S2 S2 S2 S2 S2
Allen slowly peeked around the corner as he reached the bend that signaled the end of the entryway. Polished white marble strewn with veins of gray tiled the floor of the palace corridor, pillars resting against the walls every twenty feet or so.
Pale silver light filtered in from the windows on one side, setting the frost coated marble alight with a luminescence so similar to that of his flesh. Pale blue tapestries hung between the pillars, each baring the crest of his family. He frowned slightly, a shot of sadness striking through him as he registered the angle with which the moonlight filtered in, easily able to tell just how high it still remained in the sky.
He sighed, the sound morose as his shoulders slumped. Still hours left before the golden glow of the rising sun would begin to flood the corridors with its golden light, still hours before he would have returned on any other night.
They barely saw each other, only on the first night when the moon was full each month and during chance encounters at the borders of their lands where words of hatred and scorn were the only ones they could afford to share, where the only touches they could exchange were blows from fists or feet thrown between the clashes of blades when one or both sides would fail to keep calm in the presence of the opposing natures. With so little time to just be together the few hours he now found being squandered within the palace walls were truly frustrating, and he silently cursed his observant guard for being so vigilant.
He quickly pulled himself from his thoughts, and, finding the halls empty, turned down the corridor.
"Looking for something, Master Walker?"
Allen jumped, hood falling and hand snapping to his dagger's hilt as he whirled on the owner of the voice. He froze instantly as his eyes locked on the tall man standing before him, long blond hair pulled back in a braid at the nape of his neck, icy brown eyes locked on him, assessing, calculating.
"Link," He exclaimed in surprise, quickly getting over his shock, his voice firm despite the unease that began dripping down his spine. He straightened up, fully sheathing the partially drawn dagger as he turned sharply on his heel, his cloak billowing around him as he began walking in the general direction of his quarters, not needing to look to know his guard wouldn't be far behind, "How many times must I ask you not to sneak up on me like that?"
"I was already standing behind you, my lord. I had been awaiting your return. Now, would you care to tell me where you were?"
"Is it really any of your business?"
"As your personal guard, I would have to say that yes, it is."
"And as sole heir to the throne I would have to say that I do not need to request your permission to go where I so desire."
"It's my job to protect you, therefore I must know where you are at all times, your Majesty."
Allen gritted his teeth, swallowing down the growl that wanted to break from his throat at Link's calm persistence.
"I assure you, I can handle myself. I do not need your eyes on me every moment of every day."
"Be that as it may, you are still my responsibility."
"Fine," Allen sighed, finally growing tired of Links insistent prodding, "If you must know, I was visiting Lenalee at the shrine."
The guard didn't respond at first, the silence stretching on for several seconds, so unlike the other's normal clipped responses that left so little time from when the words would leave his own lips. Allen looked back over his shoulder, just catching the way hazel eyes had narrowed to little more than slits that would almost surely have seared into his back were he not used to the scrutinizing gaze.
"I see…" he relented at last, his voice carrying a distinctive note of suspicion that almost made a spark of dread flow down the young prince's spine. "Well then, I hope you and she had a lovely visit."
"We did, thank you. Now, if you don't mind my asking, why were you waiting for me?"
Link gave a curt nod, folding his arms behind his back, "Your uncle wishes to see you. He has something to speak with you about."
"Is that so?" Allen asked, brow furrowing slightly in thought, "I thought he had an important meeting with Master Cross."
"I believe that pertains to what he wishes to speak with you about."
"I see… and when does he wish to see me?"
"He's waiting in the dining hall with the general as we speak."
Allen gave a curt nod, grateful for the change of subject. "And have you any information as to what he wishes to see me about?"
"None, I'm afraid. But I believe it has something to do with the plans for the coming Solstice."
A slight frown came to the white-haired's lips. "I was under the impression that those plans had already been made."
"They had been. But after the ambush and the run in with Prince Kanda at the border I am afraid there is just cause for them to be reevaluated, especially with it being their turn to host."
It was hard to miss the note of bitterness that laced the guard's normally professional tone at the mention of them. Such things had become truly customary among his people, the hatred for those of darkness and fire something that had become so inherent in nature that it almost made Allen sigh out in despair.
