Theseus was destined to be forgotten and unloved by his family from the start.
It’s a fact like any other. The sky is blue, the snow is a pearlescent white. The sun rises and falls yet every day he is alone.
It was that fact that made everything more painful than it already was. A fact that dictated his life.
When Theseus kneeled down at the early age of 11 to the Emperor of The Antarctic Empire and had the weight of a crown he would soon know too well placed delicately on his head of golden curls, he would quickly learn to regret ever requesting he gain the position of the crown prince.
Unbeknownst to him, his next few years would consist of long meetings, late-night studying, and looking through piles of paperwork that never seemed to stop coming.
It would be filled with him putting on a constant mask less he wanted to ruin the royal family’s reputation.
Theseus soon found that such a position would strain his relationships with his family until all that was left was simple pleasantries and brief greetings as he passed the halls to another meeting.
It would be known not long after that such a responsibility led to him closing himself off to the outside world with his eyes still trained on trade agreement papers. Theseus would, as fate had it, become completely alone.
It’s been a long time since he’s seen his father in place of an Emperor and even longer since he saw a glimpse of the two estranged brothers that weren’t from golden framed portraits.
A position as serious as crown-prince would leave him a mere husk of the once bright-eyed child with colorful words and replace the boy with an ice-cold gaze he would learn from none other than the Emperor himself and a frown permanently carved onto his face.
While Theseus was proud of his work and determination it didn’t mean he didn’t find himself late in the night crying alone where he used to hear the heartbeat of a brother as one played a simple guitar melody, and the other read a book about a great hero’s own destiny as the three close brothers would talk into the late hours of the night.
It didn’t mean he felt any less alone with an ache in his heart he could never get rid of. Didn't mean that each passing day the growing stress of it all seemed like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Yet maybe, if he was perfect enough his family might take him back.
And so he tried to be good enough but no matter how much he tried, he couldn't get the pleased hum from a brother as he braided his hair and the gleaming smile of a father nor the joyous cheers of a brunet as he showed everyone what he did.
He would learn that trying to please the family he once knew would soon be the death of him.
In the way his hands shook and he felt fatigue hang over him as it sunk its claws into his very being, or how each time he looked at his reflection he saw pale sunken cheeks and dark eye bags that were eerily reminiscent of his mother Kristin in her last days in the mortal realm. The days she was far too tired to walk around the garden she always used to bring him too much less be able to sit up without assistance. Each day, he was closer to death and he’d find himself wondering if he’d be alive long enough to see the next sunrise.
He wondered if this is what his mother felt like during her bedridden days. Tired, trapped, and pleading for a break to end all her suffering.
He would push those thoughts away, Pushing the blurred face of his mother’s smile into the darkest corners of his mind.
In the last remainders of the young blond, he was still ever so stubborn and determined. He still trudged on despite his struggles, still wore the mask across his face as he continued to push himself harder with every development in the empire or day-long meetings.
Of course, he never paid attention to his own steadily declining health, both mental and physical, over the years as he lost himself in the fog of his own mind.
Maybe he was hoping for something, for his father to come to him and look at him with a glint of pride that told him he loved him. Maybe he was desperate for attention or any indication that his father was satisfied with him if he did more. If he worked harder to prove he could be good enough for the empire then maybe he would be worthy of love.
He wasn’t expecting harsh words and an even colder gaze that struck fear into his very core of which would give him a rude awakening of what was just the beginning.
Wasn’t expecting to hear the words filled with such dissatisfaction and disappointment that it made him push himself harder to where he would skip meals in exchange for pressing wax on letters or staining his hands with ink.
And maybe that’s where he went wrong, expecting the opposite of what was the truth.
He was left by an estranged family to carry the weight of an empire and more.
Truly it was only a matter of time before he broke under the pressure of it and shattered into enough pieces that he couldn’t put himself back together again.
He was found, fragile than he’d ever let himself be seen, by none other than the Emperor himself.
He was kneeling against the hard wooden flooring, hugging himself tightly as he marked his arms with red crescents deep enough to almost draw blood.
