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Not That Ever After

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"I found the letter."  

I almost missed Matt's words, stifled against my shoulder. My thoughts had been racing; had I seen an empty bottle in the library too?

"What letter? Is there someone else demanding to return their peacock?" I adjusted my grip on him. "I think we ran out of them." 

We trudged past a servant opening the door to Matt's chamber. I absently nodded at them in thanks. How much drinking was too much?

 "Here you go, Lord Matt. Your bed and a glass of water with your name on it." Careful not to bump into anything, I lowered him into a sitting position. 

Dusk coloured his silhouette blue against a dark shape of a window. Maybe I was a bit drunk too; he looked like a bird perched on a twig in the rain. Dishevelled, holding on the edge of the bed as if his life depended on it, kicking off his boots with a frown.

A surge of despair clutched my throat. I stood close enough to brush away a strand of dark brown hair falling into his eyes, and yet I could be a stranger having nothing better to do than tuck drunk passersby into their bed. Since when had I no idea what bothered him?

"Don't say it’s another vague invitation to lure me into being a demon spawn's godfather." Had Harlow heard my attempt at cheeriness, he would have fixed me with the most unimpressed stare. Yes, I was a coward and I didn't know how to bridge the distance between us without falling into pieces and Matt regretting talking with me at all, so let’s talk about a correspondence no one cared about. Sounded appropriate.

Once upon a time, we would curl around each other during sleepovers. We would say what was on our minds, and banter, and laugh, without second-guessing ourselves and cringing inwards. 

Once upon a time -

Matt looked up at me. And I froze.

His gaze was way too sober for someone who a minute ago tumbled over the stairs trying to spell them into a carpet. It warped reality around us, narrowing it down to the chamber. To us.

Apprehension coiled at the bottom of my stomach. There was something still in him, kept in check behind his blank expression.

And yet, I couldn't help a shy burst of warmth blooming in my chest. He looked at me, truly looked, and it felt like Matt, my best friend, before all these months of faraway court mage duties, a mess of dealing with a magic soulmate rule, and one ill-advised kiss. 

"The letter saying that you are good and loyal to his values king." His voice was quiet but firm and reminded me of our late-night talks stretching into dawn.

 I flushed. And instant flooding of guilt followed.

Spirits, could I be any worse? Gren, my co-ruler and royal consort waited for me, Matt was going through something, and I still got butterflies in my stomach because he said something nice to me! That showed about right how wrong he was.

I opened my mouth to say something flippant but next Matt’s words cut me short.

“If not noble in birth, then in actions. Not about to hurt someone for a whim." He spoke them as if something undisputable and final, the concluding words of a story. 

"Matt?" My voice came out small. I didn't know what story it was, and why it had to end at this moment.

Matt didn't answer. In the dim light of nightfall, his eyes seemed black, looking through me without actually seeing me.

Dread curdled my insides.

Matt's sombreness had something big and haunted; like an emptiness of an abandoned home, of space once bursting with life and then not.

I didn't understand him at all.

Then Matt snickered, and the spell burst. He plopped down on his back, one arm stretched across the bed, the other covering his eyes.

"A love letter, that what it was. Written by a fanboy with no regard for grammar. Embarrassing, honestly. " He seemed amused by something only known to him, a weird twist around his mouth.

Still, my insides unknotted themselves a tad. This was something familiar, something I could deal with. I sat down on the edge of his bed.

"Are you jealous, Lord Matt? Is that why I had to haul you to the bed?" I cooed. "Don’t worry, out there, there is someone who took one look at you and immediately started calling you the Great." I patted his leg in a show of reassurance. “Maybe they won’t do a double-take.”

A huff of air passed Matt's lips. “Asshole, " he laughed.

I didn’t know how much I had missed the sound until I had to will a sudden sting behind my eyes away. I peered at my boots. With a corner of my eyes, I could see Matt looking askew at me. I don't know what he had seen on my face, but he answered the one question I meant to ask.

"I will be.” For a beat, I thought he is going to reach out to me but then he only brushed a hand through his face. "Not right away but I will be okay." 

"Alright," I whispered, meeting his gaze. "Because I need my best friend back. Shockingly, no one wants to apply for the position.”

Ghost of a smirk appeared on his face. “How dare they.”

"No one -" my breath hitched. No one calling me out on being an impulsive asshole, no one moody and difficult, and smart, and kind, and hardworking, and leaving with me in the middle of the night to fulfil the drunken mage’s prophecy. No Matt.

No matter how much things would change, that wouldn’t. I wanted him beside me. As long as he wanted that too.

I clenched my teeth around the unsaid words and sprung to my feet. "See you tomorrow?"

"I will be here." He assured me with a vague wave." Probably puking under the table and being more of a nuisance than a help." 

Apparently, that's all I needed to hear. As long as he will-

"I will find you the fanciest bucket.”

A soft click of the closing door followed his snort. "My hero."

-we will get through this. We will be okay.