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Chapter 9

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Thorne stretched, waking slowly, wondering for a moment why he felt so warm--then remembering with a rush of disbelief and joy that was only slightly tempered by the adjoining memory of the king's plan.

He bit his lip, pressing back against the warm, broad chest of the naga curled behind him. He was again wrapped completely in Kaven's coils, and he found himself reflecting that he didn't mind their size difference as much as he might have, because if it meant they could do this...yeah. It wasn't all bad. Besides, he was used to being smaller than everyone, but Kaven didn't make him feel awkward about it. He'd even stopped trying to make himself look taller around the prince, now, though at first he'd pushed himself higher up on his tail than had been completely comfortable...

Yawning, Thorne turned, sliding his tail against and around Kaven's as he gradually moved to face him, fingers coming up to lightly trace the other naga's face, the line of his jaw, the arch of one pale eyebrow. "You're so handsome," he murmured, very softly, before pressing his lips to Kaven's, hand falling to caress the spot where skin became scales.

Kaven's lips were still beneath his for a moment, before they responded, pressing back against Thorne's, moving a little. A few seconds later, they parted, and Kaven's tongue pushed forward, tracing Thorne's lips, then pushing inquiringly between them, entreating entrance.

Thorne's mouth opened, slowly, under the onslaught, and his own tongue pressed shyly against Kaven's, sliding hesitantly along it for a few moments before he pulled back, blushing. "Good morning..."

Kaven smiled, eyes half-lidded, the blue of the irises deeper than Thorne had ever seen them. "Good morning," the prince replied, reaching out to loop his arm over Thorne's waist. "Sleep well?"

Thorne felt his blush deepen, now that Kaven was actually looking at him, and hid his face against the prince's shoulder. "Mmhmm."

He felt Kaven shift, heard a warm, if bemused, chuckle. "Hey," Kaven said softly. "You all right down there?"

"M'fine," Thorne replied, wondering why he suddenly felt so shy. After all, he knew how Kaven felt now, knew he felt the same, he should be bowling the prince over, kissing him silly, want a replay of all they'd done the previous afternoon...but he couldn't even meet the other naga's eyes.

"You know, that'd be more convincing if you told it to my face instead of my chest," Kaven pointed out, reaching up and stroking Thorne's hair gently. Then, a moment later, his hand stilled, and he added uncertainly, "Are you...you're not sorry, are you?"

Thorne shook his head hard, looking up at that, face still red. "No! No, I'm not, not at all, I'm just..." He laughed ruefully, bringing a hand up to hide his face. "Just feeling shy, now. I don't know why," he added, tail winding more firmly around Kaven's. "Just am."

Kaven's eyes cleared, and he smiled again, reaching out and brushing the hair back from Thorne's temple. "No need to be," he said. "I'm still the same soldier boy you knew yesterday, and you're still my best friend. We just..." he shrugged, smile deepening to one of near disbelief. "We just happen to love each other, too."

Thorne wriggled, letting out a small, happy noise and again hiding his face. "We do," he agreed, wondering if he'd ever stop blushing. Could this really be real? Could Kaven really feel the same way? Well, he obviously did, but...it still seemed almost impossible. Thorne pulled back, just a little, letting his fingers wander over Kaven's chest, touching all the places he'd looked at for so long, following lines of muscle, soft hollows between them, mapping out a trail he was finally allowed to touch.

Kaven was silent, allowing him to look and touch his fill, and the larger naga's hands settled on Thorne's back, stroking gently, sliding up to Thorne's neck beneath his hair then following the curve of his spine down to his tail before moving gently back up again. Thorne heard him sigh, watched the muscled chest rise then fall again in gentle contentment, and couldn't help but grin, tail rippling happily. "I can't believe this is real," he said softly.

"I know," Kaven replied. "I've wanted you since..." he shook his head slowly. "I think since I met you," he said, sounding amazed, as though just realizing this for himself. "The first time you grinned, and it was for me, not the general's son...even after you knew who I was, that smile didn't change."

