The storm lasted throughout most of the night. Steve had several disturbing dreams about trains, giants, guns and being soaking wet. When he awoke, the sky was clear and the weather was cold. He went to the "head" then rang for his attendants, getting back into bed to wait for them.
"Pick me out something warm to wear today, please," he said when they were ready to dress him.
"Yes, Your Majesty." They dressed him in thick tights and a heavy tunic with a smaller shirt underneath. When he was dressed, shaved and crowned, he headed off to breakfast. Annette arrived shortly after he did and they had a pleasant meal together. She commented on how lovely it was to have cool weather for a change. She talked about the difference in warm fashions versus cool ones, her favorite hot and cold weather activities and her hopes that weather would be cool on their wedding the second time around.
After breakfast, Annette led him to a new room - down the hall to the right of the dining chamber. Steve gasped when he walked in. The room was quite large, well lit by several huge windows. There were two pianos in the center of the room and several other instruments lined the walls. There were guitars of various sizes, trumpets, flutes, clarinets, and even a few harps. Wow. "I want to show you something," Annette said excitedly. She pulled him over to one of the pianos and sat down. She glanced nervously at him. "I hope I don't mess up."
Steve smiled. "You'll be fine," he assured her. "Let's hear it." The Princess smiled and began to play. Steve gasped. Instead of hearing some classical or renaissance music as he had expected, he heard something much more modern and close to home: the first line of "Open Arms." Steve listened in shock as the Princess played the intro. It was a little slower than normal, but flawless nonetheless. Annette stopped after the first few bars and smiled up at him. "Well?"
"Excellent," he said, grinning and keeping his shock to himself. "Do you know the rest?"
"Yes, but I'm too shy to sing."
"That's all right. Just play."
Annette began again, playing a somewhat simplified version of the song which included the vocal melody line. When it was over, she smiled proudly. "I did it."
"Yes, and you did it very well," Steve said.
The Princess grinned. "Thank you, Sire. It wasn't too hard to learn, but I was nervous while learning as the composer was the one teaching it to me." Steve wanted to ask who the composer was, but Annette had gone into one of her chattering fits and there was no stopping her. He just pasted the interested smile on his face that he usually used for fans and listened to her talk. "I love this song," she told him. "I practically had to beg to be taught, but it's just so beautiful. It's so romantic! The whole story is, really. The way you bonded in secret. Your father's anger when he found out about it. Then writing Open Arms for you while you were visiting my parents in England when I was born, and at the same time, you were writing Faithfully, and it's just so wonderfully romantic! Like a fairy tale, really, don't you agree?"
By now, Steve's smile had faltered quite a bit and he was staring at her in confusion. What kind of way was that for his future wife to talk about some other woman? She should be jealous, not enchanted. At the very least she should be barely tolerant of the memory. And who was this other woman anyway? He didn't remember anyone referring to an old lover. And if there was one, what was she doing hanging around teaching Annette their old sentimental songs? And how could he have possibly written Faithfully for someone when Annette was born? Wouldn't that have made him twelve or thirteen years old?
He was about to ask one or all of these questions out loud when someone knocked on the door. "Come in," Steve said automatically. The door opened and Marcellus came in. Steve scowled, but before he could say anything, Annette hopped up from the piano and bounded over to him.
"Did you hear me, Your Highness?" she asked, practically bouncing on her toes in her excitement.
Marcellus bowed, then said, "Yes, I did, little one." He looked as if he were about to say more, but Annette cut him off.
"What did you think? Did I do well? Did you like it?"
Marcellus smiled like a father smiling at his eager child. "Of course I did. It was beautifully played, and I didn't hear a single mistake. But of course, I expected as much of you. You are an excellent pupil."
"What?!?!?" Steve had watched the scene in silence for as long as possible, but he just couldn't take it anymore. Marcellus' last statement had just revealed the answers to all of his questions and more. Marcellus was the composer. He was the one King Stephen had bonded with in secret (whatever that meant). He was the one "hanging around" and teaching Annette their sentimental songs. And - the most shocking revelation of all - Annette knew all about it. And she didn't care! In fact, she was completely taken with their "fairy tale" romance. Did everyone else know about this? Is this why everyone seemed to expect him to spend every waking moment with Marcellus?? Steve shook his head. This was all too much for him to handle.
Marcellus and Annette were both looking at Steve in alarm. "What's wrong, Sire?" Marcellus asked.
