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Ours is the Fury

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“We will be hosting the King’s bastard son,” Lord Jesse Manes said to his sons, as he inspected them before they started their morning training. He didn’t speak to them, not really. More often than not, the Master-at-Arms would relay a message. Occasionally, it was the maester or the castle steward. Rarely did Lord Manes associate with anyone else, and even the most trusted staff ran the castle without ever speaking to the Lord.

Jesse Manes did not associate with anyone beneath him.

Alex knew that it had to be killing him to have the bastard son of the king as a guest of his house. Alex kept his face impassive as his father walked by, but inside his emotions churned. Joy and fear and giddiness over the fact that his father’s pride would war with his duty. A man so known for his hatred of anything he deemed abnormal, forced to pay respect to and to treat with honor, a bastard. 

A bastard who Alex hadn’t seen in years, had barely even known at that, but still missed with his entire being. 

“He will be training with us. His father, the king, hopes for him to lead the King’s Guard in time,” Jesse said as he made his way back down the line, back towards Alex. He stopped in front of him, glare heavy as he met Alex’s eyes. “You will not embarrass me.”

-

Alex did not remember a time before the Baratheons ruled. He knew it existed, he did read his histories, but it was before his time, before his father’s time, or his grandfather’s time. He did remember a time before Michael. They each had just passed nine name days when he and Michael first met.

It had been the only time Alex had gone to the capital. Before his mother died, the Manes family would go visit their father as he trained the city guard, along with the King’s Guard. Even then, Jesse Manes had been known for his fighting capabilities, for his ruthlessness, for his exacting standards.

It was the first and only time Alex joined his brothers for their visit. Only months later, his mother died, his father returned, and his life, as he always dreamed of it, was over.

But at the time -- at the time Alex had his first taste of freedom. He was expected to join in on early training, but he was unable to do the more advanced work so he was sent to the castle’s inner gate to train with the prince and his baseborn brother.

It was the first time Alex had ever experienced companionship. 

The prince cared more for books and learning than his brother, but both loved fighting. Max, the prince, would spar with his brother until his lessons. Michael would stay out in the yard for longer, practicing anything he could get his hands on. Sometimes that wasn’t even a weapon. Alex had already found him helping the smith or grooming the horses in the stables. 

“I just like doing stuff,” Michael had said with a shrug when Alex asked. “Need something to do with my hands. It helps me calm.” 

Alex had watched him a lot the first few days. He watched as Michael flew through his lessons, reading, arithmetic, and weaponry. He had watched Michael shoe a horse, stoke a fire. He had watched Michael as he did everything to keep his rage in check.

Michael raged at everything - at the way the washer women were treated, at the dismissal most petitioners experienced when they went before the king. He raged at the way his half-sister Isobel was locked away. He raged at how most of the court treated him.

It was in one of those rages that Alex first spoke to Michael.

“Why are you so angry?” Alex asked as he followed Michael through the castle, through passages and tunnels, until they were in the bowels of the castle with the bones of long dead dragons.

“’Ours is the fury’, right?” Michael had said. 

They spent most of the day down there.

No one even noticed they were gone.

Alex spent the rest of the trip by Michael’s side. He had never had a friend before, never had someone he wanted to spend so much time with. He had never had anyone who laughed at his jokes or even anyone who had made him smile so much.

Before they left to return home, Michael and Alex had snuck away one last time. Within the depths of the castle, Michael took Alex’s hand and kissed it, like a lord did to a lady.

“I’m not a lady!” Alex laughed as he punched Michael in the arm. 

Michael had laughed too until Alex had kissed him, a quick peck on the lips.

“I’m not a lady either,” Michael said, eyes wide at Alex. “Or a lord.”

“You’re even better,” Alex replied. “You’re Michael.”

Alex left the next day and he swore that his life was changed forever. He knew what it was like to not be alone, to not live under a shadow, to not live in fear. He learned how to escape and he wanted it for the rest of his life.

-

His mother died, his father returned home, and that first taste of freedom was all that Alex had for six years.

-

“You will not embarrass me.”

Alex had a good idea what his father meant by that.

It would never be on the battlefield; all Manes men were adept at battle, they had to be to survive. Their father showed no mercy. It would not be in court either, as they rarely attended any courtly events, but even then Alex knew his courtesies well, as was expected.

