[Fic] Bad Politics
Title: Bad Politics
Notes: So now poor Naoji has the choice of either pursuing Orphe or being pursued by Lui. Orphe has no clue what to do about his own feelings. Politics and love are two different games played the same way.
"Why is it, Naoji, that you are the only swordsman among us who uses a fake blade?"
"It is not fake."
"Perhaps this is a mere cultural gap between the two of us," Ludwig regarded him carefully from across the table. Naoji, as ever, responded with cool stoicism. They were taking their tea late today, but the heavy fall of snow outside made the entire day appear to be one static point in time. It could have been anytime between noon and sunset. "How would you then classify a 'real' sword?"
"The way one classifies a soul. Is there such a thing as a fake soul?"
"I suppose not," Ludwig paused, then smiled over his cup. "You've taken strongly to philosophical debate today. It is rare that you ever respond to questions with more questions, but that is not to say I'm displeased with the way you have changed lately. Is it that poet?"
"To some extent, yes."
"Does his death distress you?" After all, it was not too long ago that Naoji decided to have the man's body cremated, but another several months passed before the two of them could track down travelers headed towards Japan who would be willing to take the ashes. It would be the honorable thing, Naoji had said, to return his remains to Japan since he could not make the trip during his lifetime.
"Death does not distress me."
"That is good. As a future Strahl member, you will have to deal with death constantly as a statistic. Best to accustom yourself-"
"I'd rather not, if you don't mind." Naoji uncharacteristically shot back, his eyes taking on an intensity so rare that Ludwig felt he was being treated to a little miracle. Without missing a beat, Naoji continued. "Death does not feel like a statistic to me, nor would I wish to numb myself of the sensations death evokes. A man is a man, not an economic figure. Just as some may believe a sword to be a mere composite of different materials, to me it is not. One man devotes his life to making it. One to using it. It is a tangible symbol of honor and devotion."
"Well said. Another question since you're being talkative."
"Is your heart real?"
"I'm not speaking about the human heart in general," corrected Ludwig, setting his tea aside and meeting Naoji's gaze. Don't ask me that, it said. Anything but that. "I am asking about your heart. Is it real?"
The balance was not right, Naoji thought as he stared through the thick fall of snowflakes and beyond the thicket where he practiced. Not right at all. One way to quickly recognize a badly made blade is to feel for its center of gravity. He set the wooden sword on the crook between his thumb and forefinger, letting it bob up and down, back and forth like the scale of justice.
Blade too heavy, the focus was too far from the hilt and too far from the wielder. If only he could bring it closer to himself, everything would be alright. But he couldn't. Even though it was not right he did not have the will to draw what he needed closer to his heart. In frustration, Naoji slashed at a nearby tree, causing snow to fall in muted plops. "Damn you, Lui."
"Of course it is real. Why do you ask?"
"I believe you, of course, but there is a certain idealistic fool within our circle of...acquaintances who can't tell the heart on your sleeve from the sleeve itself. I dislike this certain idealistic fool because in addition to being overly lenient in the political arena, he is also romantically inept, blind and..."
Naoji couldn't help but wince. "Enough, please. I'm sorry Lui, but I have to cut this discussion short," he explained awkwardly as he stood to leave. His tea was left untouched. "I wish to practice a little before sunset."
"Outside? But it's snowing." Ludwig didn't even bother to look. He knew it was so and to turn his head would have been to turn away from Naoji's inner turmoil and his pitiful attempts at lying.
"If I train my mind to ignore the cold, it will become stronger."
"Stronger, perhaps, but also lonely," Lui countered, but Naoji seemed to have already withdrawn deep inside himself. In his eyes something slammed shut and hid behind that wall of a blank stare like a threatened dog.
"Please excuse me."
Just as Naoji was turning the doorknob, arms wrapped themselves around his waist.
"Ludwig," he warned.
"It cannot hurt you to indulge in your weakness at least once, Naoji. Just as long as you do it before I succumb to mine. " The smell of cologne, Lui's voice so close to his ear and the feather-light brush of his lips. "I need you by my side now and in the future..." All of it closing around him in a sheath of unremitting authority and the hand that made its way lower before reluctantly drawing away. "To make sure I don't take everything I want."
