There's no happy ending. So they say.
Her hands are rough, calloused, and scarred, with fine silvery griffin lines and thicker scars from old injuries and grabbing sharp things by the sharp part. She rubs salve into them to make them limber, to make pulled muscles stop aching and cramps go away. Sometimes she used hand lotion from the Yamani Isles, a gift from Princess Shinkokami. It smells like cherries.
Her hands on him feel different. Not bad, but textured and aged older than she, stories of fights etched into the creases and calluses and thin lines crossing them.
He tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and watches the tiny shadows cast by her ludicrously long eyelashes play across her face.
It's so easy to romanticize her when she is away, a tall, sturdy figure of mythological proportions who fights centaurs and Scanrans with a foreign weapon and a sword given to her by the Lioness, followed by a flock of birds flying feathery and free around her head and shoulders.
With him, though, she is real, real in his arms, real in his bed, a live woman in front of him, under him, warm next to him.
"How did we get here?"
"I don't know."
She wonders sometimes if he loves her or if it is just sex. Sex doesn't require soft touches and kisses, but she doesn't know otherwise. And who could she ask? Yuki would hide behind her fan and she cannot ask any of her male friends. She could ask him, but she doesn't want to hear about his wife.
He never talks about her. He never did, even when she was a page and he was warning her away. It was always about his daughters.
Kel wonders about his wife, wonders what she is like, wonders if she loves her husband. She wonders if the other woman regrets not bearing sons.
She knows that Wyldon regrets it more than he can say, although he loves his daughters, loves her, and maybe loves his wife.
"We shouldn't do this."
"We shouldn't do this at all."
The first time for them is the first time for her, not that he knows: he'd assumed she bedded Cleon of Kennan, or he knew the boy wanted to and thought that they had, or something with Dom- she isn't exactly sure. She hates that he makes that assumption, hates his surprised face as she murmurs in discomfort. She hates him a little in that moment, just as much as she hates herself.
It isn't like she's going to get married anyways, is it?
She used to ask herself what man would even want her, and now she has her answer: scarred men, men who are exactly like her. Wyldon is like her. He is a commander and an honorable man who should not be doing this, should not be doing any of this. He stays firm to his conviction and beliefs; he is too much a rock. He believes in his country, like her, and maybe he even loves her.
She wishes that they were less like each other, because then it would be easier to pull away from him.
She spends most of the night in his room, curled up against him, her cold feet tucked between his legs, until the sky turns light grey and she has to go back to her bed.
"Stay," he mutters, arm pulling her close, his voice sleepy and rough.
"You know I would," she squirms sideways, disengaging herself. "You know I would."
She stretches. "I'm going to go for a run this morning," Kel murmurs. "I'll see you after."
"Good," he says, and falls back asleep with his head on her pillow.
As the days then spend together turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into three months, it begins to weigh on her. The secret-keeping, the illicitness, his daughters, his marriage, her friends. She either needs to tell someone or she needs to stop what they're doing forever.
She cannot bring herself to do either, and Keladry curses herself for being so damn weak.
She can't tell Neal or Yuki, she can't tell her mother or her father or Raoul.
Finally, she turns to someone she knows would follow her to the ends of the earth.
"I need to talk to you," she says, hands fisted in her lap.
"I'm here," he says, setting down his pen, pushing away the report he had been working on.
"I don't what I'm going to do, and I don't know how to say it."
"I won't judge you," his eyes are kind, but she thinks that this is a mistake – Daine might have understood how she is feeling a little, she could have waited the few months until she saw the Wildmage again, no?
"Right. Thank you." Keladry inhales, says it. "I've been sleeping with Lord Wyldon."
He raises an eyebrow, and his face looks entirely too quizzical, but he gestures for her to continue.
"So I've been – doing that, and it's beginning to – overwhelm me, almost, swallow me up."
"Do you love him?" Dom asks, placing his hands on her knees, leaning in to hear her answer, speaking with a hushed voice.
Her response is a sort of half-choked sob. "I think he loves me, and I don't even know anymore."
Dom leans forward to envelop her in a hug, trying to remember if he's ever seen her look this fragile, or this young.
And then, she falls entirely apart and everything pours out.
"I have to go. We can't keep doing this."
"I'm being honest. We have to stop."
"I have to go."
"So am I."
