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18 December 2010 @ 03:26 pm
 
Request by hooves
Game: FE8
Characters: Seth/Eirika (and whoever else)
Animal: Rat
Prompt: "Hmm, I think I smell a rat." (AU?)

This ended up being the third piece in my World War I AU story, Grey. I've posted it on ffnet as well if you prefer to comment over there.


Darkness



Seth's crutch slipped on the mud-spattered duckboards. He cursed as he caught himself on his left leg and a jolt of pain shot through the injured limb. Eirika gripped his upper arm to steady him, biting her lip, brow furrowed. "It's fine," he murmured before she could speak.

The staccato thrum of machine guns set his nerves on edge even though they remained in the secondary trench system rather than on the front line. His shoulders were hunched in spite of himself, his head ducked low; he had spent far too long in trenches dug for shorter men. He waited until she dropped her hand before beginning to move again down the communication trench. There would be enough questions as it was without bringing up fraternization issues. After a heated argument he'd finally given in and, in spite of being a princess, and the head of the exiled Renais government, Eirika was once more disguised as Lieutenant Erina. He would never get used to seeing her in the drab uniform of the Renais Armed Forced.

As they reached the main trench, he snagged the first soldier he came across. "Have you seen the Lieutenant Colonel?"

The private stopped and started for a moment, her eyes lingering on the crutch, but then, noticing the Major's insignia on Seth's collar, she saluted. "Yes, sir. He's down that way, sir, with the gunners."

Seth gave a curt nod to dismiss her and then limped through the trench. Crutches were ill-suited for the narrow passages and, in his injured state, he knew he was a liability to everyone around him. He darted a look towards Eirika.

Even at a glance, Seth recognised the Lieutenant Colonel, though he was facing away from them. He stood ramrod straight, arms crossed, chin jutting out as he addressed a young private who kept nodding in response. Though his boots were muddied, his jacket was pristine and freshly pressed. The pistol he wore as a sidearm had an ivory inlay on the grip; Seth wondered if he'd ever had call to use it.

Seth cleared his throat. "Colonel Orson."

Orson spun on his heel. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of–" He stopped, stared. "Seth."

Seth raised a hand from his crutches to salute – he was no longer a general, after all. "Colonel."

Orson's lips twitched ever so slightly as he returned the greeting, his hand limp so that it seemed more like a casual wave than a proper salute. "Major," he drawled. "Well this is a surprise."

"I have special orders, sir. Could we have a moment of your time, Colonel?" Seth remained standing at attention as best he could with his crutches; Orson had not told him to stand at ease.

"Special Orders? How... unusual." He paused for a moment to consider. "Let me finish up here. There's a dugout in the next communication trench. I'll meet you there, Major."

"Yes, sir." Seth snapped another salute and then limped back the way he'd come, Eirika in tow.

"He didn't seem very glad to see you," Eirika noted. "I thought you knew Orson."

"Perhaps he's ashamed of our past connection. I've been demoted after all."

Eirika tutted. "It was a voluntary demotion. You've nothing to be ashamed about."

"Not everyone would see it that way."

"Seth..."

They could smell the dugout before they pulled back the blanket used as its door. Even in the coolness of autumn, the reek of unwashed bodies was overwhelming and he heard Eirika huff several times as they stepped inside. Once their eyes had adjusted to the dim light, they made their way down the wooden steps. The scent of smoke wafted up from below and, as they reached the bottom step, some twenty feet belowground, they could see a flickering fire in the centre of the dugout. Several faces, black with soot, peered up at them.

A few soldiers busied themselves with a game of cards, a few more with reading, while a half dozen more were sprawled on the floor sleeping – or attempting to. One of the card players, paused from the game to scrub at his face with his sleeve, wiping away some of the grime. In spite of the dark bristle on his chin, he looked barely old enough to have enlisted, yet something in the private's face struck Seth as familiar. It took him a moment to finally place it.

"Ross?"

Ross turned and then, noticing Seth's rank, sprang to his feet and saluted. "Sir!"

"As ease, private. You are Garcia's son then?"

"Yes sir." And then, his brow crinkling. "Is he..."

"He's fine – or was a few weeks ago when I saw him last." Relief was evident on the young man's face. "I'm Major Seth. Your father served in my company. He showed me your photograph once."

Ross appeared abashed as he asked, "Is he still angry about my enlisting? Because if he's asked you to talk me into getting reassigned, sir, with all due respect–"

"No, nothing like that. I'm here on special business." Ross nodded. "And Garcia isn't angry... so much as worried. He spoke often of you, of how proud he was."

