Disclaimer is as always.
This was originally written as part of a huge fic that I'm writing – and, of course, has not been put on the net at all.
Alanna and Jonathan, despite their past quarrels, have (partially) reconciled in their old age, sometime after the Scanran War. The King and his Champion have escaped a particularly boring court function, and are hiding in his study until it ends. Many things are said, and many more unsaid. Reflexive.
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They were curled up on a sofa, hiding from the court and the world. Neither would have noticed an assassin enter the room until it was too late. But that's the way it had always been with them – intense and infrequent.
A lull in conversation had been reached, and she played with the soft leather, not bold enough to meet his eyes, aware of the emotions reawakened in the past hour, unwilling to let herself remember.
He interrupted their united silence.
"I want to be young again". The swing from intimate connection to normalcy landed her back into familiar territory – she could answer his unemotive, impersonal remarks. She scoffed at his impossible dream.
"Don't we all?"
"Remember how we used to laugh at the idea that we'd age? That we'd grow old, marry, have children; and wrinkles…"
"And grey hair." She added, rather unhelpfully plucking a grey hair from his head of midnight black, and presenting it to him for inspection. Any reservations between them had dissipated in the past few months.
"Thank you." He muttered wryly. She was sitting rather close to him. He liked her like this – relaxed, with the barriers down. She folded her legs under her, an arm on the back of the couch.
"Seriously, was it that much fun? Even back then you had the responsibilities of your birth. Me, I lived in constant fear of having my secret discovered, and of being too weak."
"You were rather determined to prove yourself."
"Wouldn't you be?" He tilted his head to the side, playing with her copper curls.
"Yes." He whispered, and paused for a moment, looking into her eyes. "I was driven by fear of failing, of becoming like my father, I think."
She made an agreeable murmur. "You were always so proud and independent. You focused on being the best heir, the best king-to-be, possible."
"I saved you against his orders."
"Yes." She paused. "You probably shouldn't have done that."
"And have you die?" He exclaimed, grinning. "I couldn't have that."
"We've saved each other a lot."
"Without you, I would have died numerous times by now."
"It's been my pleasure."
"It was one of my fears when I was young. You dying."
"Why?" She shifted slightly, and then settled into a position where she could see his face without straining.
"I think Roger drove it. I was convinced he had sinister motives."
"You were right. I was a fool not to see it."
"At least you recognised it the second time." He chuckled.
"That's no excuse, really. I was so awed when you first killed him."
"I always wondered about that, your expression when I did."
"I thought no one could kill him. He was so powerful, magically, physically, politically."
"And I was just a country boy."
"A loyal, fierce, passionate, determined and talented country boy." He corrected, tweaking her nose. "Who grew into a loyal, fierce, passionate determined and talented-" He broke off, frowning slightly.
"Woman?" Alanna offered, smiling wickedly. He flushed.
"The saying does not work well with those who hide their genders."
"I know." She patted his arm reassuringly. After a moment of silence, she ventured. "How long do we have to stay here?"
"Until the ball's over. Now that we've both run off, we can't return – it'll draw the attention of the courtiers."
"Sooo glad I'm not one of them."
"You are." He teased.
He counted on his fingers. "You're a noblelady, a baroness, you attend court frequently, you go to balls, you talk politics, and you wear exquisite dresses and silk breeches. That alone makes you a courtier. On top of that, you are a member of the king's council and one of my closest advisors; you understand the complicated relations between nations and the consequences of each act politically; you're the spymaster's daughter, my champion, a leader in swordplay, well respected…"
"That does not make me a courtier. Just because I'm forced to dress like one when I attend parties…"
"Ouch, that hurts, Lioness." He rubbed her palm, and smiled. "You should be nicer to your friend." She grinned wickedly.
"Never. I'm of a past generation. Thus I must remind you of who you were, what you have become."
"To knock me off my pedestal?"
"No, that's Thayet's job. I'm the old woman who yearns for a man she once called her prince." She answered thoughtfully.
He ignored her self-designated role, knowing it was true and yet wishing it weren't.
"Has she done it well?"
"Not really. She's let your arrogance get the better of you. I was starting to fear not even a giant could knock you off."
"A giant, my champion screaming at me, same thing."
"Metaphorically speaking, Lioness." He paused for a moment, still holding her hand. "Am I still "the king"?"
She looked at him enquiringly, surprised at this new question. "You were 'the king' for quite some time there."
"But now I'm yours?"
"I never really noticed your changing names for me until recently. Shows you how distracted I was."
"Yes." She whispered, her throat threatening to seize up.
"So when are you going to call me your king, or even "Jonathan"?"
She smiled slyly. "When you least expect it. And how can I be sure that you will remain Jonathan forever? You changed when I was right there, in your face, being your champion, always trying to remind you of yourself."
He paused for a moment, thinking about the answer. He wouldn't lie to her. "I can't promise you I'll be Jonathan with other people. Or in matters of state. And there's nothing I can give you that will inspire your faith – that must come by itself. But with you, I'll be Jonathan – until death and beyond it."
Her heart warmed slightly, although a small pea of doubt stewed in a corner. Knowing nothing else could be said about the topic without it straying into a realm she would not enter, or an argument, she decided to change it. "That phrase was never part of our official oaths." She commented.
"Funny how we remember it better than our official ones."
"I remember a lot of the things we said. A lot of things about our past."
"Do you think of it much, the past?"
"More and more as I get older." She took a deep breath, and reached for him. "I'm going to have to retire as Champion soon. The realm needs a young, strong warrior. Not an old woman."
His heart sunk. He knew this time would come, but he could not let her or Raoul go. Their titles gave them importance at court. He needed them to have the political power that justifies their presences by his side. He needed her at his side.
And anyway, they deserved it more than anyone. It would be cruel to rob them of their titles as soon as they aged.
"Can't you simply take up the less active duties of Champion?" He ventured cautiously, "Uncle was an inactive champion for decades. Surely you could do the same. Let the young ones round up the rebels." He concealed his gut reaction – I won't let you leave me.
"A champion should be able to fight."
"A King should have the same champion all of his reign. He shouldn't discard them as they age and are bested. True loyalty says I keep you, in recognition of all your hard work and sacrifice over the years."
"I'll become a desk knight like Gary."
"We all do, in old age." He shrugged, and pushed a curl that moved over her face back over her shoulder. "I want you, and Raoul, by my side to the end."
She held his hand in hers, tracing the calluses with her own scarred fingers. "Can I choose my assignments?"
"You always have." She paused, and looked up.
"Thank you, sire."
He cupped her cheek. "No thanks needed, Alanna."