CatharsisBy Anakin Bester


            Clari walked down one of the many halls of Sfortzendo.  He walked evenly and without any hurry to his gait. Long strands of blonde hair trailed behind him a remainder that he needed to re-tie his hair. Clari however took no notice of such a minor thing. He doubted anyone would even take notice or that it in anyway hindered his looks. The priest walked, lost in his own thoughts. Today, for once, he had no particular destination. His affairs had been attended to and no disaster or emergency had presented itself to demand that Clari work late today. The High Priest found himself with a night off. He so rarely found himself with time truly all his that the young man was not quite sure what to do. He'd studied, wrote a little in a journal, and now he found himself simply wandering the halls of Sfortzendo, thinking. Though his face appeared perfectly calm and composed, inside his mind wandered from one thought to another. Snatches of memory brought parts of the first war, then second war before him. Queen Horn's voice and face lingered for a while in Clari's mind until the ache for her loss became so great that he pushed them away. For a moment, he paused beside a window. Still outwardly calm he moved his thoughts to think upon his young sister. She'd gone to Del Segno again, and to his surprise, Clari found himself missing her liveliness and spontaneity.  The castle somehow seemed lonelier with out the sister who had always been there at his side. 

            "She's growing up, though." he thought feeling a loving protectiveness swell in his breast.  Light streamed through the large stained glass windows, illuminating Clari's thoughtful, blue eyes. With a finale wishful thought, Clari looked away from the stained glass portrait of a mother and child and continued his purposeless wandering. Whatever trace of emotion had been briefly visible on his face disappeared once again. Clari's thoughts and feeling were not on display for the random passerby.

            The light cast by the falling sun hardly illuminated the hallways any longer, and Clari could see servants emerging to light the various ornate candles that lined the walls and decorated the corners of the castle. As his head turned to watch the movements of such candle lighter, his eyes caught the briefest hint of red. Letting his gaze fall fully on the mysterious color, the High Priest found himself staring at the profile of the Queen.  Flute stood within one of the many social rooms through out the castle. Her head was peeked just past the door way as though she were looking for something. Her face wore an expression of hopeful expectancy. 

            "Flute-Ojosama," Clari addressed. The young girl startled slightly then quickly recovered herself.

            "Oh, hello Clarinet-san," she said. Clari bowed slightly. If her use of his formal name, as opposed to Queen horn's familiarity bothered him, he gave no outward sign.

            "Good evening, you majesty." Flute flushed slightly at the title, the country bred girl inside shuddering.  Flute waved her hand, protesting.  "Ahh Clarinet-san, you can get up, truly, it's ok." Clari rose as the young girl wished.

            "Can I help you, Flute-sama," Clari inquired. "You appeared to be looking for something."

            "Yes, actually, " Flute answered, gesturing for Clari to enter the small room with her.  "My brother and I were studying the history of this city together. I know so little about it that it is often embarrassing.  Onii-sama said he was going to get more books in the library." Flute finished. As she talked, Clari lit a few of the candles, trying to bring some light into the barren white study.  Flute paced a bit, wringing her hands together. Occasionally her glance would wander to the doorway behind Clari. The blonde man merely waited silently for his queen to express fully what worried her. 

            "He left over an hour ago," Flute finally said, looking up at Clari.

            Clari's eyebrows rose in surprise at that statement. Though it was a ways off, even allowing time to find the books he wanted, Lute should have returned long ago.

            "If you wish to go look for him, I can remain here, in case he returns," Clari offered.

            Flute, however, shook her head. "We were doing this to pass the time before the Queen of Diminuendo arrived. I'm to discuss a minor dispute she's having with her neighboring country. If I leave now, I might not be here when she arrives."

            "And that would be most unwise," Clari murmured.

           Flute nodded emphatically, wincing slightly as she thought about the elder woman's sharp temper and generally foul disposition. "She'd take it as a personal insult I'm sure. But I'm worried I can't imagine what happened to Lute." Clari guessed that Flute was also nervous about holding a political meeting without her most trusted advisor present. His gaze wandered over the queen of but a few weeks. She'd proven her will to be strong, and her heart merciful, yet proper decorum and diplomatic procedure still often escaped her.

