So for some reason or another, fanfictiondotnet would not allow me to upload documents because they're convinced my files are suddenly and magically un-convertible. So I had to do this long and ridiculous thing where I copied and pasted to an older file already in Document Manager and then went down and painstakingly edited everything. So it may come out weird. Ughh.
But yes. This started out as a playful Kel/Dom and then I was like, with Faleron on the loose? Pfft. No way. So it became an oddly serious Keleron fic. By the way, if you happen to have "Stolen" by Dashboard Confessional to listen to while you read, I would highly suggest it. I listened to it the entire time I wrote this. It was magical.
The day had dawned hot and humid, but by the afternoon it was so oppressively muggy that it had chased nearly everyone indoors. Cloudless and stark blue, the sky offered no reprieve from the relentless sun. Later, people would swear that Corus had never known a temperature such as this one.
Damp and dripping, Keladry finished her glaive exercises with a neat step and slash, the curved steel blade angled toward the ground. She gasped for breath as she straightened and wiped the sweat from her brow. For the first time in awhile, she did not have an audience. She was grateful. It allowed her to sag a little, weary and heavy. She had actually considered skipping out on her exercises entirely—it was just so cursed awful—but in the end she opted to head for the abandoned courtyard, and later return to her rooms for a cool bath and a change of clothes.
Kel rested the weapon against her shoulder and began her trudge toward the door when a movement caught her eye. Who would be out at this hour? she wondered, mystified, shifting the glaive to get a better look. Honestly, even Wyldon isn't anywhere to be seen—oh, it's Faleron. What is he doing out here...?
A couple of yards away, Faleron rested cross-legged in the shade of a big, leafy oak tree, his back against the trunk. He was scribbling furiously away at something in his lap, his expression intent. Kel hovered in place for a moment. A bath can wait, she finally decided. I haven't had a chance to really talk to him since he's come back from patrol because I'm always at New Hope.
Kel did a half-pivot in his direction. She plucked at the material in her breeches, unsticking them from her skin. As she neared, she suddenly felt self-conscious; cool and quiet in the shade, he looked hot but not sweaty, while she had been maneuvering all over the place and managed to work up enough sweat to salt the ocean.But what does it matter, she thought. We trained together as pages for two years. He's seen me worse than this.
"Hey," she ventured. "Mind if I join?"
Whatever his reaction, Kel certainly didn't expect this one. Faleron flinched violently, whitening beneath his tan and smudging the line he had drawn with his charcoal stick. She barely had time to make out what looked like some kind of sketch before he crushed his papers and drawing tablet to his chest.
"Kel," he sputtered, "how long have you been here?"
"Not long," she said, taken aback. "I'm sorry, Faleron, I didn't mean to startle you."
He cleared his throat. "I just didn't expect you to pop out of nowhere. Please, have a seat."
"No, it's okay, you're busy. I'll see you later in the mess hall. We can catch up then."
"Wait, Kel, no," he said desperately, "don't go. Look, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to make an ass of myself. I haven't talked to you in awhile and I wasn't paying attention." He smiled at her reassuringly and, not knowing what else to do, she plopped down next to him, reveling in the shade.
"I saw you with that pigsticker of yours," Faleron said wryly, once he had repositioned himself. Kel noticed that his arm covered his top drawing defensively. He had unceremoniously stuffed whichever one he was currently working on in the pile. "Isn't it a little hot to be waving that thing around?"
Kel smiled ruefully at him. "I actually thought about skipping it altogether, but then I knew I'd feel lazy. Besides, a cool bath will feel that much better."
"I suppose that makes sense," he agreed.
After a pause, she nodded to his papers and said hesitantly, "Do you draw?"
"These?" He idly flipped through the corners. "I've drawn since my page years I guess, but...I only keep my favorite ones. I don't show them to a lot of people. Do you—would you like to see one?"
"You don't have to," she murmured, touched. "Not if they're private."
"It's okay," he said, smiling with a charming shyness she didn't know he possessed. "But you can't laugh at them. They're—silly."
A man grown, she thought, and he's worried I'll poke fun at his drawings. He's bashful. I had no idea. "Of course I won't laugh," she said. "You know I wouldn't."
Faleron slowly slid one out from the middle and handed it to her. She took it and, startled, she blurted out, "Faleron, this is amazing."
And truly, it was. The subject was a falcon, perched on a branch, and perfection in every feather. Somehow, he had caught that predatory gleam in its eyes, the grip of its deadly talons on its roost, the play of shadows on its wings. He had brought this to life with nothing more than his charcoal stick.
