One Promise Too Late
For: LittleGreenBudgie, for her birthday.
An old leftover, he'd said. Well, she knew he wasn't anything of the sort. She wasn't sure when it was that she had started to fall for him. Her descent into the insanity that was Master Legault started…oh, the moment she met him. He wasn't bad to look at, and the more she got to know him, the better he started to look to her.
He was such a considerate person, kind and helpful, even though he played himself down, speaking as if he wasn't any good anymore. A beauty like her, he'd said. Well, that comment had made her feel better. It'd been…such a long time since she'd had the opportunity to feel like the woman that she knew she was.
In the army, all of the women were treated no different than the men. They all fought, all dirtied themselves in battle, all sweated and tried their very best. There were no exceptions. From Lady Lyndis—a noblewoman!—to little Nino—just a girl!—the women worked just as hard as any man.
Isadora was proud of it. She'd worked her whole life, worked hard, and finally, it was paying off in big ways. These men saw her as an equal, not a dainty little rosebud that needed an apron and grubby little fingers pawing at her skirts to make her blossom.
Master Legault thought that she was a beauty… It made her smile, even days later, to think about it. He might have been teasing, but it made her heart beat just a little faster when she saw him, made her lips twitch with a smile when he winked playfully at her, and it wasn't long before she realized that he was…was…
He wasn't Harken.
Worry and anger bubbled up in the pit of her stomach to think of him, to remember the way he'd left, leaving her with…with what? A promise?
What good were promises when they were so easily broken? A rock through a window left a smaller, more manageable mess, and hearts were made of sturdier stuff.
Promises were so very flimsy.
Legault hadn't promised her a thing. Harken had.
Harken was the man she'd loved for a long time. He'd seen—firsthand—her struggle in the Pheraen military, and he'd been with her every step of the way. He had a sincere smile—a far cry from Master Legault's sly one.
It wasn't until Harken joined them that things became complicated.
She realized that she still loved him, still loved the blond of his hair and the way his nose was shaped. She loved his eyes and the slant of his jaw, and she loved his honesty, his sincerity. She forgave him for making her worry so much, forgave him because he truly was sorry.
But she needed to know that Legault was wrong for her, needed to see it, feel it, experience it for herself. It was wrong of her, that much she did know. But she remembered all of the good conversations with the man, how he was gifted with the uncanny ability to make her laugh, and she sought him out.
It was dark, most of the others were asleep, and he was skulking in the shadows when she pressed her lips against his.
"This is nice," he said, pulling away from her in surprise. "A man can't be unhappy when a beautiful woman like you is kissing him like that, but what brought this on?"
He knew she had a man.
A man that definitely wasn't him.
She took a faltering step back. "I just needed to make certain…"
"That I can kiss? I assure you, lady knight, that I can kiss quite well."
She smiled. "So I see." After a short pause, she sighed, shaking her head slowly. "You are a good man, Master Legault—"
"An old leftover," he grinned.
Her laugh was soft and pretty. Nobody had the chance to hear it often. "That too," she said. "And I like you. Thank you for everything."
His shoulders lifted in an unceremonious shrug. "What would one of those stiff knights say? I need no thanks." He was smiling at her again, that carefully-placed, watchful smile that she loved seeing. But it wasn't Harken's smile. It didn't make his eyes shine, or her heart pound so hard she couldn't think straight.
"I made a promise, long ago," she murmured. "But if it wasn't for that promise…"
He held up a hand, his expression suddenly serious. "Don't." He looked up at the sky, at the black clouds against the darkening blue background. "I'm flattered by what you imply, and I did mean what I said, that one day, about you being a beauty I'd never leave alone if you weren't taken."
"Then…what is the problem?"
He smiled again, looking into her eyes. "I am an old leftover," he told her. "I wasn't exaggerating. So are Nino, and Jaffar… and others, too. Nino and Jaffar, they'll be okay. They've got each other—their problems are already shared. But me? Dame Isadora, my problems would come back, and they would kill you. Do you understand?"
"So do yourself—and me—a favor, will you? Don't wonder what might have been, what could have happened. Those problems and what-ifs can only tear you apart."
"You sound like you've been there."
He looked hurt, for a moment, but the pain in his eyes faded away. "I have been," he admitted. "But it wasn't a single person."
"The Black Fang," she breathed.
"Yes." He turned his gaze above him, again. "What could I have done to prevent all of this?" He spread his arms outward, at the people around them, and she knew he was indicating their injuries, injuries that would never heal.
"Nothing," she whispered. "You could have done nothing."
"But do you know that? Can you say such a thing with unwavering certainly, that a high-ranking assassin of the Black Fang couldn't have acted on his instinct to purge all of the corruption in his own organization the moment he sensed it? No, I don't need your comfort, your pity. The past is the past, it's over, it's done. But you—there's something about you…"
"What is it?"
"I don't know, I can't say. I like you, but I can't love you—not like he can. And you can't love me, because all you know of me…"
"Are lies?" She was horrified at the thought, but he quickly reassured her with a laugh and a hand on the top of her head that mussed up her hair.
"No," he said. "You only know what I've let you find out."
She flushed, sighing a little.
"Look at him," he said, turning her in the direction of the camp. Harken was sitting outside of her tent, waiting for her patiently, glancing around him every few moments, his eyes hopeful. "He loves you. You agreed to marry him because you loved—love—him. Him. With his silly, crazy blond hair and those striking eyes. He cares about you, you know. He cares and he loves and he'll always be there. Now that he's found you again, he's not letting go. Don't—"
She reached forward to press a hand against his shoulder, but he shrugged her off. "Listen to me, Isadora. Just listen. After this army splits up, don't wonder how things might have turned out if you hadn't made that promise to your handsome knight of Pherae."
She felt the warmth of his finger press against her lips. "I can make you laugh, but in the morning when you wake up, you want someone who will still be there. That man is not—and can't be—me." He gave her one of those roguish grins of his and pushed her toward her fiancé. "Now go get 'im, lady knight."
She stumbled out into the clearing, and found Harken staring at her. "Isadora!" he said, jumping to his feet immediately. "Are you okay? Oh, look, your hair's disheveled, let me fix it—oh, it feels just like I remember. I missed the way it slipped through my fingers so…so effortlessly. Please, get some rest soon. Tomorrow will be another long day…"
He prattled on and on, and she glanced over her shoulder at the trees, but Legault was nowhere to be found. If only, she thought, but she quickly scratched that thought from her mind. He was a good man. He treated her well, and he made her laugh at the silliest things, but…but he couldn't be Harken.
She laughed lightly and used her hand to rough up Harken's perfectly neat hair, the motion almost playful in nature. "Thank you for worrying," she said. "But I'll be fine. You need to get some sleep too."
"Oh—I will, I…thank you, Isadora." He smiled tentatively back at her.
"What?" she said, mock-annoyed. "No goodnight kiss?"
"W-Well, I thought…"
"We promised," she said firmly. "When we get back to Pherae, we'll have a grand celebration, and we'll get married. We want that celebration to be perfect, don't we?"
"Then we must perfect the kiss before we get home." And with that, she yanked him down to press her lips against his.
Just…something fun? Yeah, well, I fail at writing Isadora, Legault, and Harken, but at least I got some practice in. I've never written any of them before. Feedback would be appreciated! The title comes from a song by the same name… It's by Reba McEntire.