|In Darkest Night|
|Summary:||Anais and Riordan manage a midnight meeting. (No, not yet.)|
|Related Logs:||Anaidan stuff|
|Grove — Darant Lands|
|A secluded grove near the border with Stonebridge.|
|July 3, 289|
The moon shines on the grove of trees at the southwestern edge of Stonebridge lands. A long figure waits, cloaked and wearing greens and browns to better blend in with the surroundings. A sword and dagger are worn at his hip, but that is the only protections he has. No guards. No servants. Just him, and his horse nearby. Waiting. His eyes watch the edges of the grove in the direction of Darrant lands, and even as his face is hidden in shadows, there is a sense of tension about him that only increases as he waits for the agreed upon time.
It's late when Anais arrives, and if she came with any guards, they're left at a safe distance from the grove itself. Her cloak is dark, black trimmed in grey, and though it hides the sight of her, she isn't exactly quiet as she picks her way through the grove to meet him. "Riordan?" she calls softly as she draws to where she can see him, hesitating at the side of a tree as though she might still run if startled.
Riordan lowers his hood as she calls her name, stepping out of the shadows to her. His steps slow, however, bringing him to a stop a bit away, letting her decide if she'll close the distance. "Anais," he replies just as softly, the tension leaving his face even as he says the name. In it's place is a warm look, so obviously pleased to see her. His dark eyes drink in the sight of her. "I… would it sound utterly inadequete to tell you that I am pleased to see you?" he asks, after a moment, his smile somewhat wry, yet still utterly warm.
"It would seem like a waste of a trip." Anais' smile is incongruously shy, even as she laughs softly. "You could say you were pleased to see me in the middle of Four Eagles Tower." She moves forward, choosing her steps more carefully until she can reach her hands out for his. "You're safe," she breathes once she has that contact, finally believing he's really there. "And it seems as though war was averted. Which of the seven should I thank for whatever piece of genius managed that?"
"Ah. So you mean we are secretly meeting in this rather illicit location to do more the have simple polite conversation?" Riordan asks, giving her a small teasing grin. It doesn't cover the obvious signs of tension in him, as she approaches, the tingle of their hands meeting, fingers entwining. "Whoever it was that made Rafferdy run off to the Haighs at precisely the wrong moment, would be my guess," he then says, wryly yet distractedly, taking a few steps to close the distance further. "Once I knew for sure they had him… it was simple. Pride, political position… none of it mattered so much as getting him returned safely." His mind is hardly on his words, however, and not able to resist any longer, he closes the last distance to claim a kiss from Anais.
"I think you know who that-" But whatever Anais was going to say is cut off by the kiss, her hands tightening around his as she rises up onto her toes to press into it. The slightest taste of licorice and alcohol lingers on her tongue, and her breath comes short as her heart races in her chest. Were it not for the darkness of night, there would be no missing the flush in her cheeks. As the kiss ends, she looks up to him, lips slightly parted. "I'm a little bit terrified right now," she confesses, the words a bare whisper.
His own lips have the slight taste of wine and sweat that she'll likely remember, though not too much of either. His sent is of his horse, and the woods, and overall just… Riordan. He is silent for a moment after the kiss breaks, his eyes caught by hers. Freeing a hand, he reaches up to stroke her hair, and run his fingers softly along her flushed cheek. "Of what?" he asks Anais softly after a moment.
"This." Anais' cheek is hot beneath his fingers, her hand trembling in his. "What we're doing. What might happen. Later, and…and tonight." She's strung tighter than a bowstring, fairly thrumming as she stands so close to him. Her hair is only loosely tied back, held only with a dark ribbon that's already starting to slip from the curls.
"Ah," Riordan murmurs quietly, little surprise in his voice or features. In fact, he seems to relax a bit as she says the words, understanding clear in his eyes. "I… am too," he admits, after a moment. Despite the words, his fingers continue to play along her cheek softly, his eyes continue to stare in hers. "But…" He pauses, and withdraws his fingers long enough to tug at a leather thong at his neck, pulling up a black pouch that was hanging against his chest under his shirt. "I had to return this to you. As promised."
Anais bites down on her lower lip as he pulls out that pouch, the corners of her mouth tugging upwards despite it. "Riordan," she murmurs, a soft undertone of laughter in his name. "You could have had Stanley send it to Nina." She reaches up, pressing a hand to his chest. "I'm just- just glad you're safe. The first news we heard was only that they held one of the Nayland sons, not which." She swallows, looking back up at him uncertainly.
"True," Riordan agrees, though he clearly isn't apologetic over it. Mutual terror aside, it's clear he is happier right now in her presence. However, her next words draw a brief frown, and for this he apologizes. "I am sorry, Annie," he says, taking her in his arms now. "It did not occur to me. I…" He pauses, looking down into her eyes so close to his. "I haven't made life easy for you, have I?" he asks very quietly after a moment, coming out more as a sigh then anything else.