"It's not much," he insisted, embarrassed. "I drew it my first year as a squire, when my knight-master took me north."
"You drew this when you were fourteen?" Kel said in disbelief. "You could have made a better living as an artist than a knight."
"Maybe." He shrugged. "But I wouldn't have served the crown that way."
"May I see more?"
"Really?" He hesitated a fraction of a second and then plucked out a couple more.
Each one was, to Kel's untrained but pedantic eye, a masterpiece. There was another one of a reposed cat and her sleeping kittens, an ear-perked horse wearing complete and incredibly detailed body armor, and, just when she was beginning to think he didn't do people, a little girl with long hair half covering her face, meticulously making a bead necklace. His people were no less riveting than his animals.
"These are so clever," she said, amazed. "When did you learn to draw?"
Faleron murmured, "I've always kind of doodled. Master Yayin used to get so angry when I turned in my work—most of it was covered in trivial sketches. I'm not much for painting, though. Charcoal and ink are simpler."
She smiled warmly at him. "They're so neat and pretty. Why not do more people?"
Oddly, he blushed. "I guess I'm better at animals."
"But you're not," she protested. "You do everything well—what about this one?"
It was too late. If he had said it sooner, and if they hadn't been sharing such a companionable rapport, Kel never, ever would have thought to take it. She was not one to pry in another's private life or belongings. But she hadn't meant any harm—and she pulled it from his sheaf before he could stop her—
She caught her breath. It was her, in much younger days. He had shaded softly around her right eye to blacken it, so she must have been in a recent fight. She was chewing thoughtfully on her lip, with her chin propped pensively on her hands, and looking off into the distance. Someone who glanced over this sketch might have thought it was an exceptional piece of work, which it was; but Kel had seen his previous drawings, and none of them had been given the careful attention that this one received. It was in the way he curled her lashes just so; the freckles he had painstakingly placed across the bridge of her nose; the short, bitten nails and even the rough callouses on her hands.
I only keep my favorite ones.
"Me?" she asked softly, turning it to show him. "You drew me?"
Faleron had turned his face away from her, his mouth tight and hot scarlet stains on his cheeks. He said stiffly, "I draw a lot of people."
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I didn't mean to make you angry." There was a long silence, and he did not look at her. "Do you have any more of me?"
His hesitation was all the answer she needed and he knew it. Still he said, "I have a couple."
She asked gently, "May I see those, too?"
A cool breeze ruffled her hair as Faleron handed over the rest of his papers. Mingled in there were more animal pictures, a couple of Merric, and various other ones, but it was her face that dominated his drawings. She picked out the ones from her page years: one of her laughing, one of her tucking her hair behind her ear as she smiled, one of her kissing Peachblossom on his whiskered nose. The sparrows featured prominently, as did Jump. There was one of her fierce profile, streaked with blood; Kel recognized that as the day she and the other pages stumbled upon the bandit camp. He had also caught her in her most private moments—he had drawn her profile again, this time sad and downhearted, and, horribly, one of her and Neal, in which she was blushing and staring up at him with stars in her eyes. How—how had he seen all this? I was so careful...
Those were the most numerous, the ones from her page years. He hadn't seen her as much when they were squires. Still, he seemed to have managed. He had drawn her side-by-side with Raoul, capturing their easy relationship in shared smiles and similarly quirked eyebrows. Dom was alone in one and had, inexplicably, been given a very unattractive drooping mustache. Two were of her and Cleon, sweet and young and somehow wistful. There was her griffin, and her expression was a combination of a kind of comic disgust and an exasperated, fond indulgence even she had not thought she felt.
All of this he had seen and illustrated from pure memory. How long would it have taken him to sketch and shade and detail? With this kind of careful precision, it must have been weeks, she thought, feeling strange. He spent all this time on me. Why would he do that? I don't understand.
I only keep my favorite ones.
The last had only just been started. The lines were faint and casual, and there was a thick smudge on the one furthest to the right. It didn't really have a particular shape, but if Kel couldn't exactly make out her face, she could definitely discern the beginnings of her glaive.
Confused, Kel glanced back up at him. "Faleron..."
"Don't," he interrupted hoarsely. He began to collect his drawings again; his hands were shaking. "Don't say it. I know what you're thinking."
"What am I thinking then?"
"That it's weird," he said abruptly, straightening them. He had yet to meet her eyes. "And it is. Even I know it's crazy. It's why I—haven't shown anyone these before. No one would understand."
She watched him very carefully and murmured, "I'd like to."
