Author's Notes: So sorry for the huge delay in updates. Life has not been kind, and the Muse has been sulky and intractable. I can't promise regular chapter postings, so please drop by my tumblr for teasers and updates.

As always, thank you so much to my lovely friends translating the story to Italian (Ellipse25) and Chinese (Ezio711), and to PlumpPushu who provides for the French passages. Thank you, my dears, for always being there!

Now, on with the story! More Author's Notes at the end.

"Where are we going, exactly?" John wanted to know.

"Out," said Lestrade briefly, never breaking stride as they walked through countless corridors and down several flights of stone stairs.

"Considering all that have just happened, I thought we're supposed to stick to him like a barnacle to a ship?"

"Monseigneur has asked to be left alone for a while," replied Lestrade curtly, and by that, John understood that Sherlock had probably snapped at the poor man, demanding his withdrawal.

John shrugged. "Happy to oblige," he replied.

Lestrade suddenly stopped and turned to him, his gaze searching. "Do you really mean it when you say you're over him?" came his next words.

"Yeah," said John.

"Well. Good for you, then," muttered Lestrade as they resumed their brisk walk down the stairs, out of the castle and into the vast grounds where various tournament tents were already pitched.

John perked up immediately as he took in the fresh air and surveyed the sparring arena where they were clearly headed.

"It's still early," Lestrade said crisply. "Monseigneur won't need us for another hour or two. I daresay you will need some exercise."

John took a glance at the groups of soldiers warming up and broke into a grin. "Is this your way of making me feel better?" he asked.

"Why, I don't know what you mean, John," said Lestrade airily, doing his best to keep a straight face, "but somebody has got to represent Monseigneur among the fighters for Gaaldine."

"Wait, what about you?"

Lestrade gave a shrug. "Too busy. Besides, we can't have me or Sally win every tournament for Monseigneur. They want to see someone new. Word has got around quickly and they're clamoring for you. Now, pay attention: those are the representatives of Gondal, and there—" he pointed to a small band of men already in armor and keeping gingerly to themselves—"are the Queen's fighters, and your countrymen. So what say you, John?"

John could feel his grin widening. "Well, if you insist," he said.

There were several familiar faces that John recognized among the group of Gaaldinians and Lestrade's authority was instantly clear as they strode up to them."Who's going first among you gents?" he barked out to make himself heard above the din of clanking metal and loud chatter.

"I am, sir," replied the tall, blond warrior that John had met yesterday— Sir Sebastian Moran, if he recalled correctly. He was already strapped into his armor. "We've already made the draw against the Angrian Queen's champion. I heard he's arrived only this morning."

He nodded over to the other end of the field, where a hulking figure in full armor towered above even the tallest of the Angrians.

"No, you're not fighting him, Sir Sebastian," replied Lestrade easily. "He is."

He gestured at John, and it took a moment for the idea to sink in among the men. Still, they gave way readily enough.

"Certainly, my Lord Lestrade," said Sir Sebastian with a curt nod as he took a step back, all the while surveying John up and down with those icy blue eyes.

John cleared his throat as Lestrade continued to give orders, aware that everyone was looking at him. Some faces were quite friendly—Sir Athelney and those who knew him from several months ago who were used to him by now. The others clearly needed more time, and quite possibly a demonstration or two of his prowess to convince them of his worth.

John turned back to Lestrade after he was done. "Billy—?" he began.

"He's laid up with other duties," said Lestrade, "so have the other lads help you with your armor, John."

He was given time to warm up, and afterward he was strapped into gleaming Gaaldinian armor with Monseigneur's colors draped over him. All throughout, the small band of Angrians kept close watch across the field. The huge man he was to fight never even bothered to take off his helmet.

When the time came for them to spar, he should have had an inkling of what was coming. At the very least, he should have been prepared to deal with Angrian fighting techniques, which were his own— shorn of any Gaaldinian or Gondalian artfulness and polish and aiming straight for the jugular, always. The man before him had the advantage of size coupled with the direct, no-nonsense ferocity of the sword that John could not say was similar to his way. No, it was exactly his way.

John knew that his style was unique, even among his own people, yet fighting this man was like fighting himself. He'd been spoiled all these months, cosseted among these highly refined Gaaldinians so that he'd made do without his claws. Yet this realization, when it hit him, did not bring perturbation. Instead, it brought something very much like relief, even exultation. Now. Now, he could be entirely himself.

Clash after clash followed and John let himself go, casting off the superficial veneer he had acquired in the past few months and letting his real self come to the fore— a being savage and untamable who relished a good tussle.

The fight ended in a draw; there was no other way around it. John only became aware of the deafening cheers and applause all around him when he and his opponent finally let down their swords and he started to remove his helmet.

He came forward, one hand outstretched, a wide smile on his lips, eager to shake hands with his formidable adversary. Then he saw the visage that emerged from the other helmet and he stopped short, his smile frozen on his lips.

The man was older than John, with deep, red scars that ravaged half of his lined face, extending to his forehead and a part of his scalp, partly hidden by close-cropped blond hair. Clearly, the man had survived a horrendous fire. It was a shock to behold, effectively halting John in his tracks. Time seemed to slow down to a mere trickle. The man was looking at him with steady blue eyes, his disfigured mouth forming a single word: "Iain."

Before John could think to say anything, they were suddenly surrounded by spectators from all sides.

It was impossible to get a word in through the surging crowd, the many congratulations and pats on the back that followed. John was sure that introductions were going to be made but he could not bring himself to stay a minute longer in the field. All of a sudden he could not bear to look at the man standing a few feet away from him.

Out. He needed to get out of here.

It was fairly easy to put some distance between them as John backed slowly out and away within the crowd, until he was able to twist himself free from the knot of men.

Afterward, Lestrade managed to catch up with him as he walked away. "What's the matter, John? You look like you've seen a ghost," he remarked.

John merely let out an uneasy laugh and shook his head, because yes, this wasn't the first time he'd seen that face.

He'd seen it over and over in his dreams, back in the days when he was young and had lost all memory of who he was.

They met Molly as they walked back to the castle. She had just finished archery practice in a different part of the vast grounds and still had her bow and arrows. John was immensely grateful for her presence as it prevented Lestrade from asking too many prying questions. It was clear that he did not believe that John had been taken aback merely by the man's scars, horrible as they were. After all, as soldiers, they were used to seeing all sorts of unsightly injuries incurred in the battlefield, many of them fatal.

"Do you know him, John?" Lestrade had wanted to know in the brief time that they were alone, and John had shaken his head, no.

It was not exactly a lie, John told himself. John did not really know the man, except in the dreams he'd had as a boy. Short of him having the third eye, or a penchant for prophecy which he clearly did not possess, he really had no explanation as to how he could have ever dreamt of the man, with half of his face burned and bleeding profusely as he told him in guttural Angrian, "do not forget who you are."

But John had done just that: he'd forgotten who he was.

Seeing Molly for the first time since last night, John asked, eager to change the subject: "how are you?"

"Fine," she replied quickly. "I'm fine."

"How was practice? You all set for the morrow's competition?" inquired Lestrade.

"Yes, my lord," said Molly, her tone rather subdued, distracted. "I'll be fine. For the morrow, that is."

"That's good to hear. It's nearly time," muttered Lestrade as he cast a glance at the sky and then at their shadows on the ground, growing very short. "Kindly go fetch Billy, John. I can imagine he will need a break from that woman, and soon. Northeast tower, topmost floor."

"Sher-" John stopped himself before he could commit a major mistake. "Monseigneur—"

"Yeah, leave him to me," said Lestrade. "Go."

"I'll go with you," Molly said, and John had to wonder about her tone, her set face.

Everything became clear the moment they stepped into the suite of rooms in the northeastern tower.

The spacious apartment was fitted out in luxurious trappings, with some courtiers whom John had never seen before standing respectfully by the sides. It was quite clear who the chamber belonged to. There, standing in the middle of the room, upon an exquisitely made carpet, stood the Exinian princess, engrossed in an exercise of some sort. John saw the familiar glove encasing her hand and his gaze shifted to Billy, standing on the other side of the room. Perched on Billy's fist was Azrail and catching sight of her, John's mouth thinned into a grim line.

In the silence of the room, the princess's sharp voice cracked like a whip: "come on, we haven't got all day."

John glanced at Molly by his side, and he recognized the look on her face as similar to his own.

The princess' intent could not be clearer. First, there was her dance with Monseigneur the night before and now this. At the wedding on the morrow, she would be parading Azrail on her fist, like certain fashionable ladies were wont to do with their intended's pets. As the significance sank in, John felt something rise within him, black and ugly, and he had to remind himself that he no longer cared.

He no longer cared about Monseigneur. He had someone else now. Poor Molly, he thought.

And poor Azrail. It was clear that she was not enjoying herself. She twittered distressingly and could not be coaxed from Billy's hand, no matter what the inducement.

"Surely you can control that bird better? You're its handler," said the Princess Irene to Billy after a while, exasperation ringing through her every word.

