Title: Coming Clean
Character/Pairing: Lethe/Jill, background Ranulf/his groupies.
Summary: Wherein Lethe is a giant tsundere, Jill is mostly baffled and Ranulf is deeply amused.
A/N: comment_fic:Jill/Lethe, cat laguz hate getting dirty. For 010. Dirty
My eye is killing me and Jill's voice came out a bit strange. Probably because I've never written her before, I think. Anyways.
Jill brushed back her bangs. Her skin was gritty with dirt and sweat, and bruised where her helm had slipped and bumped during their last fight, and it had been hours since then. She felt little more than boredom as the fights wore down and it returned to the tedium of traveling.
Traveling, traveling. She'd never liked marching out. Even flying got tedious after a while. She couldn't imagine how it must be down there, in the dusty grounds below.
She'd never trade in her life as a Wyvern rider. She was proud of her mount, and more than that, it was how she had been raised. From almost as long as she'd been able to walk, her father had her riding. She'd gotten her Wyvern when it too was a mere hatchling and they'd grown up together.
That was how they made the best riders. There was a symmetry in thoughts that way. Her wyvern obeyed her every command, often before she said it. They were streamlined, a perfect killing machine made of two separate, but connected bodies.
Some of them had stories of how their first fights almost made them piss themselves, but Jill wasn't like that. She was born to kill, and all she'd been was excited. Besides, being on the back of a Wyvern gave her little to fear other than an archer or mage who might knock her out of the saddle.
Her first killing had been a Laguz. Back then, she'd been just going through a standard rite of passage. Now, it seemed like she was a completely different person. The hunts that had once thrilled her now horrified her. She'd even befriended them. Lethe, at least. She wasn't hostile to the rest, and when she'd come in contact with them again, she'd even tried to befriend them. It hadn't quite worked, but she was making an effort.
She caught sight of a dun blotch far ahead of the rest of the troops, probably making angry comments about weak-skinned Beorcs the whole time. By now Jill had learned that Lethe liked to grouse even if there wasn't a lot of feeling behind it anymore. She had to keep up her pride, and she could take having Ranulf calling her 'soft-hearted.' Jill smiled at the thought.
In the warm sun and the peace she'd sunk into half-attention, but her Wyvern hadn't. Her mount jerked back as an arrow came painfully close to hitting them. She turned about to see who was archer, and caught sight of him in the low brush. It twas too close now to fly away, and she'd just lost her last javelin. He threaded another arrow into his bow. She and her wyvern would probably survive this hit, or at least she could only hope they would–
A brown blur hit the archer. She heard a scream, and saw the bow, and the holder fell into the brush.
Lethe stepped out from the bushes. She changed from her cat form back to her more humanoid form. There was blood at the corner of her mouth.
"Were you hurt?" She yelled up stiffly.
"I'm fine! It missed me by a mile. Thank you, Lethe."
"There is no need for thanks. I did it for the group. I will not have it being reported back that I am not able to work well with the Beorc," Lethe hissed.
"There's no need to be so formal. We're friends...aren't we?"
"Friends...." Lethe said, as if testing the word.
Lethe said nothing more and busied herself with wiping off the accumulated dust. She stared at it with a particularly dark stare. Cat laguz hated to be dirty, it seemed.
"You could ride up with me. It's a bit cleaner up here. Not a whole lot, though. But it gets out away from the dust in your face."
Lethe gave her a look as if she'd just offered her a chance at being impaled.
"What, are you afraid of heights?" Jill said, raising her brow.
She'd meant it as a simple, harmless joke. However, anger colored Lethe's features. She turned fierce, her eyes lighting in fury.
"Of course not. Being a cat warrior I am very well versed in...climbing things. I am fine with heights!"
And before she knew what she was saying, she started teasing more. She hadn't really meant to make it incendiary, just a little friendly talk.
"Really? You, a big tough Gallian warrior are scared of riding a Wyvern?"
Anger flashed over Lethe's eyes, and her tail swung in agitation.. "You will regret your words, human girl, when I come up there and scratch your eyes out!"
And with that Lethe stormed away, muttering to herself. Jill had a sinking feeling about this.
When they stopped to camp, Jill took care of her Wyvern and began to clean her armor at the campside. A figure sat on another log near her, quite eagerly. She looked up and found herself staring into Ranulf's mischievous gaze.