Faleron's hand jerked involuntarily. He glanced at her, uncertain. In his eyes she read a myriad of emotions. "What?"
"Make me understand," she said. "I want to know."
He stared at her for a very long moment. They were very still as they looked at each other. Somewhere in the distance, a couple of girls giggled on their way to the baths. Another breeze whispered across their faces.
"I tried for knighthood because I am the heir to King's Reach," Faleron said finally. "It's my duty. But it's also my calling. I love it. It has made my life that much better." He glanced down at his lap, idly tracing shapes on his thigh with one long finger. "I also love creating things. Drawing is peaceful, and I've always been able to do it. But they were always separate. Knighthood and artistry are different things entirely. I had to choose. And I did. And I don't regret it."
He looked at her again, dark and handsome. She felt like she was seeing him for the first time. "And then you came along," he whispered. "I doubted you for a long time. We all did. But when we were pitted against the spidrens, you didn't bat an eyelash. I can't speak for the others, but that's when it changed for me."
He fell silent, his eyes intent on her face. Kel waited. Faleron continued, "You are a still water that runs deep. When I draw you, I do more than just capture you on paper. I capture everything that I think makes a knight. You're fierce, compassionate, brave, and humble. With you, I found a way to combine the greatest passions of my life."
Kel felt lightheaded and dizzy, like she had just downed an entire wineskin. "There are plenty of others better than me," she told him faintly. "Wyldon, or Raoul, or Alanna. Why not choose them?"
Faleron's smile was bleak as he said tenderly, "It's not the same."
In that moment Kel understood that they were no longer talking about his drawings; perhaps they never were. I never knew, she thought, stricken. The heir to a valuable house, handsome, older—I never thought he had looked twice at The Girl from Mindelan. With a sudden strange lurch in her belly, she also realized he didn't draw her with her Yamani Mask. Not once. He had seen beyond that...or maybe, with his artist's keen eye, he had seen through it. Always there but never noticed. Oh, Faleron.
"Why didn't you say anything?" she whispered.
He let out harsh-sounding laughter. "Why would I? When we were pages I didn't—think much on it. I thought I just admired you. Even if I had, I never would have jeopardized your chance at knighthood. When we were squires...well, there was Cleon. And when I was knighted, I was shipped off to the borders. And now—"
"And now?" she breathed. Why was she so hot? Not the sweaty, tired kind, but the flushed and fluttery kind. "What now?"
"Is there a now?" Faleron said just as softly, his eyes bright. "We aren't squires anymore, to be handled gently and graciously allowed to return to the palace after awhile. Knights are sent off for months at a time. We may never see each other. Why would you want that?"
"Why would you?" she managed. "Why not choose a pretty, proper lady like your mother wants? Find someone you can come home to."
"The only one I want to come home to," he said, "is the one who wants to come home to me."
Her heart beat furiously in her chest. Kel was surprised he couldn't hear it. Something had changed—something so subtle that it shouldn't have even been detectable. But she felt it. And as she looked up at him, uncertain and somehow excited, she knew that he felt it too. He gently took her hand, his own warm and comforting. They were nearly identical, looking at them, both brown and sturdy and scarred.
Faleron smiled at her with such sweetness her chest constricted almost painfully. No longer pages or squires—they were free to make their own decisions. It scared her a little. It scared her to think he knew her so well when she knew him not at all.
"One step at a time," he murmured, watching her face. Seeing, somehow, what he had always been able to see: her. "I'll not push you."
Suddenly shy, Kel blushed and turned away her face. But she did not take back her hand. She found that she liked it right where it was. "Perhaps—sometime, you can draw something of me I can send to Mindelan? Mama would like that, I think."
"You mean you'd pose for me?"
She smiled. "I suppose. As long as it's not uncomfortable."
"I still have this last one to finish," he offered. "Maybe you'll like it."
"Maybe," she agreed. She tilted her head back to judge the sun's position and was shocked to see that it was getting late. "We should go inside. They'll be serving supper soon, and I still have to change."
"Me too," he said, glancing down at his damp clothes with a crooked grin. "We're pretty disgusting, aren't we?"
So Faleron and Keladry made their way to the courtyard doors in comfortable silence. They did not hold hands—they weren't quite there yet. One day, they will do more than hold hands. And one day, he will do more than commit her face to memory for later; she will be there for him to draw at his leisure and he will keep every sketch. But that was far into the future. For now, they just had each other. That was enough.
I would love it if you reviewed and told me what you think! I usually don't do this kind of serious love fic (I like to keep with my "witty" stories), so any feedback would be appreciated! Thank you (: