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Subject: Makarovia, Chapter 7 Proposal Prelude Story: Makarovia? Where the Hell Is That!? Chapter 7 Proposal Prelude Author: Eric McQueen (mcqueen.richarderic@) Adult Readers, Sexual Situations, Sex Freedom of expression is precious. To do that Nifty needs help. Your donation is greatly desired. Give to fty/ or this story ends and all the others! That would be a crime! Bringing everyone together for the Proposal starts. Proposal Prelude We said goodnight to Olek and Queen Alla…I still wasn’t used to thinking of her as Mom. Not yet. She was Queen! Going back to our room, Peter was…quiet as we strolled down the corridor. Don’t be mistaken, Peter was no wimp or someone that needed protecting, but I felt protective of him. What happened in his life had shaped him and he lacked…confidence about somethings about Makarovia and himself. Once behind our room door, I turned him around and kissed him hard. He responded pretty readily, but… “So, he kissed me,” I smirked at Peter who was looking away a little embarrassed. “You know it didn’t mean anything. He’s straight as an arrow. It wasn’t a kiss of love. It was a kiss, to show he was willing to change.” Peter rolled his eyes and nodded. “I know, but…” “He did it to prove he was trying.” I grinned. “So, is there a problem?” “I’m trying not to get jealous…I know it’s stupid, but…I am!” Peter grinned hugging me. “You…” he kissed me gently, “…belong…” he said as his fingers ran over me, “to me.” I chuckled. “That’s…very primal of you…but kind of sexy.” I nodded smiling. “Yes, I do belong to you and you belong to me,” I said pulling him toward the bed. “You care to stake your claim? Do you need to pound your chest or anything?” He gave a soft Tarzan like yell and did pound his chest, but was smiling. “No.” He nodded as he chuckled. “I intend to stake my claim. You can claim me.” He wasn’t too upset, just annoyed. The next couple of days I found out a lot more about Makarovia. What started this new discovery for me was as we walked through the palace; I noticed a guard that…well…his uniform was too big for him. Looking at him, I was kind of shocked. He looked…like a teenager…a very bored teenager. I looked at Peter. “Okay, what’s his story?” I thumbed toward the teenager as I looked passing him by. Peter looked at the guard and chuckled. “He’s just training. He just started.” “Training,” I repeated and looked back at the…kid. Peter nodded with a sigh as he took my hand and was leading me on down the corridor. “The problem with a population like ours…is the workforce.” I nodded. “Having a population that has so many homosexuals…doesn’t increase the population.” Peter nodded again. “That’s right. There are plenty of regular couples in Makarovia that have regular families. Generations of family. There is another source of population growth, that’s immigration. That is somewhat slow in the past.” I hadn’t thought of it. “That makes sense. What about unemployment?” I was wondering how they dealt with that here. Peter shook his head. “We don’t have any.” “None!?” I asked in disbelief. “None,” I said as a statement to confirm that. “No,” Peter said sadly. “In fact, we have more jobs available than we have workers.” I froze making us stop. “What about the disabled or homeless? You have to have that.” Peter nodded. “There is no homeless.” He waved at the outside world. “No one would be homeless in this environment in the winter. Disabled…if they live here…we have ways of dealing with them, usually, that’s family or friends. They can get assistance if needed.” “You give them money?” Peter’s head went back a little. “What!? No!” He sighed, pinching his nose, and frowned. “Look, things are not perfect here, at all, but we don’t have things like squatters or…people who abuse the system by lying saying they are sick when they aren’t. Things can be tough and the people are tough in Makarovia because of that. There are harsh things here. There are sad cases that come up where there are fires in the winter because of the need to have heat.” He shrugged. “The sad part is…during the winter when it snows and so cold, depending on where they live…there are some in remote areas that often die not because of the fire, but the cold or lack of assistance because we can’t get to them…especially in the outlying areas. They die due to lack of food and supplies…this isn’t a part of the world that is easy at all. If someone is unprepared for this part of the world…they will die.” He said simply. “No one just wanders here and stays in the streets. They will die. Are there criminals? Sure, we have thefts, spats and even some that are a little crazy, but criminals need somewhere to go. If they have no home here, where do they take the stuff they’ve stolen? Murder? Sure, we have them, but again…how do they get away? We usually know who it is. Where do they go?” He looked me in the eyes. “Life here can be great, but it’s not for the weak or unprepared.” He jutted his head toward the young guy in the uniform. “He is a high school graduate. He just started his mandatory two years of service.” I heard of other countries that did that. “Mandatory military?” Peter laughed, shaking his head. “Not necessarily military. When a young person graduates, he or she chooses something. Be it military, like him…or some service to the crown. Or should I say to Makarovia. They are often military or…” he chuckled, “areas like waste disposal…or if they’re grades are good enough and they completed high school…they can do clerical and office work at various government offices around Makarovia. After their mandatory service ends, they can stay at whatever job they have…or look for other employment here.” “What about college?” He shook his head. “The best is here, in Stryia, but there are limited choices. It’s vocational mostly. Of course, there is law enforcement and other vocational choices, but things like pre-law or pre-med…they have to go outside of Makarovia. When they do…they don’t necessarily come back. That’s our problem.” He looked a little sad for a moment. “Life here right now is very nice.” Then he looked at me. “I’m not going to lie to you. It is pretty now, it’s the beginning of summer, but it can be very hard…particularly in the winter. I want you to see the good here, but there is a lot that’s not so good.” I looked at the young man and then back to Peter. “I guess so.” I took his hand and patted him on the chest. “I’ll find out for myself, I suppose.” I pulled him into a hug, but I saw uncertainty in his eyes. “I’m not leaving, Peter. Please, don’t worry about that. Please, believe that.” He nodded, but I could see he wasn’t convinced. “Well, I’ll prove it to you.” I smiled kissing him. “I just won’t.” I shrugged. “You’ll see.” I saw him still looking unsure. “Yes, Peter…I’ve had a kind of fairy tale so far.” I watched his eyes widen. “Oh, come on…you are Prince Charming!” His eyes widened even more. “Wait, I’m Prince Charming? That’s nice, but you certainly are not Cinderella.” He grinned. “Thank you.” I smiled. “Besides, I would look terrible in a ball gown. I’m not a crossdresser or drag queen.” Then I looked at him. “Are there drag queens in Makarovia?” Peter gave a slight nod and shrug. “Men and women with gender issues? Sure.” He smiled. “A fairy tale?” “Sure.” I nodded taking his hand. “I meet this guy at school…he turns out to be a real-life prince and I fell in love. Now, I’m here with him about to marry him. Yes, it is a fairy tale.” I looked in his eyes. “I love you, Peter. I don’t care about this.” I waved at the castle surrounding us. “We could live in a cardboard box for all I care. You love me. I love you. This has been unexpected, but it’s been nonstop excitement.” I got closer. “I also know that because of things in the past, you had a…difficult time. I am starting to understand more about that, but…I’m never leaving you, Peter. Please. Know I won’t.” Peter smiled now, a little more relaxed. “Yes, you are more understanding; you said you were aroused by me before I got rid of the acne.” I bounced slightly. “I was!” I pulled him into a gentle kiss. “I was falling in love with you then and I do now. You’re a good man, Peter. I’m glad you invited me to be included in your life.” “I just don’t want to deceive you,” Peter said seriously. “There could be problems in the future.” “I know there will be.” I nodded. “That’s true with everyone. We’ll deal with it together. Okay?” He nodded with a more relaxed smile. “Okay.” I knew this would be an ongoing battle for him to accept I wasn’t scared away. Then there was a new portion of this vast fortress I got to see. I had no idea what was below the palace portion of this castle. I knew they had rooms for the people in ancient times to protect as many in the village when they were attacked. The palace was pretty and just beautiful. It didn’t have the opulence of some, but the people that were a part of the kingdom had worked…artisans and various workers to make what they had to work