Author's Note: For kurusa7227 for the usxuk Secret Santa. I had an extremely rough last half of December, so I was unable to finish your Atlantis fic. I hope that this very lengthy oneshot is able to make up for that. It is for your fairy tale princes prompt. Warning for some self-injury. It's done for self-preservation, but I figured it was better to be safe and warn just in case.
By Everything is Magic
No matter how many times he did it, it still hurt. It still stung and burned, and the blood that poured from him dripped down his legs and pooled at his feet, causing the marble floor to become slippery with acrid red.
Arthur hissed in pain, his eyes clenched shut, as the knife finished its job, and he felt a bit woozy, but he ignored that. He had to clean up this mess.
If anyone discovered his secret, who knew what would happen? So he'd cut off his wings, because once again, like they did so often, they'd burst out of his back that morning, unfurling like great butterfly wings. And heaven forbid they be noticed.
Arthur's stomach lurched just a bit as he glanced behind him at the fallen wings. They were covered in blood, but they were a filmy and shimmering light green, and if he hadn't known any better he may have found them beautiful. But his wings connected to his skin. They were part of him, part of his body, just as much as his fingers or his toes, and they were a constant reminder of his great secret, the one that even he did not even know all of the answers to.
Arthur hadn't always been like this. He'd grown up a normal lad, or at least as normal as a crown prince can be. He was the son of a king and the heir to his kingdom's throne, and that had certainly made his childhood unique, but still far from… inhuman.
Right. Inhuman. It was when he'd started going through puberty, when he'd sprouted up in height and his voice had cracked until it settled into a lower register, that he'd begun to change. The first thing he'd noticed was that he'd become much nimbler; lighter on his feet and swifter in his movements. He'd brushed it off though, assuming that perhaps he was just settling into himself and losing some of the clumsiness that had accompanied him in his childhood.
Arthur couldn't reason the things that happened next though. For at least a fortnight after this fourteenth birthday, he'd woken up every middle of the night in excruciating pain. His ears would sear as if they were being stretched by an invisible force, and his back would ache so badly that he had to sleep on his stomach every night. It was as if knives were stabbing him from inside, pushing outward against his skin. And at the end of it all, he had changed. His ears now sloped up to a gentle point, and one morning, the skin on part of his back had broken and out surged, rather like a butterfly, a pair of large glimmering wings.
They'd felt heavy at first, and there was a dull ache where they'd burst from his back, but within a few minutes they'd begun to feel light and… natural. And how natural this had all felt, how his ears, which seemed to be more sensitive to sound now, and how his wings, which ached to be flown with, felt like they truly belonged, was what had frightened him most.
He'd stayed in his room for the entire day, locking his door and yelling through the thick oak of it to any servants that he wished to be left alone. Magic was practically unheard of in his kingdom. It wasn't expressly forbidden, but it was relegated to mere myth by most and only whispered of by those who knew of its existence. Magic was often dark after all, and the less it was spoken of, the less attention would be drawn to the kingdom. Arthur had always been intrigued by the supernatural, the magic that lurked beyond the kingdom even though most did not even know of it. He'd never seen any of it first hand, but he'd always believed it to be real. He just felt it, knew it was there coursing through like another plane of existence pulsing beneath the skin of his world.
It was true that he'd always been different. He didn't remotely resemble anyone in his family in appearance (his eyebrows were truly unique) or behavior, and he'd never felt much like he fit in. He was the crown prince and the future ruler of the kingdom, but he was so little like his father. So by the end of the day, after much thought, much internal deliberation, and much inner turmoil, he had become well aware of what had happened to him.
It had happened long ago in fact, far before the time when his memories began, back when he was but an infant. But it had remained dormant, only showing up in the slightest of manners until he reached the cusp of adulthood.
Arthur Kirkland was a changeling. He wasn't truly the heir to the throne because he wasn't truly his father's son. When he was but a newborn the fae had swept into his (no not his) cradle and put him there, taking the real Arthur Kirkland with them.
He was a faerie, rejected by his people and given to his parents as compensation for the child they'd stolen. His parents had never known, and Arthur knew that they never could know.
That night was the first time had Arthur cut off his wings. The pain was intense, but he'd consoled himself with the fact that it had hurt more when they were about to sprout from his back. He'd tried to brush his shaggy hair down to cover his newly changed ears, and when that didn't work, he'd worn a hat until his hair was long enough to pull into a small ponytail and do so.
