The walls of the Fortuna court's garden were lit along the sides with candles. The smooth stone glittering a reflection through the mist that still hung in the air from the night's rain. It only drizzled now. Enzo raised his face towards the sky and closed his eyes, allowing the light rain to kiss it. He often forgot how silent the world can be, especially in a place like this. For a moment he forgot who he was, or who he was supposed to be. But that feeling quickly fled when he heard a small cough and the shuffle of feet dragging him back to reality.
Enzo turned to face his men. He had only assigned two of them to accompany him tonight. One missing guard and a manservant wouldn't raise very much suspicion.
"Pardon me," One of them spoke. "but the event is about to begin."
Enzo felt a small spike in his veins and against his will, sucked in a sharp breath.
So it was.
He stood there for a few paces, trying to prolong the silence that had just enveloped him moments before. Then smiling at them, and feeling the sudden weight of his damp cloak, he turned on his heel to exit the garden. His men fell into place, flanking him on either side.
When they reached the elegant stone stairwell that led to the entrance of the Court, Enzo reached up and brought down the mask he planned to wear over his face. It was a dark blue, with delicate gold details running across. It was too loose around the sides despite the gold ribbon being pulled as tightly as it could. The mask wobbled with each step, making Enzo suddenly feel small in this crowd of well-endowed merchants – but then a ghost of a smile played at Enzo's lips. If only those around him knew who was in their midst. He stretched his gloved thumb and ring finger across the mask to push it back in place and puffed out his chest.
The mask was a gift from his mother to his father. Enzo figured the king wouldn't miss it. He wouldn't be able to use it any time soon anyway …
There was a flush of people near the entrance, all dressed elegantly and all adorned with colorful masks. Music flooded out of the building as the door was opened by the Madam of the Court. Its sound mingled with the chatter and excited cries from the outside world.
Many rushed in, either out of excitement for the event or a wish to escape the light rain. Either way, the three men were jostled around in the accumulating crowd on the way in. It was almost like all of Estenzia wanted to see the new consort.
That's what Enzo was counting on, after all. If all of the city is here tonight, his job just got a lot easier.
Or a lot riskier.
By the time Enzo finally stumbled into the foyer and struggled into the grand hall, the event had just begun. The Madam of the Court's voice flowed over the crowd and drumming music effortlessly. Enzo quickly made his way to one of the corners of the room and stood in the shadows of the pillars. His men stopped next to him just a few feet away giving him a nod. Enzo returned one and then proceeded to readjust his cloak, looking up at the display before them and –
The new consort, so painstakingly beautiful it seemed to Enzo like it should be a crime, stood on a large platform in the center of the room. Enzo watched him for a few moments, mesmerized. Adorned in gold, tastefully showing slivers of oiled chest and hips, the consort smiled shyly to the crowd. Enzo's mouth began to parch and small licks of flame grazed the inside of his stomach. He knew the new consort was supposed to be a sight, but this – Enzo shook his head and began what he came here for.
It was right then that Enzo noticed something odd. The consort seemed to stiffen, like he was waiting for something to happen, like he sensed something no one else did. He then scanned the room with a grace that took breaths away. Enzo couldn't help but notice the way he craned his neck, the muscles there sliding, exposing his throat. The gold chains and jewels hanging loosely across his olive skin bumping lightly as he moved. Finally, with a sigh through parted lips, the consort stopped and then he stared.
It took Enzo way too long to realize that the consort was staring in his direction. No. Directly at him. With a start of realization, Enzo took a step back and gathered himself. The intensity of the eye contact radiating off of him.
Enzo shook his head, stumbling. There was no way that the consort could possibly see Enzo from his position, much less recognize who he was! And yet, the young man continued to glance in Enzo's direction with curiosity and speculation. Enzo could see those eyes narrow from across the crowd. One an emerald green, the other, as golden as the chains around his neck.
Suddenly Enzo felt a tug, a pull, coming from that direction. His chest tightened and he froze, unsure of the sensation. His heart raced.
Why was he looking over here?
Desperate to be released from this feeling, Enzo receded further into the corner. The tug was gone as soon as it had come. Whatever hold Enzo was in suddenly released and he tried to regain his breath.
"Are you alright?" Enzo's servant asked, coming over and lightly taking hold of his elbow. Enzo made a noise that sounded faintly like a "yes", but even through his mask, Enzo knew his servant didn't believe him.
To be completely honest, Enzo didn't know if he was alright.
The residue from whatever strange tug that seized his body from before was starting to form, triggering the prince's energy. It pooled in his chest, cold, and foreign. Yet despite the icy feeling the sensation brought, Enzo could feel his heat rising up, erupting from his core like it was called to fight off this strange infection. His powers came over him in waves, too fast and too sporadic for him to focus on latch to.