with…pretty. Right below the palace was unexpected by me. Peter and I were escorted by Queen Alla to this…vast room! It wasn’t a church or chapel. It was a ballroom…sort of. The fortress was tall and wide and this room took up most of what was below. Below the palace were many rooms, but this was different. In this big room which stood about two or three floors and open. Hundreds of people could be in this chamber and stand with their arms out and not touch anyone. The floor wasn’t marble, but stone like most of the floors above was polished and gleamed under the lights. Stone pillars held the ceiling up which was arched, almost like the pillars descended from the ceiling and just hadn’t let go or sprung from the pillars themselves. In my mind I could see this was old and was lit by torches instead of the electric lights there were now. It was ageless. There was a checkboard like pattern that spread from wall to wall. Again, there weren’t big windows up here to prevent attackers from getting in, but there were many small windows to let light in. Here there were chandeliers hung down that were covered now, but a few crystals were clear hanging from underneath the sheet-like covers and reflected light. Queen Alla walked in with her heels echoing through the vast empty room. “There will be tables set up along those walls.” She pointed to the far wall. “The ceremony will take place over there.” She pointed to the wall on the left. “There will be a raised portion erected there where Peter will do the actual proposal. Peter will inform the people assembled what his intentions are. They will be asked a series of questions which they will answer and the answer recorded. I did the same thing, that’s why after my Olek died, I was still Queen, I took a vow to the people to be that Queen, I still have a job to do.” She said. “Then Olek will ask you some questions, Eric, about what your intentions are for Peter, but mostly about what you intend to do for Makarovia. Once that’s done, Peter will ask you to marry him.” She said simply. I grinned as my eyebrows rose, looking at Peter. “You must know what my answer will be to do this.” Peter grinned and kissed me. “You can always change your mind.” “After all this, how can I?” I said feeling him pull me closer next to him. “I told you. A cardboard box I’d share with you. This…” I waved at the chamber, “…is nice, but not why I’m marrying you.” Peter smiled. “I know.” Queen Alla smiled but went on. “Then…in a year…you two will be married here.” Now she was beginning to cry, but not unhappy from her own memory of something. “You’re father and I were married here.” She said taking Peter’s other hand and arm. She pointed to where the wedding took place. “Right there. He was so handsome.” She smiled at Peter. “Just like you are. I see so much of him in you. Now my baby is marrying the one he loves, in the very same place.” She ran her hand over his face. “He would be so proud of the man you became.” Peter never looked away, but the emotion was in his voice. “I hope so.” “He is, believe me.” She stated and kissed him on the cheek. “And I am so proud of you, Peter.” Then she cleared her throat and smiled at me. “When I met you that night at the hotel in Washington…I was so happy Peter made a friend!” She chuckled. “I was thrilled he was on a date with that friend. By the end of that night, I knew you would be perfect for not only Peter but Makarovia. You love my son, I saw that. You’re smart and kind. You are more than willing to share that with Makarovia.” She shook her head and she got serious. “I know what is happening here…just hasn’t been ever done; a prince is marrying a man because he truly loves him? That attracted people even more than the discovery of the uranium. ” “I think everyone was shocked at Makarovia’s reaction to this…and your reaction to it.” I pointed out. She nodded. “And that’s why there will be coverage of a lot of what you do.” She looked at me seriously. “Do you think you’ll be alright with that?” “Of course, not,” I said honestly. “It is whether I’m alright with it or not. I’ll just…deal with it.” She nodded again. “I bring that up, because…this proposal and wedding will be broadcasted.” She pointed back toward the entrance. “There will be camera crews right there to record this event.” “And reporters as well.” I nodded knowing the answer before she gave her answer. “You handled that interview with Mr. Cooper very well.” Queen Alla said. “I think you can handle some other reporters.” I shrugged. “Again…it will happen. I’ll deal with it. I won’t do anything to embarrass Makarovia or the family.” I squeezed Peter’s hand. “Or you.” Queen Alla smiled. “I just need you to remember that. There are some requests from groups that want to be here for the wedding…they may not know about this proposal. Perhaps you can invite them?” “Groups?” I asked. “You mean LGBT groups?” Using the English letters for the group she had to think about it. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” I explained in Makarovian. “Oh, yes. They will want to be here, too.” Queen Alla nodded understanding now. “Who you invite for the proposal is your business.” She said. I thought about what I’d seen in Stryia. “I don’t remember seeing a big hotel here.” Peter shook his head. “There is no Holiday Inn or Hiott here. We have an inn here, but it’s not a chain. We don’t really have that much tourism.” “But you will!” I pointed out. “Can we handle all these guests?” Queen Alla nodded. “To a point. We have rooms in the palace and the inn…if more is needed, we’ll ask the people of Makarovia. They will welcome those that come to help.” I frowned. “They will welcome strangers? Not only from the United States…England or Germany…France?” “Don’t forget…” Peter pointed out. “The temporary housing in Skoal. As the permanent houses are finished for the new personnel, people will move out…but if more is needed, other temporary housing will be provided. The number of people coming will be monitored. Olek has it under control.” I nodded. “Well, hasn’t that been a problem?” I asked now understanding the great burden on Olek. Peter looked puzzled a moment. “Okay,” I said quietly moving closer to Peter. “Olek has always taken control,” I said. “He’s under so much stress…he hadn’t gone on a vacation in years!” I pressed my forehead against his. “We need to ask him about this issue and take some of these jobs from him. I know, we’ve only just got here and we will be back at school at the end of August for another year. Olek has done a great job! This is our proposal and wedding…I know it’s a function for Makarovia and the people will gladly help, but shouldn’t we know what the plans are…or even make them ourselves for this extra people?” I looked at Queen Alla. “What newsgroups are we having here?” “For the proposal?” She thought. “Several from the United States and England…” I nodded. “The BBC?” She nodded. “Yes.” “Thanks…” I grinned at her, “…Mom.” I had to make that come out. She smiled bigger when I used the name. “I’m sure we have a lot to cover…” I said to Peter. “But I need to do some research!” “You’re bringing your grandmother for the proposal, aren’t you?” Queen Alla said it so it wasn’t a question. “I guess I better.” I bounced. Back in our room, I pulled up the web browser and researched the internet. Fortunately, his keyboard had English letters on it, and I made sure the web browser was in English as well. Peter was looking over my shoulder at the monitor as I typed quickly. “Isn’t there Logo or something?” Peter asked. I nodded. “Sure.” I looked at him. “Logo is fine…there are networks like CNN that have gay reporters…like Anderson Cooper, but the BBC is going to be here…all I want to do is find one with the BBC and invite him to be here.” “Why not just invite Mr. Cooper again?” Peter asked. “I might, but…” I held up my finger to him as I looked at what I found. “Yes!” I turned quickly to Peter and I could see he wasn’t understanding about what I was doing. Smiling, I took his hand and led him to the couch. “This is going to be an International event. That was the BBC’s website. International coverage should be included. I remembered a reporter that worked with them. He is most assuredly gay. He’s married to a man and doesn’t hide anything. He’s also outspoken, even made some enemies because if it. He even badmouthed one of those…ministers of something or other about his…narrow minded primitive views on homosexuality.” I watched as I didn’t see he understood why that was important. “Peter, this is bigger than a prince marrying a commoner. You do understand that, right?” He gave a grudging nod. “Sort of.” “You are a man…a prince…marrying a man!” I said. “That’s never been done!” I smiled, pulling him closer to me as I pressed my lips to his. “I love it that you can’t understand!” I shook my head relishing the very idea and said again. “You were raised here! No one’s ever called you a faggot! Or ever felt your life was in danger because of someone you love. That’s the beauty here in