Credits: Shadow Skill was created by Megumu Okada. It is owned/licensed by Bandai Visual, Kadokawa Shouten, Marubeni, Sotou Agency, ADV.

Disclaimer: Shadow Skill characters borrowed for the love and joy of the writing, and not for purposes of acquiring profit. The Fort Lyvalle inhabitants are mine. As with all fics, while the goal is to stay as in character as possible, the author cries "mea maxima culpa" to any discrepancies that the discerning reader may is a fanwork made by fans for fans.

Notes: Set in my Fort Lyvalle AU for the Shadow Skill anime/manga series. Companion piece to "Winged Interlude" in which Crimson and Dias settled certain matters to their mutual satisfaction; but which alas, cannot be posted here due to its explicit content.

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Heart's Desire - Chapter 1

The sun was gilding the mountains above Kuruda in molten gold as three figures on horseback made their way up the trail leading to Fort Lyvalle. The two taller figures were riding side-by-side, while the smaller one led the way some few yards ahead.

As Dias had predicted, the sun was barely cresting the tops of the tallest trees in the meadow when a young lad was heard making his approach towards them, singing in a pure tenor voice. Broad grins broke over the faces of Crimson and Dias, who were ready for such an interruption; but they could tell it was Shavra's way of warning them that their interlude had to come to an end.

"It's Royce," chuckled Crimson, as the voice drew nearer and its owner, on horseback, emerged from the treeline.

Dias nodded. "The oldest of the Lyvalle cubs. He'll be ready for sevalle tournaments very soon," smiled Black Wing, as the young squire, about twelve summers old, abruptly stopped his singing to dismount and drop to one knee in greeting. He had shining black hair, and skin deeply kissed by the sun, evidence of an active outdoor life.

"Give you good afternoon, my lords," said Royce, holding the reins of two magnificent horses in his hands. "The Lady Holder sends her compliments and offers the hospitality of Fort Lyvalle, if it please you."

"It pleases us well," answered Crimson, smiling as the lad lifted his head to reveal eyes as blue as his own.

As Crimson swung himself into the saddle, he said, "That song, Royce. One of your own making?"

The boy blushed beneath his tan as he mounted his horse, and shook his head. "No, my lord. It came to us from a passing bard two months past, who sang it at the great hall in exchange for a meal. One look at our Lady Holder, and he was lost."

"I can believe that," laughed Dias. "Even as a child, Shavra had the power to turn heads without even trying. Like a certain sevalle of Kuruda whose name I will not mention."

Crimson's laughter joined that of Dias, and the trio were quick to turn their horses in the direction of the Hold. As they moved into open country, Royce urged his mount forward to a discreet distance, and they traveled in silence until a niggling idea at the back of Dias' mind finally found voice.

"We really should think up a way to thank Shavra, Kai," the valle murmured. "If not for her, we wouldn't have had these past few hours, and I for one, am grateful for her part in this business."

Crimson smiled, the slow lazy smile that had won and broken many a heart in Kuruda, the laughter lighting up the depths of his blue eyes. "I, too, am grateful to our Shavra, Dias. She knew my heart long before I did myself, and it seems she has schemed long and patiently for such a day as this."

"Indeed," grinned Dias, "The young woman is too perceptive by half, Kai, with her psychic ability, knowing us as well as she does..."

"Loving us as well as she does," answered Crimson quietly, finishing the thought in Dias' mind. "She would sacrifice her heart's desire just to see us happy, such is the strength of her devotion."

Dias' eyes glowed greenly at Crimson's pronouncement. "It would seem that you are not as dense as Shavra has sometimes claimed, Kai."

"Has she not been my student since her tenth summer? I have had ample time to appreciate her soft heart and fierce loyalty, and a sense of duty as strong as Kuruda's ramparts."

"Ample time for you to have fallen in love with her, yourself. Or to have seduced her, these two years since she came of age." Dias' raised an attractive brow as a flush crept up his lover's face. "Crimson Kai Sink, don't you dare tell me the thought never crossed your mind -- you, who would willingly chase anything in skirts if it gave you the time of day!"

"Now I understand where Shavra picked up that impudent streak in her character," grumbled Crimson, sitting up straighter on his horse, the better to face a laughing Black Wing. "Of course it crossed my mind – more than once, if you would know. I'm not blind, Dias."

"Shavra's heart belongs to only one man, and will never seek another. In that aspect, it appears she follows my lead, as well." Dias green eyes flashed protectively as he passed this information on to Crimson, who nodded acknowledgement.

"This you should know, Dias," and here the blue eyes grew dark with feeling. "Never the right one among so many women, because none of them was the one I really wanted. I hold Shavra far too precious for mere bed sport."

"Indeed," said Dias quietly, his eyes glinting dangerously at the idea that any hurt could ever come to the one woman besides Elle to whom he had pledged his heart. "I knew she would be safe in your hands."

"I loved her for her mother's sake, at first. She has Kyra's face, her strength and sweetness. Then came the day I saw her make a sword sing for the very first time." Crimson's voice faded at the memory of Shavra's face, radiant with triumph. "My heart was hers to command, for her own sake, from that moment."

"Our Shavra has also followed hard after your own steps, Kai," Dias placed his hand on his friend's shoulder, his own eyes looking back on memories of his own. "The Lioness of Kuruda is sevalle to the core - placing honor and duty above all things, including her own heart. She is proud, as befits the heiress of Fort Lyvalle, and not one to wear her heart in the open."

"With all of Kuruda at her feet, she would choose me?" Crimson shook his head. "Surely you are mistaken, Dias. Think of all that stands between us."

Dias snorted. "The only thing that I can see standing between you and Shavra is myself, Kai, and your notions about what is right and proper."

Crimson's blue eyes grew wide in shock. "Dias. . .!"

The Black Wing chuckled softly. "Kai. You know as well as I do that I am not long for this world. . .no, wait, let me finish. It would please me greatly to know that two of the people I love most in this life could find happiness with each other when I leave it."

"But. . .Dias. I'm twice Shavra's age. Think of the scandal."

Dias laughed, shaking his head. "A small price to pay, to have such a woman at your side, hand-fasted in love with you for the rest of your declining years!! Kai, you have a rare chance at happiness that few men will ever know. Don't throw it away."

Crimson stared long and hard at his friend and lover, marvelling at the generous spirit that burned within the emerald eyes. Suddenly, a flash of warning appeared in the green depths, making Crimson rein in his horse momentarily.

"What?" he asked, blue eyes questioning.

The answer was delivered in a low voice, the tones earnest, the words the vow of a sevalle pledged to shield those dearest to his heart. "Just one thing, Kai. . .look well into your heart before you declare yourself to Shavra. Take her out of nothing less than the same kind of love you have given me, or I swear -- it will not matter if I am in this life or the next - it will go ill with you indeed."

Crimson held out his arm, grasping Dias' arm in the way of soldiers agreeing on the rules of battle. "Peace, Black Wing Dias Ragu. The Lady Holder is as dear to me as my own life. You need not fear on that score."

Dias looked long into Crimson's eyes and nodded, satisfied with what he read in the cobalt depths. Then he smiled, his face open and light once again, the young valle of those magic hours in the meadow.

"Very well then, Kai," he challenged, pure mischief in his countenance. "Ho, Royce! Let's see how well the 56th sevalle can manage Lyvalle horseflesh. . .race you to the Fort!"

Before either the squire or the sevalle could react, the Black Wing had dug his heels into the fine mount beneath him and set off at a full gallop down the road. With an exasperated exclamation, Crimson followed suit, Royce hard on his heels.

/tbc