Coming Out Is Always Stressful
“It’s already starting to get cold again,” Franz complained.
“It’s not really,” Boey told him. “It’s still pretty hot. It’s still summer.”
“Yes, but not for much longer, and it’s not as hot as it was.”
“It was too hot before, you just like to complain.”
“And you just like to disagree with me.”
“Frederick, it was too hot before, wasn’t it?”
“Um…” Frederick looked between the two of them, and he nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Franz rolled his eyes, stung by the betrayal. “After the interminable nature of last winter, I reserve the right to dread its successor.”
“And I reserve the right to call you a wimp.”
“You suck,” Franz told Boey, sighing as he bit into a piece of toast. He glanced at Frederick. “The arrangements for the tailor’s visit today?”
“Made, sir,” Frederick told him, also eating. He’d finished his breakfast, but Boey had made him take more. “He’ll be here just after lunch. He claims the work is finished.”
“Well, it had better me, I hardly have time to commission a new outfit before the banquet,” Franz said with a shake of his head. “So hopefully he did…” He was cut off by a knock at the door.
Frederick stood, pushing his chair in behind him, and hurried to answer it. “Is Prince Franz within?” Franz heard from outside.
It was Gabrielle’s voice, so he made an effort to swallow the food that was in his mouth, sending a glance to Boey, as Frederick opened the door to admit her. “Her Highness Princess Gabrielle, my prince.”
“Thank you, Frederick.” Franz stood, giving Gabrielle a little bow. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this, your first visit to my apartments?” Under the table, Dragon got up and pushed the chairs aside to go see her.
Gabrielle snorted, patting the dog on the head. “If I’d known you were in the mood to be florid I’d have gone somewhere else instead.”
“Deepest apologies, my princess. Chair?” He offered her the one beside where Frederick had been sitting. “Have you eaten?”
“I have.” Gabrielle took the chair, sat down. Gave Boey a bit of an interested look. Dragon lay down beside her. “I figured I’d come and pick up the last of your daily flowers in person, rather than making you come to me.”
“How do you know I didn’t arrange a whole dancing troupe and circus routine to deliver you the last one?” Franz protested. “You might be ruining the whole thing.”
“You’re not resourceful enough for that. And circuses are awful.”
“True enough,” Franz would keep which part of that was true to himself. To preserve an aura of mystery. “Well, in that case, here you go.” The little box he’d been planning to bring her was sitting beside Franz’s plate, and he handed it over, watching as Gabrielle lifted the lid.
Gabrielle took the flower out of the box, a silver broach on a pin, cast into the shape of a rose. “This is lovely.”
“I wanted to give you at least one that wouldn’t wither.” Franz smiled as Gabrielle pinned it onto her collar. “And I figured something too big would get in your way while you were punching people.”
“You’re surprisingly thoughtful.”
“I don’t think the adverb was necessary there.”
“And yet there it was,” Gabrielle said, leaning an elbow onto the table, considering Boey. “I’m sorry, I’ve heard of this mysterious retainer of yours but I’ve never met him. This is Boey?”
“Yes,” Franz gestured at him, unnecessarily. “Boey, her Highness, Gabrielle ven Sancte.”
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, your Highness.” Boey had stood with Franz, but hadn’t sat back down.
“And yours as well. How long have you been with the prince?”
“Since I was seven, your Highness.”
Fuck. Franz could tell just from this interaction that any sort of misdirection wasn’t going to work. And he remembered what Boey had said the other night about how hiding in the other room had made him feel.
He couldn’t do that to Gabrielle, and he definitely couldn’t do it to Boey.
“In the south, a lot of nobility have personal retainers called companions,” Franz told her, drinking some of the bitter tea they liked up here.
“Yes, I’m familiar with the tradition,” Gabrielle told him. “You’re put together as children and raised together, yes?”
“That’s right.” Boey was giving Franz looks now, but he kept going. “The idea isn’t one of a servant, though Boey and I have let people assume that since we got here. It’s more of a…a partnership.” Franz stopped there for now, waiting for Gabrielle’s reaction.
Gabrielle was nodding, watching Franz and Boey in turns as if searching for something. Behind her, Frederick was frowning a little. “I see,” Gabrielle said after a minute. “So, what’s the extent of that partnership?”
“Well first off all, Boey’s my first political advisor. And when you’re queen you should accept him as one of yours too, since he’s a lot smarter than either of us.”
