For the RusAme Secret Santa, and specifically for Blaze! Thanks for the awesome prompt, I had a ton of fun writing it! :D

As soon as the marriage was announced, word spread like wildfire throughout the kingdoms.

Cries of "Extra!" could be heard as newsboys hawked the juicy bit of news, freshly printed newspapers fluttering in the air, across the streets, clutched in the hands of many an eager reader.

In the barracks of the Spades guardsmen, pikes and swords were left abandoned in their hurry to crowd their sole scrap of the paper.

"My God! They're getting married?" Cried their captain. "King Alfred will get murdered in his sleep, I tell you. Never trust the Clubs."

"Hush! It's far better than going to war with them," Objected another. His mother's hairdresser's neighbour's brother-in-law was from Clubs, and he quite liked the man. "Gods know we can't afford one."

"More like they can't," The one holding the papers sneered. "I wonder how Clubs is taking it. Last I heard, they quite disliked our King..."

Meanwhile, most production at a Clubs weapons factory had long paused, in some semblance of an extended break. The mood had quite been absolutely destroyed by the news. Several bottles of vodka were now being passed around the table,very quickly getting drained.

"Bah. They're going to tax us for this, somehow. I'm sure of it." An old worker muttered, disillusioned with the idea of romance. His wife had left him decades ago.

"Our great King should have gotten their Queen instead," Lamented the supervisor, slightly miffed Ivan was no longer an eligible bachelor. "He'll be stuck with an excitable brat for the rest of his life. I pity him."

At that moment, a harried-looking worker burst into the room, waving about a new stack of papers. Newspapers, to be exact. As it turned out, there was even more news. The poor newsboys had to work overtime for this, bless them.

"There's an official address tomorrow! " He squawked. "The King of Spades is coming to our kingdom!"

And that was how the parade square just before the Clubs Palace filled with throngs of people from both kingdoms, in their royal colours, curious to see how their kings would work together. All semblance of dissent was quelled in the buzzing, almost electric atmosphere in the crowds.

The group of off-duty Spades guards found themselves crammed against a small collection of Clubs workmen. And perhaps, both groups found that this didn't matter as much as it should.

A roar rose amongst the sea of Spades-blue and Clubs-green, louder and louder as two figures appeared at the balcony of the highest spire, hand in hand. And if one squinted, one could make out the glint of a heroic grin, or the twinkle in violet eyes.

"You know!" The captain hollered, over the deafening cheers. He met the eyes of the old man from Clubs. "I have to admit, they look very good together!"

He shook his head, eyes crinkling in mirth. "Hmph. I suppose they do."

"Of all things," Arthur, His Highness, the Queen of Spades, seethed. "Did you have to say his nose was the size of a small continent?"

Alfred really couldn't help it. His lips quirked into a grin, thereby causing Arthur's frown to darken by several magnitudes. Oh man, did he look like he was ready to assassinate his king. Alfred decided that averting his gaze was the best choice for his continued wellbeing. The grin slid off his face a second after, disguised by the clearing of his throat.

The carriage ride all the way from the clubs castle to their summer palace was bumpy, to say the least. Something about the horribly maintained infrastructure around the outskirts of Ivan's kingdom. Alfred was really sure they'd ploughed through more potholes in that harrowing journey than he'd ever seen in his whole life.

Unfortunately for everyone (mostly Alfred), that meant Arthur had been put in one heck of a crappy mood. And Crappy-Mood-Arthur was way less likely to forgive minor transgressions. Like, you know — saying his future spouse's nose was the size of a small continent. To his face.

"Hey. To be fair, his nose is pretty big,"Alfred countered. Even though they were already striding their way through the smooth marble halls of their castle, his legs still felt all rickety from the carriage ride. "No portrait does it any justice."

Arthur deigned him with one exaggerated eye roll, before reaching to pull the door to Alfred's chambers open. It creaked (like the axles of their carriage did just now. He still wasn't over that.) slowly, rusty hinges groaning beneath the weight of Spades-grade iron.

His king-sized four-poster bed was already made, and he had to resist all temptation to just flop onto it and take a nap. He turned towards his desk instead, planting himself on his favourite armchair. The backrest was getting a little saggy, but he liked it better that way.

A stack of parchment already awaited him at the corner of the table. He wasn't exactly enthused at the idea of work, at this time.

Or the fact that Arthur was still hovering next to him.

Alfred groaned.

"Dude." That earned him a raise of an eyebrow. "...This is about the ball, isn't it?"

Arthur's eyes narrowed. "Why wouldn't it be. It's bloody tomorrow, and the two of you haven't even come close to acting like a couple."

"Aw, what? Pretty sure we've got the old married couple bickering down already."

"An old married couple would have done it with more finesse, at least," Arthur sneered. "Both your quips were fucking awful, and don't you think I didn't know you recycled what's been said about my eyeb—"

Alfred's hands went up.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, fine. It's just—" Some part of Alfred knew he was going to be accused of being immature. And he wasn't about to deny that. "Look. I really don't want to marry Ivan."

He wanted to tell Arthur that there were plenty of reasons behind that. He hated how Ivan smiled even though he didn't mean it, how Alfred felt like a frickin' child because the dude was so tall. How he let his people starve to death in famines while he just sat on his throne. He was evil, and he made him uneasy, and Alfred didn't want to spend the rest of his life with him. Also, his nose. Not Alfred's thing.

But kings made sacrifices for their people, didn't they? This was one of them.

Arthur seemed to wilt, ever so slightly, weariness seeping into the line of his body. Then in an instant, he readjusted himself, years of royal upbringing pulling his back ramrod straight. Alfred could only cringe as Arthur's standard great old man sigh rocked his body.

"It was meant to be a union between Queen Erzsébet and me, you know, but the court rejected the notion." Arthur rubbed his temples. "I told them there was no bloody way the two of you will agree to a marriage."

He'd heard about that. Of course he had. He'd been there. They didn't want a union with a chance of producing a potential child. On the off-chance that Arthur and Erzsébet did the do, it would turn into an actual nightmare trying to decide which kingdom the kid was heir to.

So the Spades court decided the better idea was to have both Kings get hitched instead, much to the horror of the grooms-to-be.

