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Good Intentions

Chapter Text

"Laslow," Xander says, and Laslow is sure he must be imagining the hesitance that seems to edge his voice. "Would you care to accompany me into town?"

"It would be my pleasure, Lord Xander," Laslow replies, smiling easily.

Xander smiles back. "Allow me a moment to redress myself, then," he says.

When he re-emerges from his chambers, he's wearing a loose tunic and a vest so well-fitted as to resemble a corset, fine gold embroidery around the collar and hemline. His pants are tight, but not excessively so, and his knee-high boots are tasteful in the way that only very expensive footwear can be.

Laslow, in the same uniform he always wears, feels somewhat drab by comparison. But he supposes it's fitting that his lord outshine him.

"Come along then," Xander says. His tone is gentle, but carries under it, as always, the commanding presence of his royal blood. He strides down the hallway, and Laslow has to quicken his step to keep up.

In town, it seems like Xander has some errands to run. He buys sweets for Elise, at a shop bursting with colour despite the grey stone of its walls, and the grey skies above. He stops into a book store to see if they have anything that Leo might like. He spends some time peering through precariously stacked tomes, sliding through tight-packed aisles such that make Laslow worry the books will fall in an avalanche upon their heads. It turns out that they don't have anything he thinks Leo is lacking. Laslow is a bit surprised that he keeps such close tabs on what Leo already has, and what he might be interested in.

They enter a couple clothing stores, as well. The first one is filled with greens and silvers, clothes ranging from sharp military-inspired apparel to flowing dresses. The second seems to favour dark red this season, as well as yellows and a certain shade of navy. Laslow thinks much of it looks terrible, and makes no secret of it.

Xander seems to be looking for something in particular, but if he is, he doesn't share the details of his quest with Laslow. To make up for whatever Xander isn't saying, Laslow devotes himself to making conversation. He comments on the weather, and Xander responds politely in turn. He comments on court gossip, and Xander reprimands him, though not seriously, for engaging with such trivial scandals. He comments on the current fashions of the stores they're in, and Xander replies in such a way that makes Laslow laugh at how out of touch he is with the trends of common folk. He supposes it's as he should expect from someone who hires a full-time personal tailor. Xander always looks sharp, but never trendy.

After a while, Xander gives up on whatever his quest had been, and, noticing a couple drops of rain starting to spot the cobblestones, they settle into a small cafe.

The cafe has a glass case of treats at the front, and an elegantly-lettered menu of drinks behind the counter, a list of import teas stretching from top to bottom and cycling back to top again. The building is made from the same dark grey stone as most Nohrian buildings, carved smoothly into large bricks, which only part for a fireplace set into the back wall. The tables, and the majority of the chairs, are black wrought iron, metal sculpted into resembling lace. Xander chooses, instead of the iron chairs, the leather ones sitting by the fireplace.

He orders rosehip tea and tiramisu for both of them. Laslow had been eyeing the red velvet squares, but he figures it's fine for Xander to take the lead. He tries to strike up a conversation with their waitress, but between her professional disinterest and Xander's stern glare, he gives up quickly.

The tiramisu turns out to be excellent. The two of them continue to make small talk while they eat. Xander talks of his duties in a tone just slightly too polite to be taken as complaining. Laslow sympathizes, but tries not to say anything that could be construed as an offer to help with the drudgery of paperwork. Not that Xander often delegates things that are his own personal responsibility.

The fire crackles beside them, and gentle rain patters down outside. As they're reaching the bottom of their pot of tea, Xander says something somewhat unexpected.

"In truth," he begins. "I was hoping to buy you an outfit." Laslow blinks a few times. "But it seems I haven't the slightest idea where to look for clothes that a fashionable young man would wish to be seen in. I fear this outing may have been dull for you, as a result."

"Of course not, Lord Xander," Laslow insists. "I haven't had such an enjoyable afternoon in some time. And I assure you, I'm more than capable of dressing myself."

"Oh, I didn't mean to imply otherwise," Xander says, seeming a bit flustered. "You always dress suitably-no, you dress well."

"Thanks," Laslow says, smiling. "So shall we head back to the palace?"

"I suppose it is about that time," Xander replies. "Let us be off, then."

Laslow picks up the sweets for Elise while Xander pays for their afternoon tea. As they head back to the palace, the sun finally emerges, and the way it hits Xander's hair makes him look all the more radiant and regal.