A grin spread over Ross's bristly face. "I've got to live up to the old man, you know. Can't let him hog all the glory," he said wryly, glancing down at the mud and grime that caked his uniform.

They all turned as a voice boomed from the top of the stairway. "Clear out. Everyone. Now. That's an order, privates." The soldiers scowled, not recognising the officer's voice – after all, it was not often the Lieutenant Colonel paid a visit to the front line – but they all knew an order when they heard one.

Variously prodding or, in difficult cases, kicking their sleeping comrades, the soldiers rose and began moving up the stairs, many of them grumbling oaths under their breath. Eirika and Seth waited for them to clear out.

The sound of Orson's steps was swallowed up by the sandbags and timber that reinforced the earthen walls as he made his way down the steps. "So, what is it that brings you all the way out here in your current state, Major?"

Eirika stepped forward. "I asked him to bring me to you."

Orson scowled. She had neither saluted nor addressed him by rank. "I realize Seth doesn't have the rank he used to, but last I checked a major does trump a lieutenant. Or should I brush up on my regulations?"

Eirika removed her helmet so that he could better see her face. "You've worked closely with my brother and been invited to dine at my home on more than one occasion. Surely you recognise me, Colonel?"

"Princess Eirika?" He appeared taken aback and stood there staring dumbly until Seth cleared his throat. Finally Orson remembered his manners and bowed. "Princess, I apologise. I'm simply shocked to see you in such a place."

"I've been travelling incognito," she replied. "I came to ask for news of my brother."

Orson shifted. "Your brother?"

"Yes. I believe you were in the same unit as Ephraim until a few months ago." Licking his lips, Orson pulled out a gold pocket watch and inspected it. His brow was shiny with perspiration in spite of their drafty surroundings. "In fact, I had thought you were still with him, deep in Grado territory until it came to my attention that you'd been stationed here some weeks ago."

"It grieves me to inform you that your brother, Prince Ephraim, was captured by enemy forces."

"Captured?" Her voice quavered. "When? Where?"

"We were forced to surrender at Renvall. I managed to escape but there was nothing I could do for the prince besides returning to our side and informing Prince Innes of his fate."

Seth's attention, fixed on Orson, shifted momentarily to Eirika. She was trembling. "Do you know where he's being held?" Again Orson was checking his pocket watch. "Colonel?"

"Princess?"

"Where is my brother being held?"

"I'm afraid I can't say."

Seth moved forward a pace, a step in front of the princess. "Colonel, how is it you managed to escape precisely?"

Scowling, Orson shrugged. "Pure chance. We came under fire and I was able to make a break for it."

"Under fire? I thought the prince was deep in Grado territory."

"We had tried to escape, to move east towards the Jehanna border. Perhaps it was an overeager Jehanna patrol we encountered. I never had the chance to find out."

"And you simply... left the prince of Renais in enemy hands?"

"There was nothing I could do, Major Seth." The gold chain of Orson's pocket watch clinked against his wrist as he gripped the timepiece in a white-knuckled grasp. Seth shifted his weight onto his good leg, loosening his grip on the crutches.

"Please, Colonel Orson," Eirika said, voice even, though her face was pale. "We're only trying to find out what's become of Ephraim."

"I'm afraid there's little more I can tell you, Princess. And I really must be on my way."

Seth inched forward. "Why are you in such a hurry, Colonel? Surely you have time for the princess of Renais." Orson's brow was slick with sweat.

"I have a thousand men under my command and important matters that need to be seen to. Perhaps you've forgotten what it's like to responsible for a battalion, Major."

Seth dropped his crutches the moment he saw that flicker of movement. As they clattered to the ground, Seth caught Orson's wrist even as the Colonel drew his sidearm from its holster.

"Colonel Orson!" Eirika's dismay was obvious. "Why?

"I must," Orson grunted as he grappled with Seth. "For Monica."

Orson cursed as Seth wrenched his wrist and the pistol fell. Eirika scrabbled to retrieve the weapon, but a moment later, Orson's knee smashed into Seth's injured leg. Seth crumpled and Orson raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Heart racing, it took a moment for Seth to realize that the crack of gunshots that followed came from behind him. He turned to find Eirika, pistol aimed at the stairway, but Orson was already gone.

"Seth, are you–"

"I'm all right. Hand me my crutches and–"

A crash like thunder, but resonating deep in the earth, sending tremors through the walls, stopped them cold. They knew that sound. Both of them knew.

Artillery.

The trenches were being shelled. Somewhere on the Grado line, perhaps five or six kilometres away, guns the size of a plough horse were firing off shells that weighed nearly as much as Eirika herself.