Arthur stalked his way over to the desk, stopping just by the stack of papers.

"Speaking of disagreeing to your marriage—" He sifted through the papers, before producing a blood red envelope. "The Kingdom of Hearts condemns it. "

"So do I, Artie, so do I," Alfred sighed. "Gimme that thing."

"Don't call me that."

Arthur tossed it back at the tabletop, and it slid to a halt by Alfred. He picked it up. The envelope flap had already been ripped open, so he pulled the letter out of it.

"They're not coming to the Diamond Ball? Whoa. That's bad news. You don't just not come to the Diamond Ball." He squinted, skimming through the contents, eyebrows creeping higher and higher. "Dude. Dude, hold up. They think our marriage means we're threatening war on them? They're the ones who allied with the Jokers! Come on!"

"They're being ridiculous, yes. Gods know what Ludwig is playing at." Arthur shook his head. "Housing the Jokers, walking into our territory. It's as if they want another war. They've gone bonkers, I say."

"And Diamonds? They do anything? Like, I dunno, congratulate us? Maybe?" Alfred leaned in hopefully, dropping the letter on the table.

He was hoping that after all that effort giving stuff to the Diamonds royals, and the flattery, and those long diplomatic talks, they'd at least be willing to show some support for the whole forming a stable union after years of tensions thing. But Arthur's pursed lips told him otherwise.

"Nothing. They're remaining neutral, as usual, the wankers. Can't risk losing imports from Hearts, can they?"

There it was.

Alfred glared at the letter as hard as he could. The chance of Diamonds funding the financial deadweight that was Clubs (which they were now attached to. Eugh.) was pretty much the only thing selling Alfred on marrying Ivan. Well, other than not going to war with Clubs, at least. And he really did want to save the people of Clubs from poverty, and their completely useless monarch.

"Aw crap. We need their money on our side. We're the heroes here." Alfred pouted, groaning as he leaned back into the worn seat. "...Hearts are so invading their sorry butts."

Arthur nodded slowly, uncharacteristically silent. Alfred was pretty sure his Queen would usually be making some jab at his posture, or his liberal use of commoner tongue, or maybe even at Diamonds, for being a bunch of chickens. But Arthur only cocked his head, studying Alfred as if he were a particularly burnt scone.

"Perhaps. But as you may now, Your Majesty, there is a very simple way to gain the Diamonds' support."

Alfred was getting really worried about the look in his eyes now. "Uh huh?"

Arthur folded his arms. "The sodding ball, that's what."

"Alright, so, I know sunflowers are, like, your thing and all," Mr Łukasiewicz said, frowning at Ivan. "But there's no way you're going to wear one for the ball. No, seriously, don't do it."

Ivan was very inclined to disagree. In fact, he was currently holding a stalk of synthetic sunflower, its massive, cheery head fully obscuring Mr Łukasiewicz's face.

"Why not?" He enquired, lowering the plant. His stylists' raised eyebrows were now visible. "I think it would look magnificent on my head. Like a halo, perhaps."

"It's too big, and it, like, clashes with your robes." Mr Łukasiewicz gestured at the brilliant green dyeing every inch of his royal clothes. "Pick a smaller flower, and then we'll talk. I mean, look at your queen! At least that looks good on her."

Erzsébet, Queen of Clubs, glanced away from her papers. She had perched herself by the small collection of couches by the side of the dressing room, all her paperwork strewn over the coffee table. By her side, sat Ivan's treasured Ace, sifting through the papers, very pointedly not looking at Ivan and his stylist. At the mention of her, the Queen raised an eyebrow. A dainty hand reached to brush her signature flower, nestled by the side of her head.

"...Are you talking about my hairpin?" She asked, a frown beginning to cloud her expression. "You know, I don't think that would look any good on His Majesty here."

"She is right," Ivan agreed. He lowered the flower slightly, and his stylist's bored, droopy eyes came into view. "It is the sunflower, or nothing."

"Then nothing. I don't want that on my reputation, please." He dusted his hands, huffing hard enough for Ivan to feel his hair ruffle. "Tolys, back me up here."

His Ace of Clubs winced."I, er, I'd like to keep my opinions out of this, Feliks. It's unprofessional."

The look of utter betrayal in Mr Łukasiewicz's eyes amused Ivan beyond measure.

"Alright, fine. Screw all of you," His stylist scowled, slamming the comb onto the table top. "You know what? Wear that all you want. But, like, I'm not going to be liable for what Alfred says about it."

Sometimes, Ivan wondered why he had not personally fired Feliks Łukasiewicz yet. Perhaps, it was because he was the only stylist who dared to state his opinions in such a manner. Most were — quite unreasonably, might he add — terrified of their king.

This did not stop Ivan's mood from darkening. Any mention of the King of Spades seemed to have such an effect.

Mr Łukasiewicz seemed to sense this. He wisely shut his mouth, snatching the comb back up, and Ivan was very sure he caught the exaggerated rolling of his eyes. He watched in the silver mirror as it was run through his hair, whatever stray curls being heaped back into one solid block of white.

"You know." Ivan muttered, setting the sunflower stalk on the dressing table. Mr Łukasiewicz paused, pale green eyes flicking to meet Ivan's. "...You are not wrong."

"Well, duh." The next stroke of the comb was particularly forceful. "I heard about your nose."

Ivan frowned. "From whom?"

Mr Łukasiewicz pointed at the couches, and Erzsébet looked up. "I told him. It isn't as if it's confidential information, is it?"

"He's said the same thing about his Queen's eyebrows," Tolys supplied. "Though, from the time I acted as spy in his court, I do think he is a well-meaning boy. If only a little… er..."

"Self-righteous?" Erzsébet suggested. "There is something dangerous about his attitude, I agree."

"Perhaps," murmured Tolys, weakly. "But I meant excitable."

"Is he? I do not think he means very well at all. His remark says more about his upbringing than it does my nose." Ivan folded his arms, feeling a headache beginning to build in his sinuses. "—Or his Queen's eyebrows." He added, just to be polite.

"Uh huh," Mr Łukasiewicz said. "Hey. You think he's going to freak out when he realises his old gardener was your Ace all along?"