Makarovia!” I pressed on my chest. “I was raised in the South! Things are better there now, but there are people…just mezitli escort plain ignorant people in the world that will never accept it. General David Burke is one, but he’s trying to change. Others won’t. If they could get away with, take my life for being gay! Many of us had their life taken because they were gay. Parents will throw their underage children in the street to fend for themselves because they’re gay!” Peter shook his head. “I just don’t understand that.” I brought him in for a deep kiss. “I know! You don’t! You can’t!” I closed my eyes loving that he couldn’t. “Baby, I love it that you don’t. When did your mother and brother know you were gay?” Now, he blushed a little but smiled a little embarrassed. “Well, I was about thirteen or fourteen.” He chuckled. “I had been…jerking off for a few years by then. My thoughts when I would…well…I spoke to one of the guards.” “Did you?” Peter now avoided looking at me and he nodded again. “He was…like that young man you saw in training in the corridor; young and not bad looking.” He grinned. “And blond.” He chuckled knowing what my reaction would be hearing that. I rolled my eyes. “Really.” He shrugged. “I hadn’t met you yet!” He said simply. “And what exactly did you ask him?” “I asked him if he ever jerked off,” Peter said again simply. “He had been here a few weeks and he was always friendly with me…” he waved at his face. “He didn’t care about my face or body. I just asked if he knew of…or found a better way.” “Wow. You must have trusted him.” I grinned. “He was a friend.” “Probably one of the only ones I made before, but yes…” Peter grinned. “But I was terrified. The truth was…I would have done it with him. I was sorting of hoping he would have sex with me.” “You were brave to do that,” I said impressed. “Most guys would never have had the courage to do that.” I moved so he had to look me in the eyes. “And?” Peter’s eyebrows waggled briefly. “He showed me.” I grinned because he was so embarrassed. “So, he was one of the…” Peter looked up understanding what I was saying. “No…he preferred women, but showed me some good things…like the lube I have here. We did jerk off together a few times. It was better than just…jerking off for myself because I had a live guy right there with his cock out. He let me touch him even, but we never had sex. He offered to give me some s..puter websites are better I found from the websites I saw in the s, but…the s he had were of women and I didn’t get aroused by them. However, there were sections that had men in them…now that aroused me. I told him and…well…he got me some s with guys and I was happy a while. Only some of those sites charged, but I didn’t know that…until Mom came and told me.” He chuckled scratching his ear. “I didn’t have to tell her I was gay, not after she read the addresses…Cocks, Butch Bears, Jerk Off Boys…” “She wasn’t mad about the sites?” “No.” Peter grinned. “She just cautioned me to do more research and find out if there’s a charge first. She said one or two memberships were fine, as long as they were safe…” He chuckled, “from computer viruses and all.” “See!?” I said tapping him on the shoulder. “I would be mortified if my mother knew I jerked off! She probably knew, but…she didn’t tell you, you shouldn’t or anything?” Peter shook his head again surprised. “No. It was Olek that talked to me, though. He said it was every human being with a penis did it. Young or old, every single male finds out and perfects how to jerk off. It was just…a male thing to do.” I nodded. “That is so nice. I had a friend that was so ashamed when his parents found out he was jerking off, they made him feel like it was wrong. Most homes in America, the young men in the house know to hide when they do to keep the parents from finding out.” “Why?” He shook his head. “Olek told me it was what we were made for…sex. Olek even told me he did it and I know he still does.” I smiled again more. “You were never felt or feel it was wrong?” Peter shook his head. “Never.” He waved at the computer. “If it’s so wrong…I’ve seen hundreds of guys…probably thousands of guys willing to do it and let everyone watch. Some aren’t even paid to do it!” “A lot of it has to do with religions. So often they hit us right on the dinner plate and in the bedroom!” I groaned. “We are told not to eat things and no sex.” Peter nodded. “Olek just cautioned me to be careful.” He chuckled. “I think it was a relief to them both that I did like men, no unplanned pregnancies. He just cautioned me to enjoy how it feels, but when I involved another person to never forget that was a person, not an object.” “What about diseases or infections?” Peter nodded. “Sure, there were things brought in, but most of our people don’t travel that much and people don’t come here that much.” I nodded. “Now they will.” It was so nice to meet people that seemed to know more about human nature and accepted it so easily. “You say that life is tough here.” I nodded. “I will find out. There are things in Makarovia that are hard, but I’m telling you, Peter…” I pulled him to me, kissing him deeply, “I am so jealous of the life you were raised in. Things will change in Makarovia. We need to prepare for it, but the fact you don’t really know fear because you’re gay and your family knew you were just human is so…WONDERFUL! No guilt because you are human…I love Makarovia!!” I said as he began pulling on my shirt to take it off me. “I love you, Peter.” I loved how easily we were accepted in Makarovia. In many ways, I felt these people knew more about human nature than anyone. I looked at Olek at breakfast and thought what a shame he had to resort to that one male thing…jerking off wasn’t a bad thing, but…Peter didn’t do it anymore and neither did I. We had each other now. Olek needed someone. I was determining Peter and I would help as much as possible to free up Olek’s time so he could…I don’t know…look? Olek was gorgeous! Don’t get me wrong, Peter had him beaten in my opinion, but Olek was…well, he was hot. Then I hated having to figure out time differences, but it wasn’t too hard. I called my Grandmother when I knew she’d be home. She was a busy lady. No grass growing under her feet. “Hello?” She asked curiously, obviously seeing the caller ID which told her it was “out of area?” It all depended on the system she used. “Hi, Grandma!” I greeted happily. “You know where I am!” “I wondered who was calling,” Grandma said. “And I know where you are. You’re becoming quite famous here.” “Yes, don’t I know it, but how would you feel about a trip here?” I asked. “There’s this ceremony I do where I basically become engaged to the entire country of Makarovia.” “You what!?” Grandma asked, but it was a fascination I heard in her voice. I explained what the ceremony was. “…and at the end. Peter proposes to me. Then the,” and I did air quotes she couldn’t see, “official announcement goes out. I’d love for you to be there.” I heard the pause and I knew what she was doing, going for her checkbook. “I don’t know…” There would be two trips if she came here. One now and the other for the wedding. “We’re paying for you to come.” I quickly added. “Grandma, you’re my only living relative. If you can’t be there-” “No!” She said quickly. “Of course, I want to be there. When is this ceremony?” “It will be that Friday evening next week is the dinner, Saturday is the proposal,” I said. “I’d love for you to see Makarovia and meet King Olek and Queen Alla.” Then I heard a sniff and I could hear the tissue pulled from the tissue box. “Grandma? Is everything alright?” I asked. “Yes, baby. Everything is just fine.” She said sniffing. “Forgive an old lady for having tears of joy. I am so happy for you, Eric. I was worried when you brought Peter here, but…I think it’s wonderful!” “I do, too.” I smiled. “Can we arrange to have you come a few days early?” “Sure.” She said. “Just tell me what time the flight is. I’ll be there.” After hanging up, I saw Peter grinning at me from across the room. “I take it, she’s coming,” Peter said simply. “She is!” I got up and walked toward him, leaning close. “She’s very happy with the marriage. So, am I.” I said inching closer to his face. “I love you, Peter.” He closed the distance as he pulled me in for a kiss. A deep, probing, and consuming kiss. “I know.” Queen Alla had gone over all of the ceremony and what to expect. I contacted the BBC. Having no knowledge of how to call him, I called the main switchboard. I had the image of Andrew Humphries up. He was…not a bad looking man. In his forties, but looked a little younger with dirty blond hair and a face that was appealing that also said he enjoyed life outdoors from some lines in the corners of his eyes caused from a lot of sun. Blond? The poor man. I was reading more about his…interactions with others. Not all of his confrontations had anything to do the LGBT community, but he was a sort of…in your face type of reporter. He and his husband had been married for…as long