"No," Anais says quietly, reaching up a finger to brush across his lips. "And I'm afraid…I'm afraid I can't make it easy for you, either." She draws a deep breath, a pained expression in her eyes. "Riordan, I would give anything to go back and leave the Terricks when Jaremy did. To take my chance and run. But I didn't. I married Jacsen. I swore…I said the words. And as much as I may want nothing more than to run away with you, to- to-" The words fall short with a strangled sound, caught in her throat by the tears that threaten to spill from her eyes.
There's no hiding the pain that shows in Riordan's eyes as Anais speaks those words, as he hears what she isn't saying. But he does try to hide it, to be strong for her, and that is clear too. He is silent for a moment, steeling himself, before he comes back to himself. To her. Placing both his hands on either side of his cheek, Riordan holds her gaze, forcing a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "I want you to be happy, Anais. If making you happy means us…" Despite his obvious resolve, this isn't easy for him. "Do you not want this anymore? Me? I have not spoken to my father yet, so there is still time if you have decided…" He trails off again, not able to finish the thought. So for now, he simply settles on silence, leaning in to kiss away her tears on either cheek, and then using his thumbs to stroke along where they were.
"I do," Anais says quietly, the words coming out in a stifled sob as she reaches up to wrap her arms around his neck, burying her head against his shoulder. "So much it aches. I want you. I want fire. I want laughter. I want your temper, I want your hands, I want your arms, and your legs, and your smile. I want hot summer days, and sunsets in the marsh with the frogs singing, and cold winter nights, and tournaments, and festivals, and dinners by ourselves. I want a family that loves me as a part of it, where mistakes are just mistakes and everything can be forgiven. But- But I promised. I said the words, and- and-" She trails off, breaking down into tears against his shoulder.
He was prepared to be steel and strength, but her words of what she wants hit him harder then any rejection could. There's fire in his eyes, not anger at her, but anger at the situation, and frustration as well. He keeps enough control not to lash out, however, and so holds it against himself, as he holds her. He holds his silence, too, just stroking Anais' hair and waiting for the crying to pass. Only then will he speak, the emotions still there in his voice, even as he keeps her pressed against him. "I am more then words, Annie. You are more then words. You know I believe in honor, and I respect it. But there is nothing more important to me then family, and I want you as my family. I want you riding at my side. I want your strength and your smile and your laughters. I want your cottage by the sea, and your knuckle-punches. I want your scent on my clothes and the taste of you on my lips and the warmth of you in my heart. And yet…" He trails off for another moment, taking a breath and continuing to keep himself restrained. "I could give it up for your happiness, Annie. If you told me that your happiness was not with me, I could accept that, as much as it hurt. But I can't give you up, give us up, for words."
"What if I can't make you happy, Riordan?" Anais pulls back only enough to meet his gaze, shaking her head slowly. "What if- What if we risked everything, only to find out we weren't as well-suited as we thought we were? You're free, Riordan. There are hundreds of women who could make you happy without making you risk your name, your family, the peace in the Cape. You're strong, you're handsome, you're a champion and a hero. Somewhere there is- there must be someone who could make you as happy as I could without risking all that. What about Alys Charlton? She seems- she seems taken with you." Desperately as she tries to sound reasonable about it, her hands tremble, and she can't quite meet his eyes for fear of losing what little self-control she still has.
"I do not know how else to say this, Anais, so let me make myself perfectly, undeniably, utterly clear," Riordan tells her. His emotions — desire, fear, pain, anger, frustration — all of it is a tightly curled ball of heat in his dark eyes as once more he takes her fact gently between his hands, and lowers his forehead to rest against hers so that their eyes are utterly close. He speaks softly, this close together, and his breath is warm on her skin as he speaks his next words in a quiet, yet forcefully sure whisper. "I. Want. You. Noone else. You, Anais. I see who you are. I see the strengths and the flaws, and I want it all. The good and the bad. No, not just that. I need it. I need you."
"I'm married." It's the weakest protest Anais has yet been able to muster, her knees starting to give. "If I leave Jacsen, it- He needs me too, Riordan. And if he needs me, and I leave him for you, who's to say I won't leave you, too? And I couldn't live with myself. I couldn't live with myself if I broke your heart, and I can't live with myself if I hurt him just to make myself happy and-" She shifts, claiming his lips for a desperate kiss, her hands tightening in his hair as every muscle in her body tenses. "I don't know what to do," she whispers against his lips, drawing a shaking breath without pulling away.
