zodiacal_light: That is not dead which can eternal lie; and with strange aeons even death may die. (even death may die)

Thom does not remember the first time he meets Roald. Roald is just always there; well, unless he has to be back at the palace, but to Thom, who quickly forgets the long terrifying absences when Roald comes back, Roald is just always there.

This is the first time Roald meets Thom: Roald is three, and Thom is this red and fussy bundle, and Roald has no idea what all the fuss is. Uncle George, who isn't Roald's real uncle but no one cares, sees the consternated look on Roald's face and grins, and plops the baby down in Roald's lap, and introduces Thom to Roald.

Roald doesn't think Thom hears the introduction, but that's okay; Thom is just a new baby, and as he squirms and sighs and tries to shove his fist up his nose, and Roald tries desperately to keep hold of the wriggly baby, and something warm and protective fizzles up in Roald's chest.

Okay, he can kind of see what the fuss is, Roald thinks.

***

This is the first time Thom knows he has magic: he is four, and the twins are two and noisy, and Roald is in Corus and Thom just wants them to shut up. So Thom goes and sits in the corner of the nursery, and sulks, and purple light flares up around him.

Aly and Alan go quiet, and Aly starts cooing at the pretty light. Maude watches, eyes solemn but with a hint of a smile on her face, and Thom's bad mood has evaporated. He giggles, and twitches his fingers, and the purple light dances.

Alan scoots closer, his thumb in his mouth, hazel eyes wide. Aly, more active, clambers over her twin and plops herself down in front of Thom, squealing in glee and making clumsy snatches at the lights.

They spend the afternoon this way: Thom making pretty purple lights, over and over until he gets them right, Aly cooing and clapping, Alan watching quietly and gently touching the bits of purple Thom sends his way.

Thom is happy.

Then Mama walks in, and sees the purple lights dancing around Thom, and stops dead, her broad smile falling from her face. Thom is only four; he does not know about grief, or about how bad memories resurface at the worst times, he only knows that Mama was back, that Mama was happy, and that Mama saw his purple lights and is now sad.

Thom tries to smile. "Mama, look!" he says, waving some lights at her like he did to the twins. Thom is only four, so the lights only travel a foot or two; they never even come close to Alanna. But Alanna jerks back a step anyway, and Thom knows he has upset his Mama.

He puts the purple lights out, and Aly starts to cry.

Thom feels awful, and the fact that Mama hugs Alan and hugs Aly but doesn't hug him only makes it worse.

***

This is the first time Thom is in a battle: Thom is six, and Roald is nine, and Kally is at the Swoop too. The twins, Thom thinks gleefully, are still in the nursery.

Thom follows Roald and Kally, and helps them bring the hurt bird to the mage with the animal magic, and Thom tries not to show how fascinated he is with her magic, but he supposes it might be okay. Mama was the one who told them about the animal magic, and so that magic must be good magic, like Uncle Numair's or Roald's or Kally's or even Mama's.

Thom tries not to pout; he is a big boy now, old enough to be out of the nursery and helping Roald and Kally and sometimes Maude and Da. But Thom is not old enough to understand why his mama does not like his magic, but she has purple magic and her magic is good, and he is tired of hearing about how much he is like a dead man, anyways.

Thom knows he's not supposed to, but he plays with his magic anyway, when he is in his room and Mama is not there. He likes the magic, but whenever Mama sees, she gets upset and won't touch Thom. Thom likes it when Mama smiles and likes his Mama's hugs best, so he hides the magic from her and tries not to feel like he is being pulled in two directions.

He sees the worried look on Da's face, too, and in his childishness misreads it and believes that his Da doesn't like his magic, either. In reality, his Da is worried about the way Thom is growing more and more withdrawn, but Thom will not realize this for a long time.

And then the battle starts, and there is noise and breaking things and people are everywhere and some are hurt, and Da is gone up to the wall and Mama has gone off to stop an ogre and whatever she says ogres really are huge, and his Mama is short, and Roald and Kally are helping, even, and all Thom can do is tuck his favorite bear in his exhausted uncle's hands and try not to cry, because he is big now and he wants to be strong like his Mama, and even like his Da, and maybe when Mama comes back she will be happy at how brave he is.