Dirt shook loose from between the timber rafters as another shockwave rattled their haven. "He knew," Eirika murmured. "Orson knew this was coming."

"He's been passing information to Grado," Seth snarled. "He's a traitor." They needed to go after Orson, but he would be long gone before Seth could hobble up the stairs, and he wouldn't risk dragging Eirika into the trenches while they were being shelled. Dugouts had their risks, but when you were caught in the trenches there was nothing to do but sit and pray that the next shell didn't have your name on it.

The air was growing hazy as dust was blown in from the trench outside. Weaving in and out of the thunder of the shells were the higher pitch of screams. Eirika swallowed hard and retrieved Seth's crutches, passing them to him with hands that shook. She had survived the shelling at Mulan, but she had not spent a year on front as he had. He reached out to steady those trembling fingers.

His hands still clasped hers when the shell hit their dugout.

#


Seth woke in darkness. For long moments he remained still, trying to regain his senses. The air was thick with dust, but he could breathe. He could wiggle all his fingers and toes. His leg throbbed, but only a little more than usual. He moved to sit up and cursed when his head struck something solid.

"Seth? Seth are you there?" Her voice was hoarse. She coughed and, reaching towards the sound, his fingers found her forearm and gripped it fiercely. Her fingers curled around his arm with equal fervour.

"Are you all right?"

"I– I think so. We're... we're trapped aren't we?"

"A shell must have landed near the shelter, but it's stopped now. They'll dig us out."

"Will they?" she whispered.

Seth nodded and then realized that it was useless in the dark. "They will. It's happened to everyone who's been in the trenches more than a few months. They'll dig."

"You've been buried before?"

"Twice." It had not been an enjoyable experience. The air had become thick with the breathing of the captives, several of them all trapped together, praying they would be rescued before they suffocated. It had taken hours, longs hours spent praying for the sound of shovels and pickaxes. He squeezed her arm. "One thing infantrymen know how to do is dig."

"I wish we had a light."

"It would only use up our air faster." And then, as her hand clenched spasmodically around his arm, "There are only two of. We should be all right for a long while."

"What if they think no one was down here after Orson cleared them out?"

A bark of laughter escaped him. "They're probably think Orson was still down here with us. Though I'm not sure if that will make them dig faster... or slower."

"Do you think it's true, Seth? About Ephraim?"

"I don't believe we can take anything from Orson at face value. He's a traitor."

"I hope you're right." He could hear her shifting. Much as he had, she tried to rise and knocked her head against a low beam. He heard the thump and a string of very un-princess-like curses.

"I wasn't aware you had such a broad vocabulary, princess."

"I picked up a few things in Mulan." His stomach roiled at the very thought of it, that she had seen combat. Before now he'd never believed her capable of such recklessness. "Who's Monica?"

"Monica?"

"Orson mentioned her?"

"Ah. I believe that's his wife. I heard she was very ill but that was over a year ago, before the start of the war. "

"What could he be thinking?"

Seth groped around with his free hand, trying to get some sense of the dimensions of their prison. A pair of beams slanted overhead and but he could feel nothing to his left. There was air enough for hours. He froze as he heard the faint sound of scraping. Hope flared like a blazing torch but was extinguished just as quickly when he realized the sound was not coming from above but from somewhere to his right. It was not the sound of digging men.

"What's that?" Eirika asked nervously. Again, a scratching sound, closer now, and then a sort of clicking. Eirika shrieked, her leg kicking out and catching him in his right calf.

"Dammit!"

"I'm sorry. There was something–" She jostled against him once more and another string of oaths slipped from her mouth. Seth was torn between being amused and appalled. "Rats," she groaned. "I hate rats."

Seth reached into his jacket pocket where he kept a booklet of matches. Fumbling in the dark for a moment, he managed to light one. In the light of the tiny flame a pair of dark eyes glinted near Seth's boots. A whiskered nose twitched and the rat sat up on its hindquarters and peered at them as if assessing how long it might have to wait before it could make a meal of them. Another skittered at the edge of the circle of light, its fur dust-coated, its eyes bright and eager. The match burned down to his fingers and Seth cursed, dropping it.

"At least they're small," he said.

"Small?"

He nodded. "The ones that live out in no man's land – I've seen some as big as cats." He felt one of them giving his boot an experimental nibble and kicked at it. A satisfying squeak followed. "I think if we shift to the left there should be enough space to sit up."

Cautious of the overhanging timbers, they managed to move into a sitting position. They could still hear the sounds of rats scrabbling nearby, but the creatures seemed less interested now that the two soldiers were no longer supine.

"Before I left Frelia, I'd never even seen a rat," Eirika confessed. "Now... I woke one night with one of them crawling over my face." She shuddered.

"I once had one crawl up my trousers to get at a bit of biscuit I'd left in my pockets."

He felt her shifting next to him, moving her arms to hug herself. "How can you stand it?" She spoke in a whisper, but here every breath seemed loud.

"I thought about home," he replied. I thought about you.

Eirika heaved a sigh. "I'm sorry about this. It's my fault we're here."

"No. It isn't yours." His hands were balled into fists as he thought of Orson. All these long years Orson had served Renais, served its royal family – Eirika's family. That he could throw it away, that he could be a traitor... If Orson had lost respect for Seth since his demotion, that was one matter, but risking the lives of their troops, of Eirika herself, and abandoning Prince Ephraim – these things were unforgivable.

Eirika cursed again and swatted at something in the dark. "Orson is every bit as bad as these damnable rats."

"You'll have to learn to mind your tongue again when you return to court."

"We're tapped in a hole in the ground and your chief concern is my language?"

The reminder did him little good. Before Renais's capital was taken by Grado's forces, King Fado had ordered Seth to take her to the safety of Frelia, to protect her. What a fine job of it he was doing. "You shouldn't have left Frelia."

"Neither should you!" she snapped. "Even if Innes refused to take your counsel, surely you could have done more there than on the front. And why didn't you tell me? I do have some clout in Frelia. I could have spoken to King Hayden. I could have interceded on your behalf. Instead you just..." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "You just left."

"We've already discussed this."

"You left me. You promised, Seth, you promised you would never..." She snagged his jacket in the darkness. "Why?" she demanded.

Something between a grunt and a growl rumbled through his chest. He tried to remember what it was to be patient, to know his place, but he wanted to shake her for her stubbornness, for not letting well enough alone, for endangering herself, for making him break his promise to the king. "You're here," he snarled. "You've seen what it's like. Would you have had me marry you and then return a cripple?"

"That wouldn't matter," she returned, her breath hot against his face in the darkness.

"Would you still want me if I lost an arm? A leg? Both legs? If shrapnel took off half my face, if it left me unable to have children? What would your fellow royals think if you ended up married to a mutilated soldier? A cripple? A eunuch?"

"That's all very well and good, Seth, but you would never have been in danger of all that if you hadn't left! What really happened? What did Innes say to you?"

"Innes?"

"Yes, Innes. He forced your hand somehow, didn't he? More than just ignoring your military advice."

Seth kept his tone as even as he could manage. "No. Of course not."

"Don't lie to me, Seth," she said quietly. "You were alway poor at it. I can hear the lie even in the dark."

Leaning his head back against the dirt and torn sandbags that made up one side of their cavern, Seth heaved a sigh. "He saw me leaving your quarters very late one evening and... drew unwarranted conclusions."

"My quarters? But when... Oh."

It had been Princess Tana who had asked him to go to her. They had been reeling from the sudden attack on Renais, the murder of King Fado, and their flight to the Frelian border. Reports had been trickling in of the harsh treatment of the Renais population – executions, entire towns burned, all by a country that had been their ally for generations. He'd been spending all his time in war councils, giving the Frelians all the information he could about Renais's defences, what Grado might use, where they could move from, anything and everything that he thought might help them fend off the invaders and retake Renais.

He had been worried and worn when the princess of Frelia had come to him. "I'm concerned about Eirika," Princess Tana had said. "General Seth, she's my friend, but I..." She'd glanced away from him as if embarrassed. "I still have everything she's lost. I still have my father, my brother, my home. You're all she has right now. And I know– she said in her letters that you were close. Please, General, could you– could you just make sure she's all right?"

He would never forget Eirika's eyes that night, swollen from crying. She'd looked pale and harried and thin, a shade of the elfin beauty who had walked with him in the gardens that spring. He had held her as her shoulders shook with sobs, all the while wishing for it to be over. Nothing would soothe her, he knew, though he'd stroked her hair, pressed his lips to the top of her head. Somewhere in all that he had promised that he was there, that he would never leave her. He would have said anything to make her stop crying.

Seth was jolted from his reverie as something scurried over his leg. Cursing he, kicked it off. "But, Seth," Eirika was saying. "Innes couldn't really think– I mean I had attendants. They could confirm that you were– that we were just... talking."

"I said as much, but Prince Innes saw things otherwise, even when I informed him that I'd had your father's consent to court you. He made it very clear that whatever King Fado's position might have been before the war, I was not deserving of the honour and that I was placing your reputation at stake."

"Innes... used me to send you out here?"

He opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out.

