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What Mars gives to others, Venus gives to you

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In the moment, you could almost mistake them for simple siblings.

They sit with their knees bumping in a small hidden reception room, gazing at the roaring fire. Hank rings his hands, “You can’t do this to me”.

His sister looks heartbroken, “I have to, its our best move…”

“It’s bullshit, absolute bullshit” Hank leans back, rubbing his eyes and tugging at his beard in frustration.

“I’ll handle all the planning myself, we’ll make this as painless as possible, and if I wasn’t sure he was suitable for-“

“He’s not fucking suitable he’s not even a person, he’s… fucking… magic in a jar or some shit”

His sister sits up and takes a steady breath, he can tell she’s ready to speak as queen and not his own flesh and blood. “They are a new people but a people all the same, and an alliance by marriage with them can only benefit our folk and protect them from unknown magics”.

The automatons had been a creation of the elves to the south and it blew up in their faces. They created beautiful strong servants who didn’t need to eat or sleep and they made them smart enough to know that being a slave was a fate worse than death. The civil war that resulted had left the southern kingdom split in two, half now ruled by the walking talking dolls.

These jumped up toys were now demanding space at every court, sending their self created princes and princesses abroad. Somehow this is Hank’s problem. He levels a look at his order sister.

“They won’t produce anyone an heir so pairing them with anyone looking for children would be cruel, and many families would take it as a slight to be tied to an automaton”.

“So instead you humiliate your brother by forcing him to marry one of those things”.

“The people of your province will have no one after you”. Hank winces but she keeps talking, “While he may be your consort in the court’s eyes, treat him as an heir. These people are rarely touched by death and he is young, show him how to lead and this will not be a loss. He is known for his way with people, give yours a chance to warm up to him instead of forcing the crown to instate a stranger in your home after you’re gone”.

Hank has no argument against it. He hates it, but he doesn’t have another option to give her. He takes a long sigh, his tongue feels too dry and large for his mouth.

“This isn’t a slight to Carolina or Cole” She murmurs, her voice soft again, “I know no one will ever take their place”.

“Don’t” He holds up his hand, “I’ll do it, but I wont talk about them in the same breath as this toy you are forcing on me”.

“If it makes you feel better, you were not their first choice for a husband for their prince, Markus was hoping I’d be willing to marry him to your niece”

Hank snorts, he couldn’t force his favorite nervous teenage girl into a marriage with a magical abomination, “You play dirty, you know I’d do anything for your girl”.

“You’re a good man, Hank”.

“Good and stupid, I know”.

—-

Hank has his limits. He returns to his estate in Mishigama before the automatons even arrive at high court. He knows his sister is cross about it but its not the first royal proxy wedding in history. From her annoyed letters he’s informed it was lovely and the new prince consort was gracious about not being received by his own husband.

Two portraits arrive with the letter. A grand one, large and carefully packed and meant for display. Hank leaves it rolled up and tucked under his desk. The small one is harder to ignore. A miniature the size of his palm, set in a glitzy diamond encrusted frame. The automaton’s face is lovely and pale, with big dark eyes and thick dark hair, human features, only a thin opalescent crack at his temple betraying that he’s just tamed magic in a shell. Hank wonders how flattering the painting is. Maybe when the prince consort arrives he’ll just look like a training dummy shambling around. Maybe that would be easier to deal with.

He can never return to court, not when he’ll be expected to have this pretty simpering boy on his arm. He’ll look like some rotten greedy merchant who makes his gold and picks the prettiest youngest whore to put a ring on. He’ll look like a fool and a pervert even if he has been forced into this.

He really should prepare for his arrival.

He did not prepare nearly enough. Hank keeps a sparse staff, a local man he barely tolerates watches over animals, a thin band of guards who are mostly for show (his corner of the kingdom has only known peace for over a decade, he’s more likely to be struck by lightning than by the hand of any of his subjects), less then a handful of maids of all work that he never sees and has less interest to discover where they do their business, and his secretary who has kept him afloat since the loss of his wife and son. Chris was a good man who did not deserve to put up with Hank’s moods. Thankfully the pay was good and Hank hoped the comfort the coin provided Chris’s pretty young family was comfort enough.

He made sure that the consort would have a freshly cleaned room in an appropriate wing. He did not prepare for the size of the retinue that arrived, carriage after carriage. He watched with a heavy sigh from the window of his office, the sunlight glittering of the gold and glass of each ornate coach. He waits to see who exits, to get a look at his blushing groom but no one makes a move.

It hits Hank, as he refills his glass, that they must be waiting to be welcomed.

Fuck.

“CHRIS!” He barks, pushing himself up and catches himself against the window sill before starting the trek to the main hall. The estate is small as far as royal homes go, barely a castle, thin and spindly. The ornate tiles and carvings still line the building inside and out but now live under a coat of dust and disuse.

“On it!” Chris yells back from somewhere. Hank makes it down the stairs to the main hall, nearly jogging. He’s winded by the time he gets outside. Finally a carriage door pops open, one long well-heeled leg sliding out and soon enough the man is revealed. The portrait was poor and off. This man didn’t have the softness, the fractures of soft blue geode-like light extend down from his temple to under his collar and across his pale inhuman eyes. The artist fucked up bad.

He’s as haughty as they come, looking down his nose at Hank, “Sir, is his royal highness aware that the prince consort has arrived?”

Hank remembers that he’s wearing little more then slippers and a robe and he’s being belittled by his husband who does not know his face. This is hell.

“Colin, please, be kind”. Another young man leans out and Colin offers a hand to help him down. Hank feels himself blush, he had been absolutely wrong, the artist had undersold his husband. Warm and smiling, he holds his head high to support a fine diadem. He has such dark eyes. “Please excuse my brother, my lord, he has no skill with faces but I would not mistake the great hero of Mishigama for anyone else. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Prince Henry.”

His Consort kneels before him in the dirt, head bowed in a gross display of submission. His brother carefully holding his cloak (impractically thin and fine, nearly gossamer, a lewd show of wealth) and eyes Hank with careful distain.

“Oh good heavens, Connor get up” Hank blurts. Chris and a few maids bolt out behind him, heading down the line of coaches to help other people out. His consort stiffens up and looks up with a curious cock of the head.

Hank flusters and pulls him up by his elbow, maybe a little too roughly. Just as quickly he drops his hand and steps back, mumbling, “They’ll help you get settled, I have… things… I should go”.

Tactlessly he steps back and bolts back into the hall, letting the new occupants take care if himself. He’s too sober for this.

He closes the drapes and returns to his glass, letting these magical assholes let themselves in. Even in seclusion he’s left on edge, hearing the hustle in the yard, people talking, luggage being dragged inside. Having to entertain one automaton is bad enough but a whole party of them? He supposes most will just be here to make sure the prince is settled and then maybe they can be pressured to return home.

It hits him that being alone here with just one doe eyed living doll could be worse. Maybe this way the boy can entertain himself with his own people and leave Hank alone.

He spends the next few hours doing in a very fine bottle of brandy and thinking in circles when chris knocks at the door, letting himself in.
“You should get dressed for dinner”.

“Just bring something up, its not like any of these fuckers eat” He shrugs.

“His highness…. your hus- I mean. Prince Connor has been badgering me about when you take your meals. He’s haunting the dining room, its really kind of sad. You should make an appearance”.

“You’re telling me this guy honestly wants to sit and watch an old man eat”.

Chris shrugs.

Hank groans and tugs at his hair, “Help me find something less embarrassing to wear”.

—-

Chris is good at a lot of things but he’s no proper valet, he has about as much sartorial taste as Hank does so between the two of them they have next to nill. Mishigama is full of simple farmers and fishermen so no one seems to mind that their Leader keeps things rather unfashionable but right now Hank feels like a complete fool.

Prince Connor has changed into something even more regal and complicated , sitting primly across from him in the private dining room. It’s an outfit that one man can’t even put on alone, laced up in too many places, tight and delicate. That thin sliver of shimmering opal-blue at his temple glows in the light of the candles.

Hank feels like hermit who has wondered in from the woods about to converse with a fairy who could level him with a glance. The meal is served by a maid who is happy to duck out at the first opportunity, the air too thick with discomfort for anyone’s taste.

Hank stares at his plate, when a pale hand comes into view, one long finger hovering over his food, “If you’ll excuse me”.

Connor briefly taps it before popped his finger in his mouth.

“If you were hungry you should have spoken up, I didn’t think you people, you know, ate”.

“Oh” Connor sits up straighter, “I do not eat, but I can test things for poison”.

Hank squints at him, “I don’t really worry about many assassins around here”.

Connor looks momentarily lost, “Well, its something I would be happy to do for you, if you are ever worried about such things”.

“Seems a little self destructive”

“Not at all, I am immune to a whole host of things that could kill a human”.

Hank takes a long sip of his wine before focusing on his food, pointedly ignoring his dining partner and the awkward topic of being murdered in his own home.

“Her radiance Queen Elisa informs me you are a very accomplished equestrian” Connor’s tone hangs in the air, waiting a reply. He pushes forward when no comment comes, “She said you had a soft heart for animals, that you keep a pet dog, is that true”.

Hank nods, poking at a lump of potato with his fork.

