by kumoinezu (雲井鼠)
illustrated by kann_opener
A Brief Introduction By the Melodramatic Protagonist
I have never been one to obey authority, and for that reason I have always hated soldiers, and dogs, and the quiet, studious ones who sat unnoticed in the centre of classrooms, hiding behind their textbooks until they were called upon. And for this reason, no matter how hard I tried, and told myself, sometimes out loud, Mind over Matter, I would always manage to find ways out of the castle and into trouble. Like anyone with the attention span of a flea, I was prone to finding more interesting things to do than sit around all day listening to my tutors mumble into my ears all the different and proper ways to run a country.
I frankly didn’t give a crap.
I was the first prince and heir to a nation that was wealthy and peaceful and all that good junk. Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s not bad; in fact I knew it was a great because it meant I was going to have a country handed down to me stable and organized and sealed with a kiss and everything. I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. It made me smile just thinking about it.
But, not that I really honestly cared at the time, since all the nobles of the court were loyal, the ministers competent—the only thing that was ever on my mind was surviving childhood, like any other boy, I suppose.
To be honest, my childhood was laughably nothing out of the ordinary. Sincerely truly. I went to school and studied language, arithmetic, painting, astronomy, and even the arts of battle, though we’d never have a practical use for it. It did buy me plenty of attention, for I was very competent at it, “despite having a girl’s name” so they said, so I must confess that I think the time wasn’t a complete waste. My best friend was a boy who’d become a knight at the age of 10 and we got in trouble all the time, because we were boys; because we were young and handsome and foolish the way all boys tend to be.
I also had a younger brother who looked nothing like me. You would probably think we weren’t related, but rarely anyone did until Mother or Father convinced him or her otherwise. A good look at the pair of my parents would explain everything, O my poor father. How they managed to produce the jewels of the nation (that is, my brother, and me were I behind a mask), I am not sure. What I do know is that my brother was the sort of thing wishful painters dreamed up and slopped onto canvases as angels and young gods, suitable for wearing nothing but a fig leaf over his privates; or preferably nothing at all.
His hair was soft, and the colour of cherrywood, so fine and rich you could smell the rum-chocolate just standing near him, and he had a set of starlit eyes as green and bright as the eastern sea to match. Pale skin so soft that you’d think it would tear if you so much as touched it, like rose petals. So doll-like and handsome that it was most definitely absolutely infuriating.
He had been named Briallen, after my father’s best friend, and I Aisling, after my mother’s sister. Some name that was! It would haunt me until I passed my teenage years—a woman’s name as my own, I despised it with my entire woeful being until I realized that girls really liked it when a boy had a girl’s name.
If nothing, however, my complexion matched his the way a set of black chess pieces matched the set of white. That’s what Simon told me, he was always so senseless and transparent; he also said, looking incredibly naïve and unaware of how terribly suggestive it sounded, “If he were the sun, you are the moon.” A pretty string of words, especially coming from a dolt like him, but ashen blond hair and muddy, jade coloured eyes made me seem like plaster while he was marble, at least that’s what I have always thought.
He had also been a better student than me, smarter and brighter and earnest in his learning, the prat. He was shyer, and in turn sweeter (the prat!), and worst of all, compliant and submissive like a pup, which only made me more angry and nervous around him, like flint set too close to gunpowder.
I always thought he should have been king. It made so much more sense; he was everything the country would have wanted. But nothing ever turns out the way one wishes, and even if you willed it with all your being, some things just aren’t meant to be.
maybe seventeen years old?
“He’s doing well,” Simon says, kicking a rock with his armoured feet. It makes a sharp pinging noise and rolls a few feet away. He shakes his hair out of his face and some of it snags in the pins and screws of his armour, but he ignores it, because he is quite daft and clumsy.
“For a boy who’s just turned thirteen he’s doing very well. From what I hear, anyway.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I guess nobody expected our little scholar to be so competent in the military,” Simon touches his lips thoughtfully. “It’s a vicious place, you see.”
“Vicious?” I almost wince.
“Maybe that’s too much a word to use… but you know, Aisling,” he sighs, and if it weren’t Simon I would say he is being melodramatic, “the military is just as strict and demanding as everyone says, if not more.”
Simon kicks the rock again as we approach it. This time it flies into a rose bush, and to my complete confusion he looks slightly disappointed.