            Flute sat down a bit awkwardly in her gown. The blue silk of her skirt flowed haphazardly over the white cushions of the chair. Two weeks time was not long enough for Flute to adjust yet to the strangeness of her surroundings. Clari's instincts insisted that he offer to stay with the nervous queen during her meeting. The Queen of Diminuendo, however, had taken offense to him for some reason or another in the last few days, and had requested not to see him on this visit. As though guessing his thoughts, Flute looked up and tried to smile reassuringly.

            "I've already had Percus sent for her, and, truly, I think I can deal with her.  After mazoku and all, how bad can one cranky woman be?" Clari allowed a soft smile to grace his lips for the girl's benefit and self esteem.

             "No trouble at all, I'm sure." Still however, the guardian of the royal family felt as though there aught to be something he should do for the obviously troubled Queen. Though she hid her grief well, her recently torn heart felt every trouble so acutely. A thought formed in his head, something that seemed simple enough but that he was sure would please Flute.

            "Then allow me to look for your brother, and I can send word to you when I find him, as I doubt her excellency of Diminuendo would wish to be disturbed by such an esteemed presence as Lute Ouji once her meeting has begun.

            Flute looked hopefully up at Clari, eyes brimming with relief. "Would you? That would be wonderful."

            "Of course," Clari answered, kneeling ever so slightly.

            Flute leaned forward and clasped his hand. It had taken her time to warm up to the soft-spoken, seemingly cold young man. Yet, she'd found Clari to be more then dependable, and always helpful in ways she often didn't even realize she needed help in.        "Clari, can I... may I make another request of you?"

            Clari nodded once, then waited to hear what she asked.

            "When you find him, will you talk with him?"

            "Talk with him?" Clari questioned.

            Flute nodded. "Yes, try to get him to talk."

           Clari couldn't help the laughter that twitched at his lips. "My Queen, Lute-sama has never needed encouragement to talk."

            Flute giggled slightly, her hands still entwined with Clari's. Her face quickly became serious though, "No, I mean, something is bothering him, but when I try to bring it up, he turns the conversation onto all my problems before I even realize what he's done. You are," Flute searched a moment for the words, "you are not so easily side tracked and I think it's something he simply doesn't wish to burden me with." Flute's brown eyes became pleading, "Please though, try to get him to talk. I know something's troubling him, and if he won't talk with me about it, then I at least can find someone who he might share with."

            Clari nodded sympathetically to Flute. "I will try my best, my Queen."

            Flute nodded and released his hands. Clari bowed formally, more than a bit surprised by the trust she had placed in him. For once Flute didn't protest. She smiled gratefully and bowed in response to Clari.

            "Thank you," She called out softly as the High Priest turned and left the room.

            Clari arrived at the library and quickly ascertained that Lute was not there. Clari had checked each table, each row of books, and any alcoves or sequestered areas he had found. The man had asked every patron if they'd seen or heard the young Prince at all that evening. No one had seen the young Prince, nor could anyone even remember him passing by. To be sure, Clari had searched the large room a third time, looking for any sign that Lute had even been there. He came across nothing. With a sigh, Clari admitted that searching the library further would prove fruitless. Lute simply must have gone somewhere else. The High Priest sat down in a large wooden chair and gazed up at his staff as he pondered this puzzle.

            "Deceitfulness is not in him, especially not to Flute."  Clari rested his chin in his hand, his eyes unfocused on the world around him. Though they had only known each other for a scant two weeks, a strong bond of love and trust had already formed between Flute and Lute. Clari could not imagine anything that would cause Lute to simply leave his sister with no explanation. Even less likely was the possibility that Lute would lie about his whereabouts to his beloved sister, knowing how sensitive she was.

           "But then, why isn't he here?" Clari murmured aloud.