He knew he would be a pitiful sight to behold, that is if anyone dared to enter the study he specifically told his guard Wisp to not let anyone enter.
His previously pristine clothing was now wrinkled and stained with tears. The soft cloak he wore every day now felt rough and itchy as it weighed down on his body and he knew there would be dust clinging to his clothing. He felt disgusting( maybe that’s because he was).
He should be doing something productive with his time. Stop being so useless because how will he be enough if he never does enough to prove it? He’s so lazy.
A sob tears through his throat as his breathing begins to pick up speed and he can do nothing but dig his nails deeper into his skin.
He’s suddenly disturbed by the door being creaked open, a sliver of golden light widening from the previous crevice underneath the large door. He feels his heart skip a beat and pick up speed as he realizes what state he’s allowed himself to be caught in.
He looks through the curly pale blond bangs that had fallen in front of his cold and wet tear-stained face and feels his heart sink at the sight of who he dared to make eye contact with.
The Emperor cast a large winged shadow over his pathetic and hunched-over body. A piercing gaze that haunted his memory for years looked over him as if the Emperor was picking him apart to find every imperfection and broken edge after he let himself collapse in a messy pile of tears and crumpled fabric.
He couldn’t find it in himself to break eye contact with the older man, whether it was out of fear or shame, his eyes held something unreadable as he continued to stare down at him.
Large black wings ruffled feathers and he could see them tense up ever so slightly.
“Get up.” The Emperor finally spoke, it was cold and sharp, not a request but rather a command.
He stumbled to get up, leaving the golden crown that was laid discarded nearby. Using his cold fingertips to wipe tear tracks, he felt his cheeks warm up in embarrassment in the process as the Emperor watched his every move.
He lowered his head in shame, pitifully begging the tears that pricked his eyes not to fall.
“Look at me when I speak to you Theseus.”
His eyes instantly snapped up to the Emperor's own as he shuffled in place awkwardly. He always hated when he got the Emperor's gaze shifted onto him as if a spotlight he didn’t realize shone on him the second he directed his attention to him.
He mumbled an apology, gaze trailing momentarily to where he could see Whisp standing with an apologetic expression, worry evident in his frown and furrowed brows.
The Emperor stepped closer and he felt his heart hammer against his rib cage at the sudden movement.
“Do you understand how dramatic and selfish you’re being right now?” His father the Emperor hissed, venom seeping into his words. He took a step forward and Theseus took a step back.
This was clearly the wrong choice because the Emperor walked faster and took hold of his wrist in a bruising grip with sharp talons. Terror grappled onto his mind with a heavy anchor as he stared up at the man.
Moonlight from the frosted windows cast a shadow across the man's face as the only light source in the room.
“Do you understand how dramatic you are for crying here as you waste everyone's time after pulling the stunt you did?”
He stuttered an apology as the grip on his wrist tightened and he made sure to look anywhere but at the man's poisonous glare.
He jumped slightly when the door closed shut with a click and the previous warm lanterns lighting the hall now were once again only a sliver at the bottom of the door.
“Did you bother to think for a moment what the Imperial family will look like in the eyes of the rest of the empire after you ran away from the summer solstice?”
“Why would I be there if you wouldn’t even dare utter my name? When all you see of me is just a trophy to display?” He answered.
“You're selfish Theseus. Embarrassing me in front of all of those people and running away like a child . I expected better than you, one would’ve thought you finally grew up.”
Something about that sentence made something deep inside of him snap, something nasty and cruel, something that was sharp and ugly fester inside of his chest and set ablaze with a roaring flame that spread like wildfire.
Despite being unsure where the sudden wave of fury and false confidence came from, it felt intoxicating as it ran through every crack and corner of his mind and he couldn’t stop the words from spilling once they began. Like poison clinging to his bloodstream. Like a dam finally breaking after staying together for so long.
He felt himself scoff, a hysterical laugh bubbling out and tears burning his eyes as his fists curled till knuckles turned a shade of paperwhite and he felt fingernails dig into soft palms.
