Leon crossed the street and kept walking until he found a trail leading him to the beach. There was magic in the water when the sun descended into its depths. Leon spent a few minutes immortalizing the color on the water and the sky with his camera. When he had enough pictures, he sat on the sand, removed his boots and watched the sunset.
Logan joined him after thirty minutes, choosing to keep a wide gap between them.
“The sun is almost gone,” Logan said. “We should be getting back.”
“I came out to be alone.” Leon pointed out, not glancing at him. “How did you know I left?”
“I discovered your secret tunnel,” Logan said. “I imagine none of your people know about it, or the passage you used to get there. Dax would not have neglected to tell me of such a weakness.”
“I’ve used that tunnel a long time. Don’t make me stop.”
Logan sighed, drawing Leon’s gaze at the weight of it.
“You sound like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders,” Leon said.
“I am when you place your life in danger,” Logan countered.
“If no one knows the tunnel exists, and you clearly have it covered now, then I will be fine,” Leon said.
Logan kept his silence this time.
Leon watched the sunset for a minute.
“Why did you leave today?” Logan asked, breaking his silence.
Leon thought about his grandmother and shuddered. Being out like this made him scared that he was losing time. Losing the chance to enjoy every single moment doing what he wanted, being with whomever he wanted.
He glanced at Logan.
If his grandmother saddled him with more responsibilities, what would that mean for Logan? What would it mean for them, together?
“I’ve been thinking,” Leon murmured, hoping to test the waters. “Grandmother is overdue in naming Uncle Isaak the crown heir. Her delay must have placed undue stress on my uncle and his family. Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view, do you think Grandmother is wrong to delay it so much?”
Logan stayed silent for a full minute before he answered.
“The Queen would not delay her decision without reason,” Logan said. “The people of Aeras understand her. Prince Isaak has not been without his faults. His son, Prince Constantin, has let her down more than once. It’s not unkind of her to wait.”
Leon nodded, returning his gaze to Logan.
“You wish she would choose none of them,” Leon guessed.
“I’m under qualified to give you that answer.”
Leon blinked then broke into a laugh, amused by Logan’s clear refusal to answer his question.
“You should have considered a diplomatic career like Riku,” Leon said, when his laughter subsided. “You give answers without giving them.”
“I’d be too bored,” Logan said, looking at him.
Finally, Leon thought, and held that dear gaze.
“I imagine you’re more of an action hero type.”
“Am I?” Logan asked, studying him.
The study lasted longer than Leon expected. He had always loved when Logan looked at him. There were people who could look and leave one feeling violated, ignored, dismissed, even irrelevant.
Not with Logan, Leon thought.
When Logan looked at him, he felt visible, happy…wanted, as if he belonged. It was strange when he should have all those things anyway. He was not lacking after all, but this was Logan. He made Leon’s heart skip with a simple smile.
“Leon, how are you really?”
The question made Leon smile. He had missed the feel of Logan looking at him. Blue eyes intense, really seeing him, Logan really asking and wanting to know.
“I’m fine,” Leon said, feeling like a liar at that moment.
“You’re not,” Logan stated, calling him out on it. “I’m afraid that you haven’t been fine since your parents’ funeral. I see that now.”
Leon looked away because even David had never had the courage to ask him about his pain. It had been hard at first, his friends had worried, and then he had gotten good at hiding it.
Not from Logan it seemed.
Logan shook his head, drawing Leon’s gaze for a second.
“I still can’t get over that day, you know. It killed me having to watch you walk that procession alone.”
“I’m their only son,” Leon said, staring at the darkening horizon, memories of his parents’ funeral flooding him. “It was the least I could do.”
He remembered feeling numb to the noise surrounding him as Dax managed the numerous procedures required of a state funeral. His grandmother hugging him tight, when he thought he might fall. His uncle’s family kept their distance, even as they stayed polite and supporting.
Most of all, he remembered the feeling that he was now alone in this life. Castle Arguro had felt empty from that day on.He might have lost his mind for a while in the following months before he found his bearings.
“I do miss them,” Leon admitted. “Some days it feels like a dream and I will wake up and find them laughing in the sunroom downstairs. My mother loved to tease my father when they were alone. I’d find them giggling like the love sick couple they were in quiet corners around the castle. I have thousands of photos of them, including the last day I saw them alive, that I can’t look at anymore.”
“They were my favorite royals,” Logan confessed, making Leon look at him.
Leon’s heart skipped when he saw Logan smile.
He called it a Logan-condition. He had caught it at Eibsee Lake and there was no hope for a cure. Logan just needed to stay right next to him so that he could make it. He smiled wondering what Logan would say to this.
“There was something magical about your parents,” Logan continued. “They led a quiet life, and doted over you. I admired them for that, simply living.”
“I didn’t take you for a follower,” Leon said.
“My mom was,” Logan said. “She ran a tourist treasure shop. She would keep any interested customers entertained for hours on stories about your parents, or your grandmother.”
Leon stilled, his chest tightening at Logan’s choice of words.
Logan was talking about his mother in the past tense, his shoulders tense.
Leon frowned. He remembered Logan telling him he could meet her once. They had been discussing hot chocolate. Leon had tried to replicate the taste of Logan’s hot chocolate over the years and never come close.
