by Max Turner
Content Warnings: explicit sexual content between a cis man and a trans man.
Christopher Montgomery had been the first person Robert thought of in the whole of the kingdom.
It was an old kingdom with traditions that ran deep. The towns and cities were prosperous and the countryside was filled with the ruins of castles and farmsteads alike, speaking to many aspects of their past.
It was a sizable kingdom with a large populace and yet there was no one else Robert had ever trusted as he did Christopher, despite everything. Once, Chris had been a nobleman and Robert a prince, but those days were behind both of them, and now Robert was in need of assistance.
Robert walked the dark street lined with opulent apartment blocks. He felt the mist of rain in the air and pulled his thin jacket tighter around himself. It had been over a decade since they had seen each other.
Christopher’s father had been a royal advisor and nobility in his own right – Cedric Montgomery, Duke of the Northern Isles. So it made sense that, being so close in age, the children had been introduced as toddlers and become fast friends. They’d rough-housed and run around the grounds as they grew, getting into scrapes and coming home covered in dirt.
Christopher was the only person that had always called him Bertie, despite the many frowns it had earned them both.
Despite how close they had been, their teenage years saw an end to it all. First, as a result of the awkwardness of puberty and then the not-so-subtle nudges from their families.
Robert had realised then that there had been a very specific reason their parents pushed them together as children. They were a suitable pairing. Or at least they had been.
It had seemed to everyone, except the two of them, that this would be a perfect match for the tomboy princess. The son of a duke, friends since childhood, someone aware of her strange ways and quirks. And marriage, apparently, was just what she needed to straighten out her odd ideas.
Together, they had looked a beautiful and charming pair, from childhood through to near-adulthood. Bertie with fair skin that sometimes bronzed in the sun, and light freckles that were only a little darker than his unruly mop of blonde curls. Christopher, dark-skinned like his mother, equally curly but neatly-cropped black hair, and his father's hazel eyes. Almost of a height with each other and both quite lovely to look upon.
The truth of it had become unavoidable at the age of sixteen, when their betrothal was announced merely days after they had themselves been officially informed of it.
Bertie had loved Christopher, deeply. Or at least as deeply as was possible at that young age. But to be married to each other was impossible, and he’d always kept those feelings in check. Robert was not Princess Roberta and never could be. It was simply impossible that he would ever become the princess everyone anticipated, the one anybody would be happy to marry.
Christopher had been polite, but he’d withdrawn from their friendship. Perhaps he had known the princess well enough to be repulsed at the idea of their marriage. They saw each other less and less until it was only at obligatory functions. And eventually, despite trying to be as courteous as he would be to anyone, it was clear to Robert that Christopher would rather be anywhere than the same room as him.
Despite this, a marriage had still been expected. That was, until a little over a year after their official betrothal, when Christopher’s father passed. And then Robert never saw Christopher again.
He had declined his inherited lands and title, letting those fall to his brother Alexander, and moved to the city to study and make his own way in the world. Christopher had refused to do them both the disservice of forcing them to enact their parents’ wishes. The severing of their betrothal was included within the renouncement.
Whilst Robert understood Christopher’s desire to escape their lives and the betrothal, he had felt a sting of anguish over it that he couldn’t quite process or name. The only relief in this event had been that Alexander was already engaged and so no betrothal was to be had there.
Eventually, with some luck, a son had been born to the King and Queen. Prince Charles was now to inherit from their parents and the pressure on Robert to find a suitable match had been alleviated, leaving Robert free to live a spinster’s existence, away from public view.
Until tonight had changed everything, thrusting Robert’s deepest secrets into the public eye.
Despite the decade that had passed, the disparate lives they’d led, Robert knew with unwavering confidence that he could turn to Christopher in his time of need. He was an honourable man, that had always been clear.
Robert pushed the buzzer.
Kit opened the door and blinked.
There stood a young man, soaked through. Cold, pink-tinged flesh was visible under a wet wool hat, and damp, dark blonde curls framed a face he'd never forget despite how it had changed over the years.
He’d recognise Bertie anywhere.
If it was a shock to see him, it wasn’t a surprise that Bertie had run. Not after everything that had been in the papers that morning.
Even so, they hadn’t seen each other in, what? Ten years? More? Not since he had run away like a fucking coward the first chance he had. Kit could claim that it was down to his father’s death. But, as hard as that had been to deal with, it was far from the only reason he’d declined his lineage and let everything go to his younger brother.
‘Bertie.’ Kit breathed the name, and felt the odd shape of it in his mouth. It had been so long since he last uttered it aloud.
Bertie’s weak smile and watery eyes, his trembling lower lip, all were so familiar to him. That same expression from the hundreds of times he’d fallen down and grazed a knee or elbow. Those times when he’d tried to be brave and not cry, as Kit rubbed a dock leaf over nettle stings.
‘Chris.’ The name would have sounded strange coming from someone other than Bertie, albeit in a deeper, older voice than he had remembered.
He smiled softly and held open the door. ‘It’s Kit these days, come in.’
Bertie let out another shuddering breath as he walked over the threshold.
He was trembling and Kit had a sense that it wasn’t just from the wet and cold.
‘Robert,’ Bertie said. ‘It’s Robert now. Rob, but Bertie’s fine.’
Kit closed the door and they stood opposite each other in the hallway.
Bertie was still a little shorter than him but not by as much as he remembered. Maybe because his frame had filled out. Where once he’d been slender and slight, even with the jacket Kit could see he was now more muscular. Athletic. He looked all the better for it, more comfortable in his skin.
