Mat is Rand's, whether anyone else knows it or not. Mat/Rand oneshot.
Princes and Kings
People have called Mat many things over the years.
Clever or brash, brave and cowardly. Soldier and gambler, general or scoundrel, prince and farmboy.
What people never seem to understand is that before he is any of those things, he is Rand's.
He has never abandoned his friend (when he has abandoned every other responsibility over the years). His faith does not waver, even though the Dragon Reborn has certainly given him enough opportunities to.
The red-haired boy who used to tend his father's sheep has overthrown rulers, ruled nations of his own, brought bloodshed and armed victories to fragile peaces.
He has killed, he has hurt those closest to him, and sometimes he teeters on the verge of madness and a dead man speaks with his voice.
Still, Mat Cauthon will never, ever lose faith in Rand al'Thor (no matter the stupid names he goes by these days.)
Rand was his before he was anyone else's, before war and saidin and the thick shadow of impending Tarmon Gaidon. Before the world outside the Two Rivers was more than a far-away place in a gleeman's tale, he had Rand.
And after, ever after.
Mat remembers how it felt to be abandoned in Shadar Logoth, finding himself alone after losing Moiraine and the others when Masha'dar separated them. How finding Rand was almost as good as finding everyone else combined. If he had Rand, things couldn't possibly be that bad.
How, even as the bloody dagger poisoned his mind and stole his memories, he never doubted that Rand would look out for him. The world was dark and dangerous and deceitful and cruel, and the only person he could trust with his life was his best friend.
He remembers being blinded after Rand channelled (he found out later) that bolt of lightning. He remembers the rush of cold panic that Rand might leave him behind to the cruel hospitality of the world.
He also remembers Rand's immediate denial, the hand warm in his tightening.
He remembers clinging to Rand's hand for longer than he strictly needed to, as his vision returned slowly to him.
He remembers nights in the cold forest with unfamiliar trees shivering in the wind and blocking out the moon, and Rand curled up around him, cradling him to his chest. Rand's lips on his forehead when dreams of Ba'azalman, made more vivid by the power of the dagger, gave him nightmares that were more real than living.
He remembers the looks on the innkeepers' faces when Rand would order rooms for them after they had learned to entertain the guests in return for dinner and board, and say no, one bed will suffice without blinking an eyelash, so long as it's big.
He had loved Rand for that, and when they found the others again in Camelyn it had taken him a week to get used to sleeping alone again, to waking cold and exhausted from a restless sleep filled with nightmares.
Mat remembers a time when his biggest worry was whether he would have enough coins to buy something for himself when the peddler came. He remembers a simple, honest (boring) life in the Two Rivers.
He remembers following where his best friend led without thought or resentment. "Matrim Cauthon," his ma would say, "I could tell you a thing, and you would spend a day and a half arguing how it wasn't so, but Rand al'Thor could say the same thing, and you would walk off a cliff to prove him right."
He remembers spying on Kali al'Dorn in the river one spring morning and learning how girls are different and how their differences might be used for interesting things.
He remembers dragging Rand halfway down one of their back trails toward the Mountains of Mist until he was sure they were alone.
He remembers telling Rand what what he had learned, and as he spoke for the first time he realized what a great divide lay between boys and girls.
How did girls pick out a boy to love over all others? What did they look for? Boys his age were all the same.
Rand with his gray eyes and red-brown hair and broad shoulders, already towering over most of the men in Emond's field. He could see why girls fancied Rand.
Then another thought occurred to Mat.
His pa had friends, of course, in the village, but it was his ma he came home to every night. His ma who laughed with him and kissed him and who he spent hours late at night after Mat was supposed to be asleep, just talking and joking about their day.
And one day, some girl, whether it was Egwene al'Vere the big-eyed innkeeper's daughter or Elise Marwin or someone else, was going to take Rand from him in the same way.
Suddenly Mat hadn't wanted to talk about girls anymore.
He had tried to walk away, his friend's brow already furrowing in concern, tried to hurry back home by himself.
Rand was never very good at letting people just walk away, though. He had followed him, then walked beside him, then finally stepped in front of him and held Mat's arms in his stronger hands until Mat gave in.
"Girls are going to ruin us, Rand! Light, they take away everything. What are they good for, except making crying babies?" Rand's expression hadn't changed, and he had stood there silently, waiting, as if he knew there was more.
"A girl's going to take you away one day, Rand, and it won't be that long. And you'll probably be happy about it, burn you-" He swallows. "But… I won't be."
Then Rand had stepped up to him, closer than he'd ever been to anyone, almost close enough to...
One hand had come up off of Mat's arm, and had wrapped around Mat's neck, warm against him as he'd leaned close enough so their foreheads had touched. "That won't happen, Mat," he'd said softly.
Mat had stared up at him, wanting something and hoping for something that he wasn't able to name. He'd just shrugged hopelessly, staring into Rand's eyes, gray flecked with silvery white flecked with blue.
Rand's other hand had slid down his bicep until it was squeezing Mat's own hand, calloused and warm and hard.