"What did you do to Lethe? I haven't seen her that angry since...last week, when I had to hide behind Kyza and use him as a body shield. Having such a big, strong, loyal guy around is really great sometimes."
"What made her so angry last time?" Jill said.
Ranulf grinned. "Me."
She should've known that. Really, it was pretty obvious.
"I didn't mean to make her angry. I just...how can anyone be afraid of a Wyvern? They're such beautiful creatures. I guess...if it were wild, but a tame one who has a rider? That's like being afraid of...water!"
"You've never heard the phrase that 'cats don't like to get wet'?"
Jill looked confused. "You're afraid of water too?"
"Oh, just some of us. Me, I'm personally fine with it."
Jill was more confused than ever.
"I'll just have to apologize to her in the morning. I just hope she won't stay angry at me for it."
"Oh, I don't think so...Lethe has a loud growl but she's a soft little kitten on the inside. Though don't tell anyone that I said that, as I'd like to not be castrated in the night."
"I won't tell a soul."
"Now if you excuse me I have a few things to do." Ranulf nodded and slipped off into the night.
Jill awoke the next morning to find Lethe pacing at her door. When she looked out blearily to the light of day, Lethe froze midstep and turned.
"Oh, good Lethe. I was going to go looking for you. I didn't mean to offend you—"
"It is nothing," Lethe said stonily. "By our king's command I am not to fight with the Beorc. I should not have called you a human girl or threatened to claw your eyes out. Here is a peace offering to bind the agreement."
She laid the corpse of a deer before her. It was a nice sized buck, its throat was scarlet with blood, but otherwise it was free of any marks.
"Oh great. I was just going to feed my Wyvern."
Lethe's nose wrinkled in a mix of disgust, shock and horror. "You're going to give it to– to that?"
"Well yeah. I'm sure my Wyvern is hungry by now."
Lethe tossed her head indignantly. "I don't care what you do it with, I only did it because I had to. It wasn't like I care about what you do with such things. Go ahead, feed it to your green beast. I don't care what you do at all."
And then, without waiting for reply, Lethe stormed out, leaving a baffled Jill in her wake.
There was two more days of travel without even a minor skirmish to divert her attention. She hadn't a chance to get Lethe alone as of late, though she couldn't tell if it was bad luck or if Lethe really was avoiding her.
Ike had even been willing to pay all their stay, even if Soren pursed his lips. Ike seemed to be of that if he got luxury of any kind, so should his men. Jill was just glad to have a bit of rest in an actual bed for once. They even had a separate stable for flying mounts.
It wasn't until nearly dark that she finally caught sight of Lethe. It was in the bathhouse of the inn they'd gone to, and Lethe was daintily scrubbing a damp rag to her body. Gallians really were beautiful, with their sleek, yet muscular bodies. Lethe was especially so. Lethe was the first one who made her think that Laguz weren't so terrible at all. Just after watching her a bit Jill had wanted to talk to her, wanted to ask her and finally, wanted to change.
"Lethe I, I didn't mean to offend you again. Can I make it up for you by washing your back?"
Lethe stiffened. "I supposed that would be...acceptable."
Jill bent down and wrung out the cloth. She pressed it to Lethe's back, trying not to be too hard or too light, the same way Mist had washed her back ages ago. She tried not to focus on the hints of curves, nor the stifled gasp Lethe made when she drew the cloth over the small of her back.
Jill swallowed hard. Her eyes ran over Lethe's body, hungry and searching.
The door opened and a few people shuffled in. Jill looked up and found herself looking at Ranulf's toothy grin. It made her glad that she'd kept her towel on.
"Were you two busy with something?" Ranulf said.
"I was just washing Lethe's back. ...aren't you supposed to be in the boy's bath?"
"We Laguz don't have outdated things like modesty in our culture. Nor do we separate for the sexes. Any Gallian warrior is as good as any – isn't that right, Lethe?"
She made a growling sound in the back of her throat but didn't answer.
Ranulf pulled off his pants and Jill was glad that Lyre chose that moment to bend down to get her things, because if not she'd learn a lot more about Ranulf than she wanted to know.
"I thought you said Cat Laguz don't like getting wet," Jill said.
"Oh, I said some of us don't. Like Lethe. She hates getting dirty and yet hates getting wet. It's such a tragic situation."
"It makes my ears itch," she said crossly.
"Oh, really? Is that what she's doing?scratching your itch?"
"Ranulf you're – you're indecent and shameless!"
Ranulf grinned. "Thank you. That's the best compliment you've ever given me, Lethe."
