Notes: Written for Mel (aka, melbell-lings on tumblr) who is lovely and wonderful and writes the most beautiful RusCan as well as so many other pairings. Please check out her fic at her tumblr or at her ao3 under the same name! :3
Arthur is more than a Knave but less than a King to the throne of Spades. His brother, Alfred - born a year later - is the official winner of succession as inheritance when their father passes away, leaving the two boys alone. (Well. Almost alone. You cannot possibly be alone when you have a kingdom.)
He doesn't understand why his father did what he did, even though his father attempted to explain it.
Arthur was eldest. Arthur should've been King. Arthur was more mature anyway! Why not Arthur?
The feeble words his father croaked on his deathbed float back to him in watery recollection: "I don't want you slaying your brother in ambition for the throne. No bloody chair is worth enmity between brethren."
Arthur had said he wouldn't, really, he'd never, couldn't dream of it! But his father had argued, "Oh yes you would. You take what you want, that's how Kings do. You already act the part and you're not even King yet." And at this rate would never be! But his father had continued - "It's got to be the two've you. Together. Break the cycle, you see, it's been generations of two brothers slaying each other. Don't let that be you. Don't let me watch you doing it. But you'll rule all the same."
"I don't understand?" Arthur had asked.
His father had laughed a dry rasp and elaborated in increasingly laboured speech, "Between you'n me, that brother'f yours shall never take a lady'n make heirs. Not built for it, his heart isn't drivin' him that way. Or he would've gone an' done it already."
"Dad, he's only after turning fourteen," Arthur said flatly.
"I know," his father replied. "Oh, I know. Believe me, I know how young you boys both are."
Arthur had been fifteen at the time, and had already begun his mental selection of Queen. (He had assumed he would need to pick one eventually; he thought he might as well get started.)
There had been that extraordinarily beautiful woman with dark hair, but she was married off to the Club King last year. Too late; Arthur had been too young to try his hand himself. There was a Seven, busty and sweet. Good cook, good woman, would've been an excellent Queen Mother, and he would've taken care of the rigour and terror of running the rest of the place to ward away her tears. But Hearts had picked her up not long after she made a court appearance, to his dismay.
Lastly there was a Six that he'd known since he was a brat. She was a merry girl, mouse-brown hair tied back with a ribbon, a lovely smile, with thick thighs and great hips and oh, all the curves he'd ever loved in women. And Hearts had gone and snapped her up too!
And so, here they are, entertaining the delegation of Diamonds for the ninth month in a row. And even though their King is already married Arthur is fairly certain he's made his way into his brother's bed. Bloody improper.
It isn't political between them. It can't be, a match to a man already wedded? That wouldn't work. (Typical Alfred, in flagrant violation of the rules that kept this place together.) Men could have their affairs all they pleased, and Arthur doesn't understand why Alfred can't just get the marriage bit over with. Why, if it weren't for Arthur, the Kingdom would have become unstable without a Queen, heirs, the usual rigmarole of cogs and springs of royalty that lent itself to a finely oiled machine of society.
Which, Arthur supposes, might be why his father had done what he had done. Two brothers, rule together. Just as stable. Nobody needs a loveless marriage.
Because there is nobody in Diamonds that he can envision being his Queen.
But there was one he could envision being in his bed, and Arthur - entirely too prepared for the crown - had felt that as a royal member high in house Spades, he took what he wanted.
"My brother," the King, Francis, had introduced. A youth, taller than Arthur, about Alfred's height - with bright eyes and soft blond curls. Handsome. Like Francis (unfortunately). Cheekbones like marble, jawline strong. Masculine, there was no doubting that.
"We're not really brothers," the boy had shyly stammered out.
"Your father is my father. That is close enough where it counts," Francis had replied with a beatific smile, which had made Alfred practically swoon, and Arthur begin to salivate.
He wasn't nobody, but in a strange way, he was nobody. Recognised as good as a brother, but a bastard. The boy - Matthew, Arthur found, when he cornered the youth in his halls and pressed him up against the wall behind a tapestry - was very much like Arthur himself in that way. One and yet not one, a beautiful contradiction.
