Shout out to actor Robert Lindsay a.k.a "King John". I grew up watching 'My Family' and was delighted to see him starring in a Disney movie. I loved writing his character and the father/son dynamic he has with Phillip.
In fact, I enjoyed portraying all the different relationships in this fic. This is a love story and it is a love shared between many different characters, in many different forms. I hope you enjoyed the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing.
Part 3: The End
Phillip sighs, discarding yet another invitation to a banquet. The nobility of Ulstead certainly like to party; especially the ones with unmarried sisters and daughters. The only good news is Oriens has agreed to their terms and talks of a treaty are once again underway. However, this also means more balls and banquets for Phillip.
Across from him, his father chuckles. "Chin up, my boy. You look as if you've been invited to a funeral not a dance."
Phillip forces a smile. "I'm just tired."
"Ah ah, don't try that nonsense with me. I am the King and, more importantly, your father. Being the focus of every beautiful maiden in our kingdom doesn't fill you with cheer?"
"I have no plans to find a wife," Phillip says, hoping to dismiss the subject as he turns back to his paperwork. They are in the king's private study and are supposed to be discussing the recent petitions.
"It's been more than two years since your engagement to Aurora ended. The advisors are getting twitchy."
The royal advisors are more than twitchy, seizing every opportunity to comment on Phillip's bachelorhood. Their pokes and prodding to make an advantageous match can no longer be called subtle.
"And you?" Phillip asks, a tad insolent.
His father lifts both eyebrows, his face as honest as always. "I only want for you to be happy, son."
His mother said the same before betraying him but Phillip believes his father, lowering his defences slightly. "I am happy."
"And I hope you stay as such. But I won't be around forever."
Dread sinks into Phillip. He thought he had lost his father once before, he is not prepared to lose him again, this time for good.
His father pats his hand. "I am turning seventy in a few weeks. Quite a good age, I feel, especially when you consider who I married. But I am conscious the sands in my hourglass are running thin. I would be reassured to know you are happy with a family of your own."
"The royal lineage secure," Phillip mutters. He has always known his duties as crown prince but he can't help but resent them.
"Phillip, I don't give a rat's arse about the royal lineage so long as you are happy." Phillip splutters at his father's language. "I married your mother because it seemed a smart match and she almost killed us. The best thing that woman ever gave me was you. I don't wish the same unhappiness I suffered upon you."
"Father…" Phillip gapes but the man gestures for him to remain silent. Phillip closes his mouth.
"Kingdoms fall. Monarchs get overthrown. Love, true love is far more enduring than either of these things." The King clasps Phillip's hand in his own. "Choose love, my boy. Whether it be a princess, a knight, or a stablehand."
Phillip stiffens and jerks his hand free, struck by the implications of his father's words. "Y-you- you know…?"
"What? That you like the buck as well as the doe?" The King teases and Phillip chokes on air. "I am your father and, more importantly, the King. I know what goes on in my own kingdom. I remember you swooning over the stablehand long before you met Aurora."
Phillip feels as if his airways are closing in, his voice comes out a wheeze. "He enlisted in the navy… I never saw him again… was that- are you why- ?"
"Ah," his father looks down guiltily. "That was your mother's doing, I'm afraid."
Phillip slumps, lowering his head onto his hands; an old wound stirring inside him. He had been crushed when Johan ended their blossoming affair rather abruptly, running off to sea. Now he understands; it was his mother's doing… his mother had cost him not one but two loves. He didn't think he could detest the woman any further but something violent and poisonous courses through him. He is glad she is dead. If she weren't he might be tempted to go to the prison and end her himself (no, he wouldn't, but he is furious).
The concern in his father's voices persuades him to lower his hands. "It truly- it truly doesn't bother you?"
He doesn't realise how tense he's become until his father shrugs and Phillip feels like he can breathe again.
"Well… it is the 14th Century, you know."
Phillip gazes at the man he has admired and adored all his life and reads the love and acceptance written across his face. It soothes the vengeful thing inside of him, fills him with a peace he hadn't known possible. His father accepts him. His father has always accepted him.
He doesn't realise he's crying until his father draws him into his arms. "Come here, my boy."
Phillip sobs into his father's tunic, probably getting tears and snot all over the expensive garment, but his father doesn't mind, running his hand over Phillip's hair and making soothing sounds. Phillip hasn't been held like this since he was a child. He feels like a child, clinging to his father. But it's nice and the sensation of peace only grows.
Eventually, the tears dry and Phillip feels steady enough to stand, retreating from his father's embrace, with a small smile. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me," his father tells him seriously. "You never have to thank me for loving my son."
Phillip's smile widens and he has to suppress a yawn, exhausted from the unexpected emotions.
"I am truly tired now."
"Go," John makes a shooing motion. "I'll deal with the rest."
Phillip practically floats to the door, light with a sense of relief and love.
"Remember, Phillip, all I wish is for you to be happy…" his father assures, "...whether it is with a peasant girl you met in the woods or a certain fae warrior who can't keep his eyes off you."
Phillip misses the door and trips into a suit of armour. When the guards rush in to investigate the crash they find their king laughing his head off and their prince, sprawled upon the floor, amongst the scattered pieces of armour, looking gobsmacked.
"Maleficent is still refusing to acknowledge Diaval and our relationship but she hasn't changed him into vermin again so I think she's coming around to the idea," Aurora chirps as they stroll through the courtyard together.
"And you and Diaval are happy?" Phillip inquires.
"Very," Aurora beams and there is a notable skip in her step. "Truthfully, it's not that different to before. The kissing is new. And the cuddling. He'll hold me for hours now and doesn't fly off because he's flustered. He keeps bringing me shiny pebbles. It's sweet."
Aurora twirls, skirts swirling around her, and Phillip smiles, pleased to see her joy. Diaval has been round a few times and Phillip has heard enough to know her happiness is shared. It is like Percival all over again, except Aurora and Diaval are more discreet in their affection, at least compared to the soldier. It seems all his friends are falling in love and here he is wallowing.
"But Phillip, you are distracting me. I came here to check on you."
Phillip tries for a guileless smile. "I am well, as you can see. Merely busy. I am negotiating with Oriens and organising a birthday party for my father on top of my usual duties. And there are the many banquets I have been invited to. It's a stressful time, I apologise if I worried you."
"Poor you that all sounds exhausting but not as exhausted as YOUR LIES!" Aurora stamps her foot and points an accusatory finger at him. "TELL THE TRUTH!"
Phillip lurches backwards. "I'm not sure what you mean- ?"
"That's beetle dung! You're not fine. There's something more going on than stress." She grabs his hands and clasps them in her own, the warmth of her touch spreading through Phillip and thawing some of the frost which has settled. "Tell me, please. I'm worried about you. Diaval is worried about you. We care about you, Phillip. Please talk to me."
So, Diaval has noticed as well. He thought there was something the raven wasn't saying the last time he visited. Phillip is tempted to carry on denying it but it would be a wasted effort. Aurora can be very stubborn when she wants to be and if there is anyone he can confide in it's her.
Phillip sighs and glances around warily. "Not here."
He ushers her to the chapel memorial garden. It has become a place Phillip goes to think. Nothing puts problems into perspective quite like sitting in a mass grave from his mother's attempted genocide. They settle on one of the benches and Aurora places her hands over Phillip's. It's reminiscent of another time and proof that true love, albeit platonic, can sprout from a broken heart.
Aurora gazes at him, her face smoothing with sympathy. "I know that look… it's love, isn't it?"