“Bri will make a fine officer and a gentleman yet.” Simon smiles at me as wistfully as ever, and my eyes catch the rubbery stretch of the long, thin scar that runs through both lips from his chin and midway up his cheek; a pink scythe on his pale face. I look away and do not say anything, because I do not know anything about the military except for what I’d learned from teachers, which is pathetic and little. I think of Briallen’s soft small body hardened by chores and scarred by practice and a little part of me withers away; the last leaf of autumn.
fourteen, or so.
Briallen curls up beside me and pushes his face into my armpit, which is kind of disgusting, but an endearing gesture anyway. He’d been crying because a scholar has scolded him, and he having never dealt with a good scolding, did not know how to react in any other way. His eyes are swollen, and they’ll hurt in the morning, but he refused to let me get some ice for him, saying that he wanted to sleep with me; and outside in the garden the way we used to when we were five or six and apparently oblivious to any sort of household manners. We are too old for that now, I want to tell him, but the softness of his cheek against the beating of my heart stops me, and I hold onto him a while longer, counting the stars until sunrise erased them from the night.
somewhere around being sixteen years old.
I had stopped thinking about sailors a few years ago, for the times when I’d gone to the tallest tower in the eastern wing to hide the embarrassing noises of boyish urges.
(It has always been men, or boys, never the voluptuous curves of even the most seductive of flowergirls, and I for the love of God never could figure why.)
It’s winter. It is very cold; snow a shimmering white blanket over our land. None of the streets are marked with the carriage tires or horse hooves or men’s busy footprints; for it is still early, too early for the city to stir. The wintry air on the bareness between my thighs feels sinfully delicious and I’ll deny that it only aroused me more. I can’t feel my fingers even as I stroke the hottest part of me; and the touch is strange.
I stifle a gasp as my nail scraped the slit; and thinking of knee-high socks and tight, warm places I come between my fingers into the pearly morning.
Eighteen years old.
He bows deeply and makes me think of maples in the rain. When he straightens up and comes properly closer I notice that he is shorter than he looks, with a shining sort of intelligent ambience all around his person like some kind of invisible halo. This is Seamus, Father says. Seamus Kerr, he will be teaching you the laws of other countries from now on. When I make to shake his hand, surprising him and my father, and no less myself; I discover that he smells of earth and libraries, which I find extremely alluring and nice. When he looks me in the eye and smiles, I freeze, because I notice that his hair, clipped short behind his ears like a scholar, is mocha-umber. His eyes are crystalline, limpid green.
Hell, even I know I was doomed, but for all the wrong reasons.
He is fighting tears. I can see it in his face, the way he chews on the corner of his lip and clutches the cuff of his sleeve; a nervous, pathetic habit. He never cried much but when he did it came in fountains. His hair is braided down his back so that it sits on one shoulder, a silky rope of wine-chocolate. He’d shed the velvet and the silk and wore cotton now, a grey woollen hat pulled hastily over his head to hide part of his face. He looks at me, determined and boyish and eleven years old, and says, all trembling and pretending not to notice it, “Aisling, you will make a great King a-and, I will serve you as a knight when I’m out of school.” he clutches at my sleeve imploringly, and I try for a smile.
Aisling, I tell myself, you great fat liar.
“You’re a prince, Briallen, not a knight.”
He shakes his head defiantly, and says, “No, I’m a knight now, Aisling.”
He squeezes my fingers tightly in his hand and then sprints down the stairs towards the horses and Simon who was waiting for him. When he gets to the bottom of the marble steps he turns and bows perfectly, the ideal prince he is, and I can tell in the way he spins around to flee that he is crying.
My mother lets out a wretched sob behind me and buries her face in my father’s shoulder, but under the humming of my heartbeat I barely notice them at all.
“How old are you anyway?”
Seamus gives me a strange look, and I raise my eyebrows.
“Three years older than you, I believe.”
“Twenty-one, then,” I say, looking up. He doesn’t look twenty-one; he barely looks over nineteen. He is an inch or two taller than me, although I would have thought him to be even taller from a distance. Broad-shouldered and supple like a maturing tree. I like his face, and his eyes; they are like jewels. They remind me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I do know that it pulls on my heartstrings like a barrel of demons. I wonder briefly what he looks like in moments of rapture and feel more than slightly embarrassed by the thought.