“I'm selfish ?! I've been stuck being perfect the second that crown was given to me and the only reason I even asked to take the role of crown prince was for the family !” he yelled at him, freeing his wrist from the man's hold on him and taking a few staggering steps back.
As soon as those words left his mouth, the Emperor's expression shifted at once. A sour frown growing, brows knitted– maybe Theseus could’ve deciphered it if it wasn’t for the blood pounding in his ears.
Selfish. His father thought he was selfish .
“You're crossing the line Theseus” the Emperor warned, his voice dangerously calm.
“If anyone is selfish it's you! -”
“You have to stop this nonsense, Theseus! Don't you think I've noticed your rebellious acts recently?!” The Emperor's wings fluffed up in anger behind him, slightly raised as he took a step closer to him.
“I've tried excusing your actions Theseus, believe me, I've tried but I can't keep doing this when you refuse to grow up and get rid of that attitude of yours!”
Everything that Theseus had done was for the Imperial family’s sake. Every cold morning he's spent alone and late nights with a quill held in an unsteady hand was for him.
“It's your fault Wilbur left! It's your fault I have to do this. Why can't you understand that I'm hurting too! Is it so bad if I was selfish for once?!” He yelled as loud as his throat would allow, chest heaving and blood positively boiling with the desperation to be heard, to be seen as his son.
“One would bite their tongue until they learn their role in this empire and have requested forgiveness” The Emperor's voice was cold as the antarctic winds, unforgiving and cruel.
“So you expect me to apologize?” It wasn't a question, deep down he already knew the answer yet was too stunned to truly accept it.
Maybe he should’ve left, maybe he never should’ve spoken at all. Any fight he had towards the Emperor disappeared like sand through his fingertips.
“For some reason no matter what I do to try and please you it will never be enough, will it?” He could feel the tears burn as they trailed down his face and chest tighten but he couldn't stop now, not when he's finally figured it out. He'd always been something pushing into his fathers knit tight circle of loved ones, always trying to make himself one of them in the eyes of his father. But he never was one, he just led himself on and was afraid of the truth that was in front of him all this time.
“N-No matter how hard I try…You will always see the worst in me, won't you?.. I will never be the perfect son you want to represent the empire. No matter how much I love this family, Wilbur loved this family e-even Techno loved this family and you wonder why they rarely appear, it's you who broke this family, not me!”
The two were standing mere inches apart. Silent as ever as time slowed to a stop around them. He waited for his father to show a reaction, a glare or harsh words thrown back at him but the Emperor did nothing of the sort, he simply stood there giving him complete silence with an unreadable look.
The tension was thick enough to cut it with a knife.
And just like that, the silence was broken. Theseus didn’t get a moment to yell once more, a burning pain blooming across his cheek with echoing thunder that rang in his ears.
Theseus moved a hand towards his cheek. The Emperor yelled and belittled him, the Emperor scolded and critiqued his every move but never has he dared to hit him.
Everything that’s led up to this only confirms everything he’s ever questioned. He truly would never be enough.
He’s never wanted to be controlled by his feelings, never wanted this . He’s stepped over the line and crossed too far now. He met the deep end of the ocean as the raging waters thrashed him around without a care and he was left to drown without a hand reaching out for him.
He didn't notice the Emperor moving until he finally shut the door.
His chest was still heaving, adrenaline finally fading that left only a sobbing mess of anger and sadness as his mind caught up with the truth.
He collapsed onto the floor with angry sobs. Tearing at the fabric of the cloak until all that was left was a thin sleeveless gray shirt. He caught a glimpse of himself on the surface of a shining mirror, his eyes widened at the state he was in and he wanted to sob as the slightly red mark across his cheek, just barely visible in the moonlight he could see faint red scratches across his cheek where the Emperor's talons grazed against him.
He hated what he saw, hated how terrible he looked, hated every imperfection. Hated every part of him that made him himself.
His eyes darted to the crown laying near him, picking it up with quick anger he threw it at the mirror as his vision blurred again.
He jumped as the sound of glass shattering rang out.
