disclaimer: nope, not mine.
summary: Shuga, in three scenes
notes: for egelantier, for this request on fic on demand. also, i've only seen the anime, never read any of the books. takes place post-anime
He was ten paces behind, of course, but his head was down, his attention diverted. The words of the Emperor were still in his ears, and his hands moved furtively over the texts he was carrying, as if his fingertips could soak in the knowledge that was shared on the tablets. Work to be done left him both excited and nervous, which was why he lived.
The Crown Prince's voice caused his head to snap up at attention, and his heart twisted at what he saw. Prince Chagum was standing on the bridge before the First Palace, his gaze directed at the copse of trees in the distance, just like...
"Were you with my brother when he died?"
It was like a slap in the face. His arms weakened, so he forced himself to tighten his grip on the texts. They were, after all, precious. "No, Your Highness. I'm afraid I was not. I was, at the time, searching for evidence that you lived. I-I mistakenly thought... thought I could serve His Highness best that way..." His voice trailed off. Excuses were disagreeable to him, and failures even more so. Prince Sagum's death was a complete defeat for him.
"Oh?" Prince Chagum turned his face toward Shuga, but his gaze was still very far away. "Mm." As if compelled by gravity, Prince Chagum turned his face back, narrowing his eyes as if to see the copse of trees better. "Hm. My older brother admired you," he said, though Shuga was at a loss. A non sequitur of that nature seemed out of character for the Crown Prince. Prince Chagum, though, blinked, breaking the spell of the trees, and grinned at Shuga, more vigor in his expression than normally allowed for royalty, as he often was in private. "Don't gape, Shuga, you'll catch bugs."
Shuga clamped his jaw shut. At times, he could swear he could hear that spear-wielder's tone in Chagum's voice. Was that something he learned from her, sarcasm?
It might serve him well, it might not. The Prince moved on ahead, so Shuga followed.
He, too, was drawn to gaze at the trees... he remembered something he had forgotten until Prince Sagum had reminded him. It was the first time he had encountered the two Princes. It changed his life.
He remembered Chagum as a young boy, standing there with tears in his eyes and his jaw set and raised, ready to fight for what was right while simultaneously unconsciously seeking punishment.
He didn't remember Prince Sagum as well from that time.
Past midnight, but the air still smelt of burnt wood from the festival in town. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Out late, sir," a voice quietly insinuated.
He was not in a position to be taken aback by the Hunter's invisible presence. It had become natural to him to assume that someone was always watching and listening, and that most often, that someone would be someone he knew who was looking out for him. He chose to see it as comforting.
"It's been a long day," Shuga confirmed and confessed.
Mon stepped out of the shadows a bit more fully. His face and form were still obscured by the cloak of night. "The Prince has been earning attention in court. We are pleased that the festival continued without incident."
Shuga smiled warmly. The Prince was, indeed, causing ripples here and there. That woman's influence, surely, yes, but. Prince Chagum was Prince Chagum as well. Destiny had made a painful but correct choice.
Shuga felt a bit sick for having thought that.
"Thank the spirits. And thank you."
Mon turned his face, a movement only visible due to the outline of his hair. "There is no need for you to thank me, ever."
Shuga considered the various possible interpretations of that statement, but settled on a vaguely positive feeling to be garnered from it. "You cannot expect me to lose my manners just because we have become close, Mon," Shuga teased him.
Mon coughed a bit, which worried Shuga, but just as he was about to reach out to him, Mon stepped forward and around Shuga. Sidestepping him while coming to stand at his side. "I'll escort you back to your quarters," Mon informed Shuga quietly.
Comforting and unnecessary, and Shuga wondered why he warranted such attention, and why Mon was willing to give it to him. With Mon, so much was left to be understood that Shuga wondered if their relationship was a fiction he had written in his mind to fill the blanks. "Do you enjoy peace, Mon?" he asked, teasing lightly.
"I will," Mon gruffly responded, gesturing Shuga to go on ahead.
He felt tense as he lifted the cup to his lips. The rain was steady and unrelentingly beautiful, but it lent a sense of entrapment that encouraged Shuga's anxiety. Protocol was one thing, and he could think of a dozen reasons for why his visit to the First Empress was no more suspect than when she was Second Empress, but logic was outnumbered against emotion.
