A/N: This was written for The Inkslinger who is, by the way, a much better author than I am and go read her stories. The story's inspiration came from a conversation where a certain plant got mentioned and sparked a hastily banged out summary sprinkled liberally with random Capitalization. Unfortunately this led Inky to want to read the story or worse--try to write it herself. As a loyal fan of hers, I couldn't let that happen; her getting distracted by yet another project would be disastrous to the many things she is already in the middle of. So I did what I had to and took it upon myself to write the story for her. It was for the good of all.
(This does not, of course, mean that the story is anywhere near par to what she can do--I'm only a substitute, mind, so don't expect her quality.)
Warnings: contains copious amounts of BL (slash), ridiculous levels of sap, and almost no dialogue. Probably has some typos too, as I wrote this is a week, posted it almost right after I finished, and never want to look at it again. Yeah.
William was a gardener. He worked behind his father and with other members of his family, tending the high gardens of the Palace day after day. Gardeners were relatively low on the status pole, even when working for royalty, but William's family had been tending the Palace gardens for ever, and were thus considered a little higher than average when the servant status order came under consideration. Not that William ever minded who he was or his position at the Palace. He liked working outside, liked the feeling of earth beneath his fingers, liked learning the many names and designs of the rare plant species of the high gardens. He had been amazed with the green growing things of the world since birth, and his first introduction to the high gardens when he was four sparked a deep love for all the was beautiful, and unusual, and full of life.
Unfortunately, there were for other things aside from plants that fit those specific categories.
Like Asterius, for instance.
Asterius was…beautiful. He had fine, golden hair that swept gracefully about his face, gleaming dully in any sort of light—a grand contrast to William's common black curls. He was tall too, standing several inches above William's perfectly respectable stature of five foot nine. He had a handsome, friendly face that put one at ease when it smiled, and a lean, muscled body to impress those who were not just taken in by bright eyes and a teasing grin.
He was also a son of the Palace. The third son, in fact. He was not destined to take the throne, like the first son would do, or become a wise and powerful advisor and magician—a title and position befitting a second son. No, Asterius was destined to be a Hero. The third son was the one who went off on great quests, living lives of adventure and peril, and often managing to rescue another kingdom that was in distress just in time to wed one of the daughters and claim the throne there. It was how things worked. This was one of the main reasons why Asterius had the beautiful body William admired so much. Classes upon classes for every sort of combat a Hero would need to know on top of the normal things one was taught as a prince. Asterius was a bit of a jokester, as well, as the third son is wont to be. They got more attention that way, and it gave them an outlet to pour all their energy into as they impatiently waited for the day they could begin being a Hero. No one really minded as long as the third son stayed on top of his duties even with the pranks, as it was usually the servants who were on the receiving end of them anyway. William himself had, in the past year alone, found himself tied to a tree, gotten his hair dyed blue, been the recipient of several strange gifts, the oddest one containing a locket with a lock of hair inside it along with a rhymed inscription, been randomly showered in rose petals, gotten several buckets of water dumped of his head, and been sent on a "treasure hunt" that took him all over the inside Palace, finally ending three hours later at a small table with some cake on it and a note telling him to help himself. The cake had been very good, but still, three hours had been wasted just to taste it.
So Asterius most definitely fit all three of the things William enjoyed best. Beautiful, unusual, and full of life, the prince managed to make William's life both miserable and exhilarating, without even realizing he was doing so.
Asterius had a problem. He had done many things to try and fix this problem, but so far none of them had worked. Now, after almost a year of failed efforts, the prince was no longer certain of what to do to get any kind of result, much less the result he wanted. It was a…difficult problem.
Said problem was obliviously trimming the inner hedges of the high garden while Asterius looked on from a window, admiring everything from the short black curls to the trim body that stood only a scant few inches below Asterius's commanding height of six feet.
Asterius's problem was William. Or, more specifically, what William was currently doing. Which was trimming the hedges. Asterius did not want William to be occupied with trimming the hedges, Asterius wanted William to be occupied with Asterius.
And even as a prince, that was not an easy thing to command another man to do.
It wasn't as if Asterius was a normal prince, either. He was a third son, taught of honor and duty since birth and well learned in all things that related to being a Hero from the proper way to defeat a dragon to how to go about wooing your chosen fair maiden.