Steve scowled. This, at least, was something he knew he could deal with. He didn't want Marcellus near him. But every time he turned around, there he was, interrupting his day and making him want things he knew he didn't want. Couldn't want. "You. Out!" he said, pointing.
Marcellus stiffened. Then, slightly red-faced, he bowed and looked at Annette. "Good day, Your Highness. With a little more practice, I am sure you will be able to bring it up to tempo, but your performance was quite lovely, as usual." He glanced at Steve, then left the room without another word.
Annette turned to Steve, pouting. "Why did you do that?"
"Nevermind," Steve said sharply. "Do you have anything else you want to play for me?"
Annette frowned, slightly hurt. "No, Sire," she said softly. "May I please be excused, Your Majesty?"
"Sure," he said, turning away from the door. "Whatever you want."
He heard a small gasp, then the door closed and he was alone. Scowling, he stormed to the window and sat down at the window seat trying to convince himself that he didn't care what either of them thought. He pretended to be highly interested in the view for a while, watching the courtiers and servants mill around as usual. Then he saw Marcellus, and suddenly he was interested. The young prince walked quickly to the garden and straight to a bench near one of the fountains Steve remembered liking, before the maze incident. Marcellus sat down and put his head in his hands. A moment later, Steve saw the Princess come outside. She trotted to the garden, looked around, then went over to where Marcellus was and sat beside him. She patted his back and whispered to him, but he only shook his head. She patted him for a while longer, frowning up at the music room window.
Steve left the room and went back to his bedroom. He was still freaked out by the fact that Annette was well aware of King Stephen's affair with Marcellus. What kind of place was this? Whoever heard of a gay couple being perfectly accepted in some Medieval castle? Least of all by the woman one of the men was supposed to be marrying! What the hell was this place?! Who cares? he thought. Who fucking cares? What difference did it make what strange societal misfits these people were? He wasn't one of them. He did not want Marcellus! All he wanted was to go home.
Steve spent the rest of the day alone. No one even tried to visit him. The only people he saw were the attendants who came to bring him his meals. He told himself that it was just as well. He didn't need people around him anyway, asking questions he couldn't answer and talking his head off. He paced and read and played Armada by himself. Finally, more bored than tired, he went to bed.
He dreamt of Marcellus again that night. The morning was spent in a tizzy, worrying and praying and berating himself. He calmed down by reminding himself that he would probably end up alone again today after his behavior in the music room. He had nothing to worry about except loneliness, and that was no big deal, right? He went to the dining room when the time came. The servants weren't there when he came. They arrived in a few minutes with more food than just one person could eat. He sighed, supposing that the Princess wasn't offended enough to skip breakfast. He stood out of the way while they set up the table, looking out a window until he heard the door open and close. "Good morning, Sire."
Steve turned when he heard the Princess' voice, but his smiled died away immediately when he saw Marcellus standing behind her looking nervous. Steve growled. "What are you doing here?!"
Marcellus jumped, but before he could say anything, Annette spoke up. "I invited him, my Lord," she said brightly. "I thought it might be nice for us to eat together like we used to."
"What does it take to make you understand?" Steve shouted at Marcellus, completely ignoring Annette. "I don't want to see you!"
"Get out!" Steve cried, ignoring Annette again.
Marcellus' face turned a bright shade of red and he backed up a little. Then he stopped. "Why, my Lord?"
"What?" Steve asked, surprised.
"Why are you doing this?" Marcellus cried.
Steve bristled, angry at being challenged. "I told you to get out!" he yelled. "I expect to be obeyed."
"What have I done?" Marcellus cried desperately, on the verge of tears. "Please tell me, my Lord, that I may beg your forgiveness and vow never to do it again!"
"Just get out!"
"Sire, please," Marcellus begged. "Please tell me what I have done! How can I make things right if I don't know how I have offended you?"
"You can't!" Steve yelled. "It's not something you've done. It's you! I don't want you anymore, do you understand me? I despise you! The very sight of you makes me sick to my stomach! Now get out of here!!!"
There was a collective gasp from everyone in the room, and Marcellus recoiled as if he'd actually been struck. The color drained from his face and he stood there for a moment, staring at Steve, his chest heaving. Then he backed away, reaching for the door with a shaking hand. He was so upset he didn't even bow. He just left the room, not even closing the door behind him.
There was a long moment of shocked silence. Then Annette rounded on him. "What is wrong with you?!"
