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by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Not mine.

AN: Ankhutenshi's birthday ficlet.

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He's born like a boy in a fairy tale, in a castle perched high above the clouds, guarded by brave warriors and bright magic and the ruthless power of an empire in a world where magic and science are a tangled-up knot of this is how we play our game.

Like all young princes, he's indulged, but not to excess, and he grows up happy and inquisitive and precocious as only a child who is loved completely can.

He has private tutors to teach him the workings of the world, science and logic and the ordinary simplicity of learning how to spell and to write out names in a clumsy, childish scrawl that has more power than he yet understands. He learns quickly, gifted by more than his own unique genetics, but like every child his favorite times are when he's curled between his parents, learning strategy or hearing tales of grand adventure or just snuggled in watching a movie, drowsing until he can feel his head droop and the world fade into soft warmth and the low purr of their voices as they whisper to one another over his head.

From his grandfathers, he learns honor, and from his parents and uncle, he learns its price. In the quiet, unstated calmness of his everyday life, he learns that friendship and love are worth dying and killing for, and that power is used to acquire more power, to protect oneself and one's family, and all of the things that are so much more precious than blood.

When he turns six, his father suits up and his uncle changes and his mother snaps out a glider and they go out flying with the gargoyles, their own little family spinning in space and ever-safe because they're made of magic and more, and he doesn't think that anyone has had a life made of anything better than this.

Two years later, there's a bomb and an explosion and his father holds him too tightly as his mother and his uncle tear through the assassins like a fist through wet paper, and he stares up at his father, grimly sighting down his own pistol, and thinks This is mine, too.

For his next birthday, he gets throwing stars and martial arts lessons and spells to protect and to heal. Somewhere along the way, he picks up tactics and hacking and rudimentary diplomacy, and for his next birthday, his father lets him practice hostile takeovers and his mother gives him his first gun.

When he's fifteen, his grandmother takes him out to lunch, and he's quiet and polite and gracious, but at the end of the meal he leaves her with an angelic smile and "I hate you so much, please don't come near us ever again."

That night, his uncle teaches him how to kill a man without breaking a single mortal or immortal law. In the morning he's pale and shaky and a little nauseous, but he will learn what he has to learn to survive and protect what is his.

Later still they teach him how to dance, his mother a whirlwind of fire-brightness and his father the flash of a knife in the dark, but the only thing he shies away from is the sweet madness of the dances his uncle knows, a blaze of power that's just a little too wild for a mostly-human child to control.

When his grandmother comes to him again, he glares into her sly smile and promises of Avalon and leaves in a fit of temper and curling mists, headed for the castle above the clouds.

In fairy tales, all the queens are dead or evil. He doesn't think it's a coincidence.

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