Pete liked to watch the newly recruited knights from his window, high up the palace wall. Even in clunky metal suits, they wielded sword and shield with such grace and precision, dancing along on their feet like they were weightless.
Pete had never once felt weightless.
Not when he was torn away from his mother at thirteen, not when he began preparing to inherit his father’s title, and definitely not now looking down on the young men sweat-shined and muscled and knowing it was a feeling he’d never be able to tell anyone.
The royal public library is located slightly to the left of the castle, and it is about as far as his day guards would let him ‘escape’ to.
(They would complain about it, but Win got him a set of scholar robes, and Team says nothing when he dons them that afternoon.)
Pete was struck by him immediately. He must have seen this knight from his window at some point, but it was only now, seeing him up close that he could see how truly handsome he was. Skin dark and sunkissed, strong solid body visible even through the coarse fabric of his training tunic, eyes impossibly soft.
It wasn’t that common for knights to come to the libraries, and he stood out like a sore thumb, clearly lost among endless shelves of books.
Forgetting to be ashamed, Pete stares at him from his nook in the corner. So lost in his reverie, that when the knight catches his eyes, he’s nearly startled out of his chair.
The knight looks at Pete, looks down at the mountain of books that he has begun to accrue on the table in front of him, looks back up to Pete and then takes sure strides over to him.
Pete is in panic, unsure of the knight’s intent, a million possibilities run through his head, each one more outlandish than the previous.
Maybe he caught me watching the recruits and is here for revenge
Maybe he’s seen through my disguise and is here to confront me
Maybe he’s in disguise and is here to assassinate me.
(Somewhere on the other side of a bookcase, Team has his hand on his dagger, and Win has to put a hand on his elbow to keep him from tackling the knight to the ground.)
What actually happens is almost stranger:
“I’m looking for a book.”
“Y-yes.” It's a library after all. “Which book?”
His eyebrows knit together.
“That’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
“Well, why do you need it?” Pete asks hesitantly.
“What, knights can’t read books?”
Pete is taken aback by his abrasiveness, and the knight immediately regrets it.
“Sorry,” he soothes, “academia makes me nervous.”
“It’s okay,” Pete says, smiling softly at the knight’s antics. “I meant more like, what subject?”
The knight thinks about it for a moment.
“Well, I want to be a good knight- no, a great knight- I want to be the head of the king’s guard one day. I’m physically fit enough-” Pete tries not to let his eyes drift to the peek of tan biceps visible in the short-sleeve tunic. “-But I don't know anything about the kingdom, or strategy, or whatever else you need to climb the ranks.”
For a moment Pete is awestruck by the knight's passion. Pete can’t remember a time he’s ever wanted something that much.
“History,” He finally supplies. “You have to start with history.”
He recalls his own lessons with the royal tutor, you can’t make informed decisions unless you know the sum of what brought you to the point of making that decision. He pulls out a book he remembers from some of his earlier lessons. A thick, dry, tome called, Kingdom of Elbisi: a Complete History, and gives it to the knight.
Pete watches from the corner of his eye as the knight makes it all of five minutes before returning with the text.
“I don’t understand a word of this.”
Pete tries to hold back a smile and wonders if this is something he can want.
“I can teach it to you if you’d like?” He offers.
“Are you allowed to do that?”
“Well... I am at the service of the realm,” not technically a lie, “ and you’re going to be a knight of the realm- so it’s within my duties to tutor you.”
The knight looks at him quizzically for a second, and Pete prays that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart under his intense gaze.
“Okay,” he says after he’s sized Pete up. “I’m Ae, I’ll be in your care.”
“I’m... Peach,” Pete says after a moment, “And I, in yours.”
Win and Team are uncharacteristically silent on the way back to Pete’s quarters. Their silent judgement slowly creeps its way into the edges of his giddyness, and he begins to feel a familiar anxiety seep in.
They don’t say anything until they’re in the privacy of his chambers, but when they do it’s as if they’d planned it. For all Win and Team bicker, when they come together it’s as if they were made in a perfect set, standing side by side, leaving no gaps or weakness. Apart, each is a force to be reckoned with, as a pair they seem invincible. Radiant.
Pete would be lying if he said he wasn’t jealous of their strength, their unity, and- when they thought he wouldn’t notice- their intimacy.
“Peach, huh?” says Team.
They’re standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, arms crossed, looking like they are ready to take on an army rather than scold a young prince.
“It was a name my mother called me as a child,” Pete says softly.
“What’s the plan here, Pete? You’re going to pretend to be a scholar once a week, tutor that knight and then what?” Win interrogates. “What’ll you do if that knight finds out? You’re not even supposed to be in the public library in the first place.”
“He won’t,” Pete pleads. “No one has to know. Please- just for a little bit, I want to be... not me.”
Win and Team exchange a look in a language Pete does not speak.
“Your highness,” Win starts, and Pete flinches, because it’s his title. It’s what they’re supposed to call him, but they’ve been together for so long that sometimes he even considers them friends. The honorific is a cruel reminder of who he is and who he has to be, and it makes him feel so far away. “You remember what happened last time.”
Pete shivers at the memory.
“This isn’t like that. It can’t be,” Pete’s practically begging. “Ae is just someone who needs my help. I’ll be careful.”
Team sighs, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”