Soren was, for lack of a better term, furious. Trying not to show it, but from the sidelong glances Reyson kept giving him as he arranged their troops for battle, it was obvious that the heron could tell he was more than merely irritated as usual. Titania was giving him odd looks too, and he had a few unpleasant suspicions about what those might be about. Rolf didn't exactly keep secrets.
At least there were these self-righteous Begnion knights to take some of the seething rage out on. They were really the least of the things frustrating him, at the moment, but he still couldn't physically attack Skrimir, and didn't really want to harm Rolf. Yet. It would depend on whether those suspicious looks Titania was giving him came to anything.
So he was back to frying Begnion soldiers for stress relief. And it was relieving; the Begnion knights were well-trained and well-equipped, of course, but Soren would like to think that the Greil Mercenaries were even more skilled, and, of course, between Ike and himself, more well-directed.
More enthusiastic as well. As much as personalities like Marcia and Mia irked him off the battlefield, they were useful on it. Still irritating–there went Mia, shrieking gleefully as she knocked a knight off his horse; Soren narrowly dodged the unfortunate's sword as he lost his grip–but useful. Most of the enemies they fought were too taken aback by the girls' over-enthusiasm to defend themselves properly.
It wasn't long before they had fought their way down the field to where the enemy general was. Offense being the best defense, after all–as much as Soren hated such smarmy truisms, they were cliché for a reason. The man was enough of a smarmy idiot to stand there expounding upon the reasons for this attack, while Ike and a few of the others stood by uneasily, waiting until Soren gave them the go-ahead. At least the pitiful excuse for a general had given them some useful information.
So, Soren fumed as he directed the mercenaries to get cleaned up and ready to leave, there was enough of a rift between the apostle and the senate to allow something like this to happen. To allow the senate to disregard acknowledged terms of surrender and attack before the allotted three days were up. They had been forced to risk life and limb, to waste energy and time, and would still have General Zelgius right behind them all too soon.
There weren't going to be any easy choices anytime soon. Not that there usually were, but... Anyway, Soren was still furious, not least because it was becoming clear what the next step of this farce of a peaceful retreat was going to have to be.
He was stomping irritably back to the room in the castle he'd been using as a study to draw up the plans for that unavoidable next move, considering replacing his soft shoes with something that stomped more satisfyingly, when Titania caught up with him.
"Soren! Soren, wait." She didn't sound angry, or upset, but she did sound concerned, which was worse. It meant she was feeling parental. While Soren appreciated Titania as a soldier, and acknowledged that her input during war meetings could be useful, she was not his mother, by the Goddess, and he didn't want her to be.
Unfortunately, he couldn't exactly ignore her the way he could nearly anyone else, or snap at her when she'd barely provoked him.. yet. So Soren grudgingly turned to give her a look that was just the civil side of disdainful, and answered in a similarly barely-acceptable tone of dismissal.
"I'd like to talk to you, Soren."
Soren stared at her for a moment, expression hardening. This was either secret, or dangerous, or both, or worse yet, personal, if the knight was stalling like this. "Clearly."
Titania sighed in exasperation. "I'd like to clarify a few things about your recent behavior, so unless you'd like your personal business under critique in public, we should go somewhere else."
"And what makes you think I'd be willing to discuss anything of the sort with you?" Soren snapped. That was certainly enough provocation.
"Because it's about your relationship with Prince Reyson," Titania said sharply, but, thank the Goddess, quietly enough that no one they couldn't see would be able to hear. Soren felt hot, then cold, then simply furious– there was a pattern developing here– and chose cold, because there was no point in the blind heat of fury when one was backed into a corner. "And I don't think you want me to start asking about him at the next meeting."
Soren was fairly sure that Titania– Titania, by the Goddess!– was blackmailing him. Blackmailing. Him. Into talking about Reyson. With that awful, awful word involved– Relationship. And there wasn't a good method of escape, because this wasn't war. He couldn't kill her and escape, couldn't use any of his brilliant plans... He probably wouldn't even be able to lie, because Titania wouldn't be doing this if she was just curious. She must have enough evidence to warrant this advance.
"Fine!" Soren hissed, not bothering to hide his displeasure as he spun around with a satisfying flare of his robes and stalked towards his study. "Come on."
To her credit, or at least to her credit on another day when he wasn't so irrevocably disapproving of her, Titania didn't trail along behind him like a... kicked puppy, or...Rolf. She walked like she was perfectly confident in herself, just half a pace behind.
Soren barely refrained from slamming the door of his study once they got inside, dropping into one of the overly ostentatious chairs near the window. What was it with nobility and plastering their family crests onto everything they owned?
Titania sat in the chair across from him, and Soren gave her a hard, and very silent, stare, as she persisted in saying nothing. He wasn't about to make this easy for her.
"I... alright, Soren, I'll be blunt. It isn't a very complicated question. I want to know what you feel for Prince Reyson," Titania finally blurted out. More bravely than Soren had expected, really. But she had the audacity to suggest that the answer would be simple?
"Why?" Soren asked, equally blunt.
"Because it's important," Titania said. Now she sounded irritated too. "He's the prince of the heron laguz, who are nearly extinct as you well know. Every laguz ruler will protect him to the death, and would be willing to cause death on his behalf for next to no provocation. That's the one thing I think all of them– Tibarn, Skrimir and King Gallia, even Naesala and the dragon king– would agree on. If you were anyone else, I'd tell you not to toy with him, because of the political hazards.
"But then there's you. And I'm not flattering you when I say that you're barely less important than he is, at least as far as this war is concerned. We would lose without you, so we can't risk you being killed by an angry laguz for upsetting their White Prince. You know that. I know that there's no way you don't see the political ramifications of anything you may choose to do, or feel." Titania paused for a moment, glancing at Soren as if for confirmation before taking a visibly deep breath and plunging on.