But really, Thom only wants the battle to be over.

***

This is the last time Thom plays with Roald: Roald is a whole ten years old, now, and in the fall he will go and be a page. Thom is seven, and not happy about any of it.

"Page training is stupid," Thom says, and Roald, exasperated, sighs.

"No, it's not," Roald says. "It's the first step to being a knight. And an heir should be a knight."

"I'm an heir and I'm not going to be a knight," Thom says petulantly, crossing his arms and stomping his foot. He is acting like a child, he is acting like Aly, and he knows it, and it just makes him angrier.

Roald rolls his eyes. "You're only seven. You don't know what you want yet."

Thom loses his temper. He shoves Roald, sending the Crown Prince sprawling in the dust. "Being a knight is stupid! You're stupid!" he shouts.

Roald gets back to his feet slowly, blue eyes flashing. "Your mother is a knight. Is she stupid?" Roald hisses, and Thom's eyes fill with tears.

"I hate you!" Thom screams, running back into the keep, past an eavesdropping Aly and Alan, past his startled Da, all the way up to his room, even as some dark little part of himself whispers, yes, Mama is stupid, too.

Da comes up a few minutes later, and sits on Thom's bed and gently rubs Thom's back. Thom's sobs slowly stutter to a halt.

"What's wrong, then?" Da asks, voice soft, when Thom is calm enough to speak again.

"I don't want to be a knight," Thom says, and it's all he can think to say even though the fight was about more than that.

His Da nods, hazel eyes serious. "I didn't think you would be," he says at last, and Thom blinks, startled. "I thought you would be wantin' to go learn magic, since you have the Gift," Da adds.

Da is smiling when he says it, and Thom starts crying again, clinging to his Da's shirt and burying his face into his Da's shoulder.

This is the first time Thom and Roald fight, and Thom can never quite forgive knighthood for being the subject of it.

***

This is the first and last time Thom and his mother ever fight: Thom is ten, and Roald has been a page for three years. Thom has not seen Roald much at all; Roald is very busy, and even in the summer he doesn't have time to come to the Swoop. And now Keladry of Mindelan has been a page for a year, and Mama won't go anywhere near the palace while she's a page, so Thom hasn't been to the palace either for a whole year, and hasn't had a glimpse of Roald in just as long.

Thom misses Roald, but when his Mama brings up the possibility of page training for Thom, all he can think about is the last time Roald visited and the fight they had, and how Mama is always gone, and how he doesn't want to be a knight and Da thinks that's okay, even if Mama doesn't.

So Thom is perhaps a bit sharper than he meant to be when he snarls, "No."

Mama blinks, taken aback, and says, "Well, then, what would you like to do? You are ten."

"I want to learn magic," Thom says firmly.

It his his turn to be taken aback when Mama just goes a bit pale, but nods. "Alright," she says, leaning back. "The youngest you can enter the university is fourteen, though, although we'll need to go up there when you're thirteen for the exams."

"I want to learn magic now," Thom clarifies.

Mama shakes her head. "You're too young," she says, and her voice is getting testy now.

"There are places that accept students my age," Thom points out, trying not to lose his temper. Does Mama have to be so frustrating? "Like in the City-"

"You will go to the university or you will not learn magic," Alanna snarls.

Thom's temper snaps. He leaps to his feet, shouting, "I am not your brother! Stop treating me like I am!"

Thom knows, now, why his mother doesn't react well to his magic, and he knows exactly what to say to hurt her. Alanna surges to her feet, face as red as Thom's, nose inches from his.

"I will stop treating you like him when you stop acting like him," she says, low and savage, and Thom jerks back, but his mother's grip is tight on his arm, and she holds him in place. Purple eyes boring into his, she says, "It is the university or nothing," and Thom knows he will not be able to persuade her otherwise.

He gulps, and nods, throat dry; he does not like this side of his mother. It is too much like the side he imagines her enemies see. "Yes, Mother," he says, and she releases him.

