written for fiefgoldenlake dot proboards dot com's decathlon contest! this fic was a ride to write and now I will fall over.

It is twenty years later, and Wyldon of Cavall finally gets his claim on Cythera of Elden.

Things have changed, of course, they are not as they once were. She is Cythera of Naxen now, and wedding rings adorn both their hands. But here, with husbands and wives astray in the storm, something between them has changed. It is not that he is young again- he would never want to go back to that turbulent time- and it is not that she is beautifully bored. She does love her husband, for all that he places her on the periphery.

It turns out to be something much more unnamable, something so much closer to relief.

-

"I resigned because I failed," Wyldon says harshly. "I served until I couldn't do it anymore."

Cythera's eyes become cool with her disagreement. "You turned out many good knights, my sons among them. One or two failures is to be expected. It has happened to every training master in memory. It is ridiculous if you hold yourself to so high a standard among men."

"It is more than that," he says. He has not told this to anyone, not the king, not Goldenlake, and only hinted it to Keladry. "It's more than that they could not pass the Chamber of the Ordeal- it's broken worse men and it's broken better ones. Cythera, look at why they failed-look at what they did- Stone Mountain kidnapped a girl, for Mithros' sake, all to discredit one barely-adolescent chit who called him on his true nature. And Genlith... it takes someone truly wrong to act like that, to force themselves upon unwilling others. I cannot even begin to imagine his motivations."

She shakes her head. "Most reasonable people cannot, and society reflects that down to the law. I think you're giving yourself too much credit."

Wyldon stiffens. "I beg your pardon?"

She leans forward. "I mean what I say. What do you have to prove, that you must shoulder all this blame? Any other man would have at least considered staying, or forgiven himself long ago."

"I do not have anything to prove."

"Maybe not to others," Cythera considers, "but to yourself. Unless it is an excuse?"

"I will not hear this," Wyldon practically growls. "You are overstepping boundaries, my lady."

She gazes at him, unruffled. "I do not believe I am. You are a guest in my home, Cavall."

He pauses. "It is not an excuse. I failed, I accepted responsibility, I moved on. That is all there is to it."

"Yes, if you say so." Her cool dismissal of his explanation leaves him even more incensed, emotion coursing through his blood, and though he doesn't mean to, he shouts.

"You cannot even begin to measure the depth of this ordeal! You- you shy away from court matters unless you are forced, I do not have that luxury! I am the conservative voice, I am able to tell the king things he does not want to hear!"

"Because you made a choice to do so when you accepted the job of training master and de facto counsel! I think you blame everyone and no one, Wyldon, and it will rend your soul in two if you maintain it, because it takes energy you do not have. And I realize that your role is different than mine, but you accepted power years ago and it is not so easy to give it up. I will always understand that."

"You do not, and will never, understand my role in Jonathan's court."

Cythera stands. "Ah, then. I see how it is to you. You still see me as that pretty girl who liked to flirt with you on sunny afternoons, that girl who made men dance for her simply because she could. Well, I'll tell you this: that's power, Wyldon. That's power you will never grasp. You think that I don't understand court games? I played them once, and I was younger than you and better too. We all knew how to manipulate men of power with only a glance and an emphasized pout. Jonathan fell, Gary and Raoul did, even you fell. Delia knew what to do and she taught me; I learned from a master. You think that I don't know how political games are played? You think I don't know what goes on in Jonathan's bed, or in my husband's head? You are very wrong, sir."

"I apologize," Wyldon says stiffly. She laughs.

"Oh please. Tell us how you really feel. Let it all out- let out your doubts, your fears, your little midlife crisis. That's what I'm here for, isn't it? To listen to you and be gentle, to pretend I know nothing and nod my stupid insignificant head along as the person who matters natters on? The circumstances of your resignation haunt you. So do the mistakes you made. What do you think haunts every person in this universe? It's the mistakes they made, the wrong choices and incorrect turns that mark where their lives could have gone very differently. This is me and you, and my husband and your wife, the king, the queen, probably even the gods. It certainly does not make you unique."

He pauses.

"You really are nothing like you were before."

Cythera shakes her head. "No, this is who I have always been. Most people simply don't get to see it- or they ignore it even when it's right in front of them."

-

He finds her later that night, when it is so late and so lightless that shadows creep along the walls of the castle. The wine, which he barely ever drinks, has gone into his blood.

It would be the chivalrous thing to apologize, he thinks. The proper thing to do.

He knocks gently on her door. Once, twice, three times- and then she opens it.

-

Cythera is more level than Wyldon could have imagined her to be, after his display by the fire, though her looks seem somewhat faded and darker in the blackness. She is not luminescent the way that she was earlier; it is a different sort of glow.

"I hope that you are here to apologize," she says, clutching her dressing gown around her as she leans against the doorframe. "If not, I would bid you go back to your rooms, for I am very tired."

"I-" He clears his throat. "I would expect so. I behaved quite rudely, and it was utterly unseemly. I apologize for the past few hours."

She sinks back against the door and her shoulders relax. "I accept, thank you. Very good. I just-"

There's a pause as he waits for her to finish, but she seems to be holding onto the thought.

"What are you thinking, Lady Cythera?" Wyldon tries for gentle, despite him being too old and tired to be so.

She looks almost mischievous. "I'm think of how I can prove my point from earlier."

"Your point?"

"That us ladies have always had power you wouldn't understand." Her eyes beckon and he loses his even footing. "You said you wanted me once."

"Once," Wyldon repeats. "But that was a very long time ago and I was younger than one could imagine."

She shrugs. "History can repeat itself. We did learn some things at the convent. I think you would be surprised at all that went on there."

His mouth has gone very dry. "That much is apparent."

"I'm going to show you what else I leaned," she says, wicked humor emanating from every limb.

"Cythera, I fear this is the wine speaking, not your common sense."

She draws up to him. "It has nothing to do with that. Your problems are barely contained in your being. Share them with me; I can help."

Wyldon thinks about how with only a few glasses of wine, a fire, and some probing questions, she has managed to draw out much of what plagues him, identifies his doubts and remarks on his fears, proves how much smarter she is than he. And he has always wanted her, then and now and probably forever as in front of him she is transformed to that laughing, silly girl he used to know, that girl who must have been so much more than he imagined two decades ago. That girl who could be his.

He's never wanted what Gary of Naxen has. He never craved his power or envied his relationship to the king. Cythera isn't his. And then she offers him a maybe, and he's tempted.

"Just once," she whispers. "Let me prove something to you now-" and Wyldon tumbles.

-

They have both changed.

He was always a serious man, sentimental only when private, steadfast and chivalrous where everyone could see. She always enjoyed attention, enjoyed all the things she could do with it. Despite the earthquakes and aftershocks, they were both happy.

And then she kisses him, and she kisses him like she's saving him.