Ivan did not want to think about how technicalities like the above would be handled. He was sure Spades had their spies in his court too. It irked him that they had to resort to marriage, not because either side wanted to, but because they could not afford their continued tensions. Spades needed their agriculture, and they, in turn, needed Spades' ore. And perhaps they needed finances too, enough to fix all the famine and destruction Ivan's father had caused during his reign.

He pressed his fingers to his temples, gritting his teeth.

It was not fair, Ivan thought. It was not fair that Alfred got to inherit a stable kingdom, overflowing with mines and metal, ready for war. Alfred was no king, only a spoiled brat with a precarious hold on his own throne. And Alfred dared look him in the eye, scorn for his kingdom, his land, him. As if the state of his kingdom was his fault, as if he were just like his father.

It was not fair that Spades saw their king as someone to be loved, not feared.

Ivan could not rid that righteous smirk from his mind.

"Uh...Your Majesty?" Mr Łukasiewicz prompted. He could hear the concern lacing every syllable.

Ivan blinked, the world coming back into focus. He'd snapped the stalk into two. Everyone's stares were boring into his side.

"Ah." His voice sounded rather hoarse. A tremble ran through his hands, and he heaved a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry. I was… distracted. Did something happen?"

Queen Erzsébet cleared her throat. Ivan did not miss her exchanging looks with his Ace. Very slowly, she lifted a blood-red envelope, the seal of Hearts burned onto its front.

Alfred took back what he'd thought about the previous day's carriage ride. This one took the cake as the worst one he'd ever had. By far.

First of all, he was wrapped in his warmest, stuffiest coat, and he had no clue where to put his bronze-plated royal pocket watch thingy. It was purely ceremonial, he had no idea how carrying these things even became a Spades tradition, and he kept forgetting it was ten minutes slow for some reason, but there it was. And it was far too heavy for him to lug around.

Second of all, he was trapped in an enclosed space with one angry-looking King of Clubs, who was probably also burning to death in his furry robes. His sceptre was propped up against the doors, along with the bouquet of sunflowers he'd been forced to give Alfred, and he was trying his best to glare out of the window.

They rattled over some rocks, and he could hear the whinnying of their horses. In the distance, if he squinted, Alfred could spy the peaks of Diamond's Alps, snow-tipped and grey.

The Diamond Ball would be held in their palace, amidst grand crystal spires and lavish gardens. Hearts weren't turning up this year, which meant there would probably be fewer people. Unless all the Diamond nobles decided to flood the ball at once just to catch a glimpse of the year's most talked-about couple.


Just a year back, they were busy trading insults via press conferences, publicly condemning each other. Snide remarks at each other's kingdoms. They'd never actually spat their insults face-to-face, not until the previous day, at least, but Alfred found it slipped out more easily than expected. He wondered how anyone ever expected them to suddenly turn into the world's sappiest couple.

Alfred stifled a groan. Arthur had said the carriage ride was the best time to talk about their game plan. Looked like this was it.

He bit his lip. "So. I'm guessing you guys also got the letter?"

Ivan deigned him with a glance, before going back to moodily gazing at the scenery. "... Yes."

"Right." Alfred nodded. He was highly tempted to call out Ivan's blatant emo-ness, but he held his mouth. "It's bad news. If Hearts aren't with us, Diamonds won't be, too. They can't risk losing their biggest trading partner over a pair of unstable, warlike kingdoms. We're kind of really at risk of Diamonds just cutting us off so they won't lose Hearts."

He saw that he'd gained Ivan's interest. His head tilted, ever so slightly, and he grunted. "My court has discussed that yesterday, yes."

"Yeah. We're expendable, see? Diamonds have farmland, they have precious metals. They don't need our main exports," Alfred continued. "What they do need, is our militaries, our weapons, if say… y'know. Hearts were to attempt a full-scale invasion. So—" He leaned in, now. Arthur said to up the theatrics at this point. "—I've got a plan."

"Oh? I have heard things about your plans, King Alfred," Ivan muttered. "Mainly that they tend to be very idiotic."

"Yeah?" He shot back, quicker than his mind could filter. "I've heard that you eat children."

There was one very long pause, in which the surrounding temperature fell to almost bearable levels. Alfred thought this may or may not be marginally worse than the nose thing.

"I do," Ivan said, finally. And then he smiled. "But only ridiculous brats. Like you, perhaps."

"Wait." Alfred blinked. He never thought Ivan would have a sense of humour. "Whoa. Did you just—"

The smile slid off. "I am joking."

"Yeah, I know." He rolled his eyes. "Though it's hard to tell with you sometimes. You actually being the devil and all. "

Ivan's eyes widened by a fraction."...It was a joke, let me reiterate. The last thing I need you to do is to tell the King of Diamonds I eat children."

"Then I'd have to admit the guy I'm about to marry eats children. No thanks." He puffed out his chest. "I like my reputation as it is."

Ivan grunted. "Then good. I am glad you have the sense to agree."

"The first thing we've ever agreed on, and it's that you don't eat children." He grinned at Ivan. "Sounds about right."

Ivan seemed to study the air for several moments. His gaze was cool, as it usually was, but something told Alfred he might be contemplating tossing him out of the carriage. Perfect. One point to Alfred the hero, and none for Ivan the scumbag. He supposed he was going to have to keep score for the rest of their marriage.

"...You were talking of a plan, just now."

Alfred blinked. "Oh. Right. Plan. You know what the Diamonds love? PDA." He clapped his hands together. "So here's what we do — we go up to all the Diamond nobles and act all lovey-dovey. Just ram that stuff up to eleven. The best couple ever. Let them all bask in the warmth of young love, enough to convince them all that this is a one-hundred-percent stable alliance, not warlike at all, and they're better off siding with us than with Hearts. You get me?"

Ivan's face wrinkled in a manner which suggested 'severe constipation', but Alfred decided it would be in their best interests not to comment.

"I do." A slight frown crossed his face. "But considering how this is merely the first step..."