Thom flees.

He never calls his mother "Mama" again.

***

This is the first time Thom sees Roald after Roald becomes a squire: it is June, and Roald and his new knight-master are on their way to Port Legann.

Things are unbearably awkward. Roald is fourteen, and done with page training; Thom is eleven, and waiting until he's old enough to take the university's entrance exams. Compared to Roald, Thom feels young and useless, and like he is wasting his life.

Thom cannot stop thinking about the last time he really saw Roald, and their stupid fight, and flushes in shame and cannot meet Roald's eyes.

Roald does not seem to remember it at all, though in truth Roald does, and has gotten over it. Thom is different, Roald thinks, shyer and more awkward than he remembers. There is a nervousness to him that Roald does not recall at all.

Roald is different, Thom thinks. He is older and wiser, and much calmer. Being the Crown Prince must force maturity on one early, Thom thinks, with a rare flash of insight. He sneaks another look at Roald, sitting on the cliff with him, looking sharp and neat in his knight-master's colors, and blushes again.

"I hear your father is negotiating with the Yamani for a wife for you," Thom says, desperate for something to break the silence.

"Yes," is all Roald says, staring out over the sea.

Thom is not sure why that hurts so much.

***

This is the first time Thom is ever kissed, aside from familial ones, anyway: Thom is thirteen, and is on the doorstep of the Royal University, terrified out of his wits.

Roald appears out of nowhere and tugs Thom off into an alcove; he forces his fretting friend to sit down on the bench. Thom, wringing his hands, complies.

"What are you doing here?" Thom says. "I thought you'd be elsewhere. With your knight-master," he adds absently.

Roald shrugs, a graceful movement that draws Thom's eye. "Lord Imrah has business here in Corus." He eyes Thom keenly, and Thom twitches and averts his gaze.

Roald's cool fingers on his chin force Thom's head up. "Besides," Roald says softly, "did you really think I'd not be here to wish you luck?"

Roald's eyes are very blue, and though Thom is flushed and sweating in his nervousness and the summer heat, Roald is cool and dry and perfect.

Roald leans forward and presses a soft kiss to Thom's mouth. "Luck," Roald says, standing and steering Thom back out into the university hallway.

Thom goes through the exams in a daze. He is shocked he passes.

***

This is the first time Thom meets Nealan of Queenscove: his mother has just taken Queenscove on as her squire.

The man is eighteen, just a bit over a year older than Roald, and is apparently Roald's friend.

Thom tries not to feel jealous and fails.

But then the affable young man drops into a chair next to where Thom is sitting in the Swoop's small library, reading some ancient history his Grandda gave him, and says, "Your mother says you're going to the university."

Thom remembers, abruptly, that Neal had attended for a time. He shoots the squire a nervous look, swallows, and nods.

Neal smiles. "She sounds very proud of you."

Neal loses the smile when Thom pales, but sits with Thom until Thom has recovered himself, and never mentions anything about the moment again.

Thom is oddly grateful.

***

This is the first time Thom sees Shinkokami: the Yamani delegation has just arrived in Corus, and Thom and his whole family go to the palace to pay their respects.

It is the first time Thom has been at the palace since Mother fought with the King over Keladry. Thom would ordinarily be thrilled to have a chance to see Roald again, but Roald has to attend his fiancee.

Thom touches his lips softly and frowns.

He takes a perverse pleasure in noticing how bored Roald looks when talking to his princess.

***

This is the first time Thom and Roald have sex: Thom has just entered the university. He is nervous, giddy, and overwhelmed; he is away from home, away from the familiar, and about to learn magic.

Thom's dorm is small, but he likes it that way; Thom has never been one for big spaces. It is impersonal, but that only means fewer distractions.

Thom is riding high on this feeling of overwhelming, tremendous freedom and the giddy high of finally doing what he wants to do with his life, when Roald shows up.

