"Have you seen Prince Jarvan?" Garen asked an attendant he had seized in the corridor. One o'clock was fast approaching and he had yet to see the prince in the main hall.
"His majesty in his study," the disgruntled man replied. "He asked that no one disturb him before the conference."
The commander sighed and released the attendant, who rushed away into the conference room. He wasn't sure why he was surprised at Jarvan waiting until the last second to appear; he did like being fussed over. If that was the case, Garen thought as he stomped to his friend's study, he would give him a fuss.
The commander did not knock, simply flinging the heavy door open, shouting, "I'm not going to let you be late to your own meeting!"
He wasn't sure who was the most surprised at his abrupt entrance, himself, Jarvan, or Shyvana, whom the prince had pinned rather suggestively against the wall of the study.
Without a second thought Garen backed out and slammed the door behind him, calling out steadily, "Don't make everyone wait!" and quickly pacing back to the main hall. Well that was unexpected. He only waited a minute in the hall before Jarvan walked in calmly, followed by an angry looking Shyvana, who both approached the grinning commander.
"Has Katarina shown up?" Jarvan inquired in a low voice. Shyvana merely glared.
Garen shook his head in the negative, adding, "She said she would come though."
"I hope so," the prince murmured before walking before the crowd of officials assembled in the hall.
"If you say anything, I will personally end you," the Half-Dragon threatened under her breath, her furious gaze never wavering from his.
Garen smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, stating quietly, "I'm glad for you," before moving to stand behind his friend. He saw Shyvana nod slowly and join the Elite Guard and Dauntless Vanguard on the fringe of the room.
Still no sign of Katarina.
The clock chimed once and Jarvan stepped forward, stating in a booming voice, "Representatives of the Institute of War and citizens of Demacia, I have come forward today with grave news..."
Suddenly, Garen caught a glimpse of red and black, and Jarvan was interrupted by a shrill scream from the assembly, as Katarina flash-stepped to his side, muttering to Garen, "Sorry I'm late."
Movement from behind alerted the commander to the movement of the Vanguard as they rushed toward the assassin with cries of "Demacia!" Without hesitation Garen pulled his sword from his side and blocked a strike from his first captain, who stepped back in surprise.
Jarvan's voice carried throughout the hall and brought a stunned silence in its wake as he walked deliberately over to the assassin and shook her hand. The Vanguard and the Elite Guard still hovered around Jarvan, Garen, and Katarina, weapons drawn.
"Miss DuCouteau has been of great assistance in the collection of the information I am about to present to you. I requested her presence here to show that situation is grave enough to warrant cooperation between Demacia and Noxus. Stand down."
Katarina smirked thinly and waved her hand at the disgruntled Demacian soldiers, who had no choice but to follow orders and retreat to their positions in room. Jarvan IV shot a glance at his father, who nodded for him to continue.
As the prince explained the evidence against the Institute of War, Garen, without breaking eye contact with the crowd, whispered to Katarina, "How's the hangover?"
"Kill me now," she replied likewise. It was all he could do to keep from laughing.
They stood in silence for the remainder of Jarvan's address, until he opened the floor. With good reason, the representatives of the Institute were shocked and doubtful, but Katarina and Jarvan thoroughly answered each of their attacking questions.
It was well over an hour before the conference settled and the crowd dispersed, the Institute representatives rushing to leave Demacia and return to the League to begin an investigation into Heywan Relivash. The three champions sighed in relief and Jarvan quickly excused himself to his father's side, leaving Garen to deal with Katarina and the Vanguard.
"I don't want to protect some Noxian *****," one of his soldier's spat, earning cheers from the other members of the Vanguard.
Garen could see the muscles in Katarina's jaw clench and her fingers stray to her daggers as she hissed, "Like I need your protection!"
The commander quickly intervened, moving to stand between the assassin and his soldiers. "I don't care what you want!" he barked. "Prince Jarvan ordered Miss DuCouteau under our protection should she need it, and we follow orders!"
"Doesn't it bother you, sir?" another soldier questioned as he glared at Katarina.
The commander rounded on the soldier who spoke, one of the youngest soldiers in the Vanguard. "What bothers me, is that all of you want to go against orders! Now, if anyone else has complaints they can take it straight to Jarvan! Understood?" No one said anything, but the mistrust and hatred was still plainly on their faces.
"You're all dismissed!" the commander ordered, sending the grumbling Vanguard back to their scheduled duties.
Katarina whirled on Garen as soon as the soldiers were out of sight. "Babysitters? Are you kidding me? **** that!"