He hated this. Hated everything and anything to do with this fake life. He was sick and tired of doing all the work around here. He wished he could trade places with his mother.
Was he truly a monster? Something so unlovable that his entire family hated him, A parasite that took and took without regard?
Every word spoken, whether the two regretted it or not, played in his mind like a broken record. With claws that threatened blood as they screeched with static.
His hands moved to the wings attached to his back as he cried, angrily ripping any feather he could reach till his wings were raw and hands covered in light blood. The one thing he used to take pride in looking similar to his father was now a curse, from the wings on his back to the same blonde hair the Emperor had in his youth.
It was like looking into a mirror of the past his father used to say, he wished he hadn't.
The whispers only silenced when he tensed up at the sound of the door creaking open once again. Did he come back to continue where they left off?
He let out a breath he was unaware he held to begin with at the sight of someone familiar, one person that he could seek comfort from when everyone else turned their backs.
Clara had been his assigned servant for as long as he could remember.
Clara's eyes softened, curly black hair tied into a messy bun. The light blue of the empire coloring her short uniform dress with a navy cloak hung on her shoulders. It didn’t go unnoticed when he saw her scan his face to see glistening tear tracks, a red mark across his cheek, and puffy pink eyes, feathers scattered around him without care and held lightly in his right hand.
Her mouth parted before closing as she tried to find the right words. She then decided to enter quietly before softly shutting the door behind her.
“Theseus… oh your wings” she whispered, at a loss of words. She rushed forward with a few more steps and almost tripped before she kneeled and hugged him tightly.
“What happened? I was coming to retrieve you then I heard glass shatter and…”
He didn’t say anything, his throat seeming to close up as if vines clung to each syllable with thorns threatening to draw blood should he speak. His hands gripped fiercely at the back of her cloak as he heaved air into his lungs.
“It’s okay Theseus whatever it is we can fix it alright? I’m here and you're with me..take your time to explain” She murmured, rubbing circles in between the area of his wings.
Distantly he thought, she smelled of fresh roses and pine. A faint memory of a mother's hug just as warm as hers surfaced from the back of his memory.
Clara was the one who always pushed him to get out of bed the next day. Clara would never hit him nor belittle him.
It took longer than he’d like to admit to calm down enough to speak without his voice sounding like he was on the verge of tears. When the thorns finally retreated and no longer strangled his airways he spoke, quiet enough that if you weren't listening you would have missed it.
“Everyones left me a long time ago..haven't they?”
“What do you mean Theseus?” she asked, gently rubbing soft circles into his back.
“I won't ever be good enough for my father, I won't be good enough for anyone to love, will I? So that just makes me unlovable doesn't it?” he didn't ask, it was a statement, a fact. Has everyone he thought loved him only pitied him up until they couldn't stand him any longer?
He heard a soft gasp of what he thought was disbelief and felt her cling tighter to him “ Never say that Theseus, End no I- believe me now when I say this, you are such a good person even if you don't believe it alright? You are not unlovable and whoever said differently doesn't know you like I do, okay?” she spoke with such confidence as if her words were the truth and nothing less.
she let go of him and brought both of his bloodied hands close to hers, eyes shining with such fierceness his breath caught in his throat.
“Emperor Phil called me selfish, he- he hit me , -” he took a sharp breath in, eyes burning.
Clara hesitated for a moment, eyes flickering to the glass shards before finding the courage to continue speaking “Theseus..If…Would you leave if you had the chance? Leave the castle I mean”
Something about the way she said it was enticing. Truly he should have said no the second she suggested such a thing and yet- he couldn't. He couldn't find it in himself to refuse such an offer. It pulled him in like a siren luring a sailor, risky yet so appealing.
“I couldn't leave them…I can't…Prince Wilbur already ran away and I have a job to do here”
‘I can’t be selfish, I can’t be selfish, I have to be better. I have to stay I have to be better than perfect.’ repeated like a mantra in his head, a headache forming from the stress.
