It’s summer and Henry is in Rio, and Alex is there, bright and smiling and glowing like the fucking sun. Filled to the brim and overflowing with an effervescent joy and love and happiness that’s blinding to look at. Henry feels like if he gets any closer, he might catch on fire. The part of him that isn’t shattered, broken, and hurting wants to get closer. Wants to see how close he can get without burning. Wants to know what his warmth feels like up close.
Like Icarus and the fucking sun.
Christ, he’s maudlin.
Alex- the son of the Democratic candidate for the American presidency- is standing there like something out of a technicolor movie, talking to his sister and another girl Henry vaguely recognizes from articles he had read about Senator Claremont’s campaign. The niece of her running mate or something. Henry still doesn’t fully understand the minutiae of the American democratic system.
And then Alex turns towards him, all long curls and blinding smiles and Henry grits his teeth because he can’t. He feels too close to happiness, this boy. Henry isn’t there yet, he isn’t ready for happiness, he doesn’t know how it fits into his life anymore, he doesn’t know how he fits into other people’s happiness anymore.
Alex proffers a hand when he gets close enough, introducing himself and endearingly stumbling around the courtesy of talking to royalty- Americans never knew how to refer to him, but somehow Alex makes it charming. Henry smiles tightly in response, hoping it doesn’t read as false as it feels. He nods to Alex briskly after they’ve dropped hands, and turns on his heel, pausing only to mutter, “Can you get rid of him?” to Shaan before walking away as calmly and quickly as he can.
He can’t let himself get close to Alex, it’s too dangerous. On so many levels. Henry won’t let himself fly into the sun, no matter how much he may want to.
Thank god for Shaan, he thinks to himself as he cuts through the crowd, because he knows Shaan won’t ask questions about why he rebuffed the likely next First Son of the United States, he won’t ask why Henry left the diving finals early. He doesn’t ask when he finds Henry an hour later, loitering casually outside the men’s lavatory, hood up over his head to hide the tear tracks in its shadows.
Henry grits his teeth through years of brief interactions with Alex after his mother was elected. Constantly, the papers and magazines pit them against one another- the young male suitors of their respective countries- sometimes it feels like Henry can’t go ten paces without seeing Alex’s broad grin and dark eyes beaming up at him from some magazine or website. It’s exhausting.
Then Phillip is engaged and the wedding is upon them quicker than Henry could’ve imagined. And he’s there. Alex, sitting with June and Nora- the perfect White House Trio- all laughing amongst themselves. Something deep in Henry’s chest aches at the sight.
Phillip had insinuated, a few days before the wedding, that it would be a good idea for Henry to dance with June at the wedding; a good image of positive international relations at one of the biggest events of the year. That’s Phillip, always thinking about what is best for the crown, what is best for the image, never paying attention to his little brother.
“Phillip,” Henry had wanted to say, staring straight down into his older brother’s face- he’s a few inches taller than Phillip, and it’s one of the glories of his life- “I’m as gay as a May pole and I have no interest in dancing with the First Daughter of the United States, no matter the good PR it will give us. And frankly, I’d much rather dance with her brother.”
Henry hadn’t said any of that. He had nodded, and bit his tongue, and done what was expected of him, as always.
He dances with June, and tries his best to smile politely and seem interested- she’s doing a far better job of it than he is- and avoids looking over his shoulder at Alex. He succeeds to a greater or lesser extent on all goals but the last. Alex, still sitting at his table with Nora, glass in hand, is still as burning bright and beautiful as he had been in Rio. Henry still feels the same irresponsible urge to run into this sun of a boy, even though he knows it will melt the wax off his wings.
Fly straight, Icarus, you dramatic fiend, he reminds himself, and plasters on a bright smile for the camera that flashes at him and June, it will not do to fly too close to the sun.
Alex sidles up to him, later in the reception, grinning and leaning in a way that implies he’s already close to tipsy. It’s disarming how attractive Henry finds him, his eyes catching the lights from the dance floor, much like the crystal in his hand.
“When you have one of these,” Alex comments, carefully and intentionally casual, “you should do two champagne fountains instead of one. Really embarrassing to be at a wedding with only one champagne fountain.”
Henry bites his tongue, wincing at the mental image at his own royal wedding- the one his grandmother and Phillip want for him, all gold and white lace, with a respectable English noblewoman walking up the aisle to him. “Alex,” Henry manages, forcing a cordial tone, “I wondered if I’d have the pleasure.”
“Looks like it’s your lucky day.” Alex is smiling at him, and Henry feels the same familiar clench in his chest.
“Truly a momentous occasion.” He agrees, smiling in return. Smiling at a slightly-drunk Alex Claremont-Diaz, it almost doesn’t feel fake.
“Do you ever get tired of pretending you’re above all this?” Alex asks, his eyes going flinty and hard.
The alcohol in his system slows everything to a drag and all Henry can think is that somehow, Alex knows. He feels his chest turn to ice, but he manages an only slightly-strangled “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” We must always save face, his grandmother’s voice echoes in his head.
“I mean, you’re out here, getting the photographers to chase you, swanning around like you hate the attention, which you clearly don’t since you’re dancing with my sister, of all people.” Alex says, his voice clear and sharp. “You act like you’re too important to be anywhere, ever. Doesn’t that get exhausting?”
Yes, is the first thing in Henry’s mind. Maybe Alex is wrong- terribly, awfully wrong- about him, about how he feels around the reporters and the paparazzi. Maybe he misreads Henry’s desire for privacy, his discomfort in the spotlight, his fear of being found out as an aloof facade to curry interest from the public. But about at least one thing, Alex is right. It is exhausting. To have to lie about yourself to everyone but those closest to you- to have to lie to your family, because you know they would ask you to cover it up, for the sake of the crown. Henry’s exhausted. But he doesn’t know how to live any other way.
But he can’t say any of that to Alex.
“I’m… a bit more complicated than that.”
“Ha.” Alex laughs, one short, sharp burst that conveys disdain and disbelief all in one go.
“Oh. You’re drunk.” Henry realizes aloud.
“I’m just saying,” Alex leans an elbow on Henry’s shoulder, casual and condescending all at once, “you could try to act like you’re having fun. Occasionally.”
