Steve awoke slowly, feeling slightly disoriented. He lay still, waiting for the morning's fogginess to clear away. With a start, he remembered the previous night's events. Oh my god. What did I do? Everything Steve's Catholic upbringing had taught him about homosexuality being an abomination punishable by eternal damnation rushed to him. Oh my God. Am I going to Hell? But what else could I do? I had to do it. Even as he thought it, Steve knew that wasn't true. He could have told Marcellus to stop. He could have pretended he was too sick. But he hadn't. He'd let Marcellus make love to him. And he'd enjoyed it. Guilt and fear washed over him like a tidal wave. Oh God. What have I done? Oh my God. He lay there, paralyzed by his raging emotions. Finally, when he'd worried himself so much he felt nauseous, he forced himself to calm down. It's okay, he told himself. I made a mistake. You don't go to Hell for one mistake, right? I just won't do it anymore. Okay? Okay.
That settled, Steve got up and started searching for his clothes. "What are you doing, my love?"
Steve whirled around, half into his dressing gown. "Getting dressed," he said.
"Don't you want to sleep in?" Marcellus asked. He pulled the covers further back, exposing his bare leg, his curving hip, his - . Steve turned suddenly, pretending to look for something, and trying to convince himself that he didn't like what he saw.
"Uh, no actually. I'm... I'm pretty hungry."
"Oh. Shall I send for some breakfast?"
"Yeah, sure." Steve grabbed a plush robe from his wardrobe and put it on over the gown, tying it up tight. Then he turned and gasped. Marcellus was at the double doors, pulling the service rope - completely naked. Steve looked away, but not in time to avoid seeing all of Marcellus' beautiful frame. In a flash, the memory of Marcellus' warm body next to his own came unbidden to his mind. Steve blushed and walked away, suddenly very much interested in the view outside his window.
In a moment, Marcellus joined him at the window, thankfully wearing his robe. "It will be hot again today," he said.
"I think it will be wisest for you to stay inside again, my love."
"What, no argument?" Marcellus cried in mock disbelief. Steve merely grunted. There was silence, then Marcellus asked, "Are you all right, my love?"
"I'm fine," Steve said, a little more sharply than he'd intended. He did nothing to lessen the sting. The last thing he needed right now was for Marcellus to start calling him things like "my love" and acting all solicitous. In fact, Steve thought, it'll probably be better if he's not around at all. If I don't see him, I won't be tempted, right?
"All right, my love," Marcellus said, sounding subdued.
Steve glanced at him. "Shouldn't you be getting dressed or something?"
Marcellus blinked. Then, looking mildly hurt, he bowed and said, "Very well, my love. I'll see you at breakfast." Then he began to back out of the room.
"Wait a minute."
Marcellus stopped. "Yes?"
"I want to eat alone today."
"Of course, my love. I'll have them serve us in the study again."
"No. I mean alone. I don't want you to be there either."
Marcellus frowned, no longer looking mildly hurt. "But we always have breakfast together."
"Not today," Steve said tersely. "I want to be alone, okay?"
"But - "
"But what? Why is this so difficult? I want to eat alone this morning. Why aren't you obliging me?"
"I... I'm sorry, Sire," Marcellus said. "I'll see to it immediately."
Marcellus bowed and left the room. Steve breathed a sigh of relief. He needed to think, and he certainly couldn't do that with Marcellus there and only a light robe between Steve and his naked body. The body that he'd been snuggled up against a few minutes before. Warm and soft, with a hint of underlying strength. So soothing, and - Stop it! What is wrong with me?!
Steve spent the next several minutes pacing the floor and worrying. Finally, he came up with a justification for what he'd done - what I allowed to be done to me. Obviously, I'm just upset because of Sherrie. I know she's having an affair, and she probably doesn't love me anymore. (The very idea sent a sharp pang of sadness through him, but he squelched it before it could make him too depressed.) I'm just compensating. I'm letting his love for King Stephen fill in for the love I'm not getting from Sherrie. I don't really want Marcellus. I just want Sherrie to love me again. After he'd convinced himself of the true reasoning behind his encounter with Marcellus, he reaffirmed his resolution never to do it again. He partially addressed that resolution towards the heavens, along with a prayer of forgiveness for letting it happen even once.
Steve continued to pace the floor, reiterating his reasoning to himself over and over again until the water boys and the attendants came in to arrange his bath. Steve endured the bathing process, feeling more self conscious than ever during the five or six seconds total wherein the attendants saw him naked. What if they could tell? What if someone had heard the noise they'd made? Steve forced himself to calm down. What could they do about it anyway? They wouldn't dare say anything about it. He was the king after all, right? Right.
Steve allowed himself to be groomed and dressed, then waited for breakfast in the study. In a very few minutes, breakfast was brought in, along with a single chair and the small table that had been used the day before. Steve waited for everything to be set up, then sat down to eat. Suddenly, he regretted very much not letting Marcellus eat with him. He'd forgotten about the salt water ritual, and he wasn't sure how it was supposed to be done when one was dining alone. Should he say the ritual words out loud? Should he just drink the water and be done with it? Should he wait for someone else to do it? Would he be carted off to the nearest asylum if he did it wrong?
Finally, Steve decided to say the words Marcellus used out loud, then drain his cup. The one attendant who'd stayed to wait on him didn't look as if anything was wrong, so Steve supposed he'd made the right choice. The rest of the meal was relatively stress free, owing to the fact that he didn't have to guess his way through a conversation with Marcellus. Making him stay away is definitely going to make staying here a lot easier.
After breakfast, Steve went back to the bedroom and looked around for something to do. He ended up staring out the window, watching the activity and trying again to think of a way to get home. After a while, Steve heard a knock on the door. "Come in." Marcellus entered and bowed low. "Can I help you?" Steve asked.
Marcellus gave Steve a puzzled look. "I came to ask if your breakfast was satisfactory," he said.
"Yes, it was great," Steve replied.
"I'm pleased to hear it," said Marcellus, clearly lying.
"Is that all?" Steve was eager for Marcellus to leave. Being in close quarters with him only reminded Steve of the previous nights' events, and a reminder of that encounter was the last thing he wanted.
"I had breakfast with the Princess this morning, my love," Marcellus said, coming a little further into the room. "She is very eager to see you. I told her that I would ask if you cared to take lunch with her today."
"No," Steve said immediately. "I don't want to see anyone today."
"But, my love, she is most insistent. She wants to know for herself that you are all right."
"Well, she's just going to have to take your word for it," Steve said firmly. "I don't want any company today."
"Very well, my love. I'll tell her."
"What would you like to do when I return?"
"I just told you I don't want company," Steve said frowning. What was wrong with this guy?
"I know, but I thought-"
"I meant you, too, you know," Steve interrupted.
"But, my love-"
"Don't argue with me," Steve snapped. "Just see to it that I'm left alone today. Got it?"
Marcellus blinked. "Yes, my Lord," he said.
"Thank you," Steve said, turning away from Marcellus' glum countenance. He stalked over to his perch on the window and waited for the door to close. How was he supposed to concentrate on escape when he kept getting interrupted? For a long while, he wracked his brains for any ideas on how to get home. He kept running into the same wall - how could he take steps to leave when he'd done nothing at all to get himself here? All he could think to do was to try and find a spiritualist or something to send him back. But he wasn't sure how much he wanted to entrust his very being to some mystical stranger.
Frustrated again, Steve looked around for something to take his mind off of his situation. He ended up at the book case again, searching for something interesting to read. He finally chose a book called A Monarch's Guide to Etiquette. Hm. Steve flipped through it and found that the book explained in detail the proper way for a king or queen to address peasants, merchants, barons, earls, dukes, marquesses, princes, princesses and other kings and queens. There were subsections for dealing with the rulers of more powerful kingdoms, versus those with less power. The book also explained how everyone else was supposed to behave toward the monarch. Steve guessed it was so you would know when someone was being rude to you. Steve shook his head. It's a good thing I don't actually have to know any of this stuff.
Steve was in the middle of the section about the proper angle a less powerful king should bow to a more powerful queen when there was a knock on the door. Steve looked up and frowned. What now? "Who is it?" he called.
