A/N: I'm sorry this is late! I've had it ready but simply forgot to upload it.
Fabian was at least twenty paces behind Jeremiah, already wheezing and struggling to keep up as they ran through the gardens. Jeremiah either hadn't heard him, or was ignoring him completely and ran on, widening the gap between them as they raced away from the guard that had caught them snooping in the Queen's greenhouse. Soon he lost sight of Jeremiah altogether. Fabian huffed in teary frustration—Jeremiah was ten, only two years older than him, but had already grown far taller, and faster.
Fabian ran aimlessly, just trying to get away from the guard, whose footsteps were still audible behind him. He approached a dead end and skidded to a stop; he was trapped! He whispered a word he'd only heard his father utter when incredibly cross, but was then suddenly yanked off his feet by the front of his tunic. He yelped, and a hand clapped over his mouth.
"Shh!" Jeremiah hushed him, pulling him further into a large, wiry bush with green leaves and purple blooms. Beams of sunlight filtered through and shone on Fabian's summer-dark skin. Jeremiah released him and crawled closer to the path to peek before flinching back—a pair of feet appeared, belonging to the guard that had pursued them.
"Young Prince," the man called. "It is all right; you can come out!"
Fabian looked to Jeremiah, whose brown eyes widened as he shook his head quickly, unruly blond curls bouncing as he did so. They remained in their hiding place as the guard sighed loudly and stalked off. As soon as the guard was out of earshot, Fabian shoved Jeremiah.
"Why didn't you wait for me?" he demanded, pouting.
"You were slow!" Jeremiah snapped back. "And besides, if you get caught, the worst that will happen is your mother giving you a lecture. Your father would make me do extra writing lessons with no training time for a week!"
"This was all your stupid idea, anyway!" Fabian huffed, crawling out of the bush and brushing himself off. Jeremiah followed. "I don't like to get into trouble! Especially if you're just going to leave me behind!"
Fabian tearfully crossed his arms, and Jeremiah just stared at him.
"Sorry," he mumbled finally. "I promise I won't leave you again."
He held out his hand to Fabian, who pretended to think for a moment before taking it and hugging Jeremiah.
"Thanks," Fabian said, smiling.
Fabian rode swiftly along the forest path, hoping that the wind whipping past his face would soothe the anger simmering in his bones. His parents simply didn't understand; he was never going to be like his father, was never going to be a priest-king that held up the gods as well as the law. The gods hadn't given him much favor at all in his sixteen years, as his father so liked to remind him.
They'd brought up marriage for the first time today, something Fabian had thought he'd be able to avoid for a few more years. So far, the marriage prospects they'd presented were…not appealing.
Fabian, you cannot afford to be romantic in this situation!
The hell he could. He was a prince, after all—the Crown Prince of Evaria. He'd never really pushed his position to get what he wanted, but when it came to deciding on who he'd tolerate for the rest of his life…that was where he drew a line in the sand.
Thunder rumbled nearby, making his horse, Cairos, balk. Fabian soothed him, brushing his hands along his soft, white neck and murmuring softly.
"It's all right," he said. He looked to the sky, squinting to see it through the trees above, and sighed heavily; clouds were gathering quickly. He would have to head back now or risk getting caught in a rather nasty autumn storm.
The rain began when he was about halfway back to the palace, pelting his skin with surprising sharpness. He had to squint to avoid getting rain in his eyes.
Another crack of thunder sounded, this time closer and far louder. Cairos reared, and Fabian barely managed to hold on as the stallion took off into the woods, leaving the path behind. Fabian struggled to calm him, but before he could take hold of the reins again, a low-hanging tree branch came to meet him at eye-level, and everything went black.
Fabian groaned as unconsciousness faded and pain returned, a terrible throbbing pain in his head. Every part of his body seemed to want to let him know how sore it was…but he also felt a pleasant warmth where someone's hand gripped his. He opened his eyes slowly as his companion came into view.
"Jeremiah?" Fabian mumbled, attempting to sit up but quickly realizing that was a horrible idea. Jeremiah's eyes were red and droopy, and his hair and clothes were damp. It really was him—but why was he here now, when he'd virtually ignored Fabian for months now? "What…what happened?"
"I was hoping you could tell me," Jeremiah told him. "I found you injured in the woods off the eastern road."
