’t know how else to beg you, Sephiroth.”

“I don’t care how prettily you beg.”

This time, the sound was all frustration.

He thrust harder, making Cloud choke on the sound. He kissed up Cloud’s neck before running his tongue down it. He bit down, hard, and that was all it took, he had been so close. With a desperate cry, Cloud came again, his eyes rolling back. Sephiroth pulled away quickly to drink in the sight of Cloud’s face twisted with pleasure and, after three more erratic thrusts, came as well.

Sephiroth pressed his forehead to Cloud’s as they caught their breath together.

It was a long moment before Cloud leaned up to kiss Sephiroth. It was soft, and sweet, and chaste in comparison to what they’d just done. Sephiroth pulled back to look at Cloud, whose eyes were soft around the edges.

“That was amazing,” Cloud breathed.

“You were amazing,” Sephiroth said, and Cloud would have blushed, if his face wasn’t so flushed already.

Instead of answering, Cloud kissed him again.

There was something unsaid hanging in the air. It filled the room around them. It dangled from both of their lips, desperate to be said, but lingered silently. Both were thinking it. Both refused to say it. Neither wanted to be the first to say it. They didn’t know how the other would respond, and though both would refuse to admit it, they were afraid of the potential outcome.

I love you.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this?”

“Absolutely.”

“Cloud, it could go very poorly. It probably will go poorly.”

“I know, and I don’t care. What are they going to do about it, realistically?”

“Divorce us, to start with.”

“Divorce is barely a thing as it is, they can’t do it without our consent, and besides, the Chief married us. They’d have to get their approval and there’s no way they’ll manage that without us agreeing. We’re safe, Sephiroth.”

“It could restart the feud.”

At this, Cloud actually laughed.

“They wouldn’t restart it over me.”

“Cloud, what if they know? It would be one thing if we knew they didn’t know, and I admit that I would love to see their faces when they see you with glamor, but if they know it lets me control you, who knows how they’ll take it. It would be an insult to them, to start with. If they think it would give me leverage over Queen Claudia through you, then they’d think it dangerous.”

“Sephiroth, you’re over-thinking things. I doubt they know at all. And even if they did, they’d disapprove more of reckless use of glamor than any control over me.”

“You’re a prince, Cloud; they’d be furious.”

“A changeling prince, Sephiroth. They don’t care about me. They never have, and I really doubt they’re about to start now.”

Sephiroth hesitated.

Cloud came over and wrapped his arms around Sephiroth’s waist from behind. He stood on his toes to kiss the back of his neck before pressing his cheek to his back.

“I know the Seelie, Sephiroth,” Cloud said quietly. “Even if they think it’s an insult, it won’t matter. We’ve deescalated the feud enough that they’ll bear it if Mother tells them to. And I do want to see their faces when they see me.”

Sephiroth rested his hand over where Cloud’s were folded around his waist, rubbing his thumb lightly over the knuckles.

“If you’re sure,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure I could change your mind regardless.”

Cloud stepped around him so he could kiss him on the lips this time.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “After all these years, it will feel so good to pull this over on them.”

Sephiroth snorted.

“I don’t know how anyone can look at you and not see fae.”

Cloud grinned, wide and proud, his chest swelling at the comment. It wasn’t something he was used to hearing. He took Sephiroth’s hand and stepped away, tugging lightly.

“Come on, then. Let’s get this over with.”

Sephiroth sighed, and it sounded put-upon, but he smiled faintly.

He let Cloud pull him out the door and down through to the carriage waiting outside. They slid inside quickly and before long were rising through the air, making their way to Queen Claudia’s palace for the ball that would be their entering of society as a couple. It had hardly been a week since the wedding, but it was enough time for them to “come together as a couple.” There was plenty of innuendo there, innuendo that had been very thoroughly acted upon, but they had also solidified into who they would be as a set. They were coming to find the ways they complimented and complicated each other, their edges that fit well together and those that didn’t. It was enough that they would be able to present a united front tonight, if not something perfect.

Cloud watched out the window as they flew and Sephiroth watched Cloud. There was some nervousness in the tight line of his shoulders. No matter what he said, this was a tense affair for Cloud. This was his show of freedom from the Seelie Court. This was where he showed that his alliance was with himself, and now with Sephiroth as much as it was with his mother. He was no pawn of theirs, no matter what they thought, and this was his chance to show it.

This was where he gave them the metaphorical finger in front of everyone.