as it had been legal. The picture of him with another dark-haired man, who was a little taller, but also shared his husband’s love of the outdoors. Happy, open faces on the both of them. I should have gone through the palace, but I wanted to get him myself. I wanted him to know who was inviting him. I called the main number I saw for him on the website for him. The woman that answered was definitely British from her accent. “I’d like to speak with Andrew Humphries, please.” “Mr. Humphries may not even be in the country. Can I pass a message?” The woman said with minor patience as I heard some activity in the background as others were doing…things. They were busy. I got that message. “This is Eric Richards. I’m calling from Stryia, Makarovia…” “No.” The woman said a little snide, her voice now stronger as she must have turned around in her chair. “We don’t have time for jokes.” Okay, maybe I hadn’t gone through the proper channels. I was new to this royal thing. I was certain there were channels, but… “What does your caller ID say?” I asked. Honestly, I didn’t know. I assumed since this was the BBC, they had a nice one. It should say something…Makarovia? Stryia? A number with the first numbers for Makarovia’s international call? Apparently, so many calls came through, the caller ID wasn’t often checked visually. “Oh, my god.” It seemed it did show something…Makarovian. “Hold on!” She said quickly and I heard that annoying music you often hear now when on hold. It was more than a few minutes before she came back. “Are you still there?” “You told me to hold,” I said. “I am so sorry for putting you on hold like that,” she said in a hurry, “but…I had to locate him. I’m transferring you to him now.” Again, the music and then the ringing sounded. “Hello?” A male voice asked and his voice was also not saying he was convinced no matter what that woman told him about the call. “Andrew Humphries? This is Eric Richards calling from Stryia, Makarovia.” I said. “You’re shitting me.” He said in disbelief. I chuckled. “Well, I don’t really shit anyone, if I can help it. I am Eric Richards.” I thought a moment. “I can have someone from the palace call instead, but I wanted to speak with you. I’m new to this whole thing and I didn’t know the proper channels I needed to go through. Not yet. I didn’t really ask. Should I do that?” “No!” He said quickly. “I can understand that.” The voice said. “Why do you need to speak with me?” “That’s a joke, right?” I asked. “I saw footage of the confrontation with that…whatever he was when he was objecting to the approval of same-sex marriage in England. I heard the uncensored recording you gave him. Nice language, by the way. I also know about your stance with all things LGBT and also, your zeal for the truth.” “Okay.” “I understand the BBC is coming on Thursday of next week to Stryia. I was calling to see if you would want to be invited as well. Specifically, you, Mr. Humphries.” “I don’t believe this.” He muttered someone or no one off the phone. “You don’t believe me?” I asked, not sure about what he said. “I am who I say I am.” “No, no, no!” He said quickly. “Not you…I tried for months to get someone there to call me back! You know how important this is!” “Yes, I do,” I admitted. “That’s why I wanted you. This is the first marriage for people of the same gender who are legally getting married and Peter being a prince and in line for a throne…not just marrying a guy, but a commoner and an American with no family ties to any throne anywhere, I got that.” “You know I need this verified.” He said. “I know. I assume you’re on location somewhere?” “I am.” “Do you have a phone with Internet access?” I asked. “I do.” He said. “Then to assure yourself I am who I say, look up the contact number for Makarovia…the palace…” “No need.” He said instantly. “I have it. I’ve been calling for a while.” “Okay, call the number you have and ask for me,” I said. “I’m calling as soon as I hang up.” “Give me a chance to get downstairs to tell them, but…okay.” I chuckled. “Thanks, Mr. Humphries.” “Call me Drew, please.” “I’m Eric,” I said. “Can I call in fifteen minutes?” Drew asked. I chuckled. “First, I need to find the Administration Offices, but that should be fine.” I looked over at Peter who grinning at me as he was studying a map of Stryia. “Where is the Administration’s Office?” Peter grinned and got up. “I’ll show you.” He said smiling holding his hand out to me. This was another part of the kingdom I had never thought of. Offices! I knew there had to be one…somewhere, but on the same level with the palace, there was this…room. Here were the usual noises one would expect from an office with the computer and office equipment. It wasn’t that large and I could see there were maybe two or three that was usually there…normally. Now, there were five! This was a busy time now. I heard more ringing of a phone from another room. Men and women…two that were more mature and three that were young. I guess they were starting their mandatory service years like the guard from the hall I’d seen. A young man from a desk was on the phone and looked up, his eyes widened as he rose instantly! Almost in military abruptness and ramrod straight! “Your Highnesses!” He bowed. I will tell you, I noticed he used the word �’исокості not �’исокість. The first was Highnesses, not Highness; plural as opposed to singular. I pointed to myself. “You were addressing me, too?” I asked him. He was maybe eighteen! Looking and his dark hair, which I also noted he had only begun shaving every day recently as I saw a nick or two that were healing now. “Of course! You are both princes!” “The word �’еличність?” I asked for majesty. “For King Olek and Queen Alla.” The young man said logically. I groaned. “All those times I demoted Olek,” I muttered to Peter who chuckled. “He’s not sending you to the rack or anything, okay? Relax.” Peter grinned. “Can I use my new �’исокість powers now?” I asked Peter and this young man. “I suppose.” Peter looked uncertainly at me. I looked at the young man. “When you see me…I’m Eric. Not �’исокість or �’еличність.” I said. “Do I need to tell everyone?” Peter laughed lightly. “You probably will have to tell them a few times in the beginning.” He told me but looked at the young man. “The same for me…I’m Peter.” “Yes, Your High…I mean, yes, Peter.” The young man said nodding with a more relaxed smile. I smiled at him. “The reason we’re here…there’s a man…Andrew Humphries going to call…” A woman in her thirties at a computer raised her hand snapping her fingers. “He’s on the phone now.” She pointed to the phone as she listened to the caller. I looked at my watch but went to her. “May I?” I asked her holding my hand out for the phone. “Of course.” She smiled, giving me the phone. I heard he was still speaking as he had been for this woman. “It’s not even been ten minutes, Drew!” I said in mocking irritation cutting him off. “I was anxious!” Drew said back quickly, but very happy. “I guess you are who you say you are.” “Does that mean you’ll come to Makarovia?” I asked. “Try to stop me!” He said and I heard the excitement in his voice. “Though, you might want to call my supervisor to tell her that you want me on the news team.” “That,” I said, “I’ll let the Admin Office here handle. Use the number I called from first to reach me if you need to.” I got his supervisor’s name and number. “I look forward to meeting you, Drew.” “I certainly look forward to meeting the two of you!” He said and I heard the smile in his voice. “I was thinking you’d call Anderson Cooper again or something.” “I like him just fine,” I said. “But this is kind of different. He does news. You concentrate more time on our issues…and this is an issue; a good one, but an issue. Besides, you don’t take prisoners.” I heard him laugh heartily. “I don’t.” He agreed. “Is this…I heard there was a…ceremony?” “An official proposal by Peter to me,” I said. “I’ll be engaged to the whole country.” “Really?” “But you can be there to see it all and record it…whatever and bring our side into this. Me and Peter’s, not just about the gay part.” I said. “You can even ask me and Peter questions. We’ll answer what we can and bring Wayne. If needed, we’ll pay for it.” My mentioning his husband he proudly displayed on the webpage caused him to stop. “I’d love to!” His voice was now less excited, but he was happy to hear I included his husband. “Wayne will be thrilled to come on one of my many trips.” “You married him to keep him around.” I shrugged. “So, keep him with you. We look forward to meeting you both.” “Is it formal?” “Saturday, yes. The party on Friday night, just a little dressy. Well, they will be dressed up.” I said. “No tux or like that. Most here don’t have access to those.” “Good.” Draw chuckled. “I won’t tell Wayne. Any excuse he can find to put me in one of those things…he goes for.” “We’ll see you next week.” I handed the phone back to the woman. “Okay! Everyone has a name. What are they?” The others in the office smiled and I was introduced to them all. I’d try to remember. As we headed pozcu escort back into the palace, Peter was once again right there…with me and I loved how we were always connected. Arms around the other or just holding hands, we were connected. “What is it about this Humphries guy?” Peter asked. “He’s just another reporter.” I nodded, but I…not afraid he couldn’t understand but had nothing to go back in history or know why he wouldn’t understand. “I know, but…he’s a special reporter.” I smiled. “The world out there…” I waved outside of the castle, “just won’t accept us.” I sighed. “It was 1973 before the American Psychiatric Association removed Homosexuality as an illness. It’s the one thing that makes Makarovia stand out. You don’t know the struggle we have faced.” “We know about it…” Peter protested. “As history.” I nodded I smiled. “A hundred years ago, they came to escape Nazis…but the reason we often say…” I did the air quotes with my one free hand, “out of the closet, is because we weren’t safe to let anyone know we are gay. I, we faced, persecution and even death are what the others knew. You know of it as a part of history happening elsewhere.” I looked at Peter. “Are you proud to be gay?” Peter’s eyes widened and his head went back a little. “I suppose…” I turned smiling with a nod. “There you go! The idea of being proud doesn’t mean what you think. Drew said…he wasn’t proud to be gay, but he wasn’t ashamed of being gay. He simply…is.” I shrugged. “He did nothing to make the claim, he just…is. The key difference is he didn’t hide what he is. That he’s proud of. People know he is? It doesn’t matter.” I pulled him into a kiss. “In South Carolina, we risk statements of hate and even threats of death if we did what we just did. At certain intersections, there would be accidents.” I chuckled. “The fact is…I’m proud to be seen by people like General David Burke as a friend now because I am gay. That’s what Drew Humphries is about. Not about him, but everyone else. He will, of course, be reporting our marriage because of the homosexual part, but he’ll be covering all of the unique qualities of that marriage.” Peter nodded. “Our marriage because of the commoner part.” “And an American!” “Why is that so difficult to believe?” Peter asked. “All of us married commoners!” “Ah, but an American!?” I shook my head. “Look what happened with Wallis Simpson! I told you, this is my fairy tale.” Peter frowned. “Not the Cinderella thing again.” “No, but we are telling the world that we are just people,” I said. “We’re getting married. Two people in love that are joining our lives. They need to get used to the idea.” He nodded. “I love you, too.” Then he grinned. “We’ll stake our claims again. You’re mine, Eric.” I grinned as I felt his hands come over my chest and around me. “And you’re mine, Peter.” I said as he began kissing his way across my neck. The weekend was nice…sort of a lull for what was going to happen in less than a week. I found out through Olek and Queen Alla that there were rooms set aside for some invited guests, but most of the news teams were being housed at the local inn. I asked about Drew Humphries coming. Olek shrugged. “Well, that’s up to you. He can stay here along with your grandmother. We have room.” The was the ongoing project with the webpage and photos I went through, sending my responses I approved of back to Northeastern. Then Jori came with Peter’s and my suits for the webpage photographs. The suits were nice. They had to be. After putting it on I was going to be photographed for the webpage. Everyone would see it. It was as we prepared for that…a young woman came with something on a pillow. It was not a big thing, but a solid gold round…crown. A coronet. Yeah, I knew, but I didn’t KNOW! Not one of those things with points, but a simple ring of gold. I looked at it hesitantly. “It’s your crown, Your Highness.” She said with a curtsy, wondering if there was a problem. I just looked up at her, dumbfounded. “I just…” Peter came behind me and took the crown from her. “I’ll handle this. Thank you.” He looked at me and I saw, once again, the uncertainty in his eyes. “Remember our rule.” He said softly. “Tell me what you’re thinking if I ask.” Now, I was uncertain. “I just…” my mind going over all this crown meant. “I knew…but it’s so much more real.” I waved at the crown. “I am going to be Prince Eric.” Peter nodded. “If we marry. You will be.” I saw his eyes and one eye narrowed at him. “Don’t do that!” I shoved lightly. “I’m not backing out. I said I’d never leave you. I meant it. I love you, Peter. Never, ever doubt that.” I waved at the crown. “Seeing this…just hit me a how important this will be. People are counting on me.” Peter nodded. “They will.” He leaned into me. “I’LL be counting on you.” I picked up the crown. It was heavy! It was solid gold! “How do they know this will fit?” Peter grinned and waved at Jori. “He can tell just by looking.” I smiled as Olek came in carrying his. Now his…was a crown. The points and all that stuff. I felt sorry for him seeing it. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” I said softly as he walked over. Olek smiled and hefted it up. “Because it’s so damned heavy!” He handed it to me. “Now, you may know why I prefer not to wear it often!” It was heavy with responsibility as well as the very weight. “I mean that,” I said quietly to Olek. “We’ll do what you need us to do.” Olek smiled and nodded. “You are, already.” He said bringing me in for a kiss on the cheek. Of course, Queen Alla outshined all of us. The shimmering gold colored gown she wore was cut perfectly and her hair done right…her tiara glistened. I bowed. “Your Majesty.” She smiled and gave a shrug and then nod. “Yes, yes.” There was the shot with us together, standing behind Olek as he sat on the throne and individual headshots of all of us. Later, Peter pulled me to him as we were changing. “I will admit to having to look up Wallis Simpson.” He confessed. “I was not up on that particular history.” He smiled. “She was an American, but twice divorced and that wouldn’t do for the people of England.” “Sure, but you and I are pushing it even further by getting married.” I nodded. “With everyone’s support, including the people of Makarovia.” I smiled, kissing him. “That’s the aim.” Everything was being gone over, including the elevator as Peter and I were about to head out for the Grotto. If it didn’t work, climbing all those stairs!? I heard… “Трясця його матері. �”урний російськи�… будівництва!” Damn it. Stupid Russian construction! We heard a bang of something metal hitting metal. Probably a wrench or something. “I think we should probably walk down,” I said to Peter who was smiling at the unseen voice. “I hope it works when we come back!” Peter called down happily to the unseen voice. “It will be!” The voice assured irritated as he continued to work but now doubted who said it down to him. “Your Highness?” It said as an afterthought. Grandmother agreed to come on that Tuesday. Of course, getting here she flew to Paris, then to Budapest and then to Stryia. She got off the royal plane and smiled, hugging both of us happily. Still stood tall and proud, but I could tell the flight had worn on her. Dressed nicely in elegant pants and blouse of blue, she kissed both of us. “It’s so good to see you.” She said letting us go. “I’m glad you got here,” I said. “I don’t have to ask if you’re tired.” She nodded but smiled. “It was a long flight.” She waved back at the plane. “I can’t wait to see…everything.” “We can’t wait to show you everything,” Peter said. “But first, we’ll get you back to the palace.” I loved watching her face as we drove into the castle area and got out. Her opinion was clear, this wasn’t what she was expecting, but didn’t say anything. On the…elevator up…which was always an experience the first time, she still smiled, but…again…not what she suspected. Until we got out on the palace level her eyes grew and the polished floors and lights. It was beautifully maintained. Not opulent, but nicely furnished. She pointed to where were came in and back to the palace. “But…from outside…” she said and then looked at the palace’s interior, “you have no idea…” “…it looks like a fortress.” Peter nodded but smiled. “Surprising, isn’t it?” I grinned at Peter. “Well, it is a fortress. That’s what it was made to be…the palace came afterward.” “Sure, new construction.” Peter grinned. “Only about five hundred years ago.” Then I saw my grandmother’s eyes widen from something behind me and she bowed. Turning, I saw Olek approach with a big smile. “And this is King…” “King Olek.” Grandmother said almost reverently. “I’ve seen him on TV a lot recently. A handsome man that’s a KING! He needs no introduction.” Olek took her hand as he did the gracious bow and took her hand, kissing the top in that gallant, well-mannered way. “The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Sams having you here. Welcome to Makarovia.” The heels on the stone told me Queen Alla was approaching. “And this is Queen Alla, Peter’s mother,” I said to who soon would be my mother. Grandmother bowed again. “Your Majesty.” Queen Alla smiled and came to stand next to my grandmother. “It’s an honor to meet you. I’m Alla.” “And I’m Olek,” Olek said. “You’re family.” “I hope you don’t mind, but I looked up some of the footage of your performances with the New York Ballet. You were stupendous!” Alla said. “That was what…forty years ago!” Grandmother said with a nod. I grinned. “I know she can stand on pointe!” I said proudly. “Something I vowed never to try again after the fifteen minutes I attempted it.” Grandmother laughed shaking her head. “Not like I used to be able to.” “She does it every day at her school,” I said smiling at her. I knew my grandmother, and she would never admit to being tired even if she were exhausted. “Well, I’m going for a nap.” Of course, grandmother knew me. “Subtle, Mr. Richards.” She chuckled. “I could do with a little rest.” She waved at the palace. “Just point the way.” I shrugged. “Well, I want you to be comfortable.” Grandmother looked at the palaces’ interior. “How could I not be?” It was harder then she would admit to…adjusting to the few hours difference, but she comfortable in her rooms at the palace, which was like Peter’s and mine, designed to keep heat. Smaller spaces, but a few rooms. The same happened with Drew and Wayne the next day. When they arrived getting off the elevator, they both stumbled in as they stared at the inside of the palace. I knew who was whom, from the photos. The inch or two in height and the hair told me the dark-haired man was Drew’s husband Wayne. Nice looking, both of them in their early forties. “But…” Wayne said pointing to the elevator and then back to the palace’s interior. “…but…it…you don’t see this out there!” “We don’t want you to,” Peter said holding out his hand. “Peter Ivanov.” Wayne grinned shaking his hand. “You…I know.” Drew smiled shaking Peter’s hand and turned to me. “And you are Eric Richards. I’m Drew and this…” he pushed the bigger dark-haired man beside him forward. “Is my husband, Wayne Jenkins.” “Makarovia is great at hiding things…things and people,” Peter said. “I read where you had to.” Drew grinned as we walked farther in. He looked back at the elevator. “And that is the only way up?” Peter shrugged. “It was pretty much for freight. The palace had to be supplied.” He said. “Before the…” he waved to the elevator, “was mechanized by the Soviets of Russia, it was used to bring food and supplies. It is locked in place when we’re attacked. My great-grandfather refused to ride the thing.” “And you’ve been attacked on many occasions,” Wayne stated. “Frequently.” Peter groaned. “I suppose we’d been attacked so often, we got so good at it because of all that came to do that.” “But you hid this!” Drew said waving at the palace. “This!” “If we didn’t, we’d have even more invaders,” Peter said logically. “Which is about to change as the whole world will see it,” I added. It was at dinner, Grandmother, Olek, Queen Alla, Peter, and I at the table with Drew and Wayne. “Okay.” Drew contently sighed sitting back with a smile from the good meal and looked at me. “You know what sort of reporter I am. You wanted me. Here I am. Can I ask questions now?” “Drew,” Wayne said in a warning tone and looked at his husband. “Be nice.” Saying as if he’d said it before, but was going to be ignored…again. Drew looked a little annoyed at that, but I had a feeling it was mostly in fun. “That’s what reporters do.” He said logically. “What do I report if I don’t ask questions?” I waved at Wayne. “It’s okay,” I said, but he could ask some questions I wouldn’t be able to answer. If that happened, I’d just say that. I know he…asks unconventional questions to understand the truth.” He nodded and looked at Peter. “When did you know you were gay?” Peter looked at me, smiling from having told me recently. “I was about thirteen or fourteen.” “But you were raised to not believe your behavior was…odd or bizarre and just…strange.” Drew wanted to be sure. “I never believed it was,” Peter said. “But you weren’t raised here,” Drew said to me. “Were you raised to think it was strange?” I gave a shrugging nod. “Not really.” I grinned at my grandmother. “My grandmother raised me with my mother.” I smiled as I remembered. “I remember the reality of the situation hit me after hearing a song.” “A song. What song?” Drew asked. “Don’t Take the Girl, by Tim McGraw.” I chuckled. “To admit that…is hard enough. I don’t like country, but I love that song.” “I’m afraid I don’t know it,” Drew said. “I know Tim McGraw’s married to Faith Hill, but that’s it.” I shook my head. “I listened to the song, but it was so…sweet, I guess?” I chuckled. “Each stanza had Don’t Take the Girl. First starting a when he was eight and asking his father don’t take the girl when they were going fishing. I guess she was six. Johnnie, the boy sung about later in the song, would do anything to protect her when asked don’t take the girl. It progressed until she became his wife and faced a health crisis the guy asked God Almighty don’t take the girl, because she meant something to him.” I shrugged. “It is a beautiful song! What if Johnnie didn’t change his mind about her later, but instead fell in love with Tommy, Jimmie or Bo he mentioned to his father when he asked his Dad, don’t take the girl? Would there even be a song then? I wanted that song to be about my life! I love it! Really, but it will never be about me!” “Why would you?” Drew asked. “Why wouldn’t I? Here is Americana served on a plate! You had God, baseball, hot apple pie…all the good parts of America, the best sort of love there is all on the same plate! People were rooting for them to make it! Everyone! That made me sick! I was jealous…of a life in a song! I knew I’d never have that life…why?” I waved at Peter. “Because I’m marrying him! I’m thrilled to be marrying him. At least we’re not hiding it.” “I’ll have to listen to it.” Drew nodded and he turned to my grandmother. “Maybe we’ll find your song.” He looked at her. “And you had no problem with it?” Grandmother laughed heartily. “Heavens, no.” She shook her head. “I was in the ballet.” She offered as an explanation. Drew nodded with a grin. “Oh.” King Olek smiled at me. “I know the song you meant. It is very nice.” “Isn’t it?” I nodded, smiling. “It makes you feel…” I shrugged, “…all warm and fuzzy inside. Everyone wants that kind of love. Someone you meet as children…grow up, marry, and face life’s challenges together.” I looked over at Peter who was looking still not certain. “It only took ten months and we knew.” I gave a shrug. “Well, really, two and a half months, he said he was marrying me.” “You know why I said that.” Peter smiled and was beginning to blush. “We both knew it was right.” I saw Peter’s face who was again going to be honest about that. “I know, you have to ask me officially, which is why we’re here.” Peter grinned and looked away a little. “Well, you didn’t pick up on my signals…” “Signals I didn’t even know about!” “I never dated before!” Peter defended. “Wait.” Drew eyes grew, leaning forward he asked. “You never dated? Not anyone?” Now, Peter was now uneasy. “I…never…” “Peter had some things in his past…that made it…” It wasn’t my place to say what the problem was, I looked at Peter as I took his hand. Then Peter looked up and looked directly at Drew. “I had acne.” He sighed. “I don’t mean the occasional…” he switched, using Makarovian about a word, “how do you say прищик, again? Not those things with the white on them, but it was the worst case the doctor had seen.” “Zits.” Peter smiled, but the memory was painful. “Yes, zits. Simple words….” He shook his head and shrugged. “It was more than just a zit or even a few zits.” He looked away from Drew and motioned over his face. “They were all over; my head, neck, and body…my ass.” He admitted hesitantly. “It sort of…affected my…socialization.” “Damn, how old were you?” Drew asked. “I had just hit thirteen.” Queen Alla shook her head. “Really, he was twelve. I noticed the first ones.” She was the one that didn’t look up at anyone. Now, I saw she felt guilty about it. “I thought they’d go away or he’d grow out of it, or if he cleaned more…” She sighed picking up the coffee cup to hide her discomfort. “Then they just spread. He retreated so much. I had places to be, but by the time I got back…they were everywhere.” Peter looked at her. “It’s okay, Mom. You didn’t do it. You did the best you could.” “Did I?” She shook her head. “I should have helped more.” Queen Alla said sadly. “I should have been here.” “I’m fine now and with treatment, they won’t come back,” Peter said. “Look at him now! He’s beautiful!” Olek smiled. “But then!! He decides to go to America for school and meets Eric.” He said happily. “Eric takes him escort bayan to be treated and his acne is gone.” He chuckled as he looked at his brother. “Prince Petro leaves for school, but returns Peter with someone he loves.” “I am so sorry about hearing