No, the embarrassment would be Alex and his inclinations. Inclinations that he had never even pursued, not that that mattered to Jesse Manes. The fact that Alex hadn’t joined in on the time-honored tradition of harassing the serving girls was damnation enough in his father’s eyes.

He tried not to look too eager as he joined his father and his brothers in the courtyard to welcome Michael and his guards. He tried to avoid Michael’s gaze once he greeted his father. He tried not to notice Michael’s light brown curls or the way the sun made his skin glow. He tried not to show anything when Michael approached him and shook his hand.

“Alex,” he said as he gripped Alex’s hand, quite unlike the last time they touched. “It’s been a while.”

Alex swallowed past his nerves. “It has. I hope you enjoy your stay here.”

Michael looked Alex in the eyes and said around a smirk, “Oh, I think I will.”

“Alex, show Michael to his room.”

Lord Manes’ voice cut through the tension. Alex knew that his father meant this as a punishment. After all, it should be a servant doing this job.

Alex didn’t mind.

He didn’t mind the reprieve from duties, nor did he mind the small talk he and Michael engaged in as they walked through the corridors.

He especially did not mind when, after they entered Michael’s new room, Michael pushed him against the heavy door and kissed him.

“Micha-“ Alex’s question was cut off when Michael kissed him again.

Finally, Michael drew back and rest his head against Alex’s. They stood there quietly, just sharing breath.

Alex broke the silence. “What was that?”

Michael laughed, delighted. “It was a kiss Alex. You’d think you’d recognize it. You are the one who started it.”

Alex felt himself blush at the reminder of their first meeting. “You remember that?”

Michael laughed again. “It was my first kiss Alex, you really think I was going to forget it?”

“It’s been years though, and we were children.”

“We were,” Michael agreed easily. He brought a hand up to Alex’s cheek, Alex couldn’t help but lean into it. “But I never wanted to be around anyone the way I wanted to be around you. And even then you were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

“We barely spoke since then,” Alex protested. “A few letters over the years!”

Michael wasn’t deterred. “We’ll get to know each other now. I’ll be here until I’m knighted or until my father calls me back.”

“It won’t be like at the capital Michael. We won’t have the freedom to run off, not this time.”

“I know that Alex. I know your father, remember? He trained me until he returned here. We’ll spar, you’ll continue your studies. I’ll take my tactical lessons. He can’t control us every hour of the day. He can’t control us at night.” He paused, then stepped far enough away to look Alex in the eyes. “The weeks you spent with me all those years ago was the happiest I have ever been. I’m not giving that up Alex. I won’t.”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Alex admitted quietly. “I just didn’t think you’d feel the same way.”

Michael’s only response was to kiss Alex again.

Eventually, Alex pushed Michael away. “We need to get back,” he said, regret clear in his voice. “He’ll get suspicious.”

The left the room and returned to the courtyard where Lord Manes had the rest of his sons sparring.

“You took too long,” Jesse said once Alex was in his view.

“Sorry, my lord,” Alex replied.

“Apologies, Lord Manes,” Michael cut in. “I asked your son to show me around. We rode hard to get here early this morning and I needed to relieve myself.”

Lord Manes seemed to accept this, though he narrowed his eyes at Michael’s willingness to discuss such matters in the open.

Alex hid his grin and moved to his bow and arrow, ready for his afternoon practice.

-

It was as Alex had warned, Jesse Manes did not leave time for much beyond training and lessons. Michael’s time was dominated by morning trainings that lasted until the noon meal and then afternoon lessons that lasted until supper. He saw Alex in the mornings, but their lessons never overlapped and Jesse rarely allowed them to spar. Lord Manes preferred to test Michael against his older sons and the older squires that trained with their household guard. Alex could often be seen with the greener boys, though he far outranked them in skill.

It was obvious that Jesse Manes did not favor his youngest son in the slightest. It was more obvious to Michael that Jesse Manes wished he could just forget his youngest son altogether. He was rougher with him. He singled him out for every failure and never once gave a word of praise, despite how much skill Alex had.

The only time they had together was after supper, when Alex would retire to the library as he had done for years. Michael would stay for a few drinks with the older Manes men before he would go to the library to supplement his tactical lessons. 

No one besides the two of them, and the elderly master, ever went there. Alex relished in the quiet while Michael reveled in Alex’s company. They would sit at the tables, side by side, and read. Michael often had a piece of parchment next to him where he would scribble notes. More often than not, those notes were to Alex. They were questions about his day or questions about him, his favorite subjects or foods. Once it was what he would do if he had the choice.

I wouldn’t fight, Alex replied. Music lessons were my favorite thing, before my mother died. I would have done something with that.

Michael looked over at Alex with a smile. 

Do you play anything? He wrote.

Alex nodded.

Mostly string instruments and I sing too.

Michael leaned in close to Alex, breath a soft against Alex’s ear. “You’ll have to sing for me sometime.”

Alex bit his lip, grabbed Michael’s hand and steered him behind the overflowing shelves.

Sometimes their nightly trips to the library ended in a shadowed corner, with one or the other pushed against the wall as they exchanged fevered kisses. Michael loved those nights, where he could feel Alex against him and they could dream about a future away from Jesse Manes, a future where they could be together.

They got to know each other in that library, got to know each other as they were now at fifteen name days rather than the memory of them as two little lost boys seeking an escape. They spent two years in that routine: train apart, eat, study apart, eat, and then spend their evenings together. 

In those two years they learned a lot about each other. Michael learned about Alex’s dream to take up music again once he left his father’s house, about Alex’s fears about his father, about his love for lemon cakes and his quick wit and snark. Michael fell in love with Alex in those evenings, Alex as he was now. He understood why Alex feared his father, why they hid in dark corners and never dared to do more than kiss.

Alex, in turn, learned about Michael’s fear of failing his father, of losing his home because he was a bastard. He learned about Michael’s mother, a serving woman for the Dornish princess named Mara. 

“I’m actually Michael Sand,” he had said. “No Baratheon title for me.”

Alex learned that Michael was excited to be a member of the King’s Guard, that he wanted to protect his brother and his sister, as the only members of the family who cared about him. 

“He wants to legitimize me,” Michael said as they both leaned over a book on the great houses of Westeros. “He hates how people treat me, he and Isobel both. They’re the only family I have that matters.”

“I could be your family too,” Alex had whispered between kisses days after Michael told him about his love for Max and Isobel. “I think I’d prefer you to them anyway.”

“You wouldn’t be my family, Alex,” Michael responded with a sad smile. “You’d be my lord.”

Michael just kissed Alex when he tried to protest.

-

The longer they went without discovery, the bolder they became.

They still stuck to the library, but as their duties and responsibilities changed, so did their habits. Just shy of his eighteenth name day, Michael spent less time indoors in tactical studies and more time outside training with Lord Manes, and now with Alex. He was a squire to his older brother. Unlike when they were younger, they  were now often paired together, as Michael was the only person who could match Alex’s skill. They spent most of their days together, sparring and training. They went through survival training together. 

When he thought he could get away with it, Michael would drag Alex into the stables, the smithy, the armory, wherever Michael could find that was empty. He grew bold with his affections, especially after dinner and a few ales.

“Michael,” Alex admonished as Michael’s hand pulled at his tunic. 

They were in the hall leading to their rooms and Michael barely kept his hands to himself the entire journey from the small chamber where they usually ate.

“Michael,” Alex said again as Michael pulled him by the collar and into his arms. “Someone might see.”

“Your brothers are all going to the tavern and your father’s rooms are on the other side of the keep.” He pulled Alex in closer so he could nip at his lips. “We’re alone, I promise.”

Alex allowed Michael to kiss him once.

“We may be alone, but I will feel much better if we were behind a door.”

Michael smirked. “I can arrange that darling.”

In the safety of Alex’s rooms, their kisses turned desperate.

“I never want to stop touching you,” Michael said between kisses as Alex took the opportunity to push his tunic up his chest. He moved Alex’s hands to his bare skin as he lifted the tunic over his head. “Alex, please let me touch you.”

Alex scratched lightly at the chest hair just which had just started to fill-in on Michael’s chest before he stepped back to take his own tunic off.

As soon as Alex’s tunic was off, Michael was immediately in his space again. His hands caressed his stomach, his chest, before Michael’s hands made their way to Alex’s neck. He held him gently as Alex swayed into his touch, just as eager to touch as Michael was.

Their lips met again, and again, as their hands wandered. Alex, no longer fearful of discovery, allowed himself a moment to explore, to feel Michael’s body beneath his hands, to savor the gentle caress of his kiss.

