“Sir!” Heivel called from outside. “There’s a Noxian here to see you! Shall I let her in?”
Garen opened the door, seeing Katarina standing before a group of guards who were eyeing her warily. Katarina was shocked at his appearance. It was clear that he hadn’t been sleeping, or shaving judging from the stubble on his face.
“You’re not one of my regular detail.” Garen said.
“No, sir!” The guard replied, apparently taking Garen’s statement as a question.
“Then you are not aware of my standing orders in this situation. This is not ‘a Noxian.’ This is Lady Katarina Du Couteau, and she is to be shown the respect due her station. While guests of the King all members of the Noxian Delegation are to be treated with respect and hospitality. Clear?”
“Yes sir!” The red-faced guard saluted, as Garen stood aside to allow Katarina to enter.
Once inside, Katarina let out a long breath she hadn’t known she was holding. She’d been afraid Garen would refuse to see her after witnessing Cassie’s artfully blistering tirade in the King’s court. She turned and was shocked again to see Garen wordlessly sit heavily in the chair of his entertaining room. The silence stretched out uncomfortably before he spoke.
“Have you come to tell me how much you hate me?” He asked.
“What?” Katarina replied, suddenly wrong-footed.
“I failed you Kat. And I have failed my King and country. Those were my men protecting your uncle.” Garen passed a weary hand over his face, and then brushed his hair back. Everything clicked into place for Katarina.
“Surely you don’t blame yourself for my uncle’s death?” She asked. “You weren’t there. You couldn’t have known there was danger. In Noxus we are called to account only for our own mistakes, Garen, and woe to any who would seek to punish us for another’s deeds.” Katarina crossed the room and sat next to him.
“I refuse to believe that your King holds you accountable, for all the talk of Demacian Justice and Demacian Honor.” She said.
“Indeed, he does not.” Garen replied. “But upon whom else can the fault lie? I trained those men. I assigned their posts. I should have placed more guards. It was I who gave chase to that assassin in the park that day, and conscripted those men to follow me. I should have seen it for the trick that it was.”
“Oh, Garen, you oaf.” Katarina replied, exasperated. “There is nothing anyone could have done.”
“How can you know that?” Garen asked. Katarina met his gaze and felt her mask slip into place too late.
“You know something.” It wasn’t a question. “Your sister is calling for an investigation. You must know that we had nothing to do with this.” Garen said, now somewhat suspiciously.
“Yes, Garen.” Katarina replied quietly. “I know.”
“Then come with me! We’ll go and speak with Xin Zhao! He is leading the investigation!” Garen leapt to his feet and reached for Katarina’s hand.
“No.” She said, gazing at the floor. Not moving.
“But why?” Garen asked, confused.
“Garen.” Katarina said, “We are leaving tomorrow. We’re going back to Noxus. Next time we meet, we will be enemies. Garen paused, and let his hand drop to his side.
“I was hoping you would stay.” He said.
"I was hoping you would come with me.” She replied.
“I don’t understand, Kat.” Garen said. “Stay here! Demacia is everything a nation should be! Here you can live the life you deserve! You can serve a nation that is a force for good in the world!”
“No, Garen. Demacia is a tyranny.” She sighed. “Your people have enslaved themselves to an ideal, and are punished for any free thought or deviance from your doctrine. You think that we in Noxus are monsters… but what we actually are is free. I had hoped that I could show you that before I had to leave.”
“How can you say that?” Garen demanded. “The people of Noxus are oppressed and disadvantaged. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak!”
“On that we agree!” Kat replied hotly. “Where our opinions differ is when we reach the duty of the weak! The strong protect the weak. The strong bring order and law! And in return the weak owe the strong… everything!” Katarina stood and began pacing the bare floor.
“The might of Noxus carried our nation safely out of the dark times. The might of Noxus protects our nation still! If the mighty make demands of the meek, then those who live under our protection must pay their debt, and gladly!”
“Pay their debt? Kat, how can you describe Demacian unity as slavery, but not see it in your own nation?” Garen shook his head.
“Because Noxians are not slaves, Garen. They are free! If they seek higher station, or greater glory, or – or more power and wealth then all they have to do is take it! Don’t you see? Noxus is a perfect meritocracy! Noxus rewards those who are exceptional.”
“Might makes right. You deserve to keep whatever you can take and hold. That’s the Noxian way.” Garen said, disapprovingly. “But there is not room at the top for everyone. Look how you treat your commoners.”
“What do you know about how we treat our commoners?” Kat said. “They know their place and are treated well for their loyalty and respect.”
“And those who fail to show the proper respect?” Garen pressed.
“Better be able to demonstrate just how exceptional they are.” Katarina replied. “The more powerful each Noxian becomes the more successful our nation is, and the greater all Noxians profit from their might. The best way for me to serve Noxus and its people is to become as powerful as possible.”
“The best way for me to serve Demacia is to serve the people, to give them peace, and to show the world that our way, the Demacian way, is the right way.”
They stared at each other for long minutes as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Finally, Katarina stood and placed a gentle hand upon his rough cheek.
“Goodbye, Garen.” She said.
The door clicked softly behind her as she strode past Garen’s Honor Guard. For some reason her vision was too blurry to read their expressions… but their salutes were crisp enough. They would never embarrass their Captain with less than perfection.
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