"Don't you start," Steve said sharply, pointing a warning finger at her. "I don't want to hear it right now."
"Well, I don't care!" Annette shouted, stamping her foot. "You-"
"I said I don't want to hear it, little girl," Steve said. "Just keep your mouth shut!"
"I won't! You will not silence me this time."
"This time?" Steve cried. "When have I ever been able to silence your pointless, incessant babbling??"
That got her quiet. She stiffened visibly and her lips disappeared into a thin line. Steve raised an eyebrow. He'd never seen anyone turn purple before. He expected her to scream at him some more, or burst into tears, but she did neither. When she spoke again, her words were low and soft, conveying about ten times more fury than any scream could. "You will not distract me from what I have to say by insulting me in that most ungentlemanly fashion, King Stephen. I may be only a 'little girl' as you say, but fifteen years is quite long enough to learn not to be so shocked by a complete and utter lack of manners as to lose track of one's intent."
Annette scowled. "And do not think to excuse yourself by pretending your fever has returned, because I will not believe it! The past two days have been much too cool for that excuse to work. Your behavior toward Prince Marcellus the first day I saw you could have been explained by the heat, but the past two days have been inexcusable."
"How dare you tell me that anything I've done is inexcusable," Steve asked, putting away the age thing for later consideration.
"How dare you treat your own bondmate like dirt?!" she countered loudly. "How dare you disgrace and shame him every day?? How dare you do so without giving him any reason for your punishment?"
"I'm the king," Steve cried. "I don't have to answer to anyone, okay? I can do what I want, and what I want is for Marcellus to stay away from me and for you to keep quiet!"
"It is not a king's lot to do anything and everything he pleases," Annette snapped. "And it is everyone's responsibility to speak and act when he sees injustice done, no matter what the danger may be to himself. You taught me those lessons! While they obviously mean nothing to you, I believe them to be true! I will not stand silent and watch you crush poor Marcellus into the dirt day after day! It was bad enough disparaging him in front of me, but now you have completely humiliated him in front of the servants and you've said words to him that no one should say to the one he claims to love above all others. Especially since he is your bondmate and to hurt him is to hurt yourself. Your behavior is ludicrous and despicable, and quite enough to make anyone sick to his stomach! So unless your fever has somehow robbed you of even a minuscule sliver of decency and compassion, you will apologize to Marcellus and beg him on hands and knees to forgive your horrendous treatment of him!" She paused, but before he could think of anything to say, she spoke again. "Now if you will excuse me, Your Majesty, I have lost my appetite." Annette's angry expression suddenly became mingled with hurt and sadness. "Besides," she said, "I wouldn't want to subject you to any more of my pointless, incessant babbling." She curtseyed deeply, then stepped out of the room, slamming the door so hard behind her that the windows rattled.
Steve stared at the door, stunned by the amazing tongue lashing he'd just received from the mouth of a girl twenty years his junior. He glanced away from the door and noticed that the six attendants who'd come in to serve breakfast were all staring at him. Steve glared. "What the hell are you gawking at?" he snapped. "Don't you have anything to do?"
The attendants were suddenly quite busy, bustling about setting the table and organizing Steve's meal. The four attendants that would have served Annette and Marcellus left, while the two hapless men responsible for serving Steve stayed behind. Steve played with his food for a few minutes, too busy thinking about Annette's tirade to eat anything. At first, he tried to discount what she'd said. She's just a spoiled brat, he thought. What does she know about it? But even as he thought them, he knew the words didn't make sense. First of all, Annette clearly knew much more about the situation than he did, having known these people all her life. Second of all, she was hardly a spoiled brat. In fact, she was quite mature for her age, which made sense, he supposed, since fifteen or sixteen was marrying age for women these days. She's acting more mature than I am right now, he thought, remembering his harsh words to her. He'd been unfair. He didn't really mind her chattering. He thought it was cute, actually. And as for what he'd said to Marcellus...
Steve sighed. He was worried about letting Marcellus get too close again and slipping into something that would be sinful. But he was also worried about being discovered as an impostor, and his behavior was not helping his illusion. He'd just greatly insulted the two most important people in the King's life, right in front of six of the castle servants. The morning's fiasco was sure to spread through the whole place like wildfire. And it was clear from Princess Annette's little speech that the heat stroke excuse wouldn't be convincing for very long.
