The realization comes suddenly, hits him like a strike to the face one day when he’s listening to Cale talk, his eyes straying to the man’s hair as the light shines through it and glows with the same brilliance as the sun. The thought rises, unbidden, to his mind—he’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen, he thinks, and suddenly, he becomes aware of other things in quick succession, all of which eventually culminate into one.
The first realization is that being with Cale somehow makes him feel calmer, makes the weight on his shoulders feel lighter. It’s been difficult ever since he, as promised, officially became king a year after the start of the war. Sometimes it feels like the pressure is too much, like there’s a boulder tied to his ankle, dragging him into the depths of the ocean with no hope of escape. But—seeing Cale’s face, listening to him complain about the most inane things—it makes him feel less like he is one step from crumbling under the weight of the world.
The second realization is that he, for some inexplicable reason, trusts Cale wholly. It’s something he takes for granted, now; but he remembers before, when he’d constantly had his magical disguise on, when all his words and actions had been an act to secure his position on the throne. He hadn’t been able to trust anyone but himself, and his aunt, who he couldn't easily contact. But with Cale—he doesn’t think twice about visiting without a disguise. He doesn’t need to watch his words, doesn’t need to put on a mask and pretend to be someone else. It’s—exhilarating. Freeing.
The third realization is that he is—afraid. He knows that he has a longer lifespan, because he is a quarter dark elf. He knows, without a doubt, that he will outlive Cale. But just the thought of it—the thought of a life without Cale, without this person that knows all his secrets—it’s something so horrifying that it nearly chokes him. And he is suddenly filled with a deep, aching desire to spend every day with him, to be with him as much as he can before it’s too late.
And as for the culmination of these realizations—it’s the sudden awareness of an unmistakable fact; the fact that he has somehow, inexplicably, fallen in love with the man known as Cale Henituse.
“Why’re you smiling like that?” Cale asks suspiciously, shaking Alberu out of his thoughts.
His fingers itch to move forward and brush back the stray hairs that have escaped Cale’s usual low ponytail, but they merely twitch at his side as he forcibly holds them there and smiles even wider. There is a restless thing inside of him that he hadn’t even realized existed, but it finally settles when he allows himself to think, I love him. I’m in love with him.
There are a few things that should make Alberu feel worried. The problem of an heir, for one, and then the thought that maybe Cale doesn’t feel the same. But, well—the first problem is easily solved when one remembers that he does have siblings, and as for the second—well, he’s never been one to linger over what-ifs. If Cale doesn’t return his feelings, then so be it. There isn’t anything he can do about it, and he’d rather know for sure than live the rest of his life not knowing.
So, Alberu resolves, the next time he goes to visit Cale at his villa by the sea, he’ll confess. Plain and simple. It’ll be quick and easy.
Except he doesn’t.
(It takes nearly half a year for him to admit he has a problem.)
“I’m scared,” he finally admits to himself, one night, as he stares at the glass of champagne sitting on his desk in his office. “Fuck.” And then, “fuck,” he repeats, emphatically, because it makes him feel better.
He’s—worried. And stressed. The last time he’d been this frustrated, he’d talked to Cale in the hopes that the crazy bastard’s calm face would help him calm down, and while it hadn’t exactly worked out that way, he had come out of that conversation feeling relieved—firstly, because he finally knew what the missing piece was, and secondly, because he trusted that Cale would be able to take care of the problem like he promised.
But he can’t exactly talk to Cale now, considering that the man himself is the source of his dilemma.
“Okay,” he says out loud.
He just—needs to get this done and over with. He needs to know, has to say something, or his personal issues will affect his duties as king, and he can’t allow that to happen. Even if Cale doesn’t return his feelings, at least he’ll be able to focus on his work knowing that for sure. He just needs to—
—tell him, he thinks. Tell him that you love him, that you dream, every day, of waking by his side and watching as the sun streams in and lights up his hair. Tell him that you can’t imagine a life without him, that your life before him seems almost like a nightmare, compared to how it is now.
It’s almost sickening, he reflects, as he smiles benignly and greets Cale. It’s almost sickening, how he’s turned into a complete sappy mess over this one man.
He sits on one of the couches in the villa’s lounge room and watches as Cale pours himself a glass of wine and takes a large sip before launching into a rant about the children he’s been living with. This is par for the course; usually, they complain to each other about whatever stupid thing they’d been forced to deal with in the time between visits. But this time, Alberu can’t seem to pay attention to what Cale is saying, only nodding periodically to pretend that he’s listening.
God, Alberu thinks, what am I thinking? If I’m going to say all that, I might as well just ask him to—
Cale makes a choking noise and abruptly falls silent.
Alberu looks up, frowning in confusion, when he realizes that he can’t hear Cale’s voice as he narrates the disastrous happenings that occurred over the past few weeks because of the children. He finds Cale staring at him, eyes widened with surprise, and his frown deepens.
What? He almost asks, and then—
He'd...said that out loud, hadn’t he. He folds his hands together and tries to keep his expression even as he stares down at his fingers and forces down the flush threatening to crawl up his face.
Just—stay calm. Act natural.
He can do this.
“I’m—” sorry, he tries to say. That was an accident. But—
Alberu’s head shoots up, and he stares, wide-eyed, at Cale, who merely takes another sip from his wine glass. Cale frowns at him, with slight annoyance and—something else.
“What?” he asks, almost defensively.
Alberu takes a moment to gather his thoughts before he speaks.
Cale swirls around the glass in his hand.
“Yes,” he says, taking another sip. Haltingly, almost awkwardly, he continues, “I would not be...averse. To spending the. Rest of my life. With you.”
Alberu can’t tell whether the redness of Cale’s face is from the alcohol or something else, but it doesn’t matter. He’s so overcome with relief and a slowly growing delight that he can't help but let out a loud laugh.
“You’re a crazy bastard,” he says, not making any effort to conceal the fondness that slips into his voice.
“You’re the one that proposed to me out of nowhere,” he mutters, bringing the glass to his lips again and emptying it, though there’s no mistaking the smile that tugs at the corners of his lips, accompanied by a slight reddening of his face. “I thought there was supposed to be a whole process before that kind of thing happened.”
“Well,” Alberu says, allowing himself to relax into the couch, “I hadn’t exactly meant to propose, it just—slipped out. And what kind of person just—agrees?”
Cale rolls his eyes.
“It was—brought to my attention, that I was unusually...worried, about what you’ve been hiding for the past few months. I’ve never—felt this way, before.” His nose scrunches slightly as he pours more wine into his glass and takes another sip. “Can’t believe one of the children had to tell me,” he mutters under his breath, though Alberu still hears.
Alberu raises an eyebrow.
“...On,” he admits, reluctantly, and Alberu smiles as he mentally makes a note to find a present for the gray cat.
“I’ll have to find a way to thank her, then,” he says mildly.
“Do as you like,” Cale responds, equally as mild.
“Oh, I will.”
“God,” On groans, from where she has apparently been listening in the whole time. “This is gonna be a nightmare.”