"It's rained quite a lot recently, hasn't it?" the First Empress commented breezily, the intimate formality calling for Shuga to fill a well-defined and appropriate role.
He nodded to her exactly as prescribed, and smiled. "I imagine we have the Crown Prince to thank for it."
She nodded, but her gaze spoke more eloquently than he could. It was not Prince Chagum alone that was responsible, and he blushed from her implicitly perceived acknowledgment of his participation. "Speaking of... how is the Prince? I have not... had the opportunity to speak to him much of late."
The pause was significant and difficult to decipher, but the concern of a mother for her son was not concealable by such words, regardless. He smiled at her to reassure her... "I believe... that he has been much thinking of his older brother."
She nodded, and graced him with a secret smile. "As is understandable." It was a little over a year ago, and yet not quite at the anniversary of Prince Chagum's learning of Prince Sagum's death. "He is not the only one, am I right?"
Her astute observation surprised him, and yet, it should not have. As she subtly noted, it was a year ago. Only a year. He still had much for which to atone. And yet, Prince Sagum was never really far from his thoughts. Memory weighed upon him.
"Do you imagine things, Shuga?"
"I... I don't understand, Your Highness?" he begged, confused.
"For instance... mm." She wrapped her lithe fingers around her tea cup, and looked to the rain sheeting down from the eaves of the roof. "What if Prince Sagum had lived? How would things be different? What if you had been selected to be Prince Sagum's tutor, not Prince Chagum's? What if Prince Sagum had been chosen to the be the Guardian? That sort of thing."
Shuga smiled, and sipped at his tea. "Such thoughts... I suppose it can be diverting to consider something of that nature, Your Highness. And yet, what is, is."
"Practical," she grinned. "Still, I think of such things from time to time. I think, if he had lived, one way or the other, you would be Prince Sagum's lover by now."
Shuga choked on his tea.
Her sparkling laughter did not abate his respiratory distress. "Oh, I'm certain he'd be choosing his bride, of course, at the same time. But love and marriage have little to do with each other in these households, as you well know. Duty and honor, too, while walking hand in hand, do not always rule the hearts of men of consequence in the same manner that they do of people of common and freer lives. Does the idea not appeal to you?"
"I can honestly say, I've never considered such a thing!" Shuga replied. He couldn't understand her at all. It was like she was speaking an unknowable tongue!
"Pity, poor Sagum," she cheerfully rejoined. "Ah, well. What is, is, as you said. What if I were to suggest that I imagined the possibility of making you my lover, Shuga? Do you imagine things of that nature?"
His face burnt. "Y-your Highness! I-I daresay... such a thing..." Was she making fun of him? Almost certainly, of course! And yet...
She laughed, again, a sparkling sound like glass shattering. She was someone to be reckoned with, of course. "Never mind, Shuga. Though I do wonder... does someone like yourself think about sex at all?"
"Your Highness is, I trust, having great fun at my expense," he sighed. "Truly... do I seem like a child to Your Highness? Even still, you spoke of duty and a man's heart. Please remember that I am a common man, here in this court by luck more than fate. What I love is what I devote myself to already, body and soul."
"I am relieved to hear that, and yet, at the same time, saddened. You have an uncanny ability to draw people to you, I'm afraid. It's almost cruel to attract attention and then do nothing with it," she warned him before primly taking another sip of tea.
"I don't understand you at all," he conceded, and yet.
Sagum had told him the same thing, in other words. Charisma. He didn't see it at all. He saw it in Chagum, for instance. But himself?
"Well... I can think of at least one person who will be disappointed," she smirked. "Poor wolf."
Shuga shook his head. "I trust you enjoy these games, Your Highness. This new position of yours has certainly afforded you new toys for your diversion."
"Indeed! But as your body and soul are spoken for, I do hope that your mind is available for my play?" She winked at him in an exaggerated manner, a mockery of coquetry, and therefore of him, to a degree.
Still, he smiled in response, because it was a joke he could understand. "I am my Empress' servant," he said with uncalled for solemnity, bringing forth another sparking laugh.
The rain, at least, ignored them.