Well! It took forever, but I've finally found some time to read this. Great job Kitty! To be honest, it took me a while to realize the war was over. Jeez, don't just stop the action. But I've got to say, I like this ending. Not to bright, only a sliver of hope. It shows the lives destroyed in a war. So great job on that.
2 things make me sad.
Cho'Gath dies ((
Kayle was probably the first champion I'd ever experienced/used, so she's special to me in a way that is different from Ashe. (Ashe was the first champion that fit my playing style, ADC)
Cho.... Well, he's the first champion that I'd heard of. (back then, I loathed league. Then I met the lore...) also the first champion that I bothered to learn the name of.
So. You've just killed two champions I hold dear to. What's next?
(tbh, you've killed so many of my champs :/ I should make a full list. Vayne, Shyvanna, Cassiopia to start :/)
Heh. I don't think I was gone nearly as long as you were XD
And also, was there really a meaning to Kayle and Morgana's fight? Because, yea, the fight between Nasus and Renecton was understandable, Nasus being a friend. But these two? It's like the just appeared for the fight and bleh.
Heh, something I forgot to mention. That scene where they were burning Cassiopia's body, Kat refers to her father as "daddy". I thought Kat and Garen had a little red headed girl. I was like wait what? When did we fast forward here? Had to read the paragraph like 3 times XD
Well, it also didn't seem right to write Kayle in as an ally, Morgana as an enemy, and then not have them fight since they're pretty much determined to kill each other... it's one of those things like if i had been writing a game of thrones type story i would have take a few chapters to build their characters and backstory and stuff before they fight but since that was unrealistic, I just had their fight. Plus if I had just been like and then Morgana walks in with Kayle's sword, I had a feeling people might have been like wtf?! lol
But like Nasus had a little bit more development throughout the story so I put more effort into writing them a fight and stuff.
Duly noted about the dad comment! I changed it to clarify
Updating for a supplemental one-shot written post story events! I wasn't sure I should make a whole new thread, so I'm just bumping.
Story can be found at http://www.fanfiction.net/s/9292081/1/Affirmation
Thank you to my awesome bf and my bff striddle for helping me puzzle this story out. I struggled with this A LOT at first. I had an idea but nothing was working out until they talked it out with me.
So anyway, this turned out to be a pretty serious short in contrast to Whiskey Dreams. I meant for it to be smut, but it just didn't feel quite right. Pretty much, what's been going on with Garen and Katarina after the events of The Only Truth? Not all stories are happily ever after; relationships are a lot of work, especially for a couple of emotionally constipated soldiers :P
Garen leaned against the balcony railing of the Demacian castle, looking out across the blue-tiled rooftops of the city. Below him were thousands of people he didn't know, each with their own lives, friends, jobs, and roles. Everyone in Demacia was moving with purpose except for him, a stagnant figure in the constant stream.
It wasn't just being a professional soldier during peacetime that was anchoring him in place; returning home after a five month exile and seeing that everything got along fine without him stung more than he cared to admit. He took the occasional odd job, but nothing was particularly fulfilling. And not only did the world turn without him, but he couldn't help in his former capacity if he tried. The point-blank spell he'd taken in the chest during the last Rune War left him with an irregular heartbeat; pushing himself too hard or too fast left him dizzy, breathless, and pained.
Clutching his chest, Garen inhaled the salty ocean air, held it until he was about to burst, then let it out with a yell.
"The hell is that all about?" a booming voice called out from behind him.
The soldier tensed instantly, a flush rising to his cheeks, and turned only to relax just as quickly. "Don't you have a meeting to be in or something, Jarvan?" he asked, shifting his gaze back to the skyline. He pulled his blue cape up over his chin as a gust of crisp winter air cut through the thin cloth of his white long-sleeved shirt.
"It's getting colder," Jarvan IV observed, ignoring his friend's question as he joined him against the rail. "Where's your armor?"
A scowl pulled at Garen's face, already lined around his eyes despite his twenty-nine years. "There's no point in wearing it," he muttered. "It just tires me out faster."
The new King of Demacia nodded, unaware that his own hands fiddled at the straps of his golden bracer. "To answer your question, no. No meetings for at least a few minutes," he informed. "So do you come yell out here often?"