this, Peter. That age is very difficult without adding that wrinkle.” Drew nodded understanding now. He nodded as he smiled at me. “I will make a promise to both of you. Right now, there are millions of people rooting for you two. Millions! More than all the people in Makarovia.” He sat back and took Wayne’s hand. “We are two of them.” He looked at my grandmother. “So, you’re saying male ballet dancers are gay?” Grandmother shook her head. “No, they aren’t. I think those in charge when we would go on these trips preferred them to be. You have young people…close in age, very healthy with beautiful bodies…naturally, they will…do what young healthy beautiful people do. They have sex.” She shrugged. “They allowed that!?” Wayne balked. “Of course not, but we found ways. The problem is a ballerina that becomes pregnant at that time…” she shook her head. “Pretty much kisses her career away.” She gave a shrugging nod. “I had my scare once.” My eyes widened. “Grandma!?” Grandmother laughed. “You don’t think I was a virgin when I met your grandfather? He wasn’t either.” Yes, my grandmother did have a wild streak. She also didn’t hold anything back. She sighed as she thought. “I wonder what happened to Sergi.” She sighed as she thought about this…man from her past. I grinned at her. “You can find out,” I said. “Russia is practically next door.” I pointed north. She huffed. “If he’s still alive.” She groused. “He’d be…eighty now.” She shook her head. “Besides, my memories are better as I grow older. I don’t want reality to burst the bubble I created after all these years.” “Can I redirect us to this event?” Drew nodded with conviction. “This is a very important year. You’re doing what has never been done.” “We know,” Peter said. “I am going to make you the featured couple in my reports. This is bigger than Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Prince William, and Princess Kate!” He swore. “Sure, the wedding is important, but you’re marrying for love. Princess Diana got that idea through to William and Harry, though I’m not sure how the monarchy would have handled it if William or Harry chose a man to share his life.” “Sure, you do,” Wayne said. “See what they did with Charles and Camilla. What a disaster that was.” “But gay marriage is legal in England.” Drew pointed out. “They wouldn’t dare do that meddling thing again.” Wayne rolled his eyes. “Of course, they would! We’re talking about the monarchy! Centuries of tradition gone?” He looked at us. “For the same reasons people will ask you…who’s next in line?” He pointed at Peter. “You are!” He looked at Olek. “I pray nothing happens to you, King Olek. Sincerely, I do. From all I’ve read and seen about you, you’re a healthy man…and forgive me, but you are an attractive man. There could be problems if there is no heir.” “I know.” Olek nodded with a sad sigh. “I know, but I’ve been so busy with Makarovia.” “Yes.” Wayne nodded. “Makarovia is important, but…I’m talking about the future of Makarovia and this monarchy.” “Should we even be talking about this at the dinner table?” My grandmother asked. “Well, to better understand what we’re dealing with…” Olek nodded. “Sure. We can discuss it now. I’ve not had the opportunity to really look recently. Peter, Eric and I discussed what we can do.” “There’s always a surrogate.” Queen Alla suggested. “So, we find a young woman for the sole reason to give birth to a human being to be the next heir?” Peter asked doubtfully. Olek chuckled. “Personally, I like the suggestion of all three of us, Peter, me and Eric, make a contribution, put it all together and put it all in and just wait and see.” I grinned at Olek. “That was a joke, Olek.” Olek smiled at me. “Was it?” I shook my head. “What’s wrong with that idea is…it’s always a game of chance when a baby is conceived. Will she be able to carry it to term? Will there be genetic abnormalities? Deformities? With any of our contributions, there could be something wrong. And why am I being included? The child wouldn’t be in the family line. We might adopt one!” Drew frowned as he jabbed Wayne. “And you were worried about my questions!?” “The future of Makarovia is not going to be decided here. We’re looking at options.” Olek chuckled as he stood at the head of the table. “There’s time for that at another time.” He looked at his brother. “In a year’s time, my brother is marrying someone he loves. The day after tomorrow, he will officially present Eric to Makarovia and propose.” He smiled at me. “Then he will become �”раф.” Okay, I knew most Ukrainian and I knew Makarovian and a good bit of Russian, but I had no idea what Olek had said. “A what?” Olek chuckled as he thought. “Well…it’s…like you will be a prince…in a year. Once you marry Peter, you will become officially Prince Eric. On Saturday, after Peter proposes and you get the ring, you will become…a viscount?” He looked at Peter. “Just one step below you. It literally translates to an Earl.” I groaned a little. “All these titles.” I smiled at Peter. “I just want one. Your husband.” Peter smiled back. “I want to be yours.” He used his free hand as he emphasized each word. “Mr. Peter Richards.” He grinned. “No, first there was your highness, thrown at me from Pavel in the admin office. Now I have that �”раф or this Earl thing, then I’ll be a prince.” I shook my head. Olek shrugged. “It’s just always been.” I nodded. “I know, Olek. I understand that, but…just give me a day or so…can you? I’m just surprised I’d get a title so quickly.” I looked at Queen Alla. “So, I’m the Earl of…who?” “The Earl of Stryia.” Queen Alla said and then thought. “You’ll be the only Earl in Makarovia now.” It was on our way back to our rooms when my grandmother pulled me back a little to speak with me privately. “I should watch my tongue.” She said sadly. “You never have, Grandma, that’s part of your charm.” I smiled and had no idea what she was regretting saying, I frowned. “Why?” “Well, you’ve got these people in your life now…a king, queen, and a future husband…I shouldn’t have spoken about Sergi.” “Why not?” I asked. “He obviously meant something to you to remember his so well.” She nodded. “But I shouldn’t have mentioned the pregnancy issue…which there wasn’t, thank god, but…” I stopped her taking her hand. “You had a life before Grandpa, I know that. You’re beautiful.” I smiled. “Now, and I saw pictures of you back then. You were and are gorgeous!” I watched her smile as I said that. “He must have been someone to you. Did you love him?” She gave a grudging nod. “I thought I was in love with him…he was handsome, but wasn’t stuck on himself about it like some of the other men. He was kind and funny.” Then her face took on a new look of absolute love. “Then I met your grandfather.” She sighed contently as she remembered grandpa and looked as if she could see him. “Love at first sight?” I grinned. She shook her head quickly. “He was handsome enough, but…love? Not even close! I hated him when we first met.” She chuckled. “What!?” I asked shocked. I had not heard that before. “That man could crawl under my skin so…easily! It took me a few weeks before I realized why.” “Why?” “Because he could!” She chuckled and shrugged simply. “He knew he could irritate me so much…he worked backstage then, bringing me things, and cleaning up. This poor…country bumpkin, nothing of a man. Who was he? He was nobody. I was a star!” “Who did he think he was!?” I laughed. “Right!” Grandmother nodded. “He knew who he was. On that last night…he proposed.” “He irritated you!” “He irritated me…because I wanted him, but I knew I couldn’t have him.” She shrugged. “I was…” she did air quotes and said, “the enemy.” She chuckled. “When he asked me to marry him, I realized I did love him. I had no one left back in Ukraine or Russia. There was Sergi, but…” “And turned your back on Sergi because you loved Grandpa.” “Oh, yes.” She nodded. “And I never looked back.” She smiled again at me as we stopped in front of her door. “I love your grandfather so much. I never met…a more beautiful man.” She looked as Wayne and Drew parted to go to their room as Peter waited for me. She smiled looking at Peter. “I see you love Peter. I saw it that day you brought him to the house.” “Did you?” She nodded. “Those little signs you two gave…the touches, the looks…hands resting on each other…the simple touches that told me you were the most precious thing to him. I also saw he was the most precious thing to you.” She smiled. “That simple contact is so important. Just as important as passion. Your grandfather treated me that way. He made me feel…important to him. I’ve never loved anyone as I do him. That keeps the love alive and it keeps your grandfather alive for me.” She tapped her chest with her heart just below. “In here.” She looked as Peter waited for me to say good-night to grandmother. “I think you two are doing just fine.” She held her hand out for Peter who walked over. “I’ll see you in the morning. Good night, dears.” She said kissing our cheeks and went in her room. Peter took my