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Don't Lose Your Head

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Ooh, I wanna dance and sing.
Politics? Not my thing.
Ooh, but then I met the king,
and soon my daddy said:
you should try and get ahead.

-Don't Lose Ur Head, Six the Musical

---

Roman del Rey prided himself on three things—his voice, his looks, and his ability to play nice.

The first two were natural gifts, sprinkled in with a dash of mischief and a sweep of ginger hair. The third was carefully honed over the years. He had fought for it, clawed for it, and bullied it into submission. But it was worth it, because Roman del Rey wouldn’t get anywhere if he couldn’t sit still and look pretty.

That wasn’t a problem when he was younger, full of mischief and boasting an unruly shock of red hair. He didn’t blend in, but he was a child, so people forgave him. He spent most of his time adventuring in the woods nearby, filling the spaces between trunks with destinies and swordfights and dragon witches. Life was simple. There were good things and bad things, and the good beat the bad in the end, and Roman could go home and eat supper with his mother and father and endless stacks of siblings and be content. He didn’t need to play nice. He just played.

His first gift, his voice, had been there since the beginning. He was a wonderful singer. He would sing songs he heard the bards sing in the courtyard, and sometimes he’d make up his own lyrics, making the songs about him instead. Roman was sure he’d be a hero. But if he wasn’t a hero, or if being a hero didn’t pay that well, he’d settle for a storyteller. He could sing epics, arias, anything at all. And people would look up at him and applaud.

Roman del Rey loved attention.

This would change with time. As would his dreams. As would everything else.

His second gift came when he turned fifteen.

At nine or ten, he was a child. At eleven or twelve, he still passed for a child. At thirteen or fourteen, he was growing up and sideways and around-ways and backwards, with his feet and legs and arms all seeming to be following different blueprints. For a bit, he couldn’t sing at all as his voice stretched languidly and settled into position.

But at fifteen, the last bits fell into place. Roman del Rey was beautiful.

The wild ginger hair he stole from his mother turned from kinks and curls to gentle waves. His freckles faded, splashing over his cheekbones. His nose arched gently and tucked itself behind his soft pink mouth. His eyebrows quirked down, his eyelashes quirked up, and the corner of his smile quirked sideways. His eyes, always a vivid snapping green, sparkled cheerfully when he said hello.

The first week after he turned fifteen, a girl from town gave him flowers and asked him whether he wanted to go dancing sometime. Flattered, he turned her down.

He turned down the next girl too, and the next. Politely, courteously, he waved them goodbye. It wasn’t playing nice at this point, it was being nice. Roman del Rey was genuinely nice. Some might say, too nice for his own good.

Eventually everyone caught on. Then he got boys at his door instead.

Roman grew older and only more beautiful. But around him, life began to lose its luster, as if Roman has stolen its sparkle.

At eighteen, he got his first proposal from a wealthy young man nearby. Roman thought about it, but he was only eighteen, and he was needed around the farm. Besides, he barely knew the guy. Politely, he turned the man down with a smile.

He got another proposal the next year, and two the following. Each time, he turned them down. His smile grew a little faker.

Roman grew more beautiful. And everything around him began to decay.

The leaves fell off the trees, and at age twenty, Roman del Rey lost his father.

Illness stole him in the night. Roman attended the funeral, and the next day, he left. The farm seemed too empty without his father and too poor without his father’s wages. He needed to earn money for his siblings or they would all crumble into the ground.

So he set sail and went straight to the city.

(Well, he went gayly to the city. Roman had never done a straight thing in his life.)

The city life was different. It was a patchwork of a place, people crammed into alleys and teetering in tall buildings, bartering and bantering and always looking to make a buck. Above it all loomed the castle of His Majesty the Royal King, Keeper of the People, etc, etc, etc. It was the perfect place for opportunity. It was the perfect place to start a new life and make some money for yourself. Maybe even make a name.

It was also the perfect place to get robbed blind and left for dead. Or to get conned out of your wages. Or to simply be pushed aside until you joined the old woman peddling for coins at the corner of Main Street.

The farm was tough, in its own way, but at least it was honest. The soil told you what it needed and what was happening. The plants never tried to be someone else.

The city was duplicitous, scheming, folding in on itself and striking when you let your guard down.

So Roman grew a tough skin and a tougher glare. He made his way into a three-room hut with five other people and pulled enough strings to get a spot. He slept on boards in the night and looked for work in the day.