But his wings grew back. They always did. And every fortnight he'd have to slice them off again, a constant reminder of the fact that he didn't belong, and that he never would.
Arthur was eighteen years old now. He was tired and he was weary of his life, despite the fact that he'd only been living it the way he was now for four years. His parents certainly noticed that he'd become more private, but although it concerned them and his father had remarked that he 'wasn't himself,' they brushed it off as a teenager's growing pains. Besides he'd never been extroverted anyway. All too often he found himself wondering if the real Arthur Kirkland was still alive. Was he being treasured by the fae; being treated like a prince and living a life of magic? Had they killed him; a human sacrifice to please their gods, whoever they may be? Or perhaps it was something in the middle? Perhaps he was a servant or… something of the sort. Or maybe they'd even grown tired of him and threw him out of the realm of the fae, and he was living as a human somewhere right now. It troubled him, and it caused his stomach to pool with guilt. Wherever Arthur was, it should have been him in his place.
Perhaps someday, Arthur thought, he would search for him. But then again that would be nigh impossible. He would surely be known by another name now, and he had no idea what he looked like. Not to mention if he were living with the fae, finding him was out of the question. Arthur had no idea where the fae even resided or if they even lived anywhere in his kingdom. But still it crept into his mind and it settled there, and frankly it bothered him a lot. There were many, many things that caused his mind to wander when he should have been putting his all into his duties as crown prince and most of them were connected to his status as a secret changeling. But perhaps due to the fact that he had grown accustomed to his altered body and hiding aspects of his life (although both still caused him great stress and pain), in recent months he'd found his mind wandering to 'Arthur Kirkland' far more often than usual.
But Arthur soon discovered that it was something else entirely that was causing the true heir to the throne (for that's what he would be, Arthur knew) to be on his mind so much lately. It was a prickling under his skin, a zap of electricity that caused the hairs on his arms to rise and the back of his neck to tingle. He didn't register consciously what it was; being unfamiliar with it being so close, but it was the presence of magic; magic like his own, the magic of the fae. And it was only a matter of time before he encountered it. After all, it was looking for him.
It was out at the archery range that Arthur first ran into Alfred Jones, member of the royal guard. His father had spoken of him before, praising the manner in which he'd risen through the ranks with unprecedented speed. He was talented and strong-minded, and he moved so nimbly that the king said he could hardly keep his eyes on him at times. Arthur wondered in retrospect if that should have been his first clue that Alfred was out of the ordinary. They spoke briefly, Arthur introducing himself and Alfred bowing in return, a light smile on his face as he did so. He was friendly and followed protocol well enough, but there was an air of casualty to him that Arthur was not used to from civilians.
And he was, well… young. No older than Arthur, most certainly, and with a wide-eyed and youthful face. He was lovely to look at really, and Arthur would be foolish to deny it. His eyes were a bold bright blue, and his hair was gold as the wheat their kingdom harvested. He had a carefree grin almost permanently plastered on his face, and Arthur found that he envied that.
Alfred also wore a cloak over his shoulders, thick and bulky, and Arthur found it strange as it was the middle of summer, but he said nothing. His other clothing was typical enough; no armor as there was no need at the moment, a pair of dark breeches, and a red and gold tunic, the colors of Arthur's kingdom.
"Nice to meet you!" he'd said, and Arthur had merely nodded in response. "So you're the crown prince, huh?" he'd chuckled. "You are young!" To which Arthur had huffed out a "so are you!"
"Well yeah. Actually I'm your exact age. Same birthday and everything!" Alfred had replied, and Arthur gave him an odd look. As the crown prince, his birthday was public knowledge, and no matter, people shared birthdays all the time, right? There was nothing that unusual about meeting another man who was born the same day as him. But the expression that Alfred gave him as he said it was, in Arthur's opinion, odd. He stared at him straight on, and the only way that Arthur could describe it was… knowing, as if he was sharing a secret and he wished Arthur to do so return. With a curt nod he'd said goodbye to the other man and went inside the palace, as speaking to the other man was proving to be discomfiting.
It made sense, the decision that Arthur's father had come to. He had been more in the public eye during the past couple of years. He was the future ruler of the kingdom after all, and it was important for him to establish a public image before he came to the throne. Plus someday he needed to marry. Arthur found the public appearances taxing, and he did not look forward to them, but he did have a gift for public speaking and rhetoric so his image amongst the citizens was positive enough. But with more time among the citizens came a larger chance of danger, and the crown prince needed to be protected at all odds.