It was too much. He shoved Ludwig away and with a half muttered apology made a hasty retreat. Once the thick mahogany door stood between them Naoji felt more at ease, but now he was finding it harder to breathe.
His hands were shaking.
I'll follow you, but not like this.
"Naoji!" He finally snapped out of it. Orpherus stood in front of him now, lines of worry etched onto his face. "What happened to you?"
"Something between you and Ludwig? Did you fight?"
"Are you sick?"
Then, "You're an awful liar, but it wouldn't be fair of me to force it out of you." Orpherus put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently, but after noticing Naoji stiffen he wordlessly pulled away. "In any case I didn't come looking for you just to sound like a mother hen. I know you usually dine with Lui and Camus, but I was wondering if you would like to join me tonight?"
This caught Naoji by surprise. "What about Ed?"
"Off running errands in town," Orphe paused thoughtfully. "Or courting women. It's the same thing, really. So will you accept my invitation?"
"I'll be practicing until seven."
"Then eight is fine. I still have my own work to finish."
"I will dine with you then."
Agreeing to dinner weighed upon him like a death sentence. Because the heart is complicated, because it wasn't about choosing between Strahl and his homeland anymore, because Lui had given him explicit permission to pursue...with the alternative of being pursued...and because he would always be by Lui's side, and because he longed to also be by Orphe's...
Surrounded by the fresh white of newly fallen snow, Naoji could feel the cold seeping into his skin. He breathed it in and thought how good it would be if he could freeze his heart with such a blanket of calm.
The twilight was quiet, save for the whispering swoops of his weapon. Even though the sword was unbalanced, he could shift his entire body to make up for the strangeness of feeling and the more he moved, the more natural it started to feel.
He knew what Lui would say to that. The inability to change for the sake of your own advantage is a weakness. Fix it.
And then Orphe: Don't accustom yourself to what you know is wrong. That is oppression. Fix it.
Naoji tightened his grip and struck the air. High strike to the head. Then lower, through the abdomen and torso. Then repeated. Again and again until he struck thoughts of Lui and Orphe from his mind. Until that odd warmth he felt around Orphe turned cold and dead again. And those inappropriate dreams- he wanted to forget them even though he never wanted to wake up after Orphe's touches, kisses and murmurs.
It was too much. The cold and the exertion finally took its toll causing Naoji to collapse in the snow. He was tired and had no will to fight it anymore. He wanted to sleep and lose himself again in those dreams.
"You can sleep now, Naoji."
Then Orphe was gathering him up in is arms and holding him close. The warmth returned. He never wanted to wake up from this. Not ever.
Naoji opened his eyes slowly, allowing the world to refocus around him. How long had he slept? What time was it? He shifted under the sheets and turned absently towards the window. Darkness had fallen and in the frosty mirror Naoji could see his own reflection staring back at him.
No. He wasn't dreaming now. This wasn't his room. And if he squinted enough he could make out a figure hunched over a desk in the far corner. My desk is edged next to the wall in front of the bed. If this isn't my room, then who-
"...that is why, among the philosophers, those who have wanted to attain some greater excellence have not been content to await the rigors of Fortune in shelter and repose," Naoji could barely hear it, but there was no mistaking Orphe's voice for anyone else's. He always read aloud while studying. "For fear she might surprise them inexperienced and new to the combat; rather they have gone forth to meet her..."
Naoji turned away from the window, only to see his training uniform drying on a makeshift clothesline by the fireplace. Then he remembered. Everything. He cursed under his breath and sunk back into the sheets. To have Orphe come and save him, bring him to his room and (he noted with alarm) undress him...it was humiliating.
"I put your dinner by the bed," Orphe stopped his recitation, but did not turn around as he spoke. "Naoji, I hope you don't mind that I..." He paused, probably hoping that voicing it would be unnecessary.
"It's fine. I'm grateful...that is...for saving me. My apologies for making you go through all the hassle."
"You would have done the same for me, I'm sure. Now about your key..." Orpherus ignored the outpour of formalities. "I couldn't find it among your clothes." His eyes fluttered from The Complete Essays of Montaigne to his sister's pendant to his notes to the oil lamp to the drops of ink on his desk and then back to Montaigne because God knew how hard it was not to look back with Naoji naked in his bed. He had been proper in making sure the other was warm and well, but...just barely proper.
"Hanging on a tree branch."
"Ah. I must have not seen it and it's already too dark outside to go looking." So then, what now? Naoji already has enough reservations about me as it is. I don't like it, but there's not much of a choice now. Orpherus stood up and made for the door. "Then I'll see if Lui-"
"No!" Naoji panicked, practically stumbling out of the bed and, after remembering his state of undress, stumbling back in. "I wouldn't want to worry him as well." The apprehension in his voice said it all.
"So something did happen between the two of you." When Orpherus did not hear an answer, he turned around to find his friend staring blankly into the fire.
"No. Nothing happened. I just don't want to get lectured. You know how Lui is."
"Of course." Orphe wasn't convinced, but he trusted Naoji to efficiently repair damaged relations and return the dynamic between Strahl candidates back to a safe balance. That was, after all, one of his strongest attributes. "Which leaves the matter of your lodgings for the night. You may stay with me unless you would rather I call Ed or Camus."
"Putting one person through all this trouble is enough. I accept your offer."
"Since you missed dinner with me, it's the least you can do." he smiled and waited to see what Naoji would do in response to such obvious flirtation. In all honesty, he expected just another flat comment. Even Lui's most blatant advances were received with an apathy a brick wall would envy.
"If there is more you want, you need only ask."
For his part, Orpherus was left completely speechless. He must have looked like the world's biggest idiot, blushing and staring while Naoji averted his gaze, more self conscious than usual and with good reason.
"I...uh..." He truly wanted to kick himself. Eloquence abandons men at the worst of times. "I...I'll keep that in mind." Orpherus rubbed his temples and gracelessly fell back into his chair. "You had better eat before your dinner gets cold. Then get some sleep. I'll find your key in the morning."
"But where will you sleep?"
"That is not an issue right now. The professors have set up another debate between me and Lui tomorrow and I'll be damned if he ever corners me in political philosophy. I won't lose to him, even if it means losing a night of sleep. It's a small sacrifice."
"You two never change."
Hours passed wordlessly, save for Orphe's diligent studying. He knew it was flawed logic, but he figured that the more he thought of Lui and the angrier he became at such Machiavellian political tactics, the more he would be able to concentrate on his work. Naoji would fade into the background of his thoughts.
Orphe fought the urge to hit the books- literally slam his head against them. He had never before been so intent on being so obsessively studious. As if studying alone would make him ignore the sight behind him and the growing discomfort in the lower regions of his body.
Both hands on the desk.
Naoji hates me. He hates me for being so antagonistic towards Lui. He despises me, so it would be impossible. Utterly impossible to...because he belongs to that dictatorial bastard. Just keep telling yourself that Orphe, you dolt.
"Remember, to be with one's beloved is the greatest happiness..." his sister had once said, and it was the thought of her which spurred him to check on Naoji earlier today. Because something didn't feel right. Because something felt off and unbalanced, just like on that day she died.
"Is the thought of going up against Lui upsetting you again?" Naoji asked. Even from behind, Orpherus must have looked conceivably anguished for Naoji to have noticed.
"Yes. As it usually does." It wasn't an all out lie, after all.
"What is the topic?"
"Political dissidence communicated through published material. Should I be worried?"
"Now that would be espionage. I can't say."
"Ever faithful, I see." The resignation in Orpherus' voice must have been thick because Naoji said no more. If only he could bring himself to turn around and be sincere about it. What was it that Lui said about him? Grasping an opportunity and risking everything to accomplish it. Judging from this trait, Orpherus has something I do not. The clock struck midnight, emphasizing the fact that this opportunity was one he was going to let slip through his fingers.
Though what would sincerity do? The balance between all the Strahl candidates-at the very least, three of them-would be permanently ruptured. None of it had any rational basis. He heard Naoji's quiet breathing and smiled. What a waste to let such a night pass. It didn't feel right to leave things be, but for everyone's sake he knew he would have to. The conclusion comforted him very little, but it was enough. Now then, back to Montaigne.