"Nah, dude, chill. Only two steps. But, oh boy, is the second one a doozy. I'm just going to say, it's not my idea." Alfred laced his fingers together. "Step two: We find the King of Diamonds, chat him up, and then we start making out."


Alfred glanced up at the ceiling. It lasted five seconds. Ten. And then—

"Have you gone mad?"

"Probably." The carriage roof did have some neat-looking motifs. "...Don't worry. I had Arthur bring mouthwash."

"There is no way—" Ivan snarled. "No way I will ever yield to your ridiculous, humiliating, farce, do you hear? I will not degrade myself for the entertainment of those vapid snakes, I have had enough—"

Alfred snorted. "Yeesh. Never knew you were such a pansy."

Much to the delight of several young Diamond ladies, King Ivan had planted a kiss on King Alfred's cheek, right in the middle of the palace gardens.

Ivan managed a rather forced smile as the whole gaggle of them disappeared into the crowd, fanning themselves at the sheer intimacy of the gesture.

They were currently milling about the front garden, running into nearly every single guest there, it would seem. It was a masquerade ball, but Ivan did not think their disguises were very effective. No mask could hide Alfred's stubborn cowlick, or Ivan's stature.

"Why—" Ivan muttered, nearly stumbling straight into a flower bed. He caught himself at the last second, trying to ignore Alfred's smirk. "—Why is your cheek so smooth."

"Whoopsies. Watch your step."Alfred chirped. He rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand, as if testing its smoothness. His eyes flicked down. "...And how's that a problem?"

Ivan brushed a leaf off his coat, and it floated back into the flowers. "It feels as if I am kissing an infant."

Alfred made a face. "That's better than having to kiss your dry old man skin every single time we do this. I'm jealous now."

Ivan sighed. "...We should head into the palace."

The white towers of the Diamond palace speared the sky, its grand arches swooping across the spaces between. There was the famous Crystal Oculus — a massive circle of stained glass peeking through the face of the central tower.

Ivan did think the whole affair looked too gaudy for his tastes. Clubs valued function over form, and all the gold and diamonds seemed like an unnecessary expense.

"Yo, Ivan? Change of plans. We gotta take on that group of Spades over there." Alfred jerked his head at the collection of people in blue masks, champagnes in hand, laughing their pompous nobleman laughs. "We have the time. And I think I know who they are."

Ivan noted that Alfred was not wearing his glasses. "If you insist."

They steered themselves towards the group, and Ivan could feel Alfred's demeanour change. His back straightened, and his eyes shone a little brighter, the edge melting away from his confident grin. It was as if a switch had been flicked. In the span of a second, Alfred had turned back into the innocent goody-two-shoes which had so plagued the newspaper covers.

As it turned out, Alfred was a decent conversationalist. It was apparent, all of a sudden, why Alfred was so well-loved among his people. He had his charm — the way his smiles lit up the air — genuine despite the frivolities of their small talk. He'd clapped Ivan's shoulder when the conversation turned to their union, and Ivan, to his own surprise, found himself readily welcomed into the circle of Spades nobles.

"We've been wrong about the Clubs, I'd say," Alfred laughed. This elicited a round of polite chuckling. "King Ivan has been nothing but a joy to be around."

"As is King Alfred," Ivan added, still smiling. It was genuine, this time. "He is very… exuberant."

"How sweet!" One gushed.

"Why," Guffawed another of the nobles, face obscured by a plain colombina. He turned and bowed at them."I suppose we have. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, Your Majesties."

"The pleasure is ours," Alfred muttered, glancing very surreptitiously at his Spades-shaped pocket watch. "...Well, we must be going, or we'll miss the entrance of the Diamond Royals."

A noblewoman pushed up her mask, glancing at her own. "Oh! Good heavens! Terribly sorry, Your Majesties, it should have already happened by now."

"What?" Ivan glanced at Alfred's clock, and then back at the noblewoman's, and the cause of the confusion soon became very clear.

Alfred's watch was ten minutes behind.

The atmosphere seemed to tense. Several murmurs were passed amidst the group, and in one smooth wave, they dipped their heads in their bows and scurried off.

Oh. They were scared, weren't they? They feared his rage.

He should have known acceptance would not last.

"Aw crap," Alfred groaned. "I forgot this thing was slow."

And at that moment, any and all respect he'd gained for Alfred was lost. Ivan did not believe he could literally see red until that very moment.

"You complete idiot," Ivan hissed. "Of all things—"

"I can't believe no one told us!" Alfred clutched his hair, as if ready to pull a whole chunk out. "Oh man, Arthur is gonna kill me."

"He should!" Ivan growled, and he broke into a dead sprint for the palace doors.

Arthur did not kill him.

He and Queen Erzsébet glared at them from the mezzanine, which was, in Alfred's opinion, terrifying and also worse than straight up getting killed. Glaring meant consequences, which Alfred really didn't want to deal with.

They'd swept into the ballroom, completely winded after their impromptu fifty-metre dash. Surely they'd brushed past guests too quickly for anyone to notice they were kings, but their entrance still attracted quite a good number of stares, and many, many more offers of congratulations for their upcoming marriage.

Ivan was still seething, and he was doing the thing where his eyes got all wide and scary in spite of his tiny smile. It was pretty effective at clearing a large path for them all the way through the ballroom, and soon the number of guests approaching them trickled to zero.

"So," Alfred began, as soon as the last noble disappeared. "It's a masquerade ball and we don't know what the King of Diamonds is wearing. Great going, us."

Ivan grunted, and Alfred watched as he scanned the room. "And whose fault is that, I wonder?"

Okay, he had to admit that this situation was on him, this time. Stupid clock. "Yeah, yeah. But we still gotta meet and talk to him, make out part or not."

"I know," Ivan snapped, causing a nearby guest to glance at him frantically. His voice lowered. "It should not be very hard, yes? He is usually the flashiest."

"Would you two gentlemen like some drinks?" Interrupted a servant, holding a tray of strangely-coloured concoctions.

They stared at him.

He blinked back.

And then the man raised an eyebrow and strode away.

"—Except understated designs are the in-thing this year," Alfred continued. "And being thrifty is a Diamond trend. Figures. They sure are some strange dudes."