Sephiroth, for his part, watched Cloud in silence. He was, damn himself, concerned. He’d said when he first got into this affair that he wouldn’t get invested, yet here he was, worried over the changeling. There was something stirring in his chest, something he didn’t quite like. It was forcing him to consider his feelings, and the more he thought about it, the less he liked the conclusions he was coming to.

A part of him rebelled. How could he have feelings for a human? He couldn’t give a human power over him in any way—it was an insult, demeaning. He dreaded what would happen if his mother found out. He dreaded what would happen if anyone found out. For all that Cloud was okay with other fae knowing that Sephiroth had a means of power over him, Sephiroth was not comfortable with the reverse being known. It was unacceptable.

Another part of him knew that was unfair. Cloud was as fae as any changeling could be, as fae as any fae could be in every way but magic—in every way that mattered. The only valid complaint his mind could find was that Cloud was human, but if he accepted that that was a technicality and nothing more, he was left with nothing but petulant denial. He’d never intended to fall for anyone in his life, ever. He didn’t like conceding power, and the thought that he might do so willingly? It disturbed him.

Cloud, for his part, was having similar issues. He covered them well with good cheer, in true Seelie fashion, but his heart was tangled. He knew he had feelings for Sephiroth—he refused to put a name to what they were. He was an Unseelie. An Unseelie. Every Seelie part of him raged at the idea, the indignity of it. The Unseelie were beneath them. Barbaric in a way that the Seelie were not. He knew exactly what the Seelie would say if (when) they found out. That it was only to be expected, that he was only human. His standards were obviously just lower than they should be. The thought of this just being one more way in which he failed rankled.

He didn’t have Sephiroth’s issue of fearing to yield control, but he did fear rejection in a way that Sephiroth never could. Sephiroth never really considered that his feelings would not be returned, not because he thought less of Cloud and more that he thought too much of himself. He’d never been humbled the way Cloud had. Repeatedly. For years. The Seelie had always made it very clear that they found him to be lesser. It had been beaten into every part of him that changeling wasn’t as good as fae, and that was that. He couldn’t imagine what a human could bring to the table, what could possibly draw Sephiroth. He had no magic, no glamor. He looked so plain compared to the fae around them. He capitulated constantly, in a way he knew Sephiroth would never consider and would probably turn his nose up at if he witnessed it. No, Cloud’s issue was that he was confident Sephiroth could never care for him the way he did Sephiroth.

The carriage ride was quiet as the two fell into their own thoughts, circling around the same issue, but both without the courage to just bring it up.

It wasn’t long before their carriage gently touched down on the earth. Cloud hesitated, unsure of his decision to be public with the glamor now, but Sephiroth climbed to his feet without pause. He stepped out of the carriage and held his hand out to Cloud, who stood up to take it if for no other reason than avoiding being called out on his hesitance. He stepped down and looked up at the palace.

“Time to go,” Cloud said, forcing cheer back into his voice. He beamed up at Sephiroth, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and Sephiroth noticed.

“Courage, Cloud,” Sephiroth said, leaning down to kiss his forehead.

He froze for a moment after the gesture when Cloud looked up at him in curiosity, not believing that he’d just kissed Cloud’s forehead. Who was he right now? He was getting in too deep.

But the moment passed and Cloud sighed and shrugged.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said stepping in front of Sephiroth. He ran his hands down his chest, pulling at the fabric of his coat to straighten it. Then he looked up at him with eyes that burned, saying, “I don’t want you to take the glamor off after.”

The implication was heavy in the air, in the way Cloud was looking at him. All his reservations rushed from him and amusement filled their place.

“There are better uses for it than a party.”

Cloud hummed, mischief in his eyes. He pulled on Sephiroth’s coat to bring him closer and stood up on his toes to meet him halfway, pressing a kiss to his lips.

“They’re waiting,” Cloud said, giving his jacket one last tug before pulling away and leading them into the palace.

Sephiroth kept the thoughts that plagued him in the carriage away by appreciating the way Cloud’s ass looked in those tight pants and, before they stepped inside, cast his glamor over the changeling. He watched as Cloud shivered when the magic settled over him and thought of all the other times he’d seen him shiver. The memories were much better companions than his thoughts had been.

They came to a stop before the door that led into the main hall, where they could hear chatter and music spilling out. Cloud took a deep breath and, without thinking, took Sephiroth’s hand. He froze, much as Sephiroth had when he kissed Cloud’s forehead, but plunged ahead better than the Unseelie had. He squeezed Sephiroth’s hand, and was a little surprised when his own was squeezed in return.

“Ready?” Cloud asked before Sephiroth had the chance to say it himself.

“Whenever you are,” he answered, glancing down at the changeling, who nodded once before opening the doors.

