Chapter 1: Hi.
'They'll discover you're little mouse hole, if you're not careful.' His words ring in his ears unhappily as he sneaks through the confines of Palace walls, the dark is only interrupted by the moonlight streaming in through the cracks between the curtains as he walks, the downpour of rain helps to mask his footsteps, he is careful to take the servants routes so as to avoid the possibility of his Father taking a midnight stroll, as he sometimes does.
'And then what will happen? They'll find us out next.' Those words were the unhappier set, more serious, a reminder of just how fragile their situation is.
He pauses, breath heavy in the summer night as a group of servants walk by, tucks himself away in a corner, hidden behind heavy curtains, unnoticed. He dreams of the day where he will be able to roam freely, where there will be no need to sneak any longer. It fills his chest with hope, he inhales and continues once he's sure he's alone again.
He paces, always does, no matter how he tries he can never sit still when he's expecting him. He paces up and down the length of the small chambers, hands wringing together as time moves slowly on, he's late, he's always late, why is he always late? He's anxious, he always is, the feeling disappears when he finally arrives. When he's done making him wait, he thinks he does it on purpose, he knows better but he can't resist the tempting bitterness when he's so on edge. When they are so close.
When they're tangled together and alone from discovery the bitterness slips away along with the anxiousness replaced with the safety of his chambers. He removes that last thought. They are never safe, he has to keep that in his head, otherwise the risk outweighs the want.
They both know what will happen if they are ever discovered. Know the price even if they never do talk about it, think about it. But it is there sometimes, between them. An invisible barrier. It sits heavy on his lips and in his hands. Some nights it is all they can think of, made solid by the way they touch so desperately, they whisper their devotion and love with whispered vows. It chokes them but that is only some nights.
When the ache becomes too much.
He hears the telltale sounds of his arrival, Star stirs in her basket by the front door, the heavy rain makes it hard to hear him but he's trained himself to listen for the crunch of gravel beneath his feet and the slight opening of the door. He's in the doorway of his chambers when he steps inside. Soaked in a large black cloak, hood thrown up as a puddle immediately starts to surround where he stands.
There's a shift in the atmosphere, we stare at each other through the darkness, having lights on would draw too much attention this late at night, Star settles back in her basket when she realises who it is, decides there is no threat. It's been months since we last saw each other, in Palace or otherwise, I feel awkward just staring at him but there's nothing else for me to do. He stares back just as transfixed.
He moves first, his hands to unclasp his cloak, pushes the hood down to reveal a soaked head of hair, its pitch black just like everything else and as he moves droplets fall from the ends and drip onto the wood. I should offer him a towel, help him but I can't take my eyes off of him. Like he'll disappear if I do.
"Hi." It's an awkward greeting, we both acknowledge this with a humorous quirk of our lips, but it's ours, I take the steps to meet him without even realising I had decided to do so, I throw my arms around him without thinking, his clothes soak into mine as he hugs me back just as fiercely, tightly bound together as I hide my face into the crook of his neck, cold water contrasting to the heat of his flesh, I know I'm crying, I don't care in this moment.0
I cherish his return, knowing full well it was not promised when he left, he holds me around my waist, lips pressed to my shoulder, I can feel them moving but I don't hear what he says, he is solid in my grip and I inhale the smell of days, maybe weeks, old sweat and dirt that's ingrained in the lines of his flesh.
The faint feel of injury and smell of blood. He's slimmer than before he left, his shoulders stoop against me with exhaustion and trauma that I know will manifest in nightmares and cold sweats and excessive running. Fresh tears roll down my cheeks. He holds me tighter but there is stiffness in his body, untended injuries and rough nights and missed sleep and rest.
"I heard rumours," I begin, voice weak and rough against his neck, he holds me tighter, shushing me. Lips moving over me with reassurance.
"They were just rumours, nothing more." He says, voice horse and exhausted, I wonder how much he fought to get here tonight, despite his exhaustion and injury. My stomach rolls with nerves at the thought.
"I'm here now, I'm here, I'm here." He repeats into my ear, like a prayer, a vow, full of reassurance, I wonder if he's just trying to reassure me? We stay fixed together until I feel him growing tired, legs buckling and body shivering from the wet clothes. I lead him to a bath, fill the heavy round wood with water that steams high up to the ceiling, he watches as I pour oils into the clear liquid, watches it turn cloudy blue while I get towels and fresh clothes for later.
When it is ready I help him undress. It's still too dark to see what damage has been done to his body, I help him take off bandage after bandage, tears fall as I help him sink into the tub, hold him as he cries as open wounds touch the water.
Submerged up to his shoulders he sinks back against a side, eyes fluttering shut and breath leave past his lips in shallow waves, I am allowed to comb through his hair and wash the caked dirt from the mass, I am not allowed to cut it. He objects to even the mention, I drop the matter immediately and don't press again.
The water is cold and it's sunrise before he's willing to leave the tub. Light filters through the window, letting us see each other properly for the first time. His back is still to me and he doesn't turn despite my attempts at persuading him to do so with soft kisses and promising whispers. I braid his hair back, knowing he's always enjoyed it, it goes to his shoulder blades now, I like it.
"I need a minute." He says when he cannot fight the cold of the water any longer, I hesitate until he turns, looks over his shoulder to me, I understand why he needs a minute. He has fresh cuts on his face, parts swollen and bruised, I inhale sharply at the sight, jaw fixed in place as I stand from my stool, kiss his lips for the first time, the bottom swollen and split, before I leave him.
I feed Star while I wait for him, return to my chambers and lay out fresh bandages and gauze and creams. Sterilise needles and make food, Force knows when he last ate, probably days knowing him. I make the usual fatty and protein packed meal and leave it on the bedside table for him. I'm left waiting, sitting on my - Our bed patiently.
Everything is silent apart from the rain outside that had not died from last night. He comes in his own time, slow and quiet and exhausted. He looms in the doorway and looks warily around, habitual surveillance of his surroundings. Is it safe? I pat the space besides me for him, he pads across the carpet floor in the black trousers and top I had gotten him, barefoot, the black makes it easier to hide whatever is still bleeding. He sits stiffly and rests his head on my shoulder with a soft grunt of acknowledgement.
"I need you to undress." I say gently, kissing his heavily bruised face softly as the corner of his lip quirks despite the cut and swelling.
"So eager for my body." He tries humour but I don't find it funny, he sees this and does as I've requested, clothing hits the floor as I stand from the bed. He stands with me, back straight and naked, I take in the sight before me as he lets his eyes fall shut and places his hands behind his back, linked and relaxed.
He is battered. Deep purple and black cover his body, larges gashes and scratches litter his body, wounds that vary in age and severity. I circle him, feel like the marks are endless and savage, layered atop old ones, long healed and ever present. I don't let myself break as I wish to once I am done and standing before him again. He does not need weakness now. Never has.
"Sit." I order, he doesn't argue, I pass him his food and begin from his feet. They are swollen and bruised, a few toes are broken and badly splintered, I disinfect the cuts and raw flesh, apologise every time he whimpers and hisses at me, tears fall freely as he slowly lets himself feel again. Less numb. We work together, he sits and eats, heals the internal as I fix the external.
The world around us wakes.
Chapter 2: Futile.
The sun has long since risen by the time he is done tending my woods, when my body has been covered and bound in bandages and my belly made full. We lay besides each other when he has disposed of the instruments involved in my care, my head rests on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around me.
"When do you have to go?" He always does this, always has to know how long he has before I am taken away, I suppose it's a part of how he copes, I nuzzle into his neck, kissing him as I sigh. Take him in, it isn't just I who is taken away.
"A few more hours, I'm sure news will get out that I'm missing shortly, I wish it were more." I add when I see his sad face and sharp inhale, he shakes his head and buries it into my hair, inhaling deeply, always trying to remember some part of me.
"It's enough." He lies, lies to comfort, sometimes I wish he didn't, that he instead said what he wishes, that he would fight. But I know that is only my guilt wishing that.
"How has Ben been?" He chuckles when I ask, holds me tighter and laughs louder, nuzzling still into my hair.
"Classic, I'm hard and you want to talk about Ben." He makes a point of his words by grinding his previously unnoticed erection into my hip, its not how I imagined him seducing me but it's enough. It's been long enough for it to be enough.
I greet his lips with warmth, love, I've missed him so much. He smiles against my lips as we roll so I straddle his thighs. Above him and in his arms.
"Ben's enjoying the company of your fiancée as it goes." He says, smirking up at me as he starts to pull my top up my torso, a shame really as it was some effort to raise my arms high enough to put it on. I ignore his slight jab and lean forward to capture his lips when the top has been discarded.
"Now look whose talking about Ben." I mock as our lips part and he starts to unbuckle his trousers, laughing again as I move my mouth along his jaw and throat, inhaling as I go, devouring all that I have missed while away.
"I guess it means I'm really in love with him and not you." We pause, the words lingering between us, staring blankly. How do we proceed? It's the first time either of us has ever admitted to loving the other. We knew without saying it but now it's been said, or nearly, everything has shifted. He chews his lips, looking up at me and waiting.
"I love you." It's in the air, floats delicately between us, his words. His hands linger on my bare hips, my fingers are in his hair, we are a frozen picture. I wonder if I should have said it first.
I want to say it back but there is something in my throat that holds me back, keeps me from doing so. Hope turns to hurt when I take too long to say it back. His hands drop and mine drop afterwards. He clears his throat and buckles his trousers up, still hard, I'm still hard, I climb off of him, gingerly to my side of the bed. He gets up and crosses the room, as if that's enough space for him to think, or recover, or leave.
I feel weak and helpless, kneeling and waiting for him to turn to face me and speak but I don't dare do anything else while he looks out the window, the muscles in his back tense. His chest rises and falls with effort. He's trying not to cry, to show weakness and the effect of my lack of words. I see all of it already. Before he can hide it. Guilt makes me hang my head, shame makes me wish I could just leave. Makes me wish I had not come here so soon.
