A/N- I don't own Leviathan, just in case some sorry excuse for a lawyer actually spends their time surfing for stories that don't have a disclaimer. Also, a big thanks to Laeve for betaing! This is a oneshot, by the way.
A note to anyone who read "Keeping Secrets". I kept the name of Alek's wife for this story, but the two Emmalinas are... certainly different people. Just a heads up, to avoid confusion.
Emmalina stroked the curve of her wine glass as she sat alone in the dining hall. Well, perhaps not really alone. Guards stood silently nearby to protect her, of course. They had to. When one was married to the emperor of Austria-Hungary, one had many enemies. She might have been targeted someday, and she would not wait until a failed attempt on her life was executed. No, Emmalina was more careful than that. More pragmatic. She was a woman who knew what was hers and what she wanted to be hers; and did everything within her power to protect both.
On which note, her husband was returning, finally. Even if she were alone now, she would not be for very much longer.
Aleksander's trips were most tiresome. They were far too long. Perhaps she was not desperately in love with her husband, but she hated the silence in the castle at night when he was not there. The sound of his breathing in the bed next to her was enough to soothe her nerves, but when she slept alone the silence weighed on her. Sometimes she resorted to sleeping in the nursery, saying she had a great desire to be with her children. Which was true, partially. She might not have loved her husband, but like any mother her feelings for her children were like a lioness'. That said, the bed in the nursery was not so comfortable as the one in her room, and she did not enjoy sleeping in it.
Her husband also had his taste in beds, she thought, sourly.
Someone served her meal. As the only one eating in the dining hall that day, Emmalina felt a little small at the huge table. She was tempted to rescind her previous orders and call her children from the nursery to eat with her. But no. It would be better if she were alone with her husband this night.
The door swung open. Ah, the man of the hour himself. An armed guard walked in, followed by her husband, still in his traveling clothes. He looked tired, but there was the familiar refreshed glow to him. The frustrating, infuriating glow.
Emmalina nodded in his direction, smiling pleasantly. She'd made sure the guards relayed her request that she and her husband should eat together this night. Aleksander often ate very little after returning from his diplomatic travels and chose to go directly to sleep; but Emmalina was determined to speak with him, and he didn't look like he couldn't spare fifteen minutes on such an important matter.
He sat across from her, as servants silently filled his wine glass and presumably went off to the kitchens for his dinner. They were well trained, and almost invisible. No, Emmalina wasn't worried about their presence during her and Aleksander's discussion. They knew to keep quiet the internal affairs of the royal family.
Aleksander prayed briefly before diving into his chicken. They ate in silence for a few minutes, as Emmalina waited patiently for him to fill up. No need to ruin his appetite before he had gotten a chance to eat.
Desert came and went with only brief exchanges between them of the relaxed sort ("How are the children?" "Did the Russian ambassador bring his new wife to the ball?" – that sort of thing) and they were finishing off their drinks when Emmalina decided it was time to approach more serious matters.
"How was your trip, Aleksander?" she asked. The sweet tone was still present, but softer now, like she was approaching a wild animal that would attack if she provoked it. Which was a ridiculous metaphor, of course. Aleksander was about as similar to a wild animal as a fish was a shark.
"I think it went very well," he responded brightly. He hadn't picked up on her tone through the happy haze his foreign visits always instilled in him. Emmalina almost sighed. Apparently she was going to have to be a little more blunt. "I mean, there's still tension, of course, but all of the delegates managed to discuss like civilized people for a change, and I think-"
"I was speaking of your visit with Ms. Sharp, Aleksander," Emmalina interrupted pleasantly, looking in fascination at the design on the new tablecloth. Exquisitely made.
Aleksander froze. "D- I don't…" he began.
Emmalina did sigh this time, interrupting him mid-denial. "Don't know what I'm talking about? Is that how you wish to approach this, Aleksander?"
He was silent.