            Suddenly the answer appeared in Clari's mind as clearly as if he'd been told. "Of course," he sighed. With controlled movements, he rose gracefully from the chair. Pausing only to brush strands of blonde hair from his face, he continued on his search for the missing Prince.

            Clari paused trying to recall what direction he should go. He'd not been down these halls in a long time. Though rebuilt after its destruction in the first war, all the important items here had been moved to a safer location, and this area of the castle had fallen into disuse. Sunlight warmed the gloomy halls a little. The shiny beams of light caught the dust that floated thick in the air, turning the specks to gold.  A sense of melancholy clung to the stonewalls that not even the rich decorations could dispel. It was like a house that, having been abandoned, still longed for the family that had made it a home.  As Clari had guessed, he found Lute wondering the lonely passage. The sunlight gleamed off the robes, which ruffled softly, silk against silk, with each unsure step the Prince took. Moving steadily closer, Clari began to notice something odd about he way the younger man moved.  Rather than his usual self-assured gait, Lute walked with his shoulders slumped slightly. His head moved jerkily as he looked around, tense with frustration. Clari could distinctly hear uncharacteristic utterances escaping from dark haired boy.

            "Ouji-sama." He murmured in respectful tones as he approached further.  Lute froze in mid step. His eyes widened and he jerked slightly, like a small bird startled, realizing a cat had crept up on him.

            "Your sister sent me to..."Clari trying to think of a graceful way to finish that thought. " see what had happened to you. She became concerned."

            Lute turned and looked up at the taller man. A smile appeared on his face covering the distress Clari knew had been there just seconds before.

            "She was worried. She's so sweet, isn't she? She'll make a wonderful Queen, with such a gentle concerned heart. But no, I'm fine as you can see. Silly me just got lost. I could have sworn the library was down this way.  Really, you'd think I'd know my way around after living here so long. But you moved it away from here. I forgot, but then it seems I can't even find where it used to be anyway." Lute spoke quickly, his words seemed to hold laughter just barely at bay. In one energetic step he hopped over next to Clari and gestured merrily for the High Priest to lead the way. "Well, it will hardly do to keep my lovely sister waiting. I trust you know the way back because I certainly don't."     Lute looked up at Clari, still smiling gaily. The Grand Commander, however, was not responding as most people did. When affronted by Lute's good nature and charm, most people found themselves at ease and let their guard down, willing to joke and play along with the boisterous Prince. This had been especially true of one small blonde haired, violet-eyed child that Lute had known what seemed to him to have been only a few months ago. The stern blue eyes of Clari however gazed at Lute as though trying to discern something he couldn't quite put together yet. Lute found himself avoiding the piercing violet gaze. Finally he spoke, his voice, calm and controlled, showed no sign of the easily awed boy he'd once been.

            "It is growing late, Lute-sama. The Queen is surely deep into discussions with her Majesty of Diminuendo. I believe it would not be prudent for us to disturb them."

            Lute snickered, as the walked down the hall. "You mean for you to show your face around her, especially." Affectionately, Lute patted Clari on the back. "Someday, Clari-ch... "Lute choked of the rest of the diminutive nickname that came so easily to his mouth. "Someday, Clari-san, you will have to tell me exactly what you did to anger her so." Clari made a noncommittal noise, not wishing to think about that particular incident overly much. 

            "Well I guess then, if it's late as you say, then perhaps you can just help me find my room." More words fell from Lute's mouth but Clari looked past them and tried to catch a glimpse of the young boy's eyes.

            Finally, Lute could stand the silence of his companion no longer. "Clari, is something wrong?"

            "The library had been right here." Clari intoned softly, ignoring the spoken question all together.  Lute looked to where the high Priest indicated and saw an empty room.  "It is not silly for you to have looked for the library down this way. You needn't feel so embarrassed Ouji-sama."