So yes, the king's decision to give Arthur a permanent bodyguard was completely logical. What Arthur didn't understand is why it had to be Alfred Jones.
He wondered if the king had been having Alfred groomed for the role all along. In addition to his talent, he was Arthur's age (exactly, as Alfred had pointed out), and he was amiable and extroverted. The king had told him many a time that he needed to open up to others, because no one liked a king that didn't seem to like people. He likely thought that Alfred would be a 'good influence' on him.
Alfred still made him uncomfortable though. They had met a few times since that initial moment on the archery range. Their conversations were short and nondescript, but it didn't change the twinge that seemed to come with Alfred's presence; the feeling that there was something impenetrable about the man. He wore a pair of spectacles over his bright blue eyes, but they were still clear as day behind the lenses, and they almost always had that flicker of knowledge shining in them, and Arthur wanted to know what that knowledge was.
He was a good guard. Perhaps too good. Arthur felt as if he didn't have a moment alone except when he was in his bedroom in the morning and evening. It was lucky for him that Alfred wasn't terrible company. When he got past the peculiar feeling he gave him, he was kind and a bit funny, albeit silly and egotistical. He did, much to his own surprise, find himself not minding Alfred's presence as time went on. He could relax around the knight, let down his pretenses and just be himself. Well not entirely of course. There was still the whole I'm-hiding-what-I-am-from-everyone thing.
It was one early evening late in the summer, when the sun was setting and he and Alfred were out riding horses out in the royal forest, that Arthur came to a realization.
Perhaps it was the way Alfred looked, covered in dappled sunlight that sifted through the trees above, or the way he'd let out a robust laugh at one of Arthur's signature cynical jokes. Or maybe it was the way he'd galloped over on his steed and stroked Arthur gently on the back when he felt the need to vent about how stressful his royal responsibilities could be. And the way he'd given him that reassuring smile and told him, with such optimism that Arthur found himself almost believing him, that everything would be great in the end and not to worry about it.
A smile, a laugh, a sparkle in his bright blue eyes, the blushes that rose up on Arthur's cheeks when these things occurred. It was many things, Arthur knew, that caused this realization.
He was developing feelings for his bodyguard. Romantic feelings.
That was preposterous though. He knew absolutely nothing about Alfred. His only knowledge of the other man came from the conversations he shared with him, and Alfred had never mentioned anything about himself save frivolous things. Alfred loved to eat. Anything with potatoes and beef was his favorite. He'd moved away from home two years before. He was extremely athletic, and he had a special interest in broad swords. He had a hero complex fit for a knight. Eagles were his favorite animals. There were many more things in that vein, but so little that gave him insight into who Alfred was. And Arthur certainly thought, he knew Alfred's personality very well, so it's not as if him developing feelings for him was shallow. But Alfred was still such a mystery, and when he did dare to bring up a topic that might lead to him unlocking some of that, the knight would make a joke or change the subject.
Besides, Alfred was his bodyguard, and it was completely inappropriate for him to even entertain the thought of romancing him.
For the rest of the ride, Arthur remained silent. He dared not stare at Alfred for fear that his cheeks would flare scarlet, and the few times that he did, that's precisely what happened. Alfred tried to start conversation a few times, but when Arthur would shake his head and ignore him, he gave up. Once they arrived back at the stables, Alfred's bewilderment turned into concern. His eyes pooled with worry as he asked Arthur what was wrong, and Arthur frowned, guilty.
"I-I'm fine," he replied as he dismounted his horse. "Just been… thinking."
"About what?" Alfred asked. He patted his horse on the head and gave him a slice of apple after dismounting.
"A lot of things," Arthur said, and he wondered why the hell he'd given Alfred such an opening to continue the conversation. Just been thinking? Seriously?
"Like?" He cocked an eyebrow.
"N-nothing. It's just rubbish." Arthur felt a blush creep across his cheeks. "I just get overwhelmed with… things. L-like my father wants me to host a ball tomorrow night, as you know. Everyone is coming and…"
A finger on his lips stopped his words. He looked forward. Alfred was so close, his index finger pressed to his lips and a warm but apprehensive expression on his face. "Don't worry about the ball. You just have to dance with a few girls. Is that so bad?"
"Not really," he sighed. "Although I daresay I'm not particularly interested."