The Demacian sighed, "You don't have to stay here if you don't want. It's just if you want to walk around, someone from the Vanguard will have to be with you."
"That's worse off than before!" she exclaimed, tapping her foot in irritation. "As soon as I can leave, I'm out. Talon!" Garen was confused as to why she suddenly shouted the name of the assassin when he heard faint footsteps behind him.
"What do you want?" the cloaked man replied, idly flexing his wrist which had a long blade mounted on top of it.
"How long have you been here?" Garen frowned. Damn assassins. Talon ignored the Demacian, not even looking away from Katarina to acknowledge that he'd spoken.
"Relivash must know something about where Father is and I have a feeling he's not going to go down quietly. My guess is he'll try and run to Noxus and the Black Rose." Katarina's tone turned a little despairing when Talon's impassive face did not change. "Please...if they try and get into Noxus, will you stop them?"
There was tense moment where he said nothing, casually inspecting his weapon, but finally his brusque voice answered, "You know, Swain returned to the High Command. Got a lot of support." His mouth twitched into a frown. "After this little show, it's gonna be very hard to be a DuCouteau in Noxus."
Katarina cursed. "Will you be able to stay in the city? Can you see that Cass leaves?"
A wicked grin spread across his face and he flicked his wrist excitedly. "Everyone knows not to cross blades with me. I'll keep an eye out for Relivash and your sister," he stated and vanished from sight.
Garen crossed his arms and Katarina let out the breath she'd been holding. "I wonder when my luck with that one will run out," she brooded, moving to leave the hall.
"What do you mean? I thought you were like siblings?" Garen inquired. He knew nothing about Talon, but had assumed that he and Katarina worked well together.
"It's just...he's only loyal to my father. Father wanted us to consider him like family, but it's never really been like that. I think he's only helping me since it happens to coincide with his goals." Katarina glanced back over her shoulder to where the other assassin had been, as if making sure he hadn't reappeared. "So I wonder if his loyalty extends to me and Cass, and if it doesn't, what he'll do when he doesn't need me anymore."
"He won't do anything," Garen assured, although he had the same uneasy feeling about Talon any time his name was mentioned. Katarina nodded but was not comforted; they might be better fighters, but that didn't mean anything when the assassin could simply slit their throats while they slept.
"So...what now?" Katarina questioned as they walked out into the streets of Demacia.
Garen paused, running a hand through his hair. "I don't know," he admitted. "We need to do some research on LeBlanc, but I don't know if we should wait until after Relivash's investigation or not."
"Well, the sooner the better, right? Maybe she'll be weaker now with a big chunk of her network taken out," the Noxian suggested hopefully.
"Sounds reasonable," Garen mused. "Then, do you want to leave for the League tomorrow? We can look into the League Judgements and see if there's anything useful in the archives."
She nodded in agreement, then changed the subject, a sly smile on her face. "So, now that I can be out in public, you gonna show me around?"
Garen felt increasingly light-headed as the day progressed. The longer he thought about it, the faster his heart beat and the weaker his knees got, until by the time the sun was setting, he was sure he must be having a very slow heart attack.
He could justify to himself that spending the day with her was within the realm of his duty; she was under Vanguard protection, he hadn't come up with a guard rotation, and they couldn't just let a Noxian run around Demacia unescorted.
What he couldn't wrap his mind around was why she wanted to go out in the first place. They had literally walked through the majority of the capital city, earning many shocked looks, glares, and whispers, but she seemed to brush them off easily. Nothing had changed in her personality either, evident in the sarcasm and her teasing jabs she easily threw at and exchanged with him.
But then she had forced him to buy her lunch, declaring that she hadn't been able to eat earlier for puking, and his mind started racing. If he tilted his head and squinted, it almost seemed like... a date. He tried to shake the idea off as he paid for the food, but the thought was planted and would not die.
After eating they walked through the market, exchanging stories about their childhoods, and Garen wondered if she had intended it to be a date. Her words yesterday rang out in his mind: Is it a mistake if no one ever finds out? The Demacian swallowed nervously, allowing himself to pretend for a moment that her words then and her actions now were related. Maybe she knew the circumstances of the morning were the perfect cover for them to go out; on the other hand, maybe she was just bored. He was going to go crazy.
The sun had begun to set when she demanded that he take her to the pier, and it was the last mental straw for the poor commander.
"Why are we doing this?"
