A fate in two parts.
Rating:R for slash, themes and my personal safety.
Written for the Difference between Love and Hate challenge, originally posted at the Seanfhocal Circle, 2003.
Author's note:Everything in the previous Author's Note applies to this chapter, perhaps even more so.
Special thanks to Caitlin Sullivan, who gave me the best review and the biggest rush of confidence I have ever received. I know how painful it must have been, preparing to read something which goes against so many things you believe. Hugs also to Random1, little miss crazy, Wintersjuly (go read her fics!), Nahrii, Little Tiger, Seereth, Jen, and AlmightlyChrissy. To have so many talented people read my work has been an honour.
K. Ryan, 2003.
Two people, alone in a room again. They are hidden away from prying eyes, and the walls that surround them are ancient stone. Once more, one of them has the upper hand.
But there are differences, too. There is no candlelight. The room smells of armour polish and sharp, yarrow-infused heal-all, and positions are less distinguishable. The youth lying on the bed is obviously in the weaker position, and yet the slim, dark man--leaning with his face almost offensively close the other's--seems afraid.
"What?" Little Cat's voice is sharp; his breath doing everything it can to catch in his throat.
"Why?" No accusations, no flinching away. Just wide-eyed, childish confusion coloured with old pain and new fear.
"Don't ask me."
"--Just… don't, Alan. There's nothing to say."
Little Cat swallows. He feels the boy's breath on his face: warm, smelling slightly of willow-bark and blood, where he seems to have bitten his tongue. Everything is surreal, the sort of time which, when it fades to memory, is tinted some indefinable colour, and much slower than life.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Alan's words rise up at the end, high and nervous.
The little cat closes his eyes. He's losing control. Control is life.
When he opens them, little-cat leans down again, trapping Alan's broken body gently, like a bird's.
The kiss is slower, this time, and Alan, despite the pain, is more prepared.
He stiffens, but, once again, finds himself unable, or unwilling, to push away.
The bird's wings heal, and Alan is up and about again: laughing with Gary, faithfully serving Jon and Sir Myles, bursting with nerves over the coming Tusaine war. No one notices the tension that fills him when Little-cat, dark and quiet as always, enters a room.
He's twitching with every in-drawn breath the boy makes. Trying not to flinch, as large, purple eyes become wide and confused as they look at him. When this stare is mirrored by Alan's familiar, that animal which disturbs His Lord so very much, Alex feels that it is only a matter of time before someone notices something. Before questions are asked, and answers reveal.
But the little cat needn't worry. Alan is a very good actor.
Alex is seeing a lot of conflict, these days. His sword has drawn every type of blood imaginable. He is commended, and flattered: hailed as a hero. He also spends a lot of his time trying not to laugh. It's all so ironic. So stupid. So utterly hilarious. And the funniest thing is?
Roger, the clever, the remarkable, the wily and devastating, hasn't found out his secret.
Little-cat has had the cream, and a part of him doesn't care who knows it. He is doing the impossible, and, for once, doesn't try and force Alan's face out of his dreams. What he doesn't notice, though, is that there is no longer any blood to be seen.
Lives are changing, reader. No one knows where they will lead.
Another day, another corridor. Squire Alan has been fighting, today, his hair slicked back with sweat. No squire has been able to beat him, and no knight that tried. Alan smiles as the memory of Raoul's voice plays in his ears: "That's it! That's the last time I ever try and win against you. It's too embarrassing for a big man like me to bear."
"Aww…but it'sso much fun to watch," Gary had said. Alan couldn't help grinning as Raoul had blushed scarlet, and he grins at it, now. It is wonderful to be good at something, and a small, over-confident voice in the back of his mind keeps on telling Alan, cheerfully, that he's the best swordsman in the palace, save Duke Gareth and Alex.
Alan doesn't know what to think, about him. One minute he's trying to kill, and the next he's… he's….
The memory of those kisses burns Alan. I just don't need another complication, right now.
Alex watches him, as he always does. It's become a habit, and a dark sort of pleasure. He's very good at it. The best.
Today, he decides to reward himself, stepping out into full view, so he can watch him blush.
The corridor is quiet, and Alex is unexpected.
And in no way disappointed.
As Alan turns his head away, eyes lowered and face aflame, he doesn't notice the emerald-eyed figure that was also in the shadows, made silent by the thought of a certain, shameless, revenge.
"I know it is late, my Lord, but you have always said to report to you whenever there have been…occurrences, and I have always been entirely devoted to--"
"--Of course you are. If you weren't, you would have regretted it long before now."