Thom does not ask how Roald knew which room was Thom's, or how Roald got away from his knight-master, or what Roald is doing in Corus, or even how Roald apparently managed to open a door Thom was sure he'd securely bolted. He just throws himself at his friend, wraps his arms around a startled Roald's neck, and pulls him down into a kiss.

Roald responds too fervently for a man as good as married, and as they struggle out of their clothes, Thom does not care that he is only fourteen, or that Roald is three years older, or that Roald is engaged to Shinkokami of the Islands, or that there are any of a hundred other reasons why they shouldn't be doing anything.

Thom just cares that this is Roald, that Roald wants him, and that Roald is here now.

It is awkward, but Thom is always awkward, and it is messy, which Thom minds a little more, but Thom is ultimately too happy to care.

This is also the first time Roald leaves before morning.

***

This is the first time Thom hates being at the university: he and Roald have had precisely six months together when the Grand Progress begins, and Roald has to leave with Shinkokami, his parents, and what seems like every noble in Tortall; for one and a half years, the Progress will take him all over the country.

But Thom is a university student, and their studies are not put on hold for such trivial things, and Thom, really, has no excuse for taking a leave of absence.

He almost does, anyway. Two things stop him: the knowledge that Roald values duty and perseverance, and the knowledge that he would not get to spend the time he wants to with Roald, anyway.

And it would be too dangerous to continue this affair under the eyes of every noble in Tortall, and besides, Roald has Shinkokami.

Thom does not realize until later that he hadn't even considered how much such an absence would set back his studies.

***

This is the first time Thom leaves the university since arriving: Prince Liam shows up at Midwinter and bangs on the door until Thom, exasperated, opens it.

He very nearly closes the door in the Prince's face. He and Liam have never gotten along.

But Liam is no more stupid than his older brother, and sticks a foot in the door before Thom can close it, and then bodily drags Thom up to the palace.

This is not the first time Thom has cursed his lankiness, but it is the first time he has done so out loud in Liam's presence.

Liam just laughs, for once not making a nasty comment, and drops Thom off in front of a small chapel.

It is the Chapel of the Ordeal.

Thom represses a shiver, and Liam leans against the wall next to him.

This is the first time Thom can remember Liam being kind.

***

This is the first time Thom has sex with Roald in Roald's room: he and Liam catch Roald as Roald staggers out of the Chamber, alive and more or less sane. They steer Roald to his room, and Liam winks at Thom and leaves, shutting the door securely behind him.

Thom does not even have time to process the meaning of that before Roald is on him, pressing him up against the wall, hands touching Thom everywhere, harshly, as if reassuring himself that Thom is really there, really solid, and there is some feverish urgency burning in Roald's eyes.

The sex is rough, and urgent, and more about connection and simple touch and banishing Ordeal terrors than about love or pleasure, but Thom doesn't mind. Roald is his friend, and Roald needs this, and Thom needs to be needed.

Later, when they are finished and he is calm again, Roald leans over Thom and gently traces the bruises left on the younger man's skin, runs one gentle finger along Thom's split lip, a silent apology in his eyes and his touch.

Thom just grins wide and recklessly, exhausted and giddy.

Roald snorts softly, and heals the marks he's left with soft flashes of blue.

This is the first and last time Roald is ever rough with him.

***

This is the last time Thom sees Roald before the war starts: the Progress is about to resume, and Thom is back at the university.

Thom has also decided he hates mathematics, which he tells Roald in lieu of a greeting when Roald stops by.

Roald huffs his silent laugh and takes a seat on Thom's narrow bed, amusement glinting in his eyes as he watches his friend wrangle with his assignment. Finally, he snatches the papers gently from Thom's hands, and pulls Thom over to the bed.

"I have to leave tomorrow," Roald says, hands resting lightly on Thom's hips.

Thom is straddling his lover, toying with Roald's black hair. He can't think of a response, so he just pats the top of Roald's head. Roald huffs another laugh, and pulls Thom down for a kiss.

Thom does not want to think about that now, and Roald is happy to distract him.

***

This is the first Thom hears of the war: Squire Nealan pulls him aside in the hallway between classes, and informs him that there have been Scanran attacks along the coast.

