9 First Meeting

It was almost like the air had never experienced being air. Only tension, tension that lingered on Dominic's shoulder as he picked up his fork and knife. 

He held it over his steak and sliced it, piercing his steak. He could feel the stare that carefully watched that movement. He could still feel it when he raised the steak to his lips and took a bite. 

His hands lowered to grab another piece when his body froze and chewing slowed to a stop. He couldn't taste the meat. His mouth, his teeth, his tongue all stopped their movements as a taste filled his mouth. There was a flip in his stomach but before the food could come flying out of his mouth, he swallowed it, following it up with a sip of wine to wash it down. 

Blood. The moment he had bit into the food, all he could taste was blood. It was warm and gushed out of the meat, brushing against the walls of his mouth in a manner that made him feel like clawing at the roof of his mouth. It tasted disgusting and felt insulting for him to even swallow. 

As he felt the taste of blood mix into the bitter but relieving flavor of wine, he felt like a sinner and when he swallowed it, he felt like an animal. 

Subtly, he pushed aside the plate and focused on the plate of vegetables beside it. He set down the fork in his hand and picked up a dressing jug, pouring ranch over his salad. Then he picked up another fork and pressed into the vegetables, the crunch from the leaves both relieving and unsettling to him. 

"How do you find the food, your highness," said the voice from across the table. 

Dominic looked up to lock eyes with the deep purple gaze that was locked on his. He smiled. "Quite satisfactory."

The girl cocked her head to the side. "Do you mean the salad? You seem to have no interest in the steak."

Dominic stayed in eye contact with her for a moment, his eyes lowering to his food soon after. "It seems you have been watching me, princess."

"It would be quite unusual to not want a peek at the prince, wouldn't it?" the girl chuckled as her fork raised to her lips, a piece of steak entering her mouth. 

Dominic glanced up at her, alert eyes watching her carefully. He noticed it, the change in her appearance, the slight movement of her lips in response to the steak hitting her tongue. She liked it, a reaction opposite of the one she had prepared to show. 

"It seems you think otherwise-" Dominic smiled, taking another bite of his salad. He looked up at the girl, a slight smirk appearing on his face, "-Princess Claudia."

The girl flinched, her eyes brightening for a moment at the sound of her name leaving the prince's lips. The tone was much different than she had expected. 

She raised a handkerchief to her lips, wiping at the dot of sauce on her lips. "It's only natural to enjoy a meal prepared by the royal chefs of the palace."

Dominic chuckled. "Agreed."

The tension in the room lifted. Just for a moment. 

"What would his highness like to do?" Claudia asked. 

Dominic picked up his glass of wine, peering at her as he drank it. "By that you mean?"

"It is clear his highness does not like the arrangement of this marriage," Claudia muttered, biting off the steak on her fork. She locked eyes with Dominic, "Am I right?"

They stayed in contact for a moment, deep purple pressing against emerald in a desperate attempt to read into it, to take a peek into the mind of the one that held such captivating green eyes. The ambitious gaze was mutual. 

Dominic smiled. "It seemed you read right through me, princess."

Claudia chuckled, "Quite an exaggeration there, my prince, there is no way a lady like me could read the minds of such a fine gentleman."

Dominic laughed. 'A lady like me?' he thought to himself. He looked up at her, placidly accepting the gaze she had pinned on him. He smiled. He didn't like the sound of that. "Your compliments are quite sweet princess, I have the honor of receiving them."

There was an exchange of stares before both bursts into laughter. 

"Quite a fierce expression you had there, your highness," Claudia teased. 

"Not on the level of yours, princess. Your gaze was so pointed I felt like I was getting stabbed," Dominic giggled. 

They continued to laugh for another minute before creating another conversation for their dinner, exchanging smiles with each other and spewing jokes they both appreciated. It felt just like the cake on the table tasted, sweet. 

A ripple of strain remained in the air, it continued to spread across the river of tension hanging over the betrothed. 

Boris never had the time to be alone. At least not in the castle. 

From the classes he had, to the conversation practices he had with friendly maids to the additional horse-riding and fencing lessons that had been added to his taming curriculum. 

He never got the time to be alone in a room to his thoughts. Nonetheless in the room of a prince. 

Kalmin, as the ever so busy being that he was that seemed to care so little about Boris, didn't even bother to return to Boris to lead him back to the servants' quarters. As much as Boris hated the thought that he was still that disposable, he didn't hate the location Kalmin had decided, unintentionally, to strand him in. Of course, that was if he had unintentionally left him there.

For as much as he knew, Kalmin was part of a group of being called a "Council," a name he had gotten when Kalmin would brag about his position or spill the word as he rushed off to another of his one hundred meetings he had in a day. The Council was supposedly a group of people that assisted the prince. They were high in ranks and high in intellect, a group of nobles that had power over the government and the king/prince's judgments. The type of nobles that Boris hated and had been warned to run as far as he could from them. 

Unfortunately, he couldn't run from Kalmin, who was a council member himself, but that simply meant that he was around someone who didn't make flippant decisions and just watch how they unfolded. He knew every movement he made. It wouldn't be surprising if he had intentionally left Boris there. 

Boris glanced around the room. 'Like a test maybe.'

He had decided to stay in the room and snoop around things he could. If he was ever to get out of this cage, he was going to go back with boatloads of information.

He pulled out a notebook from his pocket and a pen he had stolen the moment he had had physical contact with Kalmin. A simple bump against the shoulder was all he needed to get what he wanted. 

He opened the book and looked at the scribbles he had made, his jots of information, starting with the people of the palace. 