"If you don't love me, why are you here?" His words cut deeper than any wound I could sustain fighting ever could. Make me feel like my heart has been torn in two.
"I do love you." I say, hesitation for only a second, my hesitation only makes things worst.
"You don't, not in the way you should." He says, hurt filling ever corner of his voice as I open my mouth to object, move to go to him, he wraps himself in his arms and steps closer to the window, I stay still.
"We've been lying to ourselves, for a long time now, I think this is just us waking up." He says, voice stiff as he looks over his shoulder, my eyes meet his heartbreak and I'm too ashamed to speak, my gaze drops from his.
"You should leave, before someone sees you here." He adds, moving to pick up my previously discarded top and handing it to me, arm stretched out, distancing himself. I take it, blink away the tears before they fall.
"I'll go for a little while, let you collect your things, when I come back please don't be here." He leaves before I can argue, I dress and climb off of the bed, begin seeking my things from the room, cursing myself and cowardice as I do.
Hurt turning to anger. If I could take it back and say it I would. But does that mean I would mean it anymore?
Chapter 3: Castle.
The rain is heavy on his back, makes his shoulders fold forward to keep the cold from his body. It barely works.
Words out that he's come home. The Palace is buzzing with movement. He hates that it is. That there is celebrations at all. Knows it's disrespectful to all the other soldiers who had left with him and had not returned or, if they had, they were not the same men as before.
He is not the only soldier. Force knows how many didn't return last night. The number feels as if it grows every time. His failure. His failure to protect the lives entrusted to him, failure to execute the care needed to rule.
He sneaks into the Palace through the hidden tunnel in the library, its empty and quiet, a rarity. He breathes, heavy and loud, chest expanding as he rolls his shoulders back and straightens. Rolls the stiffness from his body, winces at the aches and pains caused by his injuries, doubtless some will never heal. This is nothing new to him. Hazards of being Prince.
The tended wounds only worsen his mood. His love is not childish infatuation. He knows this is more, knows the way he feels in his presence is not simple biology reacting or curiosity taken too far. What he feels for him is genuine and as real as any other love to be experienced. There is no trick to catch or lie to tangle through, there is simply his heart which belongs to the man he has thought of for what feels like an eternity.
Silent movement creeps into the silent, his guard is up as he turns and finds his brother smirking in the shadows, steps out with his arms open and steps quick, close the distance between the two. Groans as he is crushed between his broad chest and heavy arms, laughs when he jumps back and apologises, unused to him being anything other the formal and stoic.
"It's good to see you." He says with the brotherly affection he showed so rarely. He smiles and bows his head, a formality to uphold when seeing an Heir but they do it with mock respect, brotherly banter.
"And it's good to see you, brother." Their reunion is less dramatic as the one he shared hours ago, no dramatics. They sit by the fire after each selecting a book for themselves, a few chapters are read before information and catch up bleeds in-between the words on the pages.
"She's set a date, very excited about it, the dress she's having made is beautiful, so I'm told. Grandmother is having one made in Naboo." He turns the page of his book and sighs, the wedding does not make his mood brighten. A reminder of his time running out.
"I suppose Mother is excited?" He hums and turns his page, assesses his face with a brief glance, licks the tips of his fingers and turns another page. Eyes scanning quickly over the inky pages.
"Excited more that you're home. Although I'll admit I expected to find you here later, not now, is there something you wish to talk about?" He shifts in his chair, ribs aching as he inhales and shakes his head subtly, changes his book for a different sitting on the table between them. What would be the point to go over something he, himself, does not yet understand. Would they discuss when they had a chance to and resolve all that has happened? Or would it worsen and true heartbreak ensue. He had no idea and having no idea made him uncomfortable.
"I did see him, a few times while you were away, I was wrong about him, y'know, he's not quite the usurper I had thought him. Rather charming. Adores her, I think she's almost letting herself forgive you." His throat constricts and the unpleasant feelings of grief and anger and sadness and frustration seep back into his resolve, there is only so much he will be able to withstand.
"He went with her to Naboo too, had a - " He stands abruptly, the chair scrapes across the floor and onto its back from the sudden movement. Enough. Enough had been said.
He leaves with explanation, leaves him sitting in his chair, book in hand, and quizzical expression. Maybe he'll search him out later, when his head hurts less, and explain everything to him but for now he storms through the Palace until he has returned to his empty chambers.
Here is where he crumbles.
Where he sobs his heart out and curls up in on himself and wishes to disappear, where he allows the heartbreak to consume his heart and soul. Where the pain of his injuries and the shame of his men not returning with him subsides and is replace with the black abyss of pain he associates to him, the self inflicted misery he deserves to have.
If he could not die with his men honourably then this pain would have to suffice, he would have to cling to it until a better pain came. Until he is set away again and fails to return.