Alfred chuckled. "Seriously though, what's bothering you so much? I mean I know events like this aren't something you enjoy, but you have to do something like this every two weeks, and you don't usually get so sulky about them. Tell the hero what's wrong!"
Arthur took a deep breath. He was certainly not going to burst out that he had developed feelings for the man, but perhaps, if he could just muster up a few seconds of courage, throw caution to the wind and not worry about what may happen to their friendship if he put Alfred off, he could at least ask…
"Alfred I'm tired of you keeping secrets from me," he managed, and his voice was tight and firmer than he'd been going for. "I-I always try to get you to tell me anything about you, because bloody hell you know so much about me. To be fair, I know that it's partly because I'm royalty and my life isn't very private, but still!" He paused to breathe. "And I'm going to be honest; you've always struck me as very… strange. Ever since I met you, you've made me feel a bit odd, like there's something you know and something you're keeping from me. And frankly, I enjoy being your friend." His blush deepened at that. "But at the same time, I- think we need to be open to each other and-"
Alfred silenced him with a wave of his hand. "I get it, Arthur." He bit his lip, and Arthur thought that he looked hesitant, which was rare for him. "I hate to say it, but you're right. I-I've never been totally honest with you. I mean, let me say right now that the way I behave… it's me, okay? Like, I'm not putting on some kind of weird fake personality or anything." Arthur's heart felt a bit lighter at that, although he said nothing. "But I did want this position as your bodyguard for a reason, and I kind of thought that maybe you'd have figured it out by now. I mean it's nothing bad or anything! I've been trying to drop hints, you know? I guess I wasn't very good at it. I mean I've never been very good at subtlety, so I guess this time I was too subtle."
Arthur's green eyes widened, and a surge of something rippled through him. His ears twitched under his hair at it, and he could have sworn he felt something shift beneath the skin of his back, but… perhaps he was imagining it.
No, he wasn't. This feeling, this strange feeling that he'd been unable to pinpoint ever since he first saw Alfred, it was something he was familiar with but something he hadn't been able to identify when confronted with it so directly.
"Magic," he whispered, and despite the fact that it was only the quietest of murmurs, Alfred heard him.
He gave Arthur a lopsided smile, one that was both earnest and sheepish. "I guess I just assumed that you'd know."
"I-I've never had anyone to teach me these things, you git!" Arthur snapped. Alfred visibly relaxed at the return of Arthur's normal attitude.
"Yeah of course." Alfred scratched the back of his head. He closed his eyes for a moment, as if to collect his thoughts. "Do you think Arthur, do you think that you trust me?"
Arthur gulped. "Well you have been keeping things from me. How many times did I try to get you to tell me things, and you'd just brush it off?"
"But I never lied to you." He let out a nervous chuckle. "The truth is, Arthur… that I kind of like you." His face heated, turning as red as Arthur's had earlier. "And so I kind of delayed doing this but…"
"I-I trust you!" Arthur blurted out, and he half wondered if he had just done so because bloody hell Arthur liked him, and he was afraid to let him finish lest Alfred clarify his feelings to be just friendship. No, that was wrong. He did trust him. Alfred had been there for him the entire summer, and he couldn't exactly hold Alfred's secrets against him, considering that he had ones of his own. Could he tell them to Alfred though? If Alfred shared his, it was only fair that he do so in return. His heart sped up. "I… honestly do." He exhaled deeply. "A-and I haven't been entirely honest. I… have some secrets of my own."
Alfred stifled a laugh. "Good!" He beamed. "I'm glad."
"Well… both things, really. The trusting and the secrets," he replied. "Anyway! Tomorrow in the morning can we meet in your room?"
Arthur paled and he gestured wildly with his hands, his green eyes large. "No, that's an absolutely terrible time. Y-you can't come in then!"
Alfred crossed his arms and huffed. "Why? I promise that I won't be freaked out by you with bedhead. Can't be much scruffier than your hair usually is!" He was grinning now, that mischievous grin he wore when he was teasing Arthur. In a strange way, Arthur liked that Alfred teased him. In fact Alfred had not really treated him like royalty for a long time. He'd stopped calling him Prince Arthur on Arthur's request, and he'd long since stopped bowing to him and observing formalities. It was somewhat relaxing to be treated as a normal person, teasing and all; to have someone speak to him as an equal. He knew it was one of the reasons he enjoyed Alfred's presence so much.