"That's right," Fabian said, blinking slowly. He glanced down at his hand, which Jeremiah was still holding, and Jeremiah loosened his grip. But Fabian held tight and said, "My head is still foggy."
"The healers are resting for a while," Jeremiah said softly. "And so should you. You can sleep now."
"Mmm," Fabian mumbled, closing his eyes again. "You saved my life."
"Of course I did," Jeremiah said. "You're my prince."
Fabian snorted, "Your prince…." He opened his eyes to squint at Jeremiah. "I've known you…for years, Jeremiah. Call me that again…and I'll punch you."
Caught by surprise, Jeremiah laughed, and Fabian smiled lazily, his eyes drooping.
"You couldn't hit me right now if you tried," Jeremiah teased, and Fabian's heart eased. It was almost as if they were best friends again, like when they were children. Fabian raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well, when I'm coherent, then," he said. Seconds later, he was asleep.
Fabian walked the corridors briskly, nodding to the servants who bowed as they passed him along the way. He was supposed to meet Jeremiah and Christine for an afternoon trip into the city, but he was later than he anticipated, having been held up at an excruciatingly long council meeting. Two Evarian lords couldn't seem to come to an agreement concerning the taxes they implemented on the trade of fish from foreign lands. Fabian had nodded off several times, earning himself a hard nudge from Lord Edward. At least his parents hadn't noticed.
Fabian rounded the last corner that would lead down the stairs and into the entrance hall. The red carpet on the steps silenced his footfalls as he descended, allowing him to hear the hushed conversation that was being had below before he stumbled upon the two speakers unexpectedly. He recognized one of the voices and paused, listening.
"…you know why I'm here."
"Now isn't a good time, Cassian."
From the shadows of the stairwell, Fabian peered around the corner. Jeremiah was standing off to the side of a narrow corridor leading to the entrance hall with a man Fabian recognized from the royal guard. Cassian was at least a head shorter than Jeremiah, but he was standing very close, in an almost domineering way. He stepped even closer, and Jeremiah took a step back, so that his back was against the wall. Cassian reached for Jeremiah's waist in a gesture that was far more than friendly.
"I have to meet the prince," Jeremiah told him.
"The prince can wait," Cassian said quietly, and then he leaned upwards and kissed Jeremiah. Jeremiah gave in and pulled Cassian closer, kissing him back earnestly.
Fabian couldn't watch anymore. He darted back up the stairs silently, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. He'd been so glad that he and Jeremiah had reconnected, that they were close friends again, but now Fabian felt a horrible pain in his gut, as if someone had stabbed him and twisted the knife in for good measure. He knew why he felt this way, though he didn't want to admit it, even to himself.
Against all reason, he desperately wished that he was the one kissing Jeremiah in that hallway.
Foolish. That's what he was. A young, stupid fool that yearned for someone he could never have. Was that not the story of every young royal in every childish fairytale? Fabian clenched his fists as he braced himself against a wall, forcing himself to breathe. He couldn't feel this way. He wouldn't.
Because nothing good would come of it.
Prince Fabian and Jeremiah rode back into the stables, windswept and laughing as they dismounted.
"You're getting much better," Jeremiah said. "In no time you and Cairos will be outrunning me."
"Only if we're on an open plain," Fabian said as they led their horses to an open area where servants would clean and groom them later. He patted Cairos's white neck. "I'm still horrible at jumps. Every time I see an obstacle in front of me I panic, and that makes him balk."
"Like I said," Jeremiah insisted, loosening the saddle on his chestnut mount, Magnus. "You're getting much better. You just have to trust that Cairos doesn't want to stumble and end up face-first in the dirt any more than you do."
Fabian sighed as they both removed their horse's saddles and placed them along the stable wall for cleaning. "That's far easier said than done."
The prince was about to walk out when Jeremiah stopped him.
"Where are you off to? The first step to building trust between you and Cairos is spending more time around him," Jeremiah said. He tossed him a grooming brush, grinning. Fabian tried to ignore how his heartbeat faltered when Jeremiah smiled at him.
"I don't know how," Fabian said, walking back towards Jeremiah and the horses. Jeremiah removed the bridles from each horse and looped the ropes attached to the wall around the horses' snouts to keep them facing one direction.
"It's simple," Jeremiah said, as the horses began to graze on the hay beneath them. "I'll show you."
