The next morning, Ahri stood in front of Lux's door. She felt compelled to apologise for her part in last night's 'accident'. Ahri's central purpose in becoming human was learning to take responsibility for her actions, even when her prey leapt at bait that was clearly underneath a basket propped up by a stick.
Ahri raised her hand to knock.
The door opened.
Ahri's knuckles rested against a big shoulder guard, decorated with the blue, gold and white wing symbol of Demacia. She looked up, slowly and tentatively, into brown eyes that glowered down at her from over a blue scarf.
"...Garen?" asked Ahri, her voice almost a squeak.
"Aye," Garen replied, in that patient tone of voice used by teachers to suggest that shouting could be just around the next corner.
"As in, Lux's big brother Garen?"
"The same. And you-" (Ahri flinched at the way Garen could point a word like a sword.) "-must be the fox girl, Ahri."
"Fox girl? Me? I've never heard of me!" Ahri laughed nervously, wondering if by some miracle her tails, ears and whiskers would disappear if she wished hard enough. They persisted, just to spite her. Ahri sighed and nodded resignedly at Garen.
"Come inside. I've been meaning to speak to you." Garen turned around, leaving the door open for her. Ahri looked up before entering just to make sure that there wasn't actually a guillotine blade hanging in the doorway. There didn't seem to be, so she stepped inside and closed the door, taking special care not to slam it just in case Garen took exception to rough handling of doors.
Garen had seated himself at a table, looking ridiculously out of place in the middle of his sister's room: everything in there was colourful, cute and fluffy, like a colony of rabbits that had been thrown up on by a rainbow. From the heights of Mount Plushie to the shag carpeting that looked as if it had been untimely ripp'd from a psychedelic highland cow, this room left absolutely no doubt in the observer's mind that it belonged to a girl. It even smelled like a rainbow.
"Take a seat. Lux is still recovering from last night." Ahri heard the distinct sound of a shower being taken in the en suite. She took a seat across from Garen on the basis that the table, however flimsy, might afford her at least a millisecond of protection.
There was an uncomfortable silence, during which Garen appeared to be staring meditatively into the middle distance. Assuming that he was thinking of the cruellest possible way in which to punish her for disgracing the name of the Crownguards, Ahri interrupted his train of thought with a surprise apology (a tactic not often used in warfare, against trains or otherwise).
"I am extremely sorry about last night's events," said Ahri, bowing her head so fast that her forehead almost left a dent in the tabletop.
"You mean you were the one responsible for Gragas using Teemo as a bowling ball?"
"What? No! I meant, um, the thing with Lux." Ahri scrunched her eyes tight shut, expecting a reprimanding strike on the head at any moment.
"...Oh! You mean the kiss?" said Garen.
Ahri's train of thought was misdirected at the signal lights and ended up looping back to crash into itself. "...Of course I mean the kiss. It was a shameful act, was it not?"
Garen drew a breath contemplatively. "Well, I know Kat will probably draw great pleasure from teasing me and Lux about it, but apart from that the only damage done here is to Lux's sexual identity... which brings me quite neatly to why I want to talk to you."
Ahri breathed a sigh of relief at being let off the hook – and then stopped herself. The next item of discussion could be just as dangerous, considering the way Garen had turned to Ahri with both hands on the table. "Go on," she said warily.
"To put it bluntly, Lux wants to be with Ezreal."
Ahri raised an eyebrow. "Ezreal? But I thought he was-"
"Everyone thinks that at first," said Garen, obviously used to this reaction. Ahri opened her mouth, blinked, closed it and nodded. It was best not to pry. "My sister first confided this to me a while ago, but has been unable to confess to him."
Ahri gasped. "So her depression over her secret love is what's causing her to turn to drink?"
"No, she's always been like that," said Garen longsufferingly. "Her inability to hold her drink is matched only by her attraction to it. If you're still worried about repercussions for that little show you gave the partygoers last night, don't worry: she's done far more foolish things. She's past the age where I have to clean up her messes, so she'll just have to endure the jibes. With any luck it'll encourage her to be a bit more cautious in future."
"Right." Ahri paused, getting the feeling that the conversation had veered off-track. "So, about Ezreal?"
"Oh, right." Garen cleared his throat. "From what I've heard of you, you have a certain talent for... shall we say... courtship."
"...What of it?" asked Ahri guardedly.
"I want you to use whatever talents you have to set up my hopeless sister with the boy. I don't know Ezreal myself but she seems to get along with him, not to mention Piltover is an ally of ours so it could be an advantageous union."
Ahri spent a few seconds goldfishing. "But... well, I know you humans often use marriage as a political tool, but I think I'd much rather only help them come together if they are genuinely in love." Ahri frowned nervously, her hands balled in her lap and her ears twitching. "I mean, I don't like to gossip, but I've heard that Ashe and Tryndamere only got married because it helped advance their causes politically. I can't imagine what that would be like and I don't want to."
Garen simply stared at Ahri for a few moments, a quizzical look on his face as if he were staring at one of those infuriating little metal loop puzzles. "I didn't expect you to be such a romantic. If what I've heard is true, you've killed dozens of men by literally seducing them to death."
"And one woman," Ahri added, staring at Garen as if daring him to punish her.
Garen blinked. "Yes, and... one woman. So you can see why I expected you to be more, shall I say, ruthless when it comes to romantic conquests."
"I have my own reasons for being who I am, Ser Crownguard. I won't ask you for yours."
Garen gave Ahri another of those long stares, but instead of cowering she returned it with a fierce pride. He looked away first, shrugging it off. "Very well. I wouldn't have approached you with this request if I didn't feel I could trust you. And, about political marriages... have you ever asked Ashe herself about the rumours?"
"Well... no. I don't feel that I know her well enough."
"Perhaps you should. You may be surprised by her answer." The shower stopped. "I assume you want to consult Lux about Ezreal before making any moves, yes?" Ahri nodded. "Then I'll leave you with her."
"That might get a bit awkward," said Ahri, glancing apprehensively at the bathroom door.
"More awkward than last night?" asked Garen, grinning wryly. "You haven't died of shame yet. I'll talk to you again soon." The door closed behind him.
A few seconds of nervous waiting later, Lux stuck her head out of the bathroom. "Garen, could you get me a towel?"
The two women stared at each other for a moment. Ahri forced a smile. Unfortunately, it ended up looking less comforting and more predatory.
The bathroom door slammed shut. Ahri sighed.
"Get OUT of my room!"
"I only want to talk," Ahri called through the door. "Your brother asked me to."
"My... brother? Why?"
There was the brief silence caused by a blush spreading across a young maiden's face. "I- I don't know what you're talking about!"
Ahri's tails writhed in annoyance. "Look, I didn't plan for this to happen either, but since I wanted to apologise for the other night I thought maybe helping you would make up for it. I'm going to go wait outside: you can invite me back in when you're ready, or not, as you see fit. Just... It would make me happy if you'd hear me out."
Ahri strode out of the room and leaned against the wall outside, stroking her tails to calm herself. She was half expecting Lux to just leave her out there, but eventually the door did open a peek.
"You aren't going to try anything on me, are you?" asked Lux, covering up her fear with spikiness.
"I promise I won't charm you."
"...Okay then. Come in."
Ahri subjected herself to the rainbow barrage of Lux's room once more. She reflected idly that seeing her room was just as colourful as taking a Final Spark to the face... and just as painful.
"So. Garen wants you to help me," said Lux, sulking half-heartedly as she brushed her hair in the mirror.
"I want to help you," Ahri rephrased, hovering behind her. "Like I said, I feel bad about last night."
"Apology accepted." Lux swallowed nervously, not looking Ahri in the eye, in the mirror or directly. "...You've got what you want, so you can go if you like."
"Why are you so afraid-?" Ahri advanced on Lux, but stopped herself mid-sentence. She knew the answer. She approached again, more gently this time. "Look. It's perfectly natural for someone to feel attracted to both sexes."
Lux struck her brush down on the table and swivelled in her seat to look at Ahri face-to-face. "For you, maybe! But I'm not a... not a..."
Ahri paused. "Not a what?"
Lux trembled unhappily, her rage and fear battling with her better nature. "I'm not a whore!" No prizes for guessing which won.
Immediately after she'd said it, Lux looked up at Ahri with sorry, tear-filled eyes, as if expecting Ahri to slap her. Instead, the fox girl was thoughtfully stroking her tails.
"...I see." Ahri crossed the room to the window, looking out on the garden below. "It's true, I've made my living thus far by being sexually aggressive. But..." Ahri turned back to Lux, her eyes clear. "Do you want to know the story of the last soul I took? The only woman I've ever made love to... and loved."
Lux said nothing, so Ahri continued.
"I became self-aware some time before the Noxian invasion of Ionia. Many of the men I seduced were soldiers, looking for an easy way to relieve the stress. The last person whose soul I took, I met after the war had finished: a young woman, probably not much older than yourself, making her way home across her war-torn country. I was wandering through the same forest, lost in my thoughts, doubting whether it was right for me to so wantonly steal men's lives. That was when I stumbled across her.
"She was half-dead and fading fast. Hers were symptoms I'd seen before: the poisons that Noxus had developed to crush Ionia's will to fight. Even now, they're still finding mines filled with the stuff scattered across the countryside. She must have triggered one of them. I made myself known to her, but we were miles away from anywhere that could save her and I didn't know any healing magic. She was going to die. All that I could do was ease her pain. Make sure she didn't die alone.
"While I lay there with her, she reached across and kissed me. She knew what I was: all Ionians have heard the story of the fox woman, though most don't believe it. She asked me to use my powers on her, to make her feel as loved as any woman had ever been and then take her soul, to ease her passing and let part of her live on in me. I accepted."
Ahri paused for a moment. She smiled sadly, a gesture as delicate and beautiful as the wings of a porcelain butterfly. Lux, watching enraptured, had quite forgotten her own tears that ran freely down her cheeks.
"When her soul passed into me, all doubt was banished from my mind: this was the last time. Never again would I steal a person's soul, not even if it was offered willingly. I would find another way to become human, as I knew I had to be... and so I turned myself in, throwing myself on the mercy of Ionia's highest and wisest. They saw fit to send me to the Institute of War, and... here I am." Ahri smiled at Lux again, but this one was a release of grief, rather than a collection: the dispersal of clouds after the rain, the first tentative rays of sunlight.
"I'm sorry I called you that," said Lux, in barely more than a whisper.
Ahri strode across the room and firmly smacked Lux square on the cheek.
"You are forgiven," said Ahri with a measure of smug satisfaction. "And I'll thank you not to call me a whore in future."
"Right. I'll just call you unreasonably sexy."
"I am perfectly fine with this."