            Lute fell silent and looked down at his feet. "No, you showed me where it got moved to. I should have remembered. I should have realized I was making a mistake as soon as the hallways began to get darker. It's just, well, it's confusing. The time that passed doesn't…" Lute scratched the back of his head. "Not everything is quite reconciled in my poor head, you know."  Lute continued to look cheerful, but his words had lost the lightness the held before, and his voice had begun to shake. Clari continued to study Lute's actions, slowly realizing something. For a brief moment, Lute's bright blue eyes met Clari's gaze. Truth passed between them in that second.

            Shaken, and still trying to hold is true thoughts beyond Clari's sight, Lute turned away and walked to the closed doors of the library. He laid one hand on the iron latch to the doors and lifted it up. With a loud clank, the forgotten room opened for it's most frequent visitor, once upon a time. With a soft exhalation, Lute stepped past the doorway and into the room. He could hear Clari's footsteps behind him. Walking to the middle of the room, he looked around.

            Nothing remained. Not a table, or chair, or even a solitary bookshelf had been left to the room. Only dust lived there now. The stained glass windows shone their brilliant rainbows onto nothing. Even some of the study rooms had been lost to the reconstruction. What had once been a warm maze of ancient and new books was now merely a stark and bleak rectangle. Memories of events that seemed o have occurred not long ago filled his mind, but he knew that 15 years of pain separated him for those happy recollections.

            "It's strange." Lute murmured his voice softer now. "Everything is so changed, everything, everyone..." Lute's words trailed away as he felt Clari's presence next to him and realized he'd spoken out loud. 

            "I'm sorry," he apologized, "I don't know why I said that." Lute shook his head.

            "Things always change, Ouji-sama. People, surroundings, time affects everything, adding or taking away as it will." Clari fell silent, not sure how to brooch the subject of what he knew truly bothered Lute. Not that things had changed, but that he'd not been there to witness the change, to be part of it. Lute could never reclaim the fifteen years that he had lost.

            Lute stared past Clari, "Did you really need to move the library?" he asked. Clari cocked his head to the side, choosing to listen for now. "This location as so nice, away from the busy hub of the rest of the castle. You repaired the room why move the library? Why not fix the entire room?" As he spoke Lute wandered to a part of the wall and pressed against it. "You didn't have to change everything did you?" Lute asked, trying to keep his voice sounding merely curious. The slight unsteadiness of his hands betrayed the prince's true feelings.  Clari suspected that Lute was now keeping his head bowed to the ground to hide his large, expressive eyes.

            Clari moved to stand next to Lute and placed his own hand against the wall. A hollow thud echoed from Clari's touch. Behind the wall was a tiny alcove. A seat had been built into that wall, in front of a window. Memories stirred behind his calm mask. Lute used to sit in tat spot and read books to him, Sax, Timpani, and other children who gathered around. The seat had been hallow, and beneath the cushion, Lute had tucked away their favorite stories.

            "The books we kept here survived. I put them in my study."

            Lute's shoulders shook slightly, but when he looked up at Clari his eyes were clear. "You remember?' he asked, trying to force a happy note back into his voice. He continued to try and play as though Clari had not seen through him. "I would have thought with all that must have happened to you, such a little thing might be forgotten by the great Commander of Sfortzendo."

             A small smile fluttered across Clari's lips at the happy memory. "Yes, I recall. Why would I forget such a thing?"

            Lute shrugged and looked away, why indeed? "Why, then, did you let them build over it?' he asked.

            Clari shook his head, "Lute, they simply walled this area up. Whole rooms are covered by wall now. A little alcove was not worth the time involved to preserve."

            "Pity," Lute murmured after a long period of silence. "If it were still here, I'd offer to read to you and Sax, just for old time's sake." Clari stiffened slightly. He could still recall the pain in his heart when he'd been brought news of his friend's death.

            "Ouji-sama," he began delicately, not sure if anyone had ever told Lute.