Sitting down on a chair, he laid the book on the table and began to scribble some notes. They were about the maids, the people he spent the most time around. 'Powerhouse of gossip and information,' he noted before flipping the page and adding another insult to the list of words put down under Kalmin's name. 

'Bull-headed beast,' he wrote before letting out a little puff and turning the page to his next person. Or in this case, people. 

It was the list of council members. An unfinished list of names he had gotten from conversations with the maids and from words thrown at him by Kalmin as he walked out the door. There were 6 on his list, there were 20 total council members. Supposedly 10 from the last king and 10 newly changed to assist Dominic. There was supposed to be 21 but she had turned down the offer, continuing to be in the military. If he remembered, she was the same woman who spoke to Dominic the day of his father's death. 'Something Lilith,' Boris thought to himself. 

He flipped to the next page. One that was mainly empty with a big question mark in the middle and the loud title of 'Royal Offsprings.' Next was a map, one he had started making of the palace. It was pretty empty for now but had the main locations he needed to know on there. 

He flipped to the next page and then the next and then the next and then the nex- his fingers top as he looked back at the name on top of the page he had stopped at. 'Dominic Aarvi,' Boris thought to himself, 'Royal Prince of the Aucacia Empire.'

His fingers brush against the name on the page and he looked at the single line he had pressed into the page, an imprint so deep it left an impression on the next page. 'I hate him.' That was what it read. It was more than enough to sum up what he felt about Dominic. 

He looked over the sentence again. The words didn't seem to light him up as they once did. They didn't sum it up perfectly anymore. 

He stared at the sentence again and again. It didn't make sense. Just a day ago when he had read that same sentence, he felt the urge to hit Dominic. Now there was just nothing, a remnant of his past emotions remained, but it was only because they existed in the first place.

'What changed?' Boris thought to himself as he rested his back against the chair and held the book above his head, staring at the name on the page. 

He wanted to say that the change happened today, to blame it on the unusual actions he took today, but that was irrational as there was a reason behind how he reached the stage of allowing those actions to take place. This wasn't a momentary change, it was progressing from some starting point. 

Hate only took a little spark to alight but forgiveness took the burning down of the fire that hate created. In the duration of a week, he had been finding forgiveness, enough to allow the action he had, and enough to dull the hate he usually felt when he looked at the name. 

At first, he was perplexed at the simple thought that an action, probably a momentary thing, was enough to start building up a force that was strong enough to start countering the hate he grew up with. It was absurd. Simply unthinkable. Then seconds later, the thought didn't seem so foreign. 

He knew what it was that probably triggered this. He could remember it vividly in fact. 

The expression on Dominic's face that was. 

It was when he watched from afar as the prince, a figure that was supposed to be showered with so much wealth that it would make him sick, a figure that was supposed to be arrogant and condescending, fell to the ground with tears falling down his face. 

His eyes, one that looked at him so brightly simply hours ago, shone with a different type of light. They were in shock, lit up in disbelief, and the terror of even beginning to understand the fact that a part of their life was gone. 

The sight had triggered something that should not have been felt at that moment. The tears that rolled down his face, and his screams of pain made him feel an emotion that he wasn't supposed to feel. When he looked at the prince, there was a little twinge of emotion that he hadn't even noticed as his eyes were fixed on the disheartening sight of a prince crying in front of lines of subjects that cried at his knees. 

He had felt something he never knew he could feel for someone he called a monster for so many years of his life. Empathy. He had sympathized with the prince. 

It was surprising how much empathy could do. In simply a few days, the empathy he had felt had been festering in him, mixing with the different thoughts he started to get of the people in the palace as he watched them mourn. In simply days, he stopped seeing them as monsters but rather as ugly humans and the prince... his lonely back had been etched into his memory. 

Every day he would be forced to visit the prince by Kalmin, he had glanced at Dominic, not even catching a look at his face but rather his back as he gazed out the window at the kingdom below. And at night, he made very brief travels to the bathroom a floor above him, and walk past the door of the Prince's office. He would stand in front of the door and hear whimpers, little huffs of air between seconds of tears.

He would walk away from the doors with his head down, going the same way he came without even visiting the bathroom and the whimpers and light sounds of crying he would hear ringing in his head. With each passing day, he would hear him cry, with each passing day, the monster name he built to describe Dominic would slowly crumble.

That was why he had walked into the room with an unusual sense of anger in him. It wasn't towards the fact that he didn't want to be there, but rather the fact that the prince was once again beside the window, pretending that his quiet crying hadn't been heard or made the night before. That was why he pressed on Dominic, pushed him off the edge, and made him cry. That was the reason why he had allowed himself to hold him and the reason why he had comforted him easily. 

That empathy, was the reason why he was able to look at Dominic's name without a flash of anger passing on his face and the reason why he could think of him without feeling like punching his smooth face. 

Boris placed the notebook on the table and read over the name on the paper again, picking up his pen and hovering over the page for a moment before descending on it. a steady line crossed through the words. 'I hate him,' and Boris stared at it for a moment, a memory passed by in his head. 

It was Dominic's face. His smile. 

Boris began to scribble on the page, his pen stopping and rising when he finished. He looked down at the sentence, his head tilting to the side when he read it. 

'I dislike him.'

Boris stared at the sentence for a moment, another memory passed by his head. It was a dirt street. His fingers ran over the words and his hand descended on the space beside it, scribbling another thing. 

'I hate him...'

He looked at the two sentences together and leaned back in his chair. 

'I hate him... I dislike him,' he thought.

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