Phillip drops his head.
"Diaval thinks… he's worried it's us… that seeing us together is what's hurting you… he thinks you're still in love with me."
Phillip can't blame the raven for jumping to the obvious conclusion even if he is tired of such assumptions.
"But that's not the case, is it?"
Aurora, at least, seems confident of his disinterests. They made their peace long ago.
"Maybe it's Diaval… maybe he's the one I love."
"I understand the appeal," Aurora giggles then with mock-seriousness, "but I would have to fight you."
"Ah, best spare my pride." Phillip grins softly.
"Yes," Aurora's smile becomes sombre. "Except it's not him."
Phillip exhales a shaky breath. "You act like you know already."
Aurora gives him a look like she can tell he's stalling. She knows him too well. Phillip might laugh if it didn't feel as if his throat is closing in. He's sure Aurora would never shun him or speak badly of him but he's scared. He can't lose her good opinion, her friendship, her love.
Aurora sees his struggle and wraps her arms around him. "Oh, Phillip, you know I wouldn't care who they were, whether it was Diaval, Percival, or even Maleficent. I mean I would care but not for the reasons you fear. You're one of the most important people in my life, Phil. I will never forsake you."
Phillip returns her hug. Between her and his father, it feels as if the broken pieces inside Phillip are gradually being slotted back together. Aurora doesn't let go until he does.
The words leave him and Phillip thinks he hears the fluttering of wings carrying his secret away. Or maybe that's his heart. Aurora's smile doesn't falter, the warmth remains and Phillip feels it all the way through him.
"I thought so. Although you are far subtler in your affection than he."
"What do you mean?"
Aurora looks at him, incredulous. "Surely you've noticed how he stares at you? I am surprised you haven't caught on fire under the heat of it…" she shifts, slightly flushed, "...he looks at you like… like you're too good to be true. Like he's lost in the desert and you're an oasis. He sees you as salvation, wants to throw himself into you but fears the slightest touch and you'll flicker out… does that make sense or is it too much metaphor?"
"No," Phillip breathes, his voice gone hoarse. "No… I… I get your meaning… and you claim you didn't notice Diaval mooning over you?"
Aurora huffs. "I guess when we see what we want most desperately we convince ourselves it is a mirage… easier to find obstacles than it is the courage to confront our feelings."
Phillip swallows, mulling over her words. "Borra has a mate… or rather he had a mate, the fae is dead but I doubt a love like that ever dies…"
"No, it won't," Aurora agrees. "But that doesn't mean new love can't bloom. You must realise this."
Phillip touches the necklace beneath his shirt; the one Borra had gifted him. He rubs his fingers along the pendant, feeling the familiar design. It could be Borra feels more than friendship for him but he has tried to catch a sunbeam in his palm before and realised too late it was never his to hold. The proof sits before him and he's not sure he can bear another heartbreak.
"Love doesn't always end well," Phillip murmurs and Aurora withdraws her hands, staring at him astonished.
"Phillip, what are you saying?"
Phillip stands, feeling the abrupt need to pace. "I am the crowned prince of Ulstead, one day I shall be king. If there is even a chance then it is fleeting. There is no possible future, no happily ever after where we end up together. I could not have a fae for a consort; the nobles would never allow it. I must marry for politics and nothing else."
"You don't believe that," Aurora protests. "You encouraged Diaval and I- "
"The Queen of the Moors may marry a common bird, the King of Ulstead cannot."
"Horse-plop!" Aurora spits, her cheeks have gone red, her face scrunched in anger. "You will be the King! You get to make the rules."
"I am only king because the people decree it," Phillip retorts. "If I were to go against their will they would tear me down and set someone new in my place. I must abide my duty- "
"No!" Aurora lunges out and cups his face between her hands. "Phillip, you dandelion-brained fool, your people adore you. They will not turn against you. You have brought them peace, with the Moors, with the Dark Fae, with Oriens, and more… they prosper under your reign, who you love is no concern of theirs and I do not believe they are as unaccepting as you believe. Look how they have opened their hearts to the fae. Look at Percival and Shrike. Yes, it won't be easy but nothing worth having ever is. If it is true love then you fight to be together, you fight to make it work, and you will love so dearly that nothing could split you apart."
Phillip grips Aurora's wrists, holding her hands in place as he shuts his eyes against the memory of a similar argument almost a year before. Only now Borra and Aurora have traded places.
"What if- what if this is not what Borra wants," Phillip gasps, struggling to get air into his lungs. "Even if he wants me now, will he want me later when I am king? When I am too busy for him and the courtiers flock around me. It was too much of a cage for you Aurora, how do you think a winged warrior will fare?"
"Phillip…" He tries to look away from the grief that fills Aurora's eyes but her hold forces him to meet her gaze. "I wish I understood my feelings sooner than I did, then I could have spared us both the hurt but… I do not regret loving you, I never will."
Phillip pulls Aurora's hands from his face and lowers his lips to them. "I do not regret our love either but I fear losing my heart again…"
This time irretrievably.
Aurora purses her lips, face overflowing with sympathy. "I cannot promise you won't but if you let your fear of losing Borra hold you back then you will have already lost him."
Phillip bows his head. "I know."
"Talk to him, Phillip. He deserves to know."
Phillip squeezes his eyes shut and sighs. "I know."
Aurora wraps her arms around him once more, lowering his head to her chest. He curls his arms around her and lets her warmth seep into his bones, chasing away the cold. Like holding a sunbeam.
That night Phillip leaves his balcony doors unlocked. Borra does not appear.
Phillip sees the wings and the horns and practically throws himself over the stone railing, sprinting across the courtyard in time to catch the Dark Fae, powered by resolve.
"Shrike!" He skids to a halt before the fae female. "It has been too long since I last saw you."
He tries not to make it obvious as he looks around for any other fae.
Shrike regards him coolly. "We have been here. It is you who locked yourself away."
Phillip winces internally. He probably deserves that. "Y-yes… I have been busy… uh my father's 70th birthday celebration is in a few days, will you be attending?"
"I plan to."
"And… uh… wi-will the others?"
"Some of them." Shrike is merciless.
Phillip pushes back the strands of hair that have fallen in his face after his run. He will have to sacrifice his pride if he is to get what he desires. A small cost.
"Will Borra be there?"
"I do not know his mind."
"Then perhaps… perhaps you could ask him?" Phillip pleads. "Or- or tell him… tell him I asked, please… there is something… something I need to tell him."
Shrike tilts her head, considering him, impassively.
"Please," Phillip implores.
There is a glint in her eyes and she grants a small nod. "I will tell him."
Phillip could kiss her but he doesn't think it will be well-received. At that moment Percival rounds the corner, practically vibrating with joy. It is hard to reconcile this cheerful Percival with the surly guard Phillip once knew. Love really does change a person; in his friend's case, for the better.
"Shrike, my darling sweet. Have you told Phillip our news?" Percival queries, wrapping an arm around his mate.
She smiles at him in the wry way she does, full of affection. "And rob you of your moment? Never, my love."
"News?" Phillip prompts as they continue gazing adoringly at one another.
Percival grins and places a hand on Shrike's belly. "We are expecting. Shrike is with child. "
Phillip freezes. The world shrinks away and all that matters are the soon-to-be parents before him, a human and a fae, smiling so bright they are practically glowing. It steals Phillip's breath away, his own heart leaping with shared feeling, and just like that day in the Moors almost a year ago, Phillip hugs the pair of them, beaming.
