Day/Theme: November ninth | the "i accept your apology, but you make me really mad sometimes" kiss (late)
Summary: Seven years later Lehran is summoned back by the Empress to make his defense. His punishment is not quite what he expected it to be. Lehran/Sanaki
Word count: 2,113
A/N: Well, myaru, here's your repayment for the senses challenge! :D With apologies, it's a bit later than intended. I got around 500+ words in and was blocked at how to write myself out, etc. Warning is the general for the pairing. There's likely to be a followup for her Christmas present as well. Needless to say, there's bound to be spoilers here as it deals with Lehran.
n. A formal defense or justification.
It had taken seven years before Lehran was summoned again to the courts of Sienne. Those years had passed with no undue slowness, for what was a few years in the course of hundreds? He had busied himself with the affairs of herons. It was a side of him that hadn't been opened since the burning time, and from those ashes had grown something past the wounded, ash flecked flesh.
It came on perfumed lettering from her own desk. He had prompted her to make such measures, she was always bored with letter writing but at his insistence she had mastered it simply to spite him. Now she could weave in the most biting insults under a facade of politeness. (That was one skill she'd taught herself, he'd certainly had no hand in such a thing)
He had refused his king's offer of some retinue, a few companions to ensure his safe arrival, and most of all his return. King Tibarn was no fool, and even in times of peace he wasn't about to let one vendetta and one former betrayal set the country ablaze again. He could politely refuse King Tibarn's wishes, but he could not turn hers down. If he had ever dared such a thing, he could be certain that within the week she would be at his doorstep, demanding entrance.
It had been years since he had truly traversed, and he donned his old bishop's clothes, the cloak and the concealment charm that had shelled him for twenty or more years. He forgets the minor details sometimes, and others are so stark and burnt onto his mind, he will never mistake the passing of time or the jagged scar that mars the date. Even calendars look like battlefields when riddled with such memories.
Lehran left during the night with a note at his intentions. King Tibarn already knew that he had been summoned, as did Reyson. The rest could guess at his absence. With the verdancy of the Serenes behind him, he focused only on the dusty road ahead. This time Zelgius would not be there to travel with him, as in the earlier days. He prayed for his compatriot's soul, even as he knows that the goddess is far from this world. It is a habit that he is far too familiar with to break.
When the gates of Sienne were near, the feeling welling within him was bittersweet. Happy memories some, but they were darkened by the long, black shadows of his falling. It wasn't until he reached the castle gates that the cloak and charm did at last fall and the dark feathers were revealed to the sun again.
The halls had not changed in his absence, nor would they in the event of his death. The white marble walls and arched doorways, the high doors, the tapestries and even the servants had remained the same. Only she had changed. She was seated on tall chair made of thick wood and painted white. The cushions were of the same white with gold threading and were large and seemed to take up most of the chair itself. She sat there, imperial, arch and elegant. Her gaze captured his and was as cold as the statues, as the ice of the northernmost regions of Daein.
He bowed on bent knee for what seemed a long time, years perhaps. She did not offer her hand for him to kiss, but finally ordered him up with a terse word. She rose and the gown spilled out from her in many shades of richest purple and red and gold. She gave a glance over her shoulder and beckoned him to follow. She had promised vats of boiling oil, bamboo under his fingernails and hot irons for his skin but Lehran knew better. Her anger could be immediate, an vicious inferno, but it would soon cool.
Instead of walking with head held high as he had always taught her, Lehran walked behind with his wings folded and head bent towards the ground. It was only a proper response when dealing with an Empress, and he was no longer her chancellor, guardian and guide. He was a pariah, not their beloved high leader in these courtyards.
She had grown taller while he was away, no longer was she the petulant royal child but a young woman. He always forgot. Time passed so quickly for the beorc. In another blink she'd be twenty then thirty, then fourty, then fifty then– Their marrow and bones so quickly became dust.
When they met the royal pegasus knights on the way, Tanith did nothing to disguise her disgust. Sigrun was more polite, though there was a coldness in her voice that made even pleasant words. He expected nothing less. He had proven a most trusted traitor, and his betrayal that had shaken Begnion to the very foundations. In the fallout, every new official and senator would be carefully scrutinized; eyes alight of any trace of disloyalty.
He was almost surprised to find the room he was lead to was not some dank dungeon deep within the catacombs of the city, but her personal chambers. The room was just as if it were seven years ago. The sheer drapery imported from Persis, the woven rug from Daein and a painting done by a master from Crimea. All offerings to appease an displeased ward who took dire offense should he stray from the boundaries of their country for too long.