Roger is standing over the woman, who is busy looking beautiful and tousled at his feet. He admires her technique, though he despises her person. Ambition and cunning that was once singular and quaint is merely tiresome, now. The woman has no sense of her position. So, the Duke of Conté's beautiful voice is irritated, though, admittedly, only slightly. Few men would really complain about a woman as beautiful as the lady Delia's willing presence in their bedroom, late at night. At least she has sense of her talents, he thinks.
"Unlike him, you mean?"
"What, or more correctly, whom, do you refer to?" His voice cools, his eyes focus, taking in the lady, with her excited, almost gleeful look.
Delia turns widened eyes upwards, taking in her master. "You didn't know, my Lord?"
"You do no favours, Delia. You think too much of yourself."
The woman's head touches the intricate Carthaki rug on the floor, as she flattens herself. "I think nothing, Roger. You know that. I never meant to give the impression--"
"--Enough of that." Roger prods her, none-too-gently, with his foot, forcing her to rise.
"I just meant to say, my Lord, that things with the Prince are going most satisfactorily. I have him right here." With a smile she curls her fingers up to her palm, eyes glinting. "But, I regret that my cousin isn't having as much success as I. At least…not in the regard you want him to."
"Your cousin has the harder task, as you know."
"Of course, my love. Of course. But you didn't order him to kiss and kill, at least to my limited knowledge."
Delia's words hang in the air.
Nothing more is said, until Roger pulls the woman to her feet, eyes unreadable as he tilts her chin back with long fingers, exposing her neck. Delia doesn't even struggle--she is used to his games. But she can't help but whimper, as the orange fire of his gift spreads around his hands. It doesn't take long for the pain to start, or for Roger's mouth to smile again. "Why?" she whispers, before her voice breaks, like the rest of her.
"Dear one, I didn't like the message you gave me."
Roger's chamber holds many secrets. Books, and a fountain. Scraps of fabric, and rich tapestries--hiding rooms-within-rooms. Carefully placed and beautifully made, everything in this room as a role. The Duke has no time for redundancies.
"You've disappointed me, little cat."
"Aah, Alex." Roger's voice is warm, and almost sad. Leaning down, he touches Alex's cheek. 'Master' is just a word to you, it seems."
"I--My Lord. I don't know what you mean…"
"You think you've outgrown me. Your confidence has been growing too big for your body. It isn't becoming--"
"--Don't interrupt, little cat. You should know better."
Little-cat lowers his eyes, and backs up until his knees hit the bed.
"You think you're your own master now, don't you? You've been thinking that you're in control." Roger gives him a push, sending him sprawling on the bed, helpless. "It's rather endearing, but only up to a point. You've been very stupid, my former squire. I'm afraid you're going to have to pay for that. I am very upset with you."
"My Lord, I don't understand."
"Oh, I think you do, Alex. Please, remind me. What, exactly, are you?"
"Inferior, my Lord."
"Now you're getting the answers right. Inferior to whom?"
"You, my Lord."
Roger grins, looking cheerful and honest and beautiful. "Of course you are, little-cat. But…there is another, is there not?"
Alex flushes. "I…my Lord…"
"Go on, say the name. You know your part."
"Roger…my Lord, I, that is, I no longer consider…I can't…"
"You no longer consider a lot of things, little-cat, including your position. Look at yourself!"
"I can't, not when you when you have me here, my Lord."
Roger takes something out of a pouch at his waist, pushes at it, hard.
Alex doesn't scream. Not yet, not then, put he can't stop himself from biting his lip until it bleeds, and putting a hand up to the sudden, dark, bruise on his cheek.
"You see what this is, little-cat?" Roger holds a doll in his hand, crafted with wax, and coloured beautifully. Dressed in miniature black breeches and shirt, with a tiny silver sword at its waist, its dark eyes lowered, it is Alex's mirror image, with a dent in its cheek. "This, is you, and I can do what I want with it." Eyes laughing, the duke plucks out some of the black hairs on the doll's head, making Alex wince. "You have no control."
A needle, arriving in Roger's hand seemingly from nowhere, scrapes down the doll's leg, sticking every so often, having to be dragged out, with little fragments of wax falling to the floor around them. "You allowed yourself to be bewitched by a boy."
As the needle reaches the doll's foot, Roger starts to push the point in. Little-cat, already white, has to scream then. But quietly, because he is biting his own hand.
"And, from now on, you answer only to me."
War is declared. Commands are issued. Plans are made.
A bruised, shaking hand places a burr under the saddle of a gentle horse, and then follows its owner back to his rooms.
Little-cat is sticking close to his master, now.
The Rogue watches Alanna as she walks into the lesser library, letting some of her mask fall.
"Are you out of your mind? Some of My Lord Provost's men do know what you look like."
He smiles, loving her nerves. "Upset for my safety?" He watches, chuckling, as Alanna scowls. "I'm touched."
"You're touched in the head."
No argumentsthere, lass.
"Anyway, since you're here, why are you here?"
To kiss you, of course, woman. You do the oblivious trick too well. That's meant to bemy job. "I thought you mightn't get the chance to go down to the city before you rode out, and I wanted a word with you. But you were wanting to ask me something."
George looks at the burr Alanna's holding in her hand, and then at her face. "Stefan found this in Duke Gareth's saddle blanket."
Interesting, that."And you suspect foul play?"
"Of course, but it doesn't make sense."
Oh, I think it does.
George listens, with growing dread, to Alanna's words. Her talk of war and warrior ethics. You've no idea what you're up against. "Think like a plotter. There might be reasons closer to home as to why Duke Gareth fell from his beast."
"Closer to home?"
Oh,Alanna…"Who benefits? And stop thinkin' of fightin': start thinkin' of power. Who gains the most power from His Grace's 'accident'?"
It is painful, watching the realisation dawn. "Not a commander you'd be trustin' in the field."
"I'll have to think about this."
"Think on it all you may please."
There is so much to talk about, in so little time. So much to drill into Alanna's head about the real world, instead of the land of heroes. George wonders how she would think of life, after war. Will she still be in it? He can't bear to think otherwise, but he knows he has to. Perhaps that's why the conversation turns to love. There is something inevitable about it, despite the complete lack of romance in Alanna's expression. She closes up, hardens and becomes 'Squire Alan' before his eyes.
"Good luck," she says. "I don't think a woman like that exists."
George takes her shoulders, smiling. "I've already found her, and you know it well."
She glares up into his face. "You think highly of yourself! I'm the daughter of a noble--"
Trickster laugh with me, she's clutching at straws."Does that really stand between us, Alanna? If you loved, would you care about birth or wealth?"
"Like must wed like," Alanna whispers, with George trying not to wince. A more painful sentiment I've never heard.
"There are more important things than wealth. What good will a well-born husband be when you take up your shield?"
Again, he listens to her, this time on the topic of husbands, or the lack of them. "I--I won't let it ruin her friendship, George," she manages, at last.
Poor lass…"And I won't speak of it again until you ask it. Look at me, Alanna."
She looks at him, and he kisses her. He knows he shouldn't, but it's impossible to resist, and, now it's started…gods, it's wonderful. Heat, strength, feeling--it's all there, in abundance.
Almost like she's been practicing.
The traitor thought comes into his mind, as he forces himself to pull away.
And long after she takes up her disguise again, and marches off to battle, George Cooper wonders which one of her companions she might have been practicing with, the Prince landing the most favourable odds. He doesn't even consider the dark, little cat, which walks so close to Roger's side.
Time passed again, as it always does. Little-cat is sunning himself, now, his bruises gone but not forgotten as he sits in the courtyard. Many things have changed, since the war, but faces still haunt his dreams. Little-cat tries to block them, these days, or drown them out. But purple eyes are hard to obscure.
Alex is worthless, and he hates himself for it. He hates Alan for it. He hates everyone and everything. At least he has the comfort of knowing that Roger will change the world, and even let him live in it. But only if he's very, very good.
Footsteps jerk him out of his dreams. Alex turns around, and sees Alan, looking tired and hard, sad, battle-scarred and entirely undesirable. Memories of the boy, clouded by the thought of that tiny way creation, and a needle, make him shudder. The start of so many problems, in one little person."
"Alan, come here a minute, will you? I thought you were with Jon."
For some reason, that makes Alan blush. Idly, Little-cat wonders exactly what happened to Alan during the Drell war, besides being kidnapped. But mostly he just notices how close the blood is to his face. "Alex, I…"
"Just listen to me a moment, would you?" Slowly, he stands, and walks over him, eyes cold, mind cooler. It's time to cancel out some factors. "I just need to tell you, Alan, that…" he makes himself look away with mock embarrassment, "that whatever happened, you know, before, it just stays before, all right?"
He never expects Alan to hit him. Almost yelling with shock, he careers into the stone beck he had been sitting on, years of training the only thing stopping him from breaking several bones. "What was that for?"
"For being flaming stupid, that's what!" Alan's voice breaks, his eyes narrowed. "Do you think I'm proud of before? I don't know what happened there, but, to think that you'd think I'd want…." He swallows something down. From the expression on his face, it looks like bile. Alan turns on his heel, then, and walks away.
The thing is, Alex is sure he can hear Alan mutter something like: "Why does everyone want to kiss me?"
And so it ends, with anger and hurt pride. The only way it ever could, the little cat and Squire Alan being who they are.
To be suppressed, and forgotten…
Disclaimer:No character or location belongs to me. Everything, save the actual plot, belongs to Tamora Pierce. The writing challenge was concocted by Reaya, Salinalia of Sunverfye, and HuntressDiana, 2003.