So, as usual, I'm not dead. But I have found my way into a new fandom,
New fandom, naturally, means new fic. New, incestuous, real person slash fic. Augh.
Two Princes, by kishmet. AU, PG-13ish, Tom/Bill, and yes, that means twincest. Either the first chapter of something hugely long, or something I will never touch again, as usual.
The lords and ladies of the court fall respectfully quiet as a manservant carries a high stool to the front of the dais, upon which the thrones of the queen, her consort, and the princes are set. A maid follows with a red velvet cushion, which she places upon the stool. The musicians, situated behind a screen, have finished their tuning and begin to play the first thready notes of a haunting melody.
A boy, seventeen or eighteen years of age, rushes through a door at the side of the great hall and takes a seat on the stool, fussing with the cushion for a moment. The assembly murmurs, taken, as usual, by his striking appearance. His hair is dark and wild, untied, though it has been transformed somewhat from its ordinary unruly state by a comb, or perhaps several at once. His pale skin is set off by this hair, and by the black velvet costume he has donned for the evening, the leather boots that have been shined so thoroughly that they reflect the candlelight from the sconces around the hall. Revealing no anxiety at the notion of performing in front of such a large crowd, he smiles back at his mother, who is seated on her throne, and then he surveys the others in attendance with wide, bright eyes, their outlines darkened with kohl.
He opens his mouth and draws in a breath, and when the musicians hit a particular note, he starts to sing. It is a folk song, simple enough, but entrancing. His voice is no longer a child's girlish soprano, but neither has it reached the tenor or bass of an adult male.
The conversation in the hall resumes, but more softly.
"Mother's little songbird," Gustav whispers in Tom's ear, and gives a chuckle.
"Bill is Mama's pet, as always," Tom, the elder of the twin princes, replies. He shares the singer's delicate features, though his are less well-defined, and are not accentuated by powders and tonics. His hair is braided and pulled neatly behind his shoulders, and he wears a more conservative outfit in shades of green and brown.
Bill is smiling radiantly now as the musicians play the instrumental bridge of the song. The music rises slowly, building up the anticipation of the audience, and when it swells to a crescendo, Bill adds his voice to it once more. The instruments abruptly still, leaving the hall in a silence broken only by the high, sweet singing of the boy at its center.
"He never stops showing off," Gustav comments.
"No, he does not." Tom's face takes on an expression of supreme disdain as he stares at his twin brother. "Mother spoils him."
Gustav nudges him in the side with an elbow. "Only think. That might have been you."
"Hardly," says Tom, curling his lip into a sneer. "Can you envision Bill as Crown Prince?"
"Disaster." Gustav shakes his head. "Unmitigated disaster."
"Enough of this." Tom's sneer shifts into a predatory smile. "The Archduchess is recently widowed, is she not?" He nods in the direction of a young woman clad in a dark mourning gown, cut so low at the neckline that it skirts the boundaries of propriety. She hides flirtatiously behind her fan, pretending to fend off the many young men who surround her, clamoring to bring her drinks and sweets.
Gustav laughs. "You know she is." He clucks his tongue like an old maiden aunt. "Her husband not yet cold in his grave, and this is how she behaves?"
"Wedded to a man four times her age, who could fault her?" Tom is already drifting toward the Archduchess and her throng of admirers. She catches sight of him and flutters her eyelashes, dismissing the rest of her suitors in an instant in favor of a much larger fish: the crown prince of the realm.
Tom bows low to her, lower, indeed, than befits her status as compared to his. She giggles and casts her eyes down, flattered by his attentions. "Is my lady quite comfortable?" he inquires, holding out his hand, palm up.
She places her hand in his, and allows him to brush a kiss over her knuckles. "Oh yes, your Highness," she flutes. "The Margrave's younger sons have been attending to my every need." Those sons stand nearby, the youngest of them scowling, undoubtedly at Tom's usurping of his position at the right hand of the Archduchess.
"Have they?" Tom smiles warmly at her. "Would that it had been me in their stead. Next time I will be quicker, you have my word."
She giggles once more, still a child at the age of sixteen. "You are too kind, your Highness."
"Never too kind to such a lady as yourself," says Tom, pressing a hand to his heart. "That is not possible. If anything, I must be kinder."
"Oh," she murmurs, and glances away, touching her right temple with a fingertip. Her demeanor has changed entirely to one more appropriate in the case of a grieving widow. "Please do forgive me. I have been prone to such terrible headaches since the death of my dear husband."