She seated herself on the bed, a large four poster creation set in scarlet. He had said that scarlet, a whore's color was hardly the color of a young, fairly innocent girl Empress but she had persisted until she got her way – just as she always had and always would.
"Sit," she commanded.
He obeyed, his heaven-woven garments spread out beneath him on the floor where he knelt. His wings were brushed night and the reflections of firelight seemed minor stars in those depths. She surveyed him cold, merciless eyes. They betrayed nothing of the inner turmoil that he knew must lay beneath her surface. This was a taught skill, not innate for her first instinct was to burn and destroy whatever stood in her way.
It had been he who had cultured her in the ways of Begnion. The right coaches, the personal touches, just enough armor to save her from the culture, the people and their ways– He didn't even need to read the senate to know their treachery, he had taught her to be suspicious of undue kindness and sweet words. He had taught her everything to protect herself – but he hadn't taught her how to protect her from himself.
Begnion was mired in its own slowness, true reforms would take generations, even hundreds of years to pass through. He had known this all too well, fighting against the senate only to be beaten down by one vote or have his changes argued out leaving the ensuing law.
At times he would have to take their own tactics against him. A sentence that abolished laguz slavery had been hidden deep in a bill that raised the senate's own wages. To survive in Begnion one had to be cunning, fools would not live long in such a country.
"Talk," she commanded.
"Pardon me, Empress?"
"This is your apologia. Choose your defense wisely."
He thought of how eight hundred years could possibly be set to words. It would not be an easy feat, some things would have to be condensed, some merged for the sake of brevity.
"You learned about the three heros in your studies. And about the goddesss...and Lehran," he began slowly.
"You said he was a legend, more myth than man though one bearing that name had actually existed."
"I told the truth," Lehran replied.
"Well," she said, breaking the silence that had fallen down on them, foglike, obscuring a once easy relationship– "You look young for your age. I'm sure the ladies will be begging for your secrets," she said dryly.
Lehran couldn't help but chuckle, her face was stony and just as fierce as she made small, biting jokes.
"Yes, I suppose."
"They might invite you to parties and try and get you to marry their daughters for the sole sake of youthful genes. You are hereby commanded to refuse."
"Of course, my lady."
She inclined her head, regally, she observed his every behavior. She had weighed and measured him, and found him wanting. Their roles were so changed now; in the end, perhaps she would be the one to teach him.
"You have not explained. You said that day that you never lied but you never said why–." Her voice broke as she said the words and her impassive face showed hints of an inner scar still unhealed. For the first time she betrayed some caring, some depth of emotion and he felt drawn to hold her and stoke her hair, to tell her that it would be alright. He pushed that desire down and kept his expression calm and collected, as if he had not seen her emotions betrayed to him.
"I lived a long time and there comes a point when you realize that the world doesn't change very much. Five hundred years of fighting for a cause that is undone in one night's time, ending the madness seemed the only cure."
"That's it? That's the reason? You are a fool," she said. "You never should have doubted that I would've brought upon peace."
She was the same fiery girl, the same defiance, only grown tenfold. He had to stifle a smile and keep his face blank lest she see through him.
"Yes..." he said. "That was my flaw, I shouldn't have doubted you."
"Rise," she commanded.
He obeyed. She also rose and walked the space until she was directly facing him. She had grown, yes, but he still was quite a bit taller than her making it so that she had to look up to meet his eyes.
"You aren't forgiven. I will not even forgive such a betrayal. But– You are more useful here. Let your works be your defense, stop moping about and ensure that peace you fought for. Your punishment will be to be in my service until my – or your death."
"You are gracious, my lady."
She leaned up, and for a moment he thought her to be adjusting his collar, but instead she pulled on it and forced him to bend until her lips met his. It was a spark, a tinge of flame that he had forgotten and she kissed with the undue passion that he had always knew lie in those veins. When she pulled back he felt dazed, and so much younger. He had forgotten how love could change things. He'd always known she hadn't looked at him in any fatherly way but he had politely stepped aside and waited for the infatuation to pass. These things happened, guardian's became the object of adoration from their wards, it was an oft occurrence – one that often ended in wedlock.
Her gaze had not softened, precisely, it had the same fierceness, but it had given to a sort of precision.
"You work begins now. I expect your humble obedience to my every command," she said, but it was more a raspy purr than an order.
"And you will have nothing less, my Empress," Lehran said.
She stroked the edge of his jaw. "Good. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Then again, nothing had changed, Lehran thought. She always persisted and she always got her way, even if it took moving the world in the process. Would he be the secret lover or would he once again wed a woman in Begnion? Lehran couldn't tell if his future would contain backdoor curtains and stolen shadows, or the life of a consort and adviser returning to the public eye.
Whatever his fate would be, it was in her hands now.