            Lute however had gone white. "I forgot." he said softly, his eyes wide and staring at nothing. Lute turned wildly to look at his friend. "Oh God, Clari I'm sorry." The boy's mouth continued to move, yet no more words followed. Finally the tears that he had been fighting trickled down his cheeks. "He begged me for his life. I couldn't stop. I couldn't even say anything to him." Lute's words flowed disjointed and the boy fell back against the wall. His knees becoming week as the horrors he'd tried to suppress pushed their way into his consciousness. "Bass made me," Lute whimpered, sliding toward the ground, "Bass… I laughed at him. Oh God, Clari all I could do was laugh while he died."

            Lute clenched his fists together, red droops of blood pooling around his nails. Hitting the ground, he simply fell over, holding his knees to his chest.

            Though Clari had long since realized that Lute's cheerful act was a mask for the hurt he felt, the Grand Commander had not been prepared for this. Frozen by indecision, Clari stood helplessly by as Lute continued to sob on the ground. He knew though that he couldn't simply leave Lute to weep on the floor.

            "This is awkward," Clari murmured has he bent down and gathered the weeping Prince into his arms. Clari's feeling of impropriety increased as Lute grasped blindly out for him encircling his shaking arms around Clari's neck. Still sobbing, Lute buried his face against Clari's chest, his tears darkening the purple fabric. Clari looked down at Lute, feeling a sudden strong protective urging, as he often did when he comforted his younger sister. Clari began to rock Lute, as he had done for Coro whenever she'd been upset.  After a while, Lute regained control of himself, and his sobbing ceased.

            "I'm sorry." Lute said softly, as he ran the back of his hand across his cheeks.  "Truly, you shouldn't have had to do that, but thank you. I am better now." Lute stood quickly and Clari let go of the Prince with some feeling of relief. However, he couldn't simply let Lute brush past his own pain, especially when it ran so deeply.

            Clari gazed up at Lute. "Ouji-sama, forgive my impertinence, but you can not expect to be able to deal with what Bass did to you by yourself." Lute flinched at that name, but Clari continued, recalling Flute's request. "You say that the pains of the heart often need a friendly ear in order to be truly expelled, and yet you refuse to share yours, hiding behind the mask of your former self. Everything and everyone changes, Lute. You pretend to be the same as you were fifteen years ago but you are not.  You and you sister have a special bond; perhaps you should talk to her about all that has happened to you. She shares your capacity to heal."

            To Clari's surprise, Lute went rigid and his eyes darkened. "No!" he snapped, drawing himself up. "No, I will not burden my sister with this. She has more than enough pain in her life and I will not have her empathizing with what I went through. No one should have to know what that's like! You will not tell her what happened just now!"

            Clari bowed, "As you wish, Ouji-sama." He answered submissively.    

            Lute drew back shaking his head,  "No," he said weakly, "I didn't mean it has a, that wasn't an order, Clari. Just please, don't tell her. She'll try and take on my suffering as well, and one person's heart can only hold so much pain."

            Clari nodded in understanding but then met Lute's eyes calmly. "And your heart can hold what you feel?"

            "It is of no matter." Lute murmured. "Well it's not!" He repeated almost indignantly when Clari's disbelieving expression never wavered. "I don't intend to trouble anyone, not Flute, not you."

            "This explains why you've not slept," Clari said almost to himself interrupting the Prince.

            "What?" Lute asked, startled.

            "What's not expressed during the day is expressed during the night. Flute says you haven't slept well since you returned."

            "That's not it." Lute protested, an angry tinge in his voice. "I just never got to sleep in the Northern Capital. Apparently Bass didn't need it!" Lute answered. "I'm readjusting to normal human hours."

            Clari rose to his feet and stood over the much shorter boy. "Lying is unlike you my Prince," he responded daringly.       

            "Stepping out of line is unlike you," Lute snapped. Then instantly the angry mask shattered. His blue eyes widened, shocked and aghast at his own tone. "Clari, I..."

            "Forgive me, my Prince," Clari said softly, but he did not bow.

            "You weren't out of line," Lute murmured still regretful. Then he paused,seeming to waiver between two courses. After a moment of silense, his blue eyes flickered upward and caught Clari's. "You are right," Lute whispered, "I'm not sleeping well. I just can't."