Bertie pulled the soaked woollen hat from his head, revealing the mess of curls underneath, and Kit couldn’t help but smile. Bertie had never been permitted to cut his hair short when they were young, but now it was short and soft, completely wild. The kind of hair meant for running fingers through. Kit blinked and hoped he hadn't telegraphed that thought.
Bertie’s smile was still slight, and the way he looked like he was about to crumble made Kit want to wrap his arms around him. Instead, he held back, scrubbing his hand roughly over the back of his neck.
Bertie didn’t hold his gaze long, breaking to look around at the surroundings he’d found himself in.
Kit’s apartment was comfortable. He made good enough money to live in a nice part of the city and get some reasonable square-footage. Nothing like the home of his childhood though, nor Bertie’s. But then nothing was quite like the grand palace in the heart of the city.
‘I was… just making dinner. You want some?’ he asked tentatively, as though Bertie popped by all the time. Wasn’t that for the best? Try to keep everything as normal as it would ever get?
And it was true, the pasta was ready.
But it felt such a strange thing to say, mundane even.
What could he say to a person he had grown up with? Someone he'd pretty much been in love with in his own childish way, been betrothed to, and then left the first chance he’d had? What did he say?
Especially as he knew exactly why Bertie had run, even if not why he had run to him.
Bertie’s uncle had outed him last night. And Kit couldn’t begin to fathom the pain he must be in. The nightmare he was living was one that Kit had deliberately avoided.
The fact that he had left Bertie alone to face that reminded him that Bertie really was completely alone.
‘I heard about your parents, I’m… I was heartbroken, Bertie.’ Kit wanted to erase the words as soon as he had said them. They were condolences two years late and not entirely unconnected with Bertie’s current situation.
He had been heartbroken, though, when he’d heard about the crash during the state visit that had robbed them all of the King and Queen. Their young son had thankfully been with a nanny, and was now the ward of the new King, their uncle. Without a husband and with a younger brother, Bertie had not been in line for the throne. Kit wondered if that was something Bertie might have been thankful for.
Kit had cried for them but also for Bertie too. And it had become yet one more time when he should have been there for Bertie but wasn’t.
Bertie nodded solemnly at the words then looked down at his feet and shuffled them about.
Kit wasn’t one for tabloids, but he saw enough to know that Bertie had been a recluse since his parents died. He wondered if there might be some chance of freedom in that. A freedom for Bertie to be himself.
Until last night, when the King had outed Bertie to the nation as part of a speech on his policies on inclusivity. He had spoken at length about his love and support for the nephew he treated as a son but with such poor wording that it wasn’t immediately clear that he was talking about Bertie and not Charles. It was a clumsy and obvious grab for liberal popularity by a man who would forever live in the shadow of his beloved brother.
It had been inescapable news all day. Channel after channel showing their own angle of footage as the press camped outside Bertie’s gates, waiting for a glimpse of the reclusive princess-come-prince.
Watching the spectacle of it unfold, Kit thought about what support he might have given had he been there, still in Bertie’s life. He thought about the many letters he had written over the years but never had the nerve to post. Once more it was too late to be there and support his friend. His first love.
‘I wanted to get in touch. Not just now. Before, but…’ Kit started as he led the way down the hall and into the kitchen. Struggling to find the words.
‘It’s okay, I—I never expected. Maybe I shouldn’t have come here, but I didn’t know where else to go. You were the only one that ever, um…’ The words trailed off and Kit knew that Bertie was trying to hold back tears. He remembered all those tells.
Yeah, he’d been the only one that had really understood that Bertie was a boy.
It had been impossible not to with how close they’d been.
But more than that, he’d never thought of Bertie as a girl from the moment they met. To Kit, he was so clearly a boy, and that was just how it was, unspoken and natural. It had been jarring when they’d had to dress up for special occasions and Bertie was forced into a dress suitable for a princess. Bertie was a boy, just… not quite the same as Kit was.
But none of his friends were exactly alike, one way or another, whether body type or race, hair colour or height. So it never mattered. Not until it did. Not until it made Kit have to question a lot of things about himself.
He shook his head, both denying Bertie’s words and shaking out those thoughts.
‘Hey, you’re welcome here, you know that? Whatever you need, I’m here for you. I should have been…’ It was Kit’s turn to lose his words, not able to admit he should have been there. Or that he could have been if he’d just gone along with everything and not been full of his own self-doubt over something he’d always known.
They could have been married; he could have been there for Bertie if he’d just gone along with it all.
‘You’re here for me now,’ Bertie replied, so quietly that it was almost a whisper.
Kit, overwhelmed and unsure whether to cry or reach for Bertie simply cleared his throat then said, ‘Want some food?’ He grabbed an extra bowl and started to serve up the pasta with shaky hands.
Bertie looked on the verge of tears and Kit hated that he might be contributing to his pain.
‘I’m cold. I don’t… I don’t have anything. This is all I have. I just walked out and I can’t go back.’ Bertie blurted the words and Kit instinctively moved back to him, placing his hands on Bertie’s arms and feeling the more muscular frame than had been there before.
Feeling his heart skip just a little at the contact.
‘Food can wait. Have a shower, I’ll grab you some fluffy towels. And… um, some clothes. I mean, they’ll kind of swamp you but I think I have some drawstring lounge pants or something.’
Bertie managed another small smile and nodded. ‘Thanks Chr—Kit. You don’t have to do this.’
Kit felt his heart shatter, but, forcing himself to smile fondly, he replied, ‘What are friends for?’