Henry laughs. Fun. It’s out of the question. “I believe perhaps you should consider switching to water, Alex.”
“Should I?” Alex asks incredulously. “Am I offending you? Sorry I’m not obsessed with you like everyone else. I know that must be confusing for you.”
Something in Henry cracks at Alex’s words and for maybe the first time, he doesn’t think before he speaks. “Do you know what? I think you are.” He smirks at Alex’s baffled expression, pushing down, down, down the hurt and the anger at Alex’s earlier words. He forces his armor up, all sharp words and thinly veiled cordial smiles, and speaks in the politest tone he can manage. “Only a thought. Have you ever noticed I have never once approached you and have been exhaustively civil every time we’ve spoken? Yet here you are, seeking me out again.” He takes a sip of his champagne to steady himself, to stop his words before they tread too close to the truth- that he’s kept his distance not out of an apathy towards Alex, but out of a fear of getting too close. “Simply an observation.”
“What? I’m not- You’re the-” Alex stammers, his knuckles white around his champagne glass, and Henry has had enough.
“Have a lovely evening, Alex.” He says, as clear a dismissal as possible in polite company, and turns on his heel. He can’t be here any longer. He hadn’t expected Alex to like him, Alex had made it exceedingly clear over the years that he wasn’t interested in anything other than appropriately civil remarks in public. But what he’d said… he hadn’t outright admitted to disliking Henry, but he might as well have. Henry hadn’t been holding out any hope that his feelings were reciprocated, not really- what would he have done if they were?- but Alex’s unambiguous disdain and contempt stings nonetheless.
Alex’s words echoing in his head, Henry grits his teeth and shutters his heart tight and starts to move through the crowd when something grabs his shoulder.
On instinct, Henry lifts his shoulder and turns around, his arms raised to push away whoever it is that tried to grab him.
As if in slow motion, Henry sees Alex lean and then topple, tripping over his own feet and falling towards the cake table. Panic flashes across Alex’s face and in a last ditch effort to right himself, he grabs for Henry’s arm, which doesn’t do anything but pull Henry down- quite literally- along with him.
The cake flies to the ground. The table comes crashing down around them. The champagne glass in his hand shatters. Something scratches across his face. Alex’s hand is still tightly holding onto his arm.
The room has gone deathly silent.
“Oh my fucking Christ,” is all Henry can manage to say before a camera flashes in thier faces.
It’s the middle of the night and, as usual, Henry can’t sleep. He can’t sleep, Alex is staying at Kensington as a part of a ridiculous fake-friendship PR stunt, and to top it all off, there isn’t any more ice cream in his freezer.
His music is playing softly from his earbuds as he walks quietly from his rooms to the guest quarters where he knows Alex is staying. He heard Shaan mention stocking ice cream in Alex’s fridge before he got to Kensington earlier, and there’s no way he could have finished an entire box by himself. Not in one night, at least.
He isn’t expecting Alex to be up when he reaches his guest quarters. Most of the time he’s the only one awake at these unholy hours of the night, except for the overnight PPO’s, who are used to his midnight wanderings at this point.
But Alex is awake- which Henry really should have anticipated, given that DC is five hours behind London- and he is sitting on the kitchen counter, talking on his phone, and he’s wearing pyjamas and glasses and staring at Henry like he’s an alien that landed on earth.
Henry straightens, yanking his headphones out of his ears, and doesn’t know whether to say something or just turn around and leave without explanation. A muffled voice comes from Alex’s phone- June, maybe, or Nora, if Henry had to guess- but Alex quickly disconnects the call and turns his phone off, placing it face down on the counter.
The whole running-away-option is looking better and better for Henry, because Alex isn’t saying or doing anything, just staring baffled at him from atop the counter. But he really wants a Cornetto.
“Hello,” He mumbles, his voice hoarse from the late hour and lack of use. “Sorry. Er. I was just- Cornettos.” He manages, gesturing at the fridge and hoping Alex understands his meaning. A late night craving for ice cream, Henry assumes, is universal.
“What?” Alex asks, unmoving except for his eyebrows, which rise comically and incredulously on his forehead.
Attempting to be as casual as possible- as if this isn’t already one of the most awkward experiences of his life- Henry crosses the kitchen and opens the freezer, pulling out the box of Cornettos and pointing to the name. “I was out. Knew they’d stocked you up.”
“Do you raid the kitchens of all your guests?”
“Only when I can’t sleep. Which is always.” Henry puts the box down on the counter next to Alex, a silent question. After a beat, Alex nods.
Henry tears open the box and pulls one out, leaving the rest on the counter for Alex.
He isn’t sure whether to stay or turn tail and leave, but Alex is still watching him carefully, calculating. Like he’s some wild animal that’s wandered into his guest suite.
“Have you practiced what you’re going to say tomorrow?” Henry asks eventually, if only to break the silence that’s becoming increasingly more intimate.
“Yes,” Alex bites out, his face falling quickly into a frown. Henry wonders if Alex frowns as easily as he smiles in general, or if he has some uncanny ability to bring them out in him. “You’re not the only professional here.”
“I didn’t mean- I only meant, do you think we should, er, rehearse?” Henry asks, his stomach already anxiously clenching in anticipation of the next day’s interviews.
“Do you need to?” Alex asks, and Henry can’t tell if he meant it as an accusation, or whether it just felt that way.
“I thought it might help,” Henry answers, because he can’t admit that interviews like this make his anxiety worse, he can’t admit he just wants to spend time with Alex, outside of the arrangement they’re being forced into.
Alex scoffs as he jumps down off the counter in one fluid motion. “Watch this.” He pulls out his phone, and snaps a quick picture of the Cornetto’s box, still sitting on the counter. Henry can tell by the angle that he’s probably standing in the background of the photo. “‘Nothing cures jet lag,’” Alex narrates, a tiny, cocky smile on his face, “‘like midnight ice cream with @PrinceHenry.’ Geotag Kensington Palace, and posted.” He presents his phone to Henry, his notifications already blowing up with hundreds of likes and comments. “There are a lot of things worth overthinking, believe me. But this isn’t one of them.”
“I suppose,” Henry concedes. He wonders what Alex means by ‘believe me.’ He wonders how he makes everything look and seem so easy.
“Are you done? I was on a call.” And just like that, the brief lighthearted moment, the potential for this friendship to be real, is gone. Alex is closed off and frowning again, and Henry can’t help but feel relieved. This, at least, is familiar. This, he knows how to handle; this is safe.
“Of course. I won’t keep you.” Henry says quickly, crossing to the door. He pauses, wanting to say something, but nothing feels appropriate. Nothing is safe and honest. Not with Alex. “I didn’t know you wore glasses,” he says eventually, and leaves the kitchen. He doesn’t let himself turn around to see how Alex responds.
Henry tucks an earbud into his ear with one hand, and presses play on whatever song he was listening to before he barged in on Alex.
He doesn’t know whether to laugh or sigh when Mitski’s Washing Machine Heart kicks in, midverse, “-I thought maybe we would kiss tonight,” all ethereal vocals with a constant, unceasing backbeat that drums into his chest. “Baby, will you kiss me already, and toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart, baby, bang it up inside.”
He thinks about Alex, soft in an honest way that only seems to occur past midnight. He thinks about Alex, who apparently wears glasses and manages to help Henry’s mind slow down, even when he’s not trying to.
“Why not me?” Mitski asks, her voice loud and strong in his ear.
Fuck, he thinks as he walks back to his rooms, tomorrow’s going to suck.
Alex is saying something that borders on nice, if not genuinely friendly, when someone down the hall shouts, and something makes a loud popping noise. It sounds like gunfire.
Without hesitation, one of Alex’s Secret Service Agents shoves him and Henry through the closest door- which turns out to be a storage closet- hisses “Stay down,” and slams the door closed behind him; shoving Henry and Alex into near perfect darkness.
Alex stumbles over something as soon as the door closes, and falls on Henry’s leg; pulling him tumbling down alongside him. Again.
“Oh God,” Henry mumbles, taking stock of something hard and sharp poking into his side, his face plastered against something smooth and metallic- please don’t let it be a bedpan, he thinks helplessly- and Alex collapsed bodily on top of him.
“You know,” Alex says against his head, his breath tickling the back of Henry’s neck, “we have got to stop ending up like this.”
“Do you mind?” He grouses. Alex still doesn’t get up.
“This is your fault!”
“How is this possibly my fault?”
“Nobody ever tries to shoot me when I’m going presidential appearances, but the minute I go out with a fucking royal-”
Henry takes it back. Every stray thought, every passing glace, he takes it all back. Alex is insufferable.
“Will you shut up before you get us both killed?”
“Nobody’s going to kill us. Cash is blocking the door. Besides, it’s probably nothing.”
“Then at least get off me.”
“Stop telling me what to do! You’re not the prince of me!” Insufferable, truly.
“Bloody hell,” is all Henry can manage, before forcing himself to push up off the floor and roll away, knocking Alex off his back and onto the floor.
“Can you move over, Your Highness?” Alex whispers from beside Henry. He’s probably shoved up against something on the far wall, Henry thinks ruefully, as Alex shoves his shoulder against Henry’s in protest. Karma’s a bitch. “I’d rather not be the little spoon,” he continues, and for the first time since they’ve been shoved into the dark closet- the irony of which is not lost on Henry- he’s glad for the all encompassing darkness. That way, at least, Alex can’t see the blush that rose up at the idea of spooning.
“Believe me, I’m trying,” Henry answers, clipped and irritated, “there’s no room.” He tries shifting his hips in any direction, but the floor is covered in what feels like broomsticks and buckets. Not an environment overly conducive to hide in.
“Well, guess we better make ourselves comfortable.”
“Fantastic,” Henry sighs through gritted teeth, crossing his arms as best he can in the tight quarters. “For the record, nobody’s ever made an attempt on my life either.”
“Well, congratulations, you’ve officially made it.”
“Yes, this is exactly how I always dreamed it would be,” Henry bites out. “Locked in a cupboard with your elbow inside my rib cage.” In response, Alex drives his elbow further into Henry’s side.
Without thinking about what he’s doing- or the consequences thereof- Henry grabs a handful of Alex’s shirt and pulls him sideways so he’s lying on the ground; leaning on him slightly with one thigh to keep him in place.
“So you do have some fight in you,” Alex says, in a tone that would almost sound… something, if Henry didn’t know better than to expect anything less than sarcasm and disdain from Alex at this point. But then Alex bucks his hips against Henry’s, and it takes all of his willpower not to yelp or do something else involuntary and mortifying.
“Are you quite finished?” He asks through gritted teeth, imagining Alex’s cocky smirk in the darkness. “Could you perhaps stop putting you sodding life in danger now?”
“Aw, you do care,” Alex answers, saccharine sweet. “I’m learning all your hidden depths today, sweetheart.”
Henry rolls his eyes and lets go of Alex’s shirt, pulling his weight off of him and sitting back against one of the shelving units lining the walls of the closet. “I cannot believe even mortal peril will not prevent you from being the way you are.”
Henry doesn’t know if he means it as an insult or a compliment. Knowing Alex, he probably takes it as a bit of both.
“So, uh, Star Wars?” Alex asks eventually, in that uncanny way he has of making the most mundane of comments seem like a condemnation.
“Yes, Alex, believe it or not, the children of the crown don’t only spend their childhood going to tea parties.” They did, in fact, go to quite a few tea parties; but Henry isn’t about to admit that to Alex.
“I assumed it was mostly posture coaching and junior polo league.” Alex says lightly, and Henry has to bite down on the urge to smile- even though he knows Alex can’t see him.
“That… may have been part of it,” he concedes.
“So you’re into pop culture, but you act like you’re not. Either you’re not allowed to talk about it because it’s unseemly for the crown, or you choose not to talk about it because you want people to think you’re cultured.” Alex spits out the last word. “Which one?”
“Are you psychoanalyzing me? I don’t think royal guests are allowed to do that.”
“I’m trying to understand why you’re so committed to acting like someone you’re not, considering you just told that little girl in there that greatness means being true to yourself.”
“I think Luke is proof that it doesn’t matter where you come from or who your family is-” Henry had said to the little girl, Claudette. “You can always be great if you’re true to yourself.” It hadn’t been some big epiphany or heart to heart, Henry had simply told her what he wished people had told him. What he wished could be true of his own life. Henry didn’t know Alex had heard all of that.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Henry says, because he can’t let Alex be right. Because maybe he is lying about who he is, maybe he is trying to be someone else; but he doesn’t have a choice. Alex doesn’t understand that- and he never will. “And if I did, I’m not sure that’s any of your concern.”
“Really? Because I’m pretty sure I’m legally bound to pretend to be your best friend, and I don’t know if you’ve thought this through yet, but that’s not going to stop with this weekend.” Henry’s stomach tightens at the prospect. Somehow, Alex sounds as frustrated and dubious as Henry feels. “If we do this and we’re never seen together again, people are gonna know we’re full of shit. We’re stuck with each other, like it or not, so I have a right to be clued in about what your deal is before it sneaks up and bites me in the ass.”
And for a split second, Henry considers telling him. “I’m gay, Alex, that’s my deal, and I’m not allowed to be. I have to hide a part of who I am from everyone- not only the people in my life, but from an entire country of constant scrutiny; so I’m sorry if I’m a little closed off.”
Instead, he spins it back around on Alex. “Why don’t we start… with you telling me why exactly you hate me so much?” He asks, squinting in Alex’s general direction, trying to make out his silhouette in the darkness and hoping Alex doesn’t pick up on his abrupt change in topic.
“Do you really want to have that conversation?” Alex’s voice sounds like a challenge.
“Maybe I do.”
Alex shifts around, his arms moving and brushing briefly- unintentionally- against Henry’s. “Do you really not remember being a prick to me at the Olympics?”
The sun, Henry remembers, you shone like the sun and I’m flying too close.
But admitting that is too close to the truth, so he feigns ignorance. “Is that the time you threatened to push me into the Thames?”
“No,” Alex says vehemently, “it was the time you were a condescending prick at the diving finals. You really don’t remember?”
“I walked up to you to introduce myself, and you stared at me like I was the most offensive thing you had ever seen,” Alex says, quickly becoming more and more incensed. “Right after you shook my hand, you turned to Shaan and said, ‘Can you get rid of him?’”
“Ah, I didn’t realize you’d heard that.”
“I feel like you’re missing the point, which is that it’s a douchey thing to say either way.”
I didn’t mean it like that, Henry thinks, you were too bright for me to stand, I would have burned up in your periphery.
“That’s… fair.” Henry manages, because no matter his intentions, no matter what he meant, it was fairly douchey of him.
“That’s all?” Henry asks, Alex’s sudden quiet feels awkward and out of place. “Only the Olympics?” One shitty comment was all it took to put me on your shit list?
“I mean, that was the start.”
Henry waits for Alex to continue; when he doesn’t, he purses his lips quietly. “I’m sensing an ellipsis,” he says, because he does kind of really want to know why Alex can’t stand him. Why he decided to make them enemies out of the blue.
“It’s just… I don’t know. Doing what we do is fucking hard. But it’s harder for me. I’m the son of the first female president. And I’m not white like she is, can’t even pass for it. People will always come down harder on me. And you’re, you know, you, and you were born into all of this, and everyone thinks you’re Prince fucking Charming. You’re basically a living reminder I’ll always be compared to someone else, no matter what I do, even if I work twice as hard.”
The shitty, belligerent, entitled part of Henry’s brain wants to argue: it’s not my fault, I never asked for this, it doesn’t come as easily to me as you seem to think it does, I have to hide a way a huge part of myself for the sake of the crown, it’s not my fault people are shitty and pit us against each other. But he doesn’t say any of it. He knows that’s not what Alex means, not what he needs to hear. He knows if he says any of that, it will only dig them deeper into the hole they’re finally starting to get out of. So instead, he says, “Well, I can’t very well do much about the rest. But I can tell you I was, in fact, a prick that day. Not that it’s any excuse, but my father had died fourteen months before, and I was still kind of a prick every day of my life at the time. And I am sorry.”
Alex is quiet for a long time.
“Well, good to know you’re not perfect,” he says eventually, but there’s something a little different about his tone. A little lighter, a little softer. It’s weird, coming from Alex, who’s always so liberal with antagonism, but nice. The implication of amity to come.
“Return of the Jedi,” Henry offers eventually, a kind of olive branch reaching across the chasm.
“Oh. Wow, you’re wrong.”
Henry scoffs, “How can I be wrong about my own favorite? It’s a personal truth?”
“It’s a personal truth that is wrong and bad,” Alex answers, and Henry wonders how he’s able to turn anything into an argument.
“Which do you prefer, then? Please show me the error of my ways?”
“So dark, though.”
“Yeah, which is what makes it good,” Alex argues, and it’s familiar in it’s rhythm, but there’s something… an understanding, a levity. It’s refreshing. “It’s the most thematically complex. It’s got the Hand and Leia kiss in it, you meet Yoda, Han is at the top of his game, fucking Lando Calrissian, and the best twist in cinematic history. What does Jedi have? Fuckin’ Ewoks.”
“Ewoks are iconic.” Henry says, almost offended.
“Ewoks are stupid.”
“But Hoth. There’s a reason people always call the best, grittiest installment of a trilogy the Empire of the series.”
“And I can appreciate that. But isn’t there something to be valued in a happy ending as well?”
“Spoken like a true Prince Charming.”
“I’m only saying, I like the resolution of Jedi. It ties everything up so nicely. And the overall theme you’re intended to take away from the films is hope and love and...er, you know, all that. Which is what Jedi leaves you with a sense of most of all.” Henry coughs, hoping Alex will change the subject again, away from the themes of love and hope and family-
“False alarm,” Cash, Alex’s Secret Service Agent, says, opening the closet door suddenly and washing the room in the cold light of the hospital hallway. “Some dumbass kids brought fireworks for their friend.” He scrutinizes the two of them, still sprawled together on the floor of the closet. “This looks cozy,” he comments lightly, no implication in his tone, but Henry’s stomach freezes up nonetheless.
“Yep,” Alex says, suave and casual as ever, reaching a hand out for Cash to help him up. “We’re bonding.”
For the first time, Henry doesn’t think Alex is being sarcastic.
“Nice tie.” Is the first thing Alex says to him when Henry and Pez arrive at the infamous White House Trio New Year’s Eve party. He does his best not to preen, but he chose the tie- a coppery, metallic yellow that offsets his dark blue suit- intentionally, given Alex’s history in teasing him for his more subdued choices in the past.
“Thought I might be escorted off the premises for anything less exciting.”
“And who is this?” June asks, leaning slightly against Alex and peering up at Pez through her dark lashes she shares with her brother. Thank god for genetics.
Henry feels Pez freeze and puff up slightly, and he smiles. “Ah, yes, you’ve not officially met, have you? June, Alex, this is my best mate, Percy Okonjo.”
“Pez, like the sweets,” he amends as always, offering his hand to Alex, who shakes it bemusedly. Pez’s smile grows wider when he turns to June, and Henry knows he’ll be able to hold this over Pez’s head for a long time. “Please do smack me if this is out of line, but you are the most exquisite woman I have ever seen in my life, and I would like to procure for you the most lavish drink in this establishment if you will let me.” Alex mumbles something incomprehensible, but June smiles indulgently in response.
“You’re a charmer.”
“And you’re a goddess.” Pez says smoothly as he takes June’s arm and guides her through the party. Let it never be said that Henry isn’t a good wingman, even if Pez doesn’t always need his help.
“That man has been begging me to introduce him to you sister since the wedding,” Henry confides in Alex, who looks like he doesn't know how to feel about his sister being spun away by an eccentric philanthropic billionaire.
“We’ve probably just saved him a tremendous amount of money. He was going to start pricing skywriters soon.” Alex laughs at that, finally, and Henry is struck by how much he missed it: Alex, head tilted back and laughing to the sky, completely at ease and so brilliantly happy. It’s blinding.
Henry really hopes Pez and June work out, he genuinely believes they’d be good together- a force to be reckoned with on many counts, but good for one another nonetheless- but also because he wants to see Alex like this. And he knows very few things make him this incandescently happy than his sister.
“Well, come on.” Alex says, smiling like he’s on top of the world; and maybe right now he is, with Henry right beside him. “I’m already two whiskeys in. you’ve got some catching up to do.”
Conversations peter out as they cross the room, and Henry feels people’s eyes on him and Alex, shoulder to shoulder. He wonders what they see, wonders if they can see his heart on his face, the way he feels it is.
They wander around the party, Alex handing him drinks and dragging him into and through various conversations, making introductions and jokes. Henry watches in carefully concealed amusement as a handful of White House interns stumble through a conversation with him and Alex, who isn’t even trying to hide his laughter.
June makes an excellent speech about the organization they’re all donating thousands of dollars to tonight, and then drags him away from Alex and to the bar, where they fall into a conversation about everything and nothing. They’re both at the point just past tipsy, where everything is blurry and hilarious, and at one point Henry has her falling off her stool laughing by telling her about Alex’s terrified midnight call on Thanksgiving.
When the DJ takes over from the boy band- June had mentioned them owing her a favor during their chat at the bar- Henry ends up finding Alex, completely at home in the sea of drunk, dancing strangers.
“You don’t dance?” He shouts over the music. Henry doesn’t know whether he loves or hates the way Alex always seems able to read what he’s thinking- almost always, that is- but for now, at least, Henry is thankful.
Either that, or his discomfort is starting to leak out through his ears, and Alex could smell it.
“No, I do. It’s just that the family-mandated ballroom dancing lessons didn’t exactly cover this?” It’s a nice way of saying, I’m way out of my depth, here, Alex.
“C’mon, it’s, like, in the hips. You have to loosen up.” He puts his hands on Henry’s hips, as though to guide him through the motions, but Henry is far too drunk and far too gay to handle this at the moment. He freezes, his brain unable to compute anything other than the fact that Alex’s hands are on his hips. And he expects him to move them.
“That’s the opposite of what I said,” Alex says, frowning, but not removing his hands.
“Alex, I don’t-” Henry starts, not knowing where the sentence is going, but Alex interrupts him before he can dig himself even further.
“Here, watch me.” And then Alex starts moving his own hips, his hands still on Henry, in smooth, wide circles.
Oh God, Henry thinks helplessly, and takes a gulp of champagne in the hopes of steadying himself. “I am.” He manages, sounding strangled even to his own ears, even over the cheers and the blasting music. He starts to say something else, but then the music changes- a heavy bassline kicking in and thundering across the hall. It sounds vaguely familiar to Henry, but Alex throws his hands up in the air and starts yelling.
“Shut up, shut your dumb face, this is my shit!” He’s dancing in earnest now, shouting almost unintelligibly along with the song, and Henry is somehow even more lost than he already was. “Did you seriously never go to an awkward middle school dance and watch a bunch of teenagers dry hump to this song?” Alex yells after a minute, noticing Henry standing shock-still among the crowd of jumping, dancing people.
“You absolutely must know I did not.”
Alex reaches out and grabs Nora from somewhere in the crowd, and starts yelling at her too. “Nora! Nora! Henry has never watched a bunch of teenagers dry hump to this song!”
“What?” Nora asks, as appalled at the revelation as Alex was.
“Please tell me nobody is going to dry hump me,” Henry says, he doesn’t think he could survive that.
“Oh my god, Henry,” Alex grabs the lapel of Henry’s jacket, “you have to dance. You have to dance. You have to understand this formative American coming-of-age experience.” Nora grabs Alex and spins him and starts grinding on him, both of them shouting and laughing with abandon.
“Did that man just say ‘sweat drop down my balls?’” Henry asks, astounded. Alex just laughs, and keeps on dancing. Alex takes a shot and pouts at Henry, shaking his ass and grinning just enough that it almost ruins the effect. What the hell, Henry thinks, and bops his head a little to the beat.
“Fuck it up, vato!” Alex yells, his smile stretching across his face as the pout falls away and he nods encouragingly. That’s all it takes for Henry to laugh and start to dance.
He’s making up as he goes, as no doubt everyone can tell, but he lets the alcohol wash away his concerns and self doubt, lets Alex drag him around, his hands on his hips and his back and his arms until it’s almost too much- and then Henry takes a pull straight from a bottle of Moet & Chandon, relishing in the expression on Alex’s face, and lets himself get washed away again. June and Nora and Pez float in and out of his periphery as they all dance to old songs that Alex seems to know and love all of. And then there’s confetti everywhere, and the lights are flashing, and the music is so loud Henry can feel it in his bones, and then it’s midnight.
Somehow, they all end up huddled together- Henry, Alex, June, Nora, Pez, and a couple hundred of their closest friends and closest strangers- as the clock counts down. Nora screams “Three, two, one,” and pulls Alex in for a sloppy kiss, both of them laughing raucously as they do. Dimly, Henry notices June pulling Pez in for one at the same time, but his eyes are caught on Alex and Nora. His stomach turns to ice, and all of a sudden he simultaneously feels horrifyingly sober and dizzyingly drunk.
Alex pulls away from Nora, still laughing slightly, and meets Henry’s eyes with a wide, impossible, joyous smile.
It’s all too much.
Silently, Henry takes another pull from the bottle of champagne he still somehow has clenched in one hand, and turns away. He cuts through the crowd as best he can, ignoring people calling his name and trying to pull him into another dance to the old pop song that’s blasting through the speakers. All of a sudden, it all catches up with him and Henry doesn’t know how any of them can stand it. The music is too loud and the lights are too fast and there are so many people, all shoved up against one another and moving incomprehensibly. His head is aching and so is his chest and Henry thinks it only has a little to do with the champagne he’s still holding.
He abandons the bottle on some table or some couch somewhere, and weaves through the thick of the party until he reaches the edges of it, small islands of people huddled together, some talking, some dancing, some… doing other things. He catches a glimpse of a door, tucked into a wall of huge windows looking out over a garden, and slips outside without a second thought.
The cold January night is startlingly and hauntingly silent, especially after the noise and the chaos of the party inside. In the distance, Henry catches fireworks exploding, as people all over DC ring in the new year.
He stares up at the sky, trying to catch the same old familiar constellations through the clouds and the light pollution. There’s something comforting about the constancy of the stars, that they’re the same ones he can see back at home in London. The same ones people based legends and myths on thousands of years ago. The same ones that will still be shining down on earth, hundreds of years from now, no matter what happens to him. They’re so far away, so tiny and huge at the same time. The nihilism of it all is almost reassuring.
He’s still trying to find Orion’s belt when he hears someone stumble behind him- Alex.
“What are you doing out here?” He asks, and Henry squints at him. Something about the quiet and the stars and the alcohol still buzzing in his system makes him want to be honest. About everything.
“Looking for Orion.” It’s part of the truth, at least.
Alex laughs a little, more a loud exhale than anything, and follows Henry’s gaze up. “You must be really bored with the commoners to come out here and stare at the clouds.”
“‘m not bored. What are you doing out here? Doesn’t America’s golden boy have some swooning crowds to beguile?”
“Says fucking Prince Charming.” Henry wants to kiss the smirk off Alex’s face.
“Hardly.” Henry pulls his gaze away from Alex’s infuriating face, staring back up at the sky. As though he’d find any answers there. His knuckles brush briefly against Alex’s hand as he squares his shoulders, facing out again. Henry tries not to think about it.
“You didn’t really answer my question, though.” Alex points out, and Henry groans, dragging his hands across his face. His eyes and hands feel heavy and unwieldy all of a sudden, like Alex’s arrival has broken some stasis he had constructed, standing here and staring up at the stars.
“You can’t ever leave well enough alone, can you?” He asks, and Alex doesn’t answer as he leans back and lets his head thunk against the tree behind him. He keeps his eyes firmly locked on the few stars he can see, peeking out between the clouds and the barren branches. “Sometimes it all gets a bit… much.” He pulls his guard up tight around him, like an invisible armor.
Silently- like he can tell Henry’s trying to close himself off- Alex shifts, just barely, until he’s leaning against the tree beside Henry. Alex’s shoulder pushes slightly into his, like he’s trying to offer support or comfort in the simple knowledge of human touch. Somehow, against all odds, it helps. It stabilizes Henry, like he’s looking up at the stars again, like he can feel the ground settle under his feet.
“D’you ever wonder,” Henry begins slowly, “what it’s like to be some anonymous person out in the world?”
“What do you mean?” Henry can hear the frown in Alex’s voice- one out of confusion, not anger or sadness.
“Just, you know, if your mum weren’t the president and you were just a normal bloke living a normal life, what things might be like? What you’d be doing instead?” It’s a question Henry has pondered a million times in his life- who would he be if he weren’t the prince, if he didn’t have his family name and legacy hanging over his head at every turn. But he’s never asked it of anyone else before.
“Ah,” Alex says, like Henry’s asked him something simple, like his favorite color. “Well, I mean obviously I’d be a model. I’ve been on the cover of Teen Vogue twice. These genetics transcend all circumstances.” Henry glances sideways and catches Alex’s eyelashes, long and dark and beautiful in the moonlight. He rolls his eyes as Alex turns his head to look at him. “What about you?”
“I’d be a writer,” Henry says, shaking his head.
Alex laughs, “Can’t you do that?” And this, Henry thinks, is the largest difference between them. Alex looks at the world and sees a million possibilities, a million opportunities. Henry looks at the world and sees his narrow list of options, sees the responsibilities and obligations he has to live up to.
“Not exactly seen as a worthwhile pursuit for a man in line for the throne, scribbling verses about quarter-life angst.” Stories about love, about duty, about his own fears and desires and dreams- things he can never admit to. “Besides, the traditional family career track is military, so that’s about it, isn't it?” Henry remembers Phillip’s pointed comments about enlistment, about his own rank and years of service. “I’d date more, probably, as well.” Henry bites his lip. This is too much, this is too close to something, with Alex looking at him in the silence of the garden.
Alex laughs again, but it’s not cruel. It’s like Henry made an inside joke, only for the two of them, and Alex is laughing at something private, just for the two of them. “Right, because it’s so hard to get a date when you’re a prince.”
Henry glances at Alex, his silhouette sharp against the dim moonlight. “You’d be surprised.”
“How? You’re not exactly lacking for options.”
Henry looks at Alex, holding his gaze. This is his shot, his one opening. “The options I’d like…” He says slowly, choosing his words carefully. He wants to be clear, but he doesn't know if he can manage to say it outright- any of it. He just hopes that Alex isn’t too drunk to catch on. Or maybe he hopes that he is. “They don’t quite seem to be options at all.”
Alex blinks, still holding Henry’s gaze. “What?”
“I’m saying I have… people… who interest me,” Henry turns his shoulders to face Alex head on. “But I shouldn’t pursue them. At least not in my position.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You really don’t?”
“I really, really don’t.”
Henry’s still mostly-drunk brain goes through a series of flips, calculating his risks and his options and his prior assumptions as he glares up at the sky. Fuck it, he thinks again.
“Christ, you’re as thick as it gets,” he says, looking back at Alex- who’s staring at him, befuddled and gorgeous- and grabbing his face.
Henry pulls Alex’s face to his own and kisses him. Partially because he doesn’t have any other way of telling him, and mostly because he just wants to. For a second, Alex freezes, and Henry lets himself enjoy one last second before he expects Alex to shove him away.
But he doesn’t shove Henry away.
And then Alex leans in, and Henry opens his mouth, and Alex opens his in return, and then it’s everything.
He’s Icarus and Alex is the sun; and maybe the world is catching on fire around them but Henry can’t bring himself to care.
He’s kissing Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States of America.
And Alex is kissing him back.
Henry pushes a hand into Alex’s curls and they’re just as soft as he’s imagined, and Alex makes a tiny, breathless noise in the back of his throat and Henry wakes up.
Suddenly, everything is crystal and soberingly clear, and Henry lets go of Alex so abruptly that he stumbles back a few steps. “Shit,” he mutters, so low he isn’t sure whether he’s saying it to himself or to Alex or to the stars, still shining on obliviously above them. Like something earth shattering and huge didn’t just happen. Like this isn’t the beginning of the end of Henry’s life. He mutters a few other curses, interspersed with a half-assed apology and turns on his heel, walking briskly away from Alex. He darts around the corner on a one man trip to find Pez and Shaan and to get them the hell out of here. He doesn’t let himself feel disappointed when Alex doesn’t call after him, or follow him through the garden. He doesn’t let himself think about how he left him, standing there alone in the dark garden. He doesn’t let himself think about the consequences of his actions, of drunkenly kissing Alex and then running away without a word.
He doesn’t let himself cry until they’re back in England.
Nora corners Henry by the profiteroles at the tail end of dinner.
It’s a state dinner between England’s new Prime Minister and the President of the United States, and if Henry hadn’t already promised to be in attendance ages ago, he wouldn’t be here. He’s back at the White House not even a month after the New Year’s Eve debacle, and everything in Henry’s mind is screaming at him to get out.
But he doesn’t, he puts on a cordial smile and grits his teeth through light conversation with some of the most powerful and influential people in England and the US. All the while, he feels Alex’s gaze, a steady, heated, unwavering glare that makes the tips of his ears heat up involuntarily. He tries his best not to think about it, not to think about why Alex is watching him, about what happened the last time they were in a room together.
He tries not to think about it, that is; he’s not very successful.
By the time Nora corners him- talking quickly and urgently about something having to do with Doctor Who that he can’t quite focus on- Henry thinks that maybe he’s made it. Alex has disappeared from the room, and Henry thinks that just maybe he’s going to make it out of this dinner without having to face him- maybe he’s going to make it out of this dinner alive.
Of course, Murphy’s law catches up with him all too quickly.
“Hi,” Alex says abruptly, cutting over whatever Nora was in the middle of saying, and planting himself between her and Henry. Henry feels his mouth drop open, and he scrambles for something- anything- he can say that will get him out of this. “Sorry to interrupt. Important, um. International. Relations. Stuff.” And then he grabs Henry’s elbow and drags him across the room.
“Do you mind?” He hisses eventually.
“Shut your face,” Alex replies, his eyes locked on a door at the other end of the room.
The Secret Service Agent at the door- one Henry recognizes from Alex’s weekend visit in London- hesitates as he and Alex approach. “You’re not going to kill him, are you?” She asks.
“Probably not,” Alex answers, which doesn’t do much for the rising pit of dread and nerves in Henry’s stomach, but seems to appease the agent, who nods and opens the door just wide enough for them to slip through. She closes it quickly behind them.
“What on God’s earth are you doing?” Henry demands.
Alex twists his tie up in one hand and pushes him backwards, hissing “Shut up, shut all the way up, oh my God.” He pushes Henry back, back, until he’s pressed up against the wall, and Henry’s heart is in his throat and then Alex is kissing him.
Hard, and purposeful, like he’s been thinking about this for as long as Henry has. Henry’s mind is spinning, recalibrating, and then he’s kissing back. It’s a breath of fresh air and Henry’s been drowning.
“Wait,” he says after a minute, doing the impossible and pulling away from Alex. He looks like he’s going to scream, or punch Henry, or pull him back in again. “Should we-”
“I mean, er, should we, I dunno, slow down?” Henry asks, cringing at his own words. He doesn’t want to slow down- he wants to do the opposite, actually- but this all feels too big and all encompassing and earth-shattering and Henry can’t stop thinking about it all. About Alex and what it means and what’s going to happen and what he wants to happen. “Go for dinner first or-”
“We just had dinner.” Alex says, monotone, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“Right. I meant- I just thought-”
Alex knocks the candelabra off a nearby table in one quick, frenzied movement, and pushes Henry up on top of the table. His eyes catch briefly on whatever historical painting Henry is leaning back against, and Alex bites out a second of loud, crazed laughter, before he looks back at Henry. The hunger in Alex’s eyes takes Henry’s breath away, it’s unguarded and pointed and it makes Henry spread his legs readily- both literally and metaphorically. Alex crowds up in front of him and then they’re kissing again. Alex has one hand in Henry’s hair, mirroring how Henry had kissed him on New Year’s.
It’s all teeth and lips and tongue and Henry feels dizzy and drunk with it. Alex is at his neck and Henry has one knee wrapped around his thigh and Alex is skating one hand up, up, up Henry’s leg and it takes all he has not to groan in protest.
“Time’s up!” The Secret Service Agent calls from outside, opening the door just a crack, and Alex pulls away slightly. Henry’s hips buck up once, unintentionally, and Alex swears under his breath.
“I’m going to die,” Henry whispers, trying not to think about how he wants to kiss Alex again, about how he wants to do more than kiss him and how he has a lingering feeling Alex might let him, about the little problem rising up between them and the impending crowd of people about to walk in on them in this compromising position.
“I’m going to kill you,” Alex answers, and it doesn’t sound like a threat, it sounds like a promise.
“Yes, you are,” Henry agrees, and he thinks that they’re maybe finally talking about the same thing.
Alex takes a step away, breaking the contact between them, and Henry’s only a little proud of how unsteady he looks on his feet. “People are gonna be coming in here soon,” Alex says pointedly, stooping to pick up the candelabra he’d thrown on the ground. Henry slides off the table so Alex can put it back. His eyes scan Henry, still hungry in that wonderful, unsettling way they’d been before, as he jerkily combs his fingers through his unruly hair. “Fuck, you look- fuck.”
Henry scrambles to tuck his shirt tail in, which draws his attention back to the rather… pressing problem at hand.
“What are you doing?” Alex asks, and Henry winces, stopping the humming that wasn’t really helping the problem anyway. God save the Queen, indeed.
“Christ, I’m trying to make it go away,” he hisses, gesturing wildly at the front of his pants, and Alex’s eyebrows jump up as he fixes his gaze firmly on the wall above Henry’s left shoulder.
“Okay, so, yeah.” Alex nods briskly, looking back at Henry. “So here’s what we’re gonna do. You are gonna go be, like, five hundred feet away from me for the rest of the night, or else I am going to do something that I will deeply regret in front of a lot of very important people.”
“All right…” Henry isn’t sure what Alex is getting at.
“And then,” He continues, and grabs the top of Henry’s tie, so his fist is resting only millimeters away from the base of his throat. He pulls Henry so close they’re a mere breath’s width apart. Henry gulps. This is certainly not helping his little problem. “And then you are going to come to the East Bedroom on the second floor at eleven o’clock tonight, and I am going to do very bad things to you, and if you fucking ghost me again, I’m going to get you put on a fucking no-fly list. Got it?”
Christ, Henry thinks again, he’s going to be the death of me.
Henry rolls over onto his back, out of breath and astounded and glowing. He can feel Alex’s gaze on him again, from where he’s laying a few inches away on the bed, just far enough that they’re not touching anymore.
“Hey,” He says, poking Henry in the arm, his voice low and heady. “Don’t freak out.” Like he can see the inner workings of Henry’s mind, like he can tell he’s spinning himself into a tizzy right now.
“I’m not freaking out.” Henry argues crisply, and Alex scooches a few centimeters closer.
He’s definitely freaking out.
“It was fun,” Alex says simply. “I had fun. You had fun right?”
“Definitely.” Henry doesn’t think twice. Alex has a way of straightening out the twisted wires in his mind, making them run smoothly and start to make sense again.
“Okay, cool.” Henry can hear the cocky smile on Alex’s face. He tries not to think about how he knows how that smile feels now, how it tastes. “So, we can do this again, anytime you want.” Alex is dragging his knuckles along Henry’s shoulder, leaving a pleasant electric buzz in their wake. “And you know this doesn’t, like, change anything between us, right? We’re still… whatever we were before, just, you know. With blowjobs.”
It’s terribly ineloquent, but somehow Henry feels marginally better. Alex cares as much about this… whatever this is. This friendship, as Henry does. He drags his hand across his face, trying to swallow down the unholy amalgamation of feelings that’s building up in the base of his throat. “Right.”
“So,” Henry can feel Alex shift and stretch on the bed. He pointedly doesn’t look. “I guess I should tell you, I’m bisexual.”
“Good to know,” Henry answers lightly, his eyes catching on the spot where the sheets meet the edge of Alex’s hip. “I’m very, very gay.” He murmurs, and can’t help the smile that creeps over his face. So very, terribly gay.
He leans over and presses another soft kiss to Alex’s mouth. He trails his fingers over his jaw and relishes in this, that he’s allowed to do this, that Alex wants this too.
“Hey,” Alex mumbles into his ear, “you’re welcome to stay as long as you want but I should warn you it’s probably in both of our best interests if you go back to your room before morning. Unless you want the PPO’s to lock the Residence down and come requisition you from my boudoir.”
“Ah,” Henry grumbles, and pulls away. He flops onto his back and glares up at the ceiling, imagining what would happen if he stayed here long enough for the PPO to realize he’d disappeared. “You’re right.”
“You can stay for another round, if you want to.”
Henry coughs, suddenly exhausted and wide awake at the same time. “I rather think I’d- I’d better get back to my room.”
He sits up and grabs his boxers from the foot of the bed, feeling Alex’s gaze on him again as he pulls them on. He wonders if Alex is always going to watch him like this from now on- steady, unwavering, certain. Henry finds he doesn’t much mind that prospect.
Alex follows him to the door, and they both pause as Henry turns to look at him, still mostly naked in the dim light of his bedroom. His hair is mussed and his eyes are bright and tired, his mouth red and wet and soft. What they’ve just done is written all over him. Henry wonders if he’s just as transparent. “Well, er…”
“For fuck’s sake, man, you just had my dick in your mouth, you can kiss me good-night.”
Henry drags his gaze up from the floor to gape at Alex for a moment, and then the ridiculousness of everything washes over him all at once. And he laughs, bright and incredulous. He leans down and kisses Alex.
Thank you, he says silently, good night, you beautiful sunlit boy.
He grins at Alex one last time before he ducks out of the door and sneaks back into his room.
In the darkness of the guest room- the weight of everything hanging over him like a terrifying, awe-inspiring, wonderful cloud- Henry remembers the first time he met Alex.
Icarus, flying with wings up wax up to the sun, even though it will light him on fire.
Well, Henry thinks, as maudlin and morbid as ever, I guess I’m flying right into the sun. He’s going to set me on fire with his light.
I don’t really care.