John had to stop himself from sniffing– clearly a bad habit of his. He could already feel his nose twitching, his lips twisting in contempt as Billy murmured a polite suggestion on how the princess may use the treat in her glove to lure Azrail.

"Make it come to me," came her next words, her tone imperious, and John had to turn his head a fraction to hide his rising eyebrows.

There came the grand flapping of wings, finally, but when John turned his head back, it was to see Azrail, not on the lady's wrist, but flying across the room and headed decidedly toward his direction.

"No, no!" he said, shaking his head. He tried to dodge, to step aside, yet Azrail would have none of it and no part of John except his outstretched and reluctant arm.

Fuck, he thought as he felt Azrail's sharp talons through the thin fabric of his shirt sleeve. He was aware of all eyes turning upon him, the thoughts evident behind the collective gaze. Judging from their looks, it seemed that everyone knew him.

"Azrail, you silly lass," he said in a low hiss as he tried to hand her over to Billy, who had hastily ran up to him, breathing apologies. Still, she would not budge, even with Molly's assistance.

To Billy he said, "You alright? Your uncle is asking for you."

"I don't think I will be able to leave until we've made some progress," whispered Billy unhappily. "The princess came upon the idea only this morning when she saw me out with Azrail. I'm afraid I will be here for quite a while, sir."

"I'll see what I can do with your uncle," murmured John as he finally managed to transfer Azrail over to Billy's arm.

"I'll stay," said Molly as John made to turn to the door. After a moment, he nodded.

It was with great relief when John managed to edge out of the room, the Princess Irene's sharp blue gaze the last thing he saw upon closing the door.

The day was not turning out as John expected. At all.

But then, it was the day before a grand royal wedding, so it was not meant to be normal. After a late, hurried lunch, Lestrade let John tail him as he went about straightening one minor crisis after another. He'd merely grunted, annoyed, when John reported that his nephew was stuck with the headstrong princess.

"Let's see if she'd still be enamored of Azrail when she shites on her. Let's hope she does, and soon," was Lestrade's only comment before he turned away. "Coming, John?"

He'd wanted to ask where Monseigneur was but after a while, he decided against it. The git would ask for him if he was needed, and definitely, it seemed he was not.

Still, this was the perfect time for John to scan the crowd for that one person he'd been burning to meet, to unmask. So far, he was not in luck; but then, there weren't enough royal personages in his path.

It was only then that it occurred to him that he should have stuck it out with the introductions earlier that morning in the sparring grounds. He'd not met any of the Gondalians and he was pretty sure that the man he was searching for was one of them.

Evening came, and still, there was no word from Monseigneur.

Lestrade did not seem particularly concerned and merely instructed John to wash up and to meet him in the Great Hall in half an hour's time.

Lestrade's instruction proved overly simplistic. By the time John arrived at the Great Hall, it was thronged with people, so much that it was difficult for John to navigate his way around, much less meet anyone that he actually knew.

Well, here, at last, was his chance. There were several richly dressed, masked figures in the crowd who may be Gondalian royalty, or who belonged to the nobility, at the very least. Yet they had entourages surrounding them, making them about as easy to approach as John trying to touch the sun, high in the sky.

Damn, thought John as he scanned the sea of chattering people crowded into the vast hall, growing in number as the minutes ticked by. He'd not realized it would be this difficult to look for the mystery man he'd spent last night making passionate love with.

His mystery man.

Of course, he hadn't seen the man's face– he'd been blindfolded, after all– but he'd somehow convinced himself that he would know him as soon as he met him. The ravishing voice, the shape of the slender, muscular body beneath his fingertips– these he would recognize instantly as belonging to the man whose unknown face his imagination had conveniently assigned Monseigneur's features, almost by default.

Well, he wasn't going to dwell on that git for a second longer, thought John as he looked hopefully this way and that. Yet it seemed he may not meet his stranger in the throng of illustrious people gathered for the feast tonight.

Suddenly, he felt someone tapping his shoulder, and when he turned, John found himself staring into the hard blue eyes and handsomely chiseled face of Sir Sebastian Moran.

"Looking for someone?" Sir Sebastian enquired, his voice a low drawl.

For a moment, John could not get a word out as a thought occurred to him: perhaps it had been premature to classify his stranger as only Gondalian.

More Author's Notes: Interestingly enough, I just found out that Ian or Iain is a name of Scottish Gaelic origin, ultimately derived from the Hebrew name Yohanan and corresponding to the English equivalent, John. The spelling Ian is an Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic forename Iain. (Source: Wikipedia)

I think we all know who that soldier with the scarred face is…XD