“Perhaps I could meet your dog after dinner? I like dogs” He gazes at Hank, nearly imploring for some conversation.

Hank looks back up at him, “You don’t have to do this?”

“Do what?”

Hank gestures at him with his glass, “This try-to-get-to-know-me nonsense, this can’t be fun for you”.

Connor swallows, “My lord I simpl-“

“Cut the ‘my lord’ shit while you’re at it, I’m not one of those kind of asshole’s who demands that their spouse bow and scrape, I guess you live here now so ‘Hank’ is fine”.

Connor opens his mouth and nothing comes out for a moment, the light at his hairline flicking for a moment, “Who is Hank?”

“My father was Henry, I may be Henry on paper but I’ve always been called Hank”.

“Oh”.

“Connor is your name right?”

“Indeed it is my L-Hank” He smiles at that.

That seems to pacify Connor enough that he can finish his meal in piece till Hank attempts to stand and get away.

Connor looks to the door, keeping his voice low, “If I may be so bold to ask you something personal?”

Hank sighs but nods his consent.

“Do you have a preference?”

“For what?”

“You know…. Do you have a preference for visiting my rooms or would you prefer for me to visit you. I’d hate to have a misunderstanding my first night and we end up both waiting for each other to arrive, I am happy to follow your preferences” Connor is indecent enough to wink.

“Oh no no no not at all that’s…. no. Not part of the deal” Hank briskly turns away and heads for the door but Connor follows close.

“But to validate our marriage its required” Connor nearly sounds pained.

“We can lie, but not with you, not ever”.

That puts a stop to Connor following and Hank wants to throw himself down a well. Poor fool. To think Hank would demand to lay with some sweet young thing who feels he has to.

—-

After a long night of drinking himself to sleep, Hank is awoken by sudden flood of light, his curtains being yanked open.

He groans, “Fuck off, Chris, what’s got into you”. He wriggles deeper under the covers.

The footsteps in the room continues, followed by the click of dog claws against the stone, the squeak of a breakfast tray stand being unfolded and arranged.

Hank hasn’t actually bothered being awake for breakfast in a few years.

There is the soft clearing of a throat, “It’s nearly noon, my Lord, do you normally keep in bed till this time?”

Hank peaks out from the bedding, confronted by Connor looming over him. Sumo sits serenely at his side, the traitor.

“Why on earth are you in here?”

“Humans require food. I had asked when you take your breakfast and I was told you don’t usually have one but that seemed wrong, so I went to the kitchens myself and rectified the situation. Angelica offered to bring it up herself but I refused, I do not mind doing things myself, especially for my husband”.

“Who the fuck is Angelica?”

“Your…. chef? You don’t know who runs your kitchen? She’s the kind one, a bit round, pink cheeks, shiny copper hair that is the same color as the pots… ring any bells? She said she’s happy the prince having breakfast again”.

“Fuck no. Don’t want to bother them as it is, they don’t need me underfoot”.

Connor looks baffled, obviously looking or the right words, Hank cuts in to explain, “When the head of house is alone like me, it looks like shit if he’s too close to the staff, you know? I don’t want anyone feeling like I take liberties. I don’t want the girls to worry that I’m going to make a pass at them, especially with my build and title. I just stay out of the way”.

“That sounds terribly lonely” Connor blurts, shifting his weight, leaning over to adjust an egg cup before settling the tray onto Hank’s lap, “You should eat, you had a lot of wine with dinner and I don’t think you stopped after you retired for the night. You should have something on your stomach if you are going to show me the estate today?”

“Chris can do it, he knows more than I do already”.

“But… you are the master of the house, and I am yours, I thought you’d preform that duty yourself”.

“Connor, you can poke around anywhere you like, it’s your home now, just let me sleep”.

Connor stands a little taller, “Will you be coming to dinner at least?”

“If I promise to eat dinner with you, will you get out now?”

Connor nods, “I’ll see you at dinner”.

Connor bows, the picture of courtly grace, before finally leaving the room. Sumo sees him out, stopping at the door, boofing softly as Connor shuts the door.

“You are a terrible guard dog, Sumo”.

The old dog trots over and hank sits up a little, looking down at the meal. He picks up a bit of sausage and tosses it to Sumo. He manages to catch it out of the air, chomping on it before pulling himself up and into bed to flop down next to Hank.

He digs his fingers into the old dogs fur, giving him a solid rub, “What are we going to do about him?”

—-

Hank decides to go for a ride before dinner, the fresh air will clear his head he’s been drinking far too much since Connor arrived. The walk to the stables is interrupted by the very people he’s trying to avoid. Connor and his uppity little brother are flanked by 5 pretty blonde automatons, each a copy of the last. How do these people deal with everyone sharing so few faces. They are discussing the untended overgrown gardens and how they would like to correct them.

Hank tries to tip toe past though the shaggy lilacs but each and every set of doll eyes turns to him. Connor smiles ear to ear, “How kind of you to join us, my lord, I was going to wait to discuss with you the state of the grounds but since you are here, I have some questions bout who tends to the green?”

Hank stares at them like a rodent caught snacking in the pantry, “No one does, we don’t keep any gardeners. If you want to plant something knock yourself out”.

The women stick together, looking at Hank like he’s speaking gibberish. Colin rolls his eyes. Connor takes it in stride, “Well, maybe when I join you on your next trip to attend to things in your territory I can inquire about hiring one”.

“You won’t be doing that, you wanna plan a trip, I won’t hold you here, but I don’t need to babysit you while I attend to work” he brushes off gruffly.

Connor keeps his face pleasant even though Hank notes that his posture stiffens up, “Tradition dictates that the consort should attend to their spouse while they leave home”.

“Not much for tradition Connor, but have fun with the bramble and the weeds” he makes it clear that he’s done as he walks past and heads to the horses.

He’s shocked by the volume of beasts housed in their stable when he arrives. Skinny and nervous southern horses eye him as he heads to his beloved massive dappled grey draft horse, Falcon.

He starts to saddle up the horse by himself, he can hear Reed cursing to himself while mucking out one of the stalls on the other side of the barn and he decides to leave him be. His work did multiply tenfold over night and Hank is more thank capable of taking care of himself. Hank pats Falcon’s flank as he leads him out, “At least you don’t seem bothered by the invasion, maybe you and one of these overly groomed southern ponies can at least enjoy yourself and we could have a new colt by spring”.

—-

Hank if anything is a man of his word and he sits across from Connor at dinner once again. Connor regales him with his already overly complex plans for the gardens. Hank refills his glass again.

“Really the natural flora is lovely and just needs a guiding hand… what do you think?”

“I think you have this project covered without my help”.

Connor visually deflates, shoulders dropping, his lips curving into a frown. Hank feels like an asshole and wants to get him talking again. Connor seems to like to talk.

“So, all the folks you brought, everyone settle in? How many will be staying?”

“They are my retinue, they will all be staying, if my lord allows it” He answers softly, almost nervous.

Hank groans, taking a long drink, “Connor, I told you, you can do what you want, invite whoever you want, you don’t have to ask me”.

“I only brought who was necessary, my brother as a companion, a valet, some ladies in waiting, a secretary, a butler to work with your staff but you don’t have much of one to begin with”

“No personal guards?” seems an odd omission to Hank.

“Not necessary, my brother and I can defend ourselves and our people”.

It’s hard to imagine the lanky boy, wrapped in sky blue velvet, knocking anyone into the dirt. “For real?”

Connor nods, “The magus who made us designed the set of us to be proficient in such things”.

Hank is no fool, he can tell Connor’s being vague for a reason, “What sort of things?”

Connor looks stone faced for the first time Hank’s seen, “Personal guards, espionage, assassinations, that sort of thing”.

Han swallows and sets down his glass, “And no one told me this before now because…”

“The Queen knew that I played a large role in our winning our people’s freedom. She knew it was a role that involved a fair amount of martial dealings. You served your people in the same style”.

“I wasn’t a spy, I served as a knight because I was not the politician my sister is, I wouldn’t debase myself with sneaking behind people’s backs”.

“It was my design, I had no choice in it” He sounds hurt and looks down at his lap, fiddling with his fingers. “I was happy to leave underhanded dealings behind. In fact one of the things that drew me to you as a prospect was your famed sense of honor”.

“I’ll admit I don’t know much about your kind, did you really have no choice at all?”

“No more choice than your sword has in who wields it or who it slays. The war laid waste to the spells that held my people in bondage, I can not be controlled like that again. You need not worry where my heart lies, I am here of my own choice”.

“What changed? If you were only a blade in the hand, what made you the man that sits before me?”

“Cracks. Thousands of abuses and slights that left behind cracks and fractures till we all just…. broke”. The man sitting before him, serious and haunted is so different than the chatty vapid boy he met the day before.

The vulnerability of the prince consort sits like an open wound between them. Hank has never done well with comforting. “I’m sorry that your people suffered so. I hope you get a chance to exercise that well- earned freedom here”.

Connor sits up at the kind words, like a flower turning to the sun.

“If you like I’ll have my secretary arrange a trip to the nearest town if you’d like to hire some people to attend to the grounds”.

“When will we go?”

“You can go tomorrow if you like” Hank offers, standing and nodding to his dining partner. Connor scrambles to stand. “You have been stuck with me for 2 whole days now, get out, see some of the land, it will do you good”.

“If you’re sure, Hank, I’d welcome your company if you change your mind” He looks up at him, meeting his eyes.

Hank can’t hold the gaze and is the first to hurry away.

——

Connor spends the following weeks making himself at home, the gardens transforming into something lovely under his care, the whole castle’s rhythms bends to his will as more servants are hired. Hank is now routinely gently annoyed by the laughter or guests and the music of visiting bards. Hank keeps to himself, staying to his suite, keeping nosy window watching to a minimum. Connor and his people don’t need Hank spying on him from his tower window.

The only bad thing is it gets stuffy in here. He’s been cooped up to long, he’s still forced to pretend to be honeymooning and forbidden by his own sister to travel his corner of the kingdom and attend to good works, and while the yard is off limits (packed with Connor’s people), he can move his exercises to the woods where the automatons haven’t yet invaded if he’s sneaky about it.

It’s a little embarrassing, he’s past his years of saving damsels or slaying monster but he enjoys keeping up with swinging a sword. It’s better then staying inside and getting any fatter sitting and drinking. He feels like a naughty child trying to sneak out of his own home to enjoy some peace and quiet but its not a price too high to pay.

A quick escape later he’s hitched his horse to a tree, stretched with minimal huffing and puffing, and now he’s giving absolute hell to an oak with the business end of his broadsword. Tension melts from his limbs as he leaves deep gashes in the bark, wailing on the poor tree like an overenthusiastic squire trying to prove himself. He sweats and grunts, getting all his frustration out of his system.

He manages so much noise in fact that he completely misses that he’s been followed. He turns to make sure his dear steed Falcon was fine only to be surprised by Connor tucked in among the trees, far enough to unobtrusive but there is no doubt that he followed Hank all the way here. This is no accident. Even at this distance Hank can see Connor go wide eyed in surprise before spurring his willowy white horse to take off, wheeling around and bolting back to the castle. An etherial blur that vanishes in the woods to leave Hank feeling far too befuddled.

Why on earth would Connor follow him all this way and then not bother to bother him. What joy can he get out of watching an old man nearly have a heart attack? He grabs an oil rag from his saddle bag and flops in the dirt next to Falcon, trying to undo a bit of the damage he’s heaped upon the blade and the get some thinking done.

What is with that boy?

—-

Connor gives him one night of reprieve, sending his regrets that he will miss their nightly shared dinner. One of the blonde girls delivers the message written on fine paper in neat tiny handwriting and offers to join him if he wishes for company but Hank waves her off, he doesn’t need babysat.

The reprieve doesn’t last long.

By morning, Sumo (that slobbering terrible traitor) wakes him by depositing something small and squeaking into his bed. He nearly rolls over on top of the offending object but thankfully it yelps.

Hank is confronted by a puppy.

Same mountain breed as Sumo but fluffy and small enough to fit in his hands. It’s too early to think about it so he sets it (well he, it might be a small puppy but its big enough to see that its a he) on the floor and lays back down. Sumo is just as baffled as Hank is, picking the pup up by the scruff before once again plopping it in Hank’s bed, looking at him with those sad eyes that demand answers.

“Don’t look at me” Hank shrugs.

Sumo boofs.

Hank accepts that he’s awake and that this is his problem now, picking the whelp up. Sumo starts to trot off and looks back expectantly. The sun isn’t even up yet, just a glow behind the horizon. Hank groans and trudges along in his night shirt, following the elderly dog.

Hank’s heart sinks as Sumo leads him right to Connor’s suite, two of Hank’s own guard standing at the archway into his solarium of a sitting room. Sumo trots by them without a second thought but Hank blushes ear to chest, wondering what they think he’s here for. Some shaggy old pervert ready to consummate. He’ll be quick he tells himself, they wont have time to assume anything and he steps in following sumo straight to Connor’s bedroom.

He knows Automatons don’t sleep, not truly, but he’s been made aware that every once in a while they will wind down and recharge. Connor tried to explain it as a meditative state to sort ones thoughts. It still seems so strange to see him like this, eyes closed, tucked into his bed, motionless as a corpse. The strange small fracture at his temple still glows an unearthly blue but nothing else gives any hint that he lives. 2 more nearly identical puppies curl into either side of him, softening the scene. Hank feels as if he’s stumbled in on some cursed fairytale prince in need of true loves kiss or the blessing of a fairy to waken once more.

The tiny puppy tucked into his arms gives a tiny soft ‘awoo’ to wake his litter mates.

Connor’s eyes snap open.

All dogs are traitors, Hank thinks to himself.

Connor sits up without a yawn or any other hint of exhaustion, smiling easy, “It seems my surprise is spoiled, it seems you found Three, my lord”.

“You named your dog Three?”

“Connor looks down, pointing at the sleepy puppies “One, Two, and Three”.

“Creative” Hank just stares.

“And they aren’t mine, they are yours, or ours if you allow, I bought them for you, I had plans of formally introducing them at dinner”.

Sumo helps himself into Connor’s bed, spreading himself out over Connor’s legs. Connor seems happy to just pet the great lumbering beast, “Sumo is a very good boy but he’s aging out of being a hunting hound or guard dog, it would be wise to start training new dogs to join us on rides and hunts and I know you like this breed… do you like them?” His tone was so hopeful.

“They are real sweet Connor but you should keep them, Me and Sumo match, we don’t have the energy for spending hours looking after high energy pups… they seem to like you, anyway”.

Hank gently sets the puppy on the bed to join his siblings. The little thing wags and yips as he cuddles in with the pile of bodies on the bed. Connor pats his back but sighs, looking a little defeated, “You wouldn’t even want one of them? Three seemed to seek you out, He’s very cute”.

“Seems like they are pretty happy as a set, they don’t need me”.

Connor meets Hank’s eyes, “You have a pretty grim outlook on who does and does not need you”. Its not a question, a flat and metallic comment. “Do you think I’m unhappy here?”

Hank rubs his face, its too early for this “I don’t know, kid”.

“Have you bothered to ask me?”

“I don’t have to.”

“You should” Connor states, hard as stone.

Hank doesn’t want the answer, there is no way this poor sweet fool is happy, not really.

Hank tugs his own hair back, looking down at his own bare feet, “If you need help with the dogs the stableboy has a way with animals”.

He turns to leave, not wanting to linger and he can almost swear he heard Connor huff in frustration.

—-

Connor doubles down.

Daily invitations for entertainments on neat little cards arrive on Hank’s desk and are completely ignored. Dinners are now attended by Connor as well as his set of puppies each hand fed from the table while Hank watches and shakes his head. He hasn’t been able to sneak off for a ride without Connor mysteriously appearing to saddle his own horse (creatively named ‘Horse’) and offering to keep Hank company.

One afternoon its just too much for him (and honestly his liquid lunch of wine was not helping his attitudes) and he yanks Connor away from his poorly named horse, crowding him up against the stable wall, poking the prince consort “You need to stop”.

Connor looks up at him, placid and unbothered, “Stop what, my Lord”.

“Haunting me, cut it out, a guy can’t even breath with you around, you are always up my ass”.

Now he looks a little hurt, “That wasn’t my intention it was simply that I wanted-“

Hank gives him a solid shove “I don’t care what you want, I need space, I can’t live like this, I didn’t ask for this, for you”.

Connor’s eyebrows knit together, “understood”.

Hank isn’t proud of his behavior, “Sorry I just… its been too much”.

Connor is already wriggling out of Hank’s space, bee-lining for the entrance of the stable.

Over the next week Connor all but evaporates. Hank doesn’t hear a peep from him, no shared meals, no endless questions. He knows from Chris and from his own window that he seems to have thrown himself into finishing the grounds to his liking. Maybe he was too unkind.

Hank stews in his shame, rarely getting out bed and pouting.

He thinks the storm has blown over when a card arrives offering a tour of the improvements. Hank tries to be kind, dressing and showing up on time only to be welcomed by Connor’s haughty grim faced brother. Collin politely bows and offers a tour with dry explanations of transplanted trees, woven arches of flowering trellises, and a few new art pieces, all tasteful marble sculptures honoring Hank’s own family history.

One statue is too familiar, it’s himself, younger, armored, and a spitting image of a painting that hangs in his sister’s great hall. He feels himself blush, how ridiculous to have statue of himself out here where everyone can see.

Hank’s heart sinks as the tour heads down a path towards the family mausoleum, tucked away at the edge of the property. He hasn’t been down this way in years, allowing his loved ones their peace and rest in the overgrown greenery. The small building has been polished and cleaned, amphora filled with fresh flowers, new orange blossom trees offer shade. Even the grass has been carefully reseeded and trimmed. It’s painfully picturesque.

“The prince consort was quite proud of this, he wanted to make sure his respect for your family was understood. This has been the top of his list of all the repairs” His brother’s tone was icy and a little mad. Hank feels tears prick at his eyes.
“He seems like a sweet man, this is really kind… you’ll tell him that, right?”

“You should tell him yourself” Colin glares with his strange inhuman eyes.

Hank reaches out and pats his shoulder, Colin looks down at the hand with distaste, “You know, you’re kind of an asshole but I like that you’re straight forward”.

The Automaton just looks at him with a curt nod. Hank knows Carolina would be touched and Cole deserves a space this nice. Hank wipes his eyes, he needs to fix this.

—-

He writes to his sister and gets his little travel band lifted once he admits that he’s been a shit and wants to take Connor on a trip to the nearest port to attend to some business and show Connor some of the kingdom. He has Chris lay the plans, sending letters and preparing lodging for the pair. When things are settled Hank swallows his pride, writing out a schedule of events and seeking out Connor himself. With his tail between his legs, Hank finds him surrounded by his retinue in the library, one of the blondes doing a reading of poetry. When his looming presence is noticed she quickly quiets and the audience turns their eyes to the interloping prince. Connor stands and the retinue follows suit, “How kind of you to grace us with your presence, my lord, may I offer you a seat?”

“Um, I didn’t mean to interrupt, if I might borrow you for only a moment and you can return to your evening”. Connor nods and steps out into the hall with him and the library remains silent. Hank wonders if they are all trying to listen in.

Connor’s face is a mask and Hank can’t look past his chin before turning his eyes to the floor “I know I’ve been a shit. Forgive an old man. If you’ll have me, I’d like to make it up to you by having you join me on a visit to Monroe. You should meet your people”.

Connor searches Hank’s face, and in a bold move he tilts Hank’s chin up with a brief touch, “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure, it was my idea… I hope you don’t mind that I don’t travel with many frills”.

“I don’t mind, I look forward to the trip”. Hank presses the schedule into Connor’s hands “Enjoy your night, Sorry I interrupted”.

“You really are welcome to join us, Chloe has a ear for the music of poetry, you might enjoy it”.
“I’m sure she’s grand, but I’ll just make everyone awkward, hell, I stepped in there and the whole room went still, go on, enjoy”.

Connor nods, offering a quick but polite nod before returning to his little party.

Hank finally manages to breathe easier.

Over the lead up to trip, Connor shares his complete and total disbelief with Hank’s choice of travel. No guard, no staff, no carriage, not even a pack horse. Hank insists it’s safe and and that they will get there much faster on horseback over a bulky carriage that is stuck traveling on winding roads. If the weather holds they will be at the port in 3 days, one night of camping and one night at an inn before being welcome at the governor’s mansion. Connor frets over packing appropriate clothes so he can make the best impression, and he packs carefully.

They end up leaving on a misty dawn. Hank is pleased to see Connor dressed down for once, dressed simply in grey cotton shirt and fitted breeches. He smiles to himself because there is still no confusing Connor for a simple traveler. He’s still lithe, beautiful, and inhumanly pale, immaculate as if untouched by the rest of the world. He looks every inch the prince on the back of his white horse. Hank on the other hank feels completely incognito in his simple warn clothes, pulling himself up on his draft horse.

“Ready for a little adventure?”

Connor nearly smiles, “A small one”.

Hank knows the hunting trails through the woods extremely well and Falcon might know them even better, happily cantering away. Connor’s horse seems held back, taking short bursts ahead before occasionally wheeling around to return to Hank’s side.

“Relax Connor, you’re making me seasick riding like that”.

“Sorry, He was breed for speed, he’s not used to this pace”.

“Still you’re making me dizzy”.

“Sorry” Connor chirps “Do you visit Monroe often?”

“I do, I’m tasked to represent the crown and I check in on their imports and exports from time to time, it’s nice there, you’ll like it, the sea is lovely this time of year”.

“I’ve never seen the sea before”.

“Really?”

“We were landlocked back home and I never traveled that much before the war. Your castle is the farthest I’ve ever been from home”.

“Our castle”.

“Our Castle” Connor repeats.

“Do you miss the south?”

“No, not really, the salt flats were pretty at night but there are so many terrible memories there. I am not one for leading and they need strong leaders right now. People who know what they want all Automaton to be. I would just be in the way. It’s lovely here”.

“I mean, you’ll still be expected to lead here, you’re technically my heir”.

“It’s different, your people are comfortable with who they are, the automatons are still finding themselves. I barely know who I am”.

Hank gives him a look, but doesn’t question him.

The ride is smooth and the chat is light, Connor talking about his favorite parts of traveling north, seeing the high court and describing the wedding while never chiding Hank for not attending. By time the sun starts to set Hank helps find them a safe clearing to bunk down in. Connor is happy to tend to the horses while hank builds a small fire and sets out his bedroll. They are blessed with good weather thankfully and had plenty of chances to water their steeds.

“I can take first watch” Hank offers, “I can feed myself while you do that sleep-like thing you do”.

“Oh no, I can wait till tomorrow night at the inn, enjoy your rest” Connor assures him as he feeds the horses.

Hank gives him a look, “I really don’t mind, I can live without a few hours sleep”.

Connor gives him a smile, “I swear, I don’t mind. Would you like some company?”

Hank pats the ground beside him and Connor sits and helps him build up the fire.

Connor attempts small talk, “I was designed to see in low light, when I traveled before the war I just walked through the night, its nice to take some time to rest and reflect instead”.

Hank hates to think that Connor was some designed product like a particularly nice piano. Hank blurts “If you were made by the elves why do you all look human-ish?”

“The magnus who made us didn’t want to make us as equals in their eyes. They never thought too highly of humans”.

Hank snorts “Well good thing you kicked their asses, serves them right. It’s hard to think you were ever made by anyone, you seem like any other man, to think you didn’t have a childhood, some wild youth, you were just…. made as you are”.

“It’s hard for me too” Connor admits. “But I intend to make up for lost time”.

Hank feels his face heat at the topic but its fair to tell him, “I know you never had a chance to enjoy youthful indiscretion. If you ever find someone who you… who you are fond of… if you wanted a paramour, I would support it totally”.

Connor looks a little dumbfounded, “I don’t plan on dating, Hank, I’m a married man” he says as if Hank’s lost his mind, “Do you intend to keep looking?”

“Me? Hell no, I’m out of that game, I had my time in the sun”.

Connor’s tone is quiet and reverent, “The Princess Carolina?”

Hank nods.

Connor pushes lightly, “the high court had much to say about her. She was well loved and deeply mourned by her people. Prince consort Jeffrey had much to say about her and how proud he was that you took such care in raising your son after her passing. Lesser men might have sent their children off with nannies and nurses after such a tragedy”.

Hank grit his teeth, it hurt to hear this from Connor, no matter how kind the words he wasn’t there to suffer what happened. Jeffrey was a dear old friend but he too didn’t own Hank’s pain. It wasn’t either of their sorrows to discuss. A twig snaps in his hands.”It was a long time ago”.

“Still, the love you shared is still a popular story at the high court, its all very romantic, saving the the fair maiden from a basilisk, her tending to your wounds, the spring wedding, a love for the ages”.

Hank pokes the fire with a stick and a heavy sigh, “She was a good woman. She would have liked what you did to her tomb… she would have been flattered. She was the one who planted all the lilac to begin with”.

Connor looks a little bashful, “I hope you don’t think me to forward in renovating there but to leave that spot untouched while I tended to the rest seemed unfeeling”.

“Cole would have liked it too, the orange blossoms are a nice touch” He admits, feeling tears prick again. He digs though his pack for an apple and a bottle of wine. A perfectly serviceable dinner. “Can we talk about anything else?”

“As my lord commands” Connor nudges him gently, “Why do you refuse all my invitations? I’ve tried all kinds of entertainments but I haven’t found one you like yet”.

“They’re all fine I just want you to enjoy your life you don’t need me hovering around”.

“I don’t need a lot of things. I don’t need music or dogs or flowers but I like them every much, I would like you to attend with me”.

Hank’s shoulders slope down, “If you’re sure… I do like music”.

“Next time we have a talented bard I’ll make sure you have a perfect seat if you promise to come”.

“I’ll try”.

Connor seems pleased, taking the wine bottle that Hank is struggling with, yanking the cork out and passing it back. Hank takes a long swig, “What can I do for you, kid? I want to make this whole mess better for you”.

Connor looks down at his hands, “If you don’t want me as a spouse I hope you look at me as a friend. I’ll be whatever you want me to be. I just want things between us to be comfortable”.

“I’ll try to be less of an ass” Hank nods, offering the bottle back, “Want to test this for poison?”

Connor sticks his finger in the neck of the bottle, getting it wet before popping it in his mouth and passing it back. Hank snorts, “I was offering you a sip but that works too”.

“I can’t become drunk, best not to waste it”.

Hank drinks in comfortable silence as Connor tends to the fire, the moon rising above them. Hank eventually tucks himself in feeling terribly out of place as Connor glues his eyes to him.

“You really have to watch me sleep?”
“Sorry, can’t help myself, you are very interesting”.

Hank snorts and rolls over, facing away, “You are so weird”.

Exhaustion slowly takes hold and he manages a bit of sleep, Connor gently waking him with a shake to his shoulder and a pat to his cheek when morning comes. There is less talk on this ride because the woods thin and the road dotted with travelers and lined with small farms. Connor seems fixated on saying hello to strangers, watching the scenery change, and making frequent stops to charm shepherds and pet lambs. Hank lets him have his fun.

Their goal is a rather nice inn Hank is fond of that doesn’t kick up too much of a fuss about his title while still being appropriate and safe. It’s nestled in a small village just a few hours ride from Monroe.

Connor is completely charmed by the tiny town, insisting on stopping by little market stalls for trinkets and small talk, ending up with an arm load of scarves and flowers by the time they end up at the keg and songbird. Hank has been in contact and they have assured them they have saved space for the royal couple. They board their animals at the stable and head inside to the warm, busy tap room.

Connor is instantly overwhelmed, clutching to Hank’s sleeve. “There are people gambling here, my lord”.

“Mmhmm”.

“And there are… courtesans”.

“Everyone has to make a living”.

Connor gives him a surprised look.

“Don’t worry kid, we aren’t hanging out for company or a game of whist”.

Hank heads to the bar where the barkeep hurries around, shaking his hand “It’s good to see you, Your Highness”

Hank shushes the man, “None of that, same room as always?”

“Of course” He digs a key from his pocket, pressing it into Hank’s hand.

“And one for my… Connor”.

The barkeep looks a little lost, “I thought you and your husband would be…. I only have one room fit for your type, he can take a bunk in the common room if he’d like but-“

Hank’s heart drops, he should have been more clear but its his own fault “No its fine, don’t stress over it, Jimmy, just send up dinner if you can”.

“Will you be needing a bath?”

“No”
“Yes” Connor interjects.

Hank takes a deep breath, “A bath too”.

The barkeep turns to Connor, offering a hand, “It’d wonderful to meet you, your Highness, there has been a lot of gossip about you”.

Connor shakes his hand, smiling but otherwise a little lost for words.

Hank pays the man generously before guiding Connor up a side flight upstairs to a private room. It’s cozy and tidy but small, little more than a wash stand, a narrow table and rickety chair, and a quilt draped over a clean feather bed. The tiny hearth is cold and dark and Hank helps himself to lighting sconces himself with stick matches. The noise of the tap room drifts up from the floorboards.

Connor tucks his pack in the corner. He stands up straight, folding his arms behind himself, “The bed is yours, my lord, I don’t mind guarding the door”.

“I promised you a rest, you were up all night last night and I know you were up all the night before fretting over what to pack, we can take shifts if you like, or I have my bedroll, I can sleep on the floor”.

Connor sighs, looking frustrated, “That’s highly inappropriate, with your title you should always take the best accommodations possible, it makes things ordered and simple”.

There is a knock on the door and Connor launches himself over to answer it, a skinny pimple faced teen caring in a serving tray with two plates heaped high with food, two tankards, and a loaf of bread to be plopped gracelessly on the table. Behind them two more young people struggle up the narrow stairs with a small well worn hip bath tub that’s dumped in front of the hearth, its steaming contents sloshing. The nervous teens bow before bolting out, already gossiping about the royal couple before they were even out of ear shot. Connor shuts the door, “Oh my”.

Hank sits down, helping himself to a hot meal.

Connor lights the fireplace, still a little shell shocked “We did not stay any place like this on your journey up north”.

“This can’t be the worst place you’ve ever stayed, you took sleeping in the woods easy enough”.

“The woods are familiar, back home before we the war we were stored in closets if need be, but I’ve never stayed someplace with so many strangers who are so…familiar. I suppose the high court was close… a lot of servants under foot but everyone had their role and etiquette kept things smooth, this is different. This little village has a lot of life”.

“You’re going to be blown away by the Monroe then, its packed with people and its terrible noisy”.

“I’m looking forward to it, especially if everyone is just as friendly. Humans are… a lot”.

“Not so different then your friends back at the castle”.

Connor sounds so fond, “I love my brother and my friends but they will never be as organic as mankind”.

Hank snorts, “You sell yourself short”.

Connor leans over his shoulder, inspecting the pile of food, “That’s a lot of grease, my lord”.

Hank looks up at him, “You don’t even eat, what are you worried about?”

“I am worried about my lord’s health”.

“Hank” Hank corrects.

“I am worried about my Hank’s heath”.

“Hush” Hank sighs, “Enjoy your bath and leave me be”

“I’d like to rinse the dust from my hair but otherwise I do not sweat… the bath is for you”.

“I’m fine”.

“I’d like to make a good impression tomorrow and if we were both clean that would be easier to manage”. Connor is unshy in unbuttoning his shirt, peeling it off and spreading it on the bed before kneeling over the tub to dunk and wash his hair.

Hank tries not to look but he’s shocked by the threads of blue shimmer that seem scratched into Conner’s shoulder and lower back. Barely there but the glow is hard to ignore, the same soft glowing twinkle of his temple. He’s lit from within like a lantern. He swallows and tries to peel his eyes away, but for someone so thin he has solid shoulders and freckled smooth skin which is quite the distraction.

Connor blindly reaches for a bar of soap of the washstand and finds it first try. His knees are tucked neatly under him and there is nothing imprecise or graceless about his movements. Hank busies himself with his food and drink so he won’t be caught leering at the poor boy. Connor pulls a towel from the stand before sitting up, rubbing the water from his hair,

“you should hurry, it wont be warm for long” Connor murmurs, looking back over his shoulder.

“I’ll get to it eventually, why don’t you go downstairs and lose a few coins on cards while I…” He can’t quite find the words while Connor is perched so delicately on his knees, shiny drops of water running down his back, looking up at him with big brown eyes.

“Absolutely not, you won’t do it and you’ll go straight to bed and I’ll be forced to be escorted by a road worn prince come morning, I’ll be happy to wash your hair if you like, fix your beard”.

“What’s wrong with me beard?”

Connor makes a high pitched noise as he tries to think of a polite way to word it but he finds none.

“You don’t need to act like a servant, Connor”.

“I’m acting like a husband, let me at least make sure you are presentable I’ll feel much more confident” Connor makes it sound so reasonable.

Hank drains his tankard before getting up and joining Connor on the floor. He reminds himself that it’s no different than a public bathhouse and he shouldn’t make this weird. Connor helps himself to the buttons on Hank’s shirt and Hank bites his tongue letting the lad work. Hank shrugs his shirt off and tries not to compare physiques, feeling every fold and scar and hair. Connor gestures at the water and Hank makes a an undignified grunt as as he folds himself over.

Hank is glad there is no way for Connor to see him blush as Connor gently washes his hair, digging his long fingers in against his scalp to spread the soap. It’s a nice feeling but a little embarrassing, like being a groomed horse. Connor’s close enough that Hank can feel his body heat against his back and it hits him this is by far the most physical contact they have ever had.

The flesh is weak and Hank isn’t a good man. He just hopes Connor doesn’t notice how much He’s enjoying this.

“Hurry up will ya? Before a fall asleep and drown in here” Hank grouses, but Connor remains unbothered, massaging his fingertips into the hair at the nape of his neck.

“I’m nearly done, just want to make sure I’ve done it correctly”.

“You’re killing me, boss”.

Connor scoops water with his cupped hand, slowly rinsing out his hair before allowing him to rise again, passing him a towel. Hank grimaces, cracking his back, not used to the prolonged stretch.

Hank catches Connor’s eyes gluing themselves to Hank’s chest. He awkwardly covers himself with his arms, “You’re giving my a complex”.

“Sorry” Connor doesn’t sound to convincing nor does he look away.

“Seriously, give a man a taste of privacy, I can finish up on my own bath alone”.

Connor sighs and gets up, arranging his damp hair in the tiny cracked mirror of the wash stand, “Let me gather myself and I’ll leave you be”.

Hank awkwardly and quietly watches as Connor slips his shirt back on before lifting the tray of leftovers.

“I’m not done with that!” Hank points out and Connor only smiles.

“For your health you are, I’ll return in a bit, I promise to knock” Connor excuse himself to explore the taproom alone.

Hank sighs and strips before plopping in the hip bath, feeling too tall and long limbed. He tries to wash briskly but his hands lingers around his thighs and belly, terribly tempted.

Connor did say he would knock.

He loosely grips his cock, closing his eyes and shamefully thinking about Connor’s hands on him. Guilt sits small and ugly in his belly. He’s a man grown letting that fresh face stir him, how weak. What would Carolina think?

He takes a deep breath and hates the answer. She had been a cheeky woman, not at all shy about matters of love and sex. She has always initiated, made things clear and easy. She would laughed and been pleased that Hank was so bold to be playing with himself.

He groans at the thought, his brain a mess of memories of her and fantasies about him, tangled and unhealthy. He can’t look down as he strokes himself, watching shadows flicker on the ceiling instead,

He bites his lip, allowing himself to fantasize for once and he manages a weak and long overdue orgasm, a lot of of old stress melting off his bones, quick to wash away evidence in the shallow tub. He breathes deeply, and starts to wash in earnest before the water goes too cold to stand.

Hank gets up and digs something mostly clean out of his pack to put on, returning decency to the room. Eventually Connor knocks and lets himself in, announcing, “I am very good at whist”. He places a few newly earned coins on the table.

“Good for you, kid” Hanks offers, “So… you need your rest, if you wouldn’t be bothered… we could share the bed”.

“Oh” Connor blinks at him.

“If not its-“

“No its fine I’d be happy to”.

Hank makes himself comfortable, scooting to the very edge of the mattress while Connor blows out the sconces, sitting on the edge of the bed to start working on the laces of some far too complicated lace up boots that end up neatly deposited at the foot of the baseboard.

Connor lays back on top of the covers, his hands wresting on his stomach.

“Arn’t you going to be cold?”

“I don’t get cold easily, part of my design”.

Hank just sighs, well at least there will be a polite barrier between them. Connor closes his eyes like its nothing, going still. Hank swallows, looking over in the dim light, wishing there was a rise and fall of to Connor’s chest.

The fire is ash and ember by the time Hank settles enough to sleep and he’s rudely awoken by Connor’s voice “My lord? Hank?”

He yawns and rubs his face against Connor’s shoulder.

His face is on Connor’s shoulder.

Why is his face on Connor’s shoulder? He pushes himself up and looks down at Connor who looks up at him with a soft barely there grin, “We should dress and take to the road”.

Hank flops back on his own side of the bed, “Yeah, sure whatever, boss”.

Connor sits up with no hint of sleep in his movements, quick to dig a fresh more stately outfit out of his bag, “Turn around please?”

Hank is quick to obey and roll over listening to Connor’s movement’s forcing the floorboards to creak and eventually soft frustrated hums.

“My lord, a hand please?”

Hank looks over his shoulder and Connor struggles with his back turned to him, fighting with the laces up the back of his fitted duck-egg-colored doublet. It’s narrow sleeves limit his range of movement and the cords sit uneven, “I can’t quite do this alone, I didn’t think about that when I packed”.

Hank huffs and pushes himself up, stepping up behind him to fiddle with the tiny strings that run from the high collar to the small of his back. His fingers feel too thick and it takes forever to get it even, careful not to poke at the slivers of his exposed back. It fits like a glove and the kid looks good. He turns around and looks up at Hank, “Thank you”.

“Its nothing, thankfully I didn’t pack a puzzle to wear myself”. He changes into something clean and simple and Connor all but glares, “You are attending to official duties in that?”

Hank produces a medal of title and office from his pack before shoving it in his pocket, “I’ll pin it on when I have to”.

“Oh Hank, no”

“I’ve been at this a lot longer than you have, most people don’t give two shits what you wear as long as you take care of them”.

“But it’s respectful to dress in moderate splendor, to embody the majesty of your country. or ones adopted country in my case, I want people to be proud of me” .

Hank notice the glitz, tucked into Connor’s hands and pinned against his chest.

“You brought a crown?”

“I’m meeting a community leader for the first time for formal duties, of course I did”.

“Leave it in the bag, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb”.

“That’s the whole point”.

“You don’t need it, they will respect you without it”.

“I want to wear it”.

“I didn’t take you as being so vain”.

“It was my wedding gift” Connor sounds down right mad.

“I didn’t give you-“

“Her radiance gave it to me at the wedding, its my only symbol of our union and I’m being introduced as your husband” Connor snaps.

Hank feels like a putz. He steps back to Connor, peeling tense pale fingers from the thin diadem, twinkling with opals and aquamarine. Hank sloppily smooths Connor’s curls down before perching it on top of his head. He smoothes a fingertip over the wrinkles in Connor’s forehead as the anger ebbs away just as fast as it came.

“I’m not a fashionable man or too good at first impressions. It’s been a long time since I had to make one, forgive me”.

“It’s forgiven” Connor sighs.

Connor presses on Hank’s shoulder till he sits on the bed and wordlessly takes out his own brush, making some attempt to dress Hank’s hair without asking. Connor is quick and efficient in taming the nest of hair into a neat (ish) bun, fixing it in place with one of Connor’s own hair pins. Any lingering frustration in Connor is long forgotten. “There”.

“They’ll love you, I’m sure” Hank assures, “Come on, it wont be long, We’ll be there by noon”.

—-

The ride is painless as long as you don't count the surprised stares Connor draws leaving the tiny village dressed liked he’s entering the high court. The closer they get to Monroe the more he blends in with well dressed merchants and traders. Connor keeps close to Hank as streets crowd and narrow once they reach the city proper.

Hank makes himself sit up a little taller when someone calls out to him, someone who recognizes him from his trips here, “Prince Henry!”

Hank lifts in hand politely in the general direction and suddenly attention is on them, their path clearing with more waves and calls. Connor’s identity is quickly deduced and his name is mixed into the calls, “Prince Connor! Welcome! Prince Henry! Congrats!”

Connor hides his obvious delight, politely waving and and gently smiling till they are at the gates of the governor’s mansion and quickly let inside by guards.

Connor turns to Hank, “I had worried being a foreigner that I wouldn’t be welcome. I was wrong”.

“Eh, people around here seem to like me and they love good news”.

“I’m good news” Connor states, nearly preening.

The path up to the house on a hill is stately and lined with fruit trees and a rotund man exits the main doors followed by a group of people to greet them.

“Ben!” Hank waves.

“Hank!” The man calls back, putting his hands on his hips as servants hurry to take their horses and help them down. “It’s good to see you, we thought we’d never see you again after the news of the wedding, we thought you’d never leave home again with a new husband to entertain you”.

Hank and Ben embrace as old friends.

“Ben, this is Connor, he’s been Governor for years”

“No one else is fool enough to take the job” The old man laughs.

Connor smiles at him, “It’s lovely to meet you, your welcome honor’s us”.

“Hank, this one’s polite and handsome how in the world did you convince it to marry an old bear like you?”

“Yer a real ass, Ben”.

Ben pats Connor on the back, ushering him inside, “You are a saint to put up with the Prince, I can already tell you deserve better”.

—-

Business it bland but positive and Hank and Connor have little to do but nod and listen to reports. Hank puts his two cents in here or there but over all its a quiet afternoon in the governor’s office. When work unwinds Ben pours himself and Hank a glass or brandy, Connor politely refusing before a third is poured “Now Hank, we put together a little celebration-“

“When?”“Oh you know…. now…. downstairs, just small, the family, some local merchants, people want to meet Connor, he’s not only a new prince but a whatchamacallit?”

“Automaton” Connor offers.

“Yeah, that, let them be excited, just a little music, a nice meal”.

Hank sighs, unsay about emptying his glass just as quickly, “I don’t get a say?”
“When has my wife ever let you leave without a dance? She loves telling all her friends that she gets to turn about the floor with royalty. What about you, your highness, do you like dancing?”

Connor nods, “I think so, I’ve rarely done it before but in theory yes”.

“See Hank, you keep this one cooped up in a tower and he doesn’t even know what he likes, its settled, lets head down to dinner, Charlotte!”

His secretary pokes her head in and he informs her to to start herding the guests of the house to the dining room.

Hank knows he’s outnumbered on this and just follows Ben and Connor down the stairs as they happily chat.

Dinner is an odd meal when one of the highest ranking guests doesn’t eat or drink. The hostess sat at his side keeps asking him if there is anything she could get him but Connor assures her he’s fine. Hank and Ben catch up and the rest of the table of overstuffed rich people are happy to quietly listen in to accumulate gossip.

After dinner, dancing is a little easier because everyone wants a piece of Connor and he seems at home with giving it to them. Connor seems unfazed at dance after dance with curious people ready to ask inane questions about automatons and how he’s settling in since the wedding. He’s buried in compliments for his fair face and natural grace. Hank gets a break and sits with his host and hostess, enjoying more and more wine.

The musicians take a break and Connor eventually makes his way back to Hank’s side, “If it pleases my Lord, the next song is a waltz and I’d like to share it with my husband”.

“I’m sure you can find someone who wont step on your toes, maybe Mrs. Collins would like-“

“No, I am sure I want to share it with you” Connor states bluntly, offering his arm.

“Don’t be stubborn” their host teases and Hank pulls himself up, letting Connor pull him out to the floor to await the song.

“You are wasting your time, I’m a terrible dancer”.

“I can lead”.

Hank senses he isn’t getting out of this one.

“You were right, everyone here has been very kind to me. Everyone has congratulated me on our marriage, you are quite the catch”.

Hank bristles “Says who?”

Connor lifts an eyebrow, “Its a compliment, Hank”.

Musicians regather in their corner of the room and Connor extents his hands, settling one one on Hank’s waist and taking the other in his own, “Ready?”

“I don’t have a choice”.

“Not at all”.

The music lifts and other people find partners. Connor very gently leads them as Hank finds his feet. A dance with their hostess or the occasional high courtier every few seasons has not kept his skills sharp. His eyes are on their boots while Connor keeps chatting.

“You’ll do better if you relax”.

“I am relaxed”.

“Then look up at your partner” Connor goads.

Hank lifts his eyes and Connor’s face is far too close. Damn Connor’s heeled boots, nearly bringing them eye to eye.

“There you are” Connor smiles. It’s unfair, for someone who has so rarely danced, Connor is weightless and easy with it, pulling Hank into easy turns.

Connor meets Hank’s eyes without reservation or worry and its terrifying.

Hank’s tongue feels too big and dry as he tries to talk, “You wont want to leave Monroe if you enjoy their parties this much”.

“I could throw a ball at home, invite guests… or we could just dance, you and I”.

Hank goes back to watching their feet, tripping over Connor’s shoes, throwing them off their rhythm. Connor digs his fingers into his side, guiding him into a bit of a spin to hide the stumble, all but manhandling Hank.