They must have looked like fools, standing there so close, breathing together as Mat allowed his panic to subside. "Promise," he'd finally said hoarsely. "That even when Egwene pulls you away, you'll always come back to me."
Rand had been silent for so long, Mat was afraid that he not only wouldn't promise it, he wouldn't even be his friend anymore, that he had caused exactly the opposite of what he'd set out to do.
"I promise," Rand had said slowly, and as Mat closed his eyes in relief, he felt warmth and soft moisture from lips against his forehead. When he opened his eyes, Rand was already pulling away, looking slightly embarrassed.
Not knowing what he was doing, Mat clutched Rand's hand still in his, and Rand stilled, not drawing back but not coming closer either.
"Thanks," he'd said lamely, squeezing Rand's hand again.
Then there had been a twig cracking not far away, and he and Rand had jumped apart like they'd been caught planning a prank on the Mayor.
Perrin had stood between two leatherleafs, his shoulders, already broad after a couple of years as the blacksmith's apprentice, brushing against the tree trunks.
"Beni said he saw you two sneaking out this way. Are we going up to the Mountains again?" His tone was light, his stance untroubled, and Rand had shrugged and said they were thinking about it, but perhaps tomorrow would be better after all.
But Mat couldn't help thinking that Perrin, like all grown boys and men in the Two Rivers, was an excellent tracker - and bulky as he was, Perrin didn't crack twigs when he walked any way except on purpose.
It all comes to a head in Cairhien, in a tent heavy with the past and a future that they never could have dreamt up two years ago.
Mat has girls whenever and however he wants them, and Rand has three women who think the sun rises and sets on him. And it isn't enough, because he doesn't have Rand.
And Aviendha is with the Wise Ones for the night and Rand's Maidens guard the tent's entrance and Lan has left and they are as alone as they will ever be.
This Rand wears rich clothes and the weight of the world and yet, somehow, he's still Mat's Rand.
He steps back instinctively when Mat walks up to him, and this time Mat is pursuing and not Rand. "I could hurt you," Rand says half-heartedly when Mat reaches for his hand and slides his fingers between Rand's, and Mat knows he is thinking of the bloody One Power.
"You could," Mat agrees, making sure he sounds careless, even though his heart is beating like heavy raindrops. "You won't, though."
"How do you know?" Rand sounds genuinely curious, as if maybe Mat can tell him something that will give him more faith in himself.
Mat shrugs. He has no lofty reasoning to give. "Just do," he says, stepping closer again, until his nose is buried in the crook of Rand's neck.
Rand inhales sharply like Mat has pinched him, and slowly – ever so slowly – his hand drops down to rest against Mat's lower back.
Mat relaxes further. Everything has changed for him and Rand, but nothing has changed between them. The feeling of hope and heartache and home is still there, wrapped in Rand's scent and his muscled shoulders and strong, capable hands.
Rand drops his head to rest his nose against Mat's hair. "I missed this," he says wonderingly. "I missed you."
"Don't sound so surprised," Mat says indignantly, and Rand chuckles, drawing Mat tighter against him. They stand there for long minutes, and Mat realizes that Two Rivers is home because Rand was there.
Then Rand steps back, and Mat thinks their time is over and swallows hard. If this is all Rand wants from him, it's fine, it will have to be fine, it's better than he has any right to expect, better than he ever hoped for.
He should be fine.
"Come over to the bed," Rand says, and Mat almost trips on nothing. He follows (he'll always follow Rand, over a cliff, to the Mountains of Mist, to the end of the world). Rand tugs on his hand and pulls him down beside him, until Rand is leaning over him, smiling at him crookedly.
Mat remembers nights spent in lonely inns in lonely towns, alone in the world except for Rand al'Thor.
Rand has never dropped his eyes to Mat's mouth, though, never intimated that they were anything , that he wanted to be anything, more than friends. (Close friends, special friends, but friends.)
He has never reached a hand to run his fingers through Mat's scalp, clutching his hair in a grip that is firm but not tight. He has never hooked a leg around Mat's other side until he is straddling him, his knees tight on either side of Mat's hips.
And he has never braced one of those hands that Mat has spent too much of his life paying attention to on either side of Mat's head, and lowered his body and his lips against Mat's own.
As Mat lifts his hips up to press himself more fully against Rand's, hardness rubbing against hardness, as he gasps into Rand's mouth and Rand slips an arm down Mat's shirt until his chest is bared, then keeps moving until he is under Mat's trousers and gripping what has always been his reaction to Rand since he realized how boys and girls were different in the Emond's field Woods so many year ago.
As he loses track of coherency and Rand's body against his is the only reality that matters, Mat knows that in the morning he will have to go back to his army. He and Rand have a destiny and lives that depend on them, and they can't run away to the Two Rivers and hide until Tarmon Gaidon.
Rand has his women, and Mat has his, but that doesn't change what lingers between him and the Dragon Reborn. It's something he wouldn't be able to explain to anyone else, had he even wanted to, but it's real.
In this way, Rand is his and he is Rand's. To Tarmon Gaidon and the Breaking of the world and the next turning of the Wheel of Time, always and forever.