And right now he had a feeling that Alfred was just trying to lighten the mood. "As if I would be worried about something as shallow as bedhead. And my hair is quite fine as is. At least it isn't sticking up in the bloody air all the time." He gestured to the stubborn cowlick atop Alfred's head.
He just laughed. "Your hair is fine." He winked. "Although I think it would look better short."
At this, Arthur's breath caught and his cheeks pinked. "I-I can't… for various reasons. I used to wear it shorter when I was younger but…" His eyebrows crinkled. "You wear yours longer as well though, so that's not fair."
"I know," Alfred responded, fingering his golden shock of ponytail. "I'd like to cut it, but I can't… for various reasons."
The beginning of a possibility was starting to bloom in Arthur's mind, but it was… preposterous. There was no way. Even if Alfred was a magical being- he felt magic from him, he wore a cloak constantly, he wore his hair long, he was nimble and Arthur found that he could never say anything under his breath around him because he always heard. They had the same birthday. But even if he were magical, there's no way he'd be- that. And besides, that had been a human. And perhaps Alfred was human, but he definitely possessed magic of some kind.
"Anyway, tomorrow morning?" Alfred queried again.
It was reluctant, but Arthur nodded. "R-right. No secrets."
"No secrets." And Alfred pressed a kiss to his hand before running off, leaving Arthur alone in the stables.
As always happened, Arthur's back burned painfully the entire night. He was used to it by now so he was able to sleep through it despite the pain, but his sleep was still restless. This time though it wasn't just because his wings were aching to break through as they did every two weeks. It was because he knew what the morning would bring; Alfred finding out what he truly was, and him finding out what Alfred was hiding. A part of him was fearful that Alfred's secret was not as great as Arthur's. Perhaps he was just a sorcerer. As rare as they were, it would mean he was just an ordinary human who had learned magic. He on the other hand, was a crown prince who wasn't really the crown prince and was in fact not even human. Perhaps he was about to bare it all, and the truth would in fact, scare Alfred. And what was the reason he'd come here anyway? Alfred had said it was nothing bad, but… it still weighed heavily on his mind.
He woke up in the morning to the feeling of wings pushing out from his back, breaking the skin and unfolding behind him. He imagined that he looked rather like a butterfly, lying on his bed on his stomach, his shirt off and his blanket thrown aside as the great green wings shook themselves out and unfurled. As always they ached to be flown with, but he ignored it.
Arthur wrapped a blanket around his top half and sat. He didn't bother pulling his hair up into a ponytail, instead just letting it fall free (it still covered his ears), and he didn't bother sliding a shirt on (he didn't have any shirts that wouldn't smush his wings anyway). He probably looked a mess, but he found that he didn't really care. How good he looked was far from something that he was worrying over at the moment.
The minutes ticked by like hours, and Arthur realized that he and Alfred hadn't actually decided upon a time except for 'morning.' But he knew when Arthur generally woke up, so he would surely arrive soon.
His heart nearly leapt from his throat when he heard a knock on his door. It was undeniably Alfred's knock. The servants always knocked quietly, politely. But not Alfred. He knocked loudly, and Arthur knew that he would have heard it even if he had still been asleep.
Arthur took a deep breath, tightening his blanket around him and finding ease in the warm velvet of the comforter, and gulped. "C-come in," he said. It was barely a whisper, but Alfred would hear it. Of course he would.
The doorknob twisted and the heavy wooden door cracked open. Alfred stepped in, closing the door behind him and crossing the marble floor toward Arthur's bed. He was dressed as he almost always was; tunic, breeches, and long thick cloak.
"Hallo," Arthur managed.
"Hey Arthur!" Alfred beamed at him, but Arthur could sense nervousness in his voice and his posture. "So… it looks like you have bedhead after all. I knew that was your secret!"
Arthur snorted and reached up with one hand in attempt to smooth his hair. It didn't work of course, but Alfred's teasing did manage to relax him a bit. "Unlike you, I wasn't able to get bathed, dressed, and ready for this occasion."
Alfred chuckled. "Well anyway, I'm here and ready. Hero's promise fulfilled!"
Loosening the blanket slightly, Arthur nodded. "Y-yes. Quite right."
He was startled to attention when he felt the bed shift under him. Alfred had sat down next to him. "I guess I'll start. I kind of expected this to be really epic and momentous, but it just feels sort of awkward."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Go on then."
He cleared his throat, leveling his blue eyes with Arthur's green ones. "There's this story I know. I heard it growing up. It's not really a happy story, but it could be a lot worse. Do you mind if I tell it?"