He just finished explaining something or other about some country’s civic laws, and I heard not a word of it. I am staring at his face and am therefore also completely unaware of his lecture. An inkwell suddenly flies my way and I catch it before it can hit my face.
“Are you listening now?” He leans against his desk, crossing his arms across his chest coolly.
My heart skips a beat.
“Maybe,” I half-admit, “I was thinking about… other things.”
“I suggest you get everything here—” he slams a hand down on the book I have open in front of me, and I find myself mesmerized instead of startled— “memorized by the end of this week or you will regret it.” I gulp as he backs away and smiles at me, then he shrugs.
“It’s my job,” he sighs after a moment, scratching his brow, “It’s not my fault.”
“Where did you learn all this?”
Seamus looks up from his book, and gives me a look. “All what?”
“Everything,” I say, and I mean it. He knows so much it leaves me in awe for so much of the time I spend with him; which is so frequent we might have been joined at the hip. “You are only three years older but you know more than anyone else I’ve met.”
“I’m flattered,” he says flatly. “Let me call it a scholar’s secrets.” He shrugs carelessly.
I barely get through a day without him rendering me completely obtuse and feeble. I realise the more time I spend with him the more I fell for his chestnut hair and grassy eyes, but for reasons unknown I am sure that it is something else about him that I love.
He steers me into the courtyard, where I see Simon daydreaming on one of the stone benches, his hair braided to his waist in a shining gold plait. A princess. I go to him and tap him on the shoulder, and he smiles, then notices Seamus, who stands behind me warily, presumably waiting for me to finish.
“Is this Seamus?” Simon asks, blatant and harmless as ever, looking at the subject of his question. His greaves and sollerets squeal as he stands up to greet the stranger. A perfect gentleman, as always.
“Yeah,” I wave him over, and let Simon do his unnecessary bowing, “Seamus, this is Simon, my best friend. He’s a knight of the Rhys Order.”
Seamus whistles lowly. He never had manners.
“How old are you?” He asks Simon with great interest, which bothered me.
“Nineteen,” Simon replies humbly.
“You must be the youngest there’s ever been on the Rhys Order,” Seamus looks taken a back, his eyes widening, “they must give you Hell.”
“No sir,” Simon says quietly, and I throw a hand over my face because any he has no need to address anyone other than those of Royal Blood with politesse, but does it to everyone anyway, “they don’t.”
“Simon was knighted at the age of 10 and entered the Rhys Order four years ago,” I step between them because I did not like being left out of the conversation, especially not between these two. I sound extremely proud of him, which is embarrassing and ridiculously juvenile, but I’m not in the mind to care. I just wanted them to stop giving each other their full attention. Aisling, I told myself, you are really eleven years old. Then, but it worked; good job.
“You’re too slow,” he says, and the white glare of his blade was at my cheek in a flash. “Again.”
This time I was on my back within four minutes.
He steps over me, sword at my neck.
“This is a nice view,” he says sadistically, “I wish I taught you swordsmanship all the time.”
“It’s not too bad from here either,” I drawl at him with a flick of my wrist, gesturing at his person. I eye his groin exaggeratedly, hoping that he’d let me get up. Of course he chooses not to, just to spite me.
“Oh my,” he says with a laugh, “Aisling, how promiscuous.”
Then in one fluid movement falls on his knees and kisses me on the mouth.
He is watching me read. He is watching me read and he is licking his lips. He is watching me read knowing that I’m pretending to read while watching him watch me and lick his lips, just out of the corner of my eye. This is all very painful and exciting.
I tear my eyes away from him and try to focus on the words, to no avail whatsoever. As I feel the crotch of my pants tighten, images of green eyes, a brown plait, and skinny, pale shoulders shining with sweat blaze in my mind, like white-hot sparks leaping from a hearth. I stiffen for a second. Who was I thinking about just now? I can’t remember.
Seamus’ book snaps shut. The sound echoes in the hall like a premonition. The sun is streaming through the windows and as he walks he passes through light and shade, slowly; slowly and agonizingly until he grabs me by the face and we fall to the floor in a tangle of limbs and kisses. I moan into his mouth and he smiles.
We wake up naked and warm, with the light through the windows marring our skin with what look like bars of a cage.
In my dream, Seamus is wearing shorts, knee-high socks, and he is much thinner than he really is. His mouth is open because he is saying my name and his voice is a little different.
