Feed Them On Your Dreams

The Emperor is dying; Seien talks with both his fathers. Drama with Angst, I-4 (Significant Novel Spoilers)

Don’t You Ever Ask Them Why

Seien sat beside the Emperor’s bed, looking down at his father. The man looked pale and sunken, small in the middle of his crisp sheets and soft blankets. “So. You called your fate to you.”

The Emperor’s mouth quirked at one corner. “It looks that way. Or perhaps the gods think it’s your time and I’m just in the way.”

Seien almost flinched, catching it back at the last moment; that was close enough to the way he often thought of himself, just a placeholder, really, to make his stomach twist with the thought that he and his father were more alike than he’d thought. The Emperor vented a short half-laugh, about as much as his body would allow him by now, and closed his eyes.

“You want to know something,” he stated.

Seien’s fingers tightened around each other; it was true enough, he didn’t come here for any other reason.

And that, in a way, was his question.

“Will you tell me, now,” he said, low, looking down at his clasped hands, “why you didn’t pay more attention to your family?”

The Emperor smiled at the ceiling. “You resent me for that.” It wasn’t a question.

Seien’s anger made his voice a growl. “You spent years and years fighting to reunify the country, to break the power of the great clans until imperial law ruled everywhere again.” His control slipped and he slammed a hand against the wall. “And you almost lost it all just because you ignored what was happening in your own inner courts! Why?!”

The Emperor managed a sigh. “I doubt you’ll understand yet, but all right.” His eyes, already detached, turned still more distant. “There was a woman I loved. Strong and beautiful as the sun. She shared my dreams for our country.” He was silent for a long moment, thin fingers tracing over the covers. “She died for them.” The curve of his mouth had become bitter. “I could barely look at any other woman, after that.”

Seien frowned. He could almost understand that, but… “So you couldn’t care for our mothers. What about us? What about your sons?”

Very quietly, his father said, “You weren’t hers.”

Seien stared for a long moment. “And that’s why you let them build factions and scheme and betray and poison the courts, the city, nearly the whole country?” He took a long breath, trying to settle his roiling stomach, and still couldn’t make his last words come out as more than a harsh rasp. “Did you think your kingdom would be a good funeral offering? Was that it?”

“I did say you probably wouldn’t understand,” the Emperor murmured.

Seien made a disgusted sound.

“I think everyone should be allowed one great foolishness in their lives,” his father added, reflectively.

“Not the Emperor!” Seien snapped, utterly incensed that such selfishness had almost destroyed the peace, the world, of Ryuuki and Shuurei.

At that, his father looked at him directly, smile growing. “Well, perhaps you’ll be able to keep your own foolishness out of how you rule, then.”

“I will.” Seien knew it was probably foolish to tempt fate by saying such a thing, but he was determined that it would be true.

The way his father laughed still made him uncomfortable.

“Take the throne with my blessing, then. My son.” The Emperor reached out, and the weight of years and empire poised over Seien’s shoulders pressed him down to his knees to accept it.

And Know They Love You

Seien sat on a stone, under the bare branches of an inner court garden, and drew up his knees to rest his forehead on them. A bit of damp chill struck up from the stone, through the rough cloth of his robes.

The rites were over; the funeral procession was complete. Tomorrow, everyone would call him Emperor. Tonight, he desperately wanted a shred of quiet in which to catch his breath and brace himself.

The rustle of footsteps nearby almost made him whimper.

“Seiran.”

Warm relief washed over him, and he lifted his head. “Shouka-sama.” And then he had to pause, startled. Shouka-sama was barely visible against the tree trunks, in the dusk, all in snug black, rather than mourning.

“There are things you have not been told about how the previous Emperor reigned.” Like his figure, Shouka-sama’s voice nearly disappeared into the breeze through the garden. “I would like to tell you, now that I can.”

Seien was quiet for a moment. Shouka-sama could only have come here dressed like this to let Seiran know, without words, just what tales he wished to tell. To let Seiran deny it, if he wished.

Part of him did wish, but most of him was wary enough to want to know everything; he might need it.

“Tell me.”

“I came to the capital when I was ten, because the Emperor looked on my clan with disfavor, to see if there was any way to save them. That was when I joined the Wolves. A year later I was given my first target: my great-grandmother.”

Seien started, eyes wide and shocked. Even with everything he knew, he had not expected that.

The soft voice wound on through the sounds of rustling branches. “That was the price of my clan’s survival—the life of its true leader. The one person bright and strong enough to challenge the country’s ruler.”

Seien shuddered. Even through his chill sickness, though, ran a thread of hot fury that the Emperor had failed to apply that ruthlessness to his own family. How had he dared become so hard and then fail?

He listened, in the growing darkness, to Shouka-sama’s list of bloody tasks he’d done in the Emperor’s name. Finally it fell silent and Seien unwound from the rock and reached to catch his foster-father’s hands.

“Thank you.” He pressed those hands to his lips, brief and hard. “For doing it. For stopping it.” He looked up, meeting Shouka-sama’s burning eyes. “For telling me.”

“You are the Emperor, now,” Shouka-sama said quietly.

Seien stilled, caught by the things Shouka-sama wasn’t saying—the offer he didn’t quite speak aloud. His foster-father gave him a tiny smile, agreeing that Seiran heard the silence correctly.

“Shouka-sama…” Seiran’s voice shook. If he asked, he would be spared more blood on his hands. Shouka-sama would soak his own in still more, to save him from that.

“You’re family, too,” Shouka-sama told him gently.

Seiran closed his eyes, and let the dark quiet of the evening wrap back around them, letting himself rest in his living father’s protection.

Tomorrow would be time enough to walk back into the light.

End

A/N: The story and section titles are taken from the lyrics of “Teach Your Children”, by Graham Nash.