Laslow supposes that it's a bit sad that his first afternoon tea that month, nearly a week into the month, no less, is with Lord Xander, of all people. But he can't bring himself to mind.

Chapter Text

Laslow alternates days of waking Xander up with Peri. Each morning that it's his turn, he knocks politely before entering his lord's chambers. Behind the door, early morning sunlight streams through the window, latticed like stained glass but not coloured as such. The curtain is sheer, and blocks not light, but, Laslow supposes, prying eyes from out of the palace, though he can't imagine anyone peering into a room so high up the architecture. A small desk sits below the window, with a single cushioned chair that Laslow has almost never seen Xander sit at. The desk is graced by a vase of flowers, tiger lilies and stonecrop at this time of year, but changed weekly by the maids. Beside the door, to the left, stands an impressively massive wardrobe. To the right, along the wall, stand a pair of dressers, a small display of jewelry atop the smaller one. In between them is nested the door to Xander's study, where he spends much of the day.

Taking up much of the left side of the room is Xander's bed, a bed which Laslow has often thought to himself must be large enough for four people to sleep comfortably in. It has a canopy of plum silk over the impressive mahogany carved posts rising from the headboard and foot board. The sheets, as well, are a fine plum silk, remaining remarkably undisturbed by Xander's rest. The comforter is black and down-filled, and bears a subtle jacquard pattern.

Xander, tucked neatly into the imposing bed, looks paler than usual by contrast, and even a bit small. He sleeps on his back, lips slightly parted, face relaxed, almost vulnerable.

Laslow is surprised at how easily Xander wakes up, stress reforming subtly on his uncomplaining face. He sits up quickly and eagerly in spite of the burden of command upon his shoulders, often even smiling up at Laslow as he rises. It makes Laslow swell with something akin to pride, seeing his lord meet each day head on. It makes him glad to be here.

Xander starts asking Laslow to join him for breakfast, in the study adjoined to his chambers. This is something new, and on a couple occasions, results in Laslow taking his breakfast twice: once just before sunrise with the other servants, and then again a couple hours later, with Xander.

The window in the study is much like the window in his bedroom, but the desk beneath it is much larger, and shows the clutter of frequent use, even by someone as tidy as Xander. Several book cases stand against the wall opposite the door. The wall opposite Xander's desk features a smaller desk, where Laslow or Peri work when Xander decides some of his work is simple enough to be delegated.

They each sit in the chairs of their work stations, but with their chairs spun about to face each other, food balanced upon their laps. Often, Xander tells Laslow over their meal about his plans for the day, the prioritization of his duties, the things he regrets not having been able to do the previous day. Laslow mostly listens, enjoying the whole experience. The light coming in through the windows, the rich and filling food, the company and attention of his lord. After a week and a half, he realizes that Xander intends this to become a routine.

It is certainly welcome. Xander, as crown prince of Nohr, eats richer fare than the castle waitstaff receive, and expects those who eat with him be served nothing less. On top of that, as a morning person, Xander is a firm believer that breakfast should be a large meal, so as to start the day off right. He cycles through lavish dishes such as crepes, pancakes, and french toast, always wish sides of meat and fruit. Laslow had hardly known it was possible to get such fresh fruit in Nohr, especially this time of year, with the summer having reached its end some weeks prior.

Peri complains that it is unfair. Laslow is inclined to agree, but can't quite bring himself to bring it up with the prince himself. He tries to approach it sideways, instead.

"Why have you been sharing your first meal with me, of late?" he asks, just after polishing off some manner of egg dish with a name he can't pronounce.

Xander looks at him.

"Not that I'm complaining," Laslow quickly amends. "It's my pleasure, of course."

"You make me happy to hear that," Xander replies, warmly. "It's my pleasure as well, to share the morning with you."

Laslow doesn't entirely know how to respond to that, so he doesn't. Some time later, Peri is removed from the duty of waking Xander up entirely, and it becomes Laslow's job.

Chapter Text

"Laslow," Xander says, slightly less than two weeks before Camilla's birthday. "Would you like to join me in going downtown, today?"

"Of course, Lord Xander," Laslow replies eagerly. Going downtown means not going out to the training fields, or running errands about the palace all day. Often it also means stopping for afternoon tea. Aside from the fact that it's Xander, and the fact that he always carries what the prince buys, their outings almost feel like dates.

"Excellent," Xander replies. "I would have you wear something which is easy for you to change out of."

Laslow is a bit curious about that, but doesn't show it. He wears a striped blue shirt, and plain black leggings, as well as navy boots that come up only as far as his ankles. Over that, since the weather is starting to chill, a wool overcoat, and leather gloves.

Xander gets changed as well, into the sort of outfit that Laslow is starting to associate with the time they spend together. He knows it to be vain, to even think that Xander would set aside a portion of his wardrobe just for the enjoyment of one of his servants, of all things. But nonetheless, the clothes he wears to do business around the palace are markedly more formal than the clothes he wears on their outings. And it doesn't particularly seem that he goes on such outings with anyone else, aside from the odd time he gets pulled along to bond with Elise. Laslow doesn't tag along, on those outings, but he always makes sure he's available when Xander returns, looking disheveled and a bit tired, eyes alight with the love he holds for his family.

On this particular outing, as with many of their outings, Xander seems to know exactly where he needs to go. They walk through the well-paved and tree-lined streets of the inner city, and instead of walking downhill to the cobbled streets of the common folk, turn to head east, into a district Laslow knows to be popular with the court ladies.

They end up in a district with many clothing stores, and Laslow wonders if his comments from their first of such outings has been weighing on Xander enough to cause him to do his own research, because the shops here carry nothing but the most fashionable clothing. Laslow often catches himself lingering at store windows and then having to jog to catch up to Xander again. Xander seems more amused than angry, and for this, Laslow is grateful.

"Patience, Laslow," Xander says. "I need to find something for Camilla, but after that, we can look around to your heart's content."

"I appreciate the offer, Lord Xander," Laslow replies. "But I can hardly afford to buy anything in a district such as this, so I don't see much point in browsing for myself. I'm quite happy to just help with your errands, as usual."

Xander looks a bit stricken. "It has not been my intention to simply drag you along on my errands," he says. "My apologies. I should be letting you choose our destination sometimes."

"There's no need for that, Lord Xander," Laslow replies. "I'm always happy to spend time out with you, wherever we might be."

This answer seems to satisfy Xander. "I'm happy to hear it," he says. "But still, don't worry yourself with prices today. If there is anything you desire, it shall be yours."

Laslow opens his mouth to complain, but Xander cuts him off. "Besides, you'll be needing something to wear to Camilla's birthday banquet."

"The banquet, Lord Xander?" Laslow asks. "Surely there's no point in a servant getting dressed up in such fineries for that."

"You are not simply a servant," Xander replies confidently. "You are my guest, as well." For a moment, Laslow feels a mixture of giddiness and unease, before the conflicting emotions cancel each other out.

"I'm honoured," Laslow says.

In a shop with glass windows edged with gold, and black cage-like mannequins, Xander picks out a fur coat for Camilla, with a price tag that Laslow is scared to even look at. Laslow happily totes it from one store-front to the next, looking for something he might like to wear himself. He chatters as he walks, pointing out fashions both in store windows and on passerbys. A cerulean pea coat, with ornate silver buttons. A sweeping long skirt, fading from chiffon to lace towards the bottom edge. Xander listens as if he's studying a foreign language. Privately, Laslow thinks it's a bit cute.

They stop into a couple different boutiques before Laslow finds one he likes. The shop favours blues this season, and has an open, even sparse layout. What catches Laslow's eye is the presence of florals in their menswear, roses in blue blooming across the breast of a waistcoat.

They leave Camilla's coat with the staff at the front, and Laslow picks out a couple outfits, pointedly not looking at the prices on anything. To simply shop without worrying about such things feels like a luxury beyond what he could ever hope to deserve, but he decides to enjoy it while he can.

When he comes out of the fitting room, Xander's eyes widen slightly. Laslow is wearing a slate blue overcoat with silver embroidery depicting oak leaves gracing the front, and a black vest that would almost be plain were it not perfectly fitted and made from the finest silk Laslow thinks he's ever touched. This, over a bright cerulean shirt, top button open in a way Laslow is not entirely sure would be suitable for a court banquet, but he's never been good at tying ties. Xander's eyes catch appreciatively on his collar, and he knows he made the right choice.

"You look good," Xander says, after a moment.

"Thank you," Laslow replies, somewhat smug in the knowledge that he does, in fact, look good.

The second outfit is equally excellent. It features the waistcoat he had first spotted in the store window, its pattern like fine china matching perfectly to a light blue tunic with full sleeves, and balanced against dark blue pants with a single stripe of black leather running up each outseam.

"The colours suit you," Xander tells him. Whatever cat had his tongue earlier seems to have run off. "And honestly, I would that you would wear pants of that cut all the time."

"Wouldn't that be nice," Laslow agrees, perhaps a bit too loudly. "My ass has never looked this good in my life."

Xander's cheeks colour. "I wasn't going to phrase it that way," he says, quietly.

"But you're not denying it," Laslow replies, with a wink over his shoulder as he poses. Xander looks away. Laslow decides to stop pushing his luck and change back into his regular clothes.

When he comes back out of the change room, the staff put both outfits into a bag, and thank him for their patronage.

Laslow turns around quickly to look at Xander. "Lord Xander, you hardly had to buy them both!" he exclaims. "Surely that is too much money to spend on a mere servant."

"I've told you before and I'll tell you again," Xander replies. "To me, you are not only a mere servant, but my honoured guest and trusted companion."

Laslow blushes, backing down slightly. "Still," he murmurs.

"Still nothing," Xander says, with a tone that implies he will take no further argument. "It is my pleasure to spoil you, from time to time."

Laslow pauses for a moment before settling on an appropriate response. "Thank you, Lord Xander."

Chapter Text

At the banquet, Laslow expects to be standing by the back wall for most of the evening, an unusually expensive wall-flower. Instead, he finds himself sitting to Xander's right side at the main table and finds himself in Xander's arms when the night progresses into ballroom dancing. He is thankful for his many lessons with his mother who, after a time, had insisted that he was too talented to dance only contemporary. He thinks that for being another man, he does alright at not bringing shame to his lord. He finds the stares of the courtroom gossips are enough to bring colour to his cheeks, but getting to be spun and dipped by someone as handsome and dignified as Xander is more than worth it.

As they ascend back to Xander's quarters well past midnight, Xander does not remove his hand from Laslow's waist. Laslow can't quite find it in himself to mind.

Can't find it in himself to mind either, when Xander pulls him into his room and presses a soft kiss to his lips. Unexpectedly finds himself leaning forwards for more when Xander pulls back.

In the back of his mind, he knows that the luxury of Xander’s affections is more than a retainer deserves. But he can’t bring himself to refuse the advances. For several long minutes, they simply stand by the door, Xander's hand at the small of Laslow's back, Laslow's hands braced gentle on Xander's chest, lips sliding together.

Laslow opens his mouth, makes a small sound of appreciation, and the spell is broken. Xander steps back out of his personal space, his blush deep enough to be visible even by the blue light of the moon through the window.

"My apologies," Xander says. "I fear that was terribly indiscreet of me."

Laslow finds himself blushing as well. "I can't say that I'm bothered by it," he confesses.

"I-" Xander starts, uncharacteristically hesitant. "I will keep that in mind. You may be dismissed."

Laslow's heart is a mess as he returns to his own room. He hadn't been expecting that. He hadn't been expecting to enjoy it so much.

Rather, he has been enjoying Xander's company as a whole too much, recently. Xander spoils him to an inappropriate degree, and in his selfishness, he does nothing to stop it.

Or rather, in his selfishness, he does nothing to return Xander's attentions. All at once, it occurs to him that Xander was likely expecting, not just a kiss, but his services at night. He hadn't thought about it previously, but that was clearly an error on his part. Xander had always seemed like someone above needs- of any kind, but especially needs of a sexual nature.

But no man could truly desire nothing. And if Xander's desires were for other men, then it was no wonder he didn't simply arrange a mistress for himself, as one might expect from a man of his importance.

Laslow realizes with some degree of horror that it was possible Xander had expected such services of him for quite some time, and he had simply been too clueless to realize it. But of course, Xander was both too polite to mention it, and additionally in such a position that, had Laslow refused him and then gone to run his mouth off about it, he would be greatly affected by the negative repercussions in courtly gossip. No wonder he had been so disapproving of Laslow's participation in the gossip mill. Laslow makes a resolution to cut back on that habit and a further resolution to make certain that Xander knows he is available for any of his lord's needs, regardless of their nature.

Chapter Text

It's one thing to make that resolution and quite another to act on it. Knowing that Xander sees him as a.. well, he's not sure what one calls a male mistress. But regardless, knowing that Xander sees him in such a way does make more sense of his lavish attentions.

It's very sweet of him, Laslow thinks, to go through the motions of wooing someone even when he couldn't possibly mean for it to go anywhere serious. Chivalrous, even.

Xander's kisses, after the first one, are chaste and simple, bearing no overt intention of anything more. Laslow isn't entirely sure how to let him know that he's allowed to ask for more. The opportunity to talk about it takes a while to arise.

One of their outings carries unexpectedly late into the evening. Xander announces that he will not stand for making Laslow take his dinner later than usual and strides into a nearby restaurant. Laslow, smiling, does not mention that he, and many of the servants, almost always take their dinner a couple hours later than the lords. Whether it's Xander's ignorance or his hunger that leads him to the decision, Laslow is hardly about to turn down an expensive meal.

Apparently Xander has been to this restaurant before, because the head waiter immediately recognizes him and leads them to a large table sectioned off from the rest of the establishment by paper screens. The menus he brings out don't list price points for anything, and Laslow firmly decides to be grateful for this. He isn't sure he'd be able to bring himself to order anything if he knew.

As it turns out, ordering even without knowing the prices is a struggle, as many of the dishes are titled in an older form of the Nohrian language than Laslow is familiar with and he stumbles over his tongue trying. Xander tries to politely hide his laughter behind his hand. He orders his own food with a confidence that suggests he may in fact be bilingual, if speaking two versions of a language can count as such.

While they're waiting, Xander talks idly about the coming winter, and the repairs he had been hoping to get done at the palace before it arrives. The waiter brings out a basket of bread just as Xander is sighing about the inevitability of having to prioritize some tasks over others.

Xander cuts the bread himself, and seeing his slender elegant hands perform such a basic task is almost mesmerizing. When he offers a slice to Laslow, Laslow accepts eagerly. He had thought that the bread Xander ate with his morning meal was the best that bread could possibly be, but now finds himself needing to revise this opinion. It's a struggle to keep himself from filling up on just the bread, but he knows that their actual- and very expensive- meal is going to show up soon, so he holds back.

Laslow knew that the meal he had ordered was going to be a seafood dish, and for lack of any other experience, is expecting something like fish and chips. What is actually placed in front of him doesn't resemble that at all.

Thick cuts of red fish, the edges crusted with seasoning, lie over a steaming pile of yellow rice that smells better than anything Laslow thinks he has ever experienced before. The whole thing is topped with a stylish garnish of vegetables and mushrooms. He can barely wait long enough for the waiter to set down Xander's meal in front of him before digging in.

The fish is more seared than fully cooked, and Laslow has never experienced anything like the way it nearly melts in his mouth. The rice is light and fluffy, and the vegetables are more vividly flavourful than Laslow had thought possible. For just a moment, he forgets his manners and digs in, eating with a gusto he hasn't allowed himself before his lord before.

At the sounds of Xander's light laughter, he catches himself.

"I'm so sorry, Lord Xander," Laslow says, his cheeks colouring. "It seems I forgot my place for a moment." He tries to be delicate about picking up a napkin to wipe his mouth. "I promise I will not subject you to such a display again."

"There's no need to humble yourself so much," Xander replies, his smile easily reaching his eyes. "I'm honoured that you feel comfortable letting your guard down around me."

"I truly shouldn't," Laslow replies, still pink in the face. "It is my duty to protect you, and here I have gotten so carried away with myself as to forget where I am..."

"I forgive you," Xander says, casually but in a tone that allows no argument. "I am as interested in your company as your protection, after all."

"And my company is yours whenever you want it, Lord Xander," Laslow says. He forces himself to make eye contact. "Whenever, and however."

Xander's cheeks colour as well. For a moment, neither of them say anything, both quite red in the face.

At last, Xander speaks again. "I understand," he says, and drinks slightly more of his wine than Laslow expected.

Without further addressing the subject, he begins to eat his own food. Xander's meal is a lamb dish, served with a thick red sauce and a small pile of sauteed vegetables. Even from across the table, Laslow can smell how well-made it is.

They eat in relative silence. Towards the end of the meal, Xander talks more of his duties around the palace, and about his frustrations feeling that his training has plateaued. Laslow listens, with a contentment that he can't quite place. They linger for a short while after their meal, sipping at the rich wine and enjoying the quiet atmosphere.

On their way home, Xander reaches to curl his fingers between Laslow's. Laslow grips his hand tightly, feeling grounded and pleasantly full.

He doesn't let go when they get back to the palace, instead leading Laslow up the many stairs to his private quarters.

"Laslow," he murmurs, just inside his bedroom. "I would appreciate.. your company, tonight."

"It would be my pleasure, Lord Xander."

Chapter Text

Laslow wakes up to the sound of someone knocking politely on the door. For a moment, he isn't sure why that would be the case. He's usually woken up by the yells of the headmistress, getting all the servants ready for the day with a loud reminder that the palace won't run itself.

He realizes that he's also immensely more warm and comfortable than he's used to, almost too warm. He sits up in bed, and Xander's expensive bedding pools around his waist.

Peri opens the door, and gasps loudly. "Laslow!" she exclaims, "You're supposed to have woken Lord Xander up an hour ago! Why are you in his bed?"

"Peri," Laslow says urgently, gesturing wildly in an attempt to get her to quiet down. "Close the door, Peri. For heaven's sake, the whole palace will hear you."

"Okaaaayyyy," Peri reluctantly closes the door behind herself, "Why are you naked though, you didn't..." She trails off and fixes Laslow with a somewhat judgmental stare.

Xander sits up, and stretches. He's still wearing his shirt from last night, the fabric in sore need of ironing now. "Peri," he says calmly. "Why are you in my chambers?"

"Oh!" she exclaims, "Well you've got a trip out to visit Corrin today, and you weren't awake yet."

"I understand," Xander tells her. "I will be downstairs shortly. Please tell Leo that."

"Got it," she says, and lets herself out again.

Laslow looks at the prince. "Lord Xander," he starts, "Is it okay for her to have seen us like this?"

Xander looks at him with some confusion.

"Laslow," he says, after a short pause, "Do you not wish it to be known that you are mine?"

Laslow blushes at the phrasing. He does belong to the prince, of course, but now in more ways than one. "It's not that," he whines. "Of course it brings me nothing but honour to belong to you, in body and in spirit."

"Then there is no problem," Xander replies, cutting Laslow off. He pushes the covers off of them both, and gets out of bed. Laslow, still entirely nude, finds the winter air shocking, and hurries to follow.

He is forced to rewear his clothing from last night, since he didn't bring a change of clothes up with him. As he dresses himself, he tries to reason with Xander.

"No problem for me, sure," he says, "But should it become known that you've spent the night with a commoner like myself, I'm sure you'd face no end of trouble."

"Laslow," Xander says patiently. "Rumours of such have been abounding for months. But it is not a problem for me, because I have chosen to be with you. I feel no shame about this. About you."

"For months?" Laslow parrots. "I'm so sorry, I-"

"Laslow," Xander says, and takes Laslow's face in his hand, forcing him into eye contact. "You have nothing to apologize for."

Laslow nods slightly, and Xander releases his face, but maintains eye contact. "Your company has brought me nothing but pleasure, and I care not who knows it."

"Lord Xander," Laslow murmurs. "Your words are an honour beyond what I deserve."

On their way downstairs, Xander holds Laslows hand. Laslow can feel the stares of the servants and courtesans catching on them, on the love marks plainly visible on his neck. Xander puffs out his chest and squeezes Laslow's hand a bit tighter, and in that moment, Laslow thinks he could take them all on.

Chapter Text

After their first night together, Laslow expects that Xander will ask for his company often. This turns out not to be the case. Once, maybe twice a week seems to be more that enough to keep Xander in high spirits. He is ever a considerate lover, and never leaves Laslow feeling more than pleasantly sore the next day. He learns how to get Laslow going almost unnervingly quickly, and Laslow, in turn, learns to make the crown prince melt under his fingers.

For a couple months, it seems to be all the court gossips speak about. There are even a couple occasions when the servants ask Laslow outright if his relationship with his lord has taken a turn towards more carnal activities. He does his best to answer without giving much away, but his reluctance to deny it outright only spurs talk on.

After a while, though, other scandals pop up, and it seems to become simply another accepted fact. The castle is in sore need of repair, war fast approaching on the horizon, and Xander has repeatedly bedded his male retainer. Laslow supposes there's only so much that can be said about it.

Xander continues to take him on outings, and on several more occasions, has Laslow attend formal court events as his date. On such nights, dancing with the prince feels like a power trip. The eyes of dozens of jealous women catch on the way Xander's hand holds Laslow's waist, the way Xander's gaze fixes on Laslow alone. Laslow is so busy enjoying what these women cannot, that he often entirely forgets to chat them up.

It seems a bit pointless really, when he already knows whose bed he'll be sharing at the end of the evening.

Finally, winter begins to fade into spring. The cold drafts of wind running through the palace subside, if only slightly. Weeds spring up between the cobblestones, long before the trees begin to bud.

And when the very first crocuses begin to break through the last remaining snow drifts, Xander takes Laslow out on another outing.

Chapter Text

The wind is still brisk, tangibly chill even through their coats and gloves. But the sunlight, or what little of it manages to peak through the clouds, is warm against their faces. Xander doesn't seem to have any particular errands to run, urgent or otherwise. Laslow still doesn't entirely understand why they take excursions like this, especially when they're both so busy. But he's not about to start complaining.

Today, Xander is wearing a loose-fitting purple silk shirt, and a black cloak that doesn't quite reach his knees, slits up the front of it allowing him to raise his arms to a degree without disturbing it. Like all the outfits he wears on their outings, it is stunning.

And today, at last, Laslow feels to be almost his match, wearing the blue waistcoat Xander had bought for him before Camilla's birthday, along with a simple white shirt and his favorite navy boots. They make quite the dashing pair, he's sure. Heads turn as they walk past, and even knowing most of the attention is for Xander's regal figure, Laslow can't help but feel flattered.

Today, though they indulge in some window shopping, they don't enter any clothing shops. Instead, their meandering path leads them into a greenhouse.

Laslow had thought them to be simply meandering, but the man working the gate to the impressive glass building as they enter, says, "Oh, Prince Xander, we've been expecting you." and Xander nods his acknowledgement.

"Thank you kindly for your patronage," the gatekeeper continues, "I do hope it's to your liking."

"It looks lovely," Xander replies. And he's right. While outside in the cool March air, only the very bravest of spring foliage is unfurling, the interior of the greenhouse looks to be as lush as midsummer: overflowing with greenery and more kinds of flowers than Laslow thinks he's ever seen before.

They step past the second threshold, and the humid heat is like a wall. Laslow takes a moment to decide whether it's welcome or not, after the cool crisp air outdoors, and then thinks that either way, the beauty before him is worth it. It takes all his willpower to stay beside Xander, instead of bounding ahead to see everything as soon as possible.

"You like it?" Xander asks, smiling just slightly.

"That would be an understatement," Laslow replies. "Why didn't we come here sooner?"

"It took some doing to find a time we could get it to ourselves," Xander replies. His words click with what the gatekeeper said, and Laslow realizes that if this place is usually open to the public, Xander must have paid a small fortune to have it empty today. Even though surely, the only thing that could be better than the beauty of all these flowers would be to see the beauty of smiling women alongside them. There are times that Laslow doesn't understand the inner workings of royalty, and this is certainly one of them.

They walk slowly through the greenhouse. Xander, who has clearly been here before, tells Laslow about some of the plants as they walk through. Wide fuschia blooms from the southern edge of Hoshido. A tree with huge fanning leaves from an island Laslow has never heard of before.

In return, he tells Xander which plants remind him of the flora from his own home. How sweet white blossoms like these used to bloom in the fields, how his mother had favored lilies not so different from the ones Xander tells him grow only in the heart of Hoshido.

"It's rare to hear you speak so openly of your homeland," Xander tells him.

"I suppose it is," Laslow replies. And he knows he has gotten carried away, really, that he shouldn't say anything about his past no matter how trivial it is. But he can't find it in him to believe that Xander will do anything out of sorts with the information. Perhaps he's gotten too comfortable.

They reach a dead end. Nestled into the greenery is a wrought iron bench, facing a small pond filled with lavishly frilly fish.

"Laslow," Xander says, and if Laslow didn't know him better, he might almost think he looked nervous. "I love you."

Laslow freezes. Surely he didn't hear that correctly.

"Pardon, Lord Xander?" he asks, although he can barely hear his own voice over the pounding in his ears.

"I love you," Xander repeats, and Laslow is shocked to notice a sincere blush across his features.

"Surely Milord shouldn't be so affectionate with a mere servant," Laslow says nervously.

"I have told you time and time again," Xander says, looking a bit cross. "You are no mere servant to me. You are a cherished part of my life. I wish to spend the rest of my days with you."

Laslow feels like he's drowning. "Surely you exaggerate, Lord Xander," he says. "I have been your company for the night on more than one occasion, but I would never be so bold as to lay claim on you as a partner."

"Laslow," Xander says, and his eyes are narrow in the way they get when Laslow has been out chatting up women, in the way that means he's in trouble. "Do you think me the kind of man who would indulge in empty acts of sodomy with a man I felt nothing for?"