He was quickly learning that being well-versed in the art of the latter subject helped in absolutely no way when the object of your affection was male, "below" you in status, and completely uninterested in you—not to mention unaware of all your attempts to catch his attention. Even after a year of trying almost every trick in the book, so to speak, he had gotten absolutely nowhere. Granted, some of the things he had pulled were no necessarily for wooing purposes; Asterius would be the first to admit that dumping water on William was more for the chance to see the gardener wet and dripping over winning his heart, but even the most tried and true methods had gotten no reaction at all. The prince had been certain he had won William over with the treasure hunt trick, but the gardener had simply eaten a slice, shook his head, and gotten up to continue his work. Perhaps it was because I replaced the candlelight dinner with an afternoon snack, Asterius thought to himself. The suggested idea was to set up a romantic candlelight dinner, but Asterius had foregone that because a candlelight dinner in the middle of the afternoon had seemed silly, even to him. The trick had also possibly not worked because the prince had lost his nerve at the last second and dove into a hiding spot as William came into view.
But this was getting ridiculous—even Asterius could admit that to himself. It had been over a year of failed attempts to get the gardener to notice him without saying anything outright. Perhaps the time had come to just throw caution to the winds and declare his love in a way that could not be overlooked.
Meaning that Asterius really did have to confront William. And either shout his feelings then kiss him, or kiss first shout later.
Asterius planned to do the latter. At least then he'd have the chance to get a kiss in before William began avoiding him forever.
This was making him nervous. William had been working outside all day, and those eyes had never left him. They had watched him do everything, from weeding the gardens to watering the flowers, and now, to trimming the hedges. William was normally a calm person, but this was getting to be more than simply a nuisance. Because, of course, those eyes belonged to Asterius.
It could be no one else. Every time William turned, there Asterius was, watching him. The gardener didn't know what to think. He knew that Asterius had an unusual interest in him, but the prince had always made that known by pulling various jokes and pranks on him—much more often than he attacked any of the other servants. It was nice to know that he obviously had some sort of Asterius's attention, but William had always been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now, perhaps, it had.
The gardener sighed and turned hoping to catch a covert glimpse of the prince without making it look as though he was trying to look at him. He got a surprise however, when , instead of ignoring or not noticing the look, Asterius caught William's glance, held his gaze, and then treated him to a slow grin. William tore his eyes away and attempted to turn his attention back to the hedges.
This was more than just unnerving. Something was definitely wrong with the prince.
Something was definitely wrong with him, Asterius groaned to himself. What was he thinking? When William had caught him staring, the only thought that had not fled the prince's mind was rule number two hundred and seventy six on how to woo a wayward maiden. So that's what he had done. A slow smile is sure to tame even the wildest of hearts. Indeed! The only thing William had done was go wide-eyed and nervous. The gardener had practically run into the blasted hedge! A reaction to be sure, and William did look absolutely delicious when startled, but that was nowhere near the kind of reaction Asterius actually wanted this time. Blast! That was it; no taking anymore stupid suggestions. Asterius was going to go about this his way. He was amazed at himself for not thinking of that sooner. It made much sense after all, he was the one who wanted William, not some pompous royal windbag who thought that a shower of rose petals would be the perfect thing to get the object of your desires in the mood.
...he still couldn't believe how stupid he had been to try that one, really.
William couldn't believe how stupid he was, to not think of it sooner. It explained everything; the abundance of pranks being played on him lately, the times he had noticed Asterius watching him from a corner, the odd little things he would sometimes find as presents in his room—much more fitting for a young lady, it all made sense.
Asterius, prince and third son; destined to be a mighty hero, had discovered that William, a gardener, harbored feelings for him. The very idea had probably amused the prince to no end, and he had decided to have a little fun with the situation.
Of course, William thought gloomily. Nothing else even began to make sense. And everything fit too—the roses followed by the buckets of water…it was all a cleverly constructed plan to show William just how much Asterius thought of the gardener's feelings.
William felt awful.
But really, he chastised himself as he finished the hedges and gathered up his tools, what did he expect? For a son of the Palace destined in the path of a hero to discover that a plain—a plain gardener dared to wish for his companionship? And a male at that! The very idea of it was laughable! It was no wonder that the prince was acting like this; he must be completely disgusted by the thought. And with good reason!
The gardener had hoped it would not come to this but…he knew what he had to do.
Asterius took a deep breath. Okay. Everything was set up perfectly, he was ready, what he wanted to say had been memorized and rehearsed to perfection, and William was on his way. Good. Perfect. Everything would go well, and fine, and then he and William could start making plans for when they began adventuring together. As Partners. Proper partners. Right. Fine. Okay. Fine. Right. Yes.