"I shouldn't have let it happen at all," Kel slurs, her head falling onto his shoulder. She's had three glasses of spiced wine and no dinner before she found him waiting for her, ready to bring her home. He's stone cold sober, but wishing that he were drunk. It might make it easier to hear. "It was all strange, with him getting attached, and – and the adultery part that seemed to not really bother him? Except I think that it probably really did? And that's why he didn't protest and stupid, damned honor anyways, Mithros curse it, Dom, I don't want to feel like this."
He sighs and murmurs "you're lucky that you have people who care about you otherwise, you know," into her hair flying off her head, but she doesn't notice. Dom lifts her up. "Come," he says. "He doesn't deserve this breakdown you've been going through."
Kel looks up at him, eyes tinged pink and eyelashes sticking damply together. "Why not."
"You're too good for him," Dom replies. "It's one thing for you to fall in love with him, but him reciprocating – that just feels like he was taking advantage to me."
He puts her to bed.
"Da," Margarry says, finding her father slumped over in his study, his eyes bloodshot and puffy, "you need to pull yourself together. You go back to command in three weeks."
She turns to go out, but pivots back smartly. "And stop drinking so damn much. Mother and Owen are getting worried."
Wyldon doesn't berate her for cursing. Margarry decides she doesn't want to know what's going through her father's head and leaves, shutting the door softly behind her.
She was always fully in control of herself when she was with Wyldon. With Dom, she finds herself able to let go, just a little.
It's two years later, one year after she realizes what a good friend he is to her and one year after she picks herself up off the ground that she realizes that he is in love with her. Not the love she and Neal share, the type she thought she shared with Dom, albeit a variation, but love, romantic love.
Remembering how she told him everything, most of the details she would never have shared, Kel flinches.
"You're a good man," she says. "I should remember that."
"I- don't call me s- nevermind, I- I'm sorry."
"Can we just be past the point of apologies now?"
"I'd like to go back to where we were, before we started- what we did."
"So would I."
They'll get there eventually, she hopes and prays, because it's been long enough, and life should move and continue on.
One day, some months later, Dom reaches for her and kisses her. She smiles at him and brushes her hand over his face.
"Kel?" he asks. "Is this alright?"
She realizes that it is.
"But," she says, holding her hand up to make him stop. "Tell me I won't get like I did before."
Dom shrugs. "It doesn't matter," he says. "We won't get to that point."
She kisses him again, cupping his face in her hands as she tastes him, feels him sturdy against her as his arms encircle her and his thumbs press along her spine. She feels him smile against her lips and after a moment, she smiles back.
He disengages and looks at her with such tenderness. "Kel?"
"Yes?" she asks, feeling him hold her like he did two years ago. "What is it?"
"We're going to be alright."
Ten Years Later
Today is her wedding day. He is there watching, with Margarry and Owen, who is beaming, and their two children. Goldenlake will be giving her away in place of her father, dead four years, and Queenscove stands up by the altar next to his cousin, the groom.
Domitan of Masbolle is still handsome, even as he approaches forty and the signs of battles begin to wear harshly on him. His blue tunic matches his blue eyes. Queenscove whispers something to him and he laughs. Wyldon can see him waiting for Keladry, waiting for her to walk down the aisle and swear herself to him.
He wishes he hadn't come.
He rotates his head on his neck and sees Queenscove's wife, pretty little Yamani Yukimi in a red kimono (he remembers Keladry telling him red is for luck) signal something to Princess Shinkokami, also in red. Owen's son, his grandson Pascal, shifts sleepily on Margarry's lap. Keladry's yearmates sit with their wives and children. She is the last one of them to be married; a godmother so many times he knows that she has stopped counting.
Music starts. Mindelan's two oldest nieces, Riayn and Malise, walk down the aisle, followed by Yukimi and Princess Shinkokami. Keladry floats down on the arm of Lord Raoul, her wedding gown Island-style, a white and red kimono.
Masbolle's eyes light up like the moon on the sea when he sees her, and Wyldon wishes even more that he was somewhere else. There is no one to grip his elbow and steady him, no one to center him.
He doesn't watch as they kiss, doesn't watch as they promise themselves to each other, doesn't watch, doesn't watch, and doesn't watch.
She's happy, yet-
He doesn't know why he is still miserable, but he is, and that little niggling feeling has stuck with him. It won't go away-
Wyldon gives up and watches Kel get married.