AN: In case you haven't guessed it yet, I love writing these kinds of stories. Torturing my favorite characters is one of my favorite pastimes. I hope you all like this! :)

Disclaimer: I do not own Deltora Quest. Emily Rodda does.

Once, in an attempt to protect her, Lief had tried to force himself to stop loving Jasmine.

When he had first though about it, had first realized exactly how much danger his unknown feelings were putting the one they were directed towards in, he had been determined that no one, not even himself, would one day be able to use those affections against him. With a mind that had been desperate to return Jasmine to a 'friend' position, a title that their adventures had proven to be perilous enough, he had quickly but carefully crafted a plan that he was sure would work.

Beautifully, no one other then himself would know what was going on, for Jasmine and the others were to be the main players in it.

It had been easy, almost too easy, in fact, for Lief to convince his companions that the Shadow Lord's evil still lurked amongst them, pretending to be a friendly face while at the same time plotting their dooms. For that he was grateful, for what others would have seen as paranoia and a need for sleep, Jasmine, Barda, Doom, and Sharn had quickly accepted as an all too real possibility, for memories of just how crafty the enemy could been were far too clear within their minds. Even with the evil sisters dead and the dragons once again patrolling the skies above, danger was still a daily part of life in Deltora, even at the palace, and so it payed to be more then well prepared.

What they hadn't been expecting, however, was for Lief to propose a plan that might help to at least drive some of that evil from their lands.

"Let them know that I am vulnerable," Lief had said quickly, his eyes shining with excitement even as he refused to meet Jasmine's gaze. "Let the Shadow Lord believe that I am weak and ready to be twisted into a piece for his plans, a pawn like my ancestors were, to keep his seat warm until he can return. Let him think me friend and powerless, and when he decides to spring his trap, let him find that his rat cage had just one too many holes in it. Let us make the first move, and let us make the last."

In all honesty, the plan that Lief had then proceeded to lay out before his chosen counsel was the simplest and yet most complex idea the King had ever come up, and it was for that very reason that they were all almost absolutely sure it might just work.

The first part, the one Lief was the most anxious to hurry along, was to get rid of Jasmine.

For their plans, this first drastic action served a triple purpose, though only two of the reasons were told to the others. The first, the most obvious, was to deprive Lief of one of his most loyal companions, leaving him mentally weakened and confused by her absence, deprived completely of her so needed company. To any that would be watching from the outside, it would seem as if he had lost some of his rebellious spark, had become part of a shell of who he had once been. For most, this would cause pity and wonderment about just how close the two had been, that was true, but for the few, the few who truly mattered, it would seem as an opportunity to begin laying the foundations of their next invasion.

The second reason, one he had just thought of moments before he had called the meeting but had caused quite a stir amongst those that knew, was so as to compile a complete map, the only one of its kind, of the Forests of Silence.

It was a reasonable desire, Lief had realized after a while, to want an accurate map of the dangers so close to his home. According to reports, now that the Grey Guards had vanished, leaving nothing for the Wennbar to take to their god, some of the paths had cleared themselves of taint, becoming wholesome and clean now that the Shadow Lord was not there to encourage their deaths. However, many of the threats Jasmine had once described to him, including the Wenn, still haunted those woods, endangering those he was sworn to protect. And at the moment, with no knowledge to help him plan, there was nothing he could do, just like there was nothing he could yet do about the last few hundred rats that haunted the burned ruins of the City of Rats or the Glus that continued to make the Maze its home. Without enough information, trying to rid his kingdom of the last smears of evil was all but impossible. However, if he was to have a map, one that marked all the places of interest to him that were nearest to his capitol...

Oh the wonders he and his knights could do, for with enough information to make a proper plan, victory against the last footholds held by the Shadows was almost assured.

And the third reason Lief wanted Jasmine gone, despite the blinding pain across his heart each time he though about it, was so that he could learn to hate her.

It was something he had seen happen time and time again, families tearing themselves apart after a time of separation because they had been unable to find the love that had brought them together in the first place. Sure that the time apart would allow him to focus upon only her flaws, without she herself there to counteract almost every though he had, or allow him to ignore her completely, should only thinking about one part lead to thoughts the rest, Lief had been sure that Jasmine would quickly return to the less dangerous position of 'just friends' within his mind, keeping her from danger even as he broke his own heart.

If it was to keep her safe, he was more then willing to experience any pain over and over again until his goal was reached.

They had started out slowly, keeping their arguments behind closed doors and their voices soft, careful to only allow harsh words to be heard between them while in the presence of a few 'unknown' servants. They were quick to heal the mental wounds that would spring up, and allowed days to pass between each bout, giving the perfect show of friends just coming to verbal blows over an important issue or two that needed both sides argued. For weeks they allowed the stage to be set, for the rumors to begin to spread that they were fighting a little bit more then usual, before finally allowing the spring loaded trap they had placed themselves in to begin to close.

It hurt both of them, but it was something that needed to be done.

Slowly their arguments increased, growing more numerous, louder, and more personal with each week that they continued to allow to pass. Instead of ending on a friendly note, the two would leave for hours on end, acting angry and saddened by their constant fighting for those who came to comfort them. Hours between arguments and forgiveness grew into days, with both shunning the other unless it was to pick up where they had left off, their cruel voice echoing through the castle for all to hear as they hurtled insult after insult into the other's face, their words carefully picked to do the most damage that they could. For almost a month they allowed this to continue, allowing word of their apparently new-found hatred for each other to move far past the confines of Del, before putting their next act into play.

"And stay out,"' Lief snarled as he threw Jasmine down the castle stairs, a cruel glint in his eyes betraying the hint of joy he had gotten at seeing her kneeling before him. Grabbing the bag that he had shoved into the arms of a waiting servant just moments before, that too followed her, scattering some of its contents for the crowd that had gathered to watch. Smirking as Jasmine scrambled to gather the clothes and papers that had begun to blow in the harsh wind that had kicked up just moments before, it was with a glare and another growl that he spoke once again, letting his voice rise above the noise so that all could hear. "I no longer care what you do with yourself Jasmine," Lief said steadily, his face suddenly cool, "but you are no longer welcomed here. Now get out of my sight." Without waiting for an answer, Lief turned on his heels and re-entered the castle, slamming shut the doors that he had once declared were to always remain open.

It was then, with only a few servants that, while trustworthy, would be sure to spread the word around, Lief began to cry.

Within just a few hours, if the frenzied letter from Marilen, Manus, and even constantly traveling Steven were anything to go by, everyone in Deltora knew that the King had banished one of his closest friends from his life and was more then distraught by it. By that, their plan was working.

At first Lief had felt guilty that he was leaving so many of his friends out of the loop, unable to tell them about the lessons Jasmine had been taking with the Royal Mapmaker, that her seemingly hastily packed bag had actually been ready for weeks, or about the full extent of the plans he had put into play. But undesirable as it was, it was something he had had to do, for as Doom had pointed out, the more people aware of what they were doing, the more risky it was to do it. Any message, no matter how good the code, could eventually be read and understood by the wrong eyes, allowing said information to be misused by those it was against. To prevent this, only the five of them could know, and the number was so high only because they all had a part to play. With that in mind, although it did nothing to ease his guilt, Lief had been able to continue his ruse.

With Sharn working to take care of the kingdom's business, dealing with the daily running of the castle that was needed to keep everything working smoothly, and with the first part of his plan done, Lief was able to focus on the next.

Surprisingly, it was amazingly simple.

When the Kin received his letter, they were more then excited about the idea of helping their King, and so had been quick in fulfilling his wish. Within just a few days, the barrels of Dreaming Spring water that he had requested were delivered in the middle of the new moon night, which were quickly hidden in the palace pantry and distributed amongst all the liquids that resided within the castle. Before dawn had even come close to rising, the well that kept the castle watered had been drugged, leaving Lief feeling safer already with the kin's promise that only a drop or two of the water would do the trick.

Within a week, the castle had three new trees, two ols that had somehow managed to place themselves amongst the staff and one an assassin that had stopped for a drink before continuing on his search for the King. And before another was up, rumors had once again crossed the kingdom to paint him as a powerful wizard, capable of seeing into the hearts of men and beasts alike and determine the nature of the darkness within. Should that evil be something his disapproved of, only a single word would be needed for those who offended him to be turned into trees.

Faster then he could have thought possible, the second part of his plan had been completed, tied together with a promise from the kin that, each year, a barrel of water would be brought from the Dreaming Spring to mix with the water from the castle well, dooming all those of evil intent to their fate as a tree the moment the drink touched their lips. It would ensure that no creature of the Shadow Lord ever again made its way into the castle, lest it expose itself by refusing to drink the water, knowing full well that it was damned if it did and damned if it didn't. By then, it had been three weeks since Jasmine had been banished from the castle.

By the time the fourth came around, Lief had almost driven himself mad from worry.

It was senseless, he knew, to be too concerned about Jasmine, for the trees had been her home from the moment she had been born. With more and more of the plants and animals giving up their formerly evil ways, there was more then enough protection, enough warning, for Jasmine to find a way to safety should evil approach. He had taken his own precautions too, tucking the cloak he had worn during their travels into the bottom of her bag, to protect her from both the shadows that haunted the woods and the cold that was to come in the long months ahead. With Kree and Fili by her side, the idea of Jasmine coming to harm was almost laughable in its absurdity. It was almost impossible, and any who thought it was a fool.

Every night that made Lief the king of them all, for every night all the ways Jasmine could be hurt and the fact that he wasn't with her were the only thoughts that crossed his mind.

He had tried, oh how he had tried, to stick to the plan. Whenever his mind wasn't occupied by matters of the state, he forced himself to list the many flaws he had found within Jasmine's personality during the times they had been together, such as her stubbornness and her inability to trust anyone at all. He soon abandoned this practice however, for reminding himself of her flaws led to thoughts about an event where they had helped him, like when she had convinced him to keep going because she would never give up, or when her trust issues had kept him alive another day longer. This line of thinking eventually consumed his mind with thoughts of her, only heightening the fact that she wasn't there and that he missed her.

Trying not to think about her all together held an even worse effect, for at the strangest of times her face would pop into his mind and her voice would ring in his ears, eventually leading him to the conclusion that he was completely insane.

Of course, that thought wasn't too far from the truth.

For six months he lived in this half-way state, his almost constant worry that had grown from her absence only leaving him when he had work to turn his mind to, settling petty arguments between farmers that had no clue just what danger Jasmine was putting herself through for their sakes. For six months he fought the temptation to leave the castle and run after her, most likely either endangering her even more or getting himself killed for the chance to see her one more time. For six months, he waited.

After six long, hard months, she finally came home.

It was mid-afternoon when the sight of the familiar black bird caught his eye, drawing him away from the still speaking dignitary from a country across the sea. At first he had refused to believe it, sure that the bird was one of the many others Jasmine had trained before she had left the castle, knowing that only getting his hopes up would destroy him. However, when the bird had fluttered into his office, its beak open in a harsh caw of greeting, his refusal had broken, sending him rushing from the room towards the front of the castle.

The guards had stopped her. Out of every single idiotic action they could have taken, the moment Lief reached the doorway, it was clear that the guards had stopped her and were trying to send her away, trying to explain that, when the King banishes you, you remained banished. Having realized that words would do nothing to force the stubborn girl from the forest to leave, one had drawn his sword, threatening to make her leave if she didn't of her own free will, just as Lief appeared at the top of the steps. Bounding to her side, it was with a quick strike of his hand that the blade fell to the ground, the guard it had belonged to cowering under Lief's glare.

"Never let me see you threatening her, or anyone else, again," Lief spoke in a deadly whisper, his threat clear within his eyes as he wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her against him in a protective embrace.

"But, but my lord, you banished her," the other dared to argue, though a moment later he too quailed before Lief's anger. "Yes, yes your Majesty," he muttered a moment later, head bowing as he turned to return to his post by the door, a shudder running down his spine as he felt those cool eyes following him.

"Lief, it's alright," Jasmine said soothingly, her hand coming to overlap his own. "They couldn't have kn-"

Twisting so that he was facing her, Lief quickly quieted Jasmine with a kiss, swallowing her words as he wrapped his arms even tighter against her, pulling her flush against him as his relief for her safety and the love he had been struggling to hide for so long made themselves apparent. Allowing her to pull away for the air they both greatly needed, it was with a charming smile that he placed another kiss upon her forehead before burying his face into her hair, finally whispering the words he had wanted to say since she had left.

"Welcome home my love. Welcome home."

In the six months he had been forced to live without her, Lief had come to one startling conclusion: no matter how hard he tried, it was useless to fight it, so he might as well get use to the idea that he was in love with Jasmine.