"Book I, Chapter 29. The Twenty-nine Sonnets of Etienne de La Boétie. I don't know if it would help you any, but somehow I just remembered them," Naoji said out of nowhere. "Both members of the Parliament of Bordeaux, Montaigne and la Boétie were intimate friends. It was only natural that Montaigne would make to publish the poems along with his essays."
Orpherus flipped to the indicated chapter. "They're not here."
"Precisely. At the time, they were too dangerous to be published."
"Why is that so? What type of poems were they?"
"What does that have to do with politics?"
"Love and politics are not too different from each other. La Boétie was not the most subtle of men when he wrote about love being a tyrant of the heart. The tyranny of love can be easily interpreted as the tyranny of government and so forth..." Naoji drew the sheets and comforter closer around his body. He was getting sleepy again. "Just as perfect governments cannot exist because we are human, perfect relationships cannot exist for that same reason. Irrationality seeps in through the cracks of institutions just as it does the heart. And we are all possessors of real hearts, am I correct?"
"I see no reason to argue with your logic."
"Watch what you say. It's all about illogic. One can never factor it out of any equation as far as human beings are concerned." Naoji stared at the ceiling. If only I could practice what I preach. Perhaps if he let his mind wander just a bit, he could start to imagine the ceiling of his room in Japan, far away from here. He just about halfway crossed the ocean when he heard Orphe speaking to him again.
"...he's lucky to have you by his side."
"Not really," Orphe...just...just let me sleep. "Because here I am advising Lui's adversary on matters I have no right to intrude upon, and to make matters worse, I'm in his bed. If it's not espionage, it's definitely treason."
Orpherus just laughed at him before returning to work. "Details, details. Life could do with a little less of them. Plus, it's not treason if nobody finds out."
"Famous last words."
The droning echo of the church bells woke him up. Four in the morning. Orphe had only been asleep for twenty minutes, but waking up was still unpleasant. His throat was dry. The fire was dead and the room chilly. With the dreadful soreness in his shoulders from napping over books, he felt like a resurrected cadaver.
"Dammit all I don't care anymore," he muttered just like any other indignant student still up during the ungodly hours of the night. He tiredly heaved himself up and all but tumbled onto the bed. It was too late for anybody to protest new arrangements. Fatigue and desperation strengthen the weakest of cowards. At least for one night he could sleep next to Naoji and know he wasn't dreaming. But the bed was empty.
He cursed and grumbled into the pillow. "So you decided to leave me for Lui after all..."
"No," Naoji was wrapped up in his sheets and standing by the coat rack. "I haven't gone anywhere."
"Then what are you doing over there?"
"Wondering why my room key was in your jacket pocket the entire time." His face was severe as he held it up for Orphe to see. "So even you are capable of practicing bad politics."
"Matters of the state and matters of the heart are two different games for me," Orpherus answered morosely. "Allot rationale towards one side and you're left with nothing on the other. Therefore I offer you no excuses. You can go back to your room now. I won't hold you here against your will."
But Naoji returned to the bed and slipped under the covers, sidling up against his back.
"Naoji, didn't you hear me?"
"If I am to be a traitor tonight," he said against Orphe's collar, his hand reaching around to undo the buttons of his shirt. "I might as well reap the benefits."
"Famous last words."
"Some traitors die happy."
Cold, just as like the room was cold, Naoji's hand stilled for a moment against his chest before wandering again over Orphe's stomach and then lower, over and around his hips until stopping again.
"You're such a terrible weakness to have," Naoji whispered, continuing and holding Orphe closer as he arched into his touch. "But it is better to embrace one's faults than to deny them. Is that good logic?"
Orpherus couldn't answer. Didn't hear him. It felt too good, the way he touched the right places with just the right pressure. And when he finished, Naoji kissed his shoulder and remained silent.
"Is it selfish of me to keep you as a traitor? I can't steal your key every night we are together."
"No you can't and I would rather be no one's traitor. Though I would be lying if I said Lui didn't encourage me to do this."
"Next time I will be the one to steal your key."