"...Oh," said Ivan, now looking pretty lost. Alfred was fairly sure he'd never seen that expression on his face before. He was now almost adorable. "That explains the sunflower, yes."

Alfred shook himself from that disturbing train of thoughts. 'Adorable' and 'Ivan' should never, ever go in the same sentence. "The what?"


They ended up leaning against a distant wall, watching the festivities from behind the banquet table. They'd removed their masks too, in some hope that the King would approach them first. As it turned out, Diamonds had so many blond people that Operation Locate King Francis was becoming a problem. All their clothes were in muted shades of orange and yellow, and way too many people were wearing ponytails.

As soon as the fourteenth blond-haired ponytail dude walked by, Alfred slammed his hand into his face. "Oh my Gods, we're so screwed."

"That is him, yes?" Ivan suggested, pointing at one.

Alfred squinted, really wishing he'd brought his glasses. The amorphous blob looked yellow. It was a long blob, Alfred had to admit. "Nuh-uh. Too tall. King Francis is shorter than I am."

"That is him, I am sure." Ivan insisted, frown deepening. "He even has a beard."

"No way, man. He's taller than that Clubs guy over there," Alfred pointed at the green splotch beside him. "And I bet you he's taller than you are. That's too frickin' tall."

"...Alfred, that is a plant."

"It is?" He blinked, and squinted some more. The green splotch solidified slightly, and it started to look more plant-shaped. Oh. "Anyway, my point still stands. Too tall, dude."

Ivan growled. "There is no harm in trying, we cannot risk—"

"Would you two gentlemen like some drinks?"

It was that very same servant, still lifting the now-slightly emptier tray. Alfred realised that he too was a blond-haired ponytail dude in a mask, and decided that diversity was well and truly dead. "Dude, didn't you come by just now?"

"Ah, I did," the servant agreed. "But the two of you do seem in need of some service. Are you looking for someone, perhaps?"

"We are trying to find the King of Diamonds," Ivan explained. "Do you happen to know where His Majesty might be?"

The servant cocked his head, as if contemplating. His fingers drummed once against the metal of the tray, before turning to glance back at Ivan. "I apologise, but I do not know where His Majesty is." He pointed into the distance, some semblance of a twinkle in his eye. "But you are in luck. Her Highness, Queen of Diamonds, can be found by the corner."

"I'm sorry, my Kings, but I'm afraid that trading with Clubs, at this juncture, is not… um… " Queen Lilli muttered, glass-green eyes downcast. "...It isn't very feasible."

Ivan felt his jaw clench. He could barely hear a word over the sound of his own pounding heart. He had expected the situation to worsen, yes, but completely stopping trade with his kingdom—

"And… what about Spades?" Alfred asked, tentative, the barest of a waver leaking into his voice.

Queen Lilli bit her lip. "Trade will continue with Spades, yes. We will have to wait and see if we can support your union."

The Queen of Diamonds had indeed been found in the corner, perching tensely at the edge of a lounge chair. As soon as she'd caught sight of them, she had withered, as if expecting, dreading their arrival. It was enough to rip the winning smile of Alfred's face.

"No. No, no, no. We can't accept this." Alfred snapped. Ivan could see the tremor in his hands. "We won't."

And now… Alfred looked almost unhinged. It was apparent that he had not expected Diamonds to take such a drastic measure. The light in his eyes was almost electric. Filled with his justice, perhaps. And righteousness. That which burned so deeply within his core.

He seized Alfred's arm. He could feel the brat's muscles tense in his grip.

"My apologies, Queen Lilli." He inclined his head at her, and smiled. "It would seem this matter requires some—" Alfred started pulling away. He yanked him back. "—some discussion."

Her gaze flickered, but she offered a slight nod. It was enough.

Ivan hauled Alfred from Queen Lilli's side, and they stumbled a distance away. His eyes were still burning too brightly. And then he could feel Alfred's arm twist free, wrenching himself from his grip.

"Holy crap," Alfred gasped. He glanced at his wrist. "Don't ever do that again."

"Then you must keep a level head," Ivan snarled, lowly. "Getting angry will do us no good. What sort of king are you? Do you wish for her to think you a warmonger?"

"Oho, believe me, she already does." Alfred dusted his coat, before gesturing at the Queen of Diamonds. "Okay, fine. Level head. Here's the thing — Do you even know how much imports they're gonna lose if they go through with this?"

Ivan absolutely did not understand why Alfred was so angry. Did the Queen not imply their supporting the marriage was still feasible? He had no business bothering about the state of Clubs.

"It is nothing compared to the magic they need from Hearts, you realise."

"But they're not going to actually do it, it's just a threat. She's threatening us," Alfred insisted. "If we keep talking, we could probably get her to reconsider—"

Ivan held a hand up, silencing him. "What we want her to do is to get her to support our marriage. That is our job, and it can be achieved. I will settle the trade issue myself."

"Yourself?" Alfred laughed. "Oh my Gods, don't you see? We're going to be married. Our Kingdoms are allies. All your starving people are mine too. And unlike you, I'm not going to let it continue, ya hear?"

"I know. I know." Ivan's own patience was wearing. "But our priority is still the marriage. They will have to agree that we are not warlike first. My people are none of your business, for now."

Alfred stared, mouth agape, and Ivan knew absolutely none of what he said had entered his head.

"Fine. I get it. Something tells me you're not letting me intervene for a reason."

"What are you talking about." Ivan shook his head. This was preposterous. "Why can you not see? This is not as simple as you think. Yelling at her will accomplish nothing!"

"Oh, no, no. don't shut me up. Don't. I see now. You're going to drain our kingdom's funds. That was your plan all along, wasn't it? Sweet-talk us and run away with our money?" Alfred's eyes were shining. Tears. Ivan stepped back. Alfred was crying. "You're putting this Goddamn alliance before your own fucking people! What am I supposed to think?"

Ivan's heart felt like it were falling out. He could barely breathe. Alfred was too loud, and everyone was looking now. Everyone must have heard. He could almost taste the whispers in the air —

I've known all along, King Ivan never cared, because Alfred is always right, he is a hero, and Ivan will always be a monster. Ivan has never cared for his people, he was never tried, he is evil, his heart is black.

