Antoni enjoyed the looks he received from the castle’s staff as he walked through the corridors naked; his people had no concept of body shame and he felt no compulsion to cover himself. The reactions were varied, from glares of disgust to glances of attraction. Why would any of them hide their flesh? What strange ideas cause them to shy away from the most natural of states?
More than once someone had asked, or even demanded, he dress in clothing appropriate for the company he kept though the words fell on deaf ears; for him, there was no such thing and he decided that until he was forcefully covered by man-made fabrics, he would continue wandering the drafty castle nude and not mind what anyone thought.
In the days that followed, he came to spend many hours in the company of his yellowed-haired boy, who he soon learned was a prince like he. Sora, third in line for his father’s throne, was to be married to a neighboring kingdom’s princess and would one day be crowned king of that foreign land. Antoni knew his friend did not want the life planned for him but understood the pressure to accept his fate and be who he was told to be.
As Sora would speak of his innermost fears and secret regrets, Antoni would listen and smile reassuringly and hold his hand when he needed it but never spoke. He wanted to but found he could, at most, make a few guttural noises. As a mer, he had not been born with vocal cords; his people were all mind-speakers. Humans, though, needed to create words by pushing air and twisting their mouths. Antoni had yet to figure out how to make all the separate moving parts work in together. More than once, Sora asked him about his silence but all Antoni could do was shrug.
The start of Antoni’s second week, Sora came to his room after having a bit too much wine with dinner and sat down on the bed, his eyes red-lined and filled with unspent tears. Antoni took his customary place beside him and waited for the words to come in their long, rambling way.
“… so, in a few years, I will be of age and married to Annalisa of the House Whitescone, Princess of Duband. And that, I fear, is what I want the least. I have no interest in marrying some spoiled girl from across the sea. I don’t want a crown nor the responsibility that comes with it. I want to be free to make my own way and live the life I desire, not the one forced on me by accident of birth. But… in what I do, I have no choice.” He dropped his head and closed his eyes. “Just once, I wish I could give into what tempts me and cast aside everything my future holds, if only for a single night.”
Antoni could feel the ache, the need, emanating from Sora’s most secret of places. Without a thought, his hand slipped under Sora’s shirt, felt the warmth of his smooth skin. Sora looked at him in wonder. Sora opened his mouth to speak only to find Antoni’s tongue between his lips as Antoni crawled onto his lap. There was no moment of should we or what about the future, there was only Antoni and the yellow-haired boy he knew to be his future.
* * *
As the sun rose, Antoni woke to find Sora still beside him and he knew it would not be long before Sora would be his and his alone. As he looked at the young prince’s cherubic face he knew that no matter what either of them had been raised to become was nothing compared to what they would be once the two of them committed completely to each other, just as he told the witch they would.
“So, did you enjoy your night together?”
Antoni sat up and stared at Tidus with a mix of fear and revolution. He had not heard the older prince enter his chambers and found his intrusion offensive to his own station.
“You’ll be nothing more than a passing fancy, I hope you realize that. He is promised to someone with far more value than a mere urchin and if you try anything to ruin that, I will ruin you.”
Antoni did not doubt Tidus’ words and promised himself that his lover’s brother would not have the chance to destroy the happiness he sold his very soul to achieve. His, though, showed only the fear as he nodded subserviently.
“Glad we had this little talk, boy.”
* * *
Domiq had made himself a nice little home in the cliff base beneath the castle Antoni called home. It was a lonely existence but one he would tolerate to be able to watch out for his oldest friend. He had considered returning home but the thought of facing the queen or worse, his mother, kept Domiq on the other side of the empire’s border.
He also needed to be close in the hopes that he could convince Antoni to return to the sea and reverse his deal with the boy-witch. If he did that, life could return to normal and Domiq could resume his one-sided love affair and his most valued friendship.
* * *
Demora sat on her throne and stared blankly at the entrance of the great hall where, any moment, she hoped to see her son swim through safe and happy and with astonishing tales of wonder to share. She would welcome him with open arms, relieved at his return home after weeks of adventures. He was out there, somewhere, and when he returned to her, she would be waiting.
Since he had disappeared, she had refused to move from her throne, afraid she would miss him if he came back while she slipped away, even for a moment. Though her family begged her to take care of herself, she could not fathom the idea he would pass by and she would miss her opportunity to usher him inside the safety of their castle.