Roman loved to dance and sing. He wanted to be a hero, or a painter, or a storyteller. But heroes didn’t exist anymore, and painters didn’t get famous, and storytellers didn’t get paid.

Eventually he looked himself in the mirror, at his ginger hair and green eyes, and asked himself who he was kidding. The only way he’d get anywhere was if he flaunted what he had.

There were two things someone could do with good looks. They could take up a more…unsavory profession and make good coin. Or they could find a rich partner and get hurled up in the world. Neither of the options were wonderful, but Roman del Rey was a man of honor, so he decided to choose the latter.

Getting wed seemed an awful chore, of course. And odds were he might get matched with a girl, or someone he didn’t care for, or someone who didn’t care for him. But he needed the money to send for his family. And it was the only way to be something more than a farmer’s son sleeping on cold floorboards.

When he was younger, he’d dreamed of getting married for love.

But he’d sacrificed so many dreams. What was one more?

After three years of avoiding it, Roman was going to get married.

A few whispers in the right ears, and soon everyone heard the news. Roman del Rey was officially on the market.

---

Who?

Came from out of town. Somewhere up near Bower’s Creek.

He asked me for a job one time. I turned him down.

Jobless? Who would marry someone unemployed?

Who would marry someone so uneducated?

Who does he think he is?

Ma’am, have you seen him? He’s gorgeous. And he knows it.

People don’t just marry for looks.

And what world have you been living in?

---

Then for the first time, life gave Roman a break. A blessing. Just a bit of hope.

It also gave him a death sentence, but we’ll get to that.

Roman wasn’t very informed about the kingdom. Politics, he’d be the first to say, was not his thing. But even he knew about the King and his husbands.

His Majesty the King, Lord of all the Lands, etc, etc, etc, was an absolute prick.

He was pushing forty—or, more likely, he’d forced a servant to push it for him. He resembled a turtle with its head stuck out of its shell, with his neck and wobbly chin balanced upon a rotund figure swathed in silks. His mouth was small and sharp and looked not unlike the Nutcrackers Roman remembered from Yuletide. His eyes were beady, watery, and full of malice.

It was quite a shame that King wasn’t an elected position, because if so, the King would have been voted out. Or, more likely, he wouldn’t have signed up for the post. He didn’t seem to like people very much at all, unless he could boss them around or chop their heads off. His foreign policy was negligible. Most kingdoms simply steered clear of his beet-red face and famous temper.

One might be quite surprised that there had been no pitchforks and torches at his castle door. But the King had his claws deep within the town. Too fragmented to muster up a real rebellion, citizens contented themselves with muttering ominously and hoping for his inevitable heart attack to come a little sooner. The man was a coronary disaster—and a disaster in every other sense of the word, said the people as quietly as possible. The King didn’t take kindly to nasty comments like that, and the wrong remark could land you on the chopping block in front of the whole town.

Roman never attended executions. He found them despicable.

And why does it matter that the kingdom had a rather evil king and a rather apathetic populace? Because of the King’s husbands. The Queens.

The first he’d married for almost ten years. Then, in a tragic accident, the Queen died. He’d been beloved by much of the kingdom and even the King himself. They said the King was never the same afterwards.

After a year, he remarried. This marriage lasted about six months before the new husband wrangled the King into a divorce. They parted on bad terms and the second Queen went to live in another kingdom.

The third Queen, he married after only three months. This one died too, but not by any sort of accident. High treason was the accusation. ‘He pissed the King off’ was what every citizen heard. Whatever really happened, the third Queen lost his head and once again, the King ruled alone.

It wasn’t proper for a King to be without a Queen. The King knew people would judge him if he ruled alone alongside an empty throne. (Why that was his biggest concern at the moment was beyond comprehension.) So he searched for a Queen. And Roman searched for a husband.

And to make a long, bureaucratic story short? The next year found Roman del Rey, age twenty-one, married to His Majesty the King, Savior of the Broken. Etc, etc, etc.

There were no illusions of it being a marriage of anything but convenience. Roman loathed the King and the King couldn’t care a whit about him. Roman needed money for his family. The King needed someone to serve tea at luncheons, look pretty in portraits, and maintain some illusion of a competent government.

Roman was good at maintaining illusions. He was good at looking pretty. He didn’t know how to serve tea, but he could learn.