The kiss did not stay gentle, and Alex did not complain. He was tired of sneaking, of hiding, of denying themselves.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Michael asked. His hands were already untying Alex’s breeches.

Alex could think of a thing or two, but he swallowed his fear and let his hands drift lower. His fingers tangled in the strings of Michael’s breeches, hands clumsy with nerves.

They had never done this before, never had the time or the privacy to do this. When the Manes men went to the taverns, they were expected to join. If one decided to stay back, the other was always guilted into coming, guilted or forced under the judging eyes of Lord Jesse Manes.

They were taking their time now.

They undressed each other slowly, not from lack of wanting but because both kept stopping to kiss, to touch. Alex didn’t know how they managed to survive for so long without this, without contact everywhere, without lips and tongues on skin, without heat and desire and love spilling out of both of them.

They laid entangled in Alex’s bed, sweat-soaked and sleepy.

“I wish I could stay here forever,” Michael whispered into Alex’s ear. 

Alex nuzzled his nose into Michael’s hair, content to just lay together. He didn’t want to think too much about the future, but he could dream with Michael now.

“We’ll join the King’s Guard together,” he smiled when Michael nodded his head in enthusiastic agreement. “That way we’ll never have to be separated for long.”

“I’ll never have to watch you get married to someone else.”

Alex had to snort at that. “I think by now everyone in The Reach has heard about the one Manes boy who has no interest in the ladies who come around.”

Michael tilted his head for a kiss. “That’s even better for me.”

They stayed in bed together until faint light broke through the windows and Michael left to pretend he had slept in his own bed.

-

They never got another moment alone after that. Alex and his brother were sent to deal with bandits in the far woods, to deal with a minor fight down at the brothel, to visit another lord’s holding on their father’s behalf. Michael was set to more training, his nondominant hand, using an axe, then a hammer, a spear. Lord Manes made sure Michael was acquainted with all manners of warfare, and he did not do so lightly. Even the times when both were in the keep together, Michael was too exhausted to do more than give Alex a small smile and a gentle kiss, if they were lucky enough to be alone.

The distance they could deal with, they knew they would have to eventually. But Lord Manes never seemed to be out of sight, not unless someone else was there too. At first Alex didn’t think much of it, his father had always been an overbearing presence in his life. Then Lord Manes started staying after dinner when he would normally leave the younger men to their drinking. He also started to go to the library in his down time, which he had little of, and perused the selection on ancient laws and customs, which was by the large work tables in the center of the room. To Alex, it was all obvious.

“He knows something,” he whispered to Michael as they broke their morning fast. “Or, he suspects something. He has never acted like this before.”

Michael didn’t seem particularly perturbed.

“It’ll be ok, we’ve been careful. He may suspect something, but he’ll get over it and we can go back to how it was.”

Alex disagreed, but he held his tongue.

 

On his eighteenth name day, Michael received a raven from the capitol.

“I’m being summoned back to King’s Landing,” he read as they broke their fast. “The king believes it’s time I return home and take my place in the King’s Guard.” He looked over at Alex, confused.

It was only the two of them, as they chose to eat in the courtyard. They would get in a bout before Alex was once again dragged out into the wilderness with his brother. No one was out, as early as it was, everyone going about their morning routines before they ventured outside of the castle walls to do their duty. They sat close together, legs entwined. It was as open as they would get. It was the only time they would have together on Michael’s name day. 

“He’d only summon me back if your father told him I was ready...”

“And my father will never think you’re ready,” Alex finished for him. “He hates you for something you can’t control and will always find a fault with you. You’re still young for a knight, even with your abilities. Why would he say you’re ready now?”

Michael shook his head, eyes downcast. 

“Your father’s been keeping us apart lately, you notice that? We’re barely in the castle at the same time, and when we are he finds us something to do as far away as possible.” He turned his sad eyes on Alex. The usual warmth there was missing. All Alex saw was sadness and resignation. “He knows.”

“He is not a subtle man,” Alex argued. “He’d beat me and send me away before he ever thought to insult the king. He hates me even more than he hates you.”

“What else could it be Alex? Last month he told me I’d never be good enough to protect our king and now I’m ready to go? And the foolish errands he’s sent you on recently? He’s always around and his eyes are always on you.” He shook his head and sighed. “The raven said they expect me back within a fortnight. That means I pack my stuff now and I leave by tonight.”