Thom knows what this means; Pirate's Swoop is one of Tortall's key sea defenses. The Scanrans may not be attacking that far south yet, but it is only a matter of time.

Thom thanks Neal quietly, then goes to class. He is here in Corus, and there is nothing he can do.

***

This is the first Thom hears of the killing devices: Alan, arriving a month early, kicks Thom's door until Thom admits him, then drops into the only chair and starts rambling on about all manner of gossip, as if he hasn't seen Thom in years.

He hasn't, Thom realizes abruptly. Thom hasn't seen any of them except in passing since he entered the university.

Somewhere in the muddle, Alan mentions strange metal monstrosities attacking soldiers on the front, and blinks as Thom pales.

"Ma's okay," Alan says, but that's not who Thom is worried about.

After Alan leaves, Thom throws himself into studying war magic, and the teachers, knowing themselves how desperate the devices will make a war, do not object.

***

This is the first news Thom has of Roald: a knock on his door pulls Thom from his book. He has no idea who it could be; the knock is more delicate than that of anyone he knows, except for Roald, who never knocks at all.

It is Princess Shinkokami, unaccompanied.

Thom, startled, forgets to bow, but Shinkokami doesn't seem to mind. "Roald is coming home soon," is all she says, before bowing slightly and turning to leave.

Thom has not heard anything about Roald in over a year. "Is-" He cannot finish the question.

Shinkokami turns back, grave and graceful. "He is well," she says simply.

Thom bows to her deeply. When he looks up, she is gone.

***

This is the first time Thom sees Roald again: Roald is in Thom's room waiting when Thom returns from the evening meal. Thom, startled, drops his apple.

Roald gracefully retrieves it. "I came as soon as I could," he says.

Thom nods. He knows.

Roald is looking at Thom keenly. "Did you leave the university at all while I was away?"

Thom shakes his head. No, he hasn't, because Roald wasn't there, but Thom knows better than to say this.

Concern flashes through Roald's bright eyes. He draws Thom down to the bed, and kisses him gently, as gently as if they have never kissed before, and whispers, "Well, I'm here now," and Thom remembers that this man knows him too well.

Thom deliberately does not think about the fact that Roald has returned to Corus for his wedding.

***

This is the last time Roald meets with Thom before he is married: Thom has been dragged up to the palace to attend the wedding, and despite his protests has been assigned a room there. His mother knows him well enough to know he isn't likely to make it in time if he has to walk from the university; his Da, who knows him better, knows that Thom will skip the wedding on purpose unless someone forces him to attend.

Roald comes to Thom's room that night. "I wish I didn't have to marry Shinko," he says, and it is the first time Thom has ever heard Roald express doubt about the whole thing, or any opinion about his marriage at all.

Thom doesn't know what to say. They both understand duty, and Thom has always grown up with its bitterness.

This time, it is Thom who leaves bruises on Roald's skin, and Roald makes no objection. He simply heals the bruises in the morning and departs before the sun has properly risen.

It is the first time Roald has ever stayed the night.

Roald and Shinkokami are married the next day. Thom still manages not to attend.

***

This is the first time Thom and Roald have sex after the wedding: it is two nights later, and they are more rushed and more secretive than ever, because even if Shinkokami is understanding, others won't be, and while youthful dalliances may be tolerated, an affair between the married Crown Prince and another man isn't acceptable at all.

This time sets the pattern for every time they meet thereafter, and Thom cries himself to sleep in Roald's arms.

Roald is gone long before dawn.

***

This is the first time Roald has stayed the night since his wedding: Aly has vanished, and Alan has had a total mental collapse, and Thom is at his wit's end.

Roald stays over as often as he can, helping Thom with Alan, helping Thom hold himself together, and letting Thom weep on his shoulder every morning.

Thom does not think about that summer too much.

***

This is the first time Thom hears of Shinkokami's pregnancy: Alanna comes to force her son to attend New Year's festivities at the Swoop.

"You haven't been home in five years," Alanna snaps when Thom protests, and Thom is shocked to realize he hasn't been.