hand, with no real thought anymore. I looked and gave his hand a squeeze. “I love it when we do this,” I said holding our hands up. “Those little…intimate touches…lets me know how you think of me.” Peter grinned. “I love you.” He said simply. “It just…happens.” I shook my head. “No, it doesn’t.” I turned him to face me. “I see couples all the time…married for years who never express anything like you do. You don’t care what anyone thinks. You weren’t worried about it before we left Northeastern! I’m never letting you go, Peter.” Peter smiled, leaning in to kiss me tenderly. “Don’t. I’m not letting go of you.” He leaned closer to my ear. “You can indulge your fetish.” He raised his arm. “What are we waiting on?” I asked pulling him toward our room. We got in the door as Peter used his foot to shut the door as he began pulling on my belt as I was pulling on his shirt. We’d done this so many times, there was nothing better than two human bodies touching in love, desire, and the need to touch so great, you become dizzy. One knew what the other was going to do. Burning with desire and renewed strength we pulled each other tighter as arms brought the other closer. Nothing was more perfect. He backed us as I pulled his shirt off, his warm velvety skin begging me to touch him, my hands moving over his skin which was heating up even more as he kissed me in a consuming kiss that he wouldn’t stop, but I was pushing back just as hard. He got my pants down, kicked those aside and threw me back on the bed and devoured me, I mean, one shot, he took my whole cock, his nose in my pubes and my cock reacted in warm, moist heat sending volts of lightning through me, grasping the sides of his head, I thrust upwards for him to get more of me. “I want you, Eric,” Peter said coming up briefly. “I want you so badly.” “Stop talking! Do it!!” He chuckled and did it again!! I did get my indulgence, but not before he did the same thing I did to him, on me. It was ticklish, but not bad. I loved this man! Yes, he made me important and I made sure he knew he was important to me. The palace was taking on a new feel for me. I had begun to get used to it and even began thinking it was…feeling like it could be my home, even comfortable with the surroundings, but…there were people here now. I mean a lot of people. Strange people speaking many languages, and as we were heading down the main stairs for breakfast, we could see these new people from above as we got closer, Peter suddenly grabbed me and hurried us both away, pressing me against a stone column out of sight. I grinned at him as he held me there, shielding me. Literally pressing his body against mine to hide us. “Okay,” I said. “This is very nice, Peter, but what are we going to do now?” Peter caught himself pressing against me and smiled. “It didn’t bother you last night when we were even closer, or this morning.” “And it’s not bothering me now.” I corrected putting my arms around his shoulder and neck. “It’s the reporters, isn’t it?” He nodded but didn’t move. “Yep.” “We can’t avoid them,” I said logically. “Yes, we can.” He smiled and leaned in pressing his lips gently to mine. Then his voice dropped almost a whole octave. “I love you, Eric.” Quietly, softly, but his grey-green eyes fixed on mine. Now he wasn’t concerned about the reporters. Neither was I. “You are one sexy man.” I kissed him back the same way. “I love you, Peter. Feel free to tell me that over and over again.” He chuckled. “I’m going to.” He said. “I love you.” “I know.” Then we heard something growl. He turned a little pink as he rubbed his stomach. “A prince never lets his stomach growl.” “It will if you’re hungry!” I took his hand. “Let’s go fill it up. We can come back and start again from there if you’re still interested.” We took the back stairs down to the main hallway to the dining area. Now, I understood why we always took the main staircase down, it was shorter. The other staircase was to the back of the palace. Olek looked up from his breakfast at the direction we’d come in and then nodded. “Yes, the reporters are arriving. I should have warned you.” Then Wayne and Drew came in as Drew was laughing as he said. “…you saw the look on his face!” “You only say that because you hate Louis that is giving you this much pleasure.” Wayne chuckled throwing his arm around Drew’s shoulder. “He just got the evil eye from one of the BBC’s top reporters, Louis Garner.” He told us, not that we asked. “Good morning everyone!” Drew smiled sitting down. “I hope you all slept well.” He clapped his hands and reached for his napkin. “Louis Garner?” I asked. “He looked like a nice guy, from what I saw of him” “But the biggest, pompous ass.” Drew looked up delighted. “Yep, Louis Garner told me my pursuits should be about real news. Not all this…fay, fag and fairy shit.” He looked up suddenly at Queen Alla. “Sorry, Your Majesty.” Queen Alla grinned as she shook her head. “That’s quite alright, Drew.” “Anyway, he…not even six months ago…told me this,” Drew said. “But Louis doesn’t go in the field,” Wayne added. “He’s a more…in front of the camera guy. He reports the news.” He looked at his husband. “You go out and get yours.” “Personally, I think he’s some pent-up little faggot that’s hiding in the closet and jealous that I’m not.” Then Wayne jabbed him in the gut lightly and jutted his thumb at Queen Alla again. Queen Alla shook her head and was laughing out loud. “Eric said you were very outspoken.” “No, Wayne.” I chuckled. “I heard much worse from the recording of that…what was he? Minister? The one that didn’t want the gay marriage issue to go through.” Drew bowed a little. “Well, I’ll try to keep it under control, I promise. I didn’t make any friends while I was out. Oh, wait, I wasn’t trying to make friends, but get to the truth!” He said triumphantly. “I didn’t tell Louis I was coming here.” Wayne nodded. “He told his editor not to say anything and said nothing to anyone!” “Wayne and I come down the stairs and there’s Louis!” Drew nodded. “He’s looking and his look…” he shook his head. “What are you doing here!? He asks me. I tell him, you know me; I cover all the fay, fag and fairy shit. Here I am. And I asked him to excuse me as I was coming down to have breakfast with Prince Petro, King Olek, Queen Alla, and the future Prince Eric! I’m stay here!” He chuckled. “His face was priceless!” Wayne laughed with him. “And that made your day.” Wayne nodded. “It really did!” He waved at the palace. “So, while he’s talking about this great palace…” he looked over at Olek, “and it really is a great palace, he’ll be making what recordings about it leading up to this proposal. I hope to get some real…personal things.” He looked at me. “Please, can I do that?” Peter nodded. “That’s why you’re here.” I sighed. “I know this is an event. It will be watched by millions. I’m sure there will be countless countries that don’t approve that see it, but people need to know why we’re doing this.” Drew looked confused. “You love him.” “Sure.” I agreed. “But, more important is why we’re allowed to.” I smiled. “I meet Peter not even a year ago. I was assigned as his partner for a project because I spoke the language. I meet this guy…” I touched Peter’s hand, “who was more than I imagined. I fell in love with him, but he had only the slightest concept of prejudice about gay, straight, Russian, Ukrainian, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox…Ideology. He saw people as people.” I waved at Olek and Queen Alla. “I meet these two, lovely people who I’ve come to love dearly. They had no problem accepting me or Peter. In fact, I was welcomed so fast into a family…who came from a country that at this time last year, I had no idea where it was! These people have welcomed all the unwanted, tortured people of the world! Welcomed them to make it their home! The United States is supposed to be about freedom, but these people live that idea all the time!” I started something. “Bring your tired masses yearning to be free and stuff like that, but they do it! Inalienable rights all humans have!? All the time they had slaves in the South and the North. These people live it every day! The past one hundred years they hid people to help them escape death. Believe me, I’m proud to have been asked to marry Peter. I want Makarovia to be my home.” I looked at Drew. “The life here is hard I’ve been told that and I believe it is, but the tradeoff is so much better. This isn’t just about a man marrying a man, but acceptance. If anything, this country should be a model for everyone else that thinks their way is the only way.” I looked at Drew. “Yes, cover the proposal and cover the wedding. Tell everyone we’re getting married…” I pointed at Olek and Queen Alla, “because of them! Because of this wonderful country. Makarovia.” Olek nodded with a huge smile. “I knew it. You are a true Makarovian. I also think you should include that in your speech on Saturday to the people of Makarovia.” Chapter 21

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