Ryan waved to the crowd from the balcony, savouring being enveloped in their cheers.
His mother beside him beamed. The Queen Mother hugged the new King fiercely. "You've come such a long way," the Queen Mother said, her voice thick with emotion. "I'm so proud of you."
"As am I, of you," Ryan replied. Once free from their embrace, he looked down at the crowd, to their celebrating acclamation, and for the first time he could remember, he felt like he was in the right place, doing the right thing.
Lee, exhausted from losing a day to travel, looked up at the balcony from where he stood, waving to the crowd. She fought her way to his eyeline, and then began to yell.
"Your Highness! Your Highness! I mean," Lee wrinkled her nose. He wasn't that, anymore. "Your Majesty! Your Majesty! Look up, it's me! Please!"
But he couldn't hear her through the cacophony of cheers and yells akin to her own. Thinking quickly, Lee ran towards the balcony of the newer part of the castle. She fought her way through, apologising briefly for all the people she needed to push out of her way.
Lee reached the bottom of the building, and scanned the sides, looking for any entrance. They were all blocked, not only by Armed Guards, but by members of the police force and other men in black suits and sunglasses with earpieces.
Lee exhaled loudly and swore. No way to get in. However… there had to be some way of getting out.
She scanned the crowd behind her again before staring strategically at the blocked entrances at the foot of the church. To her right, she suddenly spied a row of cars, each identical in black with the Montegian flag attached to the lights at the front. She ran towards them, not forgetting the guards that stood in her way.
Lee wracked her brain, trying to think of a viable excuse to send the Guards away. But as soon as she reached the row of cars, obstructed not only by the men in suits, but by wooden barricades, a hand was pushed in front of her face.
"I'm sorry ma'am," the man said in clipped English. "You're not allowed through here."
"But you don't understand, I need to see him," Lee cried.
"You're not allowed through here," the man repeated.
"Listen, my name is Elliott Jacobs, and I need to talk to him—"
"I'm sorry, you're not allowed through here."
"Please! Just find one of their Highnesses, even find the Queen Mother. Please, they can verify who I am! I just need to talk to him!"
"Ma'am, please step away. You're not allowed through here."
"Please!" Lee yelled. After a twenty-three hour flight, after losing a day to the time difference, after revising her speech to him in her head countless times, she was not about to give up now. "I have got to talk to him, I need to tell him that I—!"
"Tell him what?" a familiar voice behind the Guard said.
The Guard immediately saluted Prince Matthew, looking handsome in his navy blue suit. He stowed his slim smartphone and his hospital pager away in his blazer pocket, clearly having just finished a conversation outside.
"Your Highness," Lee breathed. "I'm sorry. I just… needed to get through."
Matthew looked at the Guard. It's okay. She's right, she needs to get through."
The Guard nodded, and stepped aside.
"Thank you," Lee said. She looked at the Prince and tipped her head forward. "Your Highness."
Matthew brushed it aside and wordlessly moved towards a doorway on the side of the church. Lee peered inside – revealing a wide staircase, leading to what she could only assume was the balcony.
"Come on," he said briskly. "I thought you needed to talk to someone."
Lee took a step forward, and then—"Wait," she said, her courage slipping. "Perhaps – perhaps I could wait here?"
Matthew stared at her, his jaws visibly clenching. Through annoyance, perhaps? I suppose he had every right to be annoyed, Lee thought with resignation.
"I think you've left him waiting long enough, don't you?" He quirked an eyebrow, and stepped inside the foyer leading to the stairs.
Lee pursed her lips and followed him in small steps.
He reached the foot of the staircase and began to climb, but Lee froze. Matthew turned. "Not coming, I see."
"I… I don't think up there would be the best time to tell him I'm here," Lee remarked, a small forced laugh punctuating the end of her sentence.
Matthew shrugged and continued to climb.
With him gone, all Lee could hear were the crowds outside, still cheering his name, still celebrating the coming new era. Her thoughts permeated in her brain, swirling and changing every second from being convinced this was a good idea to wanting to drown herself in her stupidity.
"What am I doing," she said quietly to herself. She had bought the first ticket she could find to Montagé, draining her bank account as a consequence. Having only brought with her the small backpack on her back to carry her passport, her wallet, and her phone, she slipped through customs quite easily. But the nervous part of her wished she had spent a little longer doing those mundane things, if only to delay seeing him just a little bit.
She stood in the foyer for another ten minutes, waiting with bated breath for steps to come down the stairs. Then—
Lee squealed. She looked around quickly, trying to find somewhere to hide. She ran to the steps and hid underneath them, closing her eyes and chiding herself for being so stupid.
"… I can't believe I have to call you Your Majesty." Sophia's voice brimmed with excitement.
Lee heard Catherine's laugh, coming closer. "I think you get to call him whatever you want, Sophia."
"Don't worry, I'll still be calling him idiot," said Jasper, followed by Jasmine's short snicker.
Lee had to smile, realising she missed those voices.
"You can call me whatever you want."
"Just not idiot." He laughed.
And she closed her eyes. His voice seared through her, alerting her every senses, sending shivers up her spine and making her chest hum with anticipation. It had been so long.
They reached the bottom of the stairs, and Lee saw Matthew, looking expectantly around the room. Ryan noticed.
"Everything okay, Matthew?"
"Uh… yes," he replied flatly. "I think so."
Ryan nodded, and began to walk towards the exit. Lee saw the Guards and all the suits gather outside, and heard the row of identical cars pull up to the large wooden doors.