            Clari simply looked down at the shorter boy, waiting for him to say more. The two stood silently in the abandoned room. Lute paused to watch the sunset for a moment, trying to collect himself still.   

            "I'm scared of my own dreams. Silly isn't it?" He explained, trying to brush off his nervousness with laughter, once again, but doubting Clari would be fooled. "I know they can't hurt me. I can't even remember them that well. Only the fear."       

            Lute walked a little closer to Clari, away from the shadows that seemed to creep out from the side of the wall.

            "Let me escort back to your room," Clari finally said. Spoken in a warm voice that Lute had not heard Clari use, it wasn't a dismissal of his fears, but an offer of protection.

            "Yes," Lute agreed, looking down and smiling ever so slightly.

            They walked silently, each lost in their own thoughts. The entire trip back, neither spoke a word. Enough had been said and unsaid between them for the moment. Reaching the destination, Clari stopped his brisk pace abruptly.

            Lute, who had been trailing behind slightly, walked directly into the back of the tall Priest.

            "Sorry," he mumbled sheepishly.

            Clari shook his head, "It's all right." The tall blonde was more than used to having people walk into him. Normally either his sister, Coronet, or the young Prince of Del Segno whom she'd taken to spending time with.

            "Your room," Clari said.                      

            "Ah yes," Lute answered. Stepping in front of Clari, he pushed open the door to his room. "It's late, I suppose I should try to sleep."

            "Yes," Clari agreed. "If you can,"

            Lute felt his stomach quiver at the thought of another night alone with his fears. He looked at Clari, an idea whispering to him. Though night had fallen long before they'd reached the assumed safety of his room, his fears seemed to ahve been held at bay by Clari's presence. Lute bit his lip, not sure if he wanted to voice the request, realizing again that Clari was no longer a childhood friend, and the familiarity between them was likely no more then a ghost of a memory to him. Still though, Clari did seem concerned for his welfare. 

            "Clari-ch , Clari-san" he corrected. "My I make a ermmm odd request of you?"

           Clari paused then nodded to the Prince, wondering what he had in mind.

            "Would you stay with me tonight?" Lute asked, trying to sound nonchalant. "You expressed concern about my sleep. I'm fairly sure it would help some if I weren't alone at night."

            Clari just barely contained a nervous twitch. Such an offer was indeed odd to say the least.

            "Lute-sama," he began cautiously, "Perhaps you're sister would be a better choice."

            "No, I told you, I won't let her see me bothered by this." Lute reiterated stubbornly. Looking up into Clari's suddenly stoney face, he could tell the young man had been put off by his request.

            "Forgive me," the Prince said softly. "I thought... I forget... Sharing a room is no longer quite the same as it was, eh?" He said with false humor. "Never mind, then." Lute waved his hand in dismissal. Clari however stood where he was.

            "No, you've merely asked me to guard your sleep. I am the guardian of the royal family after all, am I not?"

            Surprise shown briefly in Lute's eyes, then his joy and relief quickly overcame his initial reaction. Lute took a step forward as if to embrace Clari, but then paused at the last minute as he again remembered that Clari was no longer the little boy he recalled.

            "Thank you," he said simply. Lute found himself yawning suddenly. "Mm I guess the thought of actually getting some sleep reminds me that I am tired." With that he excused himself to prepare for bed in another room. Clari sat and waited in a large chair, passing time by looking around the room.

            He remembered when the rows of book had been an intriguing mystery to him. Now, he'd read most of them and was probably as familiar with their contents as Lute was himself. He could also remember when the table that he now sat in front of had been taller then his head. This entire room, which seemed small and quaint, had once appeared vast and mysterious to the eyes of a young child.

            A soft noise by the door caught his attention and he turned to see Lute standing by the doorway to his bedroom. A long white flannel nightdress covered him. Clari remembered it from his childhood, yet now, seeing Lute Ouji in such an informal state brought pangs of embarrassment to the High Priest. 

            "Still," he reminded himself, "I swore to defend to royal family in any capacity. I suppose this does count."