This quiet balcony had always been Garen's private thinking spot as the Commander of the Dauntless Vanguard. Even if it was no longer his job, the view provided him some comfort. "No, I mean..." Jarvan wore and expectant expression as Garen struggled to find the words. How exactly did he go about explaining the tumult of emotions swirling in his chest when he could barely describe them himself? "I'm just here because Katarina's doing some things here for Commander Renault," he finally mumbled. "I just escorted her. People aren't exactly comfortable with her walking around."
Jarvan looked disappointed, then chuckled. "Can you blame them? She's still pretty intimidating."
Garen gave a noncommittal shrug in response, looking into his bare hands. He'd stopped wearing his armor a few weeks ago when he'd stopped sparring with Katarina. He knew she had restrained herself for him and quit early for him even when she needed the practice; it nearly killed him to give it up but the last thing he wanted was to bring her down. No armor and no fighting: Along with the simple silver band on his left hand, it still didn't feel right to him.
After a moment of painful silence passed, the King finally questioned, "What's up with you Garen? The past couple of months you've been really-" he paused, considering the word- "quiet," he decided. "More than normal."
A pang of guilt shot through the former Demacian commander, a feeling becoming as commonplace in his chest as his insubstantial heartbeat. Jarvan may be king but he'd lost far more than Garen ever had in the last Rune War: Shyvana, the woman he loved, had been cut down by the late Hand of Noxus; his own father, Jarvan III, he had to force into exile from the capital city.
And here he was, floundering in his own problems. A faulty heart seemed so trivial in comparison to the loss of a loved one and the weight of the kingdom; it didn't seem right that he would be stuck while Jarvan was carrying on.
So Garen forced a laugh, "It's just... really hard to adjust to continental peace as a soldier. Not a lot to do."
His friend heaved a sigh and clapped a gloved hand on Garen's shoulder. "That's for sure. You know, I'm sure Anders could have you do something with cadets. That would help out a lot." Jarvan looked hopeful and for that Garen was appreciative, though he doubted the feasibility of the suggestion. "Speaking of getting used to things," the King added with a pointed to look to the innocuous ring on Garen's finger. "What is that all about?"
Another stab of guilt pierced the soldier's stomach as he twisted the band around his finger; Katarina had surprised him with it shortly after their arrival in Demacia. "Don't get the wrong idea," she'd instructed with a mischievous smirk as she flashed him the identical one on her own finger. "I just don't want your mom trying to sell you away without a fight. Plus it makes things a lot less awkward for me!" He'd seen so little of her or her smile lately.
"It's just a security thing. We're not married or anything," he finally chuckled. "Trust me, you'd be the first to know."
"I should hope so," Jarvan countered with a grin on his face, though there was a familiar sadness in his tired gray-green eyes. The two men stood silent in the cold breeze a few moments longer before the King sighed, "I better get going before your sister comes looking for me. She's never on time for anything but insists that I be."
At that a wry smile twisted Garen's face. His prodigy sister, Jarvan's Chief Adviser. Not that that appointment had been a surprise to anyone; from what he understood, her tactical decision-making had been the main reason Demacia hadn't fallen into the chaos after the war. "She definitely knows how to make demands," the soldier admitted; he'd catered shamelessly to her every whim before her forced induction into the military at age thirteen.
As if on cue, a cheery voice called Jarvan's name, heralding Luxanna's entrance. "Finally Jarvan, I- Garen! I didn't recognize you for a sec there!"
"Your own brother, forgotten," he joked, earning a mocking pout from his sister.
"Yeah, well, I've seen you in roughly the same uniform for the last ten years give or take," she said, pulling at his sleeve. "This is like, completely foreign." Even she wore the standard battle-mage attire of truncated silver and gold plate and a fitted navy body suit. For the second time that day, Garen ached for the familiarity of his own armor.
Before he could reply, the blonde rounded on Jarvan, hands now on her hips. "You," she barked. "Council room in ten minutes. Detailed notes are on your study desk."
"Why do I have to be early?" he complained. "You're always late and I'm the King."
"Because I'm your Adviser and you know I have the best advice," she grinned. "Besides, I'll be entertaining the Noxian envoy. It's not like I'm slacking off." Defeated, Jarvan sighed a quick farewell to Garen and strode back through the glass doors.
"Oh and, Garen?" Lux said, pausing with a hand on the door. "Did you know I used to come out here when I was thinking about jumping?" Their matching eyes locked but this time there was no pretense of mirth. "Whatever you're thinking about, I'd hope that if you didn't tell me, you'd tell Katarina. She cares about you so much."
The soldier waved his hand, but he could no longer meet the intensity of her gaze. He didn't want to worry her, and he definitely didn't want to worry Kat, not when everything was going so well for her. "It's nothing like that," he murmured, looking out across the city.
Her expression was sympathetic but she could only spare him a quick hug before rushing from the balcony. Alone with his thoughts, all he could think was, it's a long way down.
Katarina looked over her trainee, a waif of a seven-year old, correcting the angle of her arm before saying, "Remember, if you're born to be a dancer, then combat can be a dance. People will always underestimate you, so you have to be faster and smarter than them. You're a dancer, so you already have that advantage." Wooden blades in her bare hands, the assassin leapt forward, pivoting in a single turn before she landed, a motion that slid her wooden daggers over the center of the straw post before she danced back to the girl. "Now you, Ali. Bend, turn, land, arms open third. The blades are your hands. If your form is right, the blades will hit."
The girl nodded, her blonde ponytail bobbing with her. The girl looked at the dummy, tentatively slid her foot a few times across the wooden floor, before launching into the same movement Katarina had just completed, her strikes hitting just below her mentor's. "I did it!" she squealed, rising and looking back to the red-head for approval.
"Of course you did," the Noxian smirked. "You're the best dancer."
"You're going to give my sister your over-inflated Noxian ego," a quiet masculine voice noted from behind the pair.
The red-head crossed her arms as both looked toward the source. At the door stood a tall, wiry man, clad in a sleeveless shirt and the familiar blue cape of the Dauntless Vanguard; despite his Demacian attire, he sported the crimson eyes, pale skin, and black hair of the Noxian underclass. A short sword hung from his belt and a large buckler was still secured to his left arm though he wore no other armor. He looked to be Garen's age, complete with the premature lines of stress around his eyes and forehead.
"Anders!" the little girl exclaimed, waving her wooden daggers. "I'm gonna be the best fighter because I'm the best dancer in class! Miss Kat said so!"
"I hardly call that over-inflated, Commander," Katarina grinned.
The Demacian cringed. "You would think that." To the girl, his sister, he added, "Show me what you were just working on, Alicya."
With a happy smile, Ali turned back toward the post and slid her leg around in a half circle as she dropped into a graceful crouch. "Combat is a dance," she stated, lifting her weapons, one overhead, the other in front. "I am fast. I am balanced. I make them follow my lead." As she spoke, the girl slowly went through the motion of preparing to leap while moving her arms and suddenly in an elegant flourish, she twisted through the air to strike the post. "Combat is a dance!" she finished, looking to her brother with pride.
The satisfied grin on Katarina's face widened and she too turned to Anders only to find that he was as impassive as ever. "Good," he granted, pacing to his sister, who still waited to be released from position. "But there will always be someone faster and stronger and smarter." Without another word he placed a hand on her shoulder and nudged, sending her wobbling.
In an instant the child's face became emotionless. "Yes, Anders," she murmured, composing herself.
"Congratulations, you defeated a novice seven-year-old," Katarina scoffed. "Your sister is developing an entirely unique way of fighting. Show a little support."
The commander frowned, though it was more out of puzzlement than anger. "I'm just showing her where her flaws are."
Under her breath, the assassin muttered, "Demacians," before looking at Ali and asking, "Would you like to see a real dance?"
Ali nodded with all the eagerness of a child as Anders sputtered, "E-excuse me?"
"Come on, just a quick match to show her how I apply dance in combat," Katarina reasoned. "You don't even have to go get a wooden sword. I promise, it will be quick."
He decided that he didn't like the predatory look on her face, but a glance at his sister's pleading eyes made him cave. "Fine," the commander conceded, pulling his short sword from his belt. "Alicya, you can watch for Miss DuCouteau's mistakes."
With a hearty laugh, Katarina dashed at the soldier, her wooden practice blades glancing across his sword as she twisted behind him. He pulled away just in time to block the strike aimed at his back, but as he swung to counter she leapt and spun neatly from his reach. The frustration in his eyes shone as she lunged, landing a hit against side, but as she brought the other dagger about, he threw all his weight into slamming his buckler against her shoulder.
"You'll have to be faster than that, Miss DuCouteau," he advised as she let the momentum push her into a graceful crouch.
"If you say so," she smirked and in a flash she was at his side with a strike to his other side before tumbling away. With the fight renewed, they clashed again and again and Katarina was taken away to a time when it was Garen who opposed her.
She couldn't understand when exactly things had gone wrong to make him withdraw so much in the last two months. The spark she'd loved about him was faded now but she didn't know how to fix it. He didn't want to talk, didn't want to spar, didn't even try to argue with her and she was afraid to push the issue. It was frustrating, but more than that it made her sick with worry. Without him, she didn't have balance. He was her opposite, her complement; it should be him on the other side of the dance.
Anders swung down across his body and she dodged, only to see that the sharp edge of his buckler was hurtling toward her face. On instinct she dropped, swung her leg around and let the momentum carry her around to his backside as his knee connected with the space her head had been. Before he could turn, she had one wooden dagger against his throat, the other across his stomach.
"I lead," she asserted as she pushed him out in front of her to Ali's excited applause. Victory usually made her feel superior; now she just felt tired.
"I'll admit, Miss DuCouteau: That was impressive," Anders panted, sheathing his sword.
Katarina wriggled out of her black leather jacket and used it to wipe her face before shrugging her thin shoulders. "My over-inflated Noxian ego, as you call it, isn't misplaced then?"
"What's ego?" Ali asked, staring up at her brother.
He rolled his eyes at Katarina, mouthed the words, Look what you did, and replied, "Something you don't need. Are you ready to go home?"
The blonde's face scrunched in a pout, but after a stern look from the Commander she schooled her face into neutrality. "Yes, Anders," she agreed, moving to pick up her things.
"Miss DuCouteau," he intoned. "A word?"
The red-head nodded, following him out of the makeshift training room they'd set up in an unused room of Ali's dancing school. No sooner was the door shut behind them when he blurted, "I-I just want to say thank you," a hint of color rising to his cheeks. "Alicya would have never been ready for the military without your help."
Katarina scowled. "You need to get her a full-time teacher skilled in a similar style of combat if you want her to actually be ready. Besides, she doesn't want to be in the military. She wants to be a dancer."
"It's a requirement in Demacia, just as in Noxus," he informed. "She must join at some point." The assassin rolled her eyes but didn't respond, so he continued with a stammer, "I, ah, about a full-time instructor... please, Katarina, would you consider it? Staying in Demacia to be her teacher? Our family would make sure you're well compensated."
Her green eyes widened at his request and she chewed her lip nervously. "I... thanks, Commander, but I'm not quite ready to settle down yet."
Then his hopeful red eyes flicked to her hand and she realized her finger was bare. "I-I mean, I am settled down, we just aren't staying in Demacia," she corrected fishing around in her jacket pocket for the cheap silver band. She wished he wasn't Garen's friend so she could punch the interested look off his face.
"Anders, I'm ready," Ali called as she swung open the door. She'd changed from her fitted dance attire to a knee-length dress and the backpack over her shoulder was packed with her clothes and equipment.
The disappointment Anders exuded was palpable and he brought his fist to his mouth in an embarrassed cough. "Alright, one second Alicya. Miss DuCouteau, should you ever change your mind-"
"We will let you know right away," she interrupted. "Say, how did a Noxian ever get in with a wealthy Demacian family?"
Anders' face immediately dropped in a scowl. "My biological heritage has nothing to do with the fact that I was born in Demacia and was raised here as well," he ground out, pushing his 'sister' out in front of him.
"Bye Miss Kat!" the girl waved.
"Think of your best skills and we'll see what we can do next time," the assassin instructed the girl with a wave in return. With a happy nod, the blonde followed her brother down the hall and out the front door.
It hadn't been very kind of her to bring up Anders' obvious Noxian background, but their fight had left a sour taste in his mouth and Katarina was not kind when she was upset. She missed Garen, the old Garen, and Anders was too much of a reminder of how much he had changed. For a few more moments the assassin waited alone with her thoughts to ensure she wouldn't run into him again, then pulled on her jacket and exited the building.