She inhaled, closed her eyes, and swallowed.
"Your Highness." She announced her presence with as clear a voice as she could muster, hiding the anxiety that grew with every heartbeat.
His family turned, but he froze in his footsteps.
"Lee!" Sophia exclaimed. She stepped forward, but Ryan held out a hand.
"Sophia, no," he commanded. Sophia stopped in her tracks and frowned. "Come on everybody." He continued to walk forward and his family, including his mother and his stepfather, took his lead and made for the door.
Lee's chest tightened. In a few short strides, he would be out the door, and, Lee knew, out of her life for good.
"Ryan!" she cried.
His family stopped again, this time, unsure of what to do. He refused to face her. To them, he simply said, "I'll see you soon," dismissing them to the cars waiting outside.
Sophia waved at Lee before leaving, and Lee received smiles from all of the royal children with varying degrees of support and large amounts of happiness hidden behind each. Even the Queen Mother beamed.
Lee waved and smiled back, but let the smile fall as soon as she was left alone with Ryan in the foyer. His back was still turned.
She inhaled, and opened her mouth to speak, but—
"What are you doing here?"
Lee frowned. "I came to talk to you."
"There is nothing I want to say to you at this moment."
She stifled a small whimper trying to escape as a please.
"Ryan, I just needed to—to say something."
He sighed, and finally turned.
Lee caught her breath, and all the doubt she felt at the foot of the stairs escaped with the sigh of relief breaking free with her exhale.
"I love you."
His frown deepened, then he shook his head.
Before Lee could continue, he turned on his heel and made for the door again.
"Ryan!" His name was her plea. "I love you. Come back to me."
He stopped again, one step away from disappearing outside the door. He turned to face her.
"I tried to reach you. In any way I could." His voice dripped with agony.
"I know," Lee replied, taking a miniscule, indiscernible step towards him.
"But you never said anything."
"I know." Another step.
"I tried letting you know how I felt."
"You didn't let me call you."
"I told you to give me time."
"I thought you meant to leave it at that."
"I keep my promises."
One more step. "I know."
"I made you wait months. You made me wait years."
"Well, technically, you made me what – what – a year and a half –?" Lee joked.
"Okay. Bad joke. I know what I did. And I am truly, truly sorry."
"I didn't want your apology then. I don't want it now."
Step. "What did you want?"
"You know what I wanted!"
"What do you want now?"
He scoffed. "Nothing from you."
"Don't say that," Lee said softly.
He shook his head and walked out the door.
"Do you mean that?" Lee cried, just as he was about to approach the car that waited for him outside.
He stopped and turned.
"Because I know what I want." Lee walked forward, but he took a step back just as she was one step away.
Ryan stood quietly, placing his hands in the pockets of navy blue trousers. "I'm sure it's nothing I can give you."
Lee shook her head. "Silly. I'm sure it's something only you can give me. If you still want to. If you still feel like you want to."
He stared at her. "What if I've changed?"
"I know you have. You're a better person. You're more wonderful than you were before. And you were pretty wonderful back then."
"You know that's not what I mean."
"Well," Lee said decisively, "that's what I mean. We've both changed. For the better. But I don't think what I know of you and how I feel about has changed. Nor will it ever."
That's when she saw it – the smallest of small smiles creeping onto his face. The same smile he gave her the first time they met.
"I'd just like to say," Lee began, walking towards him, "I'm sorry for my past indiscretions." He remained in one spot, his smile widening." But I want to say to the people of Montagé, to you, in particular, that… I'm ready."
Ryan had to laugh.
Lee smiled. "Ryan… I want to be with you, if you'd let me."
"Wait!" Ryan cried.
Lee stopped, surprised. She thought it was going to well.
"Just so you know," the King began, pursing his lips, "if you come any closer, I will be yours forever."
The Guard couldn't hold her tears any longer. Her face bent, she wept.
He closed the distance between them with two steps. His arms encircled her waist.
"You came closer," she said, her hands resting on his chest.
"That must mean you're mine forever."
Lee sobbed. She beamed. "You never let me finish my speech!"
Ryan kissed her forehead tenderly. Lee's heart stilled. "Well, what else did you want to say?"
"That… I want to be with you, if you'd let me, for the rest of my life."
He beamed, and suddenly scooped up the Guard, spinning her around. Lee laughed, holding him tightly, holding him close.
Once he had put her down, he bent forward and kissed her softly on the lips before he said, "I love you."
Lee looked up, reached up on her toes and rested her forehead on his. "I love you too."
Ryan smiled, then hesitated.
"What is it?"
His brow furrowed momentarily. Then, he spoke, his request coming slowly in syllables. "Be my queen?"
Lee bit her lip, and smiled widely. "Maybe."
Ryan's mouth gaped. "In my experience, maybe means no!"
Lee laughed, and kissed him fiercely. "Well, you can change that. From now on, maybe means something else."
"Oh? And what is that?" Ryan ran a finger lovingly down her cheek.
"From now on, maybe means yes."
- End -
Author's note: It's finally done. I can't believe it. After so long, it's done, and I'm so sorry it took so long.
I'm sorry for all the formatting errors, it's been so long since I've used this site and it's changed and I don't read HTML so it's filled with breaks that are supposed to be there. But it's up, it's ready, and it's done.
Thank you to all those who have stayed with me from the beginning, for the new readers who found it and stayed, and even those who just perused this small tale. Thank you for all the reviews, for the kind words, for the criticism, the support.
Maybe I'll see you around. Maybe. :)
- Small Marshmallow