“Is that so?”
“It is,” Franz promised, even as he could feel Boey flushing beside him.
“Okay.” Gabrielle tapped her fingers on the table. “If he knows what he’s doing that doesn’t bother me.”
Franz nodded, suddenly a little dry in the mouth. He drank the rest of his tea. “Companions are also usually partners, physically speaking.” He couldn’t make himself say any more than that.
Gabrielle fixed him with a raised eyebrow, hand coming up and brushing the broach she’d just put on. “I guess that’s to be expected. Stick two people together and make them to through adolescence together and some things are inevitable.”
Franz nodded. “Normally it’s, you know, a temporary thing, part of growing up.”
Gabrielle sighed, gave a look that managed to encompass both of them. “Why are you telling me this? I don’t care if you used to have sex.”
Falling silent, Franz looked away for a minute. When he managed to raise his head again with a deep breath, Gabrielle’s expression had changed to one of understanding. “You’re not telling me this because it was in the past.”
“It’s an ongoing thing.”
Franz nodded. Frederick looked ready to swallow his tongue behind Gabrielle. But he’d needed to be told as well and telling him at the same time as Gabrielle meant that it couldn’t be used as a weapon against Franz later.
“Why,” Gabrielle asked again, “are you telling me this?”
“Because it’s not fair to you to lie about it. And you’d find out anyway, and then you’d be mad that I lied. And it’s not fair to Boey to make him lie about it.” Franz sighed. “Lying is awful and we do too much of it, don’t you think?”
“I do.” Gabrielle sat back, crossed her arms. She looked at Boey. “And what about you? What’s your opinion on this?”
Boey shrugged. “I…I always knew that Franz would marry someone who wasn’t me someday.”
“That’s not an answer to the question,” Gabrielle said. “Do you love him?”
Boey nodded, immediately and without hesitation. “I do.”
“I love him too,” Franz added, with no reservation. “And I get that’s asking a lot from you, but…”
“Shhh,” Gabrielle said, holding up a hand. “I’m talking to Boey. It’s asking a lot from you, isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” Boey admitted. “But it’s not asking anything I’m not willing to give.”
“You’re willing to give him up?”
“No.” That was even more emphatic than Boey’s nod earlier. “But I’m willing to share. I always assumed I was going to have to share him.”
Gabrielle nodded slowly, watching Boey. “I never imagined having to share my husband,” she said, and Franz’s stomach clenched. “But I guess it doesn’t bother me much. As long as you two don’t cause some huge scandal or something.”
“I’m pretty good at convincing Franz not to do things that are stupid, your Highness” Boey told her.
“I’m right here,” Franz reminded them, feeling oddly lightheaded.
“Yeah, yeah.” Gabrielle waved Franz into silence. “Seems if you’re going to be sleeping with my husband you can call me by name, Boey.”
Boey smiled at her, nodding. “It’s nice to meet you, Gabrielle.”
“Why do I have a feeling you’re the brains of this operation?”
“Because you’ve spent enough time with Franz?”
“He’s really very intelligent, I promise.”
“I’ll reserve judgement until later on that,” Gabrielle promised, with a deep sigh.
“This was a terrible idea,” Franz declared, gesturing ineffectually at both of them. “Go back to not knowing each other.”
Boey smiled, taking his chair again and putting a hand over Franz’s. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “I wish you’d told me you were going to do that, but thank you.”
Franz gave him a smile. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Oh, God.” Gabrielle said, with another sigh. “You two are just as sappy as Gavin and Owen. Why is this happening to me?”
“Because you’re such a wonderful person?” Franz asked.
Gabrielle sighed, reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a folded paper flower. She tossed it onto the table, and it landed where Franz and Boey’s hands met. “For you. One that won’t wilt,” she said, smiling at him.
“You know, I really do like you,” Franz told her. “I’m glad that the stranger I ended up stuck with turned out to be you.”
“Me too,” Gabrielle said. “You’re not the worst person in the world, at least. Neither of you are.”
“Boey might secretly eat babies for lunch, you don’t know.”
“I suppose. Tell me about yourself, Boey. Seems like we should get to know each other if you’re that important to Franz.”
Boey started to tell her, and Franz had to interrupt occasionally because he tended to leave out the good parts. Gabrielle ended up staying through lunch, and it was proven that none of them ate babies. The day ended up going a lot better than Franz had dared imagine.