"A messenger, sire," came a small voice.
Steve sighed and opened the door. "Yes?" he said impatiently.
A young girl in trousers and a tunic bowed low. "Your pardon, Sire," se began. "But Her Majesty requests an immediate audience with you. The Princess says - "
"I thought I told Marcellus that I didn't want any visitors today," Steve interrupted.
"Yes, Your Majesty. His Highness told her this, but she-"
"I meant what I said. No visitors."
"B-but, Sire, Her Majesty said - "
"I don't care what she said! I don't want any visitors. None. No exceptions! Understand?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," the girl said shakily, bowing and backing away quickly. Steve slammed the door and stormed back to his book. The nerve of that chick! So impatient to see me, and she has the audacity to call herself the queen when they aren't even married yet.
Steve read for about fifteen minutes. Then suddenly, he could hear voices in the hall advancing toward his door. "...don't care! I want to see him!" Steve raised his eyebrows. It was a female voice, speaking English with a strong British accent.
"But you must be patient, Your Highness." This time it was Marcellus' voice, also speaking English, but with a milder accent, mingled slightly with Portuguese.
"I won't! I've waited long enough! Mother even sent word that I wanted to see him and he flatly refused. I know he's avoiding me and I demand to know why!"
Mother?! Steve gulped. The messenger had actually been talking about a queen. His would-be mother-in-law, to be precise. And judging by the Princess' accent, she was not just any queen. She was the Queen of England. He'd just blown off the Queen of England. Oh, shit.
"His Majesty is not avoiding you, Princess," Marcellus said. "He's ill. The day has grown hot, and I am sure that his fever has come upon him again. Indeed, I can think of no other reason why His Majesty would reject any request from your most gracious and forgiving mother. In fact, I will convey my apologies to Her Majesty myself as soon as I leave here. However, in the meantime, His Majesty's illness requires that we give him time to himself."
There was a sigh, then the Princess spoke again. "I'm sure you're right about the fever. But I still want to see him. Please stand aside."
"I cannot," Marcellus said.
"This isn't fair!" the Princess cried. "Why won't he see me? I certainly don't see him shutting you out!"
"Actually," Marcellus said, sounding depressed all of a sudden. "He has forbidden me to enter as well, little one."
"Really?!" The Princess was surprised. There was a moment's silence wherein Steve assumed Marcellus must be nodding. "Well, I'm... I'm sorry about that. But I really must insist. Now please stand aside."
"I'm sorry, Annette. His Majesty has expressly forbidden me to allow anyone to enter his quarters today."
"He shall have to tell me himself! Let me in."
"My apologies, Princess," Marcellus said firmly. "I am sure the King will be happy to see you tomorrow."
"Prince Marcellus," the Princess cried loudly, her patience obviously at an end. "You force me to remind you that but for an accident of the weather, I would be your queen today. And I am still the Princess Royal, daughter of the most powerful monarch of the most powerful empire in the entire world! Now. I will not ask you again. Please stand aside."
Steve sighed. Marcellus would surely have to let her in after that speech. And then he would have to guess his way through the talk of yet another person whom he was supposed to know all about. He shut his book and listened as Marcellus spoke again. "You force me to remind you, Your Highness, that even if you were my queen today, I would still refuse your request. Although I respect you highly, and would at any other time bow to your authority, you know quite well that I will always obey my King above all others. Even to my own peril."
Steve raised his eyebrows once again. Marcellus had a lot of backbone. He could easily have let the Princess in and told Steve that she'd insisted and practically threatened him - which she had. However, while Steve was impressed by Marcellus' resolve, he wasn't sure he wanted Marcellus using it right then. He'd been nervous about meeting the Princess all this time, but now he very much wanted to see her. She might be just what Steve needed to keep his mind off of Marcellus. She was blond, like Sherrie, although her hair was curly and much longer. She was pretty and she obviously cared a lot about him, considering all the fuss she was making in order to see him. And she was a woman. If he just had to compensate for Sherrie's lack of affection, Princess Annette was a much better candidate than Marcellus. Especially since there was sure to be no chance of them getting physical in any way, since they weren't married yet. Steve would spend as much time with Annette as possible, avoiding Marcellus until he figured out a way home. Then he could concentrate on getting Sherrie back and all those awful, panic-inducing memories of Marcellus would fade away.
