Author's Note: So, um. Due to the first chapter of this fic being a posting of the Omnia timeline, I thought I had posted this chapter when actually I hadn't. Oops? Sorry about the long delay, peoples! Hopefully now you won't kill me. Or considering the chapter, and the fact that it is the last one for this fic, you might just kill me more.
Shou paused outside the door to Tou's quarters. They weren't properly Tou's at the moment, of course. The doctor himself had decided that his young charge should stay so that Tou could keep a close eye on him, and so all his herbs and supplies would be within easy reach. He had made a personal report that morning at Shou's request, and prospects had been grim. "The young prince is very badly off," he had said, looking every one of his years. "The wound is infected, and he is burning with fever. I'm doing everything I can, but I'm not sure it will be enough."
Shou had laced his fingers together, his mouth set in a grim line. "And how is Prince Seien?"
"He will not leave his brother's side and has allowed no one near, other than myself and General Sou. He even sent away the servants and insists on tending to his brother with his own hands. He is--" Tou had paused, reconsidered, then shook his head. "That is, I never would have believed it, from the things I've heard. But after watching the second prince this past night, I fear for his sanity if we lose the boy. In all my years, I've never seen a man so affected before."
Sou had not added anything constructive when Shou had found him in the gardens with a carafe of the bad plum wine he'd developed a taste for as a young soldier. He had only grunted in response to Shou's acerbic remark about drinking before lunch, and had been very short in outlining his understanding of what had occurred between the three princes the previous night.
"You might have outfoxed yourself this time, old man," he finished.
Shou had raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid I don't follow."
"Wiley bastard. But it's gone too far now. We could very well lose them both to a single night's bad work." Sou had left then, and taken his bottle off with him.
To a certain extent Shou knew that the rebuke was well-deserved, but this particular turn of events was something he never would have anticipated. There had been no warning that things would so suddenly come to a head: quarrels between the princes were certainly not rare occurrences. And while he had been pushing matters somewhat, for the most part he had been willing to wait until his conditions were met.
That he might have waited too long and proven himself immaturely overconfident was an utterly unpalatable irony.
The sky was turbulent with dark clouds when the servant had knocked on the door to his rooms, blotting out both sun and moon. They flashed warningly overhead as he had made his way through the hallways to answer the message the man had brought. Now he stood before the closed door to Doctor Tou's rooms. He did not bother to knock, not in answer to so late and preemptory a summons. The room beyond lay mostly in shadow, obscuring the medical charts on the walls and the neat chests of herbs. A single candle burned on the table beside the bed, and its illumination didn't spread so far. It was enough to show the face of the boy who lay in the bed, though, and the weak light glinted off the pale hair of the man who sat beside.
Prince Ryuuki looked every bit as bad as Tou's report had led him to expect. His mouth was open, and the sound of his breathing was loud and rasping in the quiet air. He was not sleeping peacefully, and his head tossed back and forth under the influence of fever dreams. The cloth that lay across his brow slid off when he turned to land on the pillow beside him.
Seien's face wasn't visible, lost in the shadow thrown by the candle. In contrast to his brother he was terribly still, with a fierce intensity that charged the air around him. His shoulders were stiff with the tension that thrummed through him. Yet his hands were gentle as he lifted the cloth and returned it to his brother's forehead, soft and careful when he took up Ryuuki's limp fingers again.
It was a waiting game, but after being summoned Shou had no intention of playing. "Prince Seien," he began. "Doctor Tou spoke to me about Prince Ryuuki's condition. I must say that—"
"I'm taking the throne." Seien spoke the words as casually and as simply as if he were commenting on the weather. "I will require your support."
Shou concealed his surprise at the bold audacity of the second prince's statement. Seien had always been careful, choosing his words and replies to avoid giving offense. But now they were as sharp and straightforward as a barred blade. "Your Highness speaks very forcefully, perhaps moreso than you intend."
"No more games. Not anymore. This has gone on long enough—no, for too long." He spoke grimly, and moved not at all. "Things will never again return to the way they were. The only choice now is to go forward, and to do that I need you. You're the only one who has the power to return the courts to order in my father's absence."
Shou raised an eyebrow, unable to help himself. The prince was holding nothing back, not blunting his words in the least, and obviously expected the same in return. "Indeed, you are correct. I'm only surprised that you've approached me."
"Because none of the others have? They don't dare. Or they don't realize. But I do. I won't ask why you haven't moved before now; I doubt you would tell me in any case." He shook his head slightly. "It doesn't matter, as long as you help me to rebuild the courts and return the country to order."
"Your Highness forgets the other princes."
"I have forgotten nothing." Despite the gentleness of his fingers around Ryuuki's small hands, Seien's knuckles were white with strain. "Shouten has already proven himself a traitor by his sword. The others are mired to their necks in the same filth. It wants only to be brought to light."
"It won't be easy. Power alone is not enough to change the current balance." I can't help you with that. Nor would he, if he could.
"I will do whatever it takes."
Shou folded his hands inside his sleeves. "It seems Your Highness has experienced a drastic change of heart since we last spoke."
He left it at that, knowing that the prince would hear the unvoiced request for reasons. Seien did not disappoint him; when he spoke his voice was low. "Ryuuki will never be safe until I am the heir and the others are gone. I see that now. I only wish I'd seen it sooner. I will not rest until I've made a world where he can be safe."
Something clicked home inside Shou's chest, like a key turning inside a lock. Certainty surged through him, swift and exultant. "You know that there are only two possible outcomes for your other brothers. Exile, or the headsman's block."
"I have only one brother," Seien said harshly, his head coming up. His eyes when they met Shou's were colder than steel frozen in winter ice. "Anyone who hurts him is my enemy."
That one look was all it took. Shou bowed his head and raised his folded arms before his chest in an ancient, courtly gesture. "My Lord."
Seien nodded once, sharply, and set Ryuuki's hand down carefully on the blanket before coming to his feet. "Ran Shuuei is waiting for us in the archives."
That was almost enough to startle a laugh out of Shou at the prince's perfect audacity. "I see Your Highness has already started making plans."
"I don't have time for foolishness."
"Indeed." Shou's eyes went to the boy who lay in the bed, and he reached out one dry, wrinkled hand and laid it against Ryuuki's burning cheek. Just that one touch told him everything he needed to know—it was the sixth prince who was running out of time, for all of them. "Let us not keep him waiting."
Seien led the way outside. He hesitated a moment on the threshold of the room, glancing back at Ryuuki's fever-flushed face. When he turned back, his mouth was set grimly, and coldness radiated from him in waves that cut through the heat of the turgid, stormy summer night. "I want this door guarded by four men at all times," he ordered the soldier standing ready outside. "No one is to enter without my personal permission save Doctor Tou, General Sou, and Shusui."
The man attempted to babble some kind of request for confirmation, since the royal princes did not have the authority to issue commands to the Uringun, but Prince Seien was already walking down the corridor. Shou nodded to the guard instead. "See to it," he said. "And then send a runner out to the city immediately with an urgent summons for Doctor Yoh."
Shou glanced out at the rain pouring from the tumultuous clouds, his jaw clenched. He would not lose, not to a dirty sword and a fever. Not when he was so close to winning all.