He approached Cairos's right side with his own grooming brush, showing the prince how to properly remove dirt and debris from his mount's coat.
"Just make sure you keep one hand on the beast at all times," Jeremiah said. "They get spooked if you make any sudden, unexpected movements, so just keep one hand on his back while you brush with the other."
Fabian did as Jeremiah showed him, and after approving his method, Jeremiah walked to the other side to tend to Magnus. They didn't speak for a while; the only sounds were the munching of hay and the sweep of the brush bristles. Fabian paused nervously when his horse shifted positions, trying to get at a larger pile of hay, but he kept one hand on Cairos's back and continued grooming him without trouble. Jeremiah gave him another bright smile, and Fabian smiled back, feeling rather winded.
Fabian's arm was beginning to ache, but he pressed on. Cairos's white coat was beginning to gleam again. He and Jeremiah both finished grooming the first side of their horses and shifted to the other half, so they were now facing away from one another. Cairos, being the greedy beast that he was, shifted again to start eating from the hay pile in front of Magnus, forcing Fabian to take a step backwards. He lightly bumped into Jeremiah and froze. There was a moment riddled with charged tension, but neither of them said anything—they continued on, still back-to-back, as if they'd agreed in some wordless exchange that the physical contact was acceptable. Fabian was now half-focused on what he was doing. Damn him, he really did try his hardest not to think about the feeling of Jeremiah's muscular back moving against his own. This was Jeremiah, for Iros's sake. Jeremiah, with whom he'd grown up, who'd become his first friend when he was a friendless child. Who was still his friend…his best friend, in fact…who just so happened to be very tall and attractive…
Fabian chewed his lower lip, forcing those thoughts from his mind. He stopped brushing his horse and walked over to the wall with shelves full of stable supplies, trying to gather himself. It could never happen, he chastised himself. His parents would never approve, and—
"Fabian," Jeremiah said softly, from just behind him. Fabian turned and locked gazes with his brown-eyed friend. Jeremiah searched Fabian's face as he stepped closer, gauging the prince's reaction. He was so close…
"I have to go!" Fabian said suddenly, tossing the brush onto a random shelf and scurrying out of the stable as fast as he could without attracting attention. He didn't stop until he'd reached his chambers and shut the door behind him with determination. For a moment he just stood there, his back against the solid oak.
A soft knock sounded. "Fabian?"
Fabian bit his lip to stay silent and didn't move a muscle. He heard a sigh.
"Fabian, please talk to me."
Even muffled, Jeremiah's voice sounded deep and gentle. Fabian's heart was racing so fast and hard he almost wondered if Jeremiah could feel it through the wood. Taking a deep breath, Fabian peeled himself off the door and turned to grab the latch. It swung open slowly to reveal Jeremiah standing there, handsome as ever, with an emotion in his eyes that made Fabian both terrified and exhilarated.
Even if Fabian had wanted to step back or turn away, it would've been impossible to move when Jeremiah was looking at him like that.
"Can I come in?" Jeremiah asked quietly. Fabian couldn't find his voice, so he nodded and stepped aside, closing the door behind him as Jeremiah entered. Fabian leaned against the door again, and the two just stared at one another for an immeasurable moment.
Jeremiah hesitantly lifted a hand to Fabian's face, lightly brushing his cheekbone, and the pure intimacy of the touch expelled all rational thoughts from Fabian's mind. The prince's heart nearly stopped as the last of the apprehension in Jeremiah's eyes melted away; so much was revealed in that moment, in those deep eyes Fabian had come to love, and if they crossed this line there was no going back. But Fabian was no longer fearful, and something in his face must have shown it, because Jeremiah leaned in, destroying that line where their lips met. Jeremiah inhaled deeply, both of his hands moving to hold Fabian's face as they kissed.
They were both so lost in one another they didn't hear the knock that came at Fabian's door. But both of them heard the hysterically shocked laugh that came from behind them, and they jumped apart, startled.
Christine was standing there, hand suspended mid-knock at a door that had evidently crept open of its own accord. She stared at them in shock, and they stared back, petrified. Then her face crumpled, and she laughed again, a bubbly, girlish giggle that was quite unlike her.
"I'm sorry," she said, covering her mouth. "I didn't…I wasn't…oh gods in hell, stop looking at me like that!" She stepped inside quickly and shut the door, locking it behind her, and then whipped around to face them.
"First of all, what the hell were you thinking?" she demanded, silver earrings tinkling. Fabian chanced a glance at Jeremiah, who looked more embarrassed than he'd ever seen him.
"Make sure to lock the door next time!" Christine chastised, and Fabian stopped short. "What if it had been someone besides me who'd come by and knocked? Gods, you two, if you're going to do that at least try to be a little more discreet! Do you have any idea what would happen if Queen Penelope found out, or—gods above—King Tristan?"
Pain and a flicker of shame passed across Jeremiah's face at the thought, and the three of them stood in a downcast silence. Christine sighed and put her hands on her hips.
"And second of all, I've been waiting for this to happen for years," she said, smirking. She laughed again as they gawked at her. "You may think you've been giving one another those pining glances without my notice, but I know both of you far too well. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife. You are two of the most stubborn bastards I know."
Jeremiah laughed, and the tightness in Fabian's chest eased, replaced by a wonderfully light feeling. Jeremiah had been giving him pining glances? Christine shook her head at them, her silver earrings tinkling again.
"Idiots," she said. She stepped forward and pulled them both into a hug.
"I love you both," she said quietly. "So please, please be careful."
"We will be, Christine," Jeremiah murmured reassuringly, and Fabian's heart nearly leapt out of his chest. If Jeremiah was telling his sister that they would be careful, that meant that he intended to continue this…whatever it was.
Christine stepped back, studying them both with teary eyes.
"Now I'm all weepy," she said, wiping her eyes in frustration. "Let's go have some tea and food and talk about how ridiculous Prince Daniel and his royal parents are."
"Ridiculous?" Jeremiah asked as they walked out into the corridor. "Was his company last night really so terrible?"
"What!" Christine exclaimed. "We didn't…he isn't…I—"
"I got off duty last night at midnight, Christine," Jeremiah said, nudging her with his elbow. "I saw him leave your chambers on my way to bed. Did you kick him out?"
Christine looked like she wanted to deny it, but sighed, defeated.
"No," she admitted as they arrived at her rooms, opening her door for Fabian and Jeremiah. "He wants to remain 'honorable' for as long as possible, so he snuck out." She rolled her eyes.
"He's handsome," Fabian said, and Jeremiah's head whipped around, eyebrows raised. Fabian shrugged. "What? He is. Good for you, Christine."
Christine giggled. "He's not bad in the bedroom, either."
Jeremiah missed the chair he was beginning to sit in, falling to the floor with a thud. Christine and Fabian laughed as he grumbled and clambered into the chair properly.
The morning light broke through the glass ceiling of Fabian's chambers gently, casting a warm glow on the prince and the man lying beside him. They were both soundly asleep; Jeremiah was lying on his stomach and Fabian on his back, their fingers entwined where their hands met. The balcony doors were wide open, letting in the cool morning breeze that made the bed hangings and Jeremiah's white shirt flutter delicately. Their breathing was steady and calm in sleep, faces free of the worries that plagued them during their waking hours.
Without warning, the door to Fabian's bedchamber flew open with a loud bang, and both of them shot upright in bed, Jeremiah reflexively reaching for a sword that wasn't at his side. Four castle guards entered, followed by Fabian's father. Fabian flew out of bed, distraught as two of the guards came forward and hauled Jeremiah to his feet before the Evarian king.
"Remain where you are, Fabian!" King Tristan commanded, looking furiously at his son. The remaining two guards moved towards Fabian, as if to block him from approaching the others. The guards holding Jeremiah in place forced him to his knees, and King Tristan looked down at him in disgust.
"How dare you put your hands on my son?" the king demanded, backhanding Jeremiah so hard that blood splattered on his shirt and the floor.
Fabian's vision shifted and blurred, trying to block out this horrible scene.
"Leave him alone!" Fabian heard himself scream.
"He is your prince, your future king! You are hardly worthy to be in the same room as him, let alone bed him, you dishonorable boy!" Jeremiah said nothing, hanging his head as a drop of blood fell from his lip to the floor. King Tristan looked to his guards. "Take him to the dungeons and be discreet about it—I don't want anyone else finding out about this shameful predicament."
The guards bowed and began dragging Jeremiah out of the room.
No, no, no…Fabian knew what came next; he remembered it all too vividly, and didn't want to relive it. This isn't real…this has already happened…. Images shifted and blurred, moving faster than was possible.