Now that he had a plan, it was time to put it into action. Steve went to the door just as Marcellus was saying, "At the risk of offending you further, Your Highness, I must insist on escorting you away from His Majesty's quarters."
"Oh, very well. But I'm not pleased about this."
"I know, little one, and I am sorry. But-"
"What seems to be the problem?"
Both Marcellus and the Princess jumped and turned to face him. "Your Majesty!" Annette curtseyed, and Marcellus bowed. "How wonderful to see you up and looking well," the Princess said with a sidelong glance at Marcellus.
"Indeed, my Liege, I thought you would be in bed."
"Well, I'm not. I heard voices and I thought I would come and see what the trouble is."
"I wanted to see you, but Prince Marcellus says that you have forbidden entry to anyone."
"That's true, but I'm feeling better now. Please come in and have a seat."
The Princess smiled and did just that. Marcellus came in behind her and closed the door, looking slightly peeved that Steve had just undermined all his hard work. Steve shrugged mentally and made a point of not inviting Marcellus to sit down. "How are you, my Liege?" Annette asked. "Why haven't you let me see you before?"
"I wasn't really up to it, I guess," Steve replied. "But I'm glad you're here now."
She blushed and smiled demurely. "It's a beautiful day," she said. "Aren't you bored being stuck in your chambers all day?"
Steve thought for a moment. He was sick of being stuck inside, and he did need a distraction from all the thoughts of Marcellus that kept popping into his head without his permission. "You know what?" he said. "I think you're right. Why don't we take a walk?"
"Are you sure, Sire?" Marcellus asked.
"Of course I'm sure."
"But, my Liege, the weather has grown exceedingly warm again. I thought you were going to stay inside today."
"Well, I've changed my mind."
"But, Sire," Marcellus protested, "wouldn't it be wiser if-"
"I'm not interested in what you think would be wise. I am taking a walk."
Marcellus looked slightly taken aback by Steve's harsh tone. "Very well, Sire," he said. Then he opened the door and Steve walked out with Princess Annette at his side. Marcellus closed the door, then fell into step on Steve's other side.
"What are you doing?" Steve asked, stopping in his tracks.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"I... aren't we taking a walk?" Marcellus asked, perplexed.
"We are taking a walk," Steve said, gesturing to Annette.
"But... I thought-"
"I don't care what you thought. You are not invited."
Marcellus looked shocked. "But, Sire! We always..."
"Don't argue with me! I'm the king! Why is it so difficult to get you to obey one single command? I don't want to see you today! Is that clear?"
Marcellus gasped. So did the Princess. Steve guessed that he must have done something King Stephen would never have done. But he couldn't help that. He had to keep Marcellus away at all costs. He couldn't afford to let himself fall again. To give in to those inviting arms, that warm flesh, that - . Steve turned quickly away, pulling Princess Annette along with him. "Come on, my dear," he said. "Shall we go to the gardens?"
"Er... yes, my Lord," she said, looking back at Marcellus. "The gardens will be fine."
"Perfect." They walked out to the garden and strolled around for a few minutes in mutual silence. Whenever Steve looked at the Princess, she had a small, thoughtful frown on her face.
"Has he displeased you in some way, my Lord?" she asked at last.
"Huh?" Steve asked, broken from his own thoughts by her sudden outburst. "Who?"
"Prince Marcellus. Has he done something wrong?"
Steve shrugged. "Not really, why?"
"You were a little stern with him, don't you think, Majesty?"
"I just wanted to be alone with you, sweetheart," he said. "I thought you would appreciate it."
"I do, Sire," she said. "But-"
"But what? I've taken care of it. Now we can spend the whole day together."
"Yes, Sire, but His Highness always joins us on our walks."
"Look, I didn't want him coming with us this time, okay?" Steve said tersely. "What's wrong with that?"