Emmalina folded up her napkin, feeling the tiny ridges where it was embroidered. "Good. I'm glad to see we will be able to avoid most of the common games before we get to the heart of the matter. I do so deplore wasting time. Don't you?" she said, her coldly pleasant tone worming its way across the table. Alek nodded slowly. The best thing to do when he didn't know how angry his wife was, was simply to agree with her whenever possible.
"Would you prefer to continue this conversation in the study?" Aleksander asked quietly, glancing at the servants clearing the table and the guards lining the walls.
"No, no," Emmalina beamed. "Let it be a lesson to you: one should never do something one would not want people talking about. Especially one as conspicuous and in the public eye as much as yourself, Aleksander. We will talk here."
"You know, the two of you did a better job of covering your tracks," Emmalina began conversationally. "I would not have expected any challenge whatsoever, but there was. A small one. I assume Ms. Sharp did most of the scheming, and you primarily funded her plans?"
Aleksander did not reply.
"Hm. Well, I'll stand with my earlier assumption. You may speak more Latin or know more philosophy and such than she does, but Ms. Sharp is still lifetimes ahead you in plain common sense, my dear," Emmalina said. She did not look at Alek, instead fixing her eyes on the table. It made him nervous. He knew that when she did turn her eyes up, it would not be a look he would have chosen to receive.
"You know, my father warned me about this," Emmalina mused. "He knew you wouldn't be able to look at things logically. You're an interminable idealist, whether you know it or not. Have you always been? Oh, never mind. You don't need to answer that. Anyway, the point is that you need to learn to use your head before your… heart, Aleksander. How long after our wedding did you first visit Ms. Sharp?"
"Two weeks," he said blankly.
"How long did you stay?"
"What did you do?"
She nodded calmly, "I'm glad you're deciding to make this easier on the both of us, Aleksander. I imagine you must be tired, and you have affairs of state that will need attending to in the morning."
"Emma," he began, but she held up a hand.
"Emmalina," he amended himself. "Is there a point to this? I don't see why you are so determined to interrogate me about my friendship with Deryn."
There was a long pause.
"Well," Emmalina sighed. "I rescind my previous statement. I see you'll be making this difficult after all," she dropped the napkin on her lap and began fiddling instead with the silver spoon. She hadn't liked the cutlery at first, and had considered having replaced. She was glad that she hadn't. It had grown on her. "Alright, Aleksander. I'm going to tell you what I want you to do, and it will be in your best interest to do it," she said. "Do we have an understanding?"
Alek nodded once, slowly. Emmalina noted the tension in his body. One of the many little signs he was affronted by the current topic of conversation. Really, he was too easy to read. She was sure he'd begun to pick up some of her little tics and giveaways throughout the years, but he had required no amount of time to pin down. Aleksander was an open book. Which she supposed could be considered endearing. It was certainly useful at times like this.
"I want you to tell me the truth, Aleksander. The whole and absolute truth. I doubt what you say will change anything, but I'd still like a confession," she said, her voice soft.
Again, he nodded.
Emmalina still did not look him in the eye. Instead, her eyes slid down to her lap and she watched him from her peripheral vision, "How long has Ms. Sharp been pregnant?"
His head snapped up to stare at her face. But of course there was no face pointed towards him, just as she'd planned. She could almost hear his pulse speeding up, feel the horrible malaise of the stomach that rose with fear. She was right. Of course, she'd known she had been, but it was always still satisfying for the cat to have cornered the mouse at last.
"Is it eight months?" she continued. Aleksander didn't reply, but she hadn't been expecting him to. She'd dropped the first bomb, and he was fighting to find his footing now. It was a sorry sight, but quite how she'd been hoping he'd react.
"Never mind. I'm sure it is," she said. "And I don't know how-"
"How long have you known?"
"About your affair with Ms. Sharp? Oh, it depends how you mean. I had my suspicions about the nature of your feelings for her from the beginning, right after she left the wedding reception early that day. At first I'd hoped it would resolve itself and you wouldn't need coaxing to break your little midshipman habit, but it's been six years now and I've had quite enough," she said.
"Then what? You want me to tell you I'll stop seeing her?"
"Hmm, no. But in effect, yes."