"You really are here because of me, then. Everything you've been through is–"

"It's not your doing any more than our being in this pit is. It was Prince Innes and my own doubts that landed me here. I didn't wish to burden you further. After what Innes said I thought perhaps he was right, that perhaps it would be for the best if I left."

"For the best? Seth..." There was steel in her voice as she went on. "Perhaps next time you'd like to consult me before you make such a decision – a decision that affects both of us."

"I'm sorry, Eirika. I've given you far too little credit, I know."

"Innes's motive weren't selfless, you know. He pressed his suit as soon as you left."

Seth went rigid. The idea of the prince of Frelia speaking honeyed words to her while Seth had found himself barking orders at terrified boys, ordering them to be slaughtered by Grado's machine guns... that Innes should walk with her in the palace gardens while Seth had been crawling on his belly in mud thick with barbed wire and blood... "And you didn't..."

"Of course not," she snapped. "I don't go back on my promises."

In darkness so thick he could not see his own hands, he reached out to her, gripping first her arms, her shoulders, before he finally held her face in his hands. "Eirika, please... I am sorry."

He thought he could feel the heat of her cheeks beneath his palms. "Seth... I just... I need to find Ephraim and learn what Grado is up to, what this 'Dark Stone' really is, but I need your help to do it, and I need to know... I need to know you won't go away again."

At that moment, more than anything, he wished he could see her blue eyes. "I'll remain by your side for as long as I'm fit to do so."

She pulled away from him. "As long as you're fit?"

He drew her closer again. "For as long as you want me to then."

"I can't see your face." Her hand moved through the darkness until she found the line of his jaw, fingers sliding over dirt and scratches, lingering on a raised scar by his left ear where a bit of shrapnel had grazed him some months past. "Keep your promise this time," she whispered.

He had promised King Fado that he would protect her; he'd thought that by leaving her be he was, but now... how did you protect anyone from a war that killed men on a whim? Shrapnel and shelling, machine gun fire that rained like sleet, snipers – all these things could kill a soldier at moment's notice. They could kill one man and spare his neighbour. How could he protect her from any of it? Perhaps she was right and simply staying close was the only promise he could keep. "I will," he said.

She leaned her head against him and then they waited in the darkness, with only the sounds of the scrabbling rats to disturb them. The air had grown uncomfortably thick when a rhythmic tapping joined the scratching and squeaking of the rats.

The ring of shovels and pickaxes was more joyful than a symphony, one that rose to its highest pitch when a voice echoed through their enclosure from above them. "Anyone alive down there? Can anyone hear me? General Seth?"

"Ross!" Seth called out. "Ross, we're here!"

"Hold tight. We'll have you out there in two shakes, sir."

Eirika sagged with relief and then threw her arms around his neck. Though he knew that by now, Orson would be long gone, Seth could not bring himself to worry. A shaft of light, blinding after the sightless hours, cut through the darkness and he could once more see the blue of her eyes. For a moment, all his doubts fell away.

The End

 
 
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Dance Inside -- The All American Rejects
 
 
 
Queza De Santidsanti_queza on December 19th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
I must say, I love how you make AUs of Eirika x Seth~ <3 They're always so... realistic, in-character, and things always make sense when you write them. Haha, I'm envious~ XP

But really, I like how you wrote them here, and you twisted the story line just a bit while retaining all the original elements. It's absolutely amazing! <3

I have yet to read the other two chapters, but I will one of these days, I promise. :)

Until then, keep up the awesome work! <3
Kihana
wolfraven80: FE:TSS Silver Knightwolfraven80 on December 23rd, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! I've been interested in this time period for a long time so it's been fun to be able to explore it with a couple of my favourite characters and I just find it's interesting to explore their dynamic is a different situation. I'm glad it read well and that you enjoyed it!
shining_valor: Awesomenessshining_valor on December 19th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
I know I posted on ffn, but I wanted to just say that I'm glad to see you back up and writing again. I know that things been hard lately for ya... and despite awesome support from your friends, sometimes life isn't that easy to find your rhythm again.

Just wanted to let you know that you haven't lost your touch. This is beautifully written and conveys a wealth of emotions that the situation evokes in each character.

I wonder what significance the watch has, btw... was it a gift to Orson from Monica?

And lest I start to babble on at you, I'll bow out for now. :)

Take care!
wolfraven80wolfraven80 on December 28th, 2010 01:40 am (UTC)
Thanks so much. I must admit I was a little worried when I was writing this piece; I wasn't sure how well it measured up to its predecessors. But it's really good to be writing again. I'm hoping these requests will work as a warm-up exercise before I try to get back to my longer stuff.

So far so good!