Enzo lifted the mask off of his mouth, gulping down air as if his powers were pulling him down, drowning him.
"Sir you're shaking" his servant continued. He was. His muscles ached and his palms felt sweaty through his gloves. His heart was racing, his blood echoing with the pounding of the drums.
"I- I'm fine." Enzo mustered, hating how breathy he sounded. "Just- give me a moment."
He grimaced and shut his eyes tightly for a few breaths. He tried to focus on the waves, meditate on bringing them down. Slower. Slower... Soon he felt the heat seep slowly back into his body until he was finally dormant.
Exhaling a large breath, Enzo finally opened his eyes, wincing as pain pricked the back of them and hot tears made his vision blurry. He suddenly felt weak, still gently vibrating off the adrenaline his powers gave him. When his vision regained its focus, he saw the consort descending the stairs of the platform into the crowd.
Enzo realized that the introductions were over and now came the time where the consort would mingle, as consorts do. Enzo almost laughed at the idea of someone like, like –
"What is this consort's name?" Enzo leaned over to his servant, who was a good deal shorter than his prince.
Well, Enzo almost laughed at the idea of someone like Raffaele having to mingle to raise his bets. All Raffaele had to do was stand there and he would have people begging the madam to take their money just so they could watch him breathe.
Light party music filled the air minutes into Raffaele's mingling and a part of the crowd broke into dance. More followed suit and voices roared and Enzo could only guess that Raffaele had joined in. He could see the consort's head bobbing in the crowd, a smile flashing as he twirled.
Enzo shifted his feet, searching the room for those like himself. For malfettos. He cursed silently to himself and frustration bubbled up inside him. He had been looking since the consort had left his platform and he was finding nothing. He angrily downed another glass of a sickly sweet drink another consort handed to him. It was his second. The liquid dancing on his tongue and lightly burning the back of his throat.
Enzo didn't take into account that tonight the entire court was wearing masks – not to mention, this was hardly a place for a malfetto to show their powers – should they have them. It was a death warrant for a them to show up in a place like this. And yet, here Enzo was. Banished prince to be or not, he was still a malfetto, and somehow that was worse.
His stomach dropped with the reminder that he was running out of time. It was only so long before the Royal Court came out with the upcoming ruling on Enzo's legitimacy. With his father's failing health, it wouldn't be long until he consequently plunged his son's life into jeopardy. It was clear to Enzo that his banishment was inevitable. It was only a matter of weeks at this point. Another thing was also clear. Enzo had become suspicious of his sister and her true plans for the future. He knew her true feelings towards malfettos. Towards him. He knew that regardless of what happens next, he needed support to regain what was rightfully his by birth - and when that time came, he needed to be prepared to do it.
Something prickled against his spine drawing him out of his thoughts, crawling up, sending the hairs on his neck on edge. It was cool, icy. Enzo let out a shaky breath as he felt it again. The tug. It was subtle this time, not as forceful like before. Before he felt like he was being pulled under.
Enzo braced the table in front of him. It felt like someone was lightly plucking the chords in his chest. An odd sort of sensation that made his heart skip a few beats. Instead of the icy grip pooling in his chest it simply dripped. Enzo coughed, hoping to clear out his lungs, but it was still there.
His senses were on edge, heightened by the pull on his energy and he turned around quickly. Then he saw him. Raffaele. The moment Enzo laid eyes on the consort the tug pulled harder and Enzo stumbled forward, biting back a groan. His hand rushed up to grip at his chest – as if that would somehow make the tugging stop.
Their eyes met, only briefly, no longer than a second. Raffaele was gliding through the crowd like he was royalty. The crowd parted for him wherever he went, making small talk and selling compliments through pearly teeth. It was then that Raffaele looked up for a moment and glanced at Enzo. He saw Raffaele hesitate for a moment, the soft smile on his lips wavering. His eyes narrowed and the face he wore was a level look of control.
Then the sensation rushed over Enzo, flooded him again. It was no longer a tug but a firm hold and he lost his stance. Enzo could feel heat rise up in his face, but he couldn't tell if it was from the sight of Raffaele or from himself. He swallowed, frozen in this grip.
Enzo knew then, that the tug must be coming from Raffaele.
That Raffaele was like him.
That much he had to believe was true.
Later that night, Enzo gave the signal for his servant to raise the bet on the Virgin Price of Raffaele Laurent Bessette
Raffaele let out a small breath.
The crowd erupted into polite applause that coated over their simmering jealousy. The Madam grabbed Raffaele's wrist and draped his arm up in victory. The consort put on a smile for the crowd as he reached out and played with the strings of energy floating around them.
But to be honest, Raffaele wasn't sure if he should be relieved or frightened that the man in the blue mask won his virgin price. There was a strange aura around him. The energy dancing around him was strong. Almost too strong. They coiled around him tightly, making a halo that cased his body. Raffaele watched in confusion as his bidder slipped back into the shadows.
"Now remember what I said," The Madam pulled Raffaele in to whisper in his ear, forcing him to take his eyes away. "The first -"
"The first night is always the hardest, I understand" He interrupted, slouching out of her grip. He didn't need to be reminded of what was to come.
She simply smiled at down at him.
"No," She said softly and held out a mint to Raffaele's mouth. "The first night only happens once." Her voice trailed off as she waited for him to open his mouth. he did, and she took her time placing the mint on the middle of his tongue. She did it on purpose, of course. Trying to rile up the crowd. Clients eat the exhibit up.
"Make it good, alright my darling? They paid a heavy price for you. Wouldn't want to disappoint. Bad for business." She pinched Raffaele.
Bad for business.
Raffaele knew she meant for him to use his "charm" tonight and that only made him feel sick to his stomach. No matter how much he had been trained, or how much he had prepared for this occasion, the sinking feeling that he would never be enough never failed to haunt him.
Swallowing the bile in his throat, but leaving the mint, Raffaele nodded and faced the crowd to bow before them. They clapped and swooned as he gracefully descended to retreat to his bedchambers. Last minute hands reached out to touch him one more time, and winks and certain glances were thrown his way as he made his way through the crowd.
Raffaele indulged them with smiles and tickled their heartstrings as he passed, but a thundering panic began to erupt from his chest the closer he came to the archway. He was caught between wanting to escape the crowd but not wanting to pass to the other side of those oak doors. Noise seemed to muffle in his ears and suddenly he couldn't help but grimace instead of smile when an unwanted touch grazed him as he moved.
But this was inevitable. He was going to go through that opened door and walk to his room and tonight was going to happen. Once he entered the hallway, and the doors closed behind him, sound returned to his senses. Music from the great hall lightly danced over to Raffaele. It was muffled, yes, but it was there. He was there. He's here. It's going to be alright.
Except that it wasn't.
Raffaele became conscious of his own breathing, and gods, it was loud. His footsteps too. They echoed in his ears. His heart pounded in his head. His hands were shaking and suddenly he was very aware of how loud the chains on his body were. He wanted to rip them off right there and run away.
He was so scared for this night. This wasn't just some type of anxiety. No, this was fear. Raw, real, fight or flight kind of fear.
Despite being the most talked about, praised, and anticipated consort of the century, despite having all the confidence in the world about himself and who he was, the thought of having to show himself to a stranger made him weak in the knees. The idea of having to give in to someone's desires made his hands quiver. Just imagining the feeling of another's skin pressed against his own made him shake, feeling nauseous.
Raffaele took a lock of hair left from his braids and twirled it around his fingers.
Everyone in this court – hell, everyone in Estenzia has been trumpeting this moment, glorifying him. It all seemed so stupid to Raffaele since he was still so inexperienced. The whole continent has heard of him, of his looks, of his skills... He had braced the compliments and the hype for months through clenched teeth. Yet all of Raffaele's training could never prepare him for what was about to happen, for how he was going to feel right now.
Raffaele never chose the life of a consort, but then again, no one ever does.
When He reached his bedchambers, Raffaele swallowed the remains of his mint, which by now was mostly just powdered chunks stinging his tongue. His breath felt cold and it rattled against his teeth. He looked at himself in the mirror and ran a finger under his eyes, removing some smudged charcoal. The gold chains on his wrists chimed together in the process. A reminder.
Another surge of panic overtook him. It was short, but it left him out of breath nonetheless. Raffaele closed his eyes and willed himself to retreat to a time where things were good. When things were simple. When his brothers would sing with him, and his mother would be in the kitchen baking, and the tickle of the grass that fell between his fingers as he lay peacefully was right.
When everything was good.
You were trained for this. He thought to himself. This is your life. He repeated this like a mantra in his head. Sadly enough, the latter made him feel more at ease. Knowing that this was how life was going to be from now on gave Raffaele a sense of certainty - and certainty is a rare luxury for a malfetto.
Raffaele sensed their energy before they even made it to the door. The strands snaked their way towards him just as they had before. They smelled sickly, like fear and uncertainty, but also heavy with unstable power. Raffaele watched, or rather felt them twist from the other side of the door, and then as if on que there was a light knock on the door. It opened. Raffaele held his breath.