She hissed and grabbed a towel. With it wrapped securely about her waist, she turned on her heel and left. She'd been doing an awful lot of that lately.
Ranulf seemed to shrug it off. Kyza stepped right next to him.
"Captain Ranulf, would you like me to wash your back?"
Lyre shot up and glared at him. "It's my turn to wash his back! You did it last time! Captain Ranulf, tell him it's my turn!"
"Maybe if you did a better job then Captain Ranulf wouldn't need to wash his back so often," Kyza hissed.
"Oh you did not–! I do a great job!" Lyre screeched.
"...I guess neither of you want to wash my chest then," Ranulf said..
"Ooh mee! Mee! I want to wash your chest!"
Jill thought that was a pretty good cue to take her leave.
The next few days passed with Jill in a confused haze. She thought back to that moment in the bathhouse and how she had really wanted Lethe. She'd wanted more than she could ever remember wanting someone.
But another thing came to her mind, a memory which time had loosed. She remembered Lethe had a certain tenseness about Ike, remembered Ranulf once telling her that Lethe had even almost asked him to come to Gallia with her.
It made her heart strangely heavy.
So it was that she sought out Ranulf this time. He was sitting back, getting a foot massage from Lyre, and using Kyza as a human – or Gallian, she should say, chair.
"Ranulf I— Is it a bad time?"
"Not at all." Ranulf stood up. "You guys have been great, but I've got to talk about Lethe's love life now, so can you two go make sure I don't miss all the dinner tonight?"
"Of course, Captain Ranulf," Kyza said.
Lyre gave Jill a long, searching look. She looked more than a little suspicious.
"We're not like that, Lyre. I'm simply being a friend to your sister."
"By helping her?" Lyre said.
"You'll understand when it's over."
Lyre hmmphed but left all the same.
Ranulf sighed. "Now that we're alone, what was it you wanted?"
"I've been trying really hard to get along with Laguz. She was the first one who taught me that Laguz weren't beasts and she even became my friend. But I keep accidentally angering her because I don't know the complexities of Gallian culture."
"Oh, she's obviously lovesick. Her anger is quick to strike but she won't hold a grudge forever, unless you're a Beorc..."
Jill looked down at her all-too-Beorc arm.
"I think I know. She's probably angry because she's in love with a Beorc man. I bet it's Ike. That must be why she's so angry lately."
Ranulf made a sound like a cough and quickly covered his mouth. She noticed that his shoulders were shaking as he held back those coughs, or whatever they were.
"Everyone likes Ike, it seems," she said. "Aimee and Princess Elincia were always fawning over him, and Marcia flirted with him every chance she got. Even girls that don't seem to be in love with him talk about his shoulders and chest when we're bathing. All except Heather, but well...."
Heather needed no explanation.
"So, you don't like him?"
"He's alright I guess? I don't despise him, as he is an honorable man, but I've never seen him as anything but a commander."
"Well, I suppose Little Mr. Neurotic will be glad to hear there's another who isn't part of Ike's admirers."
"What?" Jill said.
"Oh, nothing," Ranulf said with an enigmatic and toothy grin. "So who is your type? I hope it's not me, as I'd hate to break your heart. I don't go for Beorc girls."
Before she could admonish him, he waved it away. "I'm just teasing you. But really, No offense. Beorc girls are cute and all, but I'd like to keep my powers. Besides, there's nothing better in bed than a Gallian."
"Your powers? What does that have to do with it."
"When Beorc and Laguz form a child together, the Laguz lose the power to transform. Even the males."
"I knew about branded but I didn't know about your powers... No wonder Lethe is so unhappy.
She wants to love him and yet–"
Ranulf made another strange cough and covered it with his hands. "Yeah, him."
"She must feel awful. Is there anything I can do for her?"
"Well, you could be nice to her...that'd ease the blow. Also don't spend too much time around Heather unless you want to enrage her."
"Did Heather steal something from her? I don't think Heather would mess with Ike. What does this have to do with Ike, anyways?"
Ranulf's ever present smile froze on his face. "You Beorc really are clueless when it comes to matters of the heart. You, Soren, even Ike. I bet it's the lack of smell that does it. It must be horrible to not be able to smell the affection on someone who loves you."
"...I'll tell you when you're older," Ranulf said.
She found Lethe in the forest outside camp, slipping pieces of jerky into her mouth. Her tail was flitting in irritation again, these days she always seemed angry. Or at least angrier than usual.