It hadn't been his choice to come home, but Katarina had sent word early that she would probably be late. Garen tapped his fingers against the table as his mother stared at him with a familiar disapproval. He wasn't eating, but Lilia still forced him to sit with her while she slowly consumed her dinner.
"I hear Katarina has been working very closely with the new Commander. What is his name?"
"Anders Renault. Don't pretend like you don't know his name just to make me say it."
Lilia Crownguard leveled a hard look at her son. "The adopted Noxian son of the no-account Renault family. But somehow the Commander of the Dauntless Vanguard." The steely woman took a drink from her teacup and added, "I guess Miss DuCouteau has a thing for men in power."
"Thank you for your astute observations, mother. I think I'll be going now," Garen hissed through gritted teeth as he rose from his chair across the table from her.
Her icy eyes narrowed. "I did warn you that she was no good for you. You are a Crownguard, Garen, even if you are a wretched excuse of one. You're destined for greater things than what she can give you."
The former soldier stopped at the door while she finished speaking, then turned to her unable to disguise the hurt in his eyes. "If this is how you treated dad, then I'm glad he died," he sneered.
Lilia's cheeks reddened with humiliation and her mouth went taut. "I did not help rescind the order of your exile for you to act like this," she snarled. "I want what is best for-"
"For the family," he interrupted. "I'm not stupid, Lilia. It's never been about what's best for me or Lux."
"Oh, don't be a selfish fool, Garen," his mother snapped. "Luxanna does her duty to the family. She's in the highest echelon's of the government, the Institute, and the College of Magic and look how happy she is! Why can't you do the same!"
Her insult burned like bile in the back of his throat and his hands clenched into fists. "My whole life this was the only thing I ever wanted for myself! How is that selfish?"
He could see the muscles in her jaw twitch and the woman screamed, "How is that- that's all you've ever been, a selfish, greedy boy who does what he wants with no regard to anyone! You've never lived up my expectations!" He started to speak but she dismissed him with a sharp wave of her hand. "Get out of my face. I don't want to see you until you take that stupid ring off your finger, you worthless, excuse of a son."
At that, the soldier whipped around with a howl and slammed his fist into the door frame, splintering it under the blow. His mother emitted a satisfying squeak and the blood drained from her face. With no words left, Lilia scurried from the room and Garen stormed out the front door.
It was growing dark and the coastal wind was biting but his pride wouldn't allow him to return to the manor for a jacket. Instead, he collapsed onto the front steps, staring blankly into the cobblestone path. He wouldn't go back inside until Katarina came home, but that was only his short-term solution. He had wanted to stay as long as Katarina was happy but the tension was too high now; everything that had been building up was likely to snap if he stayed any longer. It wouldn't fix his heart but he had try something or-
The soldier started from his troubled thoughts as a familiar voice rang out, "What the hell are you doing sitting around outside?" and he looked up to see a puzzled Katarina jogging up the stone path which led to the front stairs. "I saw you come out from down the street but then you just sat down," she said, sinking into the spot next to him.
His mother's words rand out in his mind: Worthless, worthless.
He didn't answer, simply enveloped the red-head in his arms. "Hey Kat?"
Her reply was muffled against his chest, confusion still clear in her tone. "Yeah?"
"I think I need to spar," he mumbled. In the past it had never failed to bring out the issues weighing him down, if his heart would just let him fight long enough...
The assassin pushed away from his embrace, holding him at an arms length to inspect him. "I have been dying to hear those words all day," she said, a crooked smile tugging at her lips.
At the hour it was, the open-air grounds used by the Demacian military for drill practice were already deserted and it was simple for Katarina to pick the lock barring them from the area. By the time they'd raided the locker-room for equipment, the ground was littered with magical lanterns giving off and eery blue glow and each had a wooden imitation of their specialty. The assassin finished preparing before him, and when he emerged, she was sitting on the dirt floor balancing a wooden dagger by the tip in her palm. As he emerged from the darkness, a flick of her wrist sent the blade flipping into her open hand and she stood to dust her pants.