His head was swimming. He could feel the bile up his throat, and he was drowning in his own thoughts, his thrumming rage.

"I don't understand," Ivan whispered. "Why you always paint me as the villain."

"Oh, come on! You're missing my point!" Alfred's voice was shriller now.

"What point? That I am cruel? That I cannot run a kingdom? That the famines are my fault?" Ivan spat, advancing. "I will tell you now why I do not want you to intervene, and it is because you you judge too quickly, and you are too stupid to care. You inherited your kingdom in perfect order. But you! You will ruin it with your incompetence!"

There was a silence, but his head still spun. He had said that, all of it, out loud. Ivan saw quite how shattered Alfred's eyes were, but he could not bring himself to regret.

"Oh. Oh. You're making this personal now, huh?" Alfred was chuckling again, his ridiculous, annoying laugh. "Fine. Yeah, you're right. I am stupid. But you know what else is?"

And so, the King of Spades glared up at him. "—Your Goddamn face."

Ivan caught the telltale clenching of Alfred's fist a second too late. The first thing he felt was the sheer pain, driving right through his jawbone, a cacophony of shocked gasps filling the air.

Alfred had punched him.

His hand flew to his face, wincing as the pain flared. His right eye was tearing up, turning a portion of his vision blurry.

Alfred had punched him.

The next thing he knew, he'd struck the ground, hand closed around Alfred's collar as he rammed his fist over and over again into his brilliant blue eye. A flash of blond, white teeth. And it was too late. Arms closed around Ivan's neck. Fingers clawing into his hair, and he couldn't breathe, his throat was collapsing.

Ivan yelled, shoving Alfred's chest back down again. His arms ripped free. And he forced himself to breathe. He could not stop his desperate coughing, cold bursts of breath filling his lungs. Alfred was still on the floor, pupils blown and panting, every inch of him pushing right up against Ivan's hands. It hurt. His arms were being torn apart.

"O-Oh fuck," Alfred gasped, breaths quick and shuddering. A trickle of blood oozed down his lip. "Iv. Ivan. Behind you."

The cold bite of metal rested itself on the back of his neck.

Ivan could barely open his jaw without feeling the sting. A shadow passed over Alfred's face. Someone was standing there. He did not want to turn. He did not.

The blade drew away. "Get your arms off him."

He jerked away from Alfred, forcing himself to his feet. The world tilted. Ivan gritted his teeth and planted himself firmly on the spot. The world was watching, of course. Every single pair of eyes in the ballroom was staring and staring. How idiotic he was. Who was the impulsive brat now?

The whispers he heard were not imaginary, this time.

He was breathing too hard, and it was not from the fight. This was wrong, all wrong. He spotted his Queen was standing, too far away, hands clasped over her mouth.

Ivan took one step back, and another. The Jack of Diamonds shifted out of his way, spear still levelled at his neck.

And then he ran.

Alfred didn't want to know how long he'd been staring at the ceiling.

Ivan had one heck of a mean right hook. His right eye was now all sorts of absolutely screwed. And, well, his head too, definitely. Ivan had gone and slammed it to the ground, and now Alfred was sure he had a concussion.

The Jack of Diamonds was still hovering over him, after his whole stint threatening Ivan with a spear at his neck. He groaned. Bracing himself against the floor, Alfred rolled back up. He didn't feel quite as woozy now, which was good.

Basch's eyes narrowed. "What the hell happened here?"

It was then when he noticed that a bunch of people had crowded around their area. They'd given him a wide berth, of course. The crowd had begun to thin, but plenty were still there, just standing. He couldn't tell if they were shocked, or outraged or anything really. They simply remained one frustrating blur.

"We were… uh…" Alfred blinked. Being really stupid. "Well… um. Yeah. Uh." He scanned the sea of people, searching for a familiar pair of eyebrows, except his eyesight was so crappy that this was completely futile.

The Jack of Diamonds raised an eyebrow.

He licked his lips. There had to be something he could say. Nothing could truly save their reputation now, yeah, but maybe something could save the awful fricking tensions that was no doubt going to creep up between their kingdoms. They'd fought. Oh Gods, they had a fight. A fistfight. At the Diamond Ball. They were so screwed.

"I was… trying to court King Ivan." Alfred began. Where was he even going with this? "Yeah. Fighting is our… our love language." He nodded. "Is that not right, Your Royal Highness, Exalted Queen of Diamonds?"

Alfred proceeded to send his best 'help me' eyes at Queen Lilli. She blinked, still looking rather shaken by the whole affair.

"Um… yes, brother," She murmured. "They were very... passionate."


"Yeah, see? There we go." He scrambled to his feet, dusting his coat off.

Basch had lowered his spear, but the look of sheer disgust on his face was a sight to see. "...You did that in front of my sister?"

"We like it rough," Alfred admitted. He would attempt a wink, but his right eye was already beginning to swell shut.

To his credit, Lilli actually giggled. It was enough for Basch's permanent scowl to soften, which was in turn enough for Alfred to heave a great fricking sigh of relief.

And now, for Ivan. He didn't know where exactly he'd gone after that whole disaster just now, but he knew it was probably into the palace gardens. Alfred didn't even think it would be the best of ideas to try to talk to him again, but well… oh, who was he kidding. He was the one who aimed that first punch. The one who acted like a complete jerk to Ivan this whole time (he acted like a jerk back, but still. He was supposed to be the better person here). This mess was on him. Mostly.

Some hero he was.

"I think I'm going to look for my… uh… betrothed." Alfred sighed. "You two see where he went?"

"He went out by the front gate." Queen Lilli frowned. "Are you sure you do not need medical attention first?"

He dragged a hand over his lips, and it came away dry. "Nope, I'm good."

Alfred stumbled out of the ballroom. His terrible eyesight was a blessing, actually, in this situation. He couldn't see if he was still attracting stares from guests, or if anyone looked particularly murderous as he made his way out of the door. He'd stuffed his mask into the pocket, but a part of him really wanted to grab it and smoosh it atop his nose.