There were old stories of the two sides living together, each living under their mutual deities, one in the shadows cast by the sun, the other in the celestial rays of the moon, but it was so long ago, Allen had begun to wonder if such a time had ever truly existed or if it had just been a tail devised to provide some hope for an end to the seemingly unrelenting war between the two clans
"They will not try anything, Link."
"With all due respect young master, I find that difficult to believe."
"You have too little faith in them."
"And you have too much. Might I ask where this is coming from all of a sudden?"
Allen pursed his lips, keeping his gaze turned straight ahead as he made his way towards the dining hall. "If we have no faith in them, they will have no faith in us and without faith, peace can never be achieved." He stated after several moments of silence. "And seeing as I am the heir to the throne, it is my job to try and find a way to one day achieve a peaceful future for my people. Is it not?"
"Indeed, I suppose it is…" A soft sound of amusement escaped the blonde's throat, a small smile tugging at his lips. "You will make a fine king one day, Master Walker, assuming you can remember where your loyalties lie."
Allen froze midstride, and Link continued on, not seeming to notice as the young prince fell behind. He paused a few moments later, looking back over his shoulder, that now familiar gleam of suspicion clear in his gaze. "Master Walker? Is there something wrong?"
Allen took a deep breath, quickly regaining his composure. Silver eyes colder than the ice on his skin locked on Link. "Are you questioning my loyalty, Link?" He asked, his voice deceptively calm, even as it range with the smallest trace of well concealed menace.
The blonde blinked a moment in mild surprise before turning and facing the prince, giving him a small bow. "Of course not, young lord. It was simply a slip of the tongue, I meant nothing by it. My apologies."
A curt nod was his only reply as he began walking once again, barely glancing at link out of the corner of his eye as he passed. Several minutes passed as Link followed him close behind, the charged silence that seemed to have descended after their previous exchange tingling with tension and static, and bit by bit Allen felt it getting to him.
He could feel Link's over-observant gaze boring into his back, and he couldn't seem to stop his mind from wandering to thoughts of how much Link could possibly know. He was always careful on the nights when he snuck out, watching, listening, taking every precaution he could to make sure they weren't caught, knowing full well that if they were, his life wouldn't be the only one on the line.
There was simply no way he could know… was there? He knew that Link was suspicious at the very least, but… was it possible he knew everything already? And if not yet… what would happen if he found out?
Despite the hectic and potentially destructive path his thoughts had taken he remained composed, showing no signs of the mayhem that raged within, beneath the icy exterior.
His heels clicked against the stone floor as he turned the corner, the sound too loud and almost defining to his ears as he approached the large oak door and pushed it open, eyes instantly wandering up the length of the long narrow table that remained mostly bare, but for the gold trimmed white cloth and the assortment of documents, quills, and other miscellaneous objects that cluttered one end, alongside the bottle of fine wine and crystal glass perched atop an ancient looking atlas.
Two figures sat among the clutter at the head of the table, one lithe in build with silver crown perched atop a mop of unkempt black hair. There was tiredness in his eyes, the evidence clear in the bags that had begun to form beneath them. The other was burlier in build, a thick main of red hair framing his face and hanging to near the center of his back, matching the short beard present on his chin. Half of his face lay hidden behind a mask, leaving only one bored green eye visible, the single emerald orb wandering to the young prince as he entered the hall before turning back to the document in his hand less than a moment later in apparent disinterest.
Allen wasn't sure if he was insulted or relieved.
"Allen, we were waiting for you," The king said, drawing the whitette's attention from his former teacher to his beloved uncle, a warm smile soon breaking out across his features.
"Hello Uncle. I apologize if I kept you waiting long."
"Not at all, not at all," Neah smiled warmly, standing from his chair at the head of the table and coming over to wrap one arm around the princeling's shoulders, guiding him to the seat opposite the red-headed general before returning to his own. "It gave General Cross and I a bit of time to discuss things."
"Oh? What sort of things?" Allen inquired, unhooking the pendent at his throat and removing his cloak, draping it over the back of the chair before taking a seat, his eyes barely flickering to where Link now stood, silent and stiff, beside the doors, before he turned his attention to the two men before him.
"Well, as you know the Solstice is in a few days' time and, well… We have something we wish to ask of you…"
Allen's brow furrowed slightly at the hesitance in the king's tone, the uncertainty quickly making him feel somewhat uneasy. "Uncle? What is it?"
"Well, Allen, you see…"
"Would you get on with it Neah. You know you can only keep an idiot's attention for so long. Especially this ones."
Silver eyes snapped to the general in an agitated glare, pale, frost coated lips parting to counter before Neah cleared his throat, sharp golden gaze cutting to the whitette for a mere fraction of a moment, easily silencing him before even a single sound had a chance to escape.
His eyes softened a fraction as Allen huffed and sat back in his seat, arms crossed over his chest, before honey orbs shifted to the general. "Very well then, Cross, would you care to enlighten my nephew, seeing as you seem to be in such a hurry?"
The general gave a gruff sound of annoyed confirmation, lowering his feet from atop the table and smashing out the end of his cigarette before turning his attention to the pale prince. "You already know what the Solstice is, don't you?"
"Of course. It's an event that occurs twice a year where day and night are both equal in length."
Cross gave a small nod, folding his hands and resting them on the table, keeping his visible eye locked on the young man sitting across from him. "It is. It is a day when the sun and moon hold equal rule. And do you know what happens during the solstice?"
"I'm not a child, Master." Allen pointed out, leaning back in his seat and resting his head against once hand, making himself comfortable.
"That isn't what I asked though, is it?"
Allen sighed, looking away in mild agitation. "During a solstice we, as well as the dark clan, are left unable to bend our elements to our will. Because it's a time when neither clan is capable of using their elements to harm the other, it is the one occasion during which we meet under a banner of peace."
"I don't quite see what this has to do with me though…"
"Well," Allen turned his attention back to his uncle, "As you know it's required that at least one member of the Royal family travel to the other's land on such occasions and... well..."
"Your uncle and I are afraid that they may be planning something, whether here or in their lands we aren't sure, but either way... As King, his place is where he can protect his people if there is indeed going to be trouble so... we would like you to go for the solstice in his place."
Alen blinked a few times in evident surprise, gaze shifting between the two as though waiting for one to contradict the words that had just been spoken. "Y... you want me to go? But it's the king's place to-"
"Indeed it is usually the king who makes the trip," Neah said, softly reaching out to take hold of a seemingly forgotten wine bottle resting amongst the scattered documents, books, and yellowed maps that were scattered atop the table, and pouring a bit in his glass. "But tradition doesn't demand that it be him. The only thing tradition demands is that it be someone who carries royal blood in their veins. And as the prince and heir to the throne, you more than meet the qualifications."
Neah gave him a warm smile before lifting the glass to his lips and taking a small sip of the deep burgundy liquid, before setting it aside. "What do you say, dear nephew? Will you be my substitute this time around?"
Allen hesitated a moment, considering. He had never been beyond their lands' borders before, at least not that he could recall, but he'd always wished to see more of the world beyond the realm of light and snow, but was this really the best way to go about it...?
"Wont their king be angered if you don't go yourself? I mean, I don't think it's a good idea to antagonize him any more than necessary..."
"As far as Hideyoshi's concerned it doesn't matter if it's the king of our clan or one of our filthiest mules," Cross scoffed gruffly, taking a large swig from his glass before turning his attention to one of the maps, expression one of obvious boredom as though he'd long ago lost interest in the current conversation. Which, knowing him, he probably had... how that man became head general, Allen would never understand.
A small laugh escaped Neah's lips as he lounged back in his chair a bemused smile present on his lips, "Now Cross, you should show a bit of respect. He is still a king after all."
"So are you. Doesn't make you any less of an idiot. Won't make the brat any less of one either when it's his turn."
Allen gave the general a sharp glare, once again opening his mouth to retort, only to be silenced by his uncle's intervention. "I believe we're getting off topic here." He turned to Allen, golden eyes warm, "So. How about it, Allen? You don't have to go if you do not wish to."