Sephiroth held their hands aloft, slipping into court presentation and pretension. Their clasped hands were expected. The glamor, much as they had thought, was not.

The Seelie stopped in place when they saw Cloud, mouths agape, some even gasping. There was a stillness that spread through the gathered fae until the only ones moving were the orchestra and those parting to make way for the couple. The Seelie knew damn well that Cloud had no glamor. The Unseelie, for the most part, had no idea what was going on, but went still to try and find out what the fuss was over.

When they reached the front of the hall, it was to see Queens Claudia and Jenova sitting side by side.

It was a testament to how well the sons knew their mothers that they could read their expressions, though neither liked what they saw.

The queens wore twin polite smiles. Cloud could see that Claudia’s did not quite reach her eyes and knew immediately that she knew exactly what it meant when fae cast glamor over a human. He swallowed roughly at the hard look in her eyes when they slid to Sephiroth. They were going to end up having a conversation later, and Cloud was very, very sure it would not be pleasant.

Sephiroth, for his part, went cold at the look in Jenova’s eyes. He could tell that she also knew what the glamor meant. There was a shining light to her eyes, a brightness that set Sephiroth’s teeth on edge. She was thinking what Sephiroth knew he should have been when they made the discovery, of all the ways this could be used to the Unseelie advantage, all of the ways this could give them leverage over Claudia. Sephiroth was sure they were going to end up discussing it, and was equally sure he wouldn’t like the conversation.

Claudia held up a hand and the orchestra fell silent.

“It has been a week since you were wed,” she began, smile beatific but eyes ice cold. “How do you find married life, son?”

“Excellent, Mother,” Cloud answered. This time, he fought down the urge to squeeze Sephiroth’s hand for reassurance. “Sephiroth is as perfect a husband as could be asked for.”

“And you, my son?” Jenova asked, her voice honeyed in a way that Sephiroth was familiar with. It was the way she sounded when she knew she had gotten her way.

“I find that it suits me well, though I am certain that, if my husband were anyone else, it would suit me poorly.”

“A good match, then,” Claudia said, waiting for Jenova to nod before continuing. “How do the Courts find this union?”

All the assembled fae knew their part. Their queens had spoken—there was nothing to do about the situation, even if they wanted to. A resounding cheer went up in the hall, with a certain amount of hooting and hollering from the Unseelie that the Seelie found uncivilized.

When the commotion died down, Jenova said, “Your marriage is blessed by the fae of both Courts. May it last until the ends of time.”

Many of the fae held up glasses in a toast when they echoed, “Until the ends of time!”

Cloud and Sephiroth left their hands clasped and aloft, but both bowed deeply.

When they rose again, Claudia said, “Then may we celebrate their union!”

At that, there was a second cheer that broke into chattering. There was a lack of urgency to most of the crowd that told the couple that, despite the shock the glamor caused, most did not know what it meant. However, if they looked closely, they could see some elder fae looking at them closely. The Seelie looked solemn, but the Unseelie looked gleeful. Perhaps the secret of the glamor was not quite as secure as Cloud and Sephiroth had hoped.

The queens swept out of their thrones and approached their sons. Claudia cupped Cloud’s face and Jenova put her hands on her son’s shoulders.

“Congratulations, you two,” Claudia said. “Getting the joint approval of the Courts is no small thing.”

The four collectively decided not to mention that that was the entire point of the marriage in the first place.

“Thank you, Mother.”

“You’ve done well,” Jenova said. “Both of you. But, if we have a moment, I would like to speak to my son.” Jenova looked at Claudia expectantly, waiting until she smiled.

“Of course. I would appreciate the chance to catch up with Cloud as well.”

Jenova smiled in return, nodded once, and then pulled her son to the side.

Claudia kept the pleasant look on her face as she led her son back up to the throne area, though she did not sit.

The look on her face did not match her tone when she said, “What in the realms do you think you’re doing, Cloud? Do you know what the glamor does?”

Cloud sighed, but matched his mother in keeping up a façade of pleasantness. They both knew how to keep the Courts happy.

“I may have found out.”

The look on her face became just the slightest bit pinched. No one who didn’t see the change happen would have noticed.

“Then why? Did you think it through before you came here this way?”

“Mother, Sephiroth won’t use it against me, if that’s your concern. I trust him.”

“I’m glad you feel comfortable with him, Cloud, but you barely know him. Not enough to give him this power over you.”

“He’s done nothing to give me the idea that he ever would.”

“And if he’s lulling you into a false sense of security? This might all just be an elaborate build up until he takes what he wants at the worst possible moment.”

Cloud shook his head.

“Mother, I may not know him as well as I’d like, but I know him better than you do. He won’t.”

Cloud.”

“I know full well that he’s thought about it; he’d be a fool not to. But I’ve tested it, Mother, in a hundred little ways I’m sure he didn’t even notice. I’ve all but dared him to take from me, and he hasn’t once. Until tonight, every time he cast it his first words to me were to tell him if he asked for anything I didn’t want to give.”

Claudia’s face softened, but she looked unconvinced.

“I don’t like this, Cloud. Not at all.”

He smiled, and this time, it was genuine, full of warmth and reassurance.

“I know you don’t, Mother. But give it time. He’ll prove that I’m right.”

“I’ll kill him if he doesn’t.”

“You won’t.” Cloud held up a hand when she opened her mouth. “I don’t blame you for that; it’d start a war we’ve been trying to avoid. But we both know you won’t.”

“I’ll find a way to make him suffer. Admittedly, that might be worse.”

Cloud sighed and said, “Now that, I believe.”

After a long moment, Claudia sighed as well, pulling Cloud close and pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“I do. Trust me.”

Across the hall, Jenova echoed his words.

“Trust me, Sephiroth, it will be for the best.”

“Mother—”

“Think of all we stand to gain, Sephiroth!” she whispered in excitement. “Claudia must be sweating as we speak. You ended the feud with your marriage, but you let us win it by convincing Cloud to accept your glamor.”

“Mother, no.”

No? What?” She looked affronted underneath her pleasantness.

“No, I won’t do it. He’s shown a remarkable amount of trust in me, and I don’t intend to spoil it.”

“Sephiroth, I know he’s a pretty little thing, but don’t let that consume your good sense. You aren’t thinking straight.”

“I am, Mother. You told me to wed, and I did. But this is my marriage. I won’t ruin it.”

“Then just keep him under your glamor; he won’t fuss.”

“He won’t be the man I married if I do that.”

“What does that matter?”

“Mother, this marriage is going to last until one of us dies. I won’t be tied to a puppet for that long.”

“He’s only human, Sephiroth. They only live to be a hundred at the best of times.”

“He’ll live longer than that. He’d been in the Faewild his whole life; he’s imbued with magic to his core at this point.”

“Alright, two centuries. What’s two centuries?”

“How long I’ve been alive, if you recall.”

Jenova sighed, and she sounded impatient.

“Once you’re older, you’ll see that two centuries is nothing.”

“It’s long enough. Even if it wasn’t, he deserves better than a life of servitude.”

“He doesn’t. He just—… Sephiroth, no. Damn it all, Sephiroth, you idiot. You care for him, don’t you?”

If he were any less stubborn, he would have blushed.

“I fail to see what that has to do with it.”

She sighed again, the sound irritated this time.

“You’re letting your feelings cloud your judgement.”

“I’m thinking perfectly fine.”

“Sephiroth, you’re the crown prince. You have a duty to do the best you can by your people.”

“And you have a duty as a mother to let your son be happy.”

There was a flash of anger in Jenova’s eyes. Sephiroth was sure that, had they not been in public, he would have been struck for his impudence.

But then, strangely enough, she softened.

“And this is what you want? He’s what will make you happy?”

“Yes, Mother. I think so.”

There was a long pause.

“The second you tire of him, and you will, you will tell me. We’ll take advantage when you grow bored.”

Sephiroth, privately, was dead certain that Cloud could never bore him.

“If you like.”

It was a meaningless concession, as her terms would never come to pass. Best to placate her if it cost him nothing.

Jenova watched him closely for a second before shaking her head.

“Honestly, Sephiroth. A changeling? I would have thought you’d have better taste than that.”

“You don’t know him, Mother. He’s as fae as they come.”

She snorted, her smile taking on a little edge.

“Somehow, I doubt that.”

“Doubt it if you like. It’s the truth.”

She gestured with her chin toward Claudia and her son as they were breaking apart.

“Go on, then. Be with your toy.”

Sephiroth’s eyes flashed in a way that would have been dangerous with anyone else. Something smug came into Jenova’s eyes, as if she was well aware of that.

He walked away without another word, coming toward Cloud, who was waiting for him. He put a hand low on his back, an intentionally possessive gesture, and led him away from their mothers.

“I take it Claudia knows as well.”

“She does. She’s not happy.”

“Mother is.”

“She wants to use it against the Seelie.”

“Of course she does.”

“Did you tell her no?”

“I did. That’s why she’s less happy.”