"You were still you," Thorne pointed out, blushing again and snuggling closer, tracing the lines of Kaven's tattoo, now. "It's not your fault Othalion's your father. And you were still grouchy and guilty and in pain...I'd been talking to you since I found you, didn't think I should change it when you were awake." He was silent for a moment. "Ilyria said you were cute, when we were getting you cleaned up. I told her she was married, she shouldn't notice, and she said she wasn't looking for herself and shot me this look..."

"Ilyria's pretty perceptive, when it comes to you," Kaven agreed, sighing. "Not so much when it comes to me, but...no one's perfect, I guess."

"I'm here now," Thorne said softly, looking up at Kaven, wanting to erase the memory of their months apart, if he could.

"I know," Kaven whispered, gazing down at him, face serious, but soft. "And I'm so glad of it, Thorne..." He blinked, suddenly, and drew a deep breath, before curling a little closer, pressing their foreheads together. "I know I said this before, but you really saved me, you know. Not just...not just after the attack, but when you came back for the festival, and befriended me...that morning, when I called you in to sing for me, and you insisted I tell you what was wrong..." he shook his head slowly, closing his eyes, and a tear trickled from beneath the lids, trickling over the bridge of his nose and dropping onto the pillow beneath them. "If you hadn't, Thorne, I never would have...I mean, I..."

Thorne reached up and brushed Kaven's tears away, leaning in to kiss him, very softly. "Then I'm glad I was here. I love you. You have to much to offer, can do too much good..."

Kaven smiled, shaking his head slowly. "Listen to us," he said softly. "Could we sound any more like one of your love ballads?"

"I'm already writing one," Thorne replied, giggling and wriggling a little, trying to get closer. "It's what happens when you hook up with a bard, love. Your life turns into poetry."

Kaven laughed, drawing Thorne close and hugging him tightly for a long moment. "We should get up," he said. "There's...I mean, there's a lot that needs to be done."

Thorne grumbled, burrowing into Kaven's side for a moment, before sighing. "You're right. Dammit. I'll write to Mum. When should I tell her to expect us?"

Kaven thought for a moment, still holding Thorne loosely in his embrace. "Maybe two weeks," he said at last. "Possibly three. I'm going to have to keep up appearances, so I'll have to go to Itharia, and check on the facilities there before I can justify going on a recruitment campaign. But if you want, you can go there ahead of me, and I can meet you."

Thorne snorted softly. "I'll stick with you, thanks. I'm still not letting you leave me behind, and I don't want you sneaking away while you think I'm safe with my family."

Kaven drew back, frowning softly. "I wasn't going to sneak away," he said, looking a little hurt. "I just thought...well, the trip to Itharia is a bit dull, and I'm going to be doing administrative things the whole time, and I thought you might be happier with your family."

Thorne blushed, but shook his head. "I'd rather be with you."

"All right," Kaven said softly, pressing close again, cradling Thorne in against his chest tenderly for a moment. "I'm not going to argue. I've had enough separations from you to last a lifetime."

"Me too," Thorne replied, squeezing his eyes closed. "Kaven, I'm sorry..."

Kaven drew back, frowning. "You're sorry?"

"That I...I thought you'd sneak off without me," Thorne replied, not looking up. "I'm sorry, that wasn't fair."

Kaven was still for a moment. A long moment, in fact, and Thorne felt his suspicions return, though he remained silent about them. "It's all right," Kaven said at last. "I'm still not...not thrilled about you coming along, but..." he broke off, then said, "Thorne? Can we not...not talk about that, right now? I'd like to pretend, at least for a little while, that the world isn't about to come apart around us."

Thorne nearly snorted again. Ha. So it was completely fair...gonna have to watch you closely, princeling. But outwardly he merely nodded, pressing close again. "Of course. I'd rather not think about it, myself." He kissed Kaven again, softly, before gently disentangling himself. "I'll go call for breakfast. Is there anything specific you want?"