It is over supper that it is mentioned. "And the Princess is pregnant," Alanna says. "Every indication is of a healthy pregnancy so far."

Thom jerks, and barely avoids knocking over his glass.

"And things seem to be goin' alright for our Aly," Da says, neatly changing the subject. "Or at least as well as things could be."

"She'd better be alright," Alanna mutters, warming to this new topic. "That fool girl."

Thom sighs softly in relief, then stiffens again when he realizes his Da is watching him.

***

This is the first time Thom speaks of Roald to anyone: he is in his old room after supper. A cursory knock on the door is all the warning Thom has before his Da enters.

For a long moment, there is silence. Thom sits on the edge of his bed, head down, fidgeting with the pages of a book he has to read for science. George stands in front of his son, hands in his pockets.

"Thom."

Thom's hands still, but he does not look up.

George huffs a sigh, and drops down to kneel before Thom. He forces Thom's chin up. Thom's greenish eyes deftly manage to evade George's own.

"I know you're in love with Roald," George says softly.

Thom's face is bone white, and his expression is fixed. His eyes stare glassily off into the distance.

George gently brushes overlong red strands of hair out of Thom's face. "You're sleepin' with him, aren't you?"

There is nothing but soft understanding in his Da's voice, and that is what finally breaks Thom.

"Yes," Thom says, and he slams his book shut and flings it aside moments before he breaks down completely. He buries his face in his hands, but his Da gently pries them apart and pulls Thom forward into a hug, just as he had when Thom was a little boy.

Just like then, Thom cries on his father's shoulder.

***

This is the last time Thom ever speaks to his mother: she is in the sitting room when he comes downstairs that morning.

"Thom," she calls, and her tone brooks no argument.

Thom enters the room reluctantly; he has his suspicions as to what this is about. He is right.

"What's this about you sleeping with Roald?" she asks, getting right down to business.

Thom says nothing, but the silence is confirmation.

Alanna's fingers tap her knee in an unmistakable warning sign. "Let me get this straight: you're carrying on an affair with the Crown Prince? The married Crown Prince? The married Crown Prince who is currently expecting his first child?"

Thom nods.

Alanna raises her hand to strike him. Thom flinches.

The blow never falls. Thom risks a peek at his mother; she is sitting there, deathly still, her face bloodless and her upraised hand trembling. Slowly, she lowers her hand. "Get out," she says, voice low and dangerous.

She did not hit him, but he would swear he can feel his cheek stinging anyway. Thom backs up to the door and grips the doorframe.

"I'm not sorry," he says.

Her hard voice follows him out into the hallway. "You should be."

***

This is the first time Thom meets Lianokami: she is just a few days old, and Roald has turned up at the university, beaming, to drag Thom back up to the palace.

Shinkokami, when they get there, is uncharacteristically ranting at a sympathetic Yukimi and confused Nealan about the scribe who messed up the spelling of Lianokami's name; Roald rolls his eyes and drags Thom bodily over to the bassinet in the corner.

"Her name is Lianokami," Roald says, and Shinkokami rolls her eyes. Yukimi hides her snort behind her fan.

Thom is staring down at the tiny girl, watching as she snuffles in her sleep. Without thinking, he reaches out to twitch her blankets straight. Thom jerks back, suddenly awkward, to find both Roald and Shinkokami watching him, Shinkokami with gentle eyes and a soft smile on her lips, and Roald… Roald's eyes are smoldering.

Thom has to forcibly remind himself that it's a bad idea to jump the other man while they are in a room with the man's wife, her best friend, her best friend's husband, and their infant daughter. Thom swallows, and looks away.

Behind his back, Yuki and Neal exchange knowing glances.

***

This is the last time Thom goes anywhere near the Chamber of the Ordeal: Alan is in there.

Thom is pacing in front of the doors, has been pacing since Alan entered, and Roald and Shinkokami are sitting as close as they can. The doors to the chapel open, and George escorts Alanna in; George, seeing the state of his eldest, steers Alanna to a seat by the far wall.

Alanna opens her mouth to protest, but the squeal of the Chamber's door cuts her off.