Princess Annette frowned slightly. "Nothing, Your Majesty."
"Good. Now can we not talk about him anymore, please?"
"As you wish, my Lord."
"Thank you." They walked together for several more minutes, again in silence. Steve steered clear of the maze, afraid that he would get lost again. After a while, Steve suggested they have a seat beside a fountain. Steve watched the sparkling water trickle into the wide basin for several minutes, thinking of nothing in particular, until the Princess decided to speak again.
"Lord Edward says that if all goes well, we should be able to hold the wedding after a week. But in order to keep the reception food from going bad, we shall have a banquet to celebrate your recovery before the wedding, then another afterwards."
"That's wonderful, my love," Steve lied. The last thing he wanted to think about was the wedding. Well, the second to last thing.
Princess Annette frowned. "Why do you call me that?"
"My love. You never call me that."
"Oh. I... I thought it would be a nice change," he said. Dammit. "Wait a minute," he said suddenly. "I never call you that? Who do I call 'my love' if not you?"
Annette laughed, tickled literally pink by Steve's question. When, after several seconds, she finally calmed down, she said, "Oh, Sire, you're so silly!" She chuckled again, then moved on as if Steve had actually been joking. "It will be lovely to have two banquets instead of just one, don't you think?"
"This time, I think we should have flower girls at the wedding, don't you? I mean, wouldn't it be wonderful to walk down to the water on a bed of rose petals? White, I think, to match the barge. Of course, they'll have to do the barge again. The flowers won't have kept in this heat. This has been an unusually warm summer, don't you think? Of course you think so. But I've been to this coast past summers, and I don't remember it being this bad. I heard one of the pages say that the Weather Seer says that we may have rain tonight or tomorrow night. Hopefully it will cool down afterward. If it does, I hope it stays that way until the wedding, because..."
At this point, Steve stopped paying attention. Obviously, Annette had dismissed his lapse in calling her "my love," as well as his "stern" behavior toward Marcellus. She'd loosened up quite a bit, and apparently intended to talk his head off. It was clear to him now that Princess Annette was much younger than he - perhaps in her early twenties. She spoke mostly about the wedding and the doings of her maids and the other ladies she'd met at the palace. Steve was grateful that at least the Princess didn't seem to require any more of him than smiles, nods, and the occasional "oh, really". Marcellus was far more difficult to talk to. His conversations tended to be deeper and much more personal, which made for very tricky guesswork on Steve's part. As his "conversation" with Annette progressed, Steve began to wonder just how deep King Stephen's relationship with his future wife really was.
After a long while, Annette suddenly stopped her rambling and looked at the sky. "Heavens! It must be nearly two. I'm sure your lunch is being served."
"You're probably right," Steve said. "Let's go back, shall we?"
The Princess nodded and Steve escorted her back to the upstairs dining room. Sure enough, the lunch table was being set up. Steve and the Princess ate together, then they went to his study. They played Armada until dinner time, and Steve won every game. (Annette insisted that she was much better at Chess than Armada.) They had dinner together, most of which was spent listening to Annette's theories on why the blessing of the meal should be modified to exclude the drinking of saltwater. While Steve wholeheartedly agreed, he was careful to remain neutral, not wanting to say something out of character. Dinner was more pleasant than it had been the day before, since he didn't have to do anything but nod to keep the conversation going.
After the meal, Annette excused herself, thanking him for a wonderful day. "Shall I join you for breakfast tomorrow, my Lord?"
"Please do," he said. Annette smiled, curtseyed and left the room. Steve spent the rest of the evening reading and patting himself on the back. Today had been great. Annette and King Stephen didn't seem to have a very complex relationship, so it was wonderful to be around her. He wasn't constantly on edge, worrying about giving himself away. More importantly, he hadn't had to worry about Marcellus. Every time he thought about what had happened, he grew fearful and felt the need to send up prayers for forgiveness. However, as the day had progressed and he hadn't seen any sign of Marcellus, Steve had gradually started to feel better. He went to bed, looking forward to another Marcellus-free day in which to convince himself that the awful crime against nature that he'd committed was a one-time thing - a solitary transgression never to be repeated.