Kaven hesitated, and Thorne paused, frowning down at him from where he was braced, halfway off the bed. "You are eating, Kaven," he said, voice stern. "If I have to watch you, I will."

Kaven chuckled, shaking his head. "All right," he said, mock-groaning. "Just...I guess just some bread and cheese."

"Hmph." Thorne rolled his eyes and rang for a page, smiling when Tash appeared a few moments later. "Good morning, Tash. Can you bring us breakfast? Porridge, those eggs Gimma makes with the cheese, sausage and, oh yes, some toast? With strong tea, as well?"

The lad nodded eagerly. "I'll bring it up as fast as I can, Thorne! Can I play for you later? I've been practicing my fingering."

Thorne grinned. "I think I should have time this afternoon. I'll let you know later, lad. Thank you." He let the door close and turned back to Kaven. "Bread and cheese? My mum would despair of you, you know."

Kaven cringed. "Guess I'm not that hungry," he said, shrugging. "But I trust your mother will feed me anyway. Just like you."

"How'd you get to be so big eating so little?" Thorne asked, shaking his head as he slithered back across the floor and climbed back into bed with Kaven. "I'm teeny, and I think I eat twice what you do."

"You use it all up talking," Kaven said. "And I eat plenty. Mother..." he trailed off, then rallied: "Mother used to love to bake. Gave her something to do. She and Gimma were good friends--that's part of why I was down there all the time. And after mother, Meema was always after me to eat more..."

"And now you have me," Thorne said, sliding the end of his tail up around Kaven's arm, lightly encircling his wrist. "And my mum always used to say that, too. That I needed the extra energy for keeping my mouth going..." He blushed slightly and shook his head. "I do it less now that I can get the songs and stories down and don't have them crowding around with everything else..."

"I like listening to you talk," Kaven murmured, pressing closer again and closing his eyes with a soft sigh.

"You'd be in for a hell of a time if you didn't," Thorne observed, tugging Kaven's wrist lightly. "Come on, princeling, time to get up."

Kaven sighed, but pulled away, pushing himself up and sliding his coils over the edge of the bed. Thorne followed, fighting back his own worry, focusing instead on keeping Kaven distracted. He chattered about this and that, telling Kaven about the new song he was composing, about Tash's progress on the lyre Kaven had bought him, about learning to bake Gimma's famous sweet rolls. Soon, Tash arrived carrying a tray, Lyra following close behind to help him with the rest of it. Thorne and Kaven both moved to help them, and gave them each a roll for their help, before sending them on their way.

It seemed to work. Kaven's face brightened some as he listened to Thorne, and he asked all the right questions at all the right times. But he wasn't eating quickly enough for Thorne to be convinced his heart was really in it, and when he'd resigned himself to tea after only one plate of food, Thorne finally sighed, dropping the act.

"We're going to make this work, you know," he said softly. "I trust you. You'll figure something out."

Kaven cringed. "I hope so," he replied. "I just...I can't believe them!"

"Neither can I," Thorne replied, setting his fork down. "And we won't be the only ones who'll think so. I'd imagine the centaur's themselves will be astonished at what they're trying." He shook his head, sighing. "If we can only hold out for two more years, find some way to stall it..."

Kaven shook his head. "It doesn't work," he said softly. "If we're at war, the king can break the pact to sign over the crown until things have stabilized."

"Oh." Thorne's lips twisted. "Lady, he's a conniving old bastard, isn't he?"

Kaven looked up, frowning. "You don't think that's why...?"

"Don't you?" Thorne asked, surprised. "It makes a kind of sick sense, especially since you've started changing things under their noses."

Kaven's eyes went very round. "You--but..." He lowered his hand, which was shaking so bad the tea sloshed over and dripped onto the table cloth. "Then this...this is my fault."

"Oh for..." Thorne got up, crossing to take Kaven's hands, looking him right in the eyes. "No, it's not. You're not responsible for the fact that Ipson is a madman who doesn't want to give up power to someone better suited for it. And taking that guilt won't change what he's doing, but it'll cripple you, keep you from finding a way around his machinations."