Alan strolls out, perfectly at ease.

Thom stops dead, stares, and then lunges for Alan, dragging him off bodily before anyone can think to protest.

Alan is sane enough, Thom tells Roald later, when Roald comes to ask. Roald nods, and relays this to his father, and Alan is knighted at sundown.

Roald does not come back that night, but he stops by the next morning, and gently wakes Thom with a kiss.

This is the first time Thom has been woken up in such a manner. He wishes it could happen more often.

***

This is the last time Thom sees his sister: Alan is actually getting married. To Keladry of Mindelan, of all people.

Thom has always supposed Keladry must be someone special, to do what she did and stop the killing devices, but now he is sure of it. It takes a very special person to be able to deal with his brother.

But Keladry seems well-suited to Alan, and doesn't bat an eye when her husband-to-be shows up to their wedding in a dress. Her eyes do bug out when Owen of Jesslaw shows up in a dress, too, but that, Thom thinks, is understandable. Owen does not wear dresses well.

Aly is there, of course; she might not be able to come back for much, but she can come back for her twin's wedding. Alan, though, is still too fragile over her to handle her presence, and it falls to Thom to keep her distracted.

Aly, Thom thinks, has still not learned when to leave well enough alone.

The wedding is nice, though, and it becomes all the nicer when Neal gently taps his shoulder and discreetly whispers in Thom's ear when Aly is off talking to their mother.

"Roald's here," is all Neal says, and Thom immediately searches the hall for him, blushing brightly at the other man's soft chuckle. Neal jerks a thumb towards the stairs, and Thom gets the message.

Alan and his wife are starting to ignore their guests, so the party breaks up and Thom, relieved, sees that Nawat has taken charge of Aly. They are due to leave the next day.

Roald is waiting patiently on Thom's bed, and though Thom is terrified the whole time that his mother will somehow know, he goes to his lover anyway.

Although he doesn't know it at the time, that wedding feast is the last time Thom will see his father, either.

***

This is the last time Thom sees his mother: his Da has died, at fifty-five, of a sudden heart attack.

It is the King himself who shows up at Thom's room to deliver the news. Jonathan watches as his godson goes dead white and stares mutely at him.

Jonathan knows there is nothing, really, to say, so he simply asks if Thom would ride to the Swoop with him. Thom, knowing he cannot really refuse and equally certain his mother set it up that way, nods.

The funeral is held the day after they arrive.

It is a typical autumn day at the Swoop: crisp, clear, and salty, with fog in the morning. The ceremony is simple and standard; the mood is bitter.

Alanna stands to one side, near the grave; King Jonathan, after a reproachful glance at a stone-faced Thom, goes to stand with her.

Thom stands back; Alan, who has turned up in a dress to their mother's ire, stands next to him, weeping into one of his wife's many handkerchiefs. Kel stands solidly at her husband's back, murmuring a quiet Yamani prayer under her breath to ease her father-in-law's passing.

Aly never shows up.

Thom, eventually, turns to leave; Kel stops him with a hand on his arm. "Prince Roald told me to tell you he'd see to your things back at Corus," she said softly.

She is not soft enough. Alanna hears, and turns to glower at her eldest.

Jonathan, seeing her cold stare, reminds her, "Thom is the baron now." Jonathan hopes it is only grief making Alanna seem so hard; he doesn't want to think about what might make her so angry at her own child.

And Thom freezes. He is the baron now. He has a duty here, and he can no longer hole up in his room at the university.

His mother seems to realize the same thing. She graces him with a particularly sharp-edged smile and murmurs, "So he is," and goes inside.

The next morning, Alanna is gone. Kel informs Thom that his mother has gone off to her tribe to grieve.

This is fine with Thom, because now he can grieve as well.

Alanna never returns from the desert.

***

This is the last time Thom and Roald have sex: Thom, Baron of Pirate's Swoop, has come to Corus for Midwinter at his lover's request.