"Lethe – I heard it all from Ranulf. And I'm so sorry."
Lethe narrowed her eyes. "He likes to tell stories and laugh at the fallout from them."
"But you're in love with Ike, right?"
Lethe grimaced. "That was a ... mild infatuation a long time ago. Nothing worth telling."
"Er, then someone else then. I mean, a lot of Beorc have been mean to you Gallians and I don't want to be one of them. I don't want to make you angry accidentally because you're my friend and that friendship is precious."
Lethe was silent. She stood up and advanced on Jill.
"..I have no male breaking my heart. The troublesome Beorc, that thorn in my side is you.."
And then it all started to fit into place. Wyverns gave kills to each other when courting. Of course she would be angry that Jill casually gave it to her Wyvern. Why she should stay away from Heather and why Ranulf had been so amused when she thought Lethe loved Ike. He'd smelled it on her all along.
"Is love between two girls that vile to you Beorc?" Lethe hissed.
"I don't know, I never heard anything about it, good or bad. I just thought you liked men so the thought never crossed my mind."
"I do like men," Lethe said. "I just happen to like women as well as well."
"I guess I do too?" Jill said. "I mean. I had the biggest crush on Mist there for a while."
"Don't tell me I have another person to fight for your affection," Lethe hissed.
"Oh no, that was a long time ago! She's just my friend and I never told her. She's in love with Boyd now."
"...And the man that's with you often...the comrade. What about him?"
"Haar? He's old enough to be my father," she said. "He's taken care of me after my father's death, but he's more a comrade in arms or an uncle than anything else."
"I see," Lethe said. Her lips were pressed tight.
"And I.. I think you're really beautiful and I always did. Even when I was misguided about Laguz. You were just so graceful, I couldn't believe those things about you."
They were both quiet for a moment. Jill colored. She shifted from one foot to another.
"I'm not proud of things that my, my country and the Beorc have done but I really am sorry and want to do everything I can to heal that rift... and to you."
"You are different from the rest of the Beorc. You have learned a lot. I find I cannot hate you."
Lethe bent down until her knees were on the cold earth.
"I shall keep you fed and protect you until the trees wither and die and my body is nothing but bones for carrion."
"It is the male form — the female talks of being fertile and bearing many children. It is traditionally done in Cat form, but you would not have understood."
"–I don't know what to say. Was there something else in the ceremony? Ranulf never told me of this Gallian custom."
"Pfft. As if he'd know the meaning of commitment. And no, all you have to do is accept it. — It's usually offered with a deer."
"The deer you already gave me – I didn't know and I gave it to my Wyvern."
Lethe looked dark. "You did not know, and I did not do much to explain."
"Well, that's water under the bridge," Jill said. "I don't know how since I'm bound to return to Daein and you to Gallia but...we'll find a way. I accept."
And when Lethe embraced her, the same eager hunger she'd found in the bathhouse returned.
(The only thing in passing she could think of when Lethe pressed her down to the bedroll, when she crushed their lips together was Ranulf is right, Gallians are the best)
The next morning dawned brighter. Lethe gathered her things and dressed while Jill rose to take care of her Wyvern.
When Ranulf caught up to them, there was sure to be plenty of comments and congratulations.
Lethe glowered as Jill scratched the chin of her Wyvern.
"Are you afraid of my Wyvern? Answer honestly, I won't laugh, I promise."
Lethe snorted. "I am afraid of nothing. Not even flame magic makes me quiver in feat."
"So you'll ride with me sometimes?"
"...If you wish it. But if the creature makes a move at me I will claw it."
"Nah, my Wyvern's perfectly tame and listens to what I say. You'll be safe. I promise."
Lethe hissed, but said nothing more. She was less jittery now, less angry. Jill thought she might even be able to accept more of the Beorc now. Though she'd have to introduce these relations bit by bit.
Maybe when the next king came, she could convince them to let them be an ambassador to mend those tattered relations with the Laguz. They could fix the bigotry and dogma that had been taught in Daein so long.
It'd take a long time, but it would be worth it. If two fierce former racists who hated the mere sound of the other's races name could fall in love then there was no telling what could happen. The impossible already had occurred, so if anyone told her it couldn't happen, she'd know better.
Everything wouldn't change overnight, but Jill had hope now, it sang within her and wouldn't let the darkness remain inside. They'd change it all, they'd find a way in the end.