Kaven closed his eyes and shook his head sharply. "Yeah. Yeah, all right--sorry. You're right." He opened his eyes, drawing a deep breath, then said, "He has to keep it secret until our forces are built up, and he'll have to do that slowly or the centaurs will suspect something. We have that working for us, at any rate."

Thorne breathed an internal sigh of relief, when Kaven came back to himself, started planning once more. "Time's on our side. So is the fact that he's not exactly well loved, and no sane naga in this kingdom is going to want open war with Equestria. I never thought I'd say this, but at worst...there'll be support from the centaurs and here at home to make sure he's off the throne when he said he would be."

Kaven nodded, slowly. "I hope it doesn't come to that," he said softly. "If I challenge Ipson...well, I'll be challenging my father, too, and...like it or not, he's the only family I have."

Thorne bit his lip. "You have me and mine, but I know it's not the same...But I hope it doesn't come to that, either. I've never exactly fancied myself a revolutionary..."

"You...you mean that?" Kaven said, voice a near whisper as he stared at Thorne.

Thorne frowned. "That I'm not a revolutionary? Yeah, I mean it. I mean, I can't even argue with Mum, so I really don't think--"

"No, no," Kaven said quickly, leaning forward. "The...the other part, about...being family?"

"Well...yes," Thorne replied, blinking at him. "Didn't you know that? You could come back and stay with us forever, if you wanted to, they all care about you and like you. You're as much a part of the family as Jarrem is. And the younglings adore you."

Kaven stared at him, then smiled, slowly, looking incredibly touched. His cheeks went faintly pink, and he looked down, but nodded. "Thank you," he said, softly, hugging himself. "That...that means so much to me, Thorne."

Thorne leaned forward and kissed him, softly but thoroughly. "Means a lot to me to have you, too. Love you, soldier-boy. Don't worry. We'll figure this out."

Kaven nodded. "All right," he said softly. "I'm going to go speak to father--I think he wants me to head to Itharia tomorrow. You can begin packing for us, if you like. I shouldn't be long."

Thorne kissed Kaven again softly, before pulling back. "Will you want Tash to come along, as well? I'll let him know if you do, and he can help."

Kaven nodded, slowly. "Yeah," he said. "That'll be nice." He smiled, softly. "Almost like a family trip."

Thorne smiled, starting to clear their finished breakfast plates. "It will be. He's a good lad." He paused, and went to Kaven again, hugging him close. "Go, love. We'll have a couple weeks, at least, to pretend."

He couldn't know, then, how wrong he would turn out to be.

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Aaaahhhh! Cliff hanger! I am loving this story, like I love all your stories. I am so glad you have started this once a week update thing, I would have hated to see this story abandoned. Now though, I am going to be frantic for next week's update. Ah well, it's a trade-off. Congratulations on another excellent story. And don't worry, next time I comment I plan on leaving more interesting feedback, actually about the story.
Ragglefraggle /why/.
God damn cliffhangers and whoever invented them. D:<

(Excellent chapter, loves. I like the ones where they get to know each other just as much as the actiony ones. And Thorne, I've decided, is more adorable than anything ever. "I like when you talk." "You'd be in for a hell of a time if you didn't." xDD I love you both. To bits and pieces. For real.)
Ignoring the last line completely to focus on how wonderful it is to have them together. Kaven finally has a family again.
this is getting better and better! I'm glad they're together now but I can see just how much Kaven is freaking out inside about the plans his father and Ipson have... Thorne can be there for him and offer support but it seems that it'll take more than that to ease Kaven's heart.

And how could you end with such an ominous cliffhanger?! DX I'm dying here! Ch. 10 soon please!

Oh dear. >.< They're so happy right now, and so determined, and so hopeful. And now you're going to bitchslap them in the face with Reality and a liberal helping of Murphy's Law.

Can't wait to see it. X3

October 2009

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