"I would say it," Riordan manages to get out, just before she claims that kiss. Whatever other doubts that he may have, whatever uncertainties, he seems certain of that. Doesn't even seem prepared to question it. His arms move down to wrap firmly around Anais as they kiss, then, supporting her, letting her lean on him as much as she needs to, to be close as much as she needs to. At her last murmured words, he lets the silence linger for a moment, but he does not respond at first. He simply claims another kiss from her, drawing comfort from that, letting her do the same. Finally, in a murmured whisper against Anais' lips, he finally murmurs, "I know I am being selfish. But I want you to choose me. So badly, Annie. Knowing that you might not… it hurts." Finally, he draws his head back, just a touch, to look into her eyes. "But it isn't a decision I can make for you. Because you are right. Whatever you decide, you'll have to live with. We'll have to live with. And I know that I could not stand you choosing me and regretting it… resenting it, resenting me…. I couldn't live with that. So…" He leans back in for another light kiss, brushing his lips ever so softly against hers. "I have not spoken to my father yet, and I will wait until you are sure." It's the best help he can offer her, right now, since he can't make an unbiased suggestion. The next best gift. A little more time.
Anais makes a soft sound against his lips, clinging to him through the kiss. It does seem to steady her, even if she's panting by the time he draws back. Enough that she doesn't collapse when he pulls back, at least. Her eyes are dark, her cheeks streaked with tears that she tries to rub away with the heel of one hand. "Would you wait for me?" she asks softly, a quiet sort of desperation in her eyes. "If it took five years for Jacsen to set me aside, would you be there after?"
"I…" Riordan's eyes stay focused on hers, his arms remaining around her even as he leans back to study Anais for a silent moment before continuing. "I don't know," he admits truthfully, the words escaping with a sigh. "Five years of stolen glances and all-too-brief moments? All the while knowing that he has you. That at any time he could get you with child and it would all be for nothing? Or that you could one day wake up beside him and realize you are content, and no longer want me, that you will be just as happy with him? I…" He shakes his head, the pain in his eyes returning as he thinks it over, all the while clearly wishing his answer where what she was hoping for. More romantic. "And then there is my father. It would likely mean going against him. He is not that patient a man. I… it is alot to ask, Anais. And Seven, but you are worth it. I just…" He trails off, and for the first time he averts his eyes. "I just don't know if I can be that strong," he admits, whisper quiet.
Anais smiles faintly, understanding. Sad, but understanding. "I don't either, Riordan," she admits. "Because I'm afraid of the same thing. Not for me. For you. Because I can't think of anything worse than doing that to you. But I'm not sure I can do anything else." She holds a hand over his heart, eyes closing as she lowers her head. "I owe…I owe him a chance, at least. I'm sorry, Riordan. If I were free to follow my heart, I would never walk away from this place without you."
"Annie, please, just…" He takes a breath, cutting off whatever he is about to say. Steadying himself with a second, longer breath. Wordlessly, Riordan reaches into the pouch, removing the red stone frog. Taking Anais hand, he presses the figurine into her palm, covering it with his own. His free hand cups under her chin, so that their eyes might meet once more. "I can wait for a little while, at least," he finally murmurs. "I'm strong enough for that, at least." The smile he gives barely reaches his eyes, and it is utterly wry, but despite it all, his eyes do hold warmth for Anais. So much. "Just remember," he tells her, leaning in for a last kiss. "You're as free as you want to be."
"I'll send word," Anais murmurs, tipping her chin up for the kiss as her hand wraps around the frog, holding it to her heart. "I think Nina and Stanley could keep up correspondence, don't you?" With her other hand, she reaches up to smooth a thumb across his brow, pained by the sorrow in his eyes. "If it is ever too much, Riordan, only say the word," she murmurs. "I'll not have you suffer for my weakness."
At that, Riordan actually manages a chuckle. "Ah, my sweet Annie," he murmurs, after a moment, his hand lifting to cup her cheek. "They started this. I think they have no choice, now." He shakes his head then, at the look in her eyes, at her further words. "However hard it may be, these little moments are actually what is keeping me sane right now. As mad as that is." He smiles crookedly, a smile that finally reaches his eyes once more. "Here, let's get you fixed up," he says, then. And for a moment longer, will linger with his body close to hers, dabbing at her cheeks with his sleeve to dry them, his fingers to fix her hair as best he can. And then finally, regretfully, he takes a step back, breaking free of her. Because as painful as that simple act is, he knows what might happen if he does not. "Annie…" But he catches himself. He berated himself enough for words said in haste the last time. He'll wait till they are both sure before they are spoken again. "Take care of yourself. And tell Nina I said that, so she can remind you for me, from time to time." The smile that accompanies these parting words is soft and warm, like the words themselves.
Anais stays still for his ministrations, letting her fingertips linger on his arm until he moves away. "Trust me, I don't have to tell Nina that," she says with a low laugh. "Be safe, Riordan," she murmurs. "My fire burns in your heart, when it can't in mine." And with those words, she turns to slip back into the darkness, drawing up her hood to hide her features and moving as carefully as she can.
Riordan remains where he is for a moment, watching Anais walk away. Then, drawing up his own hood, he begins picking his way quietly through the woods. Not to his horse, or to Stonebridge, but rather he follows the women, quietly and unnoticed, until he can make certain that she meets up with her guards and is safe. Only then will he return, and ride back to Stonebridge, and an empty bed.