"By all means do so."
"Good!" Alfred exhaled. "A-anyway. This story isn't just one story, but it's a lot of them. Because it's happened over and over throughout history. It starts out with a baby." Arthur's eyes grew wide. "It could be any baby really, and this baby is stolen away. But… something is left in return. It might be another baby, it might be an enchanted object that soon rots away and dies, it might even be something else. But when that baby is taken, regardless of what's left in its place, it becomes the property of…"
"The fae," Arthur finished, breathless.
Alfred grinned, sheepish. "Oh, so you know this story?"
"I think you know very well that I do," Arthur snapped.
He ignored that and continued. "All different kinds of things can happen to the stolen baby. Some are a lot better than others. But either way, when something becomes property of the fae… it affects them in many ways. And even if, maybe years down the line, the fae grow bored of their stolen baby, and the kid decides to leave them, the stolen child can never be totally free. That magic will never leave them."
Arthur's throat felt dry, and he stared at him, wide eyed and still, as Alfred pushed himself off the bed and stood up.
Alfred scratched the back of his head and shot Arthur a nervous smile. But then he reached around his neck and unclasped his cloak, letting it fall to the ground. And then he pulled his tunic off over his head.
And as Alfred allowed his bright blue wings to stretch out behind him, Arthur found himself breathless.
"You're Arthur Kirkland," he said, and his heart was hammering in his ears and he… didn't know how to describe what he was feeling. It was as if every emotion he'd ever felt had been thrown at him all at once.
Alfred shook his head. "No way. I'm Alfred Jones. I mean… Arthur might have been my name when I was like two days old or something? But you're the one who became Arthur."
"B-but you mean you didn't come back to claim the throne or-"
He let out a warm laugh. "Being a king would be awesome, but it would be pretty damn unheroic for me to just come out of nowhere and take it from you."
"And I thought you'd be human!"
"I was human," Alfred explained, "but I'm not any longer. It's pretty common for changelings to turn into whatever kidnapped them because of all the magic around them. I mean… it happened to a few others I met, so I guess it's common." He shrugged. "But you know I never really did feel like I fit in, so as soon as they lost interest in me, as soon as they found a new toy, I left." Arthur couldn't miss the bitterness that crossed his expression as he said this.
But by god… he was beautiful. If Arthur thought that his own wings might be beautiful, they were nothing compared to Alfred's. They were a shimmering blue, and if he tilted his head just a bit, or stared at them from another perspective, they flashed different shades and he'd notice flecks of gold dotting them. It took his breath away.
"You're beautiful," it slipped out of Arthur's mouth before he even registered it, and both of them flushed scarlet.
"Thanks?" Alfred managed, and he looked so bashful that it made Arthur's heart clench. "I hope it's not just because of my wings though."
Arthur chuckled. "Hardly."
And, managing to capture that remaining courage he needed, Arthur stood up and let the blanket to slip off his shoulders, allowing his wings to spread wide.
Alfred's face broke into a wild smile, bright and wide and just… so genuine. His blue eyes were sparkling with joy, and Arthur felt himself grow flustered under his stare.
"Don't you ever cut those off again."
"How did you… I mean you and my father have a similar hair color, but otherwise you don't look much alike, and I guess mother has blue eyes, but those aren't exactly…"
"I didn't figure it out because of that," he explained. "Actually I just managed to find a faerie willing to tell me. And then I came here, and I signed up to be a soldier… made up the names Jones myself, because fae don't have last names, and just kind of rose through the ranks and I sort of pushed for you to get a bodyguard, which worked. And the first week I was allowed in the palace, I… overheard you cutting off your wings. I mean don't worry, no one else would have been able to hear it, but you were kind of cursing at them and it was really obvious. So yeah, don't cut them off again, 'cuz they're amazing."
Arthur scoffed and crossed his arms. "I hardly have a choice. I can't let my kingdom know that their future ruler isn't even bloody human."
Alfred stepped forward, and he placed a hand on Arthur's cheek, warm and gentle. "That's rubbish, as you would say. You're whatever you want to be."
"I-I just-" he heaved a sigh, "I just want to be Arthur. I don't want to have to hide things, and I don't want my father to think that I've not been myself the past four years, because… if he only knew…"
"We should totally tell him!" And Alfred's expression was so naïve and optimistic that Arthur could only snort in response.