Laslow looks away from him. He can feel sweat beading on his forehead. "No, milord," he lies, and then thinks better of it. "I mean, maybe? I mean, I don't think there's any shame in it, in wanting some relief with another warm body."

"You think I've been using you as a convenient warm body," Xander repeats back, hollow.

"I," Laslow stammers, staring desperately at the fish, as if one of them might somehow save him from his own stupidity. "That isn't quite, I mean,"

"You think that I would pull my rank simply in order to relieve my base urges," Xander says, and it's a statement, not a question.

"I don't," Laslow objects, "You didn't so much as lay a finger on me until I offered, and I did offer."

Xander stares down at him. "And why exactly," he asks carefully, "Did you offer?"

"Well, that's," Laslow flounders. There's nothing he can think of to say that wouldn't make the situation worse.

"I see now that I have forced you into an unpleasant situation," Xander states coldly. "You may take your leave of me."

"Wait," Laslow says, and looks up again, stricken. "Wait, let's not be hasty, it's not as if I wasn't enjoying it, I just-"

"Do not make me repeat myself, Laslow," Xander says, voice thick with emotion.

And Laslow knows better than to question him when he takes that tone. He turns about and walks back through the greenhouse, the meandering path feeling more like an obstacle course now that he's alone.

When he gets outside, the cold air on his cheeks abruptly makes him aware that he's been crying.

With a sinking feeling, he realizes that Xander had been crying, too.

Chapter Text

Laslow takes a long route back to the palace. Or perhaps it would be more likely to say that he wanders rather far away from it, only having the vaguest intention of being back that night. It takes a while for the tears to dry on his cheeks. He tries valiantly not to start crying again, thinking about it.

Of all things to happen, the crown prince of Nohr had fallen in love with him. And he had managed to fuck it up.

He groans loudly in despair, ignoring the strange looks he’s getting. How idiotic he had been! Surely he was close enough to the prince to be well aware that he was not the sort of person to want a consort. Xander was the only one of Garon's children to be born to his first wife, and the petty nobles schemes to pit his later wives against each other had often succeeded. Xander had lamented, on some vulnerable nights, that he felt he would have been able to protect his siblings better from the ugliness of the court if they had all been born to the same mother. Lamented, more than that, that it was only after he had come of age and insisted upon spending time with them that they had grown as close as they were now. After his father's habits had hurt their family so, of course Xander would want to settle down with one person.

The gravity of being that one person hits Laslow like a sack of bricks. Not only was he not nobility, he was a man. He couldn't even provide an heir. For Xander to even consider him as a life partner was... Well, it was ridiculous. It couldn't possibly be allowed. Even if they were to wait for Garon's passing to get married-

Laslow stops himself there. Surely he's getting ahead of himself. Perhaps Xander is too inexperienced to know the difference between love and a passing infatuation. As soon as Laslow thinks it, he feels guilty for it. He had seen Xander's face, in the garden. His expression could not have more clearly been painted with love.

He doesn't know what to do. He wanders in circles through the city, not noticing as the bells chime for 4pm, 5pm, 6.

Aside from Xander's intentions, he had to consider his own. He was here on a mission, after all. He had indulged in a number of flings since arriving in Nohr, but to make promises of love to someone was a whole different matter. It would have a permanence he couldn't bear. Not while his family and his closest friends were in another world, a world still in danger.

No, there were simply too many reasons for it not to work out. He made up his resolve to turn the prince down more properly, and set back towards the palace, firmly ignoring the feeling of something akin to panic closing in around his heart.

---

He is expecting, when he returns, for the prince to be in his quarters, going through paperwork as he digests his dinner. Instead, he finds that the prince has left again.

"Where has he gone?" he asks Peri, trying to conceal the anxiety in his voice. If he doesn't speak to Xander tonight, he fears he will lose his nerve.

"Oh he like, went to visit Corrin," Peri replies. "How'd your date go anyway? He didn't look too happy when he got back, and you're here like four hours later."

"It wasn't-" Laslow starts, and then realizes that it absolutely had been a date, despite him botching it spectacularly. "I don't want to talk about it."

"That bad, huh?" Peri asks, but she's still grinning. "Well, I'm going out to the stables! Lord Xander will probably be back the day after tomorrow, so I guess you can do whatever until then."

Laslow stares up at the arched ceiling, as if it might give him direction. "Do whatever, huh?"