"You'll see. But back to your question: I suspected you of a relationship with her almost immediately. What else was a wife to think, if her man takes such detours and behaves so very strangely with no explanation? But I decided to wait. You were young and stupid, and unrest in the royal house would have been an embarrassment and a trial for me as well. So I let it be, mostly," Emmalina said.
"Mostly?" Aleksander asked. She could see him running her words over in his head, trying to decide how much she knew, how long she'd been watching. Long enough to know how far along Deryn's pregnancy was. But how long before that? She smiled. It was a delectable feeling, knowing she'd kept him so totally in the dark of her surveillance while she herself had slowly unearthed all his secrets.
"Mostly. As your trips into the Darwinist regions kept taking longer than they needed to, and you kept coming back with that warmly idiotic grin on your face, I decided it was time to start finding out what exactly the nature of your relationship with Ms. Sharp was. It took only one or two tries to have you successfully followed to that quaint little house of hers. Good idea, buying it under that assumed name, but I didn't really need to search for Deryn Sharp's place of residence when I knew you'd lead me right to her. It was a pointless precaution if you ever planned to meet with her there," Emmalina said. "And it soon became clear that you were more than willing to treat this young woman as you should your wife. Really, I can understand wanting privacy with an old friend, but that… I don't know how you justified bedding a girl to whom you were not wed."
Aleksander had gone white. "I-"
"Yes, yes. You loved her. But you of all people should know that selfish desire for one person had to come after your love for your people. Love is no excuse for throwing away your responsibilities to healing the still-strained foreign relations the war has left between your country and the Darwinists, or for throwing away the vows you made to me on our wedding day. You swore to faithfulness, Aleksander. I have kept this vow sacred and I expected the same from you," she said.
"Emma," he began. She debated whether or not to correct him, and decided against it. This was already taking longer than she'd hoped. "I'm sorry, truly I am, but-"
"That's alright, Aleksander. You are forgiven, now that you have apologized," she said.
He blinked once, a little thrown off. Clearly he'd expected more of a fight. "However, I do not believe that you will cease your liaisons with Ms. Sharp, even if they do produce those pesky little feelings of guilt," Emmalina told him, caressing the tines of the fork once more. She put it on the table, "Which is why I have ordered her killed."
Aleksander's wine glass slipped through his hand as he shot to his feet. It smashed against the floor and a servant immediately ducked in to begin cleaning up the shards.
"Really, you'd be surprised how many people will offer to dispose of someone when the reward reaches into the thousands," she said conversationally.
Alek seemed to snap out of his trance. He stumbled away, tripping over the servant. Who apologized immediately even though it wasn't his fault. He staggered along the length of the table, staring desperately at his wife, "No, Emmalina! Call him off, please! I'll stop seeing her, but just-"
She held up a hand to stop him. "You misunderstand me, Aleksander. I am not threatening to order her dead, I have already done so."
His knees buckled and he swayed. It appeared that the only thing keeping him up was the chair that he clenched, knuckles whitened with the force of his grip. "I have done so, and the orders have been carried out. This is a telegram from my assassin. He reported her dead, shot three times through the heart, not twenty minutes after you left to return here." She pulled a slip of paper from a pocket in her dress and held it out to him. Alek took it, but did not look at it. He wasn't really thinking. It was more like his arm responded because it knew what one usually did when one offered a paper.
"Really, I was content to let it be until the baby," Emmalina clucked, "But I won't be seeing either of my sons face any competition from some mewling half-breed noble. Now tell me, Aleksander, how was the rest of your trip?"
He only stood, mouth parted in unspoken, futile protestation. Emmalina sighed, "Oh, don't act so heartbroken. You'll get over it. You only wanted her because she was forbidden to you, anyway. Goodness knows you don't have an unblemished record when it comes to undying faithfulness for the women you pledge yourself to," she scoffed. "So sit down and tell me all about your trip."
But he could only stare, the dummkopf. Emmalina sighed. The next few days would be tiresome, she could tell. Most tiresome, indeed.