Already sensing the nature of Logan’s sadness, Leon asked, “Does she still make hot chocolate?”
“I’d have to make it for you now,” Logan said, his tone heavy with sadness.
“Tell me,” Leon said, shifting to face Logan.
Logan rubbed his forehead keeping his gaze on the shore.
“My mom passed away about two years ago,” Logan said. His voice was rough with emotion. “She got sick. The doctors did the best they could but it was not enough.”
Leon moved before he could think. He wrapped his arms around Logan, and held him. He knew what it was like to lose a parent, to be alone, which Logan was now.
After all, Logan had never talked about other family.
Saying sorry always felt insufficient, Leon thought.
He knelt on the sand, his arms tight around Logan’s broad shoulders. Logan shifted, resting his forehead on Leon’s shoulder, his arms going around Leon’s back. Logan held on tight and it was the best feeling in the world.
They stayed like that for a while before Logan spoke.
“I missed you so much.”
Leon closed his eyes, breathing him in.
“We’re both idiots,” Leon said, echoing David’s constant sentiments. “You for keeping away, and me, for-for choosing not to find out about you after you left. Can we make this easier on ourselves, Logan?”
“Aren’t we already trying that out?” Logan asked, amused.
Leon scoffed and ran his fingers through Logan’s short hair.
“There’s the pesky matter of someone trying to kill me and a title you can’t seem to forget.”
“Both of those things do complicate our situation a bit,” Logan said, lifting his head when Leon tagged his head back.
“A bit?” Leon asked, thinking of his grandmother’s order to enter the palace.
He did not even want to think of how Logan would react to that.
Logan smiled in the fading light and acknowledged, “Okay, a lot.”
Leon chuckled and started to move away, but Logan kept holding him tight.
“Just a minute longer,” Logan begged, when Leon leaned against him.
Leon nodded and stroked his fingers over Logan’s hair. He felt sad that he would miss getting to know Logan’s mom. He had really wanted to meet the woman who had brought this extraordinary man up. He would have loved to meet her.
“Next time you visit your mom’s grave,” Leon said. “Take me with you. Okay?”
Logan hugged him and nodded, resting his forehead on Leon’s shoulder again.
They stayed at the beach for almost an hour.
Logan held Leon through most of that hour feeling as though he was receiving a gift.
At seven-thirty, Logan got up, waited for Leon to wear his boots and then pulled him up too. Leon cradled his camera as they walked back to the main street. He started to head to his motorcycle but Logan stopped him with a hand on his elbow.
“Let’s use the SUV this time,” Logan insisted.
Leon started to protest, and then stopped when he saw Logan’s team driving up in a black Jeep.
“You have everything sorted.”
“It’s my job,” Logan smiled. “John will ride your motorcycle back. Tom will take mine.”
“As you say,” Leon said, getting his keys from his pocket and handing them to John.
“Give John your jacket, I have one in the car for you,” Logan said, opening the back passenger door for Leon and taking the camera bag. “Nothing can change.”
Leon removed his leather jacket and handed it to John, then slid into the backseat without any question.
Logan closed the door and turned to John.
“Wear the jacket and the helmet. You and the Prince are the same height and build. It should be enough to act as a decoy, just in case.”
“Got it,” John said. “Have a nice ride back.”
“Yeah,” Logan said, turning to see Shirley in the driver’s seat, the engine running.
Leon sat right behind her.
Shirley gave him a short nod and closed the window on the front passenger seat, so that he couldn’t see her anymore. A niggling in the back of his head had him opening the back passenger door and sliding into the backseat next to Leon. He didn’t question this gut feeling, he only closed the door and signaled to Shirley to take off.
The ride back took an hour and a half thanks to evening traffic. Tom and John drove the motorcycles keeping ahead as it was easier for them to navigate.
Leon fell asleep, tired from his busy day. His camera in its bag sat on the floor between them. Leon's head tilted in the wrong angle.
Logan moved to the middle seat so that he could rest Leon’s head on his shoulder. He sat still, excited by the prospect of Leon leaning on him. He was enjoying their new connection. It was a new layer on their old one with a slow delicious burn.
Looking up, he caught Shirley watching him in the rearview mirror. He ignored her knowing smile. Instead, he spent the hour making sure Leon was comfortable. He savored the simple joy of having Leon so close. He hoped they would have more time together.
Shirley started up the road that led up to Castle Arguro. She slowed down at the intersection to allow way for a service truck. Tom and John slowed ahead on their motorcycles, wanting to match Shirley’s speed. The jeep’s head lights caught at their motorcycle plates, shone on Tom and John’s helmets.
A second later, Logan sat up as Tom leapt off his motorcycle.
Gunshots rained on the motorcycles in the next minute, and Logan shoved Leon to the floor of the jeep. Gun in hand, gaze searching their surroundings, he cursed when he saw no assailants, but Tom’s motorcycle went down. John already off his as Tom pulled him out of the line of fire.
Leon, woken from his sleep, crouched low on the floor, his fingers digging into the expensive leather of the driver’s seat when a round of bullets hit the side of the black jeep.
Logan met frightened gray eyes.
“I’ve got you,” Logan said. “Trust me.”