Katarina, placed her hands over her hips and stared out across the water, which had a beautiful orange glow from the sun. "Because I've never gone anywhere in this city. It's always to the castle and back to the inn, or your house. Besides, if I...can't go back to Noxus for a bit, I might as well make the best of it."
Garen cleared his throat and tried again. "But why the... dinner, and the pier..." he trailed off, feeling completely ridiculous, and added quickly, "Nevermind."
The colors of the sky made it difficult to tell, but he thought her face looked a little pink. "I'm sure you owe me for something," she offered weakly.
A smile worked its way onto Garen's worried face and he laughed, "Yeah, probably." The tension in his stomach dissipated somewhat and, for a minute, he was content in the comfortable silence that rested between them as they took in the sunset.
Garen flicked his eyes from the ocean to the woman beside him, and that simple act was his undoing. She looked absolutely radiant, and it wasn't even the proverbial fire the sun had sparked in her eyes, or the soft, pink glow of her skin that struck him; what had him floored, was the calm way in which he realized that he could happily spend every evening until he died, watching the sun set on her face. A wave of longing crashed over the commander so heavy he couldn't help but think, what if...
Katarina turned and met his intense gaze with a gentle smirk. "If you're gonna say something, then say it. Hesitation is for idiots."
Her prompting was just enough to push him, and he was sure his heart was going to explode out of his chest as he opened his mouth to voice what he felt were the most insane words he'd ever spoken.
"I have to go back to the castle to tell Jarvan that we are going to the League tomorrow," he began slowly. She waited expectantly, an eyebrow raised, and he continued in a voice so soft he could scarcely hear himself over the sound of his blood pounding in his head, "But after that... I mean, you said yesterday that...you didn't like the inn you were staying at..."
He licked his dry lips and looked across the water, face burning for a reason other than the dying sunlight on his face. It couldn't have been more obvious, what he was trying to say, but Katarina let him struggle to get the message out.
"Would you come home with me?"
Garen could see a small grin on her face from the corner of his eye as she turned back toward the water too, whispering "I could do that."
It was dark as the pair made their way from the castle to the Crownguard manor. As Garen talked to Jarvan, Katarina had 'borrowed' a cloak from the storeroom, which now covered her face, but they stuck to the alleyways, just in case. They walked so closely together it was nearly impossible to see the commander's fingers tightly entwined with hers.
Garen dropped the keys on the back porch of the house but his shaky hands were able to finally get them in the lock. The door had only been shut a second before he pushed Katrina against it in a desperate kiss, returned with equal fervor.
His rough hands gripped the back of her neck and became tangled in her long, red hair and he tilted her head just enough for him to kiss her ear, down her jawline, her throat, to the hollow point between her collar bones. The sounds that left her lips when he pushed aside the collar of her jacket and left marks along her neck nearly drove him to madness, but he knew he couldn't stop.
All the while, her breathing grew heavier, more erratic, until finally she couldn't stand it; her breath was hot against his ear and her commanding voice had a note of urgency as she made her last demand.
"Sleep with me."
Garen paused, and disengaged his hands from her hair, placing them trembling against the door on either side of her face.
She hadn't expected him to question; how could she possibly tell him that he was the only reason she hadn't fallen apart completely? Even in light of all the recent downturn her life had taken, it all seemed manageable with him by her side. She wasn't sure when things changed, but he had somehow worked his way into her life and ripped out all the emotions she'd been burying inside her, making her feel more alive than any battle. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes; he'd made her life brighter, she could give him the truth.
"Because I made my choice, and it's you."
The tension that had built in his chest as he waited for her answer melted away and Garen let out a soft sigh. He hadn't realized how much he needed to hear those words; a smile lit his face.
Katarina DuCouteau and Garen Crownguard, were done with being perfect. If this was a mistake, it was one they were willing to make over and over again.
"Sleep with me," she said again, her voice less insistent but still unwavering.
He did not question a second time.
LeBlanc knew that with the investigation into the League's corruption, it was only a matter of time before Marcus's daughter and her Demacian lackeys began looking into her history, and the Deceiver was never unprepared. She had spies all over Valoran, Demacia being no exception, and she had sent them out to observe the three champions and report anything that could be useful to her in taking them out of the picture.
So when she learned that the Vanguard commander had been seen with the Noxian entering his home late at night, an idea began forming in her head, and she allowed herself a wicked smile as she recognized a perfect opportunity to ensure Demacia was too weak to oppose her.
She would only need to sow the seeds of doubt and the Demacians would rip themselves apart.
Gods, how she loved it when a plan fell into place.
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