The palace gardens were dark, now, lit only by a trail of lanterns down the main path. That left the rest of the pitch-black expanse a minefield of flowerbeds and shrubbery, ripe for tripping into. Alfred was really hoping Ivan was smart enough to stick to the lights, instead of doing something dumb like wandering off into the darkness and getting trapped in a rosebush, or—

"Would you like a drink, sir?"

Alfred yelped, turning. It was the same fricking servant dude, just chilling right against the palace walls. He still had his mask on, and his empty tray was gripped in his hands, resting against his thighs.

"I don't mind, but you're kinda out of drinks," Alfred noted.

"I've noticed." He glanced at the tray. "It is a rhetorical question."

"Oh, cool." Alfred squinted into the gardens. There was no sign of Ivan, still. He must have gone pretty far out.

The servant inclined his head. "And you are looking for someone, again?"

A cool breeze whipped at Alfred's hair, chilling him through his clothes. The distant rustling of leaves all through the garden fit the mood, honestly. "King Ivan, yeah. You see him around?"

Servant Dude nodded slowly. "...I have. I know where he has gone. But, my dear King, do you really wish to meet him?"

Alfred knew that tone. It was the same one Yao used when he was being particularly motherly, and coupled with the thoughtful look the man was giving him, this could only mean one thing.

"Oh hey! Are you going to impart some love advice? Because you sound like you're going to impart some love advice. I'd be really up for some right now, just saying," Alfred shifted backwards to lean on the wall next to him, grinning. "Hit me up."

Servant Dude blinked. "Well, no, I was not going to, originally. But I suppose I could. I'm flattered you would go to a… humble servant for love advice, Your Majesty."

"Perfect!" Alfred leaned in. "You saw the fight, right?"

"Oui— I mean, you are worried about that fight, I don't think anyone would be very bothered by it. Worse things have happened during the balls. It made for an entertaining night, that is what they will care about."

Alfred doubted this would simply go down as an entertaining night, but he nodded, regardless. "But now what? You think I should just go up there and apologise?"

Servant Dude raised both eyebrows. "All I can say is... talk to each other. Set aside your pride and talk through your feelings. You know how he feels about you, and he knows how you feel about him. You just have to finish the conversation."

"Gee, thanks. Real useful there."

"You were the one who asked for advice, don't give me that!" the servant protested.

"Okay! Fine!" Alfred waved him off. "You were saying?"

"You go in, it will come naturally. There isn't much to say about this matter." He smiled languidly. "It is good, your willingness to make up with him. He will be happy enough that you've come, I think. I definitely am."

Alfred nodded again, despite not getting any advice at all. "Right."

He pointed into the distance, where the trail of lights led to. "...You will find him at the fountain."

"I'll keep all of that in mind. Thanks, dude."

"Of course." Servant Dude's smile widened, and he bowed. "...If you will excuse me, I have to get more drinks. Bon courage!"

And that was how Alfred ended up striding his way down the series of dim lanterns, spending most of his trip trying to decipher the meaning of 'bon courage' and also hoping Ivan won't take out his other eye as soon as he arrived.

The fountain turned out to be a small marble structure of three tiers. Water spilt from the top, trickling down to the main basin at its base. And there stood Ivan, back to him. He was dipping an arm into the water, and Alfred watched as he pulled it up, revealing a massive gash, now bloodless. Alfred didn't remember having scratched Ivan's arm.

For someone who liked talking so much, Alfred had no idea what to say.

"That doesn't look very hygienic," He began. His voice cut through the quiet air.

Ivan froze. He turned, slowly, looking very much like a cornered animal. Alfred managed a casual wave (what was he doing. Yeesh). There was a silence. Ivan averted his gaze.

"...I am sorry."

Ivan's voice was too quiet. Alfred barely caught it, but the point was that he did. Ivan was apologising.

Alfred bit his lip.

"Wait. No. I kinda should be the one apologising," Alfred marched through the grass, stopping right by Ivan. The water was clear. Alfred could see a slightly ripply image of the two of them, just peering into the basin. "I shouldn't have made it personal, from the very start. Your… nose and all that. It's just mean."

Ivan looked up, just long enough to meet Alfred's eyes. "...Your eye is swollen."

"Yep." Alfred prodded the reddened skin, briefly. The spike of pain nearly caused him to scream. But he forced his face into a grin. "Turns out, getting punched in the eye several times would do that. Who knew?"

To Alfred's surprise, Ivan flinched.

"Wait. Wait, no. I mean— It's not your fault. I started that. And I'm sure your jaw's going to bruise pretty badly too—"

"I was wrong about you." Ivan shifted to grip the edge of the marble bowl, very pointedly not looking at Alfred now.

Oh Gods, it was happening. Alfred wanted to just crawl into a hole and die, because it was just as Servant Dude said. This was their fate. They were going to have to keep stiltedly apologising to each other until they ran out of steam and stewed in uncomfortable silence.

"...Yeah, same here." Alfred nodded a few times, for the sake of it. "You know, I think we were less awkward just insulting each other."

"And look how that has turned out," Ivan muttered. He poked a finger into the water.

"Yeah…" Alfred winced. "We're still gonna have to deal with that later. Trade and supporting our marriage and all."

Ivan nodded. "I… never knew you cared so much about my people."

Alfred folded his arms. " 'Course I do. I care about everyone. Including the guys over at Hearts. I guess I thought you… didn't."

"I do," Ivan clarified, eyebrows furrowing. "But issues with trade cannot be solved with just one meeting. It will take months. Convincing them to support our marriage, however. It is possible to do that within minutes, if we are good. That was why I wanted you to stop."

Alfred's brain ground to a halt. So that was what Ivan meant. It made far more sense than all the insidious stuff he was constructing in his head.

"Oh, oh. Okay, yeah, that's valid." Alfred couldn't help his own stupid grin. "But the trade thing was so out of nowhere I kinda thought that was supposed to be more of a… a threat. Like she's testing us, or something. That's why I wanted to fix that first."

Ivan turned. Even in the darkened clearing, it was pretty apparent just how pale Ivan was. His jaw was slackened, his eyes blinking strangely.

"Oh," was all he said.

"We're the best kings ever, guys!" Alfred hollered. His voice disappeared into the thicket of trees around them. "Fighting over absolutely nothing. Totally not warlike and unstable, nope."