“How do you feel about about a dip?”

“absolutely not” Hank shakes his head, “I’ll never get up if I bend backward”.

“You could dip me”.

“I’m not the one leading” Hank points out.

“Spoil sport”.

The song comes to its ending Connor steps back, politely bowing to his partner. Hank rubs his neck, “You wanna go get some air?”

Connor nods and follows him out to the balcony of the small ballroom, looking over the port ocean. Connor leans on the rails, smiling as he looks over the shimmering ocean water and tall ships, “It’s beautiful”.

“I’m sure governor Collins could arrange for you to go out on a pleasure barge tomorrow”.

“I’d really like that, I might be the first automaton to go out on the sea”.

“He loves to show off, he’ll take you out all day if you enjoy it”.

“I’m really happy that you decided to bring me with you, I couldn’t imagine missing this”.

Hank pats his back, “Wait till you see the rest of the kingdom, there are so many shores, mountains and forests, all lovely”.

Connor smiles wider but his eyes never leave the waves, “I look forward to it”.

Hank squeezes his shoulder before leaning against the doorway, watching his young husband get lost in watching the water.

—-

Hank allows Connor to get the most out of the trip, spending his days riding up and down the beach and taking the governor’s barge around the dock, charming the governor’s family. Hank submits to keeping Connor company and nearly enjoys himself.

Hank is still used to having his alone time. When he thought Connor was busy being fawned on by their hostess he sneaks off to Ben’s armory under the lie of needing some private times to write letters to the queen. The old man always had a good eye for beautiful swords and when one would turn up in the market or off a an incoming ship he would free with his coin. The skill of the metal work was easy to get lost in and Hank enjoyed viewing the collection.

He barely gets a breath to himself when Connor clears his throat behind him, “I was wondering where you got off to”.

Hank shoots him a look before returning his interest to some new ornate practice foils. Ben had proudly yammered on and on about how good his daughters were at fencing. Their hobby has obviously invaded his collection. Connor walks around him, joining hank’s inspection, picking one up and looking it over, “Do you duel? “

“What? with those little breakable things? It’s a sport for noble children”.

“So you’re saying you are a poor fighter? That’s not the Prince Henry I’ve heard about” He teases.

“A real fight and dueling are totally different”.

“If you say so my lord” Connor sighs, “Its only a wonderful way to measure a man’s wit and dexterity”.

“Are you challenging me you little shit?”

“Me? no, never, I wouldn’t dream of it”.

There is space to spare in the armory and Hank huffs, picking up the foil’s twin “I won’t go easy on you”.

“I wouldn’t expect that, you are a legend with a sword”. Connor slowly strolls to the bare floor of the room, turning towards Hank and bouncing on his heels. “I’d love to see your skill up close and personal”.

It flickers in Hank’s mind that Connor was trained for combat and that he might be getting set up.

His ego tells him to grow a pair and knock this boy’s ass in the dirt.

“I wonder how much of the tales of you slaying dragons and chimera are true and how much was added for dramatic effect”.

Hank stands across from him, squaring up and trying to let himself get egged on.

Connor rests the foil against his shoulder, “I mean the stories are very old, people tend to embellish with time”.

“Cut the horse shit and come at me”.

“I would never, after all fencing is for children, you said so yourself, now, you laying waste to a while horde of wyvern, that one has to be fictional right?”

Hank makes a quick lunge in an attempt to shut him up but Connor’s too fast and slides out of the way in a blink of an eye. “I might not be fair to judge your skill, you must be wary from our trip and excited to return home tomorrow”. At least this time Connor has the decency to assume a defensive posture.

Hank circle around, getting a little space between them, watching his opponent, completely caught off guard by this side of Connor.

Connor is conservative, letting Hank come to him, attempting a few telegraphed feints but little more.

“What’s got into you?”

“Maybe I just want to see all of you for once”.

Hank edge up on him slowly “You could just ask”.

“I ask for your attentions all the time but I am often ignored, I’m tired of waiting” He doesn’t sound mad, parrying away one of Hank’s attacks with ease without attempting a swipe at Hank.

“We’ve been at each other’s side all week!”“And I’m thankful for it”.

Connor lures him around the floor, slipping away from every attempted attack with ease.

Hank’s frustration grows, losing himself to his pride, focusing on finding an opening since wearing down his opponent seems impossible.

“Did you know Mrs Collins’ had the most inappropriate questions for me this afternoon. She had over indulged in champagne and asked if the rumors were true that you were a world renowned lover. I couldn’t answer of course, played it off as a matter of my modesty-“

Hank lunges again and Connor isn’t even phased “very forward of her, don’t you think?”

Hank’s face is flush, taking more and more risk as embarrassment sets in. Connor takes his opening, finally coming for him.

Hanks shocked by the speed and ferocity of it, every move efficient and clean with no openings for Hank to strike back up. He ends up cornered, backed into wall as Connor throws himself shoulder first at Hank and suddenly he’s robbed of breath, shocked.

A sharp point presses up under Hank’s chin, nearly nose to nose with Connor. He has no where to go.

“Where the hell did you get a knife?” Hank murmurs.

“A man is allowed his secrets” Connor drops the sword in his other hand before disarming Hank, tossing it aside. “I win, my lord, have I earned a boon?”

“We didn’t bet”.

“No but it would be the gentlemanly thing to do and you are an honorable man”.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to stop ignoring me. I know how your look at me. All I ask for is a chance and a kiss”.

“You’re playing dirty, I thought you would be too regal for that”.

“A clue that maybe you should get to know me”.

Hank swallows, the point of the blade still and solid under his chin. Connor leans in, terribly slow and watching Hank’s face for a real refusal as he leans in for a kiss.

Their lips barely brush as someone squawks behind them, Connor quickly dropping the tiny dagger, letting it clatter against the floor.

A maid covers her eyes, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your highnesses, I heard noises and I knew the family wasn’t down here I was just…. oh dear”.

Hank gently pushes Connor back, “No harm miss, we were just having a bit of fun, as you were”

Connor doesn’t face her, looking terribly frustrated as he kneels to gather the blade and tuck it back up his sleeve from where once it came.

She closes the door and her footsteps bolt up the stairs.

Connor is brushing out his clothes when Hank closes his eyes, “Connor you are a bossy little shit you know”.

Connor frowns, obviously distracted by his spoiled plan.

“Connor…”

“What?”

“Go up stairs to your room”.

“I’m not a child, Hank”.

“I’ll follow you there in a minute, just… let a man think”.

Connor seems taken back but he nods, staring at hank for a moment before stepping back and heading upstairs.

Hank puts away the foils, feeling sweaty and out of breath from more then the short fight.

He’s about to do something wildly stupid and it crawls over his skin like a fever. Getting up the stairs and through the mansion to the guest suites feels like walking through honey.

No one spares him an extra glance, after all, why shouldn’t he go to his husband’s room?

Connor sits primly on the bed, looking from his bare feet up to Hank when he enters, “I’m sorry, I was too forward, I was pushing things too quickly and I though if more gentle methods were not working so I thought being bold would, I don’t know, please don’t be upset with me I only-“

Hank crosses the floor and leans in, cutting Connor off with a very sloppy kiss, dry and nervous. Connor goes stock still, eyes open and just letting it happen. He behaves as if Hank is a deer who will be easily scared off and dart away at any moment.

Hank breaks it off but doesn’t pull away, their foreheads pressed together, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I never thought I’d be doing this again as long as I lived. I thought I had buried my heart. Forgive me for being so cold. I might not understand why you want me but I am happy you are a fool”.

Connor tugs lightly at his shirt, “You should sit down”.

“When the people of Jericho formed their court and I was offered a royal marriage I was given my choice of people, I was never forced. Most of my options seemed like they would have been saddled with me, I was clueless to who they were or how they would take to me, but you- You were legend, I could take comfort in knowing you were brave and kind and though your tale was painted with tragedy I had such high hopes that you could learn to love me. The portraits that were sent were also a selling point, you were no stuffed shirt or nervous youth, you were solid and handsome and silver with time and I wanted that”.

Connor fiddles with his fingers, “Our king gave me some polite recommendations against you, You were too old he said, A man who had lost so much would be to hardened, that I would have better luck and greater success with someone young like the Queen’s youngest daughter. It would have been a better title too. I wasn’t just sent to find love after all. Our people are new, our kingdom is fragile, we need strength. Any power and popularity I can gather is a net gain. That’s why Colin came with me, I love him dearly but I was told to find him a solid marriage, possibly still marry into your sister’s family. We don’t even know if time can kill us, I may very well live forever and hold your lands as my own for all time, marry again, expand my holdings, who knows?”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I find myself not caring about power or titles. I only find myself thinking about you. So strange and gentle and absolutely stubborn to the point of being frustrating. Tell me I wont inherit a thing and I will keep trying to win your heart. I am a fool his charmed by a man’s misguided honor refuses to let him get to know his husband. I hope you can love me because if you can’t I am absolutely lost”.

“How could I not?”

Connor leans in and kisses him gently, a little smoother than their first, reaching up and cupping his cheek, stroking his beard.

“Let’s make this real, please, I have desired you before I met you, Hank” his voice is barely a whisper and he lightly rubs his fingertips down the side of Hank’s neck.