“I won’t be back by tonight,” Alex said. He bit his lip and willed the tears from his eyes. He looked at Michael’s face, distressed and sad but still the loveliest sight Alex had ever seen.

“I don’t know when we’ll next see each other Alex. I don’t think your father will ever send you to King’s Landing and I will never be able to leave the guard. I go where they go.”

Alex didn’t hold his tears back as Michael’s words hit him.

“This is it?” His voice was strong, despite the anguish on his face. He grabbed Michael’s face and kissed him, full on in the middle of the courtyard where anyone could see, all they had to do was walk by. “If this is it, then I am not going to waste a moment of it.” He kissed Michael again.

“I love you,” Michael whispered in the breath between their kisses. “I love you and I’m not going to let anything happen to you.” He pulled away from Alex’s embrace. “If he so much as touches you, I want to know. Knight of the realm or not, he’ll pay.”

“’Ours is the fury’, right?” Alex hiccupped a watery laugh. “You can’t say that Michael. I love you for it, but you can’t.” He wiped a tear from his cheek and laughed again. “The Seven know that my father’s an evil man. He’ll do anything to punish you. If I can’t be with you always, I at least want you to be safe from him.”

“I want you to be safe from him too.”

“I will be. I’ll travel with my brother, I will become the best knight that I can.” He smiled at Michael as he disentangled their legs. “Maybe I’ll be so good your brother will ask me to join the King’s Guard.”

“Where are you going?” Michael asked as Alex got up and walked toward the armory.

“It’s your name day Michael, of course I got you something.”

“Alex you didn’t have to.”

“Of course not, but I wanted to. And,” he hesitated as he returned with a wrapped bundle. “And now, it will be a thing for you to keep, for you to see and think of me.”

He held out the bundle so that Michael could wrap the cloth. Inside lay a scabbard and belt, sturdy but elaborately detailed. Burned into the leather of the belt was the wings of Alex’s house, the stag head of the Baratheon’s, and the sunbursts of Dorne. Often they were separate, sometimes they intertwined. The scabbard itself was plain, with only the stag head and wings alternating around the opening.

“Eventually,” Alex said as Michael admired his gift, “I hope to commission a sword to match. Neither of us will ever inherit a blade, we’ll never wield our family’s great swords. But I can give you one.” Alex looked shy, hesitant at his next words. “It will be my gift to you, as your family. If you’ll let me.”

“Alex,” Michael breathed out. “This is too much, I could never-“

“It does not matter Michael. It’s not too much, not when it’s supposed to show my love for you.” He gently placed the gift on the ground before he stepped back into Michael’s space. He kneeled in front of Michael and held his hands. “I’d swear it before The Seven, Michael, before the Old Gods and the New. Let me be your family.”

Michael brought their hands to his mouth. He kissed every place their skin touched.

“You’re already my family,” he promised. “It doesn’t take a sword for that to be true. I know I told you you’d just be my lord, but that’s not true. It never was.” He laughed now, his breath on their hands where they were still pressed to his mouth. “I’d drape you in my cloak if I had one. I would have done it years ago if we could.”

“Then take my gift Michael,” Alex moved their hands so that he could be the one to kiss them. “And take my sword when I can get it. And I’ll take your cloak when it’s ready.”

Michael finally stood, taking Alex with him. He grabbed the belt and scabbard and belted it around his waist. It was a perfect fit.

“Thank you,” Michael said as people finally started to filter through the courtyard and the morning sun barely reached over the exterior walls.

Alex gave him a smile before he went toward the stables, where he was expected to have his and his brother’s horses saddled and ready for travel.

-

They did not see each other again for years.

-

Michael stood behind Isobel, white cloak sprawled over his shoulder. His armor was a gift from Max and Isobel when he pledged his service to the crown. Around his waist sat an empty scabbard on an elaborate belt.

“Michael,” Isobel called back to Michael. She was seated on a small throne in a side hall in The Red Keep. It was the place where she held office, where ladies would try to gain her favor and her secrets. It was a place reserved for her and those she trusted above all else.

Michael was the only guard she would let in here, despite the arguments of the other guards. They were stationed at the door, on the outside, where Michael would be allowed in.

“He’s my brother,” she said to the Commander. “I trust him where I would never trust another man. He stays, the rest goes.”