Arthur would never take him as Queen - the very thought was laughable! But took him he did, to his room. To his bed, where Arthur gave in to delights and pleasures he'd dreamt of but laid aside in his ambitions. The sight of long golden curls spread on his pillows, Matthew's eyes staring up at him, begging, pleading for release, scrunched shut in ecstasy when Arthur finally obliged the requests his body made louder than Matthew ever would - Arthur could understand why Alfred picked this exclusively. And how Matthew curled in his arms later, sweat-moist and still panting hard, and Arthur caressed his body like he owned it.
Because in a way he did.
Because that was what Kings did, they took what they wanted, because they were King. And lord but did Matthew ever make Arthur feel like a King.
Yet it made sense, in his sort of twisted logic way. Matthew was like Arthur. Alfred was like Francis. Two sets of brothers. Two Hearts, two Diamonds. All high (well, excepting Matthew, he was a Two - rather cruel of Francis; Arthur would've made him his Knave on the spot). That was a good hand, wasn't it? Didn't that make sense?
And certainly Matthew never complained about taken. Never complained to his face nor in rumour behind his back; no, he spread his legs willingly, he thrust back and canted his hips to meet Arthur's own, he wrapped his arms around Arthur's shoulders and drew his face near to kiss his mouth with a dying desperation. Arthur made him sigh and moan and purr contentment every night. The youth could not complain about that.
But nothing ever comes easy to Arthur, he reflects, as he watches from a high turret the delegation from Clubs riding towards their walled city, announcing their arrival, four weeks early.
As part of the greeting, they line up in what is sort of an order, but Francis insisting on being next to Alfred has Matthew somewhere on the Diamond side, away from Arthur. Arthur wishes he were closer. Four weeks early is strange; strange is almost always not good.
"All in green," Yao, Knave of Spades, murmurs next to Arthur. "A handsome procession."
The riders at the head of the train with banners stop a few lengths ahead so that the carriage in which ride the Queen and King is positioned in front of Alfred and Francis, who are the only ones with heads aloft. The rest of them - Arthur included, much as it stings him - kneel in subservience at the sound of an opened door, face-down.
Steps, and then an announcement: "Her Royal Highness, Erzsébet of Clubs," is called.
A young woman's voice says broadly, "You may rise."
Eva II of Diamonds - Francis' wife - is tiny, so tiny and frail that Arthur doubts she has bled yet. He further suspects that her tightlacing is what keeps her upright. But a girl bride is not uncommon. Arthur had once wondered how she could take the lusts of her husband before he realised her husband was willing to wait, and more interested in entertaining other kings in the meantime while she grew.
Erzsébet is her perfect contrast: dark where Eva is light, a warrior, an Amazonian, curvy and generously endowed, a symbol of power and strength. Arthur admits it, her suit becomes her. It's a right proper shame she was too old for Arthur himself. Before, he would have leapt mountains and swam oceans for her.
Next to him, Yao clears his throat, and Arthur finally takes his eyes off the Club Queen.
The King apparently does not ride with his Queen in the procession, in their land, because a man dismounts from his place behind the carriage and sweeps his long cloak into an elegant bow. He isn't wearing the crown but there's no mistaking him. "I honour the Kings Diamond and Spade!" he says brightly.
"Ivan," Francis replies, and the man straightens and beams.
"That is me! But please, Vanya! We will all be friends here, very good friends!"
Good friends don't come so early that the house is ill-prepared, Arthur thinks acidly, and then provoke the help into a tizzy to prepare rooms that aren't ready. But he says nothing because of course he is in the presence of his betters and since Alfred does not observe rules, one of them has to.
"Francis, of Diamonds," Francis says, by way of introduction. Ivan - 'Vanya', honestly - grins and clasps his hands on Francis' shoulders to grab him close and kiss his cheeks, once the right, then the left, then the right again. Honestly! Arthur would've been mortified - and beside him, Alfred is shocked into a silent stupor. But Francis, for his part, doesn't look flustered. Of course the Diamonds and Clubs have had an alliance East-West for decades; likely Francis is habituated to their strange customs.
"And this is the King Spade," Francis continues. Ivan is less boisterous with Alfred, and kisses only once.
"Very glad to meet you at long last," Ivan says.
"You too," replies Alfred. Arthur knows his brother - he is being distant. The same is likely of Ivan although Arthur knows him less well.
"Ah yes, and even the kinglet is here," observes Ivan, pausing in front of Arthur.
"You're well aware I prefer the term prince-in-reign," Arthur snaps.
Ivan merely smiles and extends his hand for Arthur to bow to and kiss. Of course, Arthur does. Arthur must, he is outranked.
And judging from Ivan's mannerisms, disliked. No kisses are lain on his cheeks.
"And your Queen - goodness, little bird, how you've grown! -" Arthur tunes the rest of them out. It looks as though he will simply go down the line and -
But then Ivan stops, and Arthur pays attention once more.
He has stopped in front of a quiet boy near Francis and Alfred and not very far but far enough away from Arthur. This boy's head is still downcast and he chances a dart of his eyes upwards about once a minute. The next occasion upon flicking them up, he keeps his gaze level with Ivan's, as though he has been mesmerised and is physically unable to look away.
Sharply, Ivan lets go of the shield of innocence that he has maintained since disembarking from his horse. "We … have not met," the Club King states, his voice low and quiet, serious for a change.
"That is my brother," Francis replies from a few paces away.
"He is younger than you. You told me your mother died in childbirth with you. I agree, you appear similar - but it is not possible that he is your brother. I would have met him if he were your brother, do we not have an alliance?"
"I - well," admits Francis. "He is … he is like my brother."
"Please, your Highness," Matthew whispers. He tucks his head low and says the rest to Ivan's chest, "I'm only a Two. If my presence should offend your Grace, you have but to say the word and I shall remove myself from your company for the duration -"
"Absolutely not." Ivan removes his travelling gloves and lifts Matthew's chin gently with bared hands. Arthur can't imagine that the sweep of broad thumb across Matthew's lower lip is at all an accident, nor is the quick suck of breath Matthew takes. Arthur hopes that's fear talking.
Then Ivan leans forward and presses his lips into the soft roundness of Matthew's right cheek. Not on the apple, either. Arthur watches as the King's lips caress the corner of Matthew's mouth. He switches sides and for a moment Arthur cannot see Ivan's expression, hidden behind Matthew's face, but Matthew's is apparent: he is blushing, breathing shallowly through parted lips and his eyes are hazy, half-lidded and unfocussed. He looks as though he might faint.
And then Arthur's view of Matthew is again blocked by Ivan, placing a third kiss on what Arthur had always thought was his.
"No, I insist you remain with us," Ivan continues. "After all, any relative of Francis' shall be a friend of mine." It is no accident that he drags his fingers away from Matthew's jawline, slowly, grazing the skin to tickle a ghost of sensation. Matthew sways on the spot as he is released. Arthur almost can't believe what he's seeing.
And then Ivan pushes away from Matthew and re-dons his disguise. "And if I tolerate the kinglet - ah, my apologies! Prince-in-reign - then it is unthinkable to leave one like you out of the festivities. Speaking of! The festivities! We have brought ample spirits to compensate for our ahead-of-time arrival, enough for everyone here!" The crowd bursts into applause.
It is now, amidst the energy and fervour of the crowd, that Arthur allows his frustration and rage to catch up with him. It is enough that this King make a fool of them all by catching them off-guard - was this his plan? does he enjoy watching others scramble around unprepared? - it is enough that he snubs Arthur openly in front of the court, that he plies their kingdom with booze to curry favour, but to happen upon Matthew -
Yet, Matthew does not appear unhappy.
In fact, Matthew doesn't take his eyes off the Club King, not during the procession.
Not during the feast that follows it.
Not all night long (or at least for the part of the night that Arthur spends coherent), which Arthur cannot figure out, because Ivan the King of Clubs sits primly at the head of the table with a bright shit-eating grin on his face and who could love someone so smarmy at first glance, anyway?
But ultimately it doesn't matter what Arthur thinks, or even what Matthew thinks.
Arthur drinks so much he has to be escorted back to his rooms, but he has excuse to drink, tonight, because there is nothing Arthur can do, nothing at all.
Because a King takes what a King wants -
- and in the end, Arthur is not a King.