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Hangman's Mercy

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The next time Ramza sees him, Delita is king.

There is a goblet of wine sitting untouched on the desk, which has been sitting there for long enough to gather dust along the rim, and a pile of maps and scrolls left in no discernible order, the ink on the parchment gone dull and faded. The entire chamber smells like a library, and a tomb.

The king sits in a high-backed oaken chair, resplendent in red velvet and ermine, facing the window through which Ramza just climbed. His hand is resting on the jeweled pommel of his sword, but he makes no move to attack, or summon the guards. For a long while, he doesn't move at all – just sits there watching Ramza with pale eyes, the only motion the slow rise and fall of his breathing, like he's waiting for something and he's patient enough to wait all day.

"Did you come here to kill me?" he asks. He doesn't sound frightened. Mildly curious, if anything, and Ramza notices for the first time that beneath the trappings of command, Delita looks nothing more than tired.

"No," Ramza says. His throat is dry, his palms sweaty, and he wonders if he's telling the truth.

"I murdered Ovelia," the king says. "The princess. Her royal majesty. We were lovers, and I killed her."

It's no surprise, not truly. Ramza had suspected for a long time. He still hadn't been prepared for how the confirmation would take him – but then, if he's honest, he had never truly wanted to believe.

"Why?" he asks. He doesn't mean to. He isn't expecting an answer, except perhaps in judgment, but the word on his mind slips from his tongue before he can catch it, and he knows that not even the executioner's axe can take it back.

The king who had been his friend smiles thinly.

"Because it was necessary," he says.

Of course, Ramza thinks. Necessary. When had Delita ever done anything else?

But he can remember when, in the days when they had both been younger, careless, and they had only dreamed of being soldiers. The flash of light on courtyard stones, late autumn, the clash of practice swords and two boys with nothing but life ahead of them. The king leans forward, shoulders hunched like a bird of prey.

"You're a heretic, Beoulve."

"Yes," he says. And then, "Ramza."

"Your pardon?"

"Have you forgotten my name, liege?"

He steps closer, until he's standing just before the chair that isn't a throne, near enough to find himself in easy reach of a comrade's embrace, or a blade.

"Delita. Have you forgotten?"

And Delita's laughter, a sound like moths' wings rustling in the stillness.

"Don't think I haven't attempted it." But his fingers uncurl from the hilt of the sword, and he leans back, pacified or merely placid. There will be no violence here, now, not unless Ramza begins it, though the threat of violence lingers in the air between them, and the memory. It's been too long since they were face to face with just words between them, and not a blade unsheathed, and Ramza can't remember what he'd hoped to gain by coming here, or what he'd wanted to say. But there is one question that needs asking, and if he had hoped to avoid it, the man before him taught him long ago that it does not always matter what anyone has hoped.

"Do you want me to kill you?"

Delita regards him evenly, and it seems to Ramza that he actually appears to consider it. He goes silent, at least, and his hard eyes soften enough for Ramza to see something familiar there, the echo in his face of the man he had been before the war began.

"No,” he says at length. “There is work to do still."

Ramza nods. That, too, is no surprise.

He is familiar with the King's work already, as much as all of Ivalice is. A parliament of commons, established in the first year of his reign, with the full force of his bloody-handed blessing. A contract of laws, laid down in iron. The people are calling him Delita the Just. Behind closed doors, Ramza has heard, the nobility call him the Hangman. A peasant's death for a noble's crimes, and Ramza knows how much that must amuse him. It is not only his lovers, after all, that this man kills.

Agrias had not wanted him coming here. That thought intrudes unbidden, the memory of her fury when she learned of his intent, the warning. She had not wanted him dying.

“Your Majesty,” he says. It isn't deference. It doesn't hurt to say it, though he'd wondered if it might. It doesn't sound wrong. But the king rises to his feet with coldness in his face and mouth drawn tight, and Ramza wonders if he has mistepped.

“No,” Delita says, and for the first time, it sounds like a command. He takes one step closer to Ramza and then, in one abrupt, irrevocable motion, he kneels. Ramza freezes in place, lost as he had been at his first taste of battle, with screams and trumpets in his ears and the knowledge that live or die, the world will not be the same when this is over. There is the soft shift of fabric on fabric, and the scent of silk, rich sandalwood, so alien to the armor-polish-and-leather of the man he had known. The brush of dry, cracked lips against his fingers, a gesture of fealty, that old knightly courtesy that straddles the border between mocking and true. There's an old distance in his eyes, and Ramza realizes that this isn't a chance, had never been a chance. Just a moment.

"If they catch you, they will burn you," Delita says. With my blessing goes unspoken. So does not with my aid.

After Murond, after Ajora, there isn't much mortal that Ramza finds fearful. Not fire, certainly. Not the Church, with its petty intrigues and deadly campaigns. Delita, perhaps – but even that is more the memory of him, and more loss, in the end, than fear.

“Then they will not catch me,” he says, and draws the king to his feet. The window is behind him, and the guards, and he knows that it would be dangerous to stay for too long. Delita leans close, cups Ramza's face with calloused palms and whispers, “go.” Command or request, Ramza does not know, only that something in Delita's voice breaks on the word, and Ramza cannot deny him now.

He does not ask Delita to go with him. Traitors might run, and heretics seek freedom, but kings are bound by stronger chains than that. He does not promise to return. There are too many ghosts between them, the shadow of the gallows and the dagger's flash, and no matter what Ramza thought he knew, Delita has always been a stranger. But even so, even now, he can't escape the memory of a time when he had also been a friend.

He goes. He runs, like traitors do, and though Ramza is frightened of little in this world, even now he cannot say whether or not it is cowardice that drives him. But he turns back once, before he seeks the castle walls and the safety of the fields beyond, to see a silhouette in the tower window with hand upraised in farewell, and he knows that Delita remembers too.