Allen dropped his gaze for a few moments. A chance to leave, to see something beyond their boarders as well as... an image from a mere hour before flashed in his mind's eye, the image of dark hair and a retreating shadow vanishing into the treeline on the opposite end, and with that his mind was made. He turned his gaze back to his uncle, a small smile tugging at his lips as he gave a slight nod. "I'll go."
Neah's smile widened a bit, one hand moving to rest on the prince's shoulder. "Thank you, Allen. I knew I could count on you."
Allen's smile widened a bit at his uncle's praise as he stood from his seat, giving the king a respectful nod. "Was there anything else you wanted me for uncle or am I permitted to take my leave?"
"Ah! Of course. I almost forgot the hour. You may leave. We'll discuss the arrangements for your departure and everything in the morning."
"Thank you, Uncle. I'll see you then. Goodnight." He turned his gaze to the general, the red-head raising one eyebrow as though waiting to be addressed as the whitette's expression fell slightly. "Goodnight Master."
He scoffed softly, dropping his gaze from the prince's. "Try not to get lost on your way back to your room."
"I hope you have a hangover in the morning..." Allen grumbled quietly as he turned and began walking away, only half hoping the general hadn't heard. He heard a soft choking sound from his uncle, and an annoyed grunt from the red head and felt a satisfied smirk tug at his lips. He didn't pause as he reached the door and pushed it open, barely glancing at Link out of the corner of his eye as he passed, only to find narrowed hazel orbs locked firmly on him. He was careful to keep his features blank, to keep the small spark of mild fear from flashing in his eyes, before turning his gaze forward once more, showing no sign of the cautious curiosity and small twinge of fear that shot down his spine at that knowing gaze.
The doors closed behind him with a muted clap, and Allen began walking, troubled silver eyes remaining locked on the floor as he made his way down the twisting corridors, and familiar passages. Even with his sense of direction, this was one place he rarely get lost in, and even if he found himself in the wrong room, he could always find his way back, so he wasn't afraid of letting his mind wander as he walked. Besides, even if he did, he had a feeling it would anyway, the nagging question pecking at the back of his head, as insistent as a woodpecker with his secret love's stupid pride.
Was it possible that Link knew about...?
No. He couldn't. He was always careful when he fled the palace walls, was always sure to make sure he wasn't being followed and that the frost left in his wake was left undisturbed when he would return. There was no way Link could possibly know about his secret rendezvous with Kanda at the boarder between their lands. There just wasn't any way, but then... how much did he suspect?
So lost in his own mind and the whirring torrent of questions unanswered, Allen didn't hear the soft footfalls nearing him, or register the soft humming until he walked right into the one making such sounds. A surprised cry escaped the girl's throat, the scrolls and books she was carrying falling from her grasp and landing on the ground with sounds too loud in the quiet corridors.
Allen blinked a few times, a startled sound escaping his throat as the dark haired girl began falling backwards, violet eyes wide, He reached out, closing one hand around one thin wrist and pulling her up before she hit the ground, only to stumble back a couple steps, one arm wrapping around her shoulder on reflex as she collided with his chest.
He blinked down at her, silver eyes meeting surprised violet for a few moments before a warm smile tugged at his lips.
"Hello Lenalee. Fancy running into you here." He laughed quietly, though the amusement didn't quite reach his eyes. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Thank you, young lord," she replied, giving him a warm smile in return as she pulled away from him. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
A slight frown tugged at Allen's lips as he watched the girl shift her gown and kneel down to begin gathering the scrolls and books that had fallen from her grasp. Giving a small sigh, he kneeled down in front of her, eyes softening as he gave a small smile and began helping her gather her fallen cargo. "How many times do I have to tell you, Lenalee? It's Allen."
Young lord, Master Walker, your highness, they were all things the prince was used to being called by the people around him ever since he was a child, but, when it came to those precious to him, he found the formality unnecessary. Especially where Lenalee was concerned. The young woman had been his best friend ever since they were children, almost like a sister, so he saw no point in her being so formal.
She hadn't always been, had once been one to call him 'Allen' and reprimand him, berate him without hesitation and, if he were being honest he kind of missed such days. But,he supposed it was only natural that things had changed. Lenalee was no longer just his friend, after all, but a Maiden at the moon's shrine, even if that was one thought that never failed to make a small stab of guilt go through his heart.