"NO!" The guards restrained Fabian as he moved to get past them. "Jeremiah!"
He fought against them fruitlessly, his eyes finding Jeremiah's as they dragged him away. The numb look of resignation on Jeremiah's face tore through Fabian's chest and ripped his heart open.
The scene swirled and shifted again, and suddenly Fabian was before both of his parents.
"You are a disgrace," King Tristan spat, his lip curling in an ugly snarl.
"Have you lost all sense?" the king asked him, standing from his chair. "You are the Prince of Evaria, Fabian. You cannot behave this way."
Fabian felt the blood rush to his face. He felt every emotion of this conversation again; the anger, the fear, and the shame of begging his father to release Jeremiah.
"—I cannot allow this to go unpunished," the king said flatly.
"He will leave here knowing his place," the king interrupted. "It would seem that his years living alongside us has made him forget that he is the heir to one of the lesser houses of Evaria."
Fabian stood there as his father's words sunk in, his throat dry.
"If you punish him, then I should be punished as well," Fabian said finally. "I am just as guilty as he is."
"Oh, you will be punished," King Tristan assured him. "You will be kept under strict watch from now on, and if you step out of line, I will make you wish you had never been born."
I already wish that.
He took a long pause as his parents studied him, steeling himself before asking, "What will his punishment be?"
The queen blinked slowly. "Are you sure you want to know?"
"He will be beaten," the king said. Images of what Jeremiah had looked like in the dungeons hours later flashed before Fabian's eyes, even as his father's voice remained nearby. "And both of his hands will be broken—for putting them where he shouldn't have."
Fabian dropped to his knees by Jeremiah in a dark cell, hands trembling as he reached for him.
He will spend a night in the dungeons…
"Don't leave me," Jeremiah choked out, curled in Fabian's arms on the floor of the cell.
"Never," Fabian whispered as tears ran down his face. "I'm here."
Jeremiah sobbed once. "It hurts…."
"I know," Fabian told him, holding Jeremiah's face gently against his chest. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
And in the morning we will send a healer down, and he will leave Evaria.
Fabian sat on the balcony, tears streaming down his cheeks, his forehead resting against the stone railing as he looked between the carved pillars at the figure that was growing ever smaller in the distance.
King Fabian woke with a start, his eyes flying open to greet the darkness of the night. He was in his bedroom, he realized, gazing up at the luxurious gossamer canopy above his bed. He took a labored breath, wincing at the pain in his side, in his arm, in his head…
Fabian turned, and holding his hand, asleep at his bedside was—
"Jeremiah," he croaked. Tears filled his eyes. He, Fabian, was alive, Jeremiah was alive, and he was here, he'd come back….
Jeremiah stirred, lifting his head from Fabian's bed and blinking sleepily. A heartbeat passed, and then light lit up Jeremiah's eyes.
"Fabian!" he breathed, standing from his chair and reaching for Fabian's face, brushing his thumb across the king's cheek. Tears fell from Jeremiah's eyes in earnest. "You're alive."
"Because of you," Fabian said. Jeremiah's joy visibly faded.
"I don't regret it," he said decidedly. "I know I broke the code of single combat and you had a plan and I interfered and could have died but I couldn't let Gabriel kill you and I don't expect you to forgive me—"
Jeremiah blinked. A gravid silence filled the room.
"Damn it, Jeremiah," Fabian said, wincing as he sat up against the pillows behind him. "If we make it out of this gods-damned war alive, I want you to marry me. Is that all right with you?"
Jeremiah only stared at him, his grip on Fabian's hand slackening.
"A-are you sure?" he managed.
"Am I sure that I want to marry the most honorable bastard in the kingdom that tossed honor into the mud when it meant saving my life?" Fabian asked incredulously, grinning. "Really, Jeremiah, I may be a fool, but what kind of question is that?"
Fabian's heart swelled as Jeremiah's eyes filled with tears all over again. Jeremiah leaned down and kissed him.
"Yes," he whispered. "It's all right with me."
Fabian leaned back to look into those gentle, brown eyes, hardly daring to believe that he was alive to gaze upon them again.
"Well, now that that's settled," he said briskly, wincing again as he shifted his weight and his side barked in pain. "Let's discuss how we're going to defeat Gabriel, shall we?"
A/N: :) (See you Sunday after this!)