"Your client, Signore Bessette." Someone called to him. Raffaele opened his eyes in time to see his bidder slink into the room from the reflection of the mirror.
The door closed gently, and Raffaele muttered a silent prayer as he took that as his que. Raffaele straightened his back and draped his braid heavily over his shoulder. Then he turned, slowly. Calculating. Like he was trained. He was surprised to see that his bidder was still wearing his cloak pulled up over his hair, which was still damp from tonight's rain, and that they were still wearing that mask.
It was . . . interesting. Raffaele had spent time reading about the gods and angels as any respectable Kenettran would, but he found that this mask didn't resemble anything from folklore. At first glance it was intimidating and Raffaele wanted nothing more than to strip it from this man's face. It taunted him for reasons Raffaele couldn't explain, but then – then it suddenly became calming. He couldn't explain that either, and that made him hesitate even more. The gold lines swirled into infinity and the dark blue glowed in the candle light. He could make out the wearer's eyes from behind, dark and rich and all at once Raffaele's panic fled.
The man still had not moved from his spot by the door. In fact, the bidder did not move much at all. He just stood there, watching Raffaele. Raffaele began to feel extremely self-aware and hated that he wasn't wearing clothing that actually functioned the way clothing was supposed to.
Raffaele realized that he found himself watching too. A thick silence covered them as they stood facing each other from across the room. Raffaele gave a shy smile and a bow, out of custom, and extended his arm in greeting.
"Evening." He said lowly, taking a step forward. He felt a sudden spike in the other's energy, as if they weren't expecting Raffaele to say anything at all.
Raffaele took another step, graceful, like he practiced. He lowered his lashes and slipped another smile as he moved, noticing how the others energy danced. The closer he got the more dizzying it became. They called out to him, almost taunting. Raffaele was tempted to reach out and pull them but he hesitated. There was something particularly unfamiliar about them. They stood out.
"Not much for conversation, are you?" Raffaele inquired. A new energy drifted off the other. It felt sweaty and coarse to Raffaele, almost an echo of his own. Raffaele smiled at that. The poor lad was nervous.
Raffaele stopped then, in front of the other, who was just barely taller than he was. He could smell the rain on him, the aroma that comes with wet cotton. And there was something else… smoke? Raffaele couldn't tell. His client swallowed. Raffaele could hear it from behind the mask.
"You got me," The other finally spoke in a breathy laugh. His voice deep and rough. Young too. "but would you believe me if were to tell you that that is all I ask of you?"
Raffaele was taken aback by the response, but in a pleasant way. Confused a little. His lips twitched into a smile once more, but this one out of genuine amusement. He finally met the others eyes.
"That's all you want?" Raffaele hummed playfully, leading the other on, and leaning in. But in all honesty, it was a bluff. Raffaele was much too nervous to do anything else that he was expected to be doing right now. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He was stuck in a panic he learned very well how to hide. "Just to talk?"
what if I screw this up?
Raffaele reached up slowly, deciding whether or not he should go through with whatever it was he was about to do. Energy nuzzled into Raffaele and with that he gathered the cloak in his hands and pulled the hood down. The man in front of him didn't protest, so he moved on to the ties holding the rider's cloak together. They slithered out of its hold in Raffaele's hands and he leaned forward to lift it off the other's shoulders. The energy that came off them became hesitant, unsure whether they should approach Raffaele's or if they should shrink back into their master. He could feel it reaching, but never touching.
what if I'm not good enough?
Raffaele wanted to look anywhere but those eyes that burned into him. But finally he gave in, fighting with shaking hands, as he moved to take the mask next. It was tied behind their head, the ribbon buried under locks of crimson hair. It curled loosely and thickly around the mask and at the base of his neck.
what if I -
The ribbon fell and Raffaele held the mask in place, suspended. This time it was Raffaele who swallowed. The tension that accumulated between them had become suffocating. Finally, Raffaele lowered the mask and revealed the young and handsome face of a boy around his age. The silence of the room became deafening in that moment.
what if -
With a blush, Raffaele drank in the image before him. Their skin was darker than his own, tan, like burnt gold. It seemed to be unnaturally smooth and his jaw and cheekbones glowed in the low light. Up close, those eyes were young, dark, so dark you could drown just trying to find yourself in them. But there was a fire, something reckless and chaotic that danced behind the crimson flecks that resided there. The other loosed a breath. Raffaele looked at their mouth. Beautiful. Everything about this person standing before him was beautiful. Strong. Real ...
… What if I just leaned in a little… and -
"Yes," the other spoke softly. Lips barely moving. "Just talk."
AN:/ yell with me about this ship on tumblr ok I NEED to - truthbecomeslegend (marie Lu blog) or itsiparwing (art)