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the truest type of love

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Before he was Lord Alister the High Wizard he was Cuffs the street-rat of Ragmarket, just as before she was Rebecca she was Raisa, and they were always themselves no matter what their names were, always in love even when it was the most foolish course of all possible actions.

Amon was always Amon, even when he was Captain Bryne, and Amon could always be counted on to make the sensible choice, to sacrifice his heart for his country, his future for the crown. his life for his lady. In the end, that's what saved them.

 

Han was walking by when he saw Amon leaning against what remained of one of the battlements.

"What's with the long face, Bryne?" Han said. "Didn't you hear? We won."

Amon looked up, startled, and then quirked a reluctant smile. "Han," he said.

"Seriously," Han said, "What's wrong? Because if you tell me that there's another invading army, I'm going to have to punch you in the face."

Amon hesitated, and Han thought for a moment he wouldn't answer - and then Amon rubbed his forehead and began to speak. "I'm sworn to protect the Grey Wolf line," said Amon. "And she made me promise."

"What did she make you promise?" Han said. He didn't need to ask who she was - Amon wouldn't look this wrecked for anyone other than Raisa.

Amon stared at his hands, rubbed his wrists. "To kill her," he said, in a low voice, so low that Han almost couldn't hear him.

Han felt his flash rearing up, clenched his own fists in startled reaction. "To do what?" he said, although of course he had heard. "Amon," he said, slowly. "I think I may still need to punch you in the face - after you tell me what on earth you're talking about. Why -"

"If - if the battle didn't go our way," Amon said. "If she was about to be captured. She had a dagger, said she'd do it herself. But just in case, she asked me - no, told me. She made me promise."

Han tried to relax his fists, and found he couldn't, so he kept his hands by his sides, and forced his voice to be level in his reply. "What did you say?"

Amon looked away. "When have I ever been able to refuse Rai anything?"

Han met his eyes, and then forced himself not to say the thought that first sprang to his mind, which would have been too cruel by far - the only thing you've ever refused Raisa is yourself, and thank Hanalea for that.

"Would you have?" asked Han. "If it came to it, would you have gone through with it?"

Amon looked into the distance. "Hanalea help me," he said. "I don't know. You wouldn't have, though, would you?"

Han shook his head. "No," he said. "I'd do whatever it took so that she could live, even if she'd hate me for it for the rest of both our lives."

"How noble of you," said Amon bitterly.

"No," said Han, his voice sharp. "It's not noble at all - it's selfish, pure and simple. It would probably be the most selfish thing I'd ever do and I'd have to live with it, and so would she. But at least she'd be alive to hate me." And how she would hate him. He would hate himself - he thought of how it had felt, in Lord Bayer's dungeon, trapped and tortured - even with Crow's help, he'd barely survived. He knew what a conquering nation would do a conquered queen. And yet - he couldn't let Raisa die by his hand. There was always a chance the tide could turn, and Han was never anywhere near as cynical or calculating as anyone believed.

He thought of Lucas - an old man who had betrayed his friend for love - thought suddenly of how close the cycle could have come to being broken, if Amon had been as weak as Lucas - for Amon loved Raisa, every bit as much as Han did. He loved her so much he'd taken the Binding to protect the Grey Wolf line - because the Grey Wolf line was Raisa - loved her so much he'd given up any chance of ever being able to love her as a man loves a woman, had sworn to live and die by the sword protecting her and her future happiness, and in the process had watched her fall in love with someone who was not him. And all the while he stayed so loyal and true. Han had been jealous of Amon and Raisa from the beginning, and he was right to, although he had not understood at the time the nature of Amon's love, the sacrificial quality.

"I love her," said Han. "And you love her. And she should never have asked that of you,"

"No," said Raisa. "I shouldn't have - even though I meant it, I still mean it. But it was selfish of me to ask. You've already given so much for the kingdom, Amon, and this would have destroyed you."

"Losing you would always destroy me," Amon said - and you had to give it to the Bryne's, Han reflected, because what would have sounded like melodrama from someone like the Bayers, on a Bryne's lips sounded a sincere statement of fact.

"Perhaps," said Raisa. "But there are many ways to lose people, and I fear that if you had done what I asked you would not have permitted yourself to live with my blood on your hands. In making you promise me that, I signed both our death warrants, and I have no right to ask that of you." She paused, and then corrected herself. "As your queen, I had every right to ask that of you. As your friend, and as someone who loves you, it was badly done of me."

Amon bowed his head in silent acknowledgement.

They fell silent for a moment, and Han imagined that they were all reflecting on those they had lost - he thought of his mother and little sister and flames; but that was nothing new - he carried their memories with him every day. He thought about the different ways that people responded to the tragedies unfolding around them: of a centuries old feud and grudges held beyond the grave.

"There are many ways to lose people," Han repeated. "And many ways to lose. But somehow, we found a way to win."

"I found Rebecca, even though she never existed," Han said. "I found a heritage I didn't know I had."

"You found out the truth of Hanalea and Alger," said Raisa. 

"And Lucas," Han added - because the ugly side of the story needed to be understood too. Life wasn't all fairytales and happy endings, and Han had never been one to shy away from the grime of reality. "The three of them were so close until everything fell apart for them."

"The three of us will take care of each other," said Raisa.

"Isn't that what we've been doing?" protested Han.

Raisa looked at him with what he privately termed her 'queen' look - and it was as effective as usual. He laughed, and she scowled, and then he laughed again because of how pretty she looked when her nose crinkled up like that in distaste.

"There you are," said Raisa, beaming at both of them, and Han found he didn't mind whether she was talking to Amon, or himself, or both - because they were here, and Rai was breathing, and smiling, and sometimes history repeats itself and other times you can write your own destiny.

There they stand - the three of them - arm in arm against the odds, victorious and young and aflush with victory. Theirs is the seven realms, the crimson crown - and yet all they want is what they already have. 

In front of them, a grey wolf lopes ahead and a crow circles above, and the best moments of their lives still lie ahead of them, in a future they have forged for themselves.