Their friendship used to be so simple. It was an instant connection, like knowing the answer to the difficult math problem no one seemed to get. Even if there was little in common, everything made perfect sense.
There was a book they both loved, a classic fairy tale everyone knew. They started calling each other prince and princess, just for fun. He always thought she needed saving (from randomly tripping, from studying to the point of exhaustion, from getting too drunk to even care about consequences) so he offered his friendship as protection. Even if the whole idea of their friendship is dangerous. But she calms him, makes him think twice about losing himself to the next bad thing he discovers. She makes him worth saving himself. So even if he doesn't really understand, he is drawn to her. And he isn't willing to let go any time soon. No matter how selfish it might be.
She thought he was her prince because he was the one that made her happy the most. Those little gestures (paying things she buys for herself, the warm hugs and surprise kisses, and that one drunken night she doesn't know if she'd rather forget) that made what she would only admit in her head more real than it should be. What started off as friendship became something deeper, care blurring into something more confusing. But he makes everything better, the usually bland world now tinged with deeper colors from emotions that until recently she did not understand.
But it took them several words, both said and unspoken, to reach this point. She met the fabled knight in shining armor, and she was suddenly scared. No one would easily understand, but she knew his prince more than anyone.
Or so she thought.
She did realize that knowing her prince would be admitting that she was fighting a losing battle. In this war, she was defenseless. The prince cannot offer his protection.
For he was the one hurting her the most.
She knows. He might not admit it to her face, but his face she knew the most. In the map of laugh lines at the corner of his eyes to the crooked half grin he always seemed to have on. To those ears that always listened to her, a secret path to his heart.
The sad part was he didn't really know. You see, during the war, the prince is closest to the ground. He worries about protecting the princess, locked in the tower that was her head and her heart.
In her tower, the princess worries alone. Looking out from a tiny window into a world that doesn't seem like the one she knows. For in her world, it was the prince and the princess. There was no war, and no tower.
Instead, there she was, far away from her prince more than she could ever imagine.
She had won the battle. She had healed him, made him whole. Bit by painful bit. He was her prince, her only prince. Her best friend. The one that makes her cry and yet also the one that makes her so, so happy.
The problem was, he wasn't really looking for a princess.
She watches them dance around each other. Hindered by armor. But slowly, they close in on each other.
She watches as her prince falls for his knight.
But the knight was loyal to his prince and princess. At first he tried to stay away. But you cannot really fight something like this. The princess helps pick up the broken pieces of the prince's heart that she has painstakingly helped fix, and she couldn't help but be angry. She cannot let her prince be hurt again, but she is helpless. She cannot protect the prince like he does to her, all for the simple reason that he doesn't let her. As the knight and the prince fought their wars together, removed their armor and their barriers, the princess closes a curtain over the window of her tower, and retreats to the darkness.
And so was the story of how she lost the war.
The prince understands now. And not. He understands the knight, so careful yet so brave. He loves the princess, but it is to the arms of the steadfast knight that he returns.
And yet, there is still a sense of duty. Responsibility. Affection, attraction, he doesn't really know. Or maybe allow himself to know.
The world was becoming right again, yet there was a piece he can't place.
He doesn't want to let the princess go.
Because deep down he is still scared.
Scared no one will pick him up again. Scared that he'll go back to who he was before her. He liked himself better with the princess, and after her. Now, he can't even remember if there was any before before this.
But he couldn't say it out loud.
He fought so hard for the knight. And the princess. He couldn't bear to lose both.
One day the princess lashes out. Her usually sweet and caring surface cracks, ripples, broken from spending too much time alone in her tower.
"You are hurting me. Why can't you understand?"
He felt his throit go dry, close up. "I don't want anything to change--"
A sigh. "Can't you understand? Things have to change. You know how I feel. But I also know how I feel."
The tower never seemed so tall to the prince until now.
The princess knows telling the prince the truth like this will break him, break her, but this moment has to come sooner or later.
She can't just look out the tower window and shout at him at the bottom. There were ways to reach her.
"Something has to change. I don't want you to leave but we can't be like this anymore..."
She bites her lip as his face crumples.
"Why are you pushing me away?"
His question comes out in a strangled whisper.
She shakes her head in silent denial. "Not pushing you away. I would never do that... but you have to understand."
He looks at her listlessly.
"If you keep doing this... if you keep acting this affectionate knowing how I feel... you're being unfair to the both of us."
He didn't answer, but she saw him ball his hands into angry, stubborn fists.
"I am happy for my prince... but if you don't help me, I can't promise I can control my feelings. Do you want your princess to turn into the witch?" she asks sadly.
He looks up at her.
"So what? I go away, you forget me too?"
He was trying not to cry. He was the brave prince. He always had to protect the princess.
And with dawning realization, he understands.
She needs his protection... from himself. And only he can give it.
Hesitantly he opens his arms.
She shakes her head. A small movement. His shoulders squared.
"You can't stop making me care about you... much more I can't stop you from... feeling the way you do about me."
"But I'll try. For you."
She looks up. Then one, tiny nod. He clears his throat.
"You're right. I can't wish for things to stay the same... but can I ask one thing?"
"If we change... we change for the better."
She steps forward and finally, finally steps into his embrace.
You're still my prince. Nothing will change that."
"And you're my only princess. You'll always be."
The tower lay crumbled at their feet.