"Congratulation! That is wonderful!"
He's laughing and Percival's laughing and Shrike is smiling at them both.
She throws Phillip a look, softer than before. "Percy, aren't you going to ask him?"
"Of course," Percival appears as if he is floating as he places his hand on Phillip's arm. "Phillip, will you be our child's godfather?"
Warmth bursts through Phillip and he throws his arms around them again. "Absolutely! Yes! Thank you."
He holds his friends – his family – happiness radiating between them and marvels at how far they have come.
Phillip is not sure what compelled his father to host a masquerade ball for his 70th birthday celebration but already Phillip has resolved never to cave to the same whim. It is hard enough keeping track of the various courtiers and dignitaries without the added obstacle of masks. Although, pretending his confusion is down to the brilliance of their costumes succeeds in getting them to reveal their identity and flatters their egos so that's Phillip's new tactic for the evening.
He suspects his father thought a masquerade was an excellent way for humans and fae to integrate. You can't judge someone on looks if you can't see their face. Not a bad plan except it's all too easy to tell the fae from the humans. Most of the Moor Folk are not humanoid; their unusual shapes and sizes causing them to stick out amongst the other guests. Those better at blending in are noticeable for their costumes, the fae having crafted their clothes from nature while the human courtiers commissioned extravagant costumes, bedecked with fine fabrics and glittering jewellery.
The wings and horns give the Dark Fae away, although a number of courtiers have come sporting false horns and gaudy wings. Phillip has already apologised to the fae for the nobles's tastelessness, though the fae seem more bemused than offended. Most of them wear feathered masks, but other than that their costumes are fairly simplistic. Phillip is not surprised; he doubts either the Dark Fae or the Moor Folk have been to a masquerade before. He wonders after this if they will attend another again.
Phillip's own costume is rather simplistic; he has donned a royal blue ensemble with golden embellishments and a mask, similarly decorated, which covers only the eyes. There is also a crown on his head if his identity isn't obvious enough. His father accused him of being boring but Phillip isn't trying to hide tonight. He moves from one circle to another, sharing anecdotes, talking politics, and exuding charm, as he searches for a pair of broad shoulders, long tangled hair, and a flash of amber eyes.
The Chancellor of Oriens and several other diplomats are present and Phillip takes some satisfaction in introducing them to Udo and Ini. He lingers, facilitating the conversation until he's sure a mediator is no longer needed and continues the hunt.
With some reluctance he accepts every dance request and scouts the room from the dancefloor as he waltzes his way through a menagerie of courtiers; swans, peacocks, butterflies, foxes, cats, mermaids, nymphs, and one notable fruit bowl. He spies a gaggle of noblewomen sneering at Thistlewit's spider-silk gown and makes a point of snubbing them in favour of a dance with the faerie. Thistlewit is delighted, dress shimmering as they spin. He passes her on to a lord and when he glimpses her again later she has a whole flock of noblemen fighting for her next dance.
Knotgrass, dressed as a rose, twirls past him in the arms of Lickspittle. She is clearly leading the dance while the pixie merely stares at her, besotted.
Phillip notices his father (who insisted on going as a tiger) joking with their allies from Oriens. The Chancellor looks bewildered, unsure what to do as King John's throws his arm around him like they are old pals, his other arm around Udo. Phillip smiles at the sight and quickly moves on before his father can call him over.
He finds Shrike with Percival in a crowd of well-wishers and considers asking after Borra but doesn't want to intrude or look desperate (he is very desperate).
It might be time to accept defeat, the hour is late and all the Dark Fae arrived together. If Borra is not here by now then he isn't coming. The thought is like swallowing a rotten lemon and Phillip looks around for any distraction that won't involve talks of trade or daughters and nieces. His gaze falls upon a solitary figure all in black on the edge of the dancefloor. Observing the horns, the wings, and the wide berth everyone else is giving them, Phillip makes his way over to Maleficent.
She is staring out at the centre of the dancefloor which Aurora and Diaval have claimed for themselves. Their dance is out of step with the rest of the crowd and consists of far more twirls and exaggerated gestures than any Phillip knows but the couple are having fun, with eyes only for each other.
"Is the raven costume not a little on the nose for Diaval," Phillip remarks as he comes to stand beside the faerie.
"He's a crow," Maleficent informs and Phillip looks again at the black feathered mask and black feathered outfit Diaval is wearing. "It's meant to be ironic."
"How foolish of me," Phillip drawls and Maleficent's lip twitches.
They watch as Diaval gets on one knee and Aurora pirouettes around him, gown billowing. Her dress is layered with sheer material, a gradient of topaz, orange, peach, and rose pink. A gilded mask conceals her eyes and spears of gold adorn her head. She makes a dazzling sunrise, and as Diaval stands, taking her into his arms, they become an eclipse. Black and gold, dark and light, shadow and sun encircling each other.
Phillip looks back at Maleficent, noting the tender curl of her crimson lips. "You appear to have come around to their being together."
"I knew their hearts long before they did. Although, I admit, when my suspicions proved true I did not react… well." Maleficent smooths down her sleek gown, the fabric shimmers like velvet midnight. "As irritating as that blasted bird can be he has been a loyal companion and… a good… friend," she wrinkles her nose at the word. "I can ask for no one better for my Aurora."
Phillip thinks about what she has said and what she has not said and chooses his next words carefully. "Their being in love does not mean you are of any less importance to either of them. A heart is not a finite space, there is always room for more. And I am certain Aurora and Diaval's love for you is as boundless as yours is for them."
Maleficent is quiet and Phillip takes it as a signal to say no more on the subject. He instead listens to the merry jig of the orchestra and watches the dancers weave in and out, Diaval and Aurora at the centre of everything. He is debating whether to persist with the conversation or make his excuses and leave when Maleficent speaks.
"It is quite the celebration… your father seems to be enjoying himself."
She looks so awkward as she says it that Phillip has to bite back at a smile.
"It was nice of you to attend. Father is pleased to see you."
"It was nice of you to invite me."
"Of course, we're friends. You are always welcome in our home," he tells her, wholeheartedly.
Maleficent looks at him in surprise but does her best to cover it, glancing away. "Thank you."
Feeling oddly emboldened, Phillip takes a risk. "Would you care to dance?"
From the look she gives him she would not. "Are there not enough young maidens waiting to be swept off their feet?"
"Plenty," Phillip sighs. "Which is why I was hoping you could help me keep them at bay."
One eyebrow goes up. "You wish me to be your shield?"
"Milady, anyone as beautiful as you deserves to dance."
That at least earns him a dry smile. "Such flattery, but if I were to dance with you it might encourage the rest of these fools to try their luck."
"I'm sure your fearsome reputation would survive."
As if to prove his point a Countess, who thought it a clever idea to costume herself as the Mistress of Evil, wanders into their path. She takes one look at the sullen fae of whom she is a poor copy and flees. Phillip doesn't know whose's more amusing, the Countess or Maleficent. Either way he can't hold back a laugh and receives several stares from the onlookers.
Maleficent remains unmoved. "Nevertheless, Prince, it's not I you wish to dance with. Save that charm for your beloved, I think you'll need it." Phillip stiffens and Maleficent sends him a shrewd look. "I thought I spied the winged brute skulking in the gardens. Perhaps you should go check?"
Phillip gawps and doesn't move, wondering when he became transparent to literally everyone.
Maleficent makes a shooing motion. "Go on."