Cloud looked up at him.

“Thank you. For telling her no. It couldn’t have been easy.”

Sephiroth’s hand slid along his back, his fingers curling over his hip.

“I won’t see you demeaned the way she wants.”

Cloud’s eyes roamed over his face, and when he spoke, he sounded awed.

“What have I done to deserve you?” he asked quietly. “Anyone else would have made me into a puppet by now. They would have never taken their glamor off.”

Sephiroth shrugged lightly, as if it was nothing. It was mostly because he still wasn’t sure why he didn’t do just that in the first place.

“It would have made you incredibly boring and a very poor husband.”

Cloud laughed—a bright, tinkling sound. He turned, coming to stand in front of Sephiroth. He felt a hundred eyes on them, but found he didn’t much care. Being seen being affectionate would suit the purpose of this party anyway.

He put his hands on his shoulders and stood on his toes to kiss him, Sephiroth ducking his head to meet him halfway.

“I knew I loved you for a reason.”

Then Cloud pulled back sharply, alarmed at his own words. They looked at each other with matching, wide eyes. Cloud’s eyes were bright with panic and he looked pale. Sephiroth felt a little dizzy, mostly because of the surprise.

But it was also because of the heady rush. Part of him, some dark, twisted part of him that he’d been trying to quash, thrilled at the power this gave him over Cloud. This, in conjunction with the glamor? Cloud really would be his puppet.

But he found that voiced silenced easier than ever by the swelling rush of feeling.

Cloud loved him.

Cloud loved him.

Cloud loved him back.

He would have kissed him in that moment if Cloud didn’t turn to flee.

He got all of one step before Sephiroth caught his wrist.

“Cloud—”

“No. I—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—it doesn’t matter, it—I can’t—”

“Cloud.”

“This is so stupid—Sephiroth, let me go!”

It was hissed in a sharp whisper.

“Cloud, no.”

Please.”

“Look at me—ah, dammit.”

He had forgotten the glamor. Cloud turned to look at him, having no choice, something hurt in his eyes.

“I love you too.”

Cloud gave a tiny little gasp, and then his entire expression changing into one of wonder.

What?

Sephiroth found he didn’t have to force the conviction in his voice.

“I love you.”

Why? I’m human, Sephiroth.”

“I’d love you no matter what you are.”

There was a long pause, and then Cloud moved in a rush. He cupped Sephiroth’s face and pulled him down to press their lips together, the kiss burning. It would have lasted longer if an Unseelie didn’t notice and wolf-whistle at them. There was suddenly a chorus of them as others noticed them kissing, and Cloud moved to pull away. Sephiroth reached up and cupped the back of his head, keeping him in place as he deepened the kiss. It was a gesture he would have done regardless, a necessary show to put on, but he also would have done it no matter who was watching. Nothing could pull him away from Cloud in this moment.

By the time they did pull away, the cheers were deafening.

Cloud could not have been redder in the face.

“I love you,” Sephiroth said, barely loud enough to be heard over the crowd.

There was a pause, and then there was a heat in how Cloud looked at him. He grabbed his wrist and began dragging him through the hall, the fae parting to make room for them. The crowd didn’t quite realize what was going on, where Cloud was hauling him, until the pathway to a doorway leading to the back of the palace was clear.

Raucous didn’t begin to cover the crowd.

No one tried to stop them as Cloud pulled Sephiroth through the doorway and into the hall, an urgency in his step.

The second they were in the hall, Cloud grabbed Sephiroth by the front of his jacket and pushed him against the wall, his mouth hot on his husband’s. The kiss was long, and hard, and deep.

When they pulled away to breathe, Cloud barely managed to say, “We’re going to have to deal with the Seelie. They’re not going to be happy. You were right, they are going to see this as dangerous and an insult.”

“I don’t care. I love you.”

“Sephiroth, it’s going to be a big problem.”

“Then we’ll deal with it. I love you.”

Cloud paused, the fire returning to his eyes. He leaned up, his lips brushing against Sephiroth’s as he spoke.

“You love me.”

“I do.”

“You love me.”

“I love you.”

“You could have anyone, but you want me.”

“More than you could know.”

“Oh, I think I know pretty well.”

He pressed a kiss to Sephiroth’s lips, and Sephiroth chased him when he leaned away again.

“I love you,” Cloud repeated, pulling Sephiroth down by the hair to kiss him again. “Enough that it might be dangerous.”

“I’ve always liked danger.”

Cloud laughed against his mouth.

“Would you like to see my bedroom?”

“I would love to.”

“I love you.”

“Not as much as I love you.”