Something in her eyes pleaded for him to accept. Eying the door cautiously she looked back towards him, keeping her voice low before she continued speaking “I know I shouldn't overstep but Prince Theseus I can't let you live like this..I mean just looking at you..” she trailed off as she stared at the raised skin from the scratches left by the Emperor's hand.
His eyes threatened to water again.
What a selfish prince, a selfish prince who only cares about himself. Disgusting.
“I'm…tired.” he whispered in response, bowing his head down. It was the truth, he was tired, tired of smiling and pretending that everything never truly hurt him. That desperate feeling that he's caged claws at his mind to finally release it and he can't find it in himself to ignore it any longer.
“Theseus say the word and I'll help you. I have friends in the palace I could talk to that could guide you out of the inner empire. I can retrieve anything you need for the journey just let me help you and return the favor of everything you've done for me” She pleaded, pressing his hands gently.
Was it selfish though? what he was about to do, Was it selfish if it was for his own barely kept together sanity? for his self-preservation?
If he was selfish he would only ever think about himself, but that wasn't true. He could care about himself and still care about his family.
“I..Okay…Okay yeah, yeah I'll do it.” He said, trying to hype himself up as it truly hit him just what was about to happen.
He looked at her, a shine in his eyes that's been lost to time coming out of its hiding place. A crooked smile grew on his face reminiscent of the past. A spark of hope grew in his chest, warming him from the inside out. Something like excitement washing over him and thrumming in his veins that he hasn't felt for years pushing the bitter sadness away in waves.
Clara let a soft giggle at the sight, the coiled strands of hair that framed her face bouncing as she did. A smile matched his own as she helped him stand.
She pulled him into a hug, the scent of pine and roses once again filling his senses, he hugged back just as tightly.
When they finally parted there was something playful and bright in her copper eyes “are you ready?” she asked playfully, hands on her hip.
“Ready as I'll ever be innit?” he responded as he moved to open the door.
“Well then Prince Theseus-” she cut herself off and he turned to look back at the door.
His heart skipped a beat.
“I overhead a plan that had something to do with sneaking Theseus out. I want in, of course, if you'll let me of course and I won't rat out the one prince who actually cared around here. I can help Theseus get out with no more than a few questioning glances” Wisp said, easing any worries the two had.
Maybe he wasn't as alone as he felt.
“Let's do this” Theseus responded, a confident closed-mouth smile on his face as he quickly shook hands with the guard.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
“Im.. kind of…nervous, I think?”
“I'd be surprised if you weren't” Clara responded, she put a comforting gloved hand on his shoulder squeezing it gently as reassurance.
“Truthfully though, it's going to be okay. You have to write me a letter when you get a chance though or else I'll come find you myself”
He let himself laugh, white air leaving his lungs as it escaped into the Antarctic winds.
“Alright we should be good to go, you'll be alright making it home yourself Clara?” Wisp asked from where he stood next to a dark brown horse - Juorse his mind supplied- as he adjusted the saddle strap.
“Of course, no need to worry”
“Let's get you going then, wouldn't want the staff to be alerted of what's happened”
He took a shuddering breath as Wisp held out his hand towards him, the guard grunting quietly as he pulled the prince onto the horse.
He looked unsurely towards Clara.
“You'll be okay on your own, you have everything you need in that satchel of yours and you know you can always come to me should things go wrong”
“You're right... Thanks, Clara for everything I mean…I guess this is goodbye right?”
“For now...i'll see you again eventually though”
“You know where to go Theseus? Remember what I said, past the forest and you'll be led to a nearby village, keep going past the local library they have and make a right, you'll see a path and after some time there's an inn you can stay at for the night. Tell the Innkeeper I sent you if he gets suspicious and the next morning you can get directions to the nearest dock alright?”
He nodded and held the reins tighter as he shivered. It was just barely warmer under the thick layer of his cloak.
The three exchanged a few more words and before Theseus knew it he was off into the forest.
Crisp winter air burned his lungs as he laughed. Golden blonde hair thrashed around wildly from where it peaked from under his hood.
He liked the sound of that.
Prince Theseus was finally free.