Steve sighed again. He had to face facts. If he didn't want to be killed as an impostor or carted off to an asylum, he was going to have to tolerate Marcellus. He could still refuse to have sex, but the public displays of venom were out. He would also have to swallow his pride and try to make things better with Annette. He didn't know how, but he figured she probably wouldn't even talk to him if he didn't make up with Marcellus first.
Steve finished what he could of his breakfast, then left to look for Marcellus. He wondered if the prince had gone to the garden, then shuddered. That was the last place he wanted to see. He sighed and walked toward his bedroom. Maybe he could see Marcellus from the window, so he would at least know where he was sitting. Steve had his hand on his bedroom doorknob when he heard the sobs. He frowned. Was someone in his room crying? He opened the door, but the room was empty. Puzzled, he went to the head, but there was no one there except one of the chamber servants, and she was definitely not crying.
Steve waved a dismissal at the girl when she hopped to her feet. He shut the door and continued walking slowly down the hall, trying to locate the source of the mournful sound. The sobbing grew louder the farther down the hall he went, until he reached the second to last door. Curious, he opened the door quietly and peeked inside. It was Marcellus. He was sitting on a chair in a bedroom much like Steve's own. He was bent almost double, with his arms folded over his stomach, crying so hard he was visibly shaking.
For several moments, all Steve could do was stand and stare. He'd never made anyone cry before. Well, he had seen his share of fans crying from sheer excitement, but he'd never said anything to make someone as miserable as Marcellus looked and sounded. While Steve was thinking, Marcellus suddenly put a hand to his mouth. He got out of the chair and dropped to his knees in front of a nearby trash can. Steve's eyes widened when he heard Marcellus start to heave. He'd actually made him so upset that he puked. Steve reddened, thoroughly ashamed of himself. Avoiding Marcellus was one thing, but Annette was right. This was inexcusable.
When, after several moments, Marcellus was finished, he just stayed on the floor, sobbing into the trashcan. Steve walked into the room, sat beside Marcellus and put a hand on his shoulder. Marcellus jumped. He backed away a little when he saw who had touched him, no doubt expecting more abuse. Steve sighed, saddened to know that, thanks to him, Marcellus had no reason to expect anything else. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Marcellus beat him to it. "Please," he said, voice shaky with tears. "Please forgive me, Sire. Please. Whatever it is that I've done, I... I'm sorry! Just tell me what to do! Please! I'll do anything you ask. I'll... I'll even stay away if that's what you want me to do. Just, please... please d-don't h-hate me any m-more!" Marcellus' words dissolved into another flurry of tears. He covered his face with his hands and sobbed pitifully.
Steve felt like the worst person in the world. All this time, he'd been shunning Marcellus to avoid doing something wrong, and he hadn't really considered how cruel he was being. Surely that was sinful, too? Then he thought about how hurt he'd been when he'd realized that Sherrie didn't love him anymore and he felt even worse. Thinking of Sherrie brought something to Steve's mind that he hadn't considered before. He'd been pushing Marcellus away in the name of avoiding mortal sin, but he'd been living with Sherrie for over a year without being married to her. By all rights, he was already doomed. But he was committed to Sherrie as strongly as if they were married. Was Marcellus' commitment to King Stephen any less valuable? Was there something so unnatural about wanting to be loved?
Steve shook his head. No. Love couldn't be evil, even if it was between two men. Evil was making an extraordinarily faithful and devoted almost-husband think that his "bondmate" didn't love him anymore. Steve's eyes started to water and he could feel a lump developing in his throat. He vowed then and there to do everything in his power to repair the damage he'd done. Everything.
Steve wrapped his arms around Marcellus and held him tight. Marcellus flung his arms around Steve's waist, buried his face in his chest and sobbed louder than ever. "I'm sorry," Steve said, not bothering to hide the tears in his voice. "I can't tell you what was wrong with me," he said, honestly enough. "But it's over now. I... I love you, Marcellus." Steve gasped when Marcellus' already vice-like grip around his middle got even tighter. "I'm too ashamed of myself to ask your forgiveness, and I know I don't deserve it anyway," he continued, ignoring Marcellus' shaking head. "But if you'll give me the chance, I'll try my best to make it up to you. Will you let me try?"
Marcellus was nodding vigorously before the question was even out of Steve's mouth. "Yes, yes, my love," he cried. He didn't seem to be able to say anything more, so Steve just held him, and waited for his tears to subside. After several minutes, Marcellus grew quiet, resting against Steve's chest. His body still trembled slightly, but he was breathing regularly. "I love you, Stephen," he said softly.
Steve didn't answer - not in words anyway. He pushed Marcellus away from him, pulled his face forward with both hands and kissed him gently. He could taste bile and tears on Marcellus' tongue, but he ignored it. He also ignored the fears that tried to invade his mind again when the kiss came so easily to him. He wouldn't allow remorse. The only guilt he felt now was there because of the awful way he'd treated Marcellus. He let the kiss linger until there could be no doubt in Marcellus' mind that he was sorry and that "Stephen" loved him, too.
At last, their lips parted. Marcellus wiped the last tears from his eyes and sighed. He glanced at Steve, then lowered his eyes. "I fear I've ruined your tunic," he said softly.
Steve looked down. Sure enough, the front of his shirt was wet with Marcellus' tears. Steve shrugged. "Who cares? It's just a shirt. Nothing important." He looked at Marcellus as if to say, "Unlike you." Marcellus' quickly reddening cheeks showed that he clearly understood the look.
"I suppose we should get off the floor now," Marcellus said.
"Guess so." They sat there for a moment. Then Marcellus leaned forward and kissed Steve on the lips. Steve put his arms around Marcellus and pulled him closer, shifting so that Marcellus was nestled between his legs. Marcellus moaned slightly and pressed himself against Steve. Instead of ending, the kiss grew more urgent. Soon, Steve could feel a familiar tingling that was a sure sign of imminent arousal. He didn't try to stop it. He teased the roof of Marcellus' mouth with his tongue, and was rewarded with a whimper and a shudder from Marcellus. He could feel a hardness against his groin, and he pushed his hips up to meet it. Marcellus whimpered again, pressing himself hard against Steve.
Finally, the kiss ended. Marcellus kissed Steve's chin, then moved to his neck. He lingered there, licking and sucking and nibbling on him until Steve thought he would lose his mind. Meanwhile, Steve's roving hands searched Marcellus' body. He wanted to touch every inch of him. Suddenly, Marcellus drew away. Steve gasped and opened his eyes, wondering what was wrong. Nothing. Marcellus was in the process of ripping his shirt off, revealing a lean, muscular torso. His chest was red and his nipples stood out ever so slightly. The sight was all Steve needed. He jumped to his feet and started tugging off his own clothing.
Steve had barely gotten out of his undershirt when a completely naked Marcellus started drawing him toward the bed. He shoved Steve gently onto the bed, then went to work on his boots a bit less gently. He fiddled with the laces for a few seconds, then growled and yanked the boots off, hurling them across the room. Not missing a beat, he grabbed Steve's pants and yanked them off, sending them flying after the shoes. Steve had his underpants off by the time Marcellus turned around again. Steve scooted back so that his legs were on the bed. Marcellus was on the bed in an instant, a hungry look in his eyes and a mischievous grin on his face.
Marcellus crawled slowly toward Steve. He grabbed Steve's legs, lifting them and pulling them apart as he came forward. Steve wondered if Marcellus planned on doing some of his fancy tongue work again. He was mildly disappointed when that didn't happen, but in a moment, there were other things on his mind. Marcellus came forward until Steve could feel his rock-hard penis between his legs. By the time Steve realized what Marcellus had planned, it was too late to protest. He had a split second to brace himself, then Marcellus was inside him, slowly pressing forward until he was completely covered. Despite Marcellus' previous impatience, he was gentle inside Steve, pumping in and out slowly, which was about all Steve could handle. He'd never felt anything like this before. It hurt a bit, but he wanted it to go on, all the same. He could only shudder and gasp, gripping the bedclothes to keep from screaming outright.
After several minutes, Steve thought that the sensations would be too much for him. Then Marcellus started to kiss his chest - light, gentle, moist pecks that sent shivers running through him. When Marcellus started sucking his nipples, it did become too much. Steve screamed, not caring who heard. He moved his hips in time with Marcellus, making the younger man groan appreciatively, though it didn't stop his lazy sucking. They kept moving, going faster and faster until Steve climaxed, back arched - every part of him focused on one thing - pleasure. Marcellus followed right after, shoving himself deeper into Steve than he would have believed possible. After a tense second, Marcellus screamed nearly as loud as Steve had, and they lay on the bed in a trembling, sweaty heap.