Most of all, he could play nice. He could smile and wave to the people, smile and bow to the lords, and smile and nod as the King talked. He could smile until he felt everything within him dry up.

Those first few months were hard. Roman wasn’t used to being waited on. He wasn’t used to the perpetual attention. He wasn’t used to the King himself, a volatile man who would blow up at the first sign of treachery or sass. Roman soon learned that surviving the town may have been tough, but surviving the castle was another ordeal altogether.

One wrong word, one too-hasty smile, and Roman would end up on the chopping block.

So he sat still. He looked pretty. He played nice. He didn’t get involved, spoke only when spoken to, and served tea until he could do it with his eyes closed. He talked to the King about once a week. They slept in separate rooms. When out of public, they barely gave each other a glance. They were married in paperwork only, and Roman was a queen only in name.

Roman del Rey was twenty-one, married, and miserable.

And he would have stayed that way if it wasn’t for a guard, a kitchen worker, and a librarian’s assistant.

Virgil Storm was one of his personal guards. He’d hated the guy at first, sure he was spying on him and reporting to the King. Then Virgil had caught him crying after a particularly awful day. And instead of making fun of him, telling him to stop, or even leaving him be—Virgil sat down next to him, put an arm around his shoulders, and let him cry.

After that, they didn’t really have a choice but to be friends.

Virgil was snarky and sarcastic and loads of fun. He was also super protective of Roman, partly because of his job as a guard, partly because of his nature. Virgil acted like a human shield, viciously defending anyone who came near Roman.

Of course, he couldn’t protect Roman from everything. He had a job, after all. And Roman understood that—he was married for money and fear as well. So some nights still left Roman in tears. As he adjusted to life in the castle, those nights were fewer and farther between. Still, sometimes it was too much. And Virgil would be there, listening to Roman sob, promising things would be okay.

“Chin up, Ro,” he’d say in his gravelly voice, a sympathetic smirk on his face. “It won’t be like this forever. Soon the guy’ll kick the bucket and you’ll have the run of the place. And then you can promote me to guard captain.”

“You wish,” Roman would fire back, wiping his eyes.

“You know you love me.”

And Roman did. Virgil was the best friend he’d ever had. Roman didn’t see what he’d done to deserve him.

Through Virgil, Roman met Patton Heath, and then he met Logan Abbott, and things began to change even more.

Patton worked in the kitchens. He’d always wanted to be a baker, but things hadn’t worked out how he’d planned. Nobody would catch Patton complaining about it, though. He bore his fortune with a huge smile and goodwill towards everyone he met. Him and Roman got along right away, even though Roman felt his fake happiness paled in comparison with Patton’s true joy. Virgil had introduced the two—Virgil and Patton were childhood friends and closer than the feathers on a chicken’s back. Soon their friend group was the three of them, Virgil and Roman amicably sniping at each other and Patton playing mediator. Neither seemed to care that Roman was the Queen. And Roman found himself lowering his guard around them, just a bit.

Then came Logan Abbott.

Roman del Rey absolutely hated Logan Abbott.

Logan was everything Roman was not. Calm. Orderly. Logical. Rational. A firm believer in philosophical debate and the avoidance of ‘frivolous’ pursuits. He’d been the librarian’s assistant as long as anyone could remember—some theorized he’d sprung, fully formed, out of a dictionary and taken up residence among the shelves. Although a slender young man, he didn’t need physical strength to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with. His sharp tongue and quick wit could cut deeper than any rapier. Some servants shuddered when they spotted him, blue eyes gleaming behind black-rimmed glasses, boasting close-cropped dark hair and coffee-colored skin, his nose always three inches from a book.

Logan was also friends with Patton. This wasn’t a special distinction—everyone was friends with Patton. But somehow, the closed-off nerd and the buoyant baker hit it off. And Patton dragged Logan into the friend group, kicking and screaming.

Virgil and Logan got along right away. They were both quiet, nerdy, and too sarcastic for their own good.

Roman met Logan and immediately knew—this would be his nemesis for life.

They fought over everything. Trivial things: Favorite books. Favorite songs. Favorite seasons. Ideas: pros and cons of the monarchy. Whether trickle-down economics was sustainable. The perils of the aristocracy. Beliefs: optimism and pessimism, dreams and reality, stories and nonfiction.

Every day, they would find something to fight about. Even if they both agreed on a subject, they would discuss it until they found a point they disagreed on, and then double down on that point until they were yelling and Patton was saying “Why don’t we calm down, kiddos?” and Virgil was sighing in exasperation.

Roman loved to make Logan angry. He considered it a source of personal pride that he could break Logan’s stern, no-nonsense façade and get the guy to show some emotion.

And between you and me, Logan felt much the same. Roman had a façade of his own—a perfect, glittering smile. Getting him passionate was the closest Logan ever got to seeing the real Roman. The Roman who cried into Virgil’s shoulder at night. The Roman who smashed half the teacups in the castle when the King wasn’t looking. The Roman who wasn’t Queen Roman del Rey but was just…Roman, a farmer’s son.

The two were more alike than they realized, which only made their arguments more intense. They were too different to be friends and too alike to be friends. They might have made a good team, but arguing was too much fun to stop.

So that was how it was. Roman, Virgil, Patton, Logan. They’d meet up every afternoon in the wine cellar or the kitchen cupboard or Roman’s dressing room. After many complaints from Virgil and Patton, Roman kept the arguing to a minimum. Instead, Logan would come over to Roman’s private room every night, and they would argue until the stars lightened in the sky. Nobody could hear them, nobody could stop them, and they were free to hate each other to their heart’s content.

Roman del Rey was twenty-two, with two friends, an enemy, and a husband he barely knew. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was sustainable. And he almost began to hope—if things stayed this way, for just a few more years, the King might pass away. It could all be over if he just kept his head down, played nice, and waited.

But one night, Roman made a mistake, and it would cost him everything.

The night began, as most nights do, after the sun went down.

---

Stars lit up the sky, hanging in dewy constellations over the velvety hills. Three miles away, a woman tossed a pail of water onto a fire. Twelve miles away, a cow broke free of its pen and headed for the woods. Twenty-seven miles away, a large family of redheads pored over the latest letter from their brother, scrawled on fine parchment and mailed by a stonefaced royal officer. The ruby-red seal on the letter was already broken. There were only so many things he was allowed to say.

And almost a hundred miles away, an ex-Queen sat on his throne.

But Roman was unaware of all this. He only knew the stars, and the candles lighting up his bedchamber, and Logan Abbott, sprawled on the floor next to him, reading a book.

Roman was supposed to be reading, too. In absence of a good subject to argue about, Logan had given him assigned reading (assigned reading! The nerve! Roman would absolutely have started an argument about that, but the book did look good, and it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do) but he had quickly become bored and restless. He glanced over at Logan, whose face was screwed up in concentration. There was the cutest little wrinkle just above his nose.

But he could not appreciate it! For he was bound to this tome, forced into reading this monster of a novel, chained and shackled to the pages.

Roman sighed loudly and dramatically.

Logan turned a page.

Roman sighed even louder.

Logan’s eyes narrowed slightly. “What.”

“I’m bored.”

“Do you not have a book to read? I seem to recall--”

“It’s a boring book, Specs.” Roman rolled over on the carpet, staring at the vaulted ceiling. “It’s full of words.

“Yes, books generally have those.”

Roman whined. “I don’t wanna read it!”

Logan raised an eyebrow, still reading. “Was I mistaken in believing that you did, in fact, agree to this activity when I suggested it?”

“Well, yeah, but…” Roman rolled back over, pressing his face to the carpet and filling his eyes with misery. “I like the arguing-with-you part. Not the reading part.”

Logan made a noncommittal noise in his throat, but Roman could see his determination wavering. The pouty-face. It never failed.

“Please?” Roman asked, batting his eyelashes. “Can we stop reading and talk? I only get night with you and I don’t want to waste it reading when we could be yelling at each other.”

Logan held out for a few seconds longer. Finally, he sighed even louder than Roman. “If you must.”

Roman cheered as Logan closed his book, setting it aside delicately and steepling his fingers. They were long and thin, artists’ fingers, Roman noticed. He wondered if Logan had ever played the harpsichord.
“Well?” Logan prompted, and Roman realized he’d been staring. He couldn’t help it! Logan’s skin glowed in the candlelight like molten gold, and his glasses sat crookedly on his nose. He swept back a bit of hair and Roman wished he could tame the small cowlick he spotted above Logan’s ear.

Logan was absolutely infuriating sometimes. Someone so evil and cruel should look the part. Why did he have to look…nice?

There was truly no justice in the world.

“Well what?” Roman asked, quickly avoiding Logan’s gaze. His eyes fell to Logan’s lips. Nope, not safe either. He tried a few more spots before settling on Logan’s left shoulder. There wasn’t anything particularly special or annoying about Logan’s shoulder, was there?

“Well, what shall we talk about?” A hint of amusement colored Logan’s voice, something only those closest to him could distinguish. “Roman, don’t tell me you didn’t think this through.”

“I did!” Roman pushed himself up on his elbows, glaring at Logan. “We can talk about…um…”

Logan huffed, his infinitesimal smile growing wider. “Just what I expected.”

“Shut up.” Roman shoved Logan lightly. “If you’re so smart, you find a conversation topic.”

“Fine.” Logan stared at the window over Roman’s bed. Roman hated his bed. It was too soft and comfortable for sleeping, and the canopy above it made him feel trapped. For a while, he’d tossed the blankets on the floor and slept on those instead. After a few snippy comments from the King, who’d found out from one of the many servants, Roman forced himself to sleep in the bed. It never felt right, but he covered up his dark circles with makeup and played nice.

Roman shook himself. Now wasn’t the time for that. Not with Logan here.

“I’m waiting,” Roman teased, scooting closer to Logan and jostling his shoulder. Logan sent him an exasperated look, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. The nerd looked tired, and Roman felt a flash of pain. Had he been overworked? Had something happened?

“Are you alright?” Roman asked before he could stop himself.

Logan almost dropped his glasses. “What?”

“I dunno.” Roman shifted, looking away. “Just…you seem tired, is all.”

“Hmm.” Logan shrugged. “It was a long day. Lots of shelving books.” He extended his hand, which was covered with red marks. “So many paper cuts.”

“Oh, the humanity!” Roman threw a fist in the air. “Those dastardly books shall not get away with these villainous deeds! They will answer to my wrath!”

Logan watched him, an amused smile playing around his lips. Yes. Good. Make him laugh.

“You know,” Logan said, “you’ll just get a bunch of paper-cuts as well if you try to slice them with your sword.”

“Who said I would attack them with my sword?”

“Please.” Logan motioned to Roman’s sword, tossed on the carpet near his hand. “It’s the only form of combat you’re good at.”

Roman smirked. “I fancy myself rather good at verbal sparring. If I was less adept with my speech, you’d have won every argument we have.”

“I still do.”

“Heresy!”

Logan tilted his head slightly, as if thinking something through. “Roman?”

“Yes?”

“…How was your day?”

Roman stared at Logan. “Seriously?”

“You asked me first,” Logan pointed out, looking awkward. “It seemed only fair to reciprocate the question.”

“Huh.” Roman couldn’t stop a small, genuine smile. “Thanks, Specs.”

“It…it was no problem.”

“Thanks,” Roman repeated. “My day was horrible, but thanks.”

“Oh.” Logan’s eyebrows wrinkled with concern. “Do you…want to talk about it?”

Roman rolled over, spread-eagled on the carpet, staring once again at the ceiling. He was wearing the simplest pajamas he’d been offered, but they were still worth more than his family’s yearly wages. The light silk whisked over his skin.

“Not much to talk about,” Roman said. “Some days are like that.”

Logan carefully lay down next to Roman. “What makes them so terrible? From what I can see, your life is…adequate.”

Roman snorted. “Yeah, in some ways, I lucked out.”

“In others?”

Roman sighed, tugging his fingers through his hair. “I wish I’d sucked it up and stayed a farmer.”

Logan raised an eyebrow. “You grew up on a farm?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought…well, I thought you were of high status before this. I didn’t expect the King to marry a commoner.”

“Me neither,” Roman admitted. “He tries to cover it up as much as possible. I think he’s ashamed of it.”

“Then why did he marry you?” Logan asked. “If you’re comfortable with saying.”

“’Cause I’m pretty.” Roman almost spat the words. “And ‘cause I shut up and do what I’m told.”

“You don’t like him.” It wasn’t a question.

“I despise him,” Roman said coldly. “And I’m sure he knows, and I’m sure he feels the same way towards me. But he hasn’t found a good excuse to divorce me or kill me yet, so there’s that.”

Logan didn’t respond. Maybe he couldn’t think of what to say. They usually argued over books and philosophy, not complained about marriage. Had Roman made Logan uncomfortable? He totally made him uncomfortable! Logan just wanted a quick-and-easy answer and Roman pulled out all the stops! Why did he have to be so dramatic and stupid?

Roman pushed himself off the carpet, slapping a smile on his face. “But I get it! I agreed to this, and you reap what you sow. Besides,” he added, his smile souring, “I haven’t got much else going for me, y’know? This is the best I’ll get.”

“Hey.” Logan’s voice was soft and firm. “Roman, look at me.”

Roman did. Logan was seated across from him, legs curled criss-cross-applesauce. He was wearing his usual tie and dark overshirt, but his jacket had been cast aside early on. His usual glasses were lying next to him as well. He probably couldn’t see a thing, but his eyes looked their usual sharp selves. Blue and icy, glittering in the candlelight. His whole face looked different without those glasses. Roman could pick out his sharp cheekbones, the slight depression around his eyes, the crook of his chin and a little wrinkle on his forehead between his dark eyebrows. His mouth was slightly open, his eyes widened, an expression of such concern and compassion that Roman almost melted. What had he done to make Logan look like that?

Beautiful, he thought, before he could stop himself.

No—no, not supposed to think that. He was married, if only in name. And Logan was off-limits. Way out of his league. Not status-wise, Roman could care less about that. But he was too smart, too controlled, too beautiful. Roman couldn’t compare to Logan Abbott.

Roman shook himself. Usually he was better at avoiding this train of thought. But he was exhausted, and the candlelight flickered over Logan’s face, and his teeth chewed on his lip as he debated what to say next, and Roman had always been weak.

“Roman,” Logan repeated. “You’re—I mean, you’re—”

“I’m what?” Roman teased, scooting closer and trying to hide the butterflies hatching in his stomach. “Finish your sentences, Teach.”

Logan rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to complement you and you’re being irritating.”

“Complement me?” Roman batted his eyes. “Oh, do you think I’m the finest man who ever walked the earth? That I make angels sing when I speak? That my voice is like Orpheus’, commanding the rocks to cry?”

Logan snickered. “You’re definitely the most egotistical man who ever walked the earth.”

“I thought you said you were trying to complement me!”

“Be quiet,” Logan ordered. “I’m gathering my thoughts.”

Roman obediently zipped his lips. At this point, if Logan asked him to jump, he’d say ‘how high?’

“You’re…you’re the only person who’s never found me irritating,” Logan finally said.

“What are you talking about? We’ve hated each other for months.”

Logan waved his hand. “Yes, but…you kept talking to me. You never just shunned me altogether. You never said I was bad at feelings or stupid or a robot or anything like that, which many other people have. And I believe we’re friends now. Unless I’ve entirely misread the situation, we’re friends. Besides Virgil and Patton, I’ve…I haven’t really had a friend before.”

Roman made a little pained noise. Logan rolled his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that. Patton and Virgil are wonderful. Three friends is more than enough for me.”

“You’re not a robot,” Roman said.

“I know.” Logan smiled, just a bit. “And you’re not just pretty. You’re smart, and funny, and so kind, and…and wonderful. You make me…better.”

Roman’s eyes burned. He felt something growing inside of him, joy and fear and pride and love. So much love. For this nerd who he fought with daily, who he’d always believed saw Roman as an annoyance, but who thought he was wonderful.

Roman could sing.

And Logan must have seen his thoughts in his face, because he flushed slightly and glanced away, fidgeting with his tie.

“Thank you,” Roman said. It felt inadequate to what he’d been given.

“You’re welcome,” Logan said quietly. “It was no trouble. And, Roman?”

“Yes?”

Logan looked back up at him. “If the King hurts you…he will get the worst of paper cuts. And I will hide all of his favorite books in the wrong section of the library so he can’t find them. And then I will kill him.”

Roman laughed softly. “Glad you’re on my side, Specs.”

Logan looked pleased with himself. “Thank you.”

“No, seriously.” Roman was inches from Logan now. “You’re really…cool. And I’m lucky to have you.”

Logan had to be blushing. He opened his mouth slightly, making a little noise of confusion and—not just confusion, there was something else there, there was only a small space between them and Roman could feel his heart exploding in his chest—

For one whole year he’d played nice and faked a smile and ignored what he wanted so his family could be supported and the kingdom could be happy. For one whole year he’d fought with Logan and convinced himself they could never be more than comfortable enemies. For one whole year he’d pushed down the anger and the sadness and the love and everything he wasn’t supposed to have.

And Logan was right here, gleaming in the candlelight, finally at a loss for words.

Roman del Rey knew exactly what he wanted.

He was already less than an inch from Logan’s face. Without realizing it, he’d leaned closer. He could see every fleck in Logan’s eyes, the curve of his nose and the dip above his lips. Logan wasn’t pulling away, his mouth still hanging open.

Roman caught it with his own.

The kiss was about a few seconds long, simultaneously too long and far too short. Roman felt heat swim under his skin and knew another moment of connection would burn him up. Logan was so soft, though, and though it was a peck with Logan barely kissing back, Roman knew there was so much more under the surface. It was simple, sweet, affectionate—but with longing coiled deep within.

Roman pulled away, opening his eyes slightly (when had he closed them? He didn’t remember) to look at Logan’s face. Logan was still frozen, mouth still open, cheeks flushed brilliantly. A moment passed and Logan still didn’t speak.

“Was that okay?” Roman asked quietly. “I’m so sorry, I thought—I don’t know, I’m sorry, I—”

Logan licked his lips. “It’s fine, I—”

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, did I ruin everything, oh god I ruined everything—”

“Roman.”

Roman stopped talking.

Because Logan’s voice was low and breathless and did absolutely sinful things to Roman. Because he was still only an inch away and Roman could feel his breath and his hand was curling into Roman’s oh my gosh-peck yes--

“Roman,” Logan repeated. It was almost a groan, saying everything Logan couldn’t. Asking.

And after that, what could Roman do but kiss him?

This time, Logan kissed back. He tangled his fingers in Roman’s hair and they kissed like their life depended on it. They kissed like they fought—giving and taking and darting around each other, intense and passionate and never surrendering. Roman scraped his teeth along Logan’s bottom lip and Logan arched his back, grabbing at Roman’s shirt. Logan tugged at Roman’s hair and Roman whined automatically. Logan’s hands slipped under Roman’s shirt, pressing at Roman’s shoulder bones, tracing his ribs, scratching his sides. One of them would take control, pressing the other down, and then it flipped, Roman getting the upper hand or Logan sucking at Roman’s neck and making him almost collapse. They ended up on the ground, Logan under Roman, pressing every inch of their bodies together. As if they could fuse, become one, catch fire like a match struck against the wall.

What had Roman been doing all his life? Why had he kissed anyone else, talked to anyone else, when this was here waiting for him?

Logan Abbott. Logan Abbott, Logan Abbott, holy hell, Logan Abbott.

Then something shifted. It could have been Logan accidentally banging his elbow on the ground, or Roman’s pajamas slipping from his shoulder, or simply something in the air that changed. And Roman remembered where he was and who he was and all the reasons he shouldn’t be doing this.

Logan seemed to remember too, if the way his eyes flew open was any indication. Roman quickly rolled off Logan, who sat up, reaching for his glasses.

“I’m so sorry,” Roman said again. Except he wasn’t, not really.

“It’s fine,” Logan said, adjusting his tie.

“Yeah.”

“Uh-huh.”

Things were suddenly very awkward. Roman pointedly stared at his feet as Logan tugged his shirt into position, afraid that if he looked at Logan again he’d lose the semblance of self-control he’d found.

“I…” Logan looked around. “I should go.”

“Yeah.”

Logan glanced at Roman, and looked away. “I’m…I’m sorry, too. This was a mistake, and it was irrational, and I apologize.”

Roman clenched his fist, trying not to cry. This was a mistake.

It was. Of course it was. But Logan didn’t have to say it so callously. Like it didn’t matter at all. Like he hadn’t kissed back.

“I’m sorry I dragged you into this,” Roman said. “It wasn’t fair to you.”

“It’s okay.” Logan walked toward the door. “I’ll…I’ll be going now.”

Roman watched Logan pull open the door. “Don’t—don’t tell anyone,” he blurted out. “Please. If anyone found out, I—we—”

“I know.” Logan paused, sighing. “I know.”

“I’m so sorry,” Roman said again, his voice breaking.

Logan smiled, just barely. “I forgive you.”

The door closed behind him, and Roman was alone in his room. A room he never wanted, filled with luxuries he didn’t deserve, in the castle of the man he hated. The man who gave him everything and gave him nothing at the same time.

Quietly, so not to wake the guards, Roman del Rey cried.

Downstairs, surrounded by books, a librarian’s assistant did the same.