"Ready?" she questioned. The night air was cold enough that tiny puffs of air accompanied her voice.
The practice sword in his hand felt cumbersome even though it weighed less than his sword Justice, but Garen motioned her forward with a confidence he did not feel. "If that's what you call it," he answered.
A grin on her face, the red-head shrugged off her jacket despite the cold air. She stretched her arms overhead, then without so much as a whisper of sound, she dashed. He was too slow to block the first strike she landed and she smacked him against his unprotected left side. For a second her eyes widened with worry, but he pulled back, blocking her follow-through before returning with a downward swing of his own. His blows missed as she darted to one side, then another, slashing at his chest all the while and connecting only with air.
Garen took a deep breath, mentally measured his heart-rate. So far, everything felt normal and even though he was out of practice it felt better than he remembered to stretch his muscles. With a small smile, he lunged and turned, sending his blade in a wide arc that forced Katarina to jump back in order to avoid the attack. As he retreated, she advanced; when he swung, she dodged, their moves a perfect dance until both her daggers met his sword with a dull whack.
Blades locked and pressed together, Garen finally noticed the bruise forming on her arm. "What happened there?"
To his surprise, Katarina hesitated before leaping back with an artful tumble as he slashed at her stomach. "Commander Renault," she said, poking at the livid skin. "A lucky shot with his stupid little shield."
The Demacian stared back at her, dropping his sword to his side. "You were sparring with Anders?" he clarified.
She raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Yeah, sure. I was showing Ali what this kind of combat looks like."
The words were out before he even thought about them. "Anything else you've been doing with Commander Renault?" he jabbed.
He knew she was furious when her expression went blank in spite of the red flush creeping up her neck. "Seriously?" she growled, pulling her blades back to ready. "What the **** is wrong with you?"
"What, is there a problem?" he shot back, his own sword raised defensively.
The assassin scowled, then vanished from sight, reappearing in front of him swinging for his side. "Yeah, there's a huge ****ing problem!" she retorted, jumping away from his counterattack before spinning back into his reach. He blocked her daggers easily, pushed back and jabbed at her chest only to catch a blow to his arm. "You check out of reality for a few months, never tell me what's going on. You don't talk to me, stop wanting to do things, and, I might add, never want to have *** anymore. Then when you finally check back in, it's to accuse me of ****ing someone else?" Her face was bright red, a mix of anger and exertion, and she halted her attack to cross her arms. "So yeah, excuse me if I think there's a problem!"
Garen's own face burned. Is that what it really seemed like? He wanted to ask, but shame kept his mouth shut. Instead he answered with a calculated dash to her right then feinted, pivoting to spin his sword into her left leg. With a grimace, Katarina fell back calling sarcastically, "Oh, I'm sorry, was that a little too close to home?"
The Demacian scowled at her. "Just answer the question."
Katarina let out a frustrated scream as she darted at him faster than he could parry; her dagger slammed into his chest, sending him stumbling onto his heels. "The answer's no, Garen!" she shouted, green eyes were bright with unbidden tears. "When have I ever given you reason to think I would do something like that?"
There was a clatter as the sword fell from Garen's hand, and he moved to grasp a hand to his chest, instantly struggling to breathe. "He could give you more than I can," he panted.
The Noxian barked out a strangled laugh. "But he isn't you!" she exclaimed. "How is that so hard to understand?"
"Because I don't deserve you," he choked. "I'm just going to bring you down!"
She reached out for him, but he jerked away from her touch like it was fire. "That doesn't even make sense," she hissed, crossing her arms. "What do you mean-"
"Every day I have to live in this useless body!" he blurted, a cough accompanying his words. He ground his palms into his stinging eyes with a defeated groan, then continued, "I can't do anything that I used to! Do you have any idea what that's like?"
Katarina froze, eyes wide and mouth parted in shock as the truth of his words registered. "Garen-"
"No!" he interrupted. "I'm stuck like this and everywhere it's just reminders of all the things I'll never be able to do again! But you have so much going for you and I'm just dead ****ing weight. Do you get it now?" A stifled laugh escaped his lips followed by another fit of coughs, and he hunched over to rest his hands on his knees as he caught his breath, gasping, "****! I can't even breathe enough to argue! So ****ing worthless!"