            The sound of Lute's voice drew Clari from his own thoughts to what Lute was saying.

            "... And so I pulled out some extra pillows, a blanket for you, and pushed some chairs together, if you get sleepy.  I figured you're too old to share a bed with me now." Lute laughed.

            "Ah, yes," Clari replied evenly.

            "You know, come to think of it, these are probably the same extra pillows I had stored away for when you came here at night." The black haired boy commented as Clari followed him into the bedroom.

            Clari nodded and took a seat in the chair. He watched as Lute drew back the covers and climbed into his own bed. He felt a sudden urge to tuck the Prince in as he'd done for Coro so many times; however, he didn't act.  He merely watched as Lute arranged himself in the bed, pushing pillows about and shifting positions several times, like a kitten trying out a new sleeping spot. After much moving about, Lute finally lay still. Clari let his staff rest against the wall beside him, trying not to think about the idiot rumors this would likely start. "One good Ten Rin should deal with that though," he laughed silently to himself.

            Suddenly Lute sat up in his bed. "Aren't you going to sleep?" Lute asked. His blue eyes watched Clari curiously.

            "I can't guard your sleep if I sleep myself." Clari replied.

            "Oh," was all Lute said. Then he shifted some more before finally laying still. Clari again went back to simply watching the Prince. After a moment, Lute's head popped up from the pillow again.

            "Aren't you bored? I could go get you a book or something?"

            Clari raised an eyebrow. "I'm meditating, Lute-sama, and I brought some books in here with me."

            "Oh," There was a slight pause "Are you comfortable, can I get you another pillow?"

            Clari sighed, "I'm perfectly fine, Ouji-sama."

            "Ok then," Lute answered, then he moved around some more.

            Clari watched as Lute squirmed for hours. Just when he thought the Prince might be dozing off, his blue eyes would open wide, or he'd make another inquiry into Clari's well being, or he'd simply shift around in the bed. Over the hours, the Prince's speech became slurred, and occasionally incoherent, but every time sleep threatened to overcome him, Lute would do something to keep himself awake. 

            Finally Clari put aside a book he'd begun to read and went over to the Prince's bed.

            "You are defeating the point of trying to sleep, Ouji-sama."

            "You don't need to call me that," Lute murmured, shifting around so he could see Clari.

            The High Priest stared down at the Prince. His eyes stood out, a bright blue against the dark bags that were evidence of Lute's troubled sleep. "Lute-Niichan," Clari murmured, sitting down on the edge of the bed. The sad, cobalt eyes widened in surprise. He hadn't expected Clari to call him that again.

            "You must let yourself fall asleep."  The blonde man continued.

            Lute sighed softly, "I'm afraid too," he whispered,drowsiness slurring his speech slightly. "I'm so tired but I can't fall asleep."

            A memory stirred in Clari's memories.


            Groggy blue eyes opened and looked at the small blonde child cuddled against him.

            "Can you not sleep, Clari-chan?"

            The little boy shook his head, then buried his face against his Nii-san as another loud crash of thunder resounded through the room. "I'm scared to go to sleep," Clari whimpered. Lute smiled warmly down at his young friend.

            "Clari-chan, I can help you sleep, if you will allow me to."

            Clari blinked the memory and looked back at Lute.

            "Lute Nii-san, I can help you sleep, if you will allow me to." Clari watched as Lute's blue eyes widened slightly and he knew the young Prince remembered that night, long ago, as well. 

            "You know that spell." Lute murmured.

            Clari did smile at that, momentarily prideful. He had impressed Lute. The childish joy quickly died down, however, and Clari merely nodded solemnly. Part of him feared Lute would be insulted that he'd made the offer. It seemed horribly improper that he should suggest placing a spell, no matter how harmless, on the Prince of Sfortzendo.

            Lute, however, smiled warmly up at him, the same expression Clari had seen so many times before in happier days.

            "No, I don't mind. I trust you." He said, repeating the words that the young Clari had told him when he made the same offer. Clari found his unease vanish at that. Suddenly he felt as though he were merely with a close friend or sibling, not royalty. He felt as though the times he and Lute had sought each other out for companionship might not be so long ago after all.