He doesn't need to be told twice. He hurries from the ballroom, as fast as he reasonably can without causing a spectacle. Various courtiers attempt to intercept him as he goes but Phillip brushes each of them off with a polite excuse and ducks outside into the courtyard. There are guests mingling in the garden though none are whom Phillip is searching for. As he heads further into the hedgerows he discerns a few couples delighting in the shadows. He quickly moves on, keeping an eye above him and listening for the beat of wings.
"Borra," he hisses and immediately feels foolish. It's not as if the Dark Fae will be crouching behind a hedge, waiting to jump out at him. He settles on a bench by a rosebush and drops his head in his hands. "I'm an idiot."
"Can't disagree there."
Phillip jolts, almost tumbling into the thorns behind. He manages to right himself in time, gaping at the fae before him. Phillip's not sure how he missed Borra's approach but he's ecstatic to see him.
"Borra!" He lurches to his feet. "I was… I was looking for you."
"Seems I found you instead." It is too dark to properly read the fae's expression but his tone is detached, uninterested, cold.
Phillip tries not to feel hurt. He knows he deserves it. "I want to apologise… and to explain…"
Borra's wings ripple in the shadows. "You needn't bother explaining, I already know."
Phillip falters. "You- you do?"
"I was a threat you needed appeased, someone to sway to your side. I've seen the way you work a room, how you charm people to your side with pretty smiles and words of friendship. I was merely another mark to befriend and now you're secure in our alliance I'm no longer of interest. You've moved on. Just good politics, right, Prince?"
Borra practically spits the words at him, lips drawn back in a snarl, and Phillip has to steady himself and confirm this is actually happening, so taken aback is he. He thinks Borra might be calling him a trollop, albeit in a very roundabout way.
"No," Phillip says and clenches his fists, incensed by the accusation. "No, you're- that's wrong! How can you believe such nonsense? Do you really think I would spend as much time with anyone as I have done you? That I would let anyone as close? Do you believe I would allow myself to be as vulnerable as I have around you if I saw you as a threat or a simple means to an end? I have let you carry me up above the clouds for Heaven's sake. You've been in my bedroom! I've placed more trust in you than anyone."
From underneath his shirt he reveals the necklace Borra gifted him, displaying it to the fae.
"You are one of my closest companions, I have treasured our friendship and yet you suggest it's nothing but a scheme. Do you truly think so low of me?"
Phillip realises he has marched into the other male's space, chests almost touching, but he doesn't back down. Borra remains stone-faced; his wings fidget behind him.
"If you value our friendship so much why did you shut me out? I've been trying to reach you for weeks but you locked yourself away. If you're not bored of me why treat me so cold? Why, Phillip? Tell me why!"
Amber eyes pin Phillip, preventing him from looking away as tempted as he is. His blood is still seething from his tirade and he rides that adrenaline, letting it pull from him the words he'd otherwise be too much of a coward to admit.
"Because! Because I realised I'm in love with you and I'm not such a masochist that I would set myself up for another heartbreak."
Borra stills; his whole body, including his wings, go taut. Maybe Phillip is a coward because he turns away, unable to face rejection from the other male.
"Greer was your mate," Phillip rushes out, "and even though he's gone I know you can never love another. I hope we can remain friends… you're too important for me to lose… but I can't keep avoiding you, waiting for these feelings to fade, which is why I needed to explain, to apologise for my behaviour... I'm sorry for shutting you out, Borra, but it is hard to be around you when… when I can't have you how I want… "
A hand lands on his arm and the words die on his tongue.
"Prince, look at me." Borra murmurs but Phillip refuses to turn. "Phillip, please."
It's his name, which makes him finally turn, squaring his shoulders as he faces the fae. Borra stares at him, amber eyes aglow, and Phillip stumbles under the intensity. The hand on his arm steadies him. Another comes to cup his chin, the soft touch a juxtaposition to the fierce expression.
"Do you mean it?" Borra demands. "You're in love with me?"
Something niggles at him but Phillip forces it away, glowering. "Would I say it if I didn't mean it."
"Then say it." Phillip jerks back but Borra's grip holds him in place. "Say it. Tell me how you love me."
Phillip huffs, anger returning, but he catches the pleading note in Borra's voice, spies a gleam of desperation in the fae's gaze, and sighs. As if he could deny him anything. He looks at the Dark Fae, stare unwavering, and does not baulk as he reveals the contents of his heart.
"I love you, Borra. I love how much of a stubborn brute you are. I love your strength and your devotion to your people. I love that I get to see the good heart beneath the warrior. I love when we argue and that you share my dry humour. I love your laugh, how it rumbles through you. I love how you push me, challenge me, rile me up. I love how honest you are, that there is no pretence. I love that you don't try to ingratiate yourself to me, that you have no ulterior motive, there is nothing you want from me. I love that you treat me as a normal person and I can relax around you. I love your eyes, how they burn right through me. I love your scars, I love how unfairly attractive you are. I love your wings, so powerful, so beautiful. I love how high you take me, both figuratively and literally. I love your arms, how strong you are, how easily you can tear an apple in two and how safe I feel in your embrace. I love your hands, rough and callused and so gentle when you touch me." Phillip catches Borra's wrist, removing the hand from his face and pressing a kiss to the palm. "I love every piece of you and am grateful for whatever scraps you can spare even if it be friendship or less. That is how I love you."
The force of the confession has Phillip trembling and he takes a deep breath.
Phillip splutters on the exhale. "What?"
"There are things I want from you," Borra asserts and switches his hold on Phillip's hand, bringing it to rest upon his cheek. "I want your touch. I want all your attention all the time. I want your quick-wit and your clever tongue, how you charm and talk circles around everyone. I want to hear you laugh and feel the curl of your smile." With his free hand he traces a finger across Phillip's lips. "I want your kiss. I want you in my arms. I want your devotion, your admiration, and your noble heart." He positions Phillip's hand onto his shoulder and shifts his own to Phillip's cheek, leaning in. Phillip tenses in anticipation. "I want your love and if all that's required is I love you in exchange then that's easy… I already do."
He kisses Phillip and the prince feels it in his toes. It is tender and greedy at the same time, like Phillip's lips are the sweet nectar of the gods and Borra is a starving mortal. His touch is worshipping, a true devotee, and if Borra hasn't already made his feelings obvious then his mouth does. Phillip feels weak yet his affection for the Dark Fae has never been stronger and he kisses back with his own fierce reverence.
When they separate they are both panting. Phillip has twisted his hand into Borra's hair, pulling on the strands, his other hand enfolded in the fae's upper body armour (because the brute still refuses to wear a shirt). Borra's hand is pressed against the back of Phillip's head, the other clamped upon his waist. They stare at each other in amazement.
"You love me?" Phillip gasps and Borra's eyes melt into honey.
"Yes, Prince. I love you." The warrior says it with such fondness Phillip knows his heart is lost to this fae.
He still has fears he needs to express to Borra – fears about the past, about the future, about their respective positions and how a relationship could ever work – but for now it is enough to know Borra loves him back.
Phillip reels forward and kisses him again. This time Borra responds with a ferocity characteristic of the warrior fae but Phillip is not to be conquered and he pushes back with as much force. Phillip has never been kissed like this before. Phillip has never kissed like this before. Something is beginning and he never wants it to end.
Of course, it has to end eventually, or at least take a temporary pause. Borra has Phillip pressed into a hedgerow (fortunately not the one with thorns) when there is the clear blast of a trumpet. Phillip hears the fanfare though it takes his addled mind several seconds to recall its significance.
He curses and attempts to push the hulking mass of muscles off his body, extracting his lips long enough to speak.
The fae halts his ministrations, pulling back with a frown. "What is it?"
"That trumpet…" Phillip gasps out, "…it's to signal the King's speech… we have to go back inside..."
Borra grunts and nuzzles Phillip's neck. "They won't notice if we sneak in late."
Phillip chokes, partly because of Borra's suggestion, mostly because the fae's teeth grazing sensitive skin. "Ha-have you forgot-forgotten – stop it – I'm crown prince."
"How could I forget when you're a royal pain," Borra grumbles, continuing with his affections.
"Come on, I have to be at my father's side. There will be talk if I'm not."
Borra growls and steps back. While his body is no longer pressed against Phillip's, his wings still cage the prince in. Phillip looks at the fae, unimpressed.
Borra smirks. "On one condition, we resume this later."
"I can be accommodating," Phillip smiles slyly and runs his fingers over the fae's soft feathers. Borra goes rigid and Phillip notes how the warrior's wings quiver in response. He leans forward and brushes his lips to the other male's ear. "Later, I promise."
The warrior shudders but steps back, allowing the prince free. Phillip takes stock of his appearance; he has lost his mask, his doublet is open, his clothes rumpled and his hair a mess. Borra is similarly dishevelled but he normally looks feral so it's not as noticeable. Phillip attempts to smooth himself down, not wanting to appear as if he'd been debauched in the garden after being debauched in the garden. He glowers at the amused fae warrior, batting away the hands that seek to ensnare him.
Deeming himself presentable he strides from the hedgerows, heading back to the ballroom.
"Wait," Borra hisses and despite running short on time Phillip obeys. He turns and sees a red rose in the fae's outstretched hand. Borra's smile is warm and vulnerable all at once. "You said red roses mean I love you."
Phillip nods giddily, gazing at Borra in wonder. He's surprised the fae remembers.
"Here." Borra reaches forward, brushing back Phillip's hair and securing the rose behind the prince's ear.
Gingerly, Phillip touches the delicate petals. If he returns to the ballroom, sporting such an obvious token it will be evident to everyone that the prince has a sweetheart, rumours will spread, hearts will be broken. But Phillip discovers he doesn't care. Let them talk. He has the approval of everyone who matters to him.
He smiles and kisses Borra quick, stealing away before the fae can grab him and distract him from ever leaving. Phillip re-enters the ballroom, heading for the dais where his father stands, ignoring the many eyes which follow him.
His father smiles as he approaches, gaze flickering to the rose before returning to his face. "Enjoying the festivities?"
Phillip chuckles and doesn't give his father the satisfaction, accepting the goblet handed to him.
Once the guests are settled, crowding around the platform, goblets in hand, King John steps forward to address them. Phillip doesn't pay much attention to the speech; he has heard it several times over the last week, having helped his father practice. It ticks all the usual boxes: the importance of the people, the strength of the alliance, and a big emphasis on peace. Instead, Phillip seeks out Borra, finding the Dark Fae clustered in with Udo, Ini, Maleficent, Aurora and Diaval. The warrior fae meets his gaze and winks – actually winks. Phillip's insides writhe, not unpleasantly.
"…and so let us raise a toast to friendship and to lasting peace!" The King finishes and the guests cheer.
Phillip tears his gaze from Borra, remembering this is his cue and raises his goblet. "To the King!"
"To the King!" The crowd chants and toast their goblets. There's a pause as everyone downs their drinks.
The King claps his hands. "Well now that's done, on with the celebra- !"
He cuts off. Like a dancer in a music box winding down his movements become stiff, slow, then he freezes completely.
"Father?" Phillip makes to step forward but his body rebels, the motion sluggish, legs like lead. He can hear his blood rushing through him, hot and riotous. Something is very wrong.
He scours the ballroom; all the guards and guests have stiffened into statues, their faces strained. Even Maleficent and the other fae are affected, held in place by invisible restraints. Thumps sound across the room as those fae who had been hovering mid-air now plummet to the ground where they remain motionless. Phillip prays none are badly injured. Gritting his teeth, he grapples with the unknown power. It feels as if he is standing up to his neck in cold water, trying to push against the current; not impossible but slow, his muscles aching from the exertion.
He manages a few steps, stumbling to his father's side, when he notices movement amongst the guests. Several figures in long robes and full face masks push to the front of the crowd. Relief floods Phillip - at least some have not been ensnared by whatever energy binds them - but then he notices the very real and definitely not prop weapons in their hands, stolen from the immobile guards, and ice creeps into his veins. Phillip redoubles his efforts, fingers straining for the dagger at his hip.
"Don't you all look a fright."
Phillip freezes altogether.
No, no, no, NO.
Ingrith saunters from behind the throne and into view. "What, is no one going to welcome me? What bad manners."
"Hail Queen Ingrith," one of the robe figures proclaims and the rest take up the chant.
"Hail Queen Ingrith!"
"Oh, you flatter me," Ingrith croons. "But this triumph belongs to all of us."
Phillip cannot breathe, trapped in a soundless scream. Ingrith, his mother, who he believed dead, stands before him, alive and whole.
But she died? There was a body. They laid her in the crypt.
Ingrith rounds on the King. Phillip's heart is in his throat, thudding thunderously with every step his mother takes towards them.
"Well, isn't this a nice birthday surprise?" She rests a hand on her husband's cheek, the King doesn't even blink. Phillip grinds his teeth (progress but useless). "No? What a pity. You moved on so fast after my passing. Did you even mourn or were you too focused on making friends with savages? You forgot all about me, just as I'd hoped."
She struts away and Phillip breathes a little easier, even if it feels like a hand is closing around his throat, his heart.
"You must be wondering how I did it… I took a special concoction to make me appear lifeless, enough to trick the wards on my cell, then once you shut me away in that crypt my associates found me, administered the antidote, and I lived again."
Her smile cuts across her face, a razor's edge, as sharp as the spikes on the iron armour she has decked herself in, over a spotless white grown like the ones she was fond of wearing back when she was queen. She fiddles with a loaded crossbow as she speaks, sashaying from one side of the dais to the other.
"I waited for you to forget me – it didn't take long – so distracted were you with your precious peace," she spits the word, "but oh it cost you. Making friends with these abominations," she gestures at the fae, "you made other enemies. People are frightened, they are angry. You cosy yourself up to these creatures and force your own people to share their resources knowing at any moment these beasts could turn on them, ravage their crops, destroy their homes, slaughter their sons and husbands… curse their children. We came together, uniting against the enemy you welcomed into our lands and dedicated ourselves to ending this mad reign. This party proved the perfect opportunity to enact our plan. I should thank you for bringing everyone together, it made it so much easier for us."
As his mother reveals her plan, Phillip fights to regain some control over his body, succeeding in wriggling his toes and flexing his fingers. He shrugs his shoulders and practices bending his elbows and knees, small subtle motions, careful not to attract attention.
"I was able to brew a special potion, something to stop anyone from interfering with our plans. A mix of magic and science. Blood magic, to be precise. I was inspired by the wards you placed on my prison cell. We had it slipped into the wine before your toast. When consumed it causes the body to lock up, unable to move a muscle. It was my blood we used for the potion and unless I will it you shall remain statues, forever… or until you starve to death. The monsters among you won't have to wait that long." She waves a hand to her comrades. "Kill them all."
She laughs. Phillip heard that sound all through his childhood yet it's now so sinister, evil.
Her cohorts surround the fae and Phillip realises their intentions. He thrashes against the spell holding him, hand clenching around his dagger. He cannot let them spill blood. He will not allow another massacre in his home. He will not watch his friends - the people he loves - be slaughtered while he stands helpless.
"And Maleficent," she titters, sneering at the frozen faerie, the Dark Phoenix's hand outstretched towards her daughter. "Powerful as you are, an arrow to the heart wasn't enough to stop you, but I suspect a severed head might. But before I do, I want you to watch your precious daughter die."
Ingrith raises her crossbow, aiming it at Aurora. Phillip lunges, slamming into his mother. The crossbow releases, the arrow goes wide, hitting the assassin about to dispatch Diaval. The figure crumples with a gurgling sound. The rest of the assailants go still, regarding the new situation with unease.
Phillip presses his dagger to Ingrith's throat. "Drop. Your. Weapon."
Ingrith obliges, the crossbow clattering on the steps. "Phillip, blood of my blood, I thought you might be a problem. There was always a risk the blood magic wouldn't affect you. No matter."
She doesn't sound at all fazed as Phillip tightens his grip. "Release your hold on them."
"Or what? You'll kill me, your own mother?" Ingrith laughs again and Phillip gnashes his teeth, the sound grating.
"Don't test me."
"Be a good boy and put down the knife before you do something you'll regret."
There's shouting from the robed assassins as one by one they are dragged from view, vines ensnaring their limbs, hurling them against the walls and constraining them. Some attempt to fight off the vines but the plants keep coming.
"No," Ingrith hisses, her calm façade slipping. "The potion should have nullified their magic."
Phillip looks around and there beside Percival is Shrike crouched with her arms stretched, conjuring and controlling the vines. Shrike who is pregnant. Shrike who didn't drink the toast.
Phillip sags in relief then gasps, sudden pain, like none he's ever known, piercing through him. He glances down and sees a knife protruding from his abdomen, his mother's fingers curled around the hilt.
She gazes at him over her shoulder; her eyes – his eyes – like a frozen lake. Phillip has never felt so cold.
Ingrith retracts the knife and Phillip stumbles back, his own dagger slipping from his grasp. His hands scramble to cover the gushing wound, hot sticky blood stains his shirt, spilling over his palms.
There's so much, there shouldn't be this much.
Black blurs around his vision and it hurts, it hurts, God it hurts. His legs give out and he crashes onto his knees. He peers up at his mother, looking so much like a heavenly being with her white dress and blonde halo. Some basic instinct, his inner child, has him reaching out for her…
She turns away, gliding down the steps of the dais to retrieve her crossbow. She reloads the arrow and targets it at Shrike; the Dark Fae unaware of the danger, distracted by her attack on the assassins. Panic claws in Phillip's chest and he tries to scream a warning but icy pain steals his breath.
No, no, no.
He sobs, mustering every last scrap of strength, body burning, and hurls himself forward. Crying out, he ploughs into Ingrith, knocking her off her feet and the two of them roll down the steps, blood splattering across marble, landing in a heap at the bottom. Again the crossbow misfires and an arrow lodges itself in the fruit headdress of the lady behind Shrike.
Phillip rolls to face his mother, groaning. He thinks he might be sick. Ingrith is splayed upon the bottom step of the dais, eyes fixed upon the ceiling, motionless. There is a puddle of blood forming around them and Phillip realises not all of it is his. Blonde curls darken with blood, her head lolled upon the ridge of the stairs.
Phillip tries to crawl towards her but the pain in his abdomen stops him, like some vital thread snapping within. The world tilts and he slumps to the floor. The stones are cool upon his skin. Shadows flit across his gaze as he stares at his mother, her pale face contorted in surprise. Those blue-grey eyes stare upwards into nothing, empty and dull.
There's a faraway hum, a chorus of voices, distant shouts and screams…
There's a voice calling him, multiple voices. Hands are upon him, moving him, but his gaze is too distorted to distinguish the shapes. He thinks he can make out horns…
He's so tired. His body is burning. His body is ice.
Green light fills his vision.
"Hold on, Prince. Hold on."
The light hurts his eyes. His eyelids droop close.
"Phillip, Phillip, PHILLIP!"
He sighs and falls into the black.
Peace at last.
Phillip wakes slow, dragging himself from the darkness holding him and into consciousness. The closer he gets the worse he feels. His whole body throbs as if he has been hung by his ankles and drained of all blood until he is nothing but a shrivelled wreck. His head feels light, and he considers falling back into the abyss, if he doesn't throw up first. Sound breaks the barrier first, a low murmur. Light filters in through his eyelids and with great effort he cracks them open. Awareness seeps in and he recognises his bed, his room, sunlight streaking in through the window.
There's a squawk far too close to his bedside and he winces. When he regains his sight it is to a vision of beauty. Aurora smiles down at him, golden curls framing her lovely face. She opens her mouth to speak but someone beats her to it.
"Sleeping Beauty awakes," Diaval crows, appearing behind Aurora.
Aurora shoots him a look before addressing Phillip. "Hello, Phillip, is there anything we can get you?"
It's then Phillip notices the dryness of his throat and croaks out a request for water. He manages to shuffle into a sitting position as Aurora presses a glass to his lips.
"What… what happened?" Phillip asks, once his thirst is sated and he's able to speak albeit with some lingering discomfort.
Aurora perches on the bed and places her hand over his. "How much do you remember?"
Phillip tries to think, pushing past the growing headache to remember… remember…
"We were at the masquerade ball and... and my mother showed up… my mother is alive! Sh-she poisoned everyone, she was going to kill them but… but… Shrike stopped them… she… she stabbed me! My mother stabbed me!"
Phillip lifts the covers, pulling up his nightshirt to examine the bandages wrapped around his abdomen, proof it hadn't been a nightmare. His mother had actually risen from the dead and tried to murder him.
"Anything else?" Aurora inquires, tentatively, her face soft with sympathy.
Phillip recalls another face, cold and lifeless, his mother's eyes staring into nothing.
"My mother, she… she's dead. I killed her..."
"Oh, Phillip," Aurora wraps her arms around him, letting his head rest on her shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, it was an accident."
Diaval places a hand on his shoulder. "It's what freed us, broke the spell. It's the reason Maleficent was able to heal you in time."
Phillip thinks about this. Blood magic, his mother had dabbled in blood magic. She abhorred the fae, feared their power, yet she had sought to wield it herself. If she hadn't, if she had chosen a standard poison instead of attempting to spite the fae by using their magic against them Phillip wouldn't have broken free and thwarted her plot. With her death all her schemes are undone. Assuming, she is dead.
"Is she… she is dead? Definitely dead this time?"
Diaval nods. "We made sure of it."
Phillip breathes a sigh of relief, though he's not sure he can rest easy until he examines the body himself. Except he really doesn't want to; he doesn't want to go near his mother ever again, alive or dead. His last memory of her is bad enough. He will see those cold eyes in his nightmares.
"Phillip, are you… alright?" Aurora asks as she pulls away.
"I seem to have woken in a far better condition than I passed out…" Phillip assures her. "But I think I win the award for worst parent… I mean, my mother stabbed me."
Aurora gives a weak smile. "I suppose my father never did that… though he did banish me to the woods, under the care of faeries who had no idea how to raise a human child…"
"Again, my mother stabbed me."
Aurora raises her hands in surrender.
"My mother pushed me out off a tree when I was only a few days old," Diaval chimes in.
Aurora frowns. "Isn't that normal for birds?"
"Oh sure, but it doesn't make it any less traumatic."
Phillip chuckles and the others join in. It's a moment of light relief before reality sets back in.
"What happened after I… after… well after? How long have I been out?"
"It's been a few days, all the guests have returned home," Aurora explains. "We arrested Ingrith's accomplices and Percival has rounded up the other conspirators. There will be a trial soon enough."
Phillip groans, imagining all the paperwork.
"What about the fae? Were any of them hurt?"
"A few injured from falling out the air but nothing major," Diaval reassures him. "Shrike's intervention spared us from the worst. We were lucky you two were unaffected. I think you won the fae's eternal loyalty, defending them with your life."
"The humans too. Ingrith's attack swayed a lot of people's sympathy towards the fae," Aurora goes on. "The Chancellor of Oriens told me how impressed he was by the Moor Folk and Dark Fae and how he hopes we can build a strong alliance."
"At least some good came out of this disaster." Phillip relaxes into the pillows behind him. "I doubt we'll host any more parties."
"Oh yeah, we took a vote and you're banned from hosting for at least five years," Diaval chirps cheerfully.
Aurora pats Phillip's hand. "Don't fret, your father and Percival have everything under control and you have our support as well. All you need to do now is rest and recover."
Phillip sighs and runs a hand through his hair; a shower of petals drift down and he stares at them, bemused.
"Ah, that was Knotgrass and Thistlewit's doing, they braided flowers into your hair while you slept," Aurora says. "You've had a lot of visitors, some very worried folk."
"I think Borra is still camped out on the roof." Diaval remarks casually and Phillip's gaze shoots to him.
His heart flips, cheek heating as memories of the garden return to him.
The raven smirks. "He was in such a frenzy, it took forever for Udo and Shrike to calm him even after Maleficent confirmed you were going to be fine. You gave us all a good scare."
Diaval sniffs and Phillip barely has time to brace before the other man is hugging him.
"Don't ever do that again."
Phillip pats him on the back awkwardly. "Uh… I'll try to avoid it."
Aurora giggles. Phillip and Diaval separate, the latter attempting to regain composure. Phillip smiles, relishing the love and care of his friends.
"Shall we fetch Borra?" Aurora asks with a knowing grin.
Phillip's smile widens as he thinks of the brooding warrior fae. He's tempted but there are other things he needs to know before a reunion occurs.
"First tell me everything I've missed."
Diaval launches into a spiel about the events following the attack with Aurora chiming in every so often when the raven misses an important detail or over-exaggerates events.
"There was a big scuffle and I took down seven assassins."
"That never happened."
"Rora, love of my life, wind beneath my wings, Phillip doesn't know that, let me be the hero for once."
"Oh, Diaval, don't you know you're my hero."
Diaval narrows his eyes. "Hmm, nope, you're mocking me."
Aurora presses her hand to her chest. "Diaval, my black feathered knight, my darling heart, wings above my wind- "
Phillip listens to his friends banter, a feeling of contentment settling over him, and drifts asleep to the sound of their laughter.
When he wakes again his father is there. Phillip does his best to quell the King's blubbering, patting his father on the back as they hug, wincing when the man squeezes too tight.
"Forgive me, son, it's just…" his voice cracks, "I almost lost you."
"Father, there is nothing to forgive. Please stop crying."
That only makes the King cry harder. Eventually with some careful coaxing the tears ebb and his father returns to his better self, joking and laughing as Phillip looks on with a smile.
"And did you see the Duke of Cavamir's costume? Ha! What was he supposed to be, a sheep?"
"I think he was a lion."
"Ridiculous! There's a joke in there somewhere."
"I'm sure you'll find it."
In the end, the King is called away but he turns to Phillip as he goes. "I love you, my boy."
Phillip warms, the words giving him strength. "I love you too, father."
After his father's visit Phillip feels well enough to stretch his legs. He heaves himself out of bed, pulling a robe on over his sleep-clothes and hobbles the distance to the balcony, seeking fresh air. He savours the light breeze, leaning against the railing and breathing in the evening air. He almost died but here he is watching the sunset.
He's not left waiting long. There comes the beat of wings, the resulting wind sweeping over Phillip and ruffling his hair. Two feathered masses appear either side of him, shielding him from the world; a warm body presses against his back, strong arms encircling his chest.
"Phillip." Borra nuzzles his face into Phillip's neck, inhaling his scent. The prince sighs at the sensation. "I thought I'd lost you. She stabbed you and I couldn't do anything but watch. It was torture. Seeing you so still, blood all around you… every time I close my eyes I see you, pale, lifeless… I am indebted to Maleficent for saving you… and to you, for saving us."
"I think Shrike did most of the work." Phillip turns to face the fae. Borra's eyes bore into him, sweeping over Phillip as if to reassure the warrior he is indeed alive and breathing.
"The Dark Fae saw you fight for them, how you sacrificed yourself. You have our eternal gratitude and respect."
"And is that all you feel for me, gratitude and respect?" Phillip teases, quirking one eyebrow.
Borra shakes his head, looking at Phillip with such awe that the prince trembles beneath the raw emotion.
"I feel so much for you, Prince. It's infuriating. I used to consider humans a blight upon this world but then I fell in love with one and…"
Borra drops to one knee and Phillip panics. "Wh-wha-what are you doing?"
Borra holds out a feather; greenish brown, with red tips, like the rest of his wings. Phillip sucks in a breath.
"I love you, Phillip. Please never stop reminding me how irritating and noble humans can be. Wear my feather, become my mate."
Phillip sinks to his own knees, touching the offered feather reverently. "Yes."
Phillip's smile broadens. "Yes, I will be your mate."
Borra beams, opening his mouth but Phillip surges forward, capturing his lips, before he can speak. They tumble into each other, arms settling around one another, without a care in the world for anything or anyone who might see them, entangled underneath the light of the setting sun.
In the recess of his mind, the pettiest part of Phillip flips his mother's ghost the middle finger. The rest of him is lost in true love's kiss with the fae he adores.
Phillip waits beside Percival on the battlements, looking out over the horizon. In the distance there are several black specks growing in size the closer they get.
Phillip grins as he recognises Shrike, Udo, Ini, Meri, Taron, Atta, and Borra. The Dark Fae land on the battlements with a thud. None of the waiting soldiers flinch; instead the two races greet each other with open smiles. Things have certainly changed.
Phillip smiles at his mate, the feather worn proudly in his hair. He restrains himself from leaping at the fae and kissing him unabashedly in front of the surrounding crowd (and his father) but it's a struggle.
As if reading his mind, Borra smirks. "Ready to go?"
King John answers for him, practically throwing himself upon Udo in his excitement. "Yes! Let's get a move on."
The white-haired fae succeeds in lifting the King into his arms, making it appear effortless though Phillip doesn't doubt the strain it puts on Udo. He almost pities the fae, having the responsibility of carrying the King of Ulstead across the ocean. One small slip and he could be charged with regicide. But his father trusts Udo and so does Phillip. The Dark Fae would never let the King fall.
Borra, on the other hand, isn't above tossing Phillip into the air just to make him scream before swooping in to catch him. Still, there's no one else Phillip would rather fly with. He laughs as Borra scoops him into his arms and resumes the familiar position, arms locked around the warrior's neck.
The other Dark Fae pick up their respective passengers. They are celebrating the Second Anniversary of the Three Kingdom Alliance in the Dark Fae's territory. Since the only way to reach the Dark Fae's home is flight, their group is small, consisting of Prince Phillip, King John, Captain Percival, and three other guards attending the celebration. Shrike is the only Dark Fae unhampered, seeing as she is already carrying a baby in her womb, but she came along to support (and tease) her mate.
The remaining guards wave them goodbye as they set off on their journey. Phillip sincerely hopes there isn't a coup in the few days they will be gone (surely the advisors can keep the kingdom from falling to ruin that long) and is grateful his mother is now unequivocally dead.
They soar across the ocean, the vast blue expanse shimmering beneath them, surf rising up to say hello. Phillip laughs, salt-scented spray sweeping over his skin, and tilts his head back, enjoying how the wind tousles his hair. Borra, of course, has to show-off, racing ahead of the others and performing elaborate swoops and dives. Phillip holds on with a smile, not exactly encouraging the fae but knowing any protests will only urge him on.
Shrike catches up to them, rolling her eyes at Borra's antics. "You're trying too hard. He's already your mate, you don't need to go to such lengths to impress him. Any more rolls and he'll be sick."
Borra scowls at her. "Not all of us suffer your mate's ill-disposition."
He pointedly glances behind at Percival in Taron's arms; the captain looks queasy. Shrike huffs, but falls back to check on her love. Although he makes no comment, Phillip notices Borra's flying steadies. He presses his lips to the fae's jawline, dragging them down his throat and chuckling when the warrior shivers.
Borra glares. "If you're not careful I might drop you by accident."
"Only by accident?"
Phillip grins. "A risk I'd be willing to take if we didn't have an audience." He buries his face into Borra's neck, breathing in the other male's earthy scent, but doesn't tease him with any more kisses. "I know I'm safe in your arms."
Borra grunts and his grip on Phillip slackens. Phillip's stomach lurches and he tightens his hold around the fae's neck. Arms squeeze him, clutching him to the warrior's broad chest.
Borra smirks, teeth peeking out between his lips. "Caught you."
Phillip blinks, recovering from his shock, and narrows his eyes. "You brute."
Borra's laughter booms in the open air, attracting stares from the others, but Phillip doesn't care. He smiles.
Eventually, a shape rises up in the distance, some sort of rock formation or an island. It grows larger and larger as they approach until it's towering over them. There are many entrances, sort of like a hive and they plunge into one of the tunnels. Down, down, down, until sudden light. Phillip gasps as he takes in the view; beautiful wildlands stretch before them, a hidden world of mountains, rivers, forests, sun, snow, and more Dark Fae than Phillip has ever seen. It's incredible, magical, and he's honoured to be invited into their sanctuary. As they land Phillip notices the other humans in their group looking equally amazed. There's a familiar shout and Phillip spins to see Aurora and Diaval sprinting towards them.
"You're here!" Aurora delights. A leaf green dress decorated with wildflowers cascades around her, she wears a simple crown beneath a floral wreath and braided into her sunbeam curls is a single black feather. Diaval is beside her, as always, black locks similarly adorned with blooms and blossoms.
There is laughter and hugs all around. Phillip relishes the look on his mate's face as Aurora throws herself at Borra, the warrior returning the embrace with some hesitance. Diaval wisely sticks to a handshake. Maleficent waits until the hugging has ebbed to make her entrance, gliding from the shadows, with a host of Dark Fae following suit, and the formalities begin.
The Dark Fae welcome the outsiders into their home and provide a tour of their lands. It is magnificent, proof of the Dark Fae's power and capabilities, and yet seeing the different environments and climates blending with one another reminds Phillip all these fae are refugees, chased from their homelands by human settlers and close to extinction. Grief and determination rages through him and Phillip resolves to do everything in his power, for as long as he lives, to ensure the fae are accepted into his world.
Udo introduces them to his students, a gaggle of fae children of varying ages who present their group with garlands for each of them to wear. Phillip accepts his with thanks and looks around at the others. The guards are engaging with the parents, while his father tells jokes as usual, one arm slung over Udo's shoulder. Diaval and Percival are playing with the children, while Shrike looks fondly at her mate from the side-lines, one hand over her swollen belly. Aurora is helping the children weave flower crowns for themselves and has somehow coaxed Maleficent into participating. The Dark Phoenix looks out of her element surrounded by giggling children draping floral garlands over her horns but does her best to smile and join in.
Borra brushes his shoulder against Phillip's. "You're brooding, that's my thing."
Usually Phillip would respond with a quip of his own but not this time. He turns to his mate, expression serious. "I will defend this with my life. So long as there is breath in my lungs, and blood in my veins, I will protect your people, I swear it."
Borra's eyes flare, black pupil pooling into amber. He stands rigid for a moment, then exhales, shoulders slumping, and a gentle smile spreads across his face.
"Ah, Prince, why do you have to say things like that in public when I can't kiss you how I want."
Warmth tingles through Phillip and he smiles. "You can kiss me a little bit."
"Not with children around."
Phillip goes hot at the implication and Borra snatches his hand with a smirk, kissing the inside of his wrist, before tugging him back to re-join the others.
That night there is a huge celebration, the humans and Dark Fae gather around a bonfire and there is music and singing and dancing. It's so different to the grand parties the Ulstead aristocracy like to host and more similar to the village festivals Phillip snuck into once or twice. Some might consider it hedonistic or unrefined but to Phillip it is liberation. There are no rules, no etiquette to follow, no complicated steps for each dance or social cues to remember. It is simple and wholesome merriment for everyone to enjoy.
Aurora certainly does, dancing like a wild thing around the bonfire, twirling and leaping. Diaval weaves in and out of her, lifting her when she requests it, steadying her when she stumbles, there to catch her once she's worn herself out. Although, the way she's going, Aurora might dance all night.
Phillip dances too, enlivened by the fae drink, the dark liquid flush in his system. Borra cuts him off after his fourth drink despite the prince's pouting, and Phillip hauls him into a dance as recompense. Borra, it turns out, is much better at dancing than Phillip (although, Phillip doubts the warrior could cope with a waltz). Everything is shadow and smoke, flame and amber. Borra's heat writhes against his own. Phillip laughs, giddy, the drumbeats seem to echo his own heart, pulsing within his blood, and he spins through the night.
Eventually, Borra spirits him away to his roost where they collapse on a soft pile of scavenged shrubs and malted feathers. A nest Phillip declares, teasingly. Borra rolls his eyes but doesn't deny it, lowering himself upon his mate.
"My Prince," he coos, fingers skimming the curve of Phillip's cheek.
Phillip leans forward, hands knotting into the fae's coarse hair, noses rubbing, lips brushing but not quite touching.
Borra lets out a low whine and claims Phillip's mouth for himself. Phillip responds, chuckling, as their limbs entangle with each other.
"Have I told you… how- how happy… I am… to have met you," Phillip pants.
Borra bears his teeth with a growl. "Tell me."
"I am happy," Phillip smiles. "So very happy."
Borra rumbles his satisfaction, a smile of his own. "Strangely, so am I."
Happy Endings make for a pretty finale but are not without struggle. There are hardships to endure, compromises to be made, and to choose love, over and over, takes more strength and more courage than many of us have. Phillip and Borra chose love over hate and shall continue to do so for the rest of their lives. It's no guarantee of Happily Ever After, but it's another step along the path.