Silently, she repeated his words, lips moving as she thought. Then with a hushed cry, the assassin finally dropped her daggers to place a hand over her mouth, and the tears building in her eyes began to fall. Garen looked up to meet her anguished gaze as she cried, "Why didn't you say something?"
Before he could reply, the red-head seized his face and pulled him into her arms. For a second he resisted, then he yielded as she guided him gently to his knees. "Garen I'm sorry," she moaned as he buried his face into her shoulder. "I don't know what you're going through but I should have seen that something was wrong and I didn't."
It was her acceptance that broke him; no one had witnessed him cry since he was a child but he made no move to stifle his sobs. "I don't know what to do Katarina," he whimpered. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
"We'll figure it out," she whispered."There's nothing wrong with you."
The pair fell silent, clinging to each other until his sobs finally gave way to quiet sniffles and level breathing. All the damaged pieces of him were laid bare, but for the first time in months, a sense of peace washed over him; there were months worth of pain built up his mind that wouldn't let go of him so easily, but for that moment, she'd torn it down. No guilt, no uncertainty, only her.
Garen was the first to move, disentangling his hands from her hair to cup her face, grazing his thumb across her cheek. Her eyes were pink, nose red, and skin streaked with tears, but for what she had given him, she had never looked more beautiful. Knowing it would never be enough, he murmured anyway, "Thank you."
Katarina offered him a contagious smile. "You're welcome."
Before he could say anything else, the soldier dropped a hand to his chest as he began to cough. "You got me good," he chuckled when it finally passed.
A mortified expression crossed the assassin's face and she laid her fingers against his. "I can't believe I... Garen, I could have killed you."
"All your attempts to do so in the past have failed," he joked, but when she didn't smile he assured, "I feel fine but I promise to see a healer."
Katarina sighed in relief, then took his hand in her own, using the other to lift the hem of his shirt. Before he could ask what she was doing, her cherry-red lips met his bruised skin as she kissed every inch of the injury, an action so simple and sweet he realized, selfishly, that he couldn't have given her up if he'd tried.
"I love you," she said, the words warm against his chest. "Everything about you." She lifted her gaze to meet his and added, "Even your heart."
Despite himself, he felt his cheeks start to burn. "Kat... thank you," he whispered. "I really don't deserve-"
She cut him off with a chaste kiss. "Just shut up and say you love me too," she demanded.
He couldn't help but laugh. "I love you," he asserted, "so much. I love you more than anything-"
"Too much," she interrupted and the two shared a quiet laugh. When silence fell, the assassin sighed, "Let's go home."
This time, Garen coughed out of embarrassment. "About that..."
Lilia was pleased when she awoke to no sign of Garen or the Noxian *****, a pleasant start to the day; she was even more excited when she came home from a council meeting in the early afternoon to an equally silent house. That was when she noticed the envelope addressed to her resting on the entryway table.
The scrawl on the front was an austere, militaristic print, but not the elementary all capital letters of Garen's hand, meaning it was likely written by Katarina. The Crownguard matron contemplated stoking a fire just to burn the letter unread; if the DuCouteau brat had something to say, she could say it to her face. That would, however, take time and Lilia was eager to sit down with a glass of wine before the carpenter arrived to fix the damage Garen inflicted on her house. Begrudgingly, she ripped open the envelope and unfolded its contents.
It's come to my attention that you no longer wish for Garen or myself to reside here. Of course, we have no desire to inconvenience you and by the time you read this letter, we will be long gone. I apologize that we were unable to sort out our differences before our untimely departure. In order to make up for that, I thought I would give you a little bit of information about the papers you're going to be getting served with sometimes in the next few days.
I believe that because Garen's military rank and status outstrips yours, he is the head of the Crownguard household by Demacian law. I think the law said something about how he decides who can live here and some other really important things, but you know my poor Noxian memory. But don't worry, he filed all the proper paperwork and he decided that you're more than welcome to stay in his house while he's gone. All you have to do is sign the papers that Luxanna will be bringing to you. You're welcome! Though if you don't sign, I'm afraid you'll have to vacate immediately. Wouldn't that be annoying?
I've included the copies of the papers he signed which Luxanna so graciously drew up for us. Don't worry, he already secured the originals in case you happen to lose this one. Luxanna seemed to know the law pretty well and had some ideas for new places for you to live. You should probably look into that right away since we'd hate to bother you with our presence the next time we visit, and we were thinking of returning in a couple months for the Lunar Revel celebrations. It'd be far too cold for you to stay outside. Anyway, take care of the house for him! If it's in worse condition than when he left, I think Luxanna said it was a crime or something.
Lilia was a woman who prided herself on her composure, but this pushed far beyond the limits of mortal endurance. She let out a throaty scream and ripped the letter in half before collapsing with a wail onto the hardwood floor.
Alicya Renault too had a letter, resting atop her pillow when she arrived home from school. Quietly, she looked around to ensure her privacy before shutting the door and rushing at her bed. The seal was unbroken which meant her parents hadn't opened it, sending a shock of delight through her. A secret! She traced a finger over the wax seal. It wasn't the crest of any Demacian house she recognized, though she supposed she hadn't memorized them all yet. Something told her that her first instinct was correct. Excitedly, she tore open the letter.
Hi this is Miss Kat. I am going to Ionia to train. But I will be back soon. You can show me what you learned and I can show you what I learned. I told my friend about you. Her name is Lux. I think she can help you with your dream to be a dancer. I loved being your teacher. Practice hard, ok? Happy Early Snowdown.
Tears welled in the little girl's eyes as she finished reading, but she brushed them away with her palms. Miss Kat wouldn't want her to cry, and neither would Anders. If there was anything she had learned from Miss Kat, it was that she was stronger than anyone knew.
"You know, you two are so cute it's actually kind of disgusting," Riven sighed, staring at Katarina, whose eyes had drifted toward Garen. He was seated across from the monk Lee Sin on the stone earth of a covered gazebo which overlooked the frozen waterfall that twisted through the Placidium, the Ionian Capital. Across the pavilion, the two Noxian women watched from the warm main building of the Placidium.
The red-head frowned, flicking her gaze back to her friend. "Whatever," she huffed, then changed the subject, "What do you think they're talking about?"
Crimson eyes glanced toward the unlikely pair and studied them for a moment. Their positions mirrored each other, crossed legs and still hands, a simple meditative posture. The only indication that they were speaking at all were the occasional clouds of air that drifted from their lips. "Well, when I talked to him in the past, he taught me a lot about the spirit. How we must reconcile the conflicting pieces of ourselves in order to have balance." Riven placed a hand on her stomach and took a deep, measured breath. "Through meditation, we can assess the hidden truths in our souls and use the knowledge to work toward balance and enlightenment."
Katarina wrinkled her nose. "Sounds like bull****."
The Exile's face dropped in a scowl. "Say what you want, it's really helpful!" she insisted. "For the first time in my life I don't hate myself, you know? I really found peace!"
At that, the assassin's features softened into a smile and she said, "Then I'm glad it was good for you. I hope Garen finds the same kind of peace."
But Riven did not see Katarina's smile: Her eyes had drifted back toward the snow-covered pavilion where another figure strode toward the two men. Katarina glanced between the two, a knowing look on her face when the Exile snapped back to attention.
"So," the red-head started with a sly grin, "Have you found anything else here in Ionia?"
Already, the tow-headed Noxian's cheeks were stained red and she looked down into her fidgeting hands, stammering, "W-we're not... I-I mean it wouldn't be right..."
"You mean you haven't made any attempts at all," the assassin rephrased, looking back out the glass window. Garen and Lee Sin were standing now as well, following Irelia toward the Placidium.
Riven sighed. "Y-yeah. I'm no good at this stuff, but I want it to be really special, like what you and Garen have." Katarina cleared her throat at the embarrassing statement, but didn't try to refute it. "How do you do it?" she added wistfully.
The red-head couldn't deny the blush rising to her own cheeks as she watched the trio's approach. "Saying it's difficult would be an understatement," she muttered. "You just gotta put yourself out there and see what happens. Sometimes it works out."
The Exile looked contemplative, then confused, but before she could clarify the door opened with a gust of cold air and Katarina was already walking toward it. The truth was, Katarina realized as Garen pulled her into a tender kiss, that vulnerability was the key to strength. And learning it the hard way made success that much sweeter.
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