"Apart from all the grand-scale consequences, I'm concerned for you, Soren. There's no way you would let a political mistake slip, but I can't help but think that you don't have any experience with the personal side of this. I don't want you to be hurt."
Soren let that speech sit as he repressed the urge to shout that there was no reason to be worried, because he had no relationship with the heron prince. "You never said what, exactly, you're worried will hurt me." Hopefully she didn't know how far Soren had let himself go.
Titania looked thoughtful. "You've never reacted to anyone the way you have to Prince Reyson. I was just happy you seemed to be making a friend for the first time since Ike." And hopelessly surprised, her expression said. Soren suppressed a self-mocking smile. "But lately... well, when Rolf described how he'd found you, earlier today, it just fit with a few other things I've noticed lately. Soren, what is Reyson to you?"
Carefully wrapping himself in tactician mode to resist the unnerving panic rising through him, Soren searched for the best way to minimize damages. He would clearly have to stop consorting with Reyson immediately, if Titania had noticed that much. She clearly suspected something too close to the reality, and if she had noticed others would too. He had some difficulty squashing the sense of loss the revelation that he would have to have nothing more to do with Reyson gave him, but he didn't have a reputation for being cold and heartless for nothing. He'd have to make sure that Rolf wouldn't talk to anyone else, and keep Titania quiet, and–
"Soren, Soren, please. I know that look. This isn't an emergency, no one is going to stop you, no one will be upset. There's nothing at risk. You have every right to feel however you want, and if the prince feels the same way, that's even better. You don't have to hide anything, or fight anything, Soren, please."
"You don't even know what I feel," he snapped.
"I think I might," she replied, eyes soft in a way that made Soren uneasy. "Soren... are you falling in love with Reyson?"
Any appropriate response to that ridiculous idea flew right out of Soren's head as he realized how logical it actually was. He sat frozen, staring at Titania like he'd never seen her before, like she'd suddenly announced that she was his mother, or something equally preposterous. He was fairly sure he'd never been so afraid, not since Ike went to fight the Black Knight alone. This was so perfectly different from anything he knew that he had no idea where to begin finding a way out. He wasn't even sure whether he needed to.
"I..." He paused. Maybe... he should be honest with her. Titania wouldn't betray him, he had to admit that much. And maybe... she could help, as much as the idea grated. "I don't know."
That soft look intensified. Soren was about to be smothered in maternal compassion, he just knew it. Any other time...
"I'm happy for you, if you are, Soren. Everyone will be. We only want you to be happy, you know. We've all been so pleased that you've opened up to us even a little since the next war, and everyone deserves to be happy. You've given so many people a chance at happiness, you know, by giving us our strategy for the last war. Everyone will be so happy to hear–"
"Titania!" Soren managed to choke out. If he heard the word 'happy' or any of its derivations ever again, it would be too soon. Then her last words hit. "You can't say anything! To anyone! Ever, do you understand me!" There wasn't nearly enough threat behind his words. He sounded panicked, as young as he was, and completely inexperienced. He hadn't even denied the idea of love yet. This conversation was spinning out of control.
Titania looked surprised that he wouldn't want to share his humiliating uncertainty and intolerable weakness with the rest of the army. Typical. Not to mention her ridiculous optimism towards the reception such an announcement would get. The thought made him flinch. There were certainly people who wouldn't be pleased. Soren would never hear the end of it from Shinon, just to begin with. There was no way that King Tibarn would approve of Soren being in any sort of relationship with Reyson...even if he wanted to be! This was all so, so...
"Doesn't Prince Reyson feel the same way?" Titania asked, puzzled. "I was so sure he was fond of you..."
Soren bit back strangled laughter. Now she thought he was suffering from unrequited love, of all the cliché, impossible, mawkish eventualities? "Has it escaped your notice that we're both male? Such a relationship wouldn't be accepted so easily even if we were both human," Soren sidestepped. Since neither of them were, things would be even more difficult. If things ever happened! Which they probably would not!
"No one here would care," Titania began with a slight frown.
"Shinon," Soren retorted flatly, carefully enunciating each syllable of the archer's name.
"You can't let him bother you, he never says anything good about anyone, you know that–"
"But whatever he says, other people will think. He's a good indicator, really, sort of an exaggerated cynicism that lets us know what people might balk at," Soren said smoothly, gaining back some control over the situation. He just had to make sure that Titania would keep her mouth shut.
"I suppose I understand why you wouldn't want to cause an upset just now," the paladin allowed. "But... does this mean that the White Prince does feel the same way you do?"
Soren couldn't think of an appropriate sidestep quickly enough, and it seemed that his silence was enough of an answer for Titania. She had her arms around him before he could flinch away, and after a moment he let the stiffness out of his body. It wasn't unpleasant, exactly, and it seemed to mean something to her.
Since when would that matter? Soren sighed internally. This entire idea of caring when he was offending people seemed to be spreading out of control. It was fine to care whether he was offending Reyson, all things considered, but he couldn't let this go much farther. He liked his reputation, it made people take him seriously. If he let people go around hugging him, he'd just be a petit mage with long hair who cuddled. Unacceptable.
As he pushed Titania away, more gently than he'd like to admit, she gave him a brilliant, horrifically motherly smile. "I'm happy for you, Soren. You really do deserve–"
"To be happy, I know," Soren finished quickly. That word... he huffed. "Leave. I have things to do," he dismissed, not quite able to pit the right amount of force into his speech. Titania kept smiling, and even laughed softly as she shut the door behind her.