"Wonderful idea, Alfred. Why don't you and I just march into the throne room right now and tell him that not only am I not actually his son, but both his actual son and his unwittingly adopted son are faeries. Oh that's brilliant. I can only imagine his reaction!"
"Well it's not like he has any other heirs… so wouldn't he just have to deal with it?" Alfred countered. Arthur leveled him a glare.
"You really are an idiot."
At this, Alfred's expression grew irritated. "Maybe I am! But would you rather take this risk, or would you rather spend the rest of your life miserable because you're living a lie? 'Cuz maybe I am just foolish or naïve or whatever you want to call me, but I think I'd choose the chance at happiness."
"I can't believe you're-"
He was interrupted when he noticed that Alfred had stepped over to the nightstand, and he was now holding the very knife that Arthur always used to cut off his wings. "What in the hell are you doing?"
With a defiant expression on his face, Alfred slid the knife under the very base of his ponytail and sliced. His golden hair fell to the floor, and it was left short, his pointed ears clearly visible and impossible to hide.
"I came here because I was curious," Alfred began, "but also because… I was kind of worried. I knew how I felt growing up, like I was wrong and everything was wrong with me because I was a human brought into the world of the fae, and I hated that. And I wondered, does Arthur feel the same? I wanted him to know that he wasn't alone, because that's what heroes do."
And he felt a lump rose in his throat, and he was definitely not tearing up. Bloody hell.
"You are," he said, and he crossed the floor to the nightstand and faced Alfred, throwing caution to the wind and wrapping his arms around the taller man in an embrace, "quite possibly the stupidest person I've ever met."
Alfred returned the embrace and mumbled a questioning 'thanks?' Arthur smiled, and it was that rare, special smile that he so seldom wore. "But you are also the most wonderful. To go through all of that because…." He sniffled and ignored the few tears that fell down his cheeks. Alfred rubbed them away though, the pad of his finger causing shivers to go down Arthur's spine.
"I would have told you sooner, but I sort of came to actually really like you and," Alfred chuckled, "I've never been very good at stuff like this."
"Actions speak louder than words?" Arthur raised one of his thick eyebrows.
Alfred grinned at this, although his cheeks were flushed high. He took the pad of his finger, the one that had just been wiping away tears, and rubbed it across Arthur's lips, as if asking permission. Arthur nodded, and the pair leaned toward each other, their lips pressing together in a sweet, gentle kiss. It wasn't fierce of filled with passion, because this was too new for either of them, but it being hesitant didn't make it any less wonderful for either of them. Their eyes slid closed, and they both smiled into the kiss, deepening it and sliding hands up to shoulders and into hair and just… savoring it.
When they finally pulled apart, Arthur noticed a tear on Alfred's lash and wiped it away, just as he had done for him moments ago.
"Sooo," Alfred said, breathless, "I hear this kingdom is putting on a ball tonight, and I've been looking for someone to go with."
Arthur laughed lightly. "It would be my pleasure, but let's talk to my father first."
And Alfred embraced him again, and Arthur felt courage blossom within him. If Alfred was with him, he could do this.
Arthur didn't have any tunics loose enough to cover his wings like Alfred did, although he certainly had some thick cloaks, so he wore one of those and cut holes in his tunic to slide his wings through. It would hide them well enough, at least temporarily. Alfred just put back on the clothes he'd been wearing. At Arthur's behest, he wore a hat.
He'd also requested that everyone be cleared out of the throne room except for the king and queen, because the last thing he wanted to do was reveal this while a bunch of soldiers or ladies in waiting were in there. It was difficult enough as is.
Although Alfred had been clutching his hand the entire time, and that made it much easier.
"I've wanted to tell you for years, but I was too frightened. I mean no one even believes in magic in this kingdom, and I'm the heir to the throne but I'm not even your son and…" Arthur clenched his eyes shut. "I'm honestly sorry, father."
The first thing that the king said, once he'd explained the situation and he and Alfred had removed their cloaks (Alfred had wisely worn his wings outside his tunic, as he didn't wish to stand shirtless in the throne room), surprised both Alfred and Arthur.
"Have you come to claim your spot as heir?" He shot a glance toward Alfred, and Arthur found it difficult to read.
"Arthur asked the same thing." Alfred shook his head. "It wouldn't be fair. The throne is Arthur Kirkland's, and I'm Alfred Jones."
The king looked surprised.
"Although," he continued, squeezing Arthur's hand, "I might not mind ruling alongside him someday."
Arthur's cheeks burned crimson, and he tried to scowl but it just came out a half smile.
"You propose a partnership Sir Jones?" the king asked. "That's unprecedented."
"No, that's not what I meant-"
But Arthur cut him off. "Actually I think that's a splendid idea. Is having two rulers of equal power such a bad idea? This throne is as much Alfred's as it is mine, and as long as the two of us get along, there's no reason it couldn't work."
The queen nodded her head at this. "Honey… this does seem fair," she said.
The king pressed his fingers to his forehead and let out a heavy sigh. "Very well, but it is Arthur's choice whether to go through with this. If the time comes for him to take the throne, and he doesn't still want to share the power, he doesn't have to be."
"I won't change my mind," Arthur said with a curt nod.
Alfred's expression was flabbergasted. "Arthur, but you…"
"It's not your fault what happened to you as an infant, just as it isn't my fault," he turned to him and explained. "What the fae did was unfair to both of us, but… we can overcome that with fairness. You're right that the throne doesn't belong to you, but it also doesn't belong to me." He squeezed Alfred's hand. "It belongs to both of us."
The king nodded. "Then it is done."
Arthur grinned, and it was wide and joyous and Alfred did the same, because Arthur grinning was so special that Alfred couldn't help but react.
"As for the whole changeling thing," he continued. "I have little to say. What am I to say or do? No royal order will change what happened, and I'm not going to force my own son… sons, I suppose, to physically harm themselves to hide it. It appears that our kingdom will have to accept that magic does exist after all."
"Did you know?" Arthur asked.
"That magic existed? Of course. It's not spoken of, but as king I had to at least know of it, lest I encounter it. This is the first time I have, save a skirmish with a sorcerer who used his magic to break locks several years ago." A small smile crossed his lips at this, and Arthur felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted off his chest. Alfred grinned at him again.
The queen cleared her throat. "Should we cancel the ball tonight? Perhaps an announcement might be in order instead. "
"I think we should keep it," Alfred interrupted. "We can say something there, but to draw attention to Arthur with some huge public announcement dedicated to just that? It's just going to weird people out more. Just do it as part of the ball."
The king nodded. "That's quite astute of you, Alfred."
Arthur leaned over and whispered in his ear. "You know, if you take me to the ball tonight, he's going to know about… us."
Alfred swung their arms. "C'mon, we've been holding hands almost this entire time."
"Yes, but I think he was too caught up in the whole fae thing to really notice that, Alfred."
"I guess that's true. Well he can find out tonight then."
"Good idea. Two bombshells in one sitting may not be the best of ideas for my father," Arthur crinkled his nose a bit. "More like three bombshells I suppose… the faerie thing, and the whole your son is not your son thing, and then that." Alfred shrugged and tightened his grip on his hand. "When we get back to my room, do you mind if I call in a servant to fix your hair? It's a bit… uneven. You did cut it in one stroke with my knife."
Alfred nodded. "Oh yeah, of course. Oops? And you…"
"I'd like to get rid of this bloody long mop, and there's no reason to hide any longer, so yes, I will have them do the same for me."
He laughed and tousled Arthur's hair. "Your majesty, may we be dismissed?" Alfred asked.
The king shook his head. "Yes, of course. The ball will remain tonight. Please look your best Arthur. And you too Alfred."
Alfred pulled Arthur backward, and they began to make their way out of the throne room. "Do you know what I was thinking Arthur?"
"I'm afraid to know," he retorted, giving Alfred a gentle jab in the arm. They exited the throne room, and when Alfred was sure no one was around, he gave Arthur a quick peck on the lips.
"I was wondering… you've never flown, have you?" He cocked his head and tapped his chin, which Arthur found achingly adorable.
He gulped, and his wings ached, just for a moment. They twitched, as if responding to Alfred's question and begging to be used. "I have not. Do you wish to teach me?"
Alfred shook his head in the positive, a huge, wide smile on his face. "Yes. Oh Arthur, you'll love it."
And at this Arthur reached around Alfred's shoulder, stroking between his shoulder blades and then softly brushing the tops of his great blue wings. "I'm quite sure I already do."
-There are changeling legends all throughout Europe, and there are variations on the theme all throughout the world. Many things found in this fic is sampled from various European changeling lore- from Alfred's transformation to Arthur's transformation, to the things that might happen to changelings kept by the fae. Other things were creative licensing, like Arthur's transformation occurring with puberty.