“It’s been so long for me”.

“I know, my honorable husband, I’ll be gentle with you” Connor smiles.

Hank snorts, “I did manage to lay seed and produce child before” he laughs, surprised by Connor’s comment.

“Please, just tell me you’ll have me”.

Hank takes Connor’s hand in his own, “I’m yours, I promise”.

“Can I undress you?”

Hank presses a kiss to Connor’s knuckles before pressing that hand to his chest.

Connor isn’t shy about crowding into his space, tugging at buttons and ties and wrestling the damned thing over his head. He settles himself in a straddle over Hank’s lap, nuzzling his neck and stroking his hands over his chest. He has none of the shyness stereotypically attached to young noble spouses and Hank far from minds. He’s always found himself under the spell of those who know what they want.

“You’ve done this before?” He doesn’t care but it is fair information to know.

Connor makes a soft noncommittal noise before drawing his tongue over Hank’s nipple, looking up at him with dark eyes.

“Oh hell” He sighs, clutching at the back of Connor’s head, digging his fingers into his hair. Connor’s fingertips lightly trace at old scars with a gentle curiosity while his mouth fixates on his chest.

Eventually Connor pulls his mouth away, pressing a quick kiss to his sternum. “Your heart is racing, I excite you” He states, sounding totally smug. He yanks at the waist of Hank’s breeches, both destroying a few buttons while yanking him toward the middle of the bed.

Hank has never been manhandled like this in his life and suddenly he feels a lot less experienced. Connor wrestled the awful pants down to his boots and eyes him as if he plans to devour him. He grits his perfect little teeth and he snaps the laces of his footwear, tossing them so hard he leaves marks on the wall’s plaster.

Hank grabs Connor by the front of his shirt, “Relax, holy hell, no need to rush”.

Connor goes still but doesn’t look up from Hank’s now exposed hard cock, “I’ve been waiting a very long time”.

“Don’t I get the pleasure of undressing you? Don’t I deserve the same?”

“Oh… I’m not as exciting”.

Hank starts to gently unlace Connor’s shirt, not wanting to destroy it and injure Connor’s vanity, “Have you seen yourself? You’re beautiful to a comic degree, you are what people dream of when they think of masculine beauty. Thick hair, dark eyes, full lips… fuck, you glow like the dawn” He lightly touches the sliver of blue at his temple.

Connor stills, making a soft gasp, “Be gentle, my scars are tender”.

Hank’s eyes widen, “This is what?”

“I have some cracks from battle that never quite healed. What did you think it was?”

“Decoration?” he shrugs, rubbing his thumb over it again.

Connor’s eyes flutter, “Oh”.

“Good Oh?”

“Tingles” he murmurs, “Good”.

Hank returns to removing his doublet and slides it from his shoulders. He smiles as he unbuckles the little hidden dagger from his forearm, tossing it as well. Hank feels over his back for the other blue threads he remembers from the inn. He must have found them Connor shivers, pressing back against Hank’s hand, “It doesn’t feel like that when I touch them”.

Hank smiles, “Good, let me give you something you can’t do for yourself”. He gently nudges Connor to turn around and massages the threads of blue, kneading his shoulder. Connor groans, dropping his head back and sighing heavily.

“What is the light made of?”

“It’s life force” Connor murmurs, casual like its nothing, “the magic that wove me”.

“Does it hurt to have it exposed like this?”

“No, it never felt different than my skin till it was touched like this, you aren’t uncomfortable with them?”

“You shine like the moon, why on earth would I be uncomfortable with them?”

“Back home they were a source of pity”.

Hank’s mind flits to Connor’s brother who has far more visible marks across his eyes, wincing to himself, “Not from me, its beautiful”.

Connor smirks over his shoulder “You might like this than”.

He sits back and squirms from his breeches, pushing them down his legs.

Hank is struck by two things.

Connor has a thick ribbon-like stripe of blue up the outside of his left thigh. A solid rough 2 inch slash in a net of thin cracks, a serious battle wound by the looks of it. Hank can nearly see the movement of the magic under his skin .

Second, and possibly more pressing, is that Connor is totally smooth, devoid of genitalia.

Connor didn’t have a bulge but Hank had just assumed that he might have what he would interpret as a slightly more feminine definition down there but instead its just… clear.

Connor meets Hank eyes, clear hope in his face.

“Don’t think me a fool, boss, but … You said you wanted to consummate”.

“Yes”.

“How do we, you know, go about that?”

“I told you that I was less exciting to undress than you would be”.

“you are beautiful, Connor, I just want to make sure this is pleasing for you”.

“That is not a problem, I assure you that I can orgasm” Connor smiles, returning to Hank’s lap. He wraps an arm around his neck while the other hand can’t stop exploring.

“Mind sharing how?”

Connor presses a slow kiss to his lips “My mouth is sensitive. My hands enjoy attention. Now we know my scars enjoy your touch. Let us be creative”.

Connor presses his thumb to Hank’s bottom lip, gently nudging his lips apart. Connor bites his own bottom lip, an echo of the touch. “I love the gap in your teeth. It’s unique”.

He presses his thumb past his lips, pressing against his tongue as the rest of his fingers curve to his jaw. Connor sighs happily and shivers as Hank not only allows it but rubs his tongue against the digit. “Just like that”.

Connor purrs, cooing filth, “I want to taste you all over, but maybe you should earn my affections after so cruelly making me wait. I’d love to feel that sweet hot tongue against the scar on my thigh, lets see if it can make me come”.

Hank can’t imagine why he ever worried about taking advantage of this man who is sexual confidence personified .

—-

Hank can feel Connor’s magic lingering in his teeth and fingertips, a strange but not unwelcome sensation layered on top of his afterglow. Connor some how managed to completely set Hank’s view of his own sexuality off-kilter.

Connor was still licking traces of their union from his fingertips, occasionally lazily reaching over and lazily petting at Hank’s thighs and navel, making sure he didn’t miss a drop.

Connor catches Hank gazing at him and Connor wiggles his long thin fingers, “I can verify that you do not contain any trace of poison”.

Self-satisfied smugness radiates off of Connor and Hank is terribly charmed by it, “Worth the wait?”

“Very much”.

Hank snorts and pushes his own sweat soaked hair from his eyes, “You are a complete harlot, I feel I should write a very strongly worded letter to Jericho’s king demanding the reason why he didn’t disclose that you were absolutely insatiable. At my age I will be lucky to keep up with you”.

Connor laughs and its absolutely musical to Hank’s ears “You can’t send me back now, we are married by law and by body”.

Hanks rolls over, pressing himself up against Connor, nuzzling his shoulder, “I still hope you keep that plan of remarrying after me, after I’m gone”.

Connor’s joy fizzles, “Why? What if you are my one true love?”

“Never hide your beautiful, wonderful, passionate self from the world. If anyone should slowly win the world by marriage and love, it should be you”.

Connor kisses his forehead, “I’ll think about it, but for now that plan is the last thing on my mind, my life is all about our bliss, no spouse hunting or plotting or match-making”.

“Letting your brother become a spinster? the whole plan is abandoned?”

“Oh no, I don’t think he’s all that interested in titles and I think he already found someone”.

“Really? He doesn’t seem the kind to be wooing one of your ladies-in-waiting”.

“Oh no, the night before we left I sought him out and I caught him buggering your stableboy. Absolutely inappropriate use of a bridle. I’m scarred for life and can never again think about my brother’s romantic prospects”.

Hank laugh booms, holding his belly as he’s caught off guard. “Your family is cursed by wanton perversion” he teases.

Connor wraps himself around Hank, soaking up the sound of his husband’s joy like sunlight.

—-

Upon arriving home, their staff and friends are quick to notice the shift in their relationship, Hank being given earnest congratulations and Connor gets plenty of knowing winks.

Hank does his best to make up for lost time, pulling out the long ignored portrait from under his desk, unpacking and unrolling it. He had intended to announce he was going to put it up for display in the great hall before giving Connor the gift of a proper wedding ring but now that little bauble sits in his pocket, a forgotten weight. He looks up with a blush dusting his cheeks, staring at the man sitting across from him. Two fat puppies competing for their master’s attention sit on Connor’s lap.

“You sent me this. No, that’s not fair. You gave this to my own flesh and blood sister to send to me”.

“Of course I did”.

“I can’t hang this in the great hall”.

“Oh I never intended for that, I thought you would hang it in your private suite to inflame your passion for me”.

Hank shakes his head fondly, its not exactly lewd but its very fresh for someone of Connor’s station to be painted in a loose sheer clothing, reclined in soft light, clearly giving bedroom eyes.

“Nope, its going right behind the desk here, everyone who comes to settle affairs will be forced to struggle to keep their eyes on me while a hint of your nipples is just over my shoulder”.

Connor grins, “I’d be fine with that. I’d much prefer a new piece in the hall anyway, something of the two us, an excuse to get you some decent clothing before a sitting” He smirks, baiting Hank.

“I’m sorry you married a man who has the taste of a colorblind farmer but its simply who I am”.

“Good thing I have come to your rescue, my lord, we’ll make you the soul of stately splendor all according to my plan”.

“You little shit” Hank smiles.

“Your little shit” Connor corrects smiling brightly.