“Aisling,” he whispers, pressing his face into my shoulder, “Aisling.”
As my arousal wakes me I feel suddenly more nostalgic than I ever remember being.
I am running as fast as I can towards the grand hall as if all the devils of hell were on my heel, or rather, if I’d just seen that metaphorical pot of gold at the end of the symbolic rainbow, for I had heard something that sent my senses into a havoc of joy. People in the hall dodge me in fear that they would be knocked over in my hurried frenzy and had they not moved, they indeed would have been knocked over.
I hear some shameless maids shout at me to stop acting like a public hazard but I ignore them; more important, more painful, heartaching things are at hand.
I push past the startled guards at the door and step into the hall, breathless, chest heaving. I bow a hasty bow at the people gathered at the throne, and hold my breath to stop myself from panting. My father waves me over, and I’m shaking.
“Briallen,” I finally exhale.
“Aisling,” the youth at the feet of the steps before the thrones turns to face me, and his face is hard. My heart stings a little and then I can’t stop myself as I grab his shoulders and pull him into my chest. His arms come around me immediately and his breath is hot against my neck. This blinds me momentarily, and we break apart when my mother giggles.
I cast her a dirty look that fails halfway there because I see that Briallen is smiling, and he is brighter than any sun. He is taller now, but I’d expected that. Three years between eleven and fourteen make an enormous difference in a boy’s body; soft plump cheeks mould themselves into more shapely bones in the nose and the chin, but his full, girly lips never went away. His braid is gone. I reach behind him and touch his nape, where hair as rich as wine would have curled around my fingers silkily three years ago. He shivers at the touch. Are my fingers cold?
“You cut your hair,” I manage, “why?”
“No point in growing it,” he looks away, “it’s too much work to take care of.”
“I really liked it,” I say, “Simon keeps his hair long.”
“Simon doesn’t look like a girl,” he whispers, almost inaudible.
I freeze and grab his shoulder so roughly that he stumbles, and my mother gasps, “Aisling!”
“Briallen—” I say, much too passionately, “Don’t tell me—”
“Aisling,” a voice, smooth as chocolate, and a hand presses firmly at the small of my back. I turn into Seamus, who just smiles ambiguously.
“Seamus,” I sigh, relaxing, desperate suddenly for his touch, but when it came a feeling of sickness rose in my gut. I don’t push him away.
I catch Briallen eyeing Seamus, discontent all over his face. I feel guilty about hurting him and I apologize.
“Bri, I’m sorry,” I say, moving my hand to rest it on his shoulder. He stops it and pushes it away, and a knife I didn’t know was there twists in my heart.
“Aisling,” Briallen’s eyes are still on Seamus who is kneading my spine out of everyone’s eyeshot and making me feel uncomfortably nice. “Who’s this?”
“Briallen,” My father’s voice booms behind him, “this is Seamus, Aisling’s current tutor. He’ll be teaching you when you’re older.”
“Prince Briallen,” Seamus’ hand leaves me as he bows.
Briallen does not look happy.
“How long are you back for?” Simon asks him through a mouthful of raspberry pie, crumbs falling on the floor.
“Simon that is repulsive please swallow,” I say, and he struggles for a few seconds; then repeats his question.
“A month or so,” Briallen replies, “it’s nice to be back.”
“Is that why you haven’t been coming back for the past three years? So that you could take out all those weeks at once,” I whirl on him, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. Mother’s raspberry pie is amazing.
“Yes,” my brother says, “Well, it’s one reason. There were things I had to make sure of before I could come back.”
I look at him, and the way his tongue darts out to snatch the bits of jam stuck to the corner of his lips.
“That’s a number of years, though, not to see your family,” Seamus muses, “Miss your brother?”
“Seamus,” I roll my eyes.
“Yes, I did,” Briallen says quietly, and I fall silent.
His struggling legs are spread wider apart as his shorts were torn off by strangers’ hands. Tears stream down his face, hot and shining by candlelight. His body is flushed with exertion, his hair a wine-chocolate mess on his face and down his back, the curls and terror-stricken tangles stuck to his skin with sweat. Someone is forced into his mouth and he struggles to breathe, shutting his eyes tightly. His wrists are bleeding because the rope they bound him with is rubbing away at his skin. They hold down his ankles and a hand reaches between his thighs.