That had been within his first month of service, his first month back in King’s Landing. The first month without Alex near him.

Two years had passed and the pain the distance brought had not started to get better.

“Michael,” she called again. She had always had an imperious air to her, but in the years he had been gone those airs became substantial, became something she wrapped herself in and wore with pride.

“Yes, your grace.” He kept his tone light. He never let anyone outside of Max and Isobel see his true nature. He never let anyone see his resentment of the differences between his siblings and himself. He had grown used to it. He never wanted to be part of the royal line, live the life they did, but sometimes it hurt to play at subservience to his sister.

“Everyone leave us.”

Michael hid his smirk behind his curls. The people scurried away, fearful of their lady’s wrath. As if she would do anything for something as small as this. No, Isobel’s wrath was reserved more personal affronts.

“Michael,” Isobel said again, her voice soft, the way it was when they talked alone, in private about the things beyond court life. “I received an interesting raven this morning.”

“Did you now, sister?”

“Yes, it concerns something rather important to you.”

“Does it now?” His smirk was audible. “And why did you wait until now to mention it?”

“I was just waiting for the opportune moment. It was important that I didn’t ruin the surprise.”

Michael continued to smile at his sister. “You know I’m not one for surprises Izzy.”

It was Isobel’s turn to smirk. “I think you might like this one,” she said as she reached under her throne and grabbed a small letter. “You see, an envoy from the Manes family is due any moment. I thought that that would be a thing you were interested in.” The opening and closing of a side door was inaudible over her imperious tone.

Michael just sighed at his sister, his smile gone. “You know any envoy from the Manes’ won’t be the one I want to see. Jesse Manes would never send him here.”

“Are you sure about that?” A voice by the side door asked.

Michael turned at the question, heart in his throat. Alex Manes was as beautiful as the last time he stood in Michael’s presence. He had lost what little fat his face had held. His body was more muscular under his light armor, Michael could tell from the glimpses could between the leather plates. Even from the distance he could see that his eyes were as warm and as loving as they had ever been.

Michael felt the tears in his eyes as he took his first step toward Alex. He did not say a word as he crossed the distance with long strides. He did not say a word as he wrapped Alex in his arms  for the first time in over three years. He could feel the tears roll down his face and the answering ones from Alex as he brought their faces together, as their noses brushed before their lips met in a soft, reverent kiss.

“Alex,” Michael whispered into the space between their lips. “Alex,” he breathed again before he closed the distance between them. “I never thought I’d see you again.”

Michael could feel Alex’s smile, a small sad thing, against his lips. “Neither The Seven or my father could keep me from you.” He brought his hands up to frame Michael’s face. He pulled back just enough to meet Michael’s eyes. “There is nothing in this world that could keep me from you,” he said as his hands moved from their place on Michael’s cheeks down to his neck and then up into his curls.

“Nothing,” Michael agreed before he pulled Alex in for a kiss much more passionate than the ones they just shared.

After several long moments they pulled away. Neither cared that their reunion had a witness, not when that witness was the princess and Michael’s sister. She had watched their initial embrace with a fond smile before she had turned her head in a semblance of privacy when the embrace turned heated. She cleared her throat after a few moments and chanced a look.

Michael and Alex were still entwined, just holding each other as they had yearned to for years.

“I am sorry to do this,” Isobel said, “but I do have to let the rest of my court back in at some point. That does mean Michael must return to his duties.” She smiled at them in apology. She turned her gaze to a point behind Alex “Was there anything else, before I call everyone in?”

Alex startled at her comment and moved from Michael’s arms.

“I almost forgot,” he said with a smile as he turned toward a bundle on the floor. Alex picked it up and brought it to Michael. He presented it and Michael knew exactly what it was.

He unwrapped cloth around the sword with a teary-eyed smile. The sword was beautiful in its simplicity. It was balanced, the weight perfect in Michael’s grasp. It was unadorned, the hilt simple polished steel. The only bit of decoration was at the base of the blade where a stag’s head was etched with care.

“There are wings on the reverse,” Alex said, which prompted Michael to look. The sword would fit perfectly in the empty sheath at Michael’s side. “A sword for our family,” Alex said, voice soft. “Like I promised.”

Michael sheathed his sword and pulled Alex toward him one more time.

“For our family,” he whispered before he leaned in for one more kiss.