By Amber Michelle K.
A blank form stared at Krelian from his desk, and he stared right back. His lip was twisted with a distasteful scowl, and he was sure the feeling was mutual - or would have been, if the form were at all sentient. If anything could be said for working in the King's service back home, it was that he had no obligation to do paperwork. That was his superior's responsibility.
Now he was the superior. Sophia couldn't be bothered with supply forms.
He forced his expression into neutrality and picked up his pen, dipped it into the ink bottle, held it still a millimeter above the paper. They were low on flour, but the rice shipments had come in without incