Chapter 1: The Whale's Belly
It’s meant to be a secret.
Most of the crew don’t know it’s there. Not even Will knows, and he thinks he knows everything. The only reason Kurt knows is that he overheard the first mate, Riggs, talking to the bosun when they thought they were alone in the galley.
Kurt hates Riggs, a nasty hulking lout with more muscles than wits. Most of the other sailors are kind enough, or at least tolerant of Kurt’s quiet presence, but Riggs acts as though the mere sight of him is a grave personal offense. If Kurt’s father knew of the coarse words Riggs has thrown Kurt’s way, he would have ordered him off the ship ages ago – overboard, if necessary. But the King isn’t here. There is some dispute in the north that requires his close attention, and the voyage to Calpurri is a long one even by sea, so Kurt is traveling to visit his mother’s family alone. True, his tutor is accompanying him, but Riggs seems to have even less regard for Will than he does for Kurt. There’s no point in asking him to intervene.
In any case, what does it matter? Kurt is the Crown Prince, the future King, and Riggs is nothing more than a foul-mouthed brute with blurry tattoos and ragged, dirt-blackened fingernails. Soon enough, they will arrive in Calpurri, and Kurt will never have to see Riggs or any of the other crew members again.
And besides, if Riggs was speaking truth about what he and the bosun are hiding in the hold, Kurt will forgive every slur that’s ever fallen from his gap-toothed mouth.
The sailors love to talk about the monsters that live in the sea, almost as much as they love to boast about all the wenches they’ve tumbled. Kurt privately suspects the creatures are as imaginary as the women, but he likes listening to the stories. The sailors say that the monsters are half-man and half-fish, with rows of sharp, jagged teeth like a shark’s; that they guard vast watery caves filled with the riches of sunken ships; that they sing songs of terrible beauty to entice men overboard, luring them to their deaths.
The idea that Riggs has somehow managed to outwit and capture one of those cunning, dangerous creatures is laughable. Most likely, he’s lying about the thing hidden away in the cargo hold, deep in the bowels of the ship.
But if he’s not – well. It’s not every day you get to see a real, live monster, is it?
Kurt sneaks out of his cabin late at night, after Will has already been snoring for hours. Most of the men are below deck, asleep or drunk enough that they may as well be, and it’s simple enough to make his way to the hold without being seen. He eases the door open as quietly as he can, wincing at the creak of the old hinges, until there’s just enough space to let him slip through.
It’s pitch-black inside the hold, cut off from the lamps and moonlight that illuminate the deck. Kurt fumbles in his pocket for the candle and fire-starter he brought with him. He’s long outgrown his childish fear of the dark, but there is something about this place – the boundless possibilities that exist in such a total absence of light – that makes the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Besides, the last thing he wants is to stumble blindly into the monster, like Mrs. Rose tripping over one of the palace cats.
He breathes easier once the candle is lit. He creeps further inside, the small flame throwing a pale, wobbly light onto the towering walls of crates lining his path. The hold is packed full, rows upon rows of barrels and bulging sacks piled on top of each other. The makeshift corridor through the stacks of cargo is narrow and winding, snaking this way and that like the path in a hedge maze. At some points, it’s barely wide enough for even Kurt to pass. He can’t imagine how that oaf Riggs squeezes through without bringing an avalanche of crates down on his thick-skulled head.
The farther he ventures into the maze, the more doubtful he grows that he’s going to find anything. If there were a monster in here with him, wouldn’t he hear it? Surely it would be doing something: growling or hissing, or rattling its cage, or singing its dreadful song.
Unless…unless it knows he’s here, and it’s keeping silent deliberately, so as to draw him into its trap. Maybe it knows its song wouldn’t work down here, and it’s forced to wait until its prey comes close enough to attack.
Kurt eyes the next bend in the corridor with a little more trepidation.
What choice does he have, though? He can either keep going, or he can turn around and go back the way he came, fleeing from the very idea of danger like the coward Riggs thinks he is.
He puffs himself up a bit, drawing his shoulders back and lifting his chin. He’s come this far. He has to see the thing through.
He approaches the bend slowly, quiet as a mouse. It’s probably just his imagination playing tricks on him, but he fancies that he does hear something now: a thin, sharp sound, like the faint wail of a distant wind.
He peers around the bend, holding the candle out just far enough that its light spills into the darkness beyond – and has to clap his hand over his mouth to keep from gasping aloud.
It’s close, curled up a few steps away in a wide wooden washtub. From where he’s standing, Kurt can just make out a hint of what must be its tail, dark green and glittering, mostly submerged underwater. The monster’s face is hidden, head buried in its skinny arms. It doesn’t seem to have noticed Kurt’s presence. It could almost be sleeping, but for the noise it makes every few seconds.
What is that noise? Kurt cups his hand behind his ear and listens intently, but he still can’t quite make out what it is he’s hearing. Perhaps the monster is snoring, though Kurt has never heard anything snore like that, man or beast. It doesn’t sound like any kind of song, either, certainly not something powerful enough to bewitch a grown man. Maybe if he just gets a bit closer…
He takes a cautious step forward, but it’s not cautious enough: the floorboards squeal under his foot, and the monster’s head shoots up, revealing two huge glowing eyes.
Kurt scrambles backwards in surprise, nearly tumbling onto his backside. He brandishes the candle in front of him to ward off an attack, hoping fervently that sea monsters are as terrified of fire as the stories say. It must be true, because the monster doesn’t make the slightest move toward him. It doesn’t lunge at him, doesn’t even snarl or bare its hideous fangs. It just sits there in the washtub and looks at him, a small trembling heap of tan skin and green-gold scales.
Kurt wasn’t expecting it to be so small.
In fact, now that he can see its face, the monster doesn’t look very fearsome at all. It hasn’t got talons long enough to pierce a man’s heart, nor a razor-sharp fin glinting up its back. There are no sea serpents writhing on top of its head, just a salt-stiff mass of knotted curls. If it has rows of jagged teeth, it’s hiding them quite well inside a very ordinary-looking mouth.
Aside from the tail, the only truly remarkable thing about the creature are its eyes, which are a shocking, unnatural gold, gleaming in the candlelight.
“Why, you’re not a monster at all,” Kurt says aloud, surprised and a little disappointed. “You’re just a boy.”
He steps forward again, more confident this time, but the boy flinches at his approach, shrinking away so violently that water sloshes around him, slopping over the side of the washtub. He huddles back against the far side of the tub, cowering like a kicked dog, and Kurt realizes with a sudden shock that the boy is frightened of him.
He almost laughs at the absurdity of it: a savage monster from the ocean depths, afraid of a twelve-year-old boy. The sailors must be even stupider than he thought.
Kurt holds up his hands, careful not to tilt the candle. “It’s all right,” he says, trying to mimic the soothing tone the stable master uses with skittish colts. He sinks down to his knees so he and the boy are on the same level. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The boy doesn’t react, just stares at him with his big golden eyes.
“Do you understand me?” Kurt asks tentatively.
The boy nods, slowly, like he’s not certain it’s the correct answer.
“Can you speak?”
Another nod, and a whispered yes, so quiet that Kurt almost misses it.
That’s something, at least. Kurt sits back on his heels and tries to think of what to say next. How does one engage in polite conversation with a sea creature? He supposes there’s only one way to begin. “My name is Kurt.”
“Kurt,” the boy repeats. The name rolls peculiarly from his tongue, lilting and rich. Kurt rather likes the sound of it.
He waits a moment for the boy to respond in kind. When he doesn’t, Kurt prompts, “Do you have a name?”
The boy opens his mouth, and what comes out is a word like none Kurt has ever heard before, tinkling and resonant at the same time, like the jingle of wind chimes heard underwater.
It’s so surprising that Kurt laughs out loud. The boy shrinks back again, obviously hurt, and Kurt immediately feels terrible. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – it’s beautiful, your name. I just can’t repeat it. Not in a thousand years.”
The boy frowns. “I can say your name,” he says in his strange, lovely voice.
“Well, you must be cleverer than I am.”
The corners of the boy’s mouth tilt up, just a bit, hinting at a smile.
Kurt shuffles forward a bit, still on his knees. The boy doesn’t seem to mind this time, watching with some interest as Kurt settles down next to the washtub.
“We could give you a human name,” Kurt suggests. “So I have something to call you.”
The boy looks intrigued. “Like what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. There are lots of names.” He ticks some off on his fingers. “Brandon. Robert. Edward. Matthias. Saul. Jerome. Do you like any of those?”
The boy lifts one thin brown shoulder in a shrug.
“All right, let me think. There’s Henry, or Adam, or Philip, or, ah…Ferdinand?”
The boy’s nose wrinkles.
“You don’t look like a Ferdinand,” Kurt agrees. “Let’s see, there’s John, Alistair, Noah – no, not Noah, you’re too nice to be a Noah – Andrew, Eric, Blaine – “
“I like that one,” the boy says. “The last one you said. Blaine.”
“You do?” The boy nods, and Kurt smiles. “In that case, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Blaine.”
Blaine gives him a shy little smile in return. He seems much less afraid now.
Kurt feels quite pleased with himself. In the space of five minutes, he’s discovered a monster that’s not really a monster, calmed him and given him a name, and maybe made a friend, as well. The girls at home will never believe this.
“Are you hungry?” He digs in his pocket for the bit of jerky he brought with him. Of course, he brought it just in case he needed something to fling in the monster’s face as a distraction while he escaped, but Blaine doesn’t need to know that. “It’s as tough as boot leather, and tastes worse, but it’s food.”
There’s a jangle of chains as Blaine reaches for the jerky; Kurt notices for the first time that one of his wrists is bound with a heavy iron manacle. He takes the jerky and examines it curiously, turning it over in his hands. He bites down on it, and seems surprised when the dried meat doesn’t give.
“I told you, it’s tough. You have to gnaw at it.”
Blaine tries again, worrying the meat between his teeth. Kurt can see now that they aren’t human teeth after all, but they’re nothing like a shark’s, either. They’re more like kitten teeth, small and pointy. Certainly nothing to be frightened of. They can barely cut through the jerky, though Blaine does manage it with some effort. He rolls the bite around in his mouth before swallowing, like he’s trying to work out how it tastes. “What kind of fish is this?”
“It’s not fish. It’s venison.”
Blaine looks at him blankly. Oh, of course he doesn’t know what venison is. He’s probably never even seen a deer before.
“It’s from a big animal that lives on land,” Kurt explains. “They’re good for eating.”
“Fish are better,” Blaine says mildly, and goes to work on the jerky again.
Now that the other boy has relaxed and uncurled a bit, Kurt can see that Blaine looks to be about his size, perhaps slightly smaller. From the belly up, he’s shaped just like a human boy, with a narrow chest, perfectly normal shoulders and arms and hands, and a pile of tangled black hair. The only things out of the ordinary are his eyes, his teeth, and the three long slits on each side of his neck, each one stippled with tiny scales, the same gilded green as his tail. Gills, Kurt realizes with a thrill.
“I like your necklace,” Blaine says suddenly, speaking around a mouthful of jerky.
Kurt reaches up to touch his pendant, stroking a finger over the smooth sea glass. “Thank you.” He hesitates, then admits, “I like your tail.”
“Thank you,” Blaine echoes politely, though he seems puzzled. “It’s just a normal tail.”
“Normal to you, maybe. I’ve never met a boy with a tail before.”
“Well, I’ve never met a boy with tentacles like yours,” Blaine says.
Kurt laughs. “They’re called ‘legs.’”
“Legs.” Blaine ponders this as he finishes the last of the jerky. “Can you swim with them?”
“A bit. Not as well as you, I’m sure. But we don’t need to swim. That’s what we have ships for.”
Blaine’s face falls. He looks away, down into the murky water around him. “Yes,” he says quietly. “You have your ships.”
Kurt feels uneasy, his stomach twisting unpleasantly as he watches Blaine’s hand drift over the surface of the water. “How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to tell – it’s always dark in here. I’m glad you brought one of those things.” Blaine nods at the candle. “The man brings one, too, but he never stays this long.”
“Riggs?” Blaine doesn’t know, of course, so Kurt hastens to clarify: “Big, ugly man with black hair? Curses every other word?”
“Yes, that sounds like him. He’s the one who caught me, he and one other man. They brought me here and put this on me – ” Blaine indicates the iron band around his wrist, the chain trailing away from it over the other side of the tub. “ – and said that if I made a sound or tried to escape, they’d gut me right here and throw me back overboard for the sharks. I’ve only seen the big one a few times since then.”
“He must be coming down at night, after everyone is asleep,” Kurt says. He hopes fervently that Riggs has already made his nightly visit. “He wouldn’t come during the day, not if he and the bosun are keeping it a secret from the other men. The only reason I know is that I fell asleep in a barrel and overheard them talking.”
“Lucky for me that you did. You’re a better visitor than he is.” Blaine curls his tail up against his chest and wraps his arms around the curve of it. “What are they going to do with me?”
“I don’t know.” It sounds rude just saying it like that – dismissive, the way Riggs talks to him – so he adds, “Sorry. I’d tell you, if I knew. We’re sailing to Calpurri, but it’ll be at least another week before we arrive. They might have something planned along the way.”
Blaine rests his chin on his tail. “I think they’re going to sell me. Hang me up on a hook and scrape off my scales with a sharp blade.”
“That’s awful,” Kurt says, horrified. “Why would you think that?” Riggs is a wretched excuse for a man, there’s no question about that, but even he couldn’t possibly be so cruel. Blaine is just a boy.
Blaine shivers. “It’s what humans do to our kind. My mother told me so.”
Kurt is even more surprised at this revelation than the one before it. “You have a mother?”
“Of course I do,” Blaine says, giving him a strange look. “Everyone has a mother.”
Kurt drops his gaze. “I don’t. Not anymore.”
There’s a little wet, splashing noise, like Blaine is moving around. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Kurt says. It’s not, really, but it hardly compares with Blaine’s current predicament. He touches his pendant again. “It was hers. My necklace, I mean. It was my mother’s.”
“It’s pretty,” Blaine offers.
Kurt closes his hand around the pendant. “So was she.”
They sit silently for a long while: Kurt thinking of his mother, Blaine probably thinking of his. Around them, the ship creaks and sways, groaning its way across the waves. This deep in the hold, it feels almost as though they are in the belly of a great whale, swallowed whole like the fisherman in the story.
He shares this thought with Blaine, who seems skeptical. “Whales don’t eat people,” he says. “The big ones don’t even eat fish.”
Kurt frowns. He’s never heard that before, but he supposes Blaine would know. “What do they eat, then?”
He can’t make sense of the word Blaine provides, so Blaine tries to explain: “They’re not like fish at all. They haven’t got any bones, just a sort of shell. And they’re very small, with lots of little…” He wriggles his fingers, imitating the movement of tiny legs.
“Like spiders?” Kurt asks, appalled. “Whales eat spiders? That’s vile.”
Blaine shrugs. “Everything has to eat something.”
Kurt eyes him suspiciously. “You don’t eat those things, do you?”
“I’m not a whale,” Blaine says, in a tone that suggests he’s starting to question Kurt’s intelligence.
Kurt is relieved, though he tries not to show it. He likes Blaine, but he’s not sure he could be friends with a spider-eater. “Well, I’ll make sure to bring along some fish the next time I come. I’m sorry about the jerky – it was all I had.”
“It was fine,” Blaine says politely. He watches as Kurt rises to his feet. “You’re leaving?”
“I have to go. I need to get back to bed before my tutor realizes I’m gone.” And before Riggs decides to come down for another visit, he doesn’t add.
Blaine sinks down into the water. “Can’t you stay?” He suddenly seems very small, much too young to be left here alone in the dark. Kurt wishes he could leave the candle with him, at least, but he needs it to find his way out.
“If they catch me in here, we’ll both be in trouble,” he says. “But I’ll come back. I’ll come and see you again tomorrow. I’ll bring you a candle, and some fish to eat.”
“Do you promise?” Blaine asks, with a wide-eyed pleading look that makes Kurt’s stomach hurt again.
“I promise,” Kurt says. He lays a hand on Blaine’s bare, bony shoulder. “And I never break a promise to a friend.”
Back in his bed, Kurt lies awake for ages. He’s exhausted, but his mind won’t quiet enough to let him fall asleep. His head is full of unsettling thoughts, and he flits between them for hours, worrying at each one like a dog with a bone.
He thinks about Blaine’s mother, waiting for him at home. (Do the sea people have homes? He’s afraid to ask. He doesn’t want Blaine to think he’s stupid.)
He thinks about his own mother: the scent of her hair, the softness of her hands. He thinks about how she used to scold him for wandering off, and how worried she would have been if he had disappeared entirely one day.
He thinks about Blaine, curled up in his washtub in the dark, all alone in the whale’s belly. He thinks about Blaine’s shy smile, and his pretty lilting voice. He thinks about Blaine’s golden eyes and his gills and the way he gnawed at the jerky with his funny little kitten teeth.
He thinks about Blaine’s small body gutted and laid out on a table at the fish stalls, eyes as round and lifeless as marbles, sunlight glinting off his shimmering green-gold tail.
Kurt can’t let that happen. He can’t.
He has to do something – but what can he do? Prince or no prince, he has no power on this ship. The kindest of the sailors still treat him like a silly child, like a pet to be humored and looked after. He can’t even demand the deference he’s owed from them; they’ll never obey an order that puts them in conflict with the first mate.
If his father were here, he could fix everything. There’s no way he’d let an innocent boy be slaughtered, and the crew would leap to his command the way they never would to Kurt’s. But the King is in Lima, many days’ journey back the way they came. By the time Kurt could get a message to him, it might already be too late.
It wouldn’t do any good to tell Will. He might be sympathetic – he’s soft-hearted about the most unexpected things sometimes – but even if he tried to help, odds are he’d just make a mess of everything. Better to leave him out of it entirely.
Kurt doesn’t trust any of the individual sailors to help him. They may not be in on Riggs’s scheme, but he doubts there’s a single one of them who couldn’t be bought for the right price. They might even try to steal Blaine to sell themselves.
No, he can’t risk getting anyone else involved. It’s too big of a gamble, and one he can’t afford to lose. Blaine’s life is at stake.
If he’s going to save Blaine, he’ll have to do it alone.
Blaine is awake and alert when Kurt arrives the next night. He screws his eyes up against the sudden light from Kurt’s candle, squinting hopefully in his direction, and perks up when he realizes who it is. “Kurt! You came back!”
“I told you I would.” Kurt smiles at him, aware that his is the only friendly face Blaine has seen in quite a while. He sets the candle down and reaches into his pocket, rummaging around for the things he stuck in there earlier. “I don’t have any fish for you, I’m afraid.”
“Oh.” Blaine’s excitement dims slightly, but his eyes are still bright and eager, darting between Kurt’s face and his pocket. “That’s all right. I’m just glad you’re here.”
“I can’t stay long.”
“No?” This disappointment hits Blaine harder than the first, it seems. He slumps down in the washtub, deflated. “Are you sure?”
“Oh, I’m sure.” Kurt triumphantly draws out two long, slender bits of metal from his pocket. “Because we’re getting you out of here, Blaine. Tonight. Right now.”
Blaine’s reaction isn’t anything like Kurt imagined. He doesn’t cheer or shout or wriggle around happily in his tub. He doesn’t even smile. He just sits there gaping at Kurt, open-mouthed and round-eyed, like…well, like a fish.
“You do want to get out, don’t you?” Kurt asks, suddenly uncertain.
Blaine nods vigorously – so vigorously that Kurt thinks his head might just pop off. “Of course I do. But…how…?”
“Just leave that to me,” Kurt says, with lofty confidence. He’s always wanted to say that. “Here, give me your wrist. The one with the chain.”
Blaine thrusts his arm out without hesitation. Kurt inspects the manacle, sizing up the work ahead of him. The cuff is thick and unwieldy but snug, fastened tight around Blaine’s narrow wrist. Kurt doesn’t want to think about why Riggs would have easy access to irons small enough for a child.
“Won’t you get in trouble?” Blaine asks softly, watching as Kurt begins poking around the lock with the rods he brought.
“I’m the King’s son,” Kurt says, trying to sound braver than he feels. “Riggs isn’t going to sell me at the fish stalls.”
In truth, if Riggs and the bosun find out he’s set Blaine free, they’ll probably skin him alive, or at the very least toss him overboard for the sharks like they threatened to do to Blaine. That just means Kurt has to make sure he doesn’t get caught. And how hard could it possibly be to outsmart those two blundering idiots?
It takes him the better part of twenty minutes to pick the lock holding the manacle closed. It’s much harder than Santana makes it seem, and there are moments that Kurt nearly despairs of ever managing it. But the expression on Blaine’s face keeps him trying, and trying, and trying again. No one has ever looked at him like that before: like he’s the sort of prince they tell tales of in storybooks, the ones who slay dragons and outwit wicked sorceresses, rescuing maidens and freeing enslaved kingdoms with nothing but their swords and cleverness and courage. No one has ever looked at him like he’s a hero.
For Blaine, he thinks, he can be a hero – even if it’s just for this one night.
At last, the lock surrenders to Kurt’s persistence, and the cuff falls away from Blaine’s wrist, leaving him chafed and bruised but free.
“I did it,” Kurt says, amazed with himself.
“You did it,” Blaine repeats, in an entirely different tone of voice. He’s cradling his wrist to his chest, but his eyes are fixed on Kurt, shining gold and glowing with admiration.
Kurt grins, buoyed up with renewed confidence. “All right, Blaine. Let’s get you home.”
They nearly tip the washtub over trying to get Blaine out. Blaine does his best to haul himself over the side, but he can’t quite get there. His arms tremble under him, and his thin chest heaves for breath, gills flaring uselessly at his neck. He must be exhausted – and hungry, Kurt realizes with a twinge of guilt. He should have brought the fish anyway. Who knows when the last time was that Riggs bothered to bring Blaine anything to eat?
“Here, let me help,” he says. He slides his arms under Blaine’s, wrapping them carefully around his chest. Blaine’s skin is cold and very smooth under his hands, just damp enough to be slippery. “On the count of three: one, two, three – “
Blaine heaves, and Kurt pulls, and they both go crashing to the floor in a sprawl of limbs and wet clothes. Kurt hits his elbow at just the wrong angle as he falls; the sharp pain is shocking, leaving him stunned and breathless on his back.
“Are you all right?” Blaine asks. He’s propped himself up on one arm, peering anxiously down at Kurt with those big eyes. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Kurt rubs at his elbow, wincing. “No, I’m fine. Just landed wrong, that’s all.” He pushes himself up, tries to get his feet under him, but there’s something holding him down, a solid weight pinning his leg to the –
“Oh!” Blaine exclaims. He jerks away, taking the weight of his tail with him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize – “
“It’s fine,” Kurt mumbles, barely listening. He’s mesmerized by the sight of that gorgeous tail. He hasn’t gotten a good look at it before now, and he can’t help but stare. It starts just below Blaine’s belly, a smattering of glittering scales right under where his navel should be, and tapers down in a sleek, sinuous curve all the way to the graceful flare of the fin at the bottom, translucent and delicate.
“Kurt?” Blaine sounds concerned this time. He draws his tail a bit farther away from Kurt. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Kurt shakes himself out of his daze. “I’m sorry,” he says, and means it. He doesn’t know what’s gotten into him. “It’s just…it’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s just a tail,” Blaine says, the same as he said yesterday.
It’s not – not to Kurt, anyway – but Blaine is clearly uncomfortable, and Kurt is starting to feel embarrassed himself, his cheeks warming with the first hint of what could easily flame into a blazing full-face flush if he doesn’t tamp down on it. He scrambles to his feet and brushes himself off, steeling himself for the next stage of their escape. “All right, let’s go. We have to hurry.”
Blaine can’t exactly walk out of the hold, so Kurt half-carries, half-drags him, Blaine doing his best to hold the candle steady as Kurt steers them awkwardly around the maze’s tight corners. Blaine is heavier than Kurt expected; he supposes the tail must weigh quite a lot. They’re both breathing hard by the time they reach the door.
Kurt leaves Blaine propped against a barrel while he checks outside to make sure there’s no one around. They’re in luck. In the time it took him to get Blaine out of the hold, the storm that’s been threatening all day has broken. It’s pouring outside, a hard driving rain, sheets of water pelting down to shatter against the deck. Lightning crackles across the sky, chased by great booming peals of thunder. Even the watchman will likely be down below, waiting out the worst of the storm. If they’re ever going to get Blaine off the ship, now is the time.
They abandon the candle. The rain would snuff it out in an instant, and they don’t need it so much anymore, not with the occasional blaze of lightning to illuminate their path.
It doesn’t take long for them to make it over to the side of the ship, but they’re both drenched when they get there, soaked through from the torrential rainfall. The rain makes it difficult to get Blaine up onto the rail. His wet skin is impossibly slippery, and Kurt keeps losing his grip. He just can’t get the right leverage, especially with his arms already aching and quivering from having carried Blaine this far.
After the sixth or seventh failed attempt, Kurt cautiously moves one hand from Blaine’s back down to his tail, hoping that he’s not doing something terribly offensive. He can hardly keep track of all the rules of etiquette in his own father’s court, and he has no idea what sort of conventions the sea people might have.
Blaine doesn’t seem upset or even startled, so Kurt curls his arm more firmly around his tail and uses the hold to (finally) heave Blaine onto the rail. Not a moment too soon, either: the rain is starting to die down, and the captain will surely be coming up on deck soon to ensure that nothing was damaged in the storm. They’re running out of time.
Blaine cranes his neck back to look down at the waves below. He braces his arms against the rail, preparing to tip himself over, and panic flares suddenly in Kurt’s stomach. This is it. Blaine will be gone.
Blaine’s head snaps back around, his face tense with a hint of the same fear that has taken hold of Kurt. “What? What is it?”
Kurt seizes the cord of his necklace and yanks it over his head, holding it out for Blaine to take. “Here.” Blaine stares at it for a moment, and then back at Kurt, his brow drawn with confusion. Kurt shakes it at him impatiently. “Go on, take it.”
“But it’s yours,” Blaine says, blinking against the rain. “It was your mother’s.”
“I want you to have it,” Kurt insists. He thrusts it at Blaine again, nearly hitting him in the chest. He can’t explain why it’s so important to him that Blaine takes the necklace. He just needs Blaine to have it, to know that they’re connected somehow, no matter how far apart their lives take them.
Perhaps Blaine understands, because he finally nods and ducks his head, allowing Kurt to slip the cord around his neck. He looks down at the pendant, reaches up to cup it carefully in his hand.
“Kurt,” he says. It sounds just as lovely as the first time he said it, but there’s something more to it now, something serious and tender that pangs in Kurt’s chest. Kurt can’t put words to the knowledge blooming in his heart, or to the echo of that quiet certainty in Blaine’s voice. It’s enough to feel it, to know that Blaine feels it too.
There is more to their story. This isn’t the end.
“It’s yours now,” Kurt says. “Take care of it for me.”
Blaine leans down and presses his cool, wet lips to Kurt’s cheek. “Thank you,” he whispers, barely audible over the rain – and then he’s pushing himself up and back, tumbling backwards over the rail.
Kurt surges forward and watches Blaine fall, an ever smaller blur in the darkness, until finally he hits the water with a tiny, distant splash and disappears beneath the rolling black waves.
Kurt tells no one.
Not his grandparents, not Will, not his father, not his friends. Not even Santana, though he does have a fine new gown sewn for her by the palace’s best tailor when he returns to Lima. She doesn’t know it, but he owes her an enormous debt, greater than he could repay with a hundred new dresses. After all, if it weren’t for her delinquent ways, Blaine would still be chained up in that dark, awful hold, or already gutted and on display in the fish stalls at the great market in Calpurri.
But he doesn’t tell this to Santana, or to anyone. It’s his secret. His and Blaine’s.
He wants to tell, sometimes. When he hears people spinning tales of the merciless sea beasts that prey on unsuspecting men, he wants to laugh in their faces and tell them just how wrong they are.
When the other boys tease him, when they mock his voice or his friendships with girls, even imply that he’ll never be man enough to be King, Kurt wants to say, Yes, well, I made friends with one of the sea people and single-handedly rescued him from a terrible fate. What have you done with your silly, wretched lives?
He wants to say these things, but he never does. No one would believe him. He has no proof, nothing but a story that sounds far too fanciful to be true: midnight meetings, a daring escape, a parting kiss and a silent promise for the future. Kurt can hardly believe it himself, and he lived it.
Even if someone did believe him, they wouldn’t understand. Blaine was so different from what he expected, so different from anything he’s been taught could exist. How could he describe the magic of Blaine’s voice without reinforcing the sailors’ beliefs in the sea monsters’ siren call? How could he describe the look in Blaine’s eyes when Kurt freed him, or the connection Kurt felt between them, that indefinable knowing that struck him with peace and fear in equal measure?
(It’s still there, sitting comfortably in his chest as though it’s been there all his life: heart, lungs, ribs, Blaine. How could he explain that? How could he ever make anyone understand what he doesn’t understand himself?)
So he tells no one. Instead, he tries to find answers on his own. He spends hours in the palace library, reading every book he can find about the sea and its inhabitants, without much success. It’s all just tedious, rambling regurgitations of the same stories the sailors tell, of vicious fanged monsters and cruel enchantresses. Nothing about little boys with tangled hair and polite manners, who hug their tails for comfort and talk about their mothers and don’t know how to eat jerky.
Highly dangerous, warns one book. These devious and bloodthirsty creatures are the bane of sailors and fishermen, and should be avoided at all costs.
Kurt stares down at the accompanying illustration – a trio of large-breasted fish-women with long flowing hair and ghastly teeth, hungrily eyeing an approaching ship – and realizes that not one of these scholars has ever so much as spotted the glimmering tail fin of one of Blaine’s kind.
It doesn’t make sense. As far as he can tell, people have lived near the sea, crossed it and fished in it, since the beginning of human history. In all that time, Kurt can’t possibly be the only one who has ever encountered a real sea person.
It takes years for him to realize that perhaps everyone who has done has kept their mouths shut about it, just as he has.
On Kurt’s first journey by sea, he met a monster who turned out not to be a monster at all.
On his sixth, he nearly dies.
He is returning home after another visit to his mother’s family in Calpurri. It was his father’s idea. The King has been bedridden since his illness last year, restless but resigned to his confinement. Kurt didn’t want to leave him, but his father insisted.
“The last thing I need is another worried face hanging around all day,” he said, not unkindly. “I have more physicians and attendants than I know what to do with. But your grandmother only has one grandson, and she hasn’t seen you in years. Go and make the old woman happy.”
What neither of them were willing to voice aloud was the fact that this could be the last time in Kurt’s life he had the freedom to slip away on personal business for so many weeks.
So Kurt went. He spent a month with his grandmother, accompanying her on long walks through the dazzling palace grounds and practicing his embroidery under her critical eye.
(A very conservative Calpurrian woman in most respects, Queen Anne insisted on passing her needlework skills on to her daughter’s only child. “The gods did not see fit to send you a sister, so here we are,” she said once, with the sort of regal indifference Kurt can only hope to master one day. “Mind your length there – my eyes may be going, but I can still spot a lazy stitch when I see one, young man.”)
As much as Kurt always enjoys these visits, they can’t last forever. There was business back in Lima that needed attending to, so after a happy month of leisure, he bid farewell to his grandmother and aunts and cousins, and sailed for home with his guards.
He keeps an eye out for Blaine during the crossing, as he always does. He knows that the odds of encountering his friend again are next to nothing. The sea is immeasurably vast, and he and Blaine are both the tiniest specks in comparison, like grains of sand on a beach. And even if his ship did pass near Blaine again, how would Blaine know that Kurt was onboard? It would be incredibly dangerous for him to go lurking around human ships. That’s what got him into trouble the last time, and he’s surely learned his lesson. If Kurt were in his position, he would never go anywhere near the surface again.
Still, he can’t help but look, scanning the waves for a glimpse of thin brown shoulders, a glittering tail, a mop of knotted black hair. Blaine is out there somewhere. One of these days, when the time is right, Kurt will find him again.
Afterward, Kurt won’t remember much about the wreck.
He’ll remember stumbling across the deck, shouting for his guards, penned in all around by walls of flame. He’ll remember the sudden shock that takes his feet out from under him and sends him flying. He’ll remember hitting the water, like slamming into a stone floor, driving the air from his lungs. He’ll remember fighting to get his head above water, struggling to move arms and legs that feel as though they’re filled with lead, sinking him deeper and deeper with every desperate attempt to rise.
He’ll remember blinking his eyes open underwater, the glow of the flames above lighting terrible silhouettes of wreckage and unmoving bodies.
He’ll remember thinking, This is what dying is.
And then –
Strong arms catching hold of him, winding around his chest and dragging him up, up, up toward the shimmering red-gold sky.
The sudden release of pressure as he breaks the surface, the searing pain of dragging smoky air into his raw lungs. A fit of coughing that seizes him and doesn’t let go, wet and violent and retching, raking his insides.
A hand splayed over his chest, over his heart; another at his jaw, tilting his face up away from the water.
An urgent, lilting voice in his ear: “You’re all right, my love. You’re all right. I’ve got you now.”
A moment of consciousness, of recognition.
That hand on his jaw. Those arms like iron bands around his chest, bearing him up.
Rhythmic movement behind him, something thick and powerful whipping through the water.
Endless darkness: above, below, all around. Darkness like the pitch-black of the whale’s belly, swallowing him up.
And again, that voice, ragged now but still lovely: “I’ve got you.”
He is on his back on the shore, sprawled over the soft, wet sand. Frothy waves teasing at his bare feet.
Someone is there, hovering over him, blocking out the blazing heat of the sun. Solid pressure along his side, a half-familiar weight against his leg.
A different weight, small and rounded and cool, dragging over his chest.
And that voice, that voice, lifted in song. An impossibly sweet and tender melody, pure as a spring breeze. Wordless, but aching with emotion, every note vibrating with it like a plucked string.
A love song.
The beauty of it brings tears to his salt-stung eyes. Hot trails leaking down his temples, chased by the gentlest touch of sand-gritty fingertips.
He tries to open his eyes. Tries to lift his hand – to touch, to hold, to keep those cold fingers against his skin.
Blaine, he tries to say, Blaine, my Blaine, but the world has gone silent again and he is so very tired.
Kurt is the only survivor.
Thirty men perished in the wreck, their bodies lost to the black depths of the sea. Experienced sailors, fine men, half of them with women and children waiting for them at home – and Kurt’s two guards, men he’s known for years, a seasoned commander and a young man barely older than Kurt.
Kurt alone survived, guided by the gentle hand of providence across the waves until he washed safely ashore on the black sand beaches of Mywes, a half-day’s journey from the ship’s plotted course.
“A miracle,” says the Head Sister of the temple that finds him, her eyes shining with gratitude for her Lord’s gracious mercy.
“A miracle,” says Santana, muffled where she’s buried her tear-stained face against Kurt’s neck.
“A miracle,” says his father, clasping Kurt’s hand with all the strength remaining to him.
A miracle, they all say, but Kurt knows better.
He has no faith in miracles. It was no god who saved him that night, but a being of flesh and bone, with solid muscled arms that pulled him from the depths and a voice that rang as clear and true as a bell.
He knows that voice. It wasn’t the same as he remembered, but it was every bit as beautiful, utterly unmistakable. He would recognize it anywhere, for all that it’s deeper now, and richer, full-bodied like a fine wine.
Foolish of him. All this time, he’s been searching the waves for the child he remembers, but ten years have passed. Of course his frightened little boy-monster would have grown to be a man, just as Kurt has.
There is not a trace of doubt in Kurt’s mind. He knows it was Blaine’s voice he heard. He knows that was his mother’s pendant he felt trailing across his chest. He knows, he knows that if he’d just managed to open his eyes, he’d have seen those bright golden eyes looking down at him.
He knows it, deep down in his very bones. Blaine rescued him that night, just as he once rescued Blaine.
Blaine saved him.
Blaine loves him.
Kurt has known for a long time that he will never take a wife. Before his illness, his father was starting to make noises about finding him a suitable match, but Kurt dodged each attempt, always ready with a perfectly reasonable objection: this girl too silly and flighty for the throne, that one’s family too scheming.
But the King was no fool. “Son,” he said one day, “be straight with me. You’re never going to marry a girl in this kingdom or any other, are you?”
It took every bit of courage Kurt had to admit the truth. “No. I’m not.”
His father made a thoughtful sound. “I figured as much. I’d better start considering the lads, then.” He looked shrewdly at Kurt, whose face had instantly flushed as hot as a forge. “You haven’t got one already, have you? Liking men is one thing, but if you’ve been hiding some sort of secret lover from me – “
“No,” Kurt croaked, mortified beyond belief. “No…no lovers.”
“Good,” the King said cheerfully. He clapped Kurt on the back. “See that it stays that way.”
He was more accepting than Kurt had dared to hope. He changed the law in Lima so that any two consenting adults could marry, and browbeat the Council into adjusting the succession and inheritance laws in order to pave the way for a future two-king monarchy. The only thing he didn’t do was to determine an appropriate candidate for that marriage. There was rather a scarcity of noblemen who would openly admit to preferring the company of men, even for a chance at the throne, and the King’s illness came upon him before he could begin his search in earnest.
Even now, he still teases Kurt occasionally about his “lovers,” though they both know he has nothing to worry about. Kurt appreciates a handsome face, certainly, and sometimes finds himself admiring the line of a muscular back or broad set of shoulders, the way other men’s eyes linger over womanly curves. He finds men attractive, but he has never been drawn to any one man in particular. He has never courted anyone, nor been courted himself. He has never been kissed. He has never been in love.
But now – oh, now he has the memory of Blaine’s strong chest against his back, the safety of his arms and the reverent touch of his hands. The yearning devotion in Blaine’s song awoke an answering hunger in him; the very thought of Blaine triggers a rush of emotion like nothing he has ever known, overwhelming in its intensity.
Of course he has never wanted another man. How could he? He was always meant for Blaine. He felt it all those years ago, watching Blaine fall away from him, feeling as though half of his heart were dropping like an anchor into the sea. He was too young to understand then, but he knows better now.
He is Blaine’s, entirely, irrevocably. And Blaine, wherever he is now…Blaine is his.
He cradles the knowledge to himself like a candle in a strong wind, cups his hands around it and keeps it safe and close, a secret flame to light the darkness.
Blaine loves him.
Two months after Kurt returns home from Mywes, a stranger washes up on the beach.
Kurt hears about it some hours later, and he’s among the last to know. The gossip has spread like wildfire, racing through the guards, the maids, the cooks, the tailors, the washerwomen, the stable hands, until there’s not a single soul inside the palace walls that hasn’t heard the news.
The story goes that one of the royal fishermen found the stranger and immediately ran to alert the guards. The man was stark naked, face-down and motionless on the sand. The guards naturally assumed he was dead, and were arguing about what to do with the body when the stranger shocked them all by turning his head to the side and coughing up an impressive volume of brackish seawater.
He had no visible injuries, but was unsurprisingly exhausted and weak from his ordeal. Even after the guards helped him to stand, he could hardly take a single step without collapsing, as unsteady on his legs as a newborn colt.
“It was like he was blind drunk,” says Michael, loitering most uncharacteristically to discuss the day’s excitement with the guards outside Kurt’s chambers. “Every time we got him on his feet, he took one step and went right back down. I thought he was going to die right there.”
The stranger is young and (according to the maids) very handsome, with the bronzed complexion and dark hair and eyes of the people from the Southern kingdoms. The guards are mostly of the opinion that he is a Salyrrean sailor, while dreamy Britt suggests that perhaps he is a prince like Kurt, lost at sea in a late summer storm.
“What I want to know is how he lost his clothes,” Sam says, looking genuinely troubled by this detail.
“I’ll reckon he got worked over by one of those sea wenches, until she tired of him and set him adrift,” Puck says, as coarse as ever. “Ten copper says that’s how he lost his voice – all that screaming.”
For that is the strangest thing of all: the man doesn’t speak. Can’t speak, perhaps, or else he’s simply in shock. He seems to understand the common tongue well enough, and he still has his own tongue, but he has yet to say a single word.
“Not even a sound,” reports Santana, having just returned from snooping on the newcomer. “We’ll be getting no answers out of that one. He’s mute as a fish.” She flashes a sly smirk. “Though with a face like that, who needs words?”
It seems the man’s origins are to remain a mystery for now, but prince or pauper, the laws of hospitality demand that they feed and shelter him until he can be returned to his own land. If he is indeed from Salyrrea, he may be their guest for quite some time. It has been a terrible season for storms, and the turbulent waters between Cape Centra and the Southern lands will be all but impassable for months yet. Whatever foolishness or desperation inspired the stranger’s crew to attempt the journey, it certainly won’t be repeated by anyone else.
Kurt goes to see the man the next day after breakfasting as usual with his father. It’s only right that he go to greet their new guest on the King’s behalf, and he can’t deny that his curiosity has been roused by his friends’ gossip. Most importantly, he knows better than anyone how it feels to wash up on the shores of a foreign land, helpless and alone. The least he can do is introduce himself to this unfortunate stranger, extend a friendly hand and assure him that no harm will come to him here.
He enters the stranger’s chamber just in time to see a small, dark-haired man taking his first wobbly steps between the bed and the table, supported on either side by Britt and the head cook’s girl, Marley. He’s been dressed in loose clothing, probably borrowed from one of the guards. It’s all much too large for him: the shirt sags from his shoulders like a fallen sail, and the baggy trousers pool at his feet, tripping him up as he staggers forward. Fortunately, the girls are careful with him, murmuring encouragement and guiding him across the room with their arms wrapped securely around his waist.
Kurt watches them for a few moments, not wanting to interrupt what seems to be a fairly delicate endeavor. He can’t help but notice that the maids were right: this man is very handsome indeed. He’s undeniably masculine, with wide strong shoulders and a fine jaw, but there’s a certain prettiness to the plush curves of his lips, the luxurious sweep of long lashes framing deep, dark eyes. Even in those ridiculous clothes, he’s one of the most striking men Kurt has ever seen.
Britt glances up to gauge the remaining distance to the table, and spies Kurt in the doorway. “Kurt!” she says excitedly, with her typical lack of concern for titles or ceremony.
The stranger jolts in surprise at her exclamation, his head whipping around toward the door. Unfortunately, the rest of his body attempts to follow, and he goes down hard to his knees, taking Britt and Marley most of the way down with him.
Kurt hurries forward and crouches before the hapless trio. He rests an apologetic hand on the man’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”
The stranger looks up, and Kurt is suddenly glad that he is already on the ground. The man is really very good-looking, almost unbelievably so. What’s more, his handsome face has lit up with the most extraordinary smile, huge and toothy and radiantly happy.
“Goodness,” Marley laughs. “I think he likes you, Your Highness.”
Between them, they get the man to his feet and safely seated at the table, where a simple meal of soup and soft bread has been laid out. Kurt sits down in the other chair, not wanting to loom over his guest.
“Llyr,” Marley says to the stranger, gesturing politely toward Kurt, “this is Prince Kurt, the King’s son.”
“Llyr?” Kurt repeats, curious. Santana indicated that the man could not utter so much as a sound, much less introduce himself.
Marley looks down shyly, twisting her fingers in the fabric of her dress. “It seemed to suit him. A man needs a name, my lord.”
“So he does,” Kurt agrees. He smiles at the man, who beams again in return. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Llyr. You are welcome here in Lima.”
The stranger – Llyr – eats well, though he has a bit of trouble with the soup spoon. He seems distracted by the presence of a visitor, darting frequent glances across the table as if to confirm that Kurt is still there.
“Am I making him uncomfortable, do you think?” Kurt asks Britt in a low voice.
“Oh, no,” she whispers back. “He just wants to make sure you don’t disappear.”
Britt does have a singular gift for reading people, however odd her manner of speaking, so Kurt stays a while longer, until Llyr has finished eating and Marley is gathering the dishes.
“Llyr...” Kurt begins, and is surprised when Llyr’s gaze snaps to him instantly. Either he already identifies himself with his new name, or he was just waiting for Kurt to speak again. “Listen, I know this whole thing is a nightmare for you. Believe me, few understand that as well as I do.” Llyr’s brow furrows in what looks like sympathy. “But I want you to know that you’re safe now. We abide by the laws of hospitality in Lima, and you are officially a guest of the Crown. You are welcome to stay here until we can get you home, however long that may be.”
Britt and Marley are still waiting patiently nearby. Llyr seems to like them well enough, and Kurt can’t imagine a pair better suited to look after their traumatized new arrival, so he decides to formally place them in charge of his care. “Marley, I’d like you to be the one bringing Llyr his meals for a while. And Britt, please come by and look in on him a few times a day, just to make sure he’s getting on well.” Both girls nod their agreement, Britt looking especially pleased. Kurt turns back to Llyr. “If you need anything and neither of these girls is around, you can ask any of the staff, and they’ll be happy to assist you.”
He elects not to explain that Llyr is the palace’s primary source of entertainment at the moment, and that the maids will likely be brawling like drunken sellswords over every opportunity to enter his chamber and stare at him a while.
Llyr is still gazing intently at him, an oddly expectant look on his face. Kurt wracks his brain, trying to think of anything he might be forgetting. “Is there…something else you need?”
Llyr nods – and then, astonishingly, lifts his hand and points a finger straight at Kurt.
Well. Kurt can’t say he’s not flattered. It’s not every day that good-looking men quite literally fall at his feet and demand his company.
“In that case, I’ll come and see you again tomorrow,” Kurt says, and is rewarded with another brilliant smile.
He takes to visiting Llyr every day after he’s gone to see his father, before his afternoon audiences and meetings. It’s a pleasant addition to his usual schedule. Llyr is always very happy to see him, and it’s certainly no hardship to look upon that handsome face for an hour or two.
In the beginning, Kurt fears that these visits will be terribly awkward. Conversation with strangers does not come easily to him, and what on earth is he meant to talk about with a mute? But Llyr turns out to be remarkably good company despite his inability to speak. He listens intently when Kurt talks, looking concerned and amused and surprised at turns. His face is expressive enough that it’s almost as if he’s responding with words; Kurt rarely has any trouble understanding his meaning. He smiles easily, and his strange, silent laugh is so captivating that Kurt ends up going to great lengths to provoke it, drawing hard on all his reserves of wit and charm just to see those dark eyes scrunch up with amusement.
Kurt is not alone in enjoying Llyr’s companionship. He often arrives at Llyr’s chamber to find one of the servants already there, chattering away at their attentive host as though he were an old friend. Llyr is equally cordial with any visitor, no matter their rank, though Marley confides privately that she’s never seen him smile at anyone the way he does when he sees Kurt.
Meanwhile, Llyr’s recovery is proceeding at a good pace. Three days after his arrival, he is able to walk unsupported – not gracefully, but with a measure of independence that Kurt is sure he appreciates. He is clearly eager to regain his strength, and spends hours walking circles around his chamber in a slow, stumbling gait, one hand just brushing the wall to steady himself.
“Once you’re a little steadier on your feet, I can show you around the palace, if you like,” Kurt tells him, and flatters himself that Llyr seems to redouble his efforts in response.
One day, Kurt finds Sam seated at Llyr’s table, lecturing the other man on the finer points of a dice game popular among the guards.
“It’s your day off, Sam,” Kurt says. “Shouldn’t you be with your wife?”
The cheerful expression falls from Sam’s face. “She kicked me out, my lord. Said the smell of my hair was making her ill.”
Poor Mercedes. Kurt should go see her later. “Have you tried washing it with a different soap?”
“Three of them,” Sam says glumly. He turns and wags a stern finger in Llyr’s face. “Don’t ever get a girl pregnant, brother. It turns them into madwomen.” Llyr nods obediently, looking utterly mystified by the whole conversation, and Sam claps him companionably on the shoulder. “Good man.”
By the second week of his stay, Llyr’s strength has improved tremendously. He seems restless in his small chamber, so Kurt keeps his promise and starts escorting him on short walks around the palace. The walks serve a dual purpose, giving Llyr an opportunity to stretch his legs while also introducing him to his temporary new home.
These excursions are rather livelier than Kurt expected, as Llyr is revealed to be as easily diverted as a child. He is drawn to inspect and admire everything they pass, from the massive crystal chandelier in the entrance hall down to the simplest woven rug. Every detail of their surroundings fascinates him to an absurd degree, and he flits happily from one delight to the next, gaping at paintings and statues and door handles alike.
There seems to be no household item too mundane to pique his interest. One morning they happen upon a few maids polishing silver, and Llyr examines an ordinary salad fork with such rapt intensity that Kurt feels obliged to take it from him before he puts his eye out.
(Kurt asks Britt later how Llyr eats. She looks at him like he’s a halfwit and replies, “With his mouth.”)
His enthusiasm is infectious, though it does make Kurt wonder about his background. What kind of horribly deprived upbringing must he have endured to be awed by such basic necessities?
“Maybe he was raised by wolves,” Santana suggests. “It would explain why he never learned to speak.”
“He’s not an animal, Santana,” Kurt says, offended on their guest’s behalf.
“I never said he was. Raised by animals, though – that’s a different matter entirely. He does get on well with the hounds, you know.”
Kurt arches an eyebrow at her. “And when has he been to see the hounds?”
Santana smirks. “The days are long, my lord. You’re not the only one who knows their way around the palace.”
“I wish I knew your name,” Kurt says. “Your real name, I mean. I know it’s not Llyr.”
Llyr shrugs agreeably, evidently resigned to his anonymity.
Kurt thinks for a moment. “Can you write?” Llyr frowns a little, uncomprehending. “Write, you know, like...”
He pantomimes scribbling, and Llyr tilts his head to the side, like a curious hound. It’s adorable. Kurt tries not to think about Santana’s theory.
Kurt sighs. “Of course not. That would be too easy.” He snags Llyr’s sleeve, preventing him from veering off and wandering down a set of servants’ stairs. “No, this way. We’re almost there.”
They have walked farther than usual today, all the way to the end of the west wing. For once, Kurt has a specific destination in mind. He can’t wait to see Llyr’s reaction.
The massive doors at the end of the corridor are already ajar, which is a relief, as it means Kurt doesn’t need to embarrass himself trying to heave one open on his own. He guides Llyr through the gap with a light hand on his elbow, and grins when he feels him stiffen in shock upon seeing what’s on the other side.
Kurt can hardly blame him. The Great Room is a deliberately overwhelming sight, with its soaring vaulted ceiling and magnificent glass windows as tall as twenty men. The floor is polished marble from far-away quarries, gleaming and slippery underfoot. Enormous, richly colored tapestries hang upon the walls, each one the product of years of work by teams of master weavers.
Outside of his father’s chambers, this has always been Kurt’s favorite room in the palace, and he is pleased to see that Llyr is suitably impressed. He stares up and down and around, trying to take in everything at once, his eyes wide with wonder.
“Everything remotely interesting happens in this room,” Kurt informs him. “Feasts, balls, weddings, coronations – if it involves our esteemed nobles drinking too much and spilling sauce on their finest clothes, it’s held here.”
At one end of the room are six wide steps leading up to the altar, where Kurt’s parents stood and exchanged vows twenty-three years ago, and where his father was crowned five years later. Kurt’s own coronation will take place there someday. Hopefully not for a very long time.
When Llyr has looked his fill at the tapestries, Kurt steers him toward the windows. This part of the palace is built right into the cliffs, and the view is spectacular, a sweeping panorama of sea and sky. On a clear day like today, a man can see all there is to be seen, from the churning gray waters below all the way to the distant horizon.
“Can you swim?” Kurt asks, turning his head to take in Llyr’s response.
A strange, melancholy expression darkens Llyr’s face. He shakes his head, gazing out over the crashing waves.
Of course not – the guards found him half-drowned, vomiting up a bellyful of salt water. They can see that stretch of beach from here, a strip of pale sand at the foot of the cliffs.
Kurt suddenly worries that he has been unintentionally cruel, bringing Llyr here to look out at the sea that nearly killed him. He lays a hand on Llyr’s shoulder, a silent apology, and Llyr offers him a small, subdued smile in return.
Kurt tugs gently on his shoulder, turning them both away from the windows. “I can’t swim either,” he says, to disperse the unusually awkward silence that has fallen between them. “Not very well, anyway.”
Inescapably, the words bring with them the memory of his own shipwreck, and of Blaine: Blaine’s arms around him, Blaine’s hard chest against his back. Blaine’s hand on his jaw, keeping the water from his lungs, keeping him alive.
He would still be out there if not for Blaine, drowned and lost forever to the bottomless black depths along with all the others. Thirty men died that night, and Kurt lived – not because he was braver or stronger or worthier than the rest, but because Blaine chose him to save. Because Blaine loves him.
Kurt abruptly rouses himself from his thoughts and turns back to Llyr with a bright smile. “I think we’re about finished here, don’t you? Let’s go down to the kitchens and see if we can convince Mrs. Rose to part with a couple of those pies she’s preparing for dinner.”
As the weeks pass and Llyr begins to roam the palace on his own, it becomes increasingly apparent that he has an extraordinary gift for charming nearly everyone he meets. It’s been little more than a month since his arrival, and already he has most of the staff eating out of his hand. The servant girls and maids adore him, of course. The cooks regularly sneak him especially choice bits of meat and the glazed pear tarts he favors. Sam and the other guards greet him like one of their own, and the washerwomen fuss over him like a favored son returned from war.
The palace children are absolutely infatuated with him. It becomes a regular occurrence to find Llyr sitting cross-legged on the ground with Puck’s daughter and a handful of others, playing knucklebones or pick-up-sticks with a woven daisy crown draped lopsidedly over his curls.
He even wins over the cantankerous old cats that prowl the courtyards, which have never been known to accept even the gentlest human touch without hissing and spitting. Kurt is astonished one day to come across a whole swarm of the little beasts using Llyr as a makeshift sleeping couch, one nestled cozily in the crook of Llyr’s arm and the others sprawled over his legs, all of them vibrating with noisy purrs.
“Those cats don’t like anyone,” Kurt says, staring at the spectacle before him. He reaches out tentatively to stroke the cat cuddled against Llyr’s chest. She begins growling before he’s even touched her, slitting open one yellow eye to glare balefully at the offending hand. “You see!” he cries, outraged.
Llyr laughs at him, eyes crinkling fondly. He smooths a broad palm over the cat’s ears, and she closes her eye and rolls her head back into the touch, rumbling with pleasure.
“They can smell fear, my lord,” Santana says cheerfully, sauntering through the courtyard on some (likely invented) errand. She ruffles Llyr’s curls as she passes, scritching briefly behind his ear as though he were a cat himself.
“I swear you must be a sorcerer, the way you enchant these vicious beasts,” Kurt accuses. He shoots a dark look at Santana’s retreating back. “And the cats, too.”
Llyr laughs again. He pats the flagstones next to him, inviting Kurt to sit.
Kurt backs away, holding up his hands. “Oh, I don’t think so. If I come any closer, your little friends will claw my eyes out.”
Llyr adopts a very sad expression. He looks up at Kurt with wide eyes, fluttering his lashes a bit more than Kurt thinks is entirely necessary.
“No,” Kurt says, quite firmly.
Llyr gazes sorrowfully at him. His eyes seem to grow rounder and shinier, somehow. The smile has vanished from his lips, leaving them downturned and perhaps the very tiniest bit wobbly.
“No,” Kurt says again, rather weaker this time. He can only hold out against that face for so long.
He will never be able to explain how it happens, but twenty minutes later, he’s sitting shoulder to shoulder with Llyr, with the biggest, meanest cat of them all squashed into his lap.
“Sorcery,” he mutters in a low voice, wary of waking the cat from whatever trance it’s entered. It’s probably leaving great clumps of hair all over his breeches; he’ll have to change his clothes before the Council meeting.
Llyr merely smiles beside him, magnanimous in victory.
The one person who refuses to be swayed by Llyr’s considerable charms is Sue, the King’s cleverest and most spiteful advisor. Of course, Sue hates everyone, from the tiniest tow-headed babes to the esteemed elders who sit with her on the Council. The only exceptions to her general antipathy are the King, to whom she is cold and abrasive but indisputably loyal, and perhaps Kurt. Every great once in a while, she rises suddenly and viciously to Kurt’s defense, raining vitriol like hellfire on his challengers. Mostly, however, she seems content to ignore him, which is perfectly fine with him.
Evidently, she is not willing to extend this benign disinterest to Llyr, who crosses her path one day and comes cringing away from the encounter in such a state that the palace is soon abuzz with indignation and sympathy. Sue has few admirers among the staff, so it’s no surprise that most everyone takes Llyr’s side, grumbling oaths against Sue and fretting over Llyr’s reported distress.
Kurt goes looking for him when he hears of the confrontation, only to find him already being fawned over by several maids.
“…and anyway,” one is saying, “I think your eyebrows are very fine. Sue doesn’t appreciate nice things.”
“She doesn’t,” says another, looking ready to crawl into Llyr’s lap and kiss away his worries. “But we know better, don’t we, girls?”
Kurt has to bite back a laugh at how discomfited Llyr seems, surrounded by this flock of cooing admirers. “I think that’s enough ego-stroking for one afternoon,” he says loudly. “Our guest is a modest sort. We wouldn’t want to embarrass him.”
The maids scatter, and Llyr comes gratefully to Kurt’s side, obviously relieved to see him.
“They’re right, you know,” Kurt says as they set off down the corridor together. “Sue despises everyone she’s ever laid eyes on. Being the subject of one of her tirades is a rite of passage here.”
Llyr nods, acknowledging Kurt’s words. He still looks rather morose, though, drooping all over like a wilted flower. Poor man. From what he’s seen, Kurt wouldn’t be surprised if this were the first time in Llyr’s entire life that he’s met someone who hasn’t immediately fallen under his spell. Sue does so love to be contrary.
It’s disconcerting to see him like this when he’s normally so relentlessly cheerful. Kurt tries to think of something to lift his spirits. “Why don’t you join me for supper tonight? We can eat in my chambers, just the two of us. I’ll tell you all about the time Sue humiliated herself in front of the Crown Princess of Dharam.”
Llyr nods enthusiastically, beaming with delight, and the world is right again.
Supper that evening starts off on an awkward note when Kurt, in an attempt to be a considerate host, makes the innocent mistake of offering Llyr a chalice of wine. Llyr accepts the chalice eagerly and takes a hearty swig – only to promptly spit the wine back out all over himself and his salad plate, his face screwed up in revulsion.
He gives Kurt a look of such utter betrayal that Kurt can’t even be bothered to worry about the stains rapidly setting in his friend’s new shirt. He pushes his own plate away and drops his head to the table, laughing so hard he can’t draw in a breath.
Every glimpse of Llyr’s sulky face sets him off again, and it’s quite a while before he finally manages to collect himself. He wipes at the corners of his eyes and takes a deep, steadying breath, trying to resist the onset of another fit of giggles. “Oh, Llyr, I’m sorry. I’m not making fun of you, I promise. It’s just – haven’t you ever had wine before?”
Llyr wrinkles his nose.
Well, Kurt supposes that narrows down the question of where Llyr comes from. He can’t possibly be from Salyrrea – their wine is nearly as renowned as their sailors, and the latter are not known for abstaining from the former. In fact, Kurt deliberately asked for a Salyrrean vintage for this meal, hoping to put his guest at ease.
“My apologies, then. I’ll call for something else. Ale?”
Llyr blinks at him, looking puzzled.
“No ale, either?” Kurt asks, truly surprised now. “What about mead? Whiskey? Rum?”
Kurt sits back in his chair, astounded. “I mean no offense, my friend, but your homeland sounds like a very dull place.”
Llyr’s lips tilt into a half-smile. He looks down at his plate, idly nudging the soggy greens around with his fork.
Kurt studies him across the table. It’s a sensitive topic, he knows, one Llyr often tries to avoid. It must pain him, being so far from his own land. “Do you miss it?” he asks softly.
Unexpectedly, Llyr shakes his head, just once, a jerky little motion. His mouth has settled into a tense, impassive line that looks like it belongs on someone else’s face. There is something peculiar in the way he won’t meet Kurt’s eyes. He is always so open, so easy to read. Kurt hardly even thinks of him as mute; the quirk of his eyebrow or the curve of his lips can be as evocative as any long-winded speech.
For him to close off like this – it must mean something.
Watching Llyr toy with his wine-soaked salad, it occurs to Kurt for the first time that he may have been deliberately avoiding answering the question of where he comes from.
Kurt wets his lips, suddenly nervous for some reason he can’t pin down. “Llyr,” he says, slowly, trying to tread carefully, “do you…do you want to go home?”
Another shake of the head, more emphatic this time.
Kurt sits back in his chair. So there it is. All this time, he’s been assuming that Llyr is pining for home, that he is making the best of his time here but would jump at the first chance to return to the family and friends that must be worried about him. But perhaps he never intended to go home at all. Perhaps he wasn’t on his way to any particular destination when his ship wrecked, but was simply trying to escape wherever he came from. Now that Kurt thinks about it, he wonders why it didn’t occur to him before. After all, everyone knows that only desperation could drive a man out onto the sea at the most dangerous time of year.
But why? There are a dozen reasons that could have a man fleeing his own land, each more terrible than the last. Kurt knows well that not all kingdoms are as peaceful as Lima. There are places where violent conflicts erupt like brush fires, flaring up suddenly and raging out of control. There are lands plagued with war, others with famine, others at the mercy of a cruel and selfish monarch.
And of course, the reason could lie with Llyr himself. Kurt can’t believe that a man as gentle as Llyr could be a criminal, but he could have been a political prisoner, or a member of an overthrown ruling family. He could have been exiled by some power-mad tyrant. He could be escaping a forced marriage.
Regardless of the reason, two things are clear: Llyr does not want to go back to where he came from, and he seems to fear that he might be made to do so. The latter, at least, Kurt can do something about.
“Listen to me, Llyr,” he says. “No one is going to force you to go anywhere, all right? You don’t need to worry about that. If you want to leave, you’re free to go at any time. I’ll help you, if you choose to leave. Money, transport, whatever you need. And if you want to stay – ”
Llyr finally looks up, and there is such hope written in the lines of his face. His eyes are wide and very dark, the same infinite black as a starless night sky.
“If you want to stay, we’ll …we’ll work something out.” Kurt smiles at him. “I promise.”
Llyr’s answering smile is like the sun rising, bright and warm, breathtaking to behold.
He dreams of Blaine.
Blaine’s luminous golden eyes, watching him from the darkness. The chaste, boyish press of Blaine’s lips against his cheek. Blaine’s skin under his hands, smooth and cool and slippery-wet, impossible to hold onto.
Blaine’s song in his ear, in his soul, thrumming through his veins and winding tendrils around his heart.
He wakes with tears in his eyes and a pit of coldness in his chest, the sudden chill of withdrawn warmth.
He spends the morning in the library, feverishly flipping through books he’s read a dozen times before, trying to find some clue he previously missed. There must be something, anything, the faintest hint of a trail that could lead him to Blaine. He and Blaine are fated to be together, he knows it, but how are they meant to do that if Kurt can’t even find him? Will he have to fling himself into the sea again in the hopes that Blaine will save him once more?
He is in a foul mood by the time he gives up for the day, bleary-eyed and hungry, aggravated by the ridiculous claims of those charlatan scholars. Shark teeth, honestly. He has half a mind to have them all hanged.
He emerges from the library to find Llyr lurking in the corridor. He’s examining a nearby bust of some dead queen or another, but he abandons her easily, turning to Kurt with an expectant grin. He has obviously been waiting for him.
Kurt, however, is not in the mood for sunshine and cheer. “What are you doing here?” he asks, his words pointed in a way that even he can recognize as foreshadowing greater nastiness to come.
Llyr’s smile dims. He takes an uncertain step back, which irrationally annoys Kurt further. What, is Llyr afraid of him now? He’s a grown man, not a child in need in coddling. Kurt should be able to ask him a damned question without padding it with sweet talk and flattery, the way everyone else in the palace does.
“I was in there for hours. Don’t tell me you’ve been out here all this time.” Llyr doesn’t quite respond to that, but his hesitation gives him away, and Kurt scoffs, rolling his eyes. “By the gods. Don’t you have anything better to be doing than standing around in a corridor all day? Why don’t you go bother the guards or something?”
Llyr retreats a little farther, seeming to shrink into himself with every step. He looks bewildered and deeply uncomfortable, his face a picture of confused hurt.
It’s the hurt that snaps Kurt out of his temper. Llyr hasn’t done anything wrong, really. His only crime was in wanting to spend time with Kurt, and for that, Kurt is castigating him like he’d publically insulted him or set fire to his wardrobe. It’s certainly not very princely of him. Worse, it’s no way to treat a friend.
Kurt slumps back against the library door. “I’m sorry,” he says tiredly, sinking down to the floor in a self-pitying heap. “I’m upset about something, but it’s not your fault. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”
Llyr’s expression shifts instantly into sympathy. He comes and sits next to Kurt on the floor, making himself comfortable, clearly prepared to stay here for as long as Kurt does.
It doesn’t surprise Kurt that Llyr is so quick to forgive, but it does make him feel even worse than he already did. Llyr is the last person in the entire palace he should be venting his frustrations on. Better to save that for Sue, or the washerwoman who ruined his favorite waistcoat last week, or even Santana, who at least can give as good as she gets.
Kurt sits and stews in his temper for several minutes, feeling guilty and ashamed of himself, while Llyr waits silently at his side, no doubt wondering what in the world is going on.
“I hate scholars,” Kurt says after a while, and Llyr nods seriously, pretending to understand.
Kurt scrubs a hand over his face and sighs. He has no plans for the rest of the day. If he hangs around the palace, he’s just going to end up brooding and lashing out at more undeserving bystanders. He needs to get out, do something to take his mind off his failure in the library and the lingering ache of last night’s dream.
He gets to his feet and reaches down to help Llyr. “I have an idea,” he says. “How would you like to go into town with me this afternoon?”
Llyr’s face lights up, but before he can respond, his stomach lets out a positively thunderous growl, loud enough to startle them both – a sound to scatter crows and frighten children.
They both laugh, and Kurt pats Llyr on the shoulder, nudging him in the direction that will take them to the kitchens. “After we eat, of course.”
The town isn’t far, a mere half-hour’s carriage ride from the palace. Llyr is initially alarmed by the movement of the carriage, darting worried glances at Kurt at every jolt and bounce. At length he seems to decide that they’re safe enough, and he spends the rest of the journey with his face pressed to the window, gawking at the exotic sights of trees and shrubs and the occasional fleet-footed jackrabbit.
Kurt directs the carriage to the market. They can explore the temple and taverns and other places of interest another time. Today he wants to see Llyr’s reaction to so many people and goods in the same place.
The market is bustling with activity when they arrive, thronged with people shouting and bartering and pushing their way through the mob. Kurt is safe enough from the mayhem, of course. He’s not wearing anything particularly fine or ostentatious, but he comes to town often enough that many people know him on sight, and those who don’t surely recognize the gilded armor Puck and Michael are wearing. Not everyone agrees with the King’s laws, but no one is going to risk shoving the Crown Prince in full sight of two armed guards, so Kurt enjoys a small bubble of peace, as even the most harried shoppers step briskly aside to let him pass.
He keeps Llyr close, partly to shelter him within that bubble, and partly because he is so wild with excitement that he could very well bolt off into the crowd like a hound that’s spotted a hare. He turns his head this way and that, trying to look in a dozen different directions simultaneously, craning his neck and even teetering up onto his toes to see past the crowd. (Puck chortles aloud at that, and even Kurt has to hide a smile. As handsome as Llyr is, he has not been blessed with the gift of height.) He tugs frequently at Kurt’s sleeve, directing him to look at whatever commonplace treasure has briefly captured his attention: a set of mixing bowls, a plain leather scabbard, a mountainous heap of walnuts.
It’s easy to humor him. His exuberance is catching, and Kurt finds himself more interested in the vendors’ wares that he has been in a long time. Simply witnessing Llyr’s joy is a pleasure in itself, so Kurt gladly tours him around, allowing himself to be yanked in whichever direction Llyr desires.
Almost any direction, that is. Without drawing attention to it, Kurt carefully steers them clear of the corner of the market where the butchers and fishmongers are displaying their wares. He’s avoided the fish stalls for years now. He can’t look at those long knives without thinking of what might have become of Blaine if he hadn’t helped him escape.
He’s old enough now to realize that Blaine’s fear was most likely nothing more than a nightmare, a tale devised by mothers anxious to keep their wandering children close to home. Riggs may have been a brute, but he was a greedy brute. He wouldn’t have sold such a valuable discovery like a prize halibut at market. He had other plans for Blaine.
Still, the sight of scales sparkling in the sun is enough to turn Kurt’s stomach, so he makes sure to give that section of the market a wide berth. Llyr doesn’t seem to notice, enraptured as he is by the novelties all around him. There are saddles to ogle, bolts of fine cloth to be touched, an endless supply of baubles and trinkets to be played with and wondered over. If he weren’t accompanied by the Prince, the sellers would no doubt have chased him off already, but Kurt’s presence makes them indulgent of his odd behavior.
At a woodworker’s table, Kurt notices Llyr looking with great interest at a pan flute.
“Do you play?”
Llyr shakes his head. He strokes the smooth wood longingly with his fingertips.
“Allow me to demonstrate the quality of the instrument for your friend, Your Highness,” the woodworker says obsequiously. He picks up the flute and plays a quick, spirited melody, moving swiftly back and forth across the pipes.
Llyr is beside himself. He turns excitedly to Kurt, as if to see if Kurt is as amazed by the spectacle as he is.
Kurt smiles fondly at him. “Very nice,” he says, more for Llyr’s sake than the woodworker’s.
Soon enough, something else catches Llyr’s attention, and he tugs Kurt onward, away from the woodworker’s table. Kurt lets himself be dragged, but makes a mental note to send one of the guards back to purchase the flute Llyr was admiring. It’s a common enough instrument; surely someone in the palace would be willing to teach him.
They pass through the section of the market selling prepared foods and drinks. Llyr glares suspiciously at the samples of wine being thrust in his direction, but he happily shares a pastry with Kurt and a small sack of roasted nuts with Michael.
They come to a small plaza, one of many hidden in unexpected places around the town. The edges of the plaza are crowded with stalls, but the real excitement is happening in the center, where a large rowdy group of people are dancing to a lively tune. Their dancing is loose and impulsive, almost reckless, so unlike the tightly choreographed court dances Kurt is familiar with. They whirl around the plaza like a flock of birds, alone and in pairs, spinning and clapping and stomping and switching partners on a moment’s whim.
For the first time today, Llyr is shocked into stillness. He seems entirely mesmerized by the dancers, and stands motionless as he watches them sail past, his lips parted in awe. They must not have this sort of dancing where he’s from. Perhaps they have no dancing at all, in that mysterious land where they drink nothing but water and eat every meal with their hands. Perhaps they just sit and stare at each other all day.
A pretty kinky-haired girl approaches their small group, conspicuously urged on by her friends. She curtsies deeply to Kurt, though she clearly has eyes only for Llyr. Wise girl, Kurt thinks wryly.
“Your Highness, I – we were wondering if your friend might like to dance,” she says, eyes lowered in a show of deference to offset her boldness.
Oh, this should be good. Kurt hums thoughtfully. “I don’t know…what do you say, Llyr?”
Llyr hesitates, glancing sideways at Kurt in a silent question. Kurt answers with an encouraging smile, and Llyr’s face breaks out in a grin. He nods eagerly, and the delighted girl takes his hands and draws him toward the crowd, swinging him out into the thick of the dancing.
It is with some relief that Kurt realizes Llyr does have at least one significant flaw: he is a terrible dancer, easily the worst Kurt has ever seen. He has tremendous difficulty with the most basic of steps, and more advanced maneuvers leave him stumbling over himself like a drunkard, crashing gracelessly into his partner and the other dancers. He doesn’t seem to mind at all, though, and neither does the small crowd of winsome young maidens who have gathered to watch, each one taking a turn letting Llyr trample over her feet as her friends laugh and clap along to the music.
Michael is noticeably restless at Kurt’s side. He has an extraordinary gift for dancing himself, and it must be agony not to join in. They seem safe enough at the moment, so Kurt elbows him and tilts his head toward the dancers. “Go on, get in there. Don’t get too close to Llyr, though – I need you in one piece.”
“Armored boots, my lord,” Michael jokes in that deadpan way of his, and disappears into the crowd.
Michael acquits himself admirably, of course, while Llyr continues to wreak havoc with his unending succession of good-humored partners. Kurt can’t help but smile, watching him. Only Llyr could be so dreadful at something and still take so much pleasure in it.
“He’ll have his pick of brides, I’d wager, mute though he is,” says Puck. “Mind you, I expect some women would like that. Fewer interruptions.”
Kurt rolls his eyes. “I don’t doubt that Quinn would praise the gods if they were to strike you mute for a day.”
“Aye, she would at that,” Puck agrees cheerfully. He taps his foot along to the music, humming a bit of the melody to himself. “You’re going to get him that flute, aren’t you?”
Sometimes Kurt forgets how perceptive Puck is. Beneath all the coarse language and bravado, he’s as sharp as any of the guards, and probably half as much again as some of the King’s advisors. “Yes, I am.”
“Good.” Puck grins. “Hope he’s better at that than he is at dancing.”
Many long, enjoyable hours later, in the carriage on the way back to the palace, Llyr does the absolute strangest thing Kurt has ever witnessed from him. Stranger than the cat sorcery, stranger than the wine incident, stranger than all the statue prodding and fork inspecting and door handle fondling put together.
What he does is this: he reaches across the seat, casual as anything, and takes Kurt’s hand.
Kurt nearly jumps out of his skin. He turns his head to stare at Llyr, who merely beams back at him. He is sitting quite close, the length of his lean thigh pressed lightly against Kurt’s. His fingers are warm and strong where they’re twined through Kurt’s.
“Did, ah,” Kurt says, feeling flustered, “did you enjoy seeing the village?”
Llyr nods, his eyes fixed on Kurt’s.
The sensation of their clasped hands is very distracting. No man has ever held Kurt’s hand before, not like this. It’s not unpleasant, exactly, but it’s so new: the pressure of Llyr’s palm against his, the oddly intimate weave of their fingers.
The galling thing is that Llyr doesn’t seem to be affected in the slightest. By the time Kurt has recovered his composure, Llyr has turned away, looking out the window at the passing scenery with his usual childish curiosity. His hand remains firmly in Kurt’s, every so often giving a gentle squeeze: a reflexive tightening in surprise or delight at something he’s seen, and occasionally, it seems, just to remind Kurt that he’s there.
They must do things very differently where Llyr is from. There, perhaps, it is a common thing for a man to take his friend’s hand, as unremarkable as two girls walking arm in arm. Kurt should say something. Kindly, of course – he wouldn’t want to shame him – but he really must advise Llyr of this cultural difference so that he doesn’t make the same mistake with others, who might be less tolerant of his foreign habits.
The trouble is, if he does that, Llyr will let go of his hand.
Kurt peers down at their tangled fingers, his own skin looking paler than ever next to Llyr’s deep tan. Llyr does have fine hands. Smooth, but for a slight roughness on the side of his thumb, no doubt from the wooden practice sword he’s been flailing around with Sam recently. Kurt will have to help him adjust his grip the next time he sees them.
He really ought to say something.
But Llyr’s head is beginning to nod, drooping down toward his chest every so often before he jerks it back up with a start. It has been a long afternoon, packed with adventure and excitement. The poor man must be tired. It would be cruel to disturb him now, much less subject him to a lecture on proper etiquette which will no doubt surprise and embarrass him.
Kurt should say something, and he will. Later.
Within minutes, Llyr has dozed off against Kurt’s shoulder, lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the carriage. It would be easy for Kurt to tilt their heads together, to lay his cheek against Llyr’s soft-looking curls and settle down for a short nap himself.
Instead, he rests their joined hands on his own leg and listens to the hushed sound of Llyr’s breathing all the way back to the palace.
A few days after their trip into town, Kurt goes searching for Llyr around midday, looking forward to his upbeat company after another dispiriting morning of research, only to discover that he has apparently vanished. He’s not waiting outside the library, and he’s not distracting Sam and Michael from their guard duties. He’s not beguiling the scullery maids or playing with the children. He’s not even out in the stables, where Kurt once found him quite cheerfully mucking out stalls alongside grateful stable boys.
After a long hunt, Kurt finally tracks him down in his chamber, tucked into bed looking drowsy and uncharacteristically cross. Britt is sitting with him, petting his hair and trying unsuccessfully to cajole him into drinking from a steaming cup.
“Oh no,” Kurt says. “Llyr, are you not feeling well?”
“He’s not being a very good patient,” Britt sighs, frowning at Llyr, who responds with a comically exaggerated frown of his own.
Kurt sits down on the other side of the bed. He pats Llyr’s hand in sympathy, and is surprised when Llyr immediately locks their fingers together, gripping hard and turning a mournful look on him.
“You should listen to Britt,” Kurt tells him, trying not to laugh at the ridiculous pout of his lower lip. “She just wants to help you feel better.”
Britt leans off the bed to set down the cup, which looks to be filled with something dark and distinctly unpalatable. “It’s not his fault. He’s never been ill before.”
Kurt gives her a quizzical look. “How do you know that?”
“I know,” Britt says, with mysterious certainty.
Whatever the truth of that, it’s clear that Llyr is not enduring his illness with the sort of stoic fortitude Kurt might have expected. He is certainly not so storybook-handsome as usual, with his hair in utter disarray and his bronzed skin splotchy with fever. Fortunately, the illness seems to be fairly mild. He’s showing no signs of boils or pox, and his fever isn’t running hot enough to be cause for true concern. With a few days’ rest, he’ll be just fine.
Still, Kurt imagines it must be unnerving to take ill in a strange place, with none of the familiar trappings of home and no family to care for him. He remembers all too well how it felt to be stuck at the temple in Mywes after the shipwreck, before he was well enough to travel home. The Sisters were as kind and attentive as could be, and yet all he wanted was the comfort of his father’s presence, or his friends’. When Santana finally arrived with a handful of guards in tow, he almost wept in relief.
He squeezes Llyr’s hand, feeling suddenly contrite. “You’ll be all right,” he assures him. “A few lazy days in bed, and you’ll be back to wooing the cooks and whacking at Sam with that sword of yours.”
He lays his free hand on Llyr’s burning forehead, the way he faintly remembers his mother doing when he was a child. Llyr’s eyes flutter shut, and he lets out a long, raspy breath.
“You make him feel better,” Britt says.
Kurt gazes thoughtfully down at his friend, looking so young and miserable in his sickbed. “Well, then,” he says, withdrawing both hands so he can start wriggling out of his boots, “you’d better go tell Santana to reschedule my meetings this afternoon.”
Britt grins and slides off the bed, brushing a parting kiss to Llyr’s cheek before scampering off.
Kurt kicks off his boots and knees farther onto the bed. The moment he’s settled against the headboard, Llyr curls up close beside him with a sigh of exhaustion, his forehead pressed to Kurt’s hip.
Britt returns with a pile of damp cloths and a cooling liniment to soothe the fever’s ache. Together, she and Kurt wipe the sweat from Llyr’s face and neck, and carefully rub the liniment into whatever skin they can reach.
“You can take it off,” Britt says, watching as Kurt awkwardly maneuvers his hands under the neckline of Llyr’s loosely-laced shirt to massage the balm into his shoulders. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”
“I’m not going to strip him while he’s half-conscious,” Kurt says tersely, trying not to pay too much attention to the hard, smooth lines of muscle under his hands.
Britt departs again shortly after, leaving Llyr in Kurt’s care. Unfortunately, she was right: Llyr is not an easy patient. He drifts in and out of a restless doze for what feels like hours, tossing and turning all over the bed. He squirms like an unhappy child, face pinched in discomfort, and occasionally opens his eyes only to stare accusingly at Kurt, as though he is somehow at fault.
Kurt tries everything he can think of to soothe him into an easier rest. He strokes over Llyr’s wild curls like Britt was doing, brushing them back from his flushed, sweat-damp face. He rubs his back in gentle circles and speaks quietly to him, a meandering monologue of whatever thoughts happen to pass through his mind: a bizarre exchange with Sue the day before, the porridge he had for breakfast, the latest gossip about the doomed romance between Marley and one of the grooms, a known heartbreaker. He even tries to get him to drink the foul brew Britt left behind, with no more success that she had.
Despite his best efforts, Llyr is inconsolable. He coughs and wriggles and huffs with frustration, more irritable than Kurt has ever seen him. Nothing seems to bring him the slightest relief, until finally Kurt is desperate enough to try singing to him. He has always been a bit self-conscious about his singing voice, which is clear and strong but as high as a woman’s, and the source of much teasing in his younger years. But Llyr likes music, and he’s so groggy with fever that he probably won’t remember in any case, so Kurt decides on a well-known cradle song and draws a deep breath, hoping beyond hope that no one happens to pass outside Llyr’s chamber in the next few minutes.
He has only just started singing when Llyr’s eyes blink open, blurry and unfocused. Kurt curses himself, fearing that his attempt has only made things worse – but then Llyr smiles, an unexpected flicker of warmth after hours of sulking.
Still, Kurt hesitates. “Do you want me to stop? Or – or sing something else?”
Llyr shakes his head. He shifts closer, maneuvering himself to pillow his heavy head on Kurt’s thigh.
Kurt takes up the song again, more confidently now, and watches in amazement as Llyr’s eyes drift slowly shut, lashes fluttering down against his cheeks. By the end of the song, his rough breathing has evened out, and he lies peaceful and boneless at Kurt’s side, one arm draped comfortably over Kurt’s legs.
Kurt feels as though he has discovered the secret of creation.
Llyr sleeps the rest of the afternoon away, snoring a little and twitching occasionally, but otherwise dead to the world. Every time he shows signs of stirring, Kurt sings another song, and Llyr instantly settles down, cuddling a bit closer and sinking easily back into sleep.
This, of course, is how Santana finds them: Kurt slumped against the headboard with Llyr sprawled halfway across his lap, wild-haired and slack-jawed, one hand loosely clutching a handful of Kurt’s tunic.
“If you tell a soul about this, I’ll have you strung up by your hair from the North Tower,” Kurt warns her.
“Tell a soul about what?” Santana replies innocently, though her eyes are sparkling with wicked glee. “I’ve seen nothing. I’ve nothing to tell. He’s drooling, did you know?”
Kurt did know, and he doesn’t care. That may be the most damning thing of all.
Kurt dreams of Blaine again, the third time in a week, and spends the rest of the night in the library, searching in vain through those stupid books with their stupid theories until the early hours of the morning. He has sent for books from other collections across Lima, which he hopes might contain the answers he’s not finding in his own, but the few that have arrived so far are not promising. One tome contains the report of a mate in the Salyrrean Navy who claims the sea witches lured him away from his station, enchanting and mistreating him for days with all manner of heinous abuses, until finally they abandoned him on the shore near a major port city, leaving him so addled and distressed that he had no choice but to seek solace in the city’s most expensive brothel.
Kurt sincerely hopes the man’s captain was not as credulous as the idiotic scholar who put the story to parchment.
It’s nearly dawn when he finally gives up and returns to his chambers. The palace is quiet around him, the long corridors silent and empty but for himself and the occasional scurry of an early-rising maid.
Accordingly, he is surprised to hear the echo of what sounds like quite a commotion in some distant part of the palace. He decides to investigate, and easily traces the noise to the east wing, near the guest chambers. His apprehension grows with every step, especially after he draws close enough to make out the words of a drinking song, and two very familiar voices behind them.
His fears are solidified when he turns a corner and finds Puck and Sam steering a stumbling Llyr down the corridor. Llyr can barely put one foot in front of the other; he sways with each step as though buffeted by a strong wind. It’s plain to see that he is prodigiously drunk – as are the others, most likely, though they have a great deal more practice in holding their liquor.
Sam is the first to catch sight of Kurt. “Good evening, my lord,” he says in greeting, though he has the sense to sound slightly guilty.
“Good morning, more like,” Kurt says archly. “I see that you’ve been making the most of your night off.”
Llyr looks up at the sound of Kurt’s voice, grinning dopily. He immediately shakes off Puck’s hand and begins staggering in Kurt’s direction. It’s a commendable effort, but cut short when the toe of his boot catches on the edge of a stone and sends him toppling to the ground like a felled tree. Sam and Puck haul him back to his feet, and he wobbles between them, frowning at having been foiled in his attempt.
Kurt clucks his tongue. “Oh, you poor trusting lamb. What have these reprobates done to you?”
“He had a fine time of it,” Puck objects, as Llyr tries stubbornly to wriggle free of his friends’ hold. “The innkeeper’s daughters couldn’t get enough of him. He had pretty girls falling over him all night.”
“A couple lads, too,” says Sam, and he and Puck both laugh as though this is the most outrageously funny joke they’ve ever heard.
“He’s going to be violently ill tomorrow, you realize,” Kurt snaps, his voice gone hard with a sudden flare of irritation. He’s bone-tired, heartsick and frustrated from the lack of progress in his research, and the last thing he wants to be dealing with right now is two of his own guards luring a royal guest into delinquency – and making a fool of him along the way, from the sound of things. “I hope that your noble fraternal sentiments extend to keeping him from drowning in his own vomit.”
“All part of the experience, my lord,” Puck says.
Llyr lists dangerously to one side, compelling Sam to reel him in with an arm around his shoulders. He squints blearily in Kurt’s direction, and the confusion in his eyes both softens Kurt’s heart and sharpens the edges of his annoyance. It’s obvious that Llyr doesn’t fully understand what’s happening around him, or even what he’s experienced tonight. Kurt will be having a strong word with Sam and Puck later, but Llyr isn’t the one at fault. He can’t be blamed too severely for having terrible taste in friends.
“See that he gets safely to bed,” Kurt orders. He eyes the pair of curious maids lingering at the end of the corridor, and adds, “Alone.”
“Do you hear that, brother?” Sam says to Llyr. “It’s off to bed without your supper for you, young man.”
If Llyr has any feelings on the subject, they are destined to remain a mystery, as he has fallen asleep on his feet like a horse and will not be roused for many hours yet.
(He finally wakes in the middle of the afternoon, only to be immediately and copiously ill, just as Kurt predicted. He also seems to have what must be a skull-splitting headache, which is only slightly alleviated by the cold cloths Britt brings to lay across his forehead. He looks altogether so wretched that Kurt doubts he will ever touch a drop of ale again, much less venture out to another tavern.
“And this, Llyr, is why we never trust the guards,” Kurt says with a sigh, rubbing Llyr’s back as he quivers in a pitiful heap on the bed, an object lesson in regret and temperance.
Because of course Kurt ended up being the one to look after him. After all, Puck and Sam have proven that they are clearly not up to the task.)
The dreams have been coming more frequently. Almost every night, Kurt wakes with Blaine’s song ringing through his mind, the memory of Blaine’s eyes burned into the backs of his own eyelids. He’s rarely able to fall back to sleep afterward, and the resulting exhaustion ratchets up the intensity of every emotion, leaving him prone to sinking into dark, melancholic moods or being roused to seething ire by the slightest infraction. He has little desire to inflict his foul temper on anyone else, so perhaps it’s for the best that he has taken to spending many long hours in the library every day, and more still in the Great Room, standing before the windows and gazing out over the sea.
Nearly everyone in the palace has sensed his moodiness and wisely decided to give him space. The only exceptions are his father and Santana, neither of whom have ever been cowed or daunted by his outbursts.
And then there’s Llyr. If anything, Llyr is sticking closer than ever to him these days, trailing him like a shadow through the palace. He still spends time with Britt and Marley – and with Sam, who has been atoning for the tavern incident by teaching him to play his new flute – but more often than not, he is either with Kurt or dawdling outside whatever room Kurt has shut himself up in. Kurt nearly always leaves the library or the Great Room to find Llyr waiting patiently for him in the corridor, usually bearing some small treat he’s charmed out of the cooks. Kurt is better fed as Llyr’s friend than he has ever been as Prince.
It’s not only the food that makes him value Llyr’s company. Now more than ever, Kurt is grateful beyond words for Llyr’s attentiveness, his open and artless affection. There are days when the warmth of Llyr’s smile is the only thing that can draw him out of his brooding, a bright beacon to latch onto to drag himself back to the land of the living. Llyr doesn’t flee from his bursts of temper, as most people do, and he doesn’t strike back like Santana does. He just…stays. He sits at Kurt’s side or walks a few discreet paces behind him until Kurt has calmed down enough to apologize. If anyone else tried that, it would only stoke the fire of Kurt’s anger, but Llyr is so patient and guileless that Kurt simply can’t sustain any ill will against him.
Kurt is fairly sure Llyr thinks he’s a better man than he actually is. He’ll work out the truth eventually, but in the meantime, Kurt can only try his best to meet those lofty expectations.
He dreams of Blaine, tangled up in a fisherman’s net and caught fast, struggling and helpless, terrified. Begging for Kurt’s help as he’s dragged away.
He dreams of Blaine, the green-gold of his tail gleaming somewhere far beneath the waves, as hazy and wavering as a mirage.
He dreams of Blaine, lost in the perfect blackness of the whale’s belly. His song seems to come first from this direction, then from the opposite, drawing Kurt ever deeper into the endless maze.
He dreams of Blaine. He can never reach him.
The dreams are constant now, tormenting him from the moment he closes his eyes. He sleeps little more than an hour every night, two if he’s lucky. He has scoured the library a hundred times, until he could recite each book from memory and recreate all their hideous illustrations in his own hand. He barely eats, even turning away the delicacies Llyr tries to press on him. Food has lost its appeal; it turns to wet sand in his mouth, choking him. The only hunger he has now is for his books, and for the sea, crashing and rolling beneath the windows in the Great Room. He is starving – not for meat or bread, but for clues, for answers. For Blaine.
Perhaps it’s true what they say, and the sea people’s songs do lead men to madness.
He knows he can’t go on like this. If the exhaustion doesn’t kill him, the Council just might. He endures their meetings in a daze, hearing but not listening, unable to formulate a thoughtful response to even the simplest questions. The councilors don’t know what to make of it. If Sue weren’t off in Kalkania heading their diplomatic mission there, she would have verbally flayed Kurt up one side and down the other by now, but in her absence, there is no one willing to risk their neck by calling out Kurt’s distraction.
Not in mixed company, anyway. In private, Santana needles him incessantly, demanding to know what in nine hells is the matter with him. He tries to brush her off, but Santana has never been one to back down without a fight. She chases him down after every meeting, ranting and preaching at him until he has to retreat to his own chambers to escape, even ordering the guards to bar the door against her.
He can only outrun her for so long. She stumbles across him on a particularly bad day, sitting with Llyr in the corridor outside the library. He meant to go…somewhere, he thinks, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort. He is tired, so very tired, too tired to do more than slump there against the wall and wave off the pastry Llyr keeps urging him to take.
Santana stares down at him, her lips thin and pale, and Kurt knows he’s been cornered.
“Llyr,” Santana says, not looking away from Kurt’s face, “do me a favor and go find Britt, would you? She doesn’t have much to do today, and I think she’s feeling a bit lonely.”
As always, Llyr turns to Kurt for his reaction. Kurt just shrugs. He doesn’t much care whether Llyr stays or leaves. He doesn’t much care about anything right now.
“Go on,” Santana says, more firmly this time, and so Llyr goes – reluctant, dragging his feet, but unwilling to disobey a clear order without Kurt’s support.
As soon as he’s turned the corner, Santana grabs Kurt’s arm and pulls him up, yanking him back inside the library. She shoves him into a chair, latches the door and then rounds on him with a glare that could shatter diamonds, looming over him like a vengeful wraith. “You’re going to tell me what’s going on, and you’re going to tell me now. And I mean now, Your Highness.”
He tells her.
What else can he do? He can’t live like this. He’s hardly living at all. He feels stretched thin and brittle, as though the slightest shock will fracture him into a thousand pieces. Even Llyr can’t cheer him now. He persists in trying, but he is afraid for Kurt; it’s written all over his face.
Kurt doesn’t blame him. He’s afraid for himself.
So he tells Santana, at last. Once it starts spilling out of him, he can’t hold anything back. He tells her everything, all the secrets he’s kept hidden for so many years: meeting Blaine, rescuing him, giving him his mother’s pendant. The innate, indescribable knowledge that he and Blaine were connected in some way too powerful to explain, that they were destined to come together again, their lives intertwined like a braid. The shipwreck, and how Blaine saved him, how he fought for Kurt’s life and sang to him on the black shore of Mywes. The alchemy of music into love, pouring like molten gold from Blaine’s lips into Kurt’s heart.
He tells her about his research, all the fruitless days and nights of poring over accounts of monsters and seductresses and a hundred other descriptions that bear not even the slightest resemblance to the boy he remembers or the man who delivered him from the sea. He tells her about the dreams, Blaine calling to him but always staying just beyond his reach, and the overwhelming sense of loss when he wakes, as real as any waking heartache.
He tells her everything, every last terrible detail, and she sits beside him in silence and listens to him. He expects her to scoff, to argue, to demand explanations, but she doesn’t speak at all. She listens to every word, and when he’s finished, she draws him into her arms and embraces him, holding him close while he shakes and cries.
“Oh, Kurt,” is all she says. “I wish you’d told me sooner.”
“I don’t know what to do, Santana.” He clings to her, anchoring himself to the solidness of her strong, slender back as the sobs roll through him. “I can’t do it anymore, I can’t. I can’t take another day of this.”
Eventually, he cries himself into something approaching calmness, like a fussy baby who’s run out of tears. He simply doesn’t have the energy to go on. He eases out of Santana’s arms and falls back in his chair, exhausted, emptied out inside.
They sit quietly for a long while. Kurt stares at the carpet, unwilling to look either at Santana or at the haphazard stacks of books that line every flat surface in the room, taunting him.
“Let’s take a walk,” Santana says abruptly.
Kurt looks up at her, incredulous. “Right now?” He’s a wreck, his face flushed and messy, his eyes puffy from crying. He would sooner venture into public stark naked than let anyone else see him like this.
“Right now.” She stands and grabs Kurt’s hands to pull him up, hauling him to his feet. “I can’t sit and think at the same time. And you – if you stay here sniveling any longer, you’re going to tip over the edge and end up mad and bawling for thirty years, like the Wailing Priestess. My nerves couldn’t take the racket.”
Kurt laughs a little, small and watery. “Now there’s the Santana I know.”
“And you couldn’t live without me,” she says, with one of her sharp grins. “So move your royal ass, my lord. We have a garden to stroll.”
Santana is right; she always is, damn her. The garden is on its steady decline into winter bareness, faded and withering, but the sunshine and brisk air do wonders for clearing Kurt’s head. Santana is a steady presence at his side, her hand resting elegantly on his arm. To any onlookers, they probably look as though they’re discussing state affairs: the progress of grain storage for winter, the balance of the royal coffers, the delegation to Kalkania. For the most part, however, they walk in silence, with only the occasional whisper of gossip about whichever unlucky staff member or noblewoman crosses their path. Old habits die hard, even in the face of heartbreak.
By the time they return inside, Kurt is feeling…not better, exactly, but stronger. More prepared to face another grueling stint in the library and all the absurdities he’s sure to find in the latest book to arrive. He can do this. He must. For Blaine, he would do anything.
They wander through the palace for a while. Kurt suspects neither of them is quite ready for the conversation they both know is coming, so they walk the corridors together, taking random turns whenever it pleases them and venturing up the occasional staircase.
Kurt is just starting to consider breaking the silence – with what, he doesn’t yet know – when Santana beats him to it.
“Oh ho, what have we here?” she says suddenly, sounding unexpectedly delighted. She slips away from Kurt and swerves over to the railing they’re passing, looking down at the courtyard two stories below.
Kurt follows her, somewhat aggrieved that she’s interrupted their walk until he sees what has caught her eye. Britt and Llyr are down there, and they’re dancing, whirling around the courtyard in a pared-down version of the lively country dance Llyr was drawn into at the market.
“But…Llyr can’t dance,” Kurt says, foolishly. Any idiot could see that Llyr can dance, and quite well.
Santana leans against the railing, her face softened by a rare genuine smile. “Britt is a good teacher.”
Kurt settles next to her, content to spy on their friends for a while. Britt is humming a melody for them, a touch off-key, but perfectly cadenced. They are both barefoot; a quick scan of the courtyard shows that Llyr left his boots tucked neatly beside a pillar, while Britt’s slippers were kicked haphazardly into a corner.
They make a handsome pair. There is something pleasingly complementary about the two of them together: she with her long and graceful limbs, and he with his wiry, compact frame. Britt’s pale hair flutters around them as they spin, catching in Llyr’s black curls.
The dance ends, and they transition into a more intimate couple’s dance, something more likely to be seen at court. Kurt is amused to see that Britt has taken what would traditionally be the man’s role. She guides Llyr with the utmost confidence, urging him into the steps with a firm hand on his waist, and he very capably follows her lead.
There’s no denying that Llyr has improved enormously since their outing to the village. His movements are fluid and relaxed, though his brow furrows occasionally with some of the more complicated steps. His face is starting to color with exertion, and his hair is tumbling down into his eyes, which somehow only makes him more attractive.
Above all, he seems happy. He is usually happy, of course, but something about dancing suits him marvelously, making the most of his strength and energy, his natural joy. And he could have no better partner than Britt, who dances like she was born to it but never takes herself too seriously. She spins Llyr out and then draws him in again, folds an arm behind his back and dips him low. She waggles her eyebrows at him, grinning, and his face scrunches up in silent laughter.
Puck is right, Kurt thinks. Someday, Llyr will make some lucky girl the happiest wife who has ever lived.
He has almost forgotten that Santana is beside him, so he’s startled when she lays a hand on his arm. “May I speak freely?”
“I’ve never known you to restrain yourself,” Kurt says dryly. “I don’t suppose there’s any reason for you to start now.”
For once, Santana doesn’t allow herself to be baited. Her dark gaze is uncommonly serious. “Do you see that man down there?”
He frowns at her, puzzled. “Of course.”
Santana shakes her head. “I don’t think you do.”
“No?” She clearly has a point to make, if she can ever get to it; he may as well humor her. “And why is that?”
“Because, my lord, if you’d seen him – really seen him – he’d already be in your bed with a ring on his finger.”
“Santana,” Kurt splutters, scandalized. Even by her standards, this is shockingly bold.
Santana carries on, ignoring his reaction. “And I know, I know you think you’re in love with this – this dream of yours. You think he saved you, and the mad thing is, I actually believe you. I believe that your sea creature plucked you from a watery grave and delivered you to safety, all because he remembered the boy you were. What his feelings are for you, I can’t guess. Perhaps he is simply a loyal friend, devoted to you as one brother to another. Perhaps he is as infatuated with the idea of you as you are with him.”
Blaine loves him. Kurt knows that the way he knows that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, that the tide will come in every day and every night. He can’t explain it, to Santana or to anyone, not even to himself. He only knows that the certainty of Blaine’s love rests on his shoulders like a shirt of fine mail, gossamer-thin but impenetrable.
“But whatever the truth of it,” Santana continues, “you must see that a future with him can never be more than a fantasy. He has his world, and you have yours. Even if you’re right, even if he loves you as you love him – what kind of life can you have together? Say that your research pays off and you find him, and you both want to be together. What then? Would you have him brought to live here in the palace? Trapped in a marble pool until the end of his days, a spectacle for visiting dignitaries to gawk at?”
“Of course not,” Kurt says sharply. He could never do that to Blaine.
“Or perhaps you imagine that you’ll leave Lima and go away with him, that you’ll find some nameless island where you can both laze about on the shore all day making eyes at each other.” Santana tightens her grip on his arm. “Kurt, you are the King, in deed if not in name. You have been ever since your father fell ill, we both know that. Do you really think you could you walk away from your duty here? I know you, better than anyone. You won’t abandon your people, not even to protect your own heart.”
“Santana,” he whispers, hating the way his voice breaks over her name. She’s right. She’s always right. “What do I do?”
“You can’t be with Blaine,” she says, in a tone far too gentle for the crushing weight of her words. “But that man, right down there – he looks at you like you hung the moon and set the stars. He worships you. You’ll never find a more devoted husband.”
“You’re imagining things,” Kurt says, scoffing, though it sounds forced even to his ears.
“You know I’m not,” Santana says calmly. “He loves you, Kurt. He’s good and he’s kind and he loves you. Men like that don’t wash ashore naked every day, you know.”
Kurt can’t meet her eyes any longer. He looks down into the courtyard, where Britt is leading Llyr through the swift, spinning steps of a waltz. The two of them move beautifully together, bare feet seeming to barely skim over the stones.
“You care for him,” Santana says.
“Yes.” Of course he cares for him: sweet, strange Llyr, who has so quickly become his closest companion.
Santana squeezes his arm. “You’re in love with him.”
“No,” Kurt denies forcefully. He’s not. He can’t be. Blaine is the one he loves, his soulmate, the man he’s been destined for all his life.
And Llyr…Llyr is his friend, his dearest friend. He enjoys Llyr’s company – craves it, really, if he’s honest with himself. No one makes him laugh like Llyr does. No one else smiles at him the way Llyr does, as if seeing him is the best part of his day. No one else brings him silly little gifts and holds his hand in carriages and falls asleep cuddled against him like a hound pup seeking heat. No one else looks at him like he can do no wrong, like he’s all they could possibly need to be happy.
“Kurt,” Santana says, so very gently, “don’t get so tangled up in the love story you’ve created in your head that you miss the one you’re living.”
Down below, the waltz ends, and Britt and Llyr pull apart and bow to each other, panting and laughing. Santana releases Kurt’s arm and claps loudly, the sound of her applause echoing down into the courtyard.
“Bravo!” she cries. “Dance another for us, won’t you?”
Their friends look up, startled. Britt waves cheerfully, then drops into an elaborate curtsy, beaming at Santana the whole while. “Come down and join us!” she calls.
Llyr’s attention is on Kurt, as it always is. He has no words to greet him, and needs none. His smile, his soft and lovely eyes – they tell Kurt everything he needs to know. They always have. He’s just been trying not to see.
“I – I have to go,” Kurt says. He backs away from the railing, away from the truth written across Llyr’s wide-open face. He feels like he’s going to be ill. He needs to get away, to think.
He turns and runs, leaving Santana to make his excuses.
He has the beach to himself. He left two of his burliest guards posted at the top of the steps with orders that they were to let no one pass unless the palace was on fire or his father summoned him. Not even Santana will get past them.
He stares out at the setting sun, burning orange as it nears the horizon. Blaine is out there, somewhere, beneath the fiery glimmering waves. He could be nearby, or he could be a month’s journey away. Kurt has no way of knowing. For all their love, they are still nothing more than tiny grains of sand, at the mercy of the dark and endless sea.
He wants to run into the water, swim out as far as he can, until his muscles give out and his lungs fail and he sinks beneath the surface. Blaine will save him, if he’s near, and if not…if not, at least it will be over. It would be enough to be where Blaine is, to finally surrender to the call of his dreams.
He wants to go back up to the palace, find Llyr and fall into his arms, kiss him and hold him close and promise him the world, just to see that smile that’s his and his alone.
He wants Blaine, and he wants Llyr. He needs them, both of them, the way he needs his left arm and his right. Blaine is his beating heart, the very breath in his lungs; Llyr is the sun in the sky, a warm light to banish the shadows and guide his days.
He loves them both, and the thought of having to abandon one for the other is unimaginable. Losing either of them would destroy him – but if he doesn’t choose, he will lose both.
Santana is wrong about Blaine. She has never heard his song, never felt the aching tenderness of his touch. She can’t understand the hunger that has driven Kurt to the edge of reason, the unbearable emptiness that is only made worse by the knowledge that Blaine must be suffering the same way. Blaine has long since carved out a place for himself in Kurt’s heart, and no other man can ever fill that space. He will never not love Blaine, not if he lives a thousand years.
But Santana is right, too. What kind of future could he and Blaine have? Kurt can’t leave Lima, and Blaine can’t leave the sea. At best, they would have a half-life together, meeting for a few hours every day here on the shore, neither of them able to venture more than a few steps out of their own world. They will never marry or have a family. Blaine will never warm his bed, never attend his coronation, never sit at his right hand for the Winter Feast.
Blaine will never truly be his – not the way Llyr could be. The way Llyr would be, if Kurt would only let him. Santana is right about that too.
If it weren’t for Blaine, he’d have already asked for Llyr’s hand.
If it weren’t for Blaine, he’d be a lonely pile of bones at the bottom of the sea.
He stands on the shore for hours, the vast sea before him, his kingdom at his back. It’s a clear night, and the stars are out. The moon is a tiny sliver in the sky, waning fast. Tomorrow it will be gone.
Tomorrow, Kurt decides. One last night of wretched dreams, a final act of penance before he cuts himself loose from the tether holding him to the sea. Tomorrow, he’ll end this. He’ll go to Llyr and offer himself, deliver the fragments of his shattered heart into Llyr’s hands and beg him to piece them together as best he can. He’ll seek refuge in Llyr’s love, in his kindness and his light, and pray that that will be enough to keep the dreams at bay.
Perhaps he will never love Llyr the way he deserves – above all others, without regret – but he will love him all the same. It will have to be enough.
He has just started climbing the stairs back to the palace when he hears it: the melody that has echoed through his dreams all these months. He freezes mid-step, all of his attention instantly going to that faint, plaintive tune. There is something ghostly to it, almost ephemeral, as if the very song itself might be carried away on the night breeze and lost to him forever. He holds his breath, afraid to miss a single note. It seems to be drifting down from the palace above, a thin trembling sound. He has never heard it quite like this, but there’s no mistaking it.
The song swells, and it’s not above him after all, but below, behind. At last, there it is, just as he remembers: the haunting purity of Blaine’s voice, soaring above the rushing wind and the roar of the waves, every bit as paralyzingly beautiful as it was the first time Kurt heard it.
He turns back to the beach, toward the sea. And there, walking toward him across the sand, is a tall, black-haired man with luminous golden eyes, a sea-glass pendant glowing brightly at his neck.
He should take off his clothes, or they’ll be ruined.
It’s a silly thing to worry about, given the circumstances, but his prince cares about clothing. These breeches were sewn by Kurt’s own tailor, the first of many pairs, along with shirts and waistcoats and a lovely long coat the color of the eastern sky at dusk. So many beautiful gifts – for that’s what they were. Kurt asked for nothing in return, waved his concerns away with a laugh when he tried to raise the issue. He had none of the jangling bits of metal people exchanged at the market and the inn, but surely there was something he could offer.
“It’s payment enough to see you dressed properly,” Kurt told him, teasing and kind. “Just promise me you’ll burn those awful rags the girls dressed you in.”
He agreed, of course, smiled and nodded and thought, Anything, my love, I’ll promise you anything.
He never imagined that pain like this could exist, that a person could feel the way he feels now and live through it. If Kurt hadn’t saved him all those years ago, if those men had taken him to Calpurri and stabbed a hook through his back and scraped the scales from his skin, it would not have hurt the way this does. If he hadn’t been thrown clear of Kurt’s ship when the mast fell, but instead been consumed by the fire that seized hold of those screaming men, melting his flesh and charring his bones, it would have been a kinder fate.
His parents were right, in the end. Following his heart and forsaking his own kind have brought him only suffering.
How much easier it would be if he could only die. They say that it is painless, a simple thing: one long black night, dreamless and eternal. It would be a relief, in a way, to wade out into the waves, dissolve into the spray and become one with the salt sea foam.
He knows better than to expect such an end. The sorcerer has other plans.
Even so, he does not regret what he has done. He would not wish away a single moment spent with Kurt, learning as much as he could about the man he has loved so fiercely and for so very long. He knows things now that he could never have imagined before: that Kurt’s pale skin flushes pink when he’s excited; that his wit can be sharp, but never cruel; that he prefers sweet food to salty, and has a ravenous appetite for cakes; that he has the loveliest singing voice of any man alive; that he is sometimes quick to anger but equally quick to repent.
No, he does not regret his deal. He has glutted himself on Kurt’s presence for three cycles, has soaked in his humor and beauty and compassion like a lizard basking in the sun. He has had his happiness, and now he must pay the price for it.
When the time comes, he will go without a fight. He will strip out of the fine clothes Kurt gave him, discard them like a shell on the soft muddy sand, and step back into the sea, footprints melting away behind him.
(Such an odd thing, footprints. It seems right that his should disappear, that he should leave no record of his time on land.)
He will leave behind the strange world Above and walk into the waves, allowing them to tug at his frail human legs, to drag him slowly and inescapably back where he belongs.
No, that’s not right. He belongs with Kurt. Even now, this is the one thing he knows with all his heart. He has known it ever since his brave, beautiful prince draped that pendant around his neck, binding their lives together as surely as a blood oath. His place is at Kurt’s side, to love him and care for him and keep him safe.
But what is he to do? He has no voice, no fine words to promise or persuade. He has tried to let his actions speak for him: every gaze a vow, every touch a song of devotion. With every brush of fingers, every smile, every lingering glance, he has cried: I am yours, only yours, I will love you with all that I am and all that I can give, as long as I live and longer still, until the Reckoning comes and the land melts back into the sea.
He thought that Kurt heard him. He thought he saw a slow change in the way Kurt looked at him, that the friendly affection there was beginning to deepen into what he so badly longed to see. Yesterday, when Kurt looked down at him from the balcony, he thought that he finally saw a glimmer of his own feelings reflected in those sky-colored eyes. He was so certain that today, at last, Kurt would come to him, open his arms to him, fulfill the spell and secure their life together.
It seems that after three moon cycles in this place, he still does not understand anything about human behavior.
He has not seen the man who is to be Kurt’s husband, knows nothing of him except that Kurt has chosen him. He hopes that the man is kind. Surely he must be, if he has won Kurt’s generous heart. He must be kind and valiant and noble and true, as worthy a man as has ever lived. Kurt deserves such a man.
As desperately as he craves Kurt’s love, his touch, the grace of his smile – above all else, he needs Kurt to be happy. If this man will make him happy, so be it.
He wraps his arms around the sharp angles of his knees, briefly missing the comforting weight of his tail. The sun is beginning to set, sinking closer to the sea with every passing moment. Recently the days feel shorter than they used to be, the nights longer, though no one seems at all concerned about it. Perhaps this is another of the humans’ mysteries, or perhaps it’s only that these last weeks have passed in a blur, slipping away from him like the last vanishing grains of sand in one of Kurt’s hourglasses.
Either way, it doesn’t matter. The sun is going down, and soon it will disappear behind the horizon. It won’t be long now.
He hears movement behind him, someone approaching at a run, the muffled thud of footsteps in the sand. He doesn’t look to see who it is. It isn’t Kurt; nothing else is important.
“Llyr! Oh, thank the gods. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Llyr, you have to come with me. The wedding is about to start, but we can still stop it if we go now.”
Pretty, clever Britt. He’ll miss her, too, and Marley, and Sam and Puck and Michael and Santana and Mrs. Rose and all the rest. Drops of rain in the great sea of his despair.
Britt stands in front of him, blocking his view of the setting sun. “Aren’t you listening?” she demands. “Kurt is marrying him. We have to do something.”
He looks away. Grief rises sharply in his throat, as dark and cold as the fathomless abyss that lies beyond the White City.
“It’s not right,” Britt says vehemently. “You know it’s not right. He’s not you.”
He bows his head, ashamed of his helplessness. What can he do, a mute stranger with no power in this place? All he wants is to go to Kurt and fall to his knees before him, to weep and grovel, to huddle at his feet like a wounded animal and plead with every hitching, miserable breath for the man he loves to love him in return.
But such a display would accomplish nothing. His prince has given his heart to another, and the guards would only seize him by the arms and have him thrown from the tall windows, where he and Kurt once stood together and looked out over the frothing sea.
Britt grips his shoulders and shakes him, jolting him out of his haze of misery. “You don’t understand,” she says, a kind of wild urgency in her voice that he has never heard before. “He’s not you. But Kurt thinks he is.”
There is a struggle, they’ll tell him later.
Of course there’s a damned struggle. A handful of servants, a foreigner, and the Prince’s closest advisor storm into a royal wedding ceremony, descending on the shocked audience of nobles like a pack of crazed wolves. What kind of guards wouldn’t react to that kind of uprising? Of course they move to seize the intruders, restraining them, bewildered by the sudden wildness of these people they know and trust. They grapple with their friends, their lovers, even their wives, demanding to know what madness has overtaken them.
Kurt knows almost nothing of all this at the time. His world is shrouded by heavy fog, hazy and indistinct. He knows only the tall, handsome man beside him – his golden eyes, his beautiful voice, the gleam of the pendant resting at the hollow of his throat.
“Keep going,” Blaine orders the High Priest. He sounds upset, which Kurt doesn’t understand. What is there to be upset about? They’re getting married. They’re going to be together forever. What could possibly be more important than that?
“Is everything all right?” Kurt asks mildly.
Blaine smiles at him, a thin tight-lipped smile. “Of course, darling. I just can’t wait to be your husband, that’s all.”
“Your Highness,” says the High Priest, “I must insist that we – ”
“Are you deaf, old man?” Blaine snaps. “Keep going.”
“But – ”
“Grab her!” someone shouts, muffled and distant to Kurt’s ears. Blaine jerks his hands out of Kurt’s, turning away from the altar with a face full of thunder, and Kurt looks too, to see what has his love so distressed.
It’s Santana, emerging from the fog as she bounds up the altar steps. She dodges every attempt to catch her, ducking and weaving, a look of cold determination on her face that Kurt knows all too well means there’s no stopping her.
“No,” Kurt says, finally roused to concern, “Santana, don’t – ”
She’s too fast: too fast for him, too fast for the guards, nearly too fast for Blaine, who raises his arm to strike her as she throws herself at him.
“Get away from me, you little bitch,” he growls, backhanding her, but she twists away from the blow, spins and rises up again with a dagger in her hand, aiming for the throat.
By the time Kurt lunges forward, shocked into movement, Santana’s blade is already slashing through the cord that holds his mother’s pendant, sending it tumbling down to the ground.
The sea glass smashes against the hard marble floor, and Kurt’s world erupts.
It comes to him in pieces. The pendant shattering into a hundred fragments in a burst of light. The lifting of the fog, like being released from an enormous weight, leaving him staggering, unmoored. A voice, a song, echoing off the marble and resounding in his chest like the ringing of a bell. The flickering flame in his heart suddenly flaring to life, consuming every doubt and shadow, illuminating his path.
And at the end of that path…
Llyr, slipping free of the guards’ stunned grasp and running toward him. Llyr, shoving through the crowd, heedless of the longswords bristling like thorns all around him.
Sweet Llyr, calling out for him.
“Kurt!” he cries, rich and lilting, and that one word nearly brings Kurt to his knees. Oh, gods, he has been such a fool. How can he have been so blind?
His savior, his faithful friend, the kindest and gentlest and most beautiful man he’s ever known. The breath in his lungs and the sun in his sky.
“Blaine,” he whispers.
He stumbles down the slick marble steps, his legs numb and trembling under him. The Great Room is in chaos, everyone shouting and screaming and demanding answers, some guard or another bellowing orders behind him, but he is deaf to it all. He can’t hear a thing but the memory of his name from Blaine’s lips.
“Blaine,” he says again, louder.
Blaine hears him this time. He falters for just a moment, staring across the mayhem and into Kurt’s eyes – just a moment, but long enough for Michael to grip his shoulder and stop him in his tracks.
“Let him go!” Kurt shouts, and Michael glances at him uncertainly, hesitating only a moment before he obeys the order.
It hardly matters, though, because Kurt has already nearly reached them. His heart is hammering in his chest, sending blood rushing in his ears. All this time, Blaine has been by his side, exactly where he’s meant to be. All this time –
“Seize him!” roars a voice behind him, at the same moment he hears Santana cry, “Kurt, look out!”
The floor quakes beneath Kurt’s feet, slabs of marble rippling like water. He has only a moment to register the expression on Blaine’s face, wide-eyed and fearful, before the rippling stops and the floor explodes, fragments of marble shooting up like a wall of spears between them.
Kurt barely falls back in time to avoid being impaled. He lands hard on the ground and covers his head with his arms, shielding himself from the shower of falling shards, as sharp as broken glass.
He lurches to his feet as soon as it’s over, shaken but determined. Blaine, he has to get to Blaine –
Horrible laughter fills the room, booming off the walls. “I don’t think so, Your Highness,” says a voice at Kurt’s back, and suddenly Kurt is being yanked backwards by invisible hands, his feet going out from under him as he flies back and crashes into the altar steps.
Kurt lifts his head, blinking through the pain and shock to see Blaine racing toward him. He tries to stand, to meet him, but his legs won’t obey. Panic surges through him – he’s broken his back, he’ll never walk again – until his attention is suddenly recaptured by the sight of Blaine slamming to a stop, frozen in place, as surely and abruptly as though he’d run into a wall.
“Not so fast,” says the voice. Kurt cranes his neck to see two long legs moving past him. It’s his groom, the man he was on the verge of marrying just moments ago. Kurt didn’t give him a second thought after hearing Blaine – the real Blaine – call his name. It seems that was a mistake.
The man leisurely descends the altar steps, paying no attention to Kurt, nor to the guards, who stand motionless as statues, helpless to intervene as the man makes his way toward Blaine. There is something unnatural about the way he moves, a strange looseness to his stride that makes it seem as if he’s not walking at all, but scuttling like a spider or gliding like a snake.
“You,” Blaine says, in a tone that makes Kurt’s gut twist. Blaine knows this man?
“Indeed,” says the man. He lifts a pale, long-fingered hand to stroke the side of Blaine’s face. “You didn’t really think I’d let you go that easily, did you?”
Blaine’s jaw is tense, his face stormy with a cold fury Kurt would never have imagined him capable of. He opens his mouth to speak again, but the man presses two fingers to his lips, silencing him.
“How many times do I have to tell you,” he says, tutting with theatrical disapproval. “Words are cheap.” He pinches Blaine’s cheek, hard enough to make him wince. “Yours especially. But don’t worry – you’ll find it much easier to remember once I’ve taken back that pretty voice.”
“I’m not giving you anything,” Blaine says fiercely, “not after – ”
“Oh, but you already did,” the man says. “You’ve given me everything. Or have you forgotten?” He grips Blaine’s jaw and turns his head, forcing him to look toward the windows. “Time’s up, little one. You’re mine.”
Kurt follows their line of sight, just in time to see the last burning red sliver of sun slip below the distant horizon.
Kurt’s gaze snaps back to Blaine, who is struggling violently against the man’s grasp on his jaw. At first Kurt thinks he’s only upset, but then he convulses, folding over himself with a guttural sound of pure agony. He looks up at Kurt for just an instant, eyes half-open, teeth gritted against the pain, and then crumples to the ground, taking Kurt’s heart with him.
Before Kurt can even call his name, there’s an explosion of light, so piercingly bright that it whites out his vision, blinding him for several long moments. He blinks the glare from his eyes, frantic to know what’s happening, to see whether Blaine is –
Oh. Oh, gods.
The man – the sorcerer – has transformed into what must be his true form: the upper body of a man, white-skinned and lanky with a hard face, and below, eight writhing ink-black tentacles.
And Blaine is…Blaine. Gone are the strong legs, the dark eyes, even the hint of stubble at his jaw – all the little touches of humanity that fooled Kurt and everyone else like a clever masquerade disguise. His clothes are in tatters around him, revealing the glittering tail that has haunted Kurt’s dreams, the hard chest and muscled arms Kurt has felt but never seen. He lies flat on his back, trapped by the grip of those horrible tentacles, two of them holding his wrists to the ground and another three restraining his struggling tail. He thrashes under the sorcerer’s hold, tossing his head, and Kurt catches a glimpse of those bright, bright eyes, gleaming and furious.
“Hello again, little one,” the sorcerer croons, leaning over him. “Have you missed me?”
“Liar!” Blaine snarls, revealing a mouthful of sharp teeth. From his tongue, the word sounds like the ugliest curse. “You enchanted him! You told me that – ”
Another tentacle slips over Blaine’s mouth like a gag, cutting him off mid-sentence.
“You had your three cycles, as agreed,” the sorcerer says. “I never promised to play fair.”
A deal. The realization hits Kurt like a punch, setting him reeling. Blaine must have made a deal with this sorcerer to become human, to leave the sea and come onto land. To be with him. And now –
The sorcerer yanks Blaine up, jerking him off the floor. He grips a handful of Blaine’s curls and forces his head back, exposing the soft, vulnerable line of his throat, while the tentacles slip away from their holds to coil around Blaine’s upper body. They wind around him like thick black serpents, sliding covetously over his skin, pinning his arms to his sides.
“You innocent little fool,” the sorcerer whispers loudly against Blaine’s jaw, the rasp of his voice like a blade dragged over stone. “I am going to enjoy you.”
Rage burns in Kurt’s chest. He has never killed a man, has always counseled diplomacy and compromise in place of violence, but he would gladly drive a sword through this bastard’s gut a hundred times if that’s what it takes. After all these years, he has finally seen a real monster – and he will be damned to the coldest depths of the nine hells if he lets it take Blaine from him.
“Get away from him,” he hisses. He struggles to stand, straining with all his strength against the invisible weight pressing him down into the steps. It’s useless, he can feel that it’s useless, but he has to try. If only there were some distraction, something to divert the sorcerer’s attention, maybe he’d lighten his hold for a moment. His eyes dart from Blaine to the crowd, urgently seeking someone, anyone, willing to help, but they all stand motionless, frozen by the sorcerer’s magic or simply rooted to the floor with fear.
“Come now, princess, there’s no need for such dramatics,” the sorcerer says contemptuously. “You may as well give up now and save yourself the trouble. A deal’s a deal, you know. He’s mine, body and soul.“
As if to underline his point, he trails a hand down Blaine’s throat to his bound chest. Blaine visibly shudders, face twisting in disgust.
Kurt is going to sever that hand from its arm.
“Besides,” the sorcerer continues, his thin lips curling up in an ugly smile, “he’s not worth the price you’d pay, I assure you. Surely you realize by now how easily I could bring this palace down around your ears.” He gestures around at the crowd, who are watching in silent horror. “All these people, Your Highness. Your friends, your loyal servants, your poor invalid father upstairs in his bed. Is one pretty face really worth all their lives?”
Kurt’s blood runs cold, and colder still at the realization that there is a small, terrible part of himself crying yes – that traitorous corner of his heart that has always belonged not to his kingdom, but to the boy who claimed it with a kiss one night in the cold, driving rain. Yes, Blaine is worth it, he’s worth anything, because he’s Kurt’s.
“That’s not your decision to make,” pipes up a sharp voice from the crowd. It’s Santana, ashen-faced but defiant as ever. “Me, I’d be happy to trade my life if it meant a shot at ending yours.”
“Me too,” says another voice – Sam, it sounds like.
“And me,” says another, and then another, and another, a chorus of bravery. It would warm Kurt’s heart if he weren’t so entirely consumed by terror.
“Well, isn’t that sweet. Idiotic, but sweet.” The sorcerer sneers. “Fortunately for you, I’m not taking volunteers. I have what I came for.” His fingers twist cruelly in Blaine’s hair, wrenching a small sound of pain from him. “I’ll be on my way now, and you can all live to be revoltingly self-sacrificing another day.”
He mutters something sinister-sounding, flings out a hand behind him, and one of the tall windows shatters, splintering and collapsing on itself in a horrible cacophony of glass hitting marble. Shards ricochet halfway across the room, eliciting screams from some of the ladies.
“Say goodbye to your friends, little one,” the sorcerer says over the sound of the wind whipping in from outside. “It’s time to go home.”
He makes his way toward the window, tentacles wriggling and gliding across broken glass with no sign of pain. Blaine fights him all the way, muscles straining, his tail thrashing wildly, but the sorcerer merely squeezes him harder, carrying him along as easily as a sack of grain.
“Blaine!” Kurt cries. Blaine’s eyes find him for a moment, and the despair in them is like a knife in Kurt’s chest, laying him open. It can’t end like this, it can’t, not after all this time –
Suddenly, on the other side of the Great Room, the massive doors fly open, slamming against the walls with such force that the palace seems to rock on its very foundations.
Kurt can’t see past all the people standing between him and the doors, but he’s heard that voice raised in anger often enough to recognize it immediately. Recognition is one thing, though, and understanding quite another. What is Sue doing here? She’s supposed to be in Kalkania, two weeks’ journey away.
“You people obviously can’t be left to your own devices for a single moment,” Sue says, her words ringing through the shocked-silent room. The crowd shifts slightly, and the woman herself appears in Kurt’s line of sight, windblown and mud-spattered. She looks strangely calm, considering the circumstances – more annoyed than anything, with the pinched look of distaste she so often wears in Council meetings. “Truly, it’s a disgrace. I could hear the screeching and carrying on from miles away. At first I naturally assumed it was hog-mating time, but I soon realized that even the most amorous boar couldn’t reach such a teeth-grinding pitch.”
Even the sorcerer was stunned by Sue’s dramatic appearance, but he seems to gather himself now. “I don’t know who you think you are, but – ”
”Who am I?” Sue parrots, sounding incredulous. ”Oh, that’s rich. You’re so far outclassed you can’t even see it. Not that I’d expect you to be able to, with those squinty rodent eyes of yours. Proof that the gods have a sense of humor.” She twitches her fingers, and the Great Room doors slam shut again with a bone-rattling boom. ”I’ll admit I found your little plot mildly entertaining for a time, but it ends now. You see, I made a promise to my niece – well, my great-great-great-great-great-grandniece – that I would look after her family. That includes the invalid you so heedlessly threatened to murder just now, as well as the fine-boned mini-monarch you’ve got pinned to the altar.” She sighs deeply. “And I suppose it now includes Porcelain’s idiot husband-to-be.”
Kurt stares at her, dumbfounded. Sue is a sorceress? Sue is that old? Sue is his relative?
“More to the point,” Sue continues, striding through the stupefied onlookers, “if I have to listen to one more self-aggrandizing speech or shrill wail of distress, I’ll hurl myself from that window and pray that the rocks break my fall. You’re finished here, sea rat. You’ve had your fun, and now it’s time to leave.”
The sorcerer scoffs. “Is that meant to frighten me? You wouldn’t be the first witch I’ve killed.”
He throws out a hand, and the floor under Sue’s feet trembles. There’s a collective gasp from the crowd, everyone cringing in anticipation of another explosion of shrapnel, but Sue just stands there with an expression of bored disgust, both feet planted firmly on the shivering marble.
“Is that meant to frighten me?” she mimics in a nasally voice. She glowers down at the floor, which instantly freezes, as though cowed by nothing more than the power of her glare. “That’s a fine parlor trick you’ve got there. I’ll bet it’s a real showstopper with the other bottom-feeders.”
“Not another step, witch!” the sorcerer hisses, eyes flashing. He hauls Blaine up higher, dangling him on display like a captured fish. “You’ll let me leave with what’s mine, or you’ll regret it.“
He turns back toward the open window, obviously intending to flee, but the glass shards littering the floor suddenly rise up all at once, drawn into a glittering whirlwind that orbits around the sorcerer and Blaine, like dried leaves carried on the wind.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with, boy,” Sue says in a low, dark voice that crackles with energy. “Put down your toy and run along home.”
“I’ll kill him first,” the sorcerer snaps. “Don’t think I won’t.”
“Oh, I believe you’re stupid enough to try,” Sue says, unfazed. “It won’t change anything, but I doubt your tiny brine-pickled brain is capable of recognizing that.”
The sorcerer’s narrow, hateful eyes dart between Sue and the lazily rotating cloud of glass surrounding him. He growls something under his breath and waves his hand, to no effect. If anything, the glass spins in an even tighter circle, nearly scraping Blaine’s skin where he’s still being held on display. Kurt watches anxiously, his stomach knotted with nerves. Sue wouldn’t hurt Blaine just to get to the sorcerer, would she?
Finally, the sorcerer relents and pulls Blaine in closer – not to protect him, as Kurt first assumes, but to stroke his face once more with a pale hand. “It’s a shame,” he says, gazing into Blaine’s eyes with an almost tender expression. “You would have been the finest in my collection.”
And one thick tentacle slides up to squeeze around Blaine’s throat, tight as a noose.
Blaine jerks and gags, eyes going wide. His mouth works, opening and closing, but no sound comes out. The muscles in his arms and shoulders twitch helplessly, trapped in the sorcerer’s grip, as his tail whips this way and that in growing panic.
“Blaine!” Kurt screams. “Blaine!”
“This was your choice, witch!” the sorcerer shouts. “Remember that!”
Tears leak from the corners of Blaine’s eyes, dripping trails down his rapidly purpling face. Beneath the strangling tentacle, his gills flare instinctively, trying in vain to find air.
Kurt feels like he is suffocating himself, struggling to breathe around the bitter fear in his throat. He fights feverishly against his invisible bonds, wild with terror. “Blaine!”
Sue’s voice cuts through the commotion, seething with exasperation. “Did I or did I not demand an end to the histrionics?”
The whirlwind of broken glass tumbles abruptly back to the ground with a crash. The sorcerer doesn’t even have time to look surprised before he goes flying, tossed through the air like a pebble. Blaine falls to the ground, dropped in an unceremonious heap, at the same moment that Kurt is released from the bonds holding him, sending him pitching gracelessly forward down the steps with all the momentum of his efforts to free himself. He narrowly avoids cracking his head on the way down, and lands heavily on his hands, wincing at the jarring pain that radiates up his arms.
At the moment, however, he has more important things to worry about. Nearby, Blaine lies where he fell, coughing violently between great noisy gulps of air. Kurt scrambles over to him and drags him up into his arms, away from the cold marble and splinters of glass. Blaine clutches feebly at his tunic, wheezing, and Kurt pets frantically over every part of him he can reach, scales and curls and smooth cool skin, equally desperate to comfort him and reassure himself.
“I’ve got you,” he whispers. He cradles Blaine’s quaking body closer still, shutting his eyes in relief as Blaine’s arms slide shakily around his waist. “I’ve got you now, my love.”
Blaine turns his tear-streaked face into Kurt’s throat, and Kurt cups his head and holds him there, feeling his own heart pound to the rhythm of Blaine’s uneven breaths.
Halfway across the room, Sue is standing over the sorcerer’s supine body, keeping him pinned with one booted foot laid over his throat. “Now,” she says conversationally, “where were we?”
“I’ll destroy you for this, hag,” the sorcerer snarls.
Sue’s lips twist up in a familiar sneer. “You have a face like a lamprey, and half the brains. Small wonder you have to enslave moon-eyed morons like fish boy over there to keep you company.”
“He made a deal,” the sorcerer says, spitting out each word like bursts of acid.
Sue applies a touch more pressure with her boot, effectively silencing her prey. “Here’s a deal for you, you puffed-up little vermin. You release the idiot child from his contract, and I consider allowing you to leave here with as many as three of your limbs. I’d say that’s quite a generous offer, wouldn’t you?”
The sorcerer is in no position to respond either way, but the poisonous look on his face suggests he feels otherwise.
“Girl,” Sue barks, snapping her fingers at Santana, who rushes forward. Sue produces a crystal bowl from thin air and shoves it into Santana’s hands. “Run and fetch me some of Porcelain and lover boy’s blood. Quickly, now – my eyes are starting to strain from looking at this abomination.”
Santana hurries over to Kurt and Blaine, snatching up her fallen dagger on the way. She thrusts it and the bowl at Kurt, who is slow to take them, one hand still tangled in Blaine’s hair, the other splayed over the chilled skin of his back. Blaine is a solid weight in his arms, heavy and trembling and real in a way that no dream has ever been. Foolish as it may be, he can’t shake the instinct that Blaine is only safe as long as he keeps hold of him, that he’ll slip away the moment Kurt loosens his grip.
“Now, Porcelain,” Sue says impatiently. “You’ll have a lifetime to nauseate onlookers with your cloying displays of affection.”
Blaine shifts in his arms, pulling back just enough to sit up properly. “We have to,” he says hoarsely, and takes the dagger from Santana. “It’s the only way.”
Santana holds the bowl while Blaine draws the blade across his palm, opening a shallow cut that immediately wells slick-violet with rising blood. As soon as he’s done, Kurt takes the dagger from him and slashes his own hand, his crimson blood dripping down into the bowl to mingle with Blaine’s.
Santana brings the bowl back to Sue, who takes it without looking away from the sorcerer. Kurt pays no attention to what she does next, far more concerned with binding Blaine’s bleeding hand with a ragged strip of linen from his destroyed shirt. Blaine returns the favor, fussing anxiously over the lay of the makeshift bandage until Kurt catches his shaking fingers and presses them to his chest.
“It’s all right,” he promises. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
After all these years, Blaine still looks at him the way he did that night in the hold: like he’s a hero, like there’s nothing he can’t do. He squeezes Kurt’s hand. “I know.”
“Porcelain! Eyebrows!” Kurt jumps, startled, and looks over to where Sue is glaring at them. “Honestly, do you two need to be told everything? Seal the deal already, before I change my mind.”
Seal the – oh. Kurt’s face goes hot, half with embarrassment and half with anticipation. He can do that. He can definitely do that.
He carefully tips up Blaine’s chin with his bandaged hand, and caresses his cheek with the other. Blaine nudges into the touch, like one of the cats that are so fond of him.
“I love you,” he says, painfully earnest, almost pleading. “I tried so hard to tell you.”
Kurt thumbs away the wetness still clinging to Blaine’s eyelashes. “I know you did, my love. I’m sorry.” He slides his uninjured hand into Blaine’s curls and draws him close, until he can feel Blaine’s breath ghosting over his lips. He shuts his eyes, stinging now with his own tears. “I’ve been looking for you forever.”
Blaine’s lips are unbelievably soft against his, softer than he could ever have imagined. The shock of it seizes in his chest, runs liquid down his spine, and for the span of a heartbeat, he can’t breathe, can’t even think beyond the overwhelming rightness of this moment, this kiss that he’s been waiting for his whole life.
But Blaine is pressing into him, eager and demanding, one arm winding tightly around Kurt’s back as his other hand comes up to cup Kurt’s jaw. He lets out a small, perfectly contented moan against Kurt’s lips, and Kurt decides right then and there that he will happily devote every waking moment for the rest of his life to encouraging Blaine to make that sound as frequently as possible.
“All right, all right, that’s enough,” Sue’s voice interjects. “Save something for the wedding night, boys, because I will be selling tickets.”
Reluctantly, Kurt pulls back, already missing Blaine’s lush, generous mouth. It’s worth it, though, to see the look on Blaine’s face, the dazed pleasure that slowly blossoms into an enormous smile. His teeth may be sharper now, but that’s Llyr’s smile through and through, wide and dazzling and all Kurt’s.
“I love you,” Kurt says, overwhelmed by it. Separately, his feelings for Blaine and for Llyr were almost unbearable. The realization that it is the same love, that his heart has only ever been held by this one perfect man – it’s too much. He falls into another embrace, caught up by the safety of Blaine’s arms. He buries his face against Blaine’s cold shoulder and mouths the words against his skin. “I love you, I love you. Blaine.“
“Kurt,” Blaine sighs. He holds Kurt tightly, fisting handfuls of his heavily embroidered tunic.
“They’re both under my protection now,” Sue is saying to the sorcerer. “And I don’t take kindly to challengers. If you so much as slither one flaccid tentacle out of your muddy little cave, I will personally see to it that our good Mrs. Rose is serving calamari that very night.”
“Understood,” the sorcerer grits out. He casts a foul look in Kurt and Blaine’s direction, bitter hatred etched in every line of his thin, sour face as he takes in their embrace. Blaine doesn’t notice, thankfully, but Kurt scowls back over Blaine’s shoulder, resisting the feral urge to bare his teeth.
“Good,” Sue says briskly. “Time for you to be on your way, then.” She raises her hand, and then pauses, as though recalling something she’d forgotten. “Oh, and one more thing, sea rat.” She crouches down in front of him. “We can’t have you making any more deals, can we?”
The sorcerer glares at her. “Wha– “
Sue strikes faster than a snake. A choking sound, the flash of Santana’s blade, and a moment later it’s done: the sorcerer howling in pain, white hands clutched over his mouth, and Sue holding…something.
“His tongue,” Blaine says. Even now that he’s regained his voice, Kurt can still read every emotion on his face: shock, disgust, relief, the tiniest hint of pity. “She took his tongue.”
Sue flings the tongue down like a scrap of meat for the hounds. She smiles coldly at the sorcerer, who is writhing on the floor, gagging around what looks like a mouthful of pitch. “There. Much better.”
With that, she flicks a single finger, and the sorcerer tumbles back, back, through the broken window and down into the blackness from which he came.
Sue rises to her feet and makes a show of dusting herself off, grimacing at the viscous flecks of blood on her hands. “Well?” she says brusquely, glaring around at the audience she has heretofore ignored. “Are you lazy wretches going to start fixing this mess, or will I have to tell the King we have a new open-air terrace?”
The Great Room descends once more into chaos. Servants and guards fall to the task of clearing away the glass and broken marble, arguing amongst themselves over the best way to secure the empty window. A few of the lords and ladies help as well, but most of them stand apart, huddled together in shocked little knots to debrief the day’s events.
Kurt couldn’t care less about any of it. He’s returned to the far more important work of kissing Blaine, pausing only occasionally to admire the fruits of his labor: Blaine’s lashes trembling against his cheeks, his pretty mouth flushed and wanting, begging for another kiss, and another, and another. No sooner does he draw back than Blaine is surging forward in pursuit, bringing their lips together again and again. It’s a bit awkward – Kurt suspects Blaine has as little experience in this arena as he does, and his teeth are really very sharp – but they’re both so hungry for it, ravenous from all their years of longing, that everything just blurs into a haze of touch and heat.
It is with intense displeasure that Kurt slowly becomes aware that they are no longer alone – worse still, that they are being watched. He squints an eye open to assess the situation, and nearly bites Blaine’s tongue in half when he realizes who it is looming over them.
“So, fish boy,” Sue says, cocking an eyebrow down at Blaine. “I suppose you’ll be wanting your legs back.”
Sue promises that the transformation won’t hurt – “…much,” she adds in an undertone, which fills Kurt with foreboding – and it does seem to be easier this time. Kurt is grateful for that. He will probably never know whether it was incompetence or cruelty that made the sorcerer’s spell so painful, but he couldn’t bear the thought of Blaine enduring such agony for him again. Still, he holds his breath from the moment Sue begins, relaxing only when the light dies away and Blaine is standing before him again, whole and human and completely, profoundly naked.
“You couldn’t have given him clothes?“ Kurt demands, wrapping a hastily-proffered cloak around Blaine as he cuddles happily back against Kurt’s side, apparently far less troubled by his nudity than Kurt is.
“Oh, like you wouldn’t be ripping them off within the hour anyway,” Sue says dismissively. “Consider it a preview. You’re welcome, by the way. No need to trip over yourself with gratitude.”
“What does she mean, ‘ripping them off’?” Blaine whispers, breath hot against Kurt’s ear, and Kurt squeezes his eyes shut, as much to collect himself as to block out the sight of Santana’s smirk. Damn her hearing.
“I’ll tell you later,” he whispers back, and Blaine hums agreeably and nestles closer, tucking his body against Kurt’s in a way that does not help Kurt’s composure in the least.
“Thank you, Sue,” he says, muffled by Kurt’s shoulder.
Kurt tightens his arms around Blaine’s cloak-covered back and sighs, meeting Sue’s eyes. “Thank you, Sue. I have about a thousand questions, but I…I can’t begin to thank you enough for what you did tonight.”
Sue actually smiles, though she makes every effort to disguise it as a scowl. “Don’t mention it. Literally, don’t mention it, ever. I’m still considering laying a memory spell on everyone here and erasing this whole disaster entirely.”
With that, she strides off to shout at the servants sweeping up the debris, leaving Kurt surrounded by a cluster of his friends, most of them staring at him with eyes as wide and round as dinner plates.
Sam is the first to break the silence. “So…am I the only one who has no gods-damned idea what just happened?”
Evidently not, because that seems to open the floodgates, and Kurt is suddenly being bombarded by an onslaught of questions from all sides.
“Since when can Llyr talk?”
“Since when is Llyr Blaine?”
“Who in the nine hells was that octopus guy?”
“And why were you going to marry him?”
“Did you know Sue was a sorceress?”
“Llyr, what are you?”
“Does your father know about this?”
“Have you two been getting it on this whole time, or…?”
Mercifully, Santana chooses this moment to intervene. “All right, storytime’s over, children. These two lovebirds have better places to be than standing around with you fools all night.”
“But – ” Puck protests.
“And you, you useless sword monkeys,” Santana interrupts, glaring at Puck and the other guards, “every one of you is going to be spending the next several hours on your knees, begging me to keep your jobs and your heads after you nearly let the Prince marry a damned sorcerer.”
The group erupts again, this time in a jumble of impassioned defenses from the guards and derision from the rest. Santana sends Kurt a pointed look, and he prudently decides to take advantage of the opening she’s given him.
“Come on,” he says, pressing a kiss to Blaine’s temple. “Let’s get out of here while we can.”
The floor is still littered with sharp-edged fragments of marble and glass, and Blaine is barefoot, so Kurt hoists him up into his arms and carries him over the debris, resolutely ignoring the hooting and cooing following in their wake.
“You’ve gotten much better at this since the last time,” Blaine observes with a small, teasing smile.
“I was twelve,” Kurt says, feigning outrage, while his heart thrills at the realization that this memory belongs to both of them, that their history is now something they can share and joke about. “And your tail weighed about ten times as much as the rest of you. What was it made of, lead?”
“Solid gold,” Blaine says, and cranes up to plant a kiss on Kurt’s cheek, bare toes wriggling happily in midair.
“You’ve known each other since you were twelve?” shouts someone behind them, but Kurt pays them no mind. Santana is right, as usual. He really does have better places to be.
Chapter 8: The End
Thanks to all of you for reading, and special thanks to the wonderful souls who have taken the time to comment, tag, and send messages. It really means the world to me, especially for this fic. ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If Kurt is wrong and there actually is an afterlife, some eternal resting place for the righteous and devout…well, he probably wouldn’t make it in. But if he did, he can only imagine that his blissful eternity would look exactly like his present: curled together in his bed with the man he loves, trading kisses and sweet, tender touches that set his skin alight.
They don’t do more than that, despite what Sue and Santana must be imagining. He’s given Blaine a pair of loose sleep trousers to wear and changed into the same himself, so they are at least maintaining some flimsy façade of modesty. It’s certainly not for lack of desire: Kurt has been half-hard since they lay down together, and it would take embarrassingly little to rouse him to full readiness. He thinks that Blaine feels similarly – can see that he feels similarly, sometimes, which makes his heart race – but he doubts that Blaine has the same understanding of arousal and lovemaking as a human would, and that’s not a conversation he particularly wants to stumble through tonight. For now, it’s enough to lie here with Blaine in his arms, together, the way they were always meant to be.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter what they do or don’t do. As far as Kurt is concerned, they’re as good as wed, which means they can go at whatever pace they please, whether that entails waiting until their wedding night or ravishing each other tomorrow morning.
All right, so technically he hasn’t asked Blaine to marry him, but it seems like a rather foregone conclusion at this point. There’s not much room for ambiguity after your intended has openly admitted to selling his soul for the chance to be with you.
The very idea makes Kurt’s skin crawl. If Sue hadn’t arrived when she did, and the sorcerer had succeeded in dragging Blaine back into the sea –
Kurt shudders, unable to complete the thought even in his own mind. The horror of that narrowly-escaped fate will stay with him for a long, long time.
He keeps Blaine close to comfort them both, and because he can’t imagine doing anything else. He hopes Blaine has no objection to sleeping, eating, bathing, and possibly attending Council meetings together, because Kurt has no intention of being apart from him for even a moment any time soon.
Kurt has spent the better part of eleven years waiting for this reunion. Ten thousand Dharamese soldiers couldn’t tear Blaine away from him now.
Besides, he’ll need at least a solid week just to look his fill. He’s always known Llyr was handsome, but he never knew Llyr was Blaine. He has a good deal of guilt-free admiring to catch up on.
Through purpose or chance, Sue’s transformation has left Blaine with all the best parts of both forms. There are his legs, of course, shapely and muscular, though Blaine complains good-naturedly that they’re not half as powerful as his tail.
“Better at dancing, though,” Kurt says, drawing an appreciative hand up the side of Blaine’s thigh. He likes Blaine’s legs very much indeed. He has plans for these legs.
Blaine looks pleased. “Am I any good? Britt said you like to dance. I want to be able to dance with you.”
Just when Kurt thinks he can’t possibly love Blaine more, he has to go and say something like that. “You’re wonderful,” he says honestly, thinking of the day – was it really only yesterday? – that he saw Blaine dancing with Britt in the courtyard, graceful and happy, full of life. “We’ll dance all night at our wedding, I promise. I can’t wait to show you off.”
Blaine’s teeth are flat and human again, which Kurt is thankful for. As charming as he found those pointy kitten teeth, they added a certain degree of peril to kissing. And he intends to indulge in a lot of kissing.
Blaine’s eyes are still their natural gold, the one remaining hint of his origins. Kurt thought Llyr’s dark eyes were lovely, but they could never compare to the real thing. He still remembers the shock of seeing his little sea monster’s eyes for the first time, round and glittering in the candlelight. To finally see them again, molten-bright behind the sweep of those long, thick lashes – it’s almost more than Kurt can bear.
And his voice – oh. Kurt adored him as a mute, would have spent his whole life with him and thought himself the luckiest man in the world, but he has loved that voice since the first moment he heard it. His heart still flutters every time Blaine says his name; he imagines it always will.
He doesn’t know if Blaine will be able to sing as he did before – it seems likely that it’s one of the sea people’s powers, gone forever like his tail and gills – but he finds that he’s not as heartbroken about the possibility as he might have expected. They are together, and in love. The song has done its work.
More prosaically, it is wonderful to simply be able to talk together. Kurt has been rambling for months now, but Blaine could never return the favor, relying on his face and gestures to do the speaking for him. It feels almost luxurious to be able to hold a real conversation, to ask Blaine questions and receive a full answer, to banter with him and finally hear his warm, squeaky laughter.
Kurt’s first question is one that’s been needling him for hours. “Blaine…why didn’t you ever try to tell me who you really were?” He keeps his tone gentle, not wanting to sound accusatory, but really. “All those months, you never gave me the slightest sign. Even without words, surely you could have gotten the point across somehow.”
“The deal,” Blaine says grimly. “That’s the whole reason he took my voice. I had to win you on my own merits, so to speak. I wasn’t allowed to even hint at our history, or the deal was forfeit.” His lips quirk up at the corner. “Though I think I’d have risked it if I’d known I was competing against myself.”
Kurt shakes his head, amazed at his own idiocy. “You can’t imagine what an impossible choice it was. I wanted you both so desperately.” He tugs at one of Blaine’s curls. “You’re clearly far too lovable for your own good.”
“So it would seem,” Blaine says, with a delightful hint of cheek that earns him a good long kiss in reward.
“You know,” he adds a while later, rather breathlessly, “it’s really Sue you ought to be asking that question. If she knew what was going on this whole time, why didn’t she tell you?”
“You’re right,” Kurt says slowly, considering. He draws his thumb across Blaine’s palm, along the thin white scar where the cut healed over at some point during Sue’s first spell. “For all her talk of protecting me, she was happy enough to let the whole thing play out until the bitter end. She even went off to Kalkania and just left us here. If she hadn’t made it back in time…”
“Maybe she was respecting the rules of the deal, like I was,” Blaine suggests uncertainly.
“Doubtful,” Kurt says. “Sue doesn’t follow anyone’s rules but her own, and not even those consistently. No, my guess is that she just found it amusing to watch us suffer.” He shrugs. “She’s always been unpredictable. Lunatics usually are.”
“Now, Kurt,” Blaine says, a flicker of mischief in his eyes, “is that any way to talk about family?”
Kurt groans and throws himself moodily back against the pillows. “I can’t believe it. I share blood with that woman.” He tugs Blaine down against him, consoling himself with Blaine’s warm weight and plush lips. “Of course, that makes her your family now, too, you realize.”
Blaine nuzzles their noses together. “I suppose that means I’m in for a lifetime of demeaning nicknames. I’m not sure she knows my actual name.”
“You get used to it,” Kurt says resignedly. “Speaking of names, what should I call you? I’ve been thinking of you as Blaine for years, but that’s no more your name than Llyr is, really. What do you prefer? One of those, or something else? Not your real name – we both know I can’t say that.”
Blaine laughs. “You can call me whatever you like. I don’t mind.” He trails a fingertip over Kurt’s lips, lightly tracing their shape. “It might be easiest for most people to keep calling me Llyr. But I like Blaine. That’s the name you gave me.”
Kurt nips at Blaine’s finger. “You chose it.”
“You gave me the choice,” Blaine counters.
“Mmm, true enough. Blaine it is, then.” Kurt confirms the decision with a deep kiss, reveling in the sweetness of Blaine’s mouth. He doesn’t draw back after, but stays close, peppering tiny kisses over Blaine’s chin, his jaw, his cheek, the delicate skin below his eye. “My Blaine.”
As wonderful as all the kissing is – and it is, it really is, Kurt is kicking himself for not having pounced on this man three months ago – he still has so many questions, and Blaine is finally able to answer them. All things considered, Kurt really knows much less about Blaine than Blaine knows about him, so it only seems fair for him to make up some ground tonight. Blaine answers all his questions patiently, unraveling the mystery that has surrounded him all this time.
To Kurt’s surprise, Blaine isn’t royalty himself, though he does come from a prominent family in a city Kurt can’t even hope to pronounce.
“I’ve landed myself a commoner,” Kurt muses, tracing mindless patterns over the wondrously smooth skin between Blaine’s shoulder blades.
“Planning to trade me in for someone better suited to your esteemed position?” Blaine inquires, lazily confident in a way that is nearly as arousing as the wet, open-mouthed kisses he’s been lavishing over Kurt’s shoulder.
Kurt sinks his fingers into Blaine’s hair and sighs with pleasure. “If you think I’m ever letting you out of my sight again, you’re deranged.”
Blaine presses his smiling lips to Kurt’s collarbone, the hollow of his throat, the underside of his jaw, and that’s the end of conversation for a while.
Some time later, Kurt tries again. “So your city…”
Blaine repeats the name, a pretty but incomprehensible tumble of syllables.
“Right, that one,” Kurt says, and ignores Blaine’s smirk. “Is that near where Riggs found you?”
“Very near,” Blaine says. “Less than a morning’s swim, for a child. Hardly the farthest I’d ventured outside the city, though a great deal closer to the surface than I was meant to go.”
“Were you able to find your way home after you escaped? I used to worry that you were lost down there.”
Blaine cups Kurt’s cheek in his hand, gazing down at him with those captivating eyes. “My home had already left,” he says softly, and Kurt’s chest aches so badly that he has to pull Blaine down and kiss him until he can breathe again.
“But, yes,” Blaine continues afterward, “I did make it back to my parents’ house, though it took me several days. Fortunately, I came across a family of – ” and here again he says something pretty and mysterious.
“What are those?”
Blaine frowns a little. “I don’t know the common word, but you must be familiar with them. You have them here, too, not too far off the coast. If it weren’t for their help, I’d never have made it to shore after I was transformed.”
“What do they look like?”
“Like big gray fish, but they come to the surface to breathe. More like whales, I suppose. But smaller.”
“Oh, porpoises.” Kurt thinks about this for a moment. “Can you really talk with them?”
“Of course. Not in words, like this, but there are other ways to communicate.”
“You are a master of pantomime,” Kurt says with a smile. “That reminds me: how did you come to speak the common tongue? I’ve always wondered.”
Blaine laughs at him. “Everyone speaks the common tongue. That’s why it’s the common tongue.” He cards his fingers through Kurt’s hair. “I learned it from my parents, the same as you.”
“But how did they learn it? Your ancestors must have had contact with humans at some point, though believe me when I say that nothing was ever written about it.”
“How do you know your people didn’t learn it from us?” Blaine retorts, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “You humans think you invented everything. You’d claim the sea and sky if you could.”
“You’re one of us now, darling, so you’d better get used to it.” Kurt rolls them over and presses Blaine down into the mattress, inspired to do some claiming of his own.
If Blaine’s eager response is any indication, he’s taking to humanity very well indeed.
They talk and kiss and talk some more, until their lips are bruised and their throats are scratchy. Kurt knows they ought to sleep – he has no doubt there will be councilors banging down the door first thing in the morning, Sue first among them – but he can’t bring himself to suggest it. He wants more, always more, as much as Blaine will give him: another kiss, another smile, another story or offhand comment to shape his understanding of who Blaine really is.
Blaine has an older brother, a self-important blowhard with delusions of grandeur, but a good man in his own way.
He doesn’t eat eel because he kept one as a pet when he was a child.
His recent illness really was his first ever, just as Britt guessed, and he is dismayed to be told that similar ailments are not uncommon among humans.
He understands what venison is now, but he still thinks fish tastes better.
He once walked in on Santana and Britt making love, only it took him so long to realize what was happening that they spotted him, and Santana chased him from the room, nude and shouting. He flushes scarlet at the memory, hiding his face in his hands as Kurt laughs to the point of tears.
“Oh, you poor thing,” Kurt says, when he finally catches his breath. He tugs Blaine’s hands away and kisses his hot cheeks. “She must have been furious.”
“I went straight to the library to find you. I was hoping you’d stop her from putting a sword through me,” Blaine admits.
“She wouldn’t,” Kurt says, though he is secretly very pleased with the idea of Blaine seeking him out for protection. “She likes you too much.”
Blaine looks skeptical. “I don’t know if I can trust someone who keeps a dagger in her hair.”
“Is that where she pulled that from?” Santana has been known to make threatening references to the various weaponry she has hidden about her person at any given time, but Kurt always assumed she was bluffing. “Well, it was lucky for us that she did. I don’t know if anyone else could have managed to get the pendant off that bastard.”
Blaine’s face darkens at the mention of the pendant. He lays his head down on Kurt’s shoulder and sighs. “I can’t believe it’s broken,” he says regretfully. “You know I never took it off? Just once, a few years ago, when I had to repair the cord. But other than that, never. Not until the sorcerer demanded it as payment.” His mouth tightens. “If I hadn’t been doing it for you, I would never have given it to him.”
“You did what you had to,” Kurt reassures him. “And it was worth it, wasn’t it? We’re together now. I’d say it was a fair trade in the end.”
“I know,” Blaine says, still sounding gloomy. “I’m being silly, I know that. It’s just – for so long, that necklace was my only connection to you. It was everything to me.” He shivers. “Losing it was horrible. I felt so exposed without it. So…so…oh, what’s the word?”
“Naked?” Kurt offers, and Blaine makes a noise of agreement. Despite the topic, Kurt can’t help but smirk. “You were quite naked when you appeared, I’m told. The whole palace was talking about it for days. No one could work out how a drowning man had managed to lose his clothes.” He strokes down Blaine’s bare spine. “Little did I know it would become a habit.”
“It’s not my fault you’re all so ashamed of your bodies,” Blaine says loftily.
“Trust me, my love, you have nothing to be ashamed of.” Kurt dares to slip a hand down to Blaine’s glorious backside for a gentle, encouraging squeeze over his trousers. “But I’m a jealous man, I’m afraid. I want you all to myself.”
Blaine smiles, a welcome sight after his brief spell of melancholy. “I think that can be arranged.”
Exhaustion is catching up with them both, finally. Blaine’s eyes have gone soft and dreamy, and his body is lax against Kurt’s, heavy with approaching sleep. Their kisses are slower now, lazy blind presses of lips, their heads resting on the same pillow.
“Thank you,” Kurt murmurs.
Blaine blinks at him curiously, a silent question Kurt can read perfectly well.
“For everything. Finding me. Finding a way for us to be together. Leaving behind your whole world to come to mine.” He raises a tired hand to touch Blaine’s cheek, framing one side of that handsome, open face. “For not giving up on me.”
Blaine threads his fingers through Kurt’s, folding their scarred hands together. He kisses Kurt’s knuckles one by one, delicate little fleeting brushes of his lips.
He doesn’t reply in words. Kurt doesn’t need him to.
He dreams of Blaine, walking beside him in the corridor, trying to wheedle him into taking the pretty little cake he’s offering. Laughing as the whipped cream smears the tip of Kurt’s nose.
He dreams of Blaine, flushed and giddy as they spin around a crowded plaza together, swept up in the joyous rhythm of the dance.
He dreams of Blaine, sleek and beautiful in his bed, pliant beneath him. Holding Kurt close in the safe, tight circle of his arms.
He dreams of Blaine, and wakes to find him fast asleep on his chest, breathing slow and even, a faint warmth over Kurt’s heart. His face is slack and peaceful, half-hidden behind the riotous mess of his curls. One hand is still wrapped up with Kurt’s, their fingers twined together in a loose tangle.
Kurt squeezes Blaine’s hand, closes his eyes with a satisfied hum, and goes back to sleep.
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