By the end of the week, Alex felt like he was the one in need of a long recovery; he was covered in bruises and there was a constant twitching under his right eye from nerves.

Well, not like he expected Husam to stay composed during his 'captivity' - because that was how the eldest prince saw the situation - but he didn't expect a single week to wear him down to the bone.

After the first day spent mostly in bed and lazing around, the soldier started to grow grumpy, and irritated, especially as he saw his brothers leave in the morning; he wouldn't let Alex disappear to the Emira's library, and decided that it would be a splendid idea to have him learn a bit of fighting, no matter what Alex thought about it.

So they spent hours upon hours in the training room, with the American sweating and swearing, and Husam shouting things at him like 'No, you're doing it all wrong!' or 'No, when you charge you have to put your weight on your other leg!' or 'For god's sake! You can't be this hopeless! How many times do I have to tell you to straighten your back?'...

By the evening, Alex contemplated if he could get away with smothering the guy in his sleep.

Husam's bad mood probably was in connection with the annual parade that was only two weeks away, giving everybody a ton of work. It made the prince feel even more useless and trapped, especially knowing how much he could be doing if not for his injury, or more like Asad's orders to stay put. So, Alex clenched his teeth and carried on, suspecting, that his husband would tear the royal chambers apart in his frustration if left to his own devices.

And then, finally, it was over.

Alex almost felt like crying from relief that morning when he found himself alone in the bed with no sign of Husam, or anyone else.

He took his time with breakfast, and then had a long relaxing soak in the pool enjoying as all the tension he built up during the previous week slowly left his muscles.

He knew that he was awfully behind on his studies, even though Asad showed some mercy, and didn't give him anything new during his time as Husam's nurse, so he left for the library hoping for a quiet day with his books.

Jesus, I can't remember ever being this glad to get back to my 'homework'... maybe all this talk of duty and responsibility is rubbing off on me.

It was easier than he thought to get back on track, though he had noticed that he forgot what little he actually learnt about the alphabet, but it was still way better then having Husam beat him up with one hand literally behind his back.

He didn't even register the passing of time, till there was a knock on the door. Sadin entered with a loaded tray in his hand and his usual gentle smile on his face.

"Master Alex, I bought you lunch."

"Oh, thanks, I didn't notice it was getting that late," the boy answered, right when his stomach gave a rather loud protest of being ignored.

Sadin managed to hide his amusement, being the perfect servant that he was, and placed the tray on a nearby table.

"Princes Fathi and Falih said that they would like you to join them at the stables when it's convenient for you," the man added, while pouring him a glass of cold lemonade.

"At the stables? Did they say why?" Alex asked, not really wanting to leave his safe resort after surviving Husam for a week, though he felt a bit guilty for not visiting Sahara for such a long time.

"I believe they would like to discuss the parade," Sadin told him absentmindedly, while checking that everything was in order before he turned towards the door.

"Would you like me to give them your excuses?"

"Ah... No, no I will be right there. I will just finish this chapter."

The door closed with a quiet click after the servant, and Alex nestled back into his chair, thinking that he might make that two chapters.

By the time he actually got down to the courtyard, it was closer to dinner time, but the twins were still there, talking with the stable master - a big, burly man, who had an uncanny ability to calm even the most skittish horses - gesticulating wildly, to convince him of something or other.

Alex stopped a few feet away, not wanting to disturb them, and grabbing the chance to test how much he managed to understand from the conversation. Unfortunately it wasn't much, though he did piece together that hey were talking about the decoration of the horses for the parade.

Fathi gave him a grin when he noticed him, and the twins cut the conversation short after a few more minutes, leaving the stable master rubbing his forehead with a frown.

"Alex! We were getting worried that Asad locked you into the library," Falih said with a smile, putting an arm around his shoulder and propelling him towards the stalls.

"Um... No, I just had a lot to catch up on," he explained, not really wanting to elaborate on getting sucked into his studies. He knew that the twins were both excellent students, but it felt embarrassing to admit it.

"That's okay. We just wanted to see how your riding is coming along.You are expected to be in the first line with us, and it wouldn't be good if you toppled over," Fathi told him cheekily, as they reached Sahara, who was already saddled and waiting patiently for her rider. Alex turned to the horse, holding out his hand for her to smell, then rubbing his palm over her nose. He checked if everything was in order, taking care to see if the straps were tightened enough, but not too much. The twins were already mounted when he led Sahara out, and soon they were riding along the courtyard in a comfortable pace.

"Not bad!" Fathi shouted to him, as he changed into a gallop with his brother at his heels. Alex only tried galloping a few times, but he leaned down to Sahara's head anyway.

"What do you think, girl? I bet you could leave them standing. Shall we give it a try?" he asked, and after she gave a little grunt - almost like she understood the question - he nudged her side gently with his heels.

Sahara ran like a dream, her movements were smooth, with no sign of struggling, and the boy felt himself grin. They caught up with the princes in no time, and from then on, it was all a friendly contest with all of them trying to get the lead.

It was nearly dark when they finally slowed the horses, laughing and breathless, the animals under them tired but content with the exercise.

They got the horses back to the stables, saddling them down, when Falih looked at his watch.

"Oh, shit. Maybe we should have done this the other way around," he said, quickly calling over a few stable hands to take care of the animals.

"What?" Alex asked, as the twins pulled him towards the palace.

"We have to be at the tailor's in twenty minutes, and we still have to take a shower, I think the poor man will have a heart attack if we get there all sweaty for the fitting," Fathi explained, leading them to their room in a half run.

They all got into the showers, throwing their clothes all over the place, and scrubbing furiously. Alex felt almost disappointed that they didn't have time for some 'fun' especially since other than that first day, Husam was too frustrated to have a repeat of what they did when Asad surprised them.

While getting into clean clothes, he wondered, if the others will be there as well; he couldn't remember the last time he saw the brothers together - and awake. Though they spent the nights together, the princes were usually too tired to say much more than hello before falling into bed.

They practically raced to the tailor's, finding Husam and Asad already in the small, richly furnished waiting room; the vice-king was sitting on a sofa, reading through a magazine, while the soldier gloomily leaned against the opposite wall, seemingly content with trying to get his brother to burst into flames with his gaze.

"Hi," Alex blurted out, while trying to catch his breath.

"You're late," Asad commented, not even looking up from his reading, just as the door to the workshop opened.

"No, they are not," Arindesha said, leading a restless looking Bakara by the hand with Sadin shadowing them as usual. "We just finished."

She gave a smile to Alex, stopping for just long enough that the twins had a chance to ruffle her son's neatly combed curly hair.

"How are you, Alex? I haven't seen you in a while, maybe we should get together for tea sometime tomorrow?"

"Oh, yeah. That would be nice," the boy smiled. Arindesha had been away with Bakara; visiting her in-laws. She was a widow, and she always took care to take her son to his grandparents regularly.

Their conversation was cut short by Asad, who stood by the door, giving Alex a pointed look signaling that they were waiting for him.

The American quickly excused himself, and followed his husbands.

It took almost three hours to get all of them fitted for their outfits. Alex felt like he would faint, if he didn't get something to eat soon, especially considering that he skipped dinner in the hurry to get there. Not to mention that having been in close quarters with Husam and Asad trying to out-sulk the other for whatever reason would have been enough to make anyone want a quick bite and then a good night's sleep, preferably forever.

He almost hoped that the elder princess would have something to attend to, but it seemed he wasn't in luck, as all five of them made their way towards the royal chambers.

At least I won't have to wear girl's clothes for a change.

He thought, consoling himself with the fact, that he actually liked the robes he was planned to wear for the parade. They all had similar outfits, in different shades of blue, as that was the color of the Emir's house, which would hopefully prevent him sticking out like a soar thumb.

They found cold dinner already served in their rooms, much to Alex's relief, who immediately attacked the trays with the twins close behind. Husam shot them an amused look, then retreated to the bath while Asad looked over some of the paperwork on his desk.

Alex couldn't help glancing over to him from time to time. During the whole fitting - or if he wanted to be honest, ever since that time when they were caught with Husam - Asad barely said a word to him, behaving even more distanced than usual. It bugged him. He knew the prince was aware that the soldier liked guys, so that was hardly cause for surprise, and that had to mean that he had problem with Alex.

He couldn't help wonder what he could do about it, even though he wasn't about to give up his closeness with Husam - or the twins for that matter. He had no idea if Asad knew about Fathi and Falih also having a 'thing' with him, but it shouldn't have mattered anyway.

He was their husband, and they weren't supposed to have an affair outside of the marriage in the trial year. Unless the vice-king expected all of them to be celibate, he had to expect that something would happen sooner or later. And it was pretty unfair to blame Alex for it.

Maybe I should...

He waited until the twins disappeared into the bath to get ready to bed - thankfully Husam seemed to get a really long soak - then took a deep breath, and stepped up to the enormous desk.

"Yes?" Asad asked, not lifting his gaze from the papers he was inspecting, with his wire framed glasses perched on the tip of his nose. Alex had to take a second to fight down the sudden realization of how handsome he looked; there was something devastating about him being all 'statesman-ly'.

"Um..." Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

The man glanced up at him finally, one eyebrow raised in question.

"I was wondering... you know. Are you... do you have some problem with me?" He asked, the last words rushed out on a quick breath.

Asad gave him a long, considering look, before going back to the documents in front of him.

"Whatever gave you that impression?" the vice-king inquired, his mind clearly already elsewhere.

Alex felt his back stiffen from being brushed off so nonchalantly. Okay, maybe he wasn't a real prince, or their real husband, or even a citizen of this country, but still. And nobody had the right to disregard him so blatantly.

"Well, I don't know. Maybe the fact that you treat me like I have the plague. Or that you are obviously being rude - no wait, actually, you are being a dick - to me intentionally." He noticed with satisfaction that he finally got the prince's attention, even though the only sign of it was the way Asad went completely motionless.

"Look, if you have a problem with me, that's fine. I have a ton of problems with you lot, it's only natural when we are being forced together like this, but that doesn't mean you have any right to treat me, or any human being for that matter, like they are a piece of used gum you accidentally stepped into."

He took a deep breath, not exactly knowing what more to say; this wasn't how he imagined this 'conversation' would go.

"Well... anytime you decide to drop the 'mightier then thou' attitude, I'll be here. If you can manage it in the next ten months, that is."

Naturally, he didn't get a reply, not like he expected one in all honesty, so he turned on his heel, spotting Husam standing in the doorway to the bath with an unreadable look on his face and his arms folded in front of him. Alex shot him a narrow glare and headed to bed.

A/N: Yay! new update! (with a bit more plot this timeā€¦)

Thank you to Amanda for the betaing, and please r&r!