Tom frowns. "What-"
A familiar hand is placed upon his shoulder, and Tom turns to find his mother, the queen, standing beside him. "Tom," says Simone, her tone, not her words, delivering a reproach. "I would like to join you in consoling the Archduchess, who has so recently lost her husband. My dear." She turns to the girl and inclines her head, and reaches out to take her hand before the Archduchess can sink into the deep bow that is due to the queen of the realm. "If there is anything I may do to make your stay at the palace more pleasant, do not hesitate to ask."
"I shall not, your Majesty," says the Archduchess. "If you will excuse me. I would stay, but my head." She touches her temple as before.
"Of course." Simone nods and summons a servant. "Escort the Archduchess to her chambers, and fetch her some tea and a poultice for her headache."
As soon as the servant has bowed assent and whisked the young lady away, Simone looks severely at her eldest son. "You know that Ilse is in mourning," referring to the girl by her given name.
"Yes, Mother," Tom mutters, turning his gaze to the floor.
"She is young, and may take your brand of consolation in a way you do not intend it." Simone's chiding is not direct, but it cannot be mistaken for anything but reproof. "See to it that you aid her in maintaining the propriety that will do her high station justice."
"Yes, Mother," Tom repeats.
Bill has concluded his song, and the nearest members of the court have flocked to him in order to express their admiration and envy of his talent. Tom's eyes flicker toward the dais, and then they fix on the floor again. "May I be excused?"
"Yes, you may. Though you might take a moment to speak with your brother," says the queen.
"I do not see why I should." Tom walks away at a pace just slow enough that it does not attract undue attention, and his mother does not call him back. He often leaves formal gatherings before the other nobles have dispersed, though generally he is accompanied by a lady, and sometimes two or more.
"Well played," Gustav says under his breath as Tom passes by him.
Tom pays him no heed, storming into a corridor. His heavy dress boots thud firmly on the stone as he follows the tangled, twisting maze of passages he knows as well as the back of his own hand.
Glancing over his shoulder to ensure that he has not been followed, he treads a path long familiar. Down a set of winding stairs, wide and worn with age, through a small wooden door halfway to the bottom, short enough that he must dip his head in order to make it through. Then he arrives at his destination: the servants' wing, where none will think to seek him out. And the palace workers, naturally, are occupied in the kitchens and in the great hall, so he will not be discovered by any of them.
For some time he waits, as the sky outside of the windows set high in the walls grows darker. Tom lingers in a doorway, leaning against the wall where he will be partially concealed. He hums quietly to himself, letting his hair loose and running a hand through it. Then he steps out of the doorway to scan the corridor.
As soon as he does, he is nearly bowled over by a black missile that seems to materialize from nowhere. "Tomi, Tomi," says the missile delightedly, wrapping its arms around his neck and pushing him back into the door's alcove.
"Bill, hush." But Tom is laughing, letting Bill bury his face in the crook of his shoulder, nuzzling at the bare skin above the collar of his jacket and tunic. "Look at me, Billa."
"You saw me, Tomi?" Bill turns his face up and smiles as he had done while in the midst of his song. "You heard?"
"Of course I heard, and saw." Tom leans in to touch Bill's nose gently with his own. "You were beautiful."
"Mm." Bill closes his eyes for a brief second, and then opens one of them, mischief twinkling within its depths. "Am I always beautiful?"
"You are," Tom promises him.
"Good. Because you are stuffy and dull," Bill proclaims, and then kisses his twin on the lips to soften the playful blow.
"Again." Tom says it in a murmur, and Bill kisses him once, twice, three times more, each too fleeting, as he well knows by the sparkle that still dances in his gaze. "Again."
Bill pouts and refuses to press his lips to Tom's as requested. "You kiss me, or I shall begin to think you like me as little as you pretend."
"Never," says Tom fiercely, and leans swiftly to kiss Bill until both of them are open-mouthed, breathless, panting.
"Oh," Bill sighs, clinging to Tom as though his brother is his only anchor to the world, and without him he risks slipping away.
"I wanted you all through the song," Tom whispers in Bill's ear. "No, as soon as I saw you."
"So then, Tomi." Bill pulls back to rest his forehead against Tom's. He smiles wickedly. "Have me."
Still twined around one another, they meander down the corridor, exchanging heated kisses every so often. This is their secret. This is what they must protect at all costs. This is what their mother and her court must never be allowed to discover.
And for now, it is good.