Thom does not like Corus. It is too busy, and too bright. Thom prefers the Swoop, with its bare stone and empty halls and silence and privacy. Thom knows Roald prefers the Swoop, too, but Roald cannot come down as often as he likes, and so when he requests Thom's presence, Thom doesn't have the heart to refuse.

It is Lady Yuki who shows Thom to his room and leaves him at the threshold with a secret smile. Thom is only mildly surprised to find Roald there waiting for him.

Their lovemaking is slow and gentle and deeply passionate, and Thom whispers a three-word confession into Roald's ear as they lay entwined on his bed.

Roald pulls back slightly to look at him with blue, blue eyes. "I love you, too," Roald says.

Something deeply fractured and long buried inside Thom heals a little as he realizes Roald is serious. Something else in Thom is not surprised at all.

They have always been in love.

It is the first time either of them say it aloud, though.

***

This is the last time Thom ever sees Roald: five months after their Midwinter confession, a plague strikes Corus.

Little Liano is dead by the time Liam makes it to Pirate's Swoop. By the time Liam has pried Thom out of his keep, Roald is on his deathbed.

He is only thirty-three, Thom thinks. Thom himself is just shy of his thirtieth birthday.

Liam drags the unresisting mage up to Roald's room, ignoring the dark look on the Queen's face, and pushes him into the chair by Roald's bedside that Shinkokami has just gracefully vacated.

Thom sees nothing but his dying lover. He registers the presence of none of the other people in the room. He hears none of Thayet's sharply murmured questions, hears none of Shinkokami's quiet replies or Liam's angry retorts. He does not see the King, sitting in the seat across from him, staring at his face with red-rimmed eyes gone wide in realization. He does not feel the gentle touch of Shinkokami's hand on his back, or the tight grip Vania has on his arm.

Thom fumbles for Roald's hand, and grips it tightly in both of his. Roald barely twitches; his hand is icy. Thom collapses, falling forward to press his forehead to that limp hand.

He is weeping, and he does not care. He does not even notice.

Roald dies without ever fully registering Thom's presence.

This is the last time Thom ever leaves the keep at Pirate's Swoop.

This is the last time Thom says anything.

***

This is the last message Thom gets from the King: it is a simple plea, to serve his son as loyally as his family has always served the Crown.

Thom snorts at the irony of that, and burns the message.

It has been ten years since Roald's death, and Lianokami's. It has been three years since Liam's death in yet another idiotic war, and Lianne and Vania have long since been married outside of Tortall.

So, Jasson is to be king, Thom thinks, and laughs. Jasson is like Aly, too impulsive, too rambunctious, too easily bored.

Look at how Tortall has fallen, Thom mouths at his reflection, and laughs again.

***

This is the last time war comes to Pirate's Swoop: a Carthaki fleet sails up the coast, and Thom sees it in his mirrors long before his man-at-arms runs up to tell him.

They are all scared of him, the people of the Swoop. Thom cannot fathom why.

Jasson has been on the throne for eleven years, now, and Thom is vaguely surprised it took Carthak this long to attack. Kally must have still had some mild sentiment left in her, after all.

Thom is suddenly angry, angry at these people who dare to attack his home, Roald's country. He is angry at his old friend, for turning on her people and her country and her little brother.

Deep purple mage fire annihilates the entire fleet.

It is the last time Thom ever goes outside.

***

This is the first time Thom sees Roald: he is standing over Thom's bed, youthful and vibrant and gently expressive, with none of the shadows war, or the Ordeal, or secret affairs left in him. He is smiling down at Thom, and Thom smiles back, surprised at the ease with which the expression comes to his lips.

He has not smiled for fifty-three years.

This is the first thing Thom says to Roald: "I love you," he whispers, a perfect mimicry of his confession half a century and more ago, and Roald smiles and says, "I love you, too," and it is as if it is that moment again, or still.

This is the first time they touch, and it is like they have never touched before, it is like they have never stopped touching each other.

This is their first kiss: deep and sweet and Thom feels young again, and realizes distantly that he is finally dead.

It does not matter.

This is the first and last moment of the world, and it is eternity.

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zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
Alix

October 2013

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