            "Nii-san," he murmured gently. His hand began to glow with a warm, yellow light as he placed his hand against Lute's forehead, massaging the boy's temple. He felt the Prince give in to the spell allowing its soothing warmth to wash through him.  His bright blue eyes unfocused, then darkly lashed eyelids slipped slowly closed. With a soft sigh, he relaxed and finally fell into the depths of sleep.

            After a brief moment of perfect stillness, Clari slowly withdrew his hand then slid noiselessly from the bed and resettled in his chair. As he sat and watched Lute sleep, it occurred to him that he'd never seen the Ouji like this. Lute had always fallen a sleep after him and been awake long before him. Curious, Clari continued to look at the sleeping Prince. Lute slept on his side, with the covers down about his waste, facing Clari. His mouth was parted slightly and he made a soft almost snoring noise as he breathed in and out. Without letting himself think, Clari rose from his chair, lifted the covers, and tucked the sleeping Prince in. Then he returned to his chair, where he kept silent vigil over Lute for the rest of the night.

            From the chair, Clari watched the morning light begin to filter into the room and caress the still sleeping Prince with it's light. The Priest stood and stretched slightly, ignoring the weariness of his own body. Stiff muscles were stretched and worked out. The corner of his eye caught movement from the bed and he watched as Lute yawned, and did his own stretching. His eyes blinked open. The black haired boy smiled drowsily as he rubbed the sleep from them, then ruffled his already tangled hair as he scratched his head.

            "G'Morning" he murmured, squinting at the blonde man who stood composed before him. "You look far too good for someone in the morning,"

            "Good Morning, Prince Lute. Did you sleep well?" Clari responded formally. Lute sighed, missing Nii-san already. Little Clari would have made some humorous comment back to him. "Slept fine, thank you," Lute mumbled, scratching his back.

            "It looks like a lovely day." Clari commented, looking out the window.

            Lute turned and smiled back at Clari. "Yes it does." he agreed.  His long fingers reached for the top button of his nightdress absently. Clari turned away. "I will be in the next room," he commented.

            "Mmmmm," Lute answered still not fully awake. Clari shook his head and left, allowing the Prince privacy. After spending a few moments, the young Prince emerged still tying up his outer vest. His cowl hung crookedly off one shoulder and with a shake. Clari sighed and walked over to Lute, straightening the garment.

            Lute blinked up at him, grinning from ear to ear "Mother always tsked at me," he commented. Clari froze realizing that Lute was not Coronet and he had no business fixing the boys attire.

            "Forgive me," he stammered. "The lack of sleep..."

           Lute just laughed more. "Next time you tsk and say 'Lute-kun can't you dress yourself yet.'"

            Clari said nothing and merely stood watching the prince. Finally Lute broke the long silence.

            "Clari, did you only stay with me because of your duty to my family?"

            The High Priest pondered the question for a long while, trying to come up with some way to express his thoughts verbally. His train of logic however was deterred by the high-pitched sound of Lute laughing in delight.

            "Never mind, you've answered already," he announced as he moved to the door in happy little bounds. Clari could only stand there in confusion and watch as Lute gaily pushed the doors open. Then with a spin the Prince turned back around and faced Clari. He pointed a finger at the tall blonde man and grinned. "Clari-chan smiled happily at me!"

            With that, the Prince left the room, running off to somewhere that Clari could only guess at. His sense of purpose restored.

            Clari sighed to himself and blew out the candles in the Prince's room then locked the doors as he left. Passing a mirror, he paused to look in it. Down the hallway, he could hear Lute apologizing to people he'd more than likely run over in his enthusiasm. Clari took one last look at his more haggard than usual appearance. He pushed his hair from his face and straightened the headband he wore. He looked critically at himself, the nigh'ts activities running through his mind.

            "Onii-san," he sighed out loud. Then he continued down the hall to attend to his usual duties.