written for fiefgoldenlake dot proboards dot net's Fanfiction Decathlon, the 1500 word dash event!

It takes her an age and a day to fall in love. Shinkokami knows that things happen gradually, that not everything is a rushing waterfall, but perhaps it takes her longer than most to love her husband.

Loving him isn't the problem. She does that almost from the moment she meets him and sees his kind eyes, his warm, shy smile. Roald is an easy person to love. But to be in love with him, to devote herself- that takes her much longer.

She wants it to happen. It just takes a while.

Kel consistently tells her that Roald is a good man. Her friend (and truly, Keladry is her only close Tortallan friend) reiterates that the prince is not his father, that he is in fact better than Jonathan is. Shinko knows about Kel's residual anger towards the king and she understands it, but it is not until Kel tells her about Roald's unerring fairness as a page, even when he wanted to involve himself, that she really believes her.

She knows that Kel wants her to love him. Kel wants them both to be happy.

She would never tell her, but she is a little angry for it.

Shinko watches Yuki fall in love, true love, for the very first time in her life. She makes it seem so easy, the other girl, something as natural as breathing should be. It's curious, watching her. From what she knows of Nealan, he was once prone to overblown dramatics and poems, a spectacle of emotion more for his own benefit than the female of his affections. With Yuki, he is quiet and nervous as they stumble towards an understanding. Yuki flirts as she always does and Neal charms, as is his way, but in private they take steps towards each other until they are perfectly in sync.

She would never tell Yuki that she is jealous.

Tortall is full of love stories and it terrifies her. Shinko can see the space carved out for her future: the shy Yamani princess and gallant Tortallan prince who draws her out of her shell, envelopes her in the customs of his world and changes her for the better.

It won't go like that. Roald is not shy but he will not touch her, even though she wants him to do so- wants to see what reaction his touch will elicit. She does not need to adapt herself so the country will love her. It is one of the things she has gotten from Keladry she values, that this country is easy to love and willing in return.

She's simply stuck on the love story. It's the one missing variable in the equation, the dropped stitch. The only thing she might not be able to give to the country that can give her so much.

Kel says it will come. Shinko is beginning to hope she is right.

"What do I have to do," her fiance says, in a low, low voice. And then, even worse, "what am I doing wrong?"

He's so plaintive, and it makes her heart hurt. She's not sure what to respond, what to ask for. Roald looks like he would give her anything in his power, but Shinko does not know what she needs.

"You're not doing anything," and at the look on his face, she amends her statement. "You're not doing anything wrong. You're not..."

"I'll be there," he says. She knows her face must be showing the pain she feels at not being able to give him what he needs. "Whenever you're ready. Whenever it happens. If-" and his voice catches imperceptibly- "if it happens." The implicit meaning there must be terrifying to him. Shinko understands what he is saying, that he is willing to love an unwilling woman with all he has.

"It will," she promises him, and squeezes his hand. "I do not want to lead you on, Roald."

"If not," he finishes, "I've been told that I am a very good friend."

There's her consolation prize.

Haname left someone behind to travel with her to Tortall. Haname left behind the man she had loved since she was eleven years old, and for that Shinko will never doubt her devotion. She doesn't understand how she did it.

It could be easy for her, she thinks, but it wasn't for Haname. It was utterly wrenching for Haname.

The other woman was the one to tell her, in no uncertain terms, to make everything clear to Roald, and she returns to report on the given advice.

"Did it help?" she asks, hopeful, but Shinko shakes her head.

"He tried to give me more than I needed."

"That isn't a bad thing," Haname says delicately. "It is a gift."

"I can't see it that way," she whispers, and picks up the pot of tea. "Would you like some?"

"My lady, you can't serve me-" Haname protests. Shinko waves it away.

Roald repeats the question to her, the next time he gets her alone. They are in a private garden hardly anyone goes into- and from the overgrown look of the place, the palace gardeners don't frequent it much either. It's the sort of place that would never want to be found, the sort of place that is designed for lovers. She doesn't mention that, though, as they duck under overgrown branches. It would be unkind.

"What do I have to do," he says. This time his face betrays no emotion and she knows that it must be a mirror of her own. His voice is calm, reasoning, steady. "Has anything changed?"

Shinko doesn't want to say yes, because things are moving by inches, not by miles.

"I'm trying," she says, "I really am. I promise you I am trying."

Roald takes a moment to consider that, his eyebrows lifted slightly. "Well- then can I try something, in the spirit of your attempts?"

"I suppose so," she whispers, glancing down. It's only a moment but it is enough for Roald to surprise her. He places a hand lightly under her chin, the pressure forcing it to tilt upwards so her eyes meet his. He sees the look of surprise on her face and grins, barely.

"I'm just trying this," he reminds her. His fingers ghost over her cheekbone. Against thought, Shinko finds herself anticipatory.

She only has to wait for a moment longer before his lips press down on his. It is both expected and not, sending a shiver straight down her spine. It lasts the merest bit of a second, yet when he pulls back she can still sense a hint of a tingle.

"Oh," Shinkokami says, because there is nothing else to possibly say.

"I wanted to see," her fiance says, and then he takes her hand and leads her out of the garden. "That's all."

"Oh," she repeats, softly where he cannot hear. "And now."

"He kissed me," Shinko tells Kel, as they stroll around the courtyard. She had dreadfully miscalculated the weather, and the heat is beginning to burn off the morning fog. The sun beats down unpleasantly, and she is glad for her parasol. "He took me to a garden and he kissed me."

Kel's eyes have a wicked glint to them. "And right well he should have, too."

"Beg pardon?" Shinko asks.

"He's foolishly in love with you, Cricket." The use of her childish nickname strikes her by surprise. Shinko isn't sure what game Kel is playing, only knows that she is in some ways wasted as a knight. "It's obvious to most of us, even if he hadn't told us when all of us were having dinner together a few nights back and celebrating our reprieve from the road. However you might feel, the prince has fallen."

"I love him," she admits. "That was never hard to do. As for the rest of it- I will be in love with him someday."

"Does he know that?"

"I think that is why he keeps trying," she says, considering. "I do not think Roald is one to give up so easily."

"No," Kel agrees, "I think you're right. The only question is-"

"He will wait," Shinko says firmly. "I am sure of it. He is prepared to give me more than I need, he will surely grant me time."

"As long as you can say it with confidence," Kel responds. "I don't want either of you to be hurt."

"I know," she says. "It will come."

And one day, it does. It is an ordinary day: slightly overcast and with an autumn chill, the leaves vibrantly fading from red to yellow. Shinko wakes up and knows that her time has come; it has been an age and a day and her heart has been found worthy. She thinks of him, the man who will be her husband, and feels a sudden rush of joy.

Shinko smiles, and gets out of bed. She needs to find Roald.