Ivan stood in the Grand Hall of the palace, trying not to squirm in his itchy new uniform. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Nolan going through the same struggle, which made him feel a little better.
A dramatic trumpet fanfare preceded a booming voice announcing: "Their Majesties Claude Giroux and Daniel Jean-Claude Brière, Sovereigns of the Kingdom of Philadelphia! And their chosen heir, Prince Carter Hart!"
On instinct, Ivan bowed as low as possible, keeping his eyes focused on the elaborately tiled floor. He didn't dare move, despite his confusion at the onset of laughter, until a kind voice said, "Arise, Sir Wheat Knights. Bodyguards need to be able to see their surroundings."
Ivan straightened up and almost gasped at the handsome young man looking at him. His face was striking, with sharp cheekbones and fierce eyes, while his lean body looked unquestionably strong in his perfectly fitted black suit. Even if he hadn't been sitting on a jewel-encrusted throne, it would have been clear that he was someone far too powerful to be crossed.
"If you don't stop laughing, I'll put a month-long moratorium on grilled cheese sandwiches," the kind voice said. Ivan reluctantly looked away from the handsome young man to see a dark-haired man glaring at a red-haired man, who had frozen mid-chortle at the threat. "That's what I thought. Now do your duty."
"Yes, dear," the red-haired man sighed. "As perhaps you know, I am Claude. This is my husband, Danny. Together, we are the Kings Brioux, and we welcome you to our royal court here on Broad Street."
"Per tradition, Claude and I have chosen a young nobleman to be our heir." Danny gestured to the handsome young man. "This is Carter, who hails most recently from a territory near your training academy at Brandon. The two of you have been chosen to serve as his bodyguards."
"Don't worry, you'll be given less conspicuous uniforms after this ceremony," Claude added quickly. "Orange is a fabulous color, but we don't want you standing out too much."
Danny sighed and smiled fondly before continuing. "You need to state your full given name and city of birth for us to administer the oath. How about the younger one goes first, hm?"
"Nolan James Patrick, born in Winnipeg, Your Majesties."
"Sir Nolan of Winnipeg, who hopefully didn't bring his hometown's weather with him," Claude teased. "And the one who's so clearly enam-OW! Punching the King is punishable by death!"
"Not if the puncher is also a King," Danny replied drily, his fist still resting on Claude's arm. "Anyway..."
"Ivan Vladimirovich Provorov, born in Yaroslavl, Your Majesties."
"Sir Ivan of Yaroslavl," Claude said. "Both of you, please approach your Prince and take his hands."
Ivan and Nolan walked up to Prince Carter, who held out his hands. "Sir Ivan, if you would take my left hand, please?" There was a hint of nervousness in Prince Carter's voice, so Ivan offered what he hoped was a comforting squeeze as he held the Prince's left hand.
Nolan waited a few moments, then cleared his throat.
"Yes, you take his right hand," Claude said impatiently. "I'm sure that's what Carter meant to say next."
Once Nolan had done so, the booming announcer voice spoke again. "Sir Nolan of Winnipeg and Sir Ivan of Yaroslavl, please repeat after me: I hereby take the oath of protection..."
"I hereby take the oath of protection...."
"To preserve the life and total well-being...."
"To preserve the life and total well-being..."
"Of His Royal Highness Prince Carter Hart of the Kingdom of Philadelphia."
"Of His Royal Highness Prince Carter Hart of the Kingdom of Philadelphia."
Claude and Danny said in unison, "You are hereby under oath!"
Ivan's life fell into a new routine rather quickly. He and Nolan would wake up with a very early alarm, get ready for the day, then go over one room in time for Prince Carter's slightly less early alarm. The Prince would groan loudly to affirm he was awake, then shuffle into the ensuite bathroom to get ready for the day. Once he stepped out in one of his perfect black suits with orange accents that somehow made him look even more handsome, Ivan and Nolan would stay within a few steps of him for the rest of the day. They would have lots of conversations with the Prince about politics, gossip involving famous sportspeople, and their lives in general, all while making sure anyone trying to hurt the Prince felt lots of hurt instead. At the end of the day, Carter would get ready for bed in his ensuite and bid his bodyguards goodnight with fistbumps, after which Ivan and Nolan would return to their room, get ready for bed, and fall asleep.
It wasn't a bad life by any means, though Ivan was a little surprised by how many people wanted to go after Prince Carter. In fact, the tricky part was dealing with what a great guy Prince Carter was. Within a month, Ivan had realized that Prince Carter was as handsome in spirit as he was in body - and Nolan seemed to think the feelings were requited.
He alluded to it during a planning meeting for the annual St. Gritty's Day charity ball, after the Kings explained that the ball always ran from 9 p.m. on St. Gritty's Eve until just after midnight. "Oh, so the final dance is the midnight dance!" Nolan gasped. "Your Majesties, is it true that you confessed your feelings for each other at midnight during the ball many, many, many, many years ago?" Ivan kicked him under the table, which only made Nolan smirk.
"No!" Claude snapped. "One 'many' will suffice, you whippersnapper!"
"The rest of it is true, however," Danny laughed. "It's a long-time tradition that people confess their feelings at midnight during the St. Gritty's Day ball so they can share the last dance, then spend St. Gritty's Day itself together. Claude and I weren't the first, and I imagine we won't be the last."
"Don't disappoint us, Carter!" Claude ordered with a wink. Carter pouted adorably, which made Ivan smile a little in spite of his annoyance at Nolan.
An hour later, Carter brought up the topic again. "They were both nobles when they confessed their feelings. Anyone I confess to wouldn't be a prince. It wouldn't be fair."
"That's true," Ivan nodded.
"But if the other person also confessed, you'd be able to make it work," Nolan argued.
"It's not that simple," Carter and Ivan said in unison. Nolan sighed, but didn't argue further.
St. Gritty's Eve came a few weeks after that conversation. It began with Nolan telling Ivan to act on his feelings: "He likes you, too, so do something about it!"
"I can't!" Ivan argued. "We took an oath of protection to preserve his total well-being. Having his bodyguard declare feelings for him while he feels conflicted about relationships as a prince isn't very good for his emotional well-being, now is it?" He shoved the door open. "Come on, we'll miss his alarm."
Everything went normally that day until 7 p.m., when the St. Gritty's Eve charity dinner began with 19 appetizers associated with love. Ivan noticed a man dressed in red, yellow, blue, and black glancing at Carter with a suspicious smirk. Nolan arched an eyebrow in acknowledgement of the possible threat, then shoved Ivan so he was closer to Carter.
"Um..." Ivan said.
"Hi," Carter said. "Do you have plans for midnight?"
"Just keeping my eyes on you," Ivan replied. "So I guess I should be asking you about your plans?"
Carter shrugged. "Whatever happens, I'm probably going to go to bed as soon as I can afterwards. I always knew people came to the royal family for good luck wishes on St. Gritty's Eve, but I didn't realize it would be so many."
"Yeah," Ivan said. "But you can't sleep in. The Kings have a big breakfast planned, remember?"
Carter groaned. "I still can't believe Nolan helped them plan it. It's like he's trying to curry favor or something."
"It's definitely something!"
Throughout the dinner and ball, many people came up to talk to Carter, but the suspicious man didn't approach. This changed just before midnight, while Claude was giving a big speech introducing the final dance (and gushing over his husband).
"Ivan?" Carter whispered. "I... I love you, or at least really like you? So if-"
"Wait, Your Highness," Ivan said, glaring at the suspicious man now walking over.
"Look, I know I'm the prince and you're my bodyguard, but -"
"Not now!" Ivan stood up, as did Nolan.
"Yes, now!" Carter insisted as the music started to play. "We can make it work! Don't you want to?"
"Quiet!" Ivan moved in front of Carter just in time to block the suspicous man's fists. Within moments, the suspicious man was sent to the ground with more than a few bruises.
Carter blinked. "Oh."
"Exactly," Ivan sighed. "Sorry for being rude, but I had to make sure you survived long enough for a proper conversation."
Unfortunately, applause filled the room, signalling that the song had ended. Carter's face fell. "I missed my chance."
"You still confessed your feelings," Ivan pointed out. "Technically, I'm the one who missed my chance to confess that mine are the same."
"You just did," Carter chuckled softly. "But we can't dance."
"But we can spend St. Gritty's Day together figuring this out." Ivan took Carter's left hand and squeezed it. "I really, really want to."
Nolan cleared his throat and stepped into view. "How about I wake up both of you in time for breakfast?"
"Excellent," Carter said. "Come on, Ivan." Ivan could only nod as the prince led him away.