Ivan was silent. He was still hanging over the water, gripping the bowl so hard Alfred thought it might crack.

And then he started laughing.

It wasn't one of his strange, creepy giggles that occasionally escaped his lips, no. He was flat out losing it right over the fountain, belly laughs and all. Before Alfred knew it, he didn't even know why, he was chuckling too.

"We—" Ivan choked, slamming a hand against the marble. Then he broke into a new fit of laughter. "We are idiots."

"I know, right?" Alfred snorted. "Geez. We're so fucked— ahaha— No one's going to trade with us now!"

"That is not funny," Ivan sniggered. "We are dead. Why are— Why are we laughing?"

"Because we're going to spend the rest of our lives together for no flipping reason!" Alfred shrieked.

No laughter followed, this time. Ivan clamped his hand over his mouth, and Alfred felt his mood die.

"Why did you have to say that," Ivan sighed, the light in his eyes officially extinguished.

"I dunno man. It just kind of… hit me." Alfred pouted. "Ugh. This sucks. We're probably going to, like, get separate beds one night after the wedding."

"Separate rooms, more like," Ivan supplied.

"Separate castles. Ha."

Ivan cast him a withering look. "I might get us a dog. Two dogs."

Alfred's stupid grin was picking right back up again. "Sounds great. I'll hire that one servant dude that keeps offering us drinks. He's decent at advice."

"Advice?" Ivan echoed. "Well, then. I will get two of him."

"We could share," Alfred offered. "Or I could commision a cloning machine so we could get, like, infinite servant dudes."

Ivan was smiling. It was a tiny smile, because his jaw was still busted, but Alfred didn't miss the twinkle in his eye. "Ah, and I will get a fountain built, just like this one. For the express purpose of doing this—"

His hand flung up, dashing right through the basin. Alfred was instantly splattered by ice cold fountain water, dripping all the way down his coat. "Hey!"

Ivan shrugged. "I have always wanted to do that."

Alfred raked both hands through the water, and Ivan was now soaking wet. He spluttered, wiping the water from his face, and Alfred saw that his eyes were blazing again. Not with anger, this time, but with something he hadn't personally seen with Ivan. Something softer.

And Alfred decided that things won't be so bad, after all.

"Y'know," Alfred chirped. "Maybe if you actually get that fountain built, our marriage would actually be bearab—ACK!"

"I… I can't believe it!" Queen Erzsébet hissed, still staring, wide-eyed as their two kings tumbled into the fountain. "They're getting along! It's worked!"

Erzsébet had the benefit of being able to shield herself with a tree. Arthur, however, found himself crouched behind a rosebush. His bloody hat kept getting snagged in some thorns.

"Thank Heavens," Arthur narrowed his eyes at the pair. Alfred's loud fucking chuckles were ruining his ears even from this distance. "I was so sure they'd be going at it all night."

The distant pattering of footsteps alerted him of their missing third member. Arthur sighed, fumbling to pull his pocket watch off his coat. Half-an-hour. It took the wanker half-an-hour to get three drinks.

"There he is," Erzsébet groaned, as the blur of yellow launched itself behind a low shrub. "What took you so long? Off courting women? In this trying time?"

"I got stopped for love advice, if you'd believe it," Francis muttered, lowering his tray of drinks into the grass. Erzsébet slid over and grabbed her wine and his tea, leaving Francis' glass of wine on the tray.

"I certainly don't," Arthur snorted, reaching over to grab the cup.

"...By Alfred," He continued, shooting Arthur a look. "The boy is very charming, sometimes, unlike certain mentors of—Dear me! Are they fighting again?"

"They are playing," Queen Erzsébet clarified. "I don't know. It seems friendly, though."

Francis nodded, slumping into the ground. In relief, perhaps. "...Then your plan has worked."

"It was a rubbish plan, I'll admit," Arthur sighed. "Getting Lilli to say you're stopping trade with Clubs, for chrissake. If she got caught in the crossfire..."

It was something Erzsébet and him had discussed on the carriage ride to the castle, and they'd practically begged Francis to enact it at the palace (Arthur shuddered, never again did he want to do that). The King of Diamonds had not been particularly agreeable, at first. He was firmly on the side of neutrality... until Erzsébet told him of the final stage of them kissing before him (Arthur still didn't know why that step was necessary, but he wasn't opposed to it). That meant Francis had to make himself scarce throughout the whole ball, so that the two could get to Lilli first.

Cue the worst disguise Arthur had ever seen in his whole life.

"To be fair, I don't think any of us expected them to actually get physical," Erzsébet hummed.

Francis waved them off. "Regardless, that is over now. There is still one thing left to settle, and that is if my court also agrees to support their marriage."

"That… is a valid concern," Arthur bit out. And then he blinked. "Now, hold on. You… You mean you agree to support the marriage? Since when?"

"Who knows?" Francis swirled his wine, in some misguided attempt to appear mysterious. "I see potential. They are very alike, and they are ambitious. Warlike and unstable too, perhaps, but, well, that seems to be what my kingdom needs now. You seem to think we are willingly attached to Hearts." He smiled wanly. "Alas, we are not."

He wondered if attempting to throttle him would end in further disaster, before realising that yes, it would. And he still wondered where Alfred got his traits from. Bah, what bollocks. He drowned that thought with a good amount of his tea.

Erzsébet cleared her throat. "It can be discussed later, when our kings are in, er, proper order. That includes you, King Francis." Said man had the gall to look offended. "And with our Jacks present. But until then… A toast?"

The three of them were too far away from each other for their cups to properly touch, but Arthur lifted his, anyway. "To our kingdoms."

Erzsébet smiled. "And our garbage plan."

"And," Francis lifted his glass, winking. "...To the marriage."

And so, lit by distant lanterns, air punctuated by screams from the fountain, they downed their drinks.

"You have to admit," Erzsébet said, setting down her empty glass. "They look very good together."

Francis only smiled, leaning into his shrub.

"Hmph," Arthur grunted, as Alfred dunked Ivan's head underwater, grinning like there was no tomorrow. "I suppose they do."