Globs of white splatters all over Briallen’s hair and face as the man who was in his mouth relieves himself with a throaty groan, and the boy chokes out a name desperately, he is so scared.
The owner of the name can’t help him, and I know because it is my name, and I am dreaming.
He cries, “Aisling, Aisling, Aisling” as they rape him, and I wake up with a strangled cry, running for the bathroom to empty my stomach of all its contents.
He’s as smart as I remember him being as a child. I try spending as much time with him alone as possible, because whenever Seamus was around he seems uncomfortable, perhaps it is because he doesn’t like the sudden interference of a stranger who was almost always with me, for a number of reasons which I do not want to tell him.
I watch him spar with Simon and realize that they are both probably much better than me with a sword. He moves like Simon, direct, quick, and strong. A part of my dignity dies.
“May I have the honour of sparring with the younger prince?” Seamus suddenly says, rolling up his sleeves.
Simon throws him his sword.
“Sure,” Briallen says, and determination is strong in his eyes. “Put on some armour.”
“I think I’ll pass on that,” Seamus says, “It’s too much work anyway.”
“I’m warning you,” Briallen’s voice is hard, “please go put on some armour.”
His hand is shaking. Seamus obeys him without a word.
They spar, and a few minutes in Briallen had his sword at the opening in the armour, where if he pushed further Seamus would be bleeding all over the stone tiles from a gash in his neck. Simon steps between them and takes the swords away from both of them, gingerly, looking at them both warily. I can tell by the look on his face that he wants to say something, but as usual, can’t find the words to say it. My mind is not far from his train of thought, and I clear my throat to say something, anything, so that the intensity in the atmosphere may disappear and leave us all in sunny, familiar peace.
Seamus gets there first, sly fox.
“I’ll go now,” he says as he puts down the gauntlet is removing from his arm, and smiles casually, “Aisling, come find me when the lesson rolls around.”
I almost say, “Wait, what lesson?” when I suddenly realize what he means and shut my mouth. I nod at him, and when I turn around I see that Simon was staring at the direction he had left in. I swivel around and practically shout at Briallen, I don’t understand him and his actions.
“What the hell was that, Bri? You were serious!”
“I don’t like the way he looks at you,” he says stubbornly, not looking at me and then suddenly glaring, his pink lips pursed.
I opened and closed my mouth silently like a fish, and my heart burns with something I couldn’t name.
“You look like a fish, Aisling,” Simon points out.
“You’re observant,” I snarl at him.
He looks at his feet.
“Sometimes,” he says.
“He left without telling me,” I say, frowning, “Why on earth would he do that?”
“Who knows,” Seamus shrugs, “maybe he’s afraid he won’t be able to leave if you saw him off.”
“Maybe,” I glare at my textbook, and then make a strangled noise, “Arghsjklhwg, one month in three years is much too short.”
My breath hitches because Seamus slid a hand under my shirt and his hands are cold. Goosebumps rise all over my body and I grab his collar, crushing my mouth to his, almost violently.
Kisses are never like the way they are written in sensational, forbidden books. They are awkward and graceless and often uncooperative because you are so busy with other things, like trying to undo the belt of the person who is being very distracting by sucking on your bottom lip. Or sometimes you try to say something but it dies before it can even form, because he shoves it back down your throat with his tongue, and then before you can really properly try to kiss him, he drops on his knees and other things with his mouth that makes you not want to kiss him anymore, at least not till he’s done with that thing he is doing that makes you buck, completely incoherent.
God, I think, if you’re listening, please let this last forever.
Nineteen years old.
The name leaves my mouth like smoke curling into the night; leaving only its scent lingering in the air, shapeless and haunting like ghosts on a cloudy night. Suddenly aware of what I’d done I tore myself from the hazy euphoria of an orgasm, horrified. I twist away from Seamus, hurting him a little because I could hear him gasp as I left the heat of him. It is the worst possible of all situations. I look at Seamus’ face and wait for comprehension and anger to lash out at me, and then I realize that he knew all along.
I feel stupid and ugly all of a sudden, and colder than I’d ever been.
“How long have you known?” I push my hair out of my face. The sheets are damp and sticky, but still warm.
“Evidently longer than you have,” Seamus says, tonguing my nipple.
“Well, no shit,” I say, sounding a lot more like him, then, not shoving his face away, “God, why?”