She blinked at him a moment before her lips quirked upwards in a small smile. "Alright. Allen."
Allen's smile widened a fraction, clearly pleased at being called by name before he dropped his gaze, beginning to gather some of the scrolls and books that had fallen to the ground. When he had the remaining items gathered into a small pile, he scooped them up into his arms, pushing himself to his feet. Lenalee balanced her load precariously in one arm, reaching out with the other in an attempt to take the pile from Allen's own, only for the prince to turn away, pulling his stack from the young woman's arms. "Let me."
The maiden blinked a moment, a soft smile tugging at her lips as she pulled her arm away, folding it around the other to secure her own load. "Alright."
"Where were you heading?"
"The library. I need to return these for Mistress Anita and pick up a few other things for her."
Giving a small nod, Allen turned around, walking back the way he came.
Both were silent as the wandered the halls, the only sound that of the soft clicking of Lenalee's heels and Allen's boots on the frost coated ground, and it wasn't long before Allen's thoughts began to stray once more, silver eyes falling to the floor as his previous train of thought returned, his movements becoming almost automatic as he followed the shrine maiden down the corridors, not fully paying attention to where they were going.
Allen looked up at the sound of lenalee's voice, just in time to see the young woman turn and disappear beneath the tall arch way that served as the library's entrance. Picking up his pace a bit, not quite sure when he'd fallen behind, he entered a moment later, silver eyes quickly scanning the rows of shelves in search of the dark haired girl, barely catching sight of her as she disappeared between two shelves and quickly making his way after her. They continued on through the seemingly endless labyrinth of shelves for a time before the maiden finally reached the shelf she sought and knealed down, beginning to place the books in their proper places, Allen watching with evident interest as she went about it with far more ease than he would have thought possible for one who didn't work here.
"How do you remember where everything goes?" He asked, setting his pile down and taking a seat beside the young woman, leaning back against the shelf and staring upwards, a small smile forming on his lips as he watched the stars through the glass dome that served as the library's ceiling. He'd never spent much time in the library as a child, and that was one thing that hadn't changed with the years, so he doubted he could tell anyone where even the simplest thing was.
"I'm in here pretty much every day since I became a maiden at the shrine, so I guess I've just gotten to know my way around." Lenalee answered, a small smile tugging at her lips as she slid one scroll into it's compartment. They were silent for a few moments, the only sound that of Lenalee's work as she took care to make sure each book and scroll was put into its rightful place, untill she saw fit to break it with a soft call of the other's name.
He blinked a moment before turning silver eyes on her, a curious glint clear in his eyes. "Yeah?"
"What are you doing here?" she asked, turning worried violet eyes to him, concern clear in his voice.
His brow furrowed in mild confusion, head tilting ever so slightly. "What do you mean?"
"It's the first night of the full moon," She said, her voice dropping a bit to be sure that no one else would overhear her next words, "Aren't you usually with Kanda? Did something happen?"
"Ah..." Allen muttered, understanding entering his eyes as he slumped back against the shelf, eyes once again turning upwards. "We... thought it'd be best I return early this time around..." He said softly, letting his eyes fall closed.
"I see..." Lenalee murmured, her expression softening as she slipped the last book into place, before shifting to sit at Allen's side, puller her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. She didn't say anything more, and in a way Allen was grateful for it. There wasn't much that could be said, so anything she might say may only prove to sound false even to his ears at the moment. Lenalee was the only one who knew of his secret meetings with the should-be-enemy, the only one he'd trusted enough to let learn of his meetings, even if the reason behind them had been a lie at first.
It wasn't that he hadn't trusted her, he just hadn't been sure of whether or not it would be worth telling her of his true intentions with the meetings when he wasn't quite sure they'd last and what was behind them, not when he and Kanda had still been at each other's throats for a time at every meeting, only for their frustration at being in the other's presence to fade to nothing but a memory as that strange feeling enveloped them with even the simplest of touches. He'd known, even back then that whatever it was that made him feel the way he did in the ravenette's presence couldn't be good, but he'd never imagined it could be something so horrible as him slowly but surly falling in love with the one he should have hated, despised, and cursed to his very core but... even if he had known... known how much trouble those meetings would cause, how much danger it would put them both in... would he have stopped them when he still had the chance?
Should he stop them now, before Link found out and put an end to both their lives?
Could he, even if he wanted to, let alone when it was the last thing he wanted?
He sighed once more, eyes opening a bit to glance upwards once more. "Lenalee? Do you think... That I should call things off?" His voice was soft, low and uncertain.
She glanced at him, her expression softening a bit more, much like if she were speaking to a small child as one small fingered hand moved to rest atop one of Allen's own. "Do you think you should?" She asked softly.
He bowed his head, letting his gaze fall to the floor for a time as he considered.
He let out a shuddering sigh, brow furrowing ever so slightly as he gave a slow shake of his head. "Yes... No... I don't know... I know it's what would be best for everyone and I know... continuing would only be a mistake but..."
A small giggle passed lenalee's lips, as she shifted to sit in front of him rather than at his side. He blinked a moment as she met his gaze, soft violet locking with troubled silver as her free hand lifted to rest lightly against the young prince's chest, over where his heart beat. "You're thinking to much about this, Allen," She said softly, "You're mind isn't what matters in this situation, your thoughts are inconsequential, they can't tell you whether this is right or wrong, or whether or not you should stop seeing him, nor can anyone else. The only thing that can tell you that... is your heart."
"Then how do I tell what my heart has to say when my mind is the only thing I can hear?"
"Answer me this. Do you regret ever meeting him?"
Allen simply stared at her a moment before slowly shaking his head once more. "No."
"Do you regret any of your meetings since?"
He shook his head once more. "No."
"Are you happy when you're with him? Content?"
"Do you Love him?"
He was quiet for a moment and he averted his gaze, brow furrowing farther as he considered her question, but it wasn't long before his expression smoothed and softened, a small smile forming on his lips, a foreign entering his eyes as he thought of those dark eyes and silken locks, those soft lips and that sollid form. "Yes..."
Lenalee's smile almost rivaled the warmth of Kanda's flesh as she gave a single nod and got to her feet, holding out one hand to help him to his feet as well. "Well then, I think that's your answer. It doesn't matter how other's feel about it, Allen, or what they would think if they knew. So long as you're happy, so long as your with the one you love... well, that's all that matters."
Allen's smile widened a fraction as he took her hand and got to his feet. It was times like these that he felt both blessed to have a friend as amazing as her, but with it also came that small nagging guilt over the fact that he couldn't love her, not like his family and hers had once hoped. Maybe if he hadn't met Kanda...
"Thank you, Lenalee."
"No need to thank me. You knew the answer all along... you just needed someone to make you see it for yourself."
She pulled her hand away as Allen released it, moving to straighten the folds of her dress before standing straight and giving an apologetic smile. "I should be going. Mistress Anita will be waiting for me."
Allen gave a small nod, smile widening a fraction. "Alright. I won't keep you."
With that, Lenalee turned and began walking away, only to pause before she even reached the end of the row they'd been sitting in. "Oh, I almost forgot, Link came to the shrine looking for you earlier," She began, and Allen tensed in an instant.
He'd... He'd gone to the shrine?
"What'd you tell him?" He asked quickly, already feeling a small sliver of dread rush down his spine.
"I said that I hadn't seen you but you'd probably gone riding to clear your head..." He expression shifted, a slight frown forming on her lips as her brow furrowed ever so slightly, concern showing clear in her gaze, "You should be careful Allen... I think he's starting to suspect something's amiss."
'I don't just think it, I know he is...'
"Don't worry, Lenalee. I'll be careful." He gave her a small smile, the expression forced and false as he tried to fight back the dread that only seemed to grow stronger the more he thought about it, but, thankfully the facade seemed to fool her, much to the young prince's relief. The last thing he wanted was to make her worry any more for his sake.
Lenalee gave a small nod before turning away and disappearing among the shelves once more, leaving Allen with only his racing thoughts and the countless books and scrolls to keep him company.