I wonder if it shows at all, that I'm a tad nervous?
Asterius abruptly stopped his pacing and turned to gaze down at William. "I wish I was your prince." He muttered.
William looked thoroughly startled. "What?" Asterius froze. Oh g--I said that aloud, didn't I? He coughed and took a step forward. William took a step back. Asterius conjured up a smile. William took another step back.
This…didn't start out too well. Not to be deterred though, the prince pressed on. Clearing his throat, he started, "Excuse me for that. My mind was…elsewhere."
"Of course, your highness." William nodded and waited patiently for the prince to continue.
Which was a little unfortunate, as everything Asterius had thought to say had flown out the window. He couldn't think of a single thing. Desperately he raked his eyes around the room, hoping to find something to comment on. Something of note, so as not to sound completely stupid.
"That's an interesting necklace you're wearing William. I don't believe I've seen you with it before."
William winced. "Ah…no, your highness. It's…new."
"May I see it?"
Why even bother asking? It's not like I can say no to you. Still, the gardener hesitated before taking the necklace off. Hopefully the prince wouldn't notice that the pendant could be opened. Although even if he did figure it out, there was only a small chance that he would recognize the contents of the pendant. It should be safe. William handed Asterius the necklace.
Asterius accepted the necklace and went about pretending to examine it as he thought furiously over what to do. Here he was, with William waiting patiently for him right there, and he was looking at a necklace. It wasn't even a very interesting necklace! All it was was a box-shaped pendant hung on a leather cord. The pendant itself wasn't even that interesting. It was just a brown, box-shaped thing with hinges on one side.
His curiosity now actually grasped, Asterius ran his fingers down the side of the pendant, found a lid, and popped it open. Immediately his poor nose was attacked by a rather rank smell.
With one hand covering his nose and the other still holding onto the necklace, Asterius looked up at William, who seemed for all the world to want nothing else except being able to run away. Then Asterius looked back down at the strange plant in the pendant and something just clicked.
"William?" William snapped spine-straight, wishing he could be anywhere else but here.
Asterius brandished the foul smelling necklace. "What is this?"
"It's my necklace, your highness." Oh…this was not good.
Asterius frowned. "And the plant the necklace contains? What it is?"
There was an underlying demand in that question. William fought down the urge to just flee and replied, cringing as he said it, "It's a plant by the name of Asafetida."
"Really." It was not a question.
The gardener took a deep breath. Well, at least now it would all end, and he could go back to life without pranks. Asterius might even realize he was doing this for him. "Yes your highness. It is rumored to be able to—"
"—Cure or expel homosexuality." Asterius finished for him. "Yes. I know." He brandished the necklace. "And would you mind telling me why you would come to wear a necklace containing such a plant?"
William stared at the floor and said nothing.
Asterius was stunned. "Do you…do you find the idea of wanting another man so repulsive?" Never in his lifetime had he considered that William might not return his affection. Sure, he had expected the gardener to need some coaxing, but this… "William?"
The gardener did not look up. "If your highness does not require anything of me, I shall take my leave now."
Asterius tried, but couldn't think of a thing to say.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" William groaned and stopped pacing around his room, instead just sinking to the floor clutching fistfuls of his hair in his hands. "As if that didn't just make everything worse! Now what?" Because one didn't just act like that to a prince. One didn't just ignore questions and run away like…like a coward. Not to a son of the palace!
Not to Asterius.
Well, if there were other ways to prove to Asterius what a fool William was, the gardener couldn't think of any. Asafetida! What had he been thinking? Now Asterius not only knew for certain where William's interests lay, but he also knew that William wasn't even man enough to deal with it himself. He had to go and try to find something –that had never even been proven to work properly!- to help in with his battle. If you wanted to call it a battle.
The truth was, there was nothing wrong with same-gender couples almost anywhere in the land. The only problem was that they were not able to procreate, and even that was fixed with adoptions or hand-picking heirs. There was no problem if he had a liking for men. William even knew for a fact that Asterius himself had experimented with the idea.
"Asterius. Gods! Stupid." That must have been it! That was the reason for why Asterius had appeared so…upset after he had determined what was in William's necklace. By wearing Asafetida, William had implied that he was one of the ignorant few who still ranted on about how same-gender relations was wrong. Stupid.
William sat up, a look of dawning horror on his face. "I have to apologize. I have to explain, I have to tell him…" What? What, after all, could he say? 'I'm sorry for callously insulting you, and I didn't really mean it, in fact I'm rather infatuated with you and that's why I was wearing that stupid plant'?
He didn't think so. That didn't even explain the asafetida, much less make anything okay!
"But I have to say something." He decided, standing up. "Just…let him know the truth." Because being made fun of, William could handle. Being despised for such stupidity on his part?
…he wasn't so sure he could deal with that.
Asterius had still not left the room. Forget the room—he had barely moved at all. He still clutched the necklace though he had closed it again before the smell overpowered him, but other than that time had stopped.
What had gone wrong?
The prince wracked his brain as he tried to think of what the problem had been. He had done everything—tried everything! And then, just as he had finally gotten the courage to say what he needed to, William had shown up with that triple-cursed plant.
That didn't even make sense. Asterius had learned early on in his Hero lessons that it always paid off to make friends with, or at least get to know the names of everyone he could. He knew all the servants of the palace, was friendly with a large majority of them, and had spent extra time observing those he found interesting. William had been interesting. And Asterius had only found him more fascinating as time went on, especially after he had talked with the gardener in person. So he had spent a little more time looking after William than he had done with anyone else.
Which is why that plant necklace was stupid. Asterius knew where William's interests lay. He had even allowed that to give him a bit of hope—William being interested in men meant there was a chance he'd be interested in Asterius. There was simply no logical reason for the gardener to suddenly take up the habit of wearing asafetida around his neck.
Unless William had discovered that Asterius was in love with him. And had not liked the idea.
"He…he was using it in the hopes that it would keep me away." Asterius whispered, agonized. "Gods! And I've just been forcing myself on him all this time…! It's no wonder he…I have to explain. I—"
The prince froze. It was William. He looked just as uncomfortable as Asterius felt. The necklace slid to the floor forgotten as Asterius desperately tried to come with something to say. "William." He managed to push out.
William nodded, then nervously looked around the room before taking another step forward. "Yes, I…" He exhaled. "There's something I must tell you." The gardener bowed his head. "I apologize in advance for what you are going to hear."
Asterius inwardly winced. This is it. He's going to tell me just what he thinks of me. Well I…I suppose after this year, I deserve nothing less.
"I did not mean to insult you by wearing the asafetida in your presence." William began. "I meant nothing by it, no ill will towards you, and it was rude of me—insulting. I offer myself up for punishment for that."
Asterius blanched. "What?"
The gardener took this as just the outrage he had been expecting, but there was no helping that. Asterius had every right to be angry. He took a deep breath and continued. "However, that's not all. There's something else that I must…confess to you." He gave Asterius a sheepish look. "It's about a rather obvious, I'm afraid, affection that—"
"William." Asterius's voice was cold and hard. "That is enough." The gardener immediately subsided, waiting, eyes still downcast. He knew he deserved whatever he got.
The prince didn't disappoint him.
"How dare you?" He thundered. "As if this," he kicked the unfortunate necklace across the floor, "was not enough! Now you have the nerve to come back and tell me, in such a tone, just where those interests lie? You could not even spare a semblance of sympathy for what I have been—for what I am feeling?" Asterius stormed up to the gardener who nervously stood his ground. "If you knew, the least you could have done was just tell me. I am not a tyrant, prince or not, and I would have listened! I would have accepted. I would not have been happy about it, but at least you would have been honest with me from the beginning instead of skirting around it, leading me on until now!"
William watched Asterius rage, a little frightened but mostly completely bewildered. The words did make sense, but it didn't sound as if they really pertained to the situation, completely. After all, hadn't Asterius enjoyed the pranks? He had kept them up all year…it was foolish to be asked to believe that he would have stopped if only William had mentioned it.
"Your highness, I—"
But Asterius wasn't listening. He was tired and frustrated, tired of being frustrated, and William was right there looking so damn adorably confused! Fine then—this was the last chance he'd probably ever have of being able to face the gardener, he might as well do as much as he dared and deserve it. Then, at least, the rejection would be final with no room for misinterpretation!
He broke off mid-rant, grabbed one of William's wrists, positioned his other hand under the other man's chin, and pulled him into a hungry, desperate kiss. It was a kiss filled with pain and longing; he knew that his affection would never be returned, but he invaded as much of William's mouth as he could in the meanwhile, trying to memorize it, memorize him…
Asterius was kissing him. Asterius was kissing him. William wasn't sure why, especially after everything the prince had just yelled, but he was determined to enjoy it while it lasted. Maybe, William hoped, when the prince came to his senses, he could try to point out that Asterius had instigated the kiss first so that technically William wasn't at fault. He tucked that thought away for later and then his mind went blank as he clutched Asterius's shirt and pulled him closer, kissing back just as desperate, just as needy.
When the two finally broke for air, they stared at each other wild-eyed, neither sure of what to make of what had happened. William looked away first. "…I should go." He mumbled, started to turn—
And was jerked back by a determined looking prince. "Wait….please." Asterius looked at the gardener –gods, he wanted him to be his gardener- anxious, pleading, "Listen to me?"
William, acutely aware of the hand still gripping his own, waited.
Asterius struggled with the words he wanted to say. "Look, William, I…I'm sorry. I'm sorry about the way I feel."
Ah. A rejection then. Expected, but…William bit his lip and nodded. The other man pushed on.
"I can…if you want—if it would make you feel less uncomfortable…" He shifted awkwardly and miserably ran a hand through his hair; William marveled at how the fine golden strands flowed through Asterius's fingers, regretting that he himself would never have the chance to see if they really were as soft as they looked. "I can…we could just have a normal friendship. I would like that, over nothing at all, if…if you could deal with me." Asterius looked away, feeling ridiculous. "I can try to stop loving you."
The only thing William could come up with to reply to that was an incredulous, "…excuse me?"
Feeling humiliated, Asterius mumbled again, "I can try to stop loving you."
William blinked rapidly. "That's what I thought you said." He muttered. "Your highness, I'm sorry, but…I fail to see the humor in this joke any longer. I've put up with you toying with my feelings for long enough, and I thank you for the memory," he absently touched a hand to his lips before continuing hastily, "even if it was in jest, but I do have work to do. If you will excuse me." Once again, he started to go. This time Asterius caught both of his wrists and held them firmly.
"…joke?" The prince breathed, disbelieving eyes fixed on William's own. "You think that I would joke with you about this?"
Embarrassed, William tried to tug his wrists away, but Asterius held him fast. He gave the prince a wry look. "Your highness…with me harboring feelings for you all this past year, could it be anything else?"
Asterius goggled at the man he was holding captive. "You mean to say…you—you feel affection for me?"
William sighed and nodded. "For many months now, my prince." And with that confession finally out in the open—finally said, he closed his eyes in shame.
Only for them to pop open again in the next instant, when a warm voice by his ear whispered, "in that case, we are both victims of quite the misunderstanding."
"William," Asterius said firmly, cupping the gardener's face with one hand, "my name is Asterius." Then he closed the distance between them for the second time that day, covering William's mouth with his own.
The kiss was different from the one previous; filled with intense, gratifying passion instead of broken longing. Asterius let go of William's wrist in favor of wrapping his arms around the gardener, crushing the other man's body to his own. William let Asterius do what he wanted as grasped the prince's arms tighter, all manner of thought gone.
When air became a necessity, the two reluctantly broke apart, though neither released the death grip they had on the other. They couldn't--after all the waiting, all the yearning, each had to be sure that this was real.
Asterius led William over to a small couch in the corner of the room and they both sat down in silence, not really sure of what to say.
Finally, when it was apparent William would not say anything first, Asterius spoke. "You really thought that it was all a joke, up until now?"
William nodded. "Yes."
Shrugging, William replied, "You're a son of the palace. What would I have to offer you, aside from the entertainment?"
William smiled ruefully. "That's a lot to expect from a gardener, my prince."
"But I am exactly that." Asterius replied. "Your prince." He leaned forward and kissed his love tenderly. "And you can expect the same thing from me as I do from you."
William brushed a hand over his lips. "And that might be?" He asked quietly.
The gardener grinned, and the prince marveled at how beautiful it made him. "You're quite the romantic, aren't you, your highness?"
The prince smiled cheekily. "Very good! Now you just have to do that on a regular basis. And as for your question—yes. Yes I am." He ran a hand down the side of William's face in a gentle caress, needing to touch; needing to remind himself that yes, the gardener was now his. "Do you dislike that?"
William's hands slowly, hesitantly crept up to finally tangle in Asterius's golden strands. "No." He said simply, "not at all." Then he leaned forward into his first instigated kiss, his fingers twined in his prince's hair even as Asterius's hands came up to run through his own.