“Because he’s all you see, all the time, even when he’s not there,” Seamus dips his tongue into my navel and I groan. “And you’re with me,” he kisses me between my legs, even though I’m not hard, “because I resemble him.”
“That’s not true,” I retort, “That’s so stupid.”
“It is,” Seamus takes me into his mouth and swirls his tongue, and I buck.
“See,” I say, thrusting into his mouth, “it’s not.”
He stops nibbling and laughs, dryly, “You’re so naïve. You never see what anyone else sees.”
“Sounds like Simon,” I frown at him, combing my hand through his hair.
“No, Simon sees more than you,” before I can reply Seamus is doing that thing with his mouth again, sending me into a long throaty mewl. He sucks and slides his head up, and I leave his mouth with a wet pop that still embarrasses me.
He fondles me with one hand and rests his chin on the knuckles of the other, carelessly.
“You’re much too good for your brother,” he says, “You just don’t see it; all you see is him, and all he sees is you.”
I stop enjoying his fingers and snap, “Wait, what?”
“You’re better looking than him, you know. And smart, and diligent and very good in bed,” Seamus muses, “All the ladies of the court talk about you, even though you are still underage.”
“No, not that,” I shake my head, “did you say ‘all he sees is you’? And don’t you start on that, I’m sleeping with you, aren’t I?”
“You are so dense, have you not been staring at him whenever you can? And that’s true, but I’m not them,” he says, crawling up my stomach, where he leaves a sticky, shining mark as he leaks profusely on my abdomen.
“You are absurd,” I scoff, “my brother isn’t like us.” I emphasized the last syllable cruelly.
Seamus doesn’t say anything as he sits up and slides himself down on me. The silky heat instantly wipes my brain clean of any thought that had formed before I entered him.
“Aisling,” he sighs my name as if it’s made for sighing, “I don’t love you.”
It is daytime, and somehow I know that even if we were committing sins in the dark, I would be able to see the tears on his face.
“Aisling,” Briallen runs up the stairs. His uniform looks good on him. Puberty put a bit more muscle on him and I tell myself, No, HE makes his uniform look good.
“Hey there officer,” I grin at him, and can’t help but notice he blushed, “you’re done with school?”
“Yes,” he breathes, face still flushed. “Forever!”
I notice that his hair was braided again.
“You grew your hair out,” I say softly, “I thought you didn’t like it.”
“I didn’t like it when people made fun of me,” he frowns, glancing away for a second, “but I grew it out because you said you liked it.”
“You are ridiculous,” I tousle his hair, messing up the plait.
Naturally a preposterously celebratory party is held in the evening. Briallen is talked to and about by just about every person in the hall. He is wearing an outfit of burgundy velvet; the jewel at his throat is emerald; and it is tailored like a military uniform but still fit for no one other than a Royal Prince. A jewelled rapier and two small daggers hang from a belt at his hip. He is absolutely enticing. Ladies just about fawn over him; pretty noble girls trail behind him as he moves around in the hall to thank those who’d sent gifts. I admit I felt mildly jealous, I don’t think my coming-of-age birthday was as grand as this, but I forgive them. A returning prince is much more important.
As for me, I am wearing blue velvet with, and a black mask over my face, as I like to at ceremonious events. I chatted quietly with Simon and Seamus until they’d both left, and then I stood alone and out of sight from pestering girls who try to give me more drinks than I can hold, which is a lot.
The party warms up swiftly and soon everyone is dancing with one another and enjoying themselves and each other; a flurry of colours and laughter in the cool evening. I watch as Father, bent over to accommodate his tiny dance partner, twirls her on the tiles, and my Mother laughs as the little girl shrieks happily. I think she is one of our cousins, but behind all the flying skirts and whirling dancers I lose sight of them and lose interest fairly quickly. Soon almost everyone joins in; even the serving boys and the maids are dancing. The commotion leaves Briallen to wander as he pleases. It is then that he sidles up to me, holding juice in a mug, smiling smugly.
“Where’s that tutor of yours?” he asks.
“Seamus left earlier,” I tell him, “he’s tired.”
“Oh yeah? From what?”
I stiffen and feel enormously glad that I have a mask over my face. All you see his him, I hear Seamus sigh in my head, And all he sees is you. I shrug, a moment too late.
“Who knows,” I say, “Research?”
“Aisling, I’m not blind or stupid,” Briallen’s face darkens. “I—”
“We are not talking about this,” I cut him off flatly.
He would never have said this to me before. He would not have dared. Where did this courage come from? My heart thumps in my chest like a trapped and frightened rabbit.
“Yes we are!” He says, angrily.
“No, we’re not,” I refuse, and begin to leave the hall. “Enjoy your party.”
He follows me out into the empty corridor; I don’t think anyone notices our leaving, which is inconvenient because I know he’d never leave until he got what he wanted.
“Aisling!” He shouts at me, and I stop. “Is he your lover?”
“No,” I grind out, taking my mask off with an exasperated sigh. “This is the last thing I want to think about, so just… go back and talk to some girls or something, Briallen, please.”
“Aisling,” He comes a bit closer, and I can smell him: boyish, of sunlit days and fields of summer. “Aisling, do you love him?”
I take a step back and close my eyes briefly. I wish he would just listen.
“It doesn’t matter,” I lie, “Why don’t you go be a good host and go back to the hall? Mother and Father will be looking for you if you don’t go back soon.”
He ignores my admittedly pathetic attempt to distract him.
“Yes it does! Why won’t you tell me?” His voice rises and it shakes, and I want to chuck my mask at his face.
Because if I told you you’d ask more questions and then you’d figure out that I would really like to do nothing else than start a homosexual incestuous relationship, and that would be the end of THAT, my mind says.
“Because you don’t know anything,” My mouth says, and I turn around, tossing my mask in a nearby vase, rolling my eyes.
“And nor do you!” He shouts, and hurls himself at me so fervently that I was muted at once.
I do not move; my brain screams at me, but I can’t hear it.
He gasps, so loudly it was like a sob, shuddering against my heart like a fawn struggling to stand. His hands clutch at the satin-velvet of my coat, so hard that his knuckles and my heart pale, hurting like nothing’s ever hurt before.
I feel the wet heat of his tears spread through my shirt; I feel my chest tighten, so fierce I can scarcely breathe.
“I love you!” he says, glaring at the silvery tiles through tears that stream hotly from his green, green eyes.
I close mine tight, oh god, and after what feels like an eternity I open them only to see him still clinging to me like the lonely child he’d always been. Suddenly it hurts to watch him; it burns like acid in my chest, the pain hot and sour and jeering at my cowardice.
I can’t move. It was a moment I had spent my entire life hoping for, even if I didn’t know it then; I had thought I would never experience it in this lifetime or even the next. I want to touch him; I will my arms to lift, but they hang stupidly like lead poles screwed into my shoulders—Move! I tell them, furiously in my head, hold him like you’ve always dreamed of doing.
“I love you,” he says again, looking at me this time, squarely into my eyes, green to green, then his arms come up around me and he cups my face in his hands.
His voice drops to a whisper.
“I love you.”
The words are lost between our lips as he tiptoes and presses his mouth to mine blindly, desperately, as if he thinks I can’t feel the fear through the tremble of his hands, the tremor of his voice. Idiot! I am raw with love and a passionate anger that rose like a beast inside my belly. Idiot! As if he never knew that I had been the first to love him, all those years ago.
It is all too quick and fantastical.
His tongue pushes insistently at my bottom lip, probing helplessly for a response. I open my mouth and at the heat of him, my arms suddenly spring to life and I hold him, stroke his spine as he laps at my tongue, the tears on his face transferring onto mine.
“I love you,” he smiles this time, his eyes all swollen from the crying, so pink and puffy that I couldn’t help but press kisses onto their corners, “Aisling, I love you.”
“Seamus,” Simon waves at him.
“Hi,” Seamus smiles. He looks tired.
“How are you feeling?” Simon stares at his feet briefly, and then in a spurt of courage dares to sit down beside the scholar.
“I’m okay. Aisling finally got what he wanted, didn’t he? He looks a lot happier these days.”
“I don’t know,” Simon replies, “Aisling is strange. I thought he was happy with you, but then I saw, sometimes he’d look at you like he was looking at someone else.”
Seamus pauses, startled. “You really are transparent,” he smiles, and a tear slides down his cheek.
“I really loved him, you know.”
A warm breeze makes Seamus shudder.
Simon reaches around him and covers his eyes with his hand.
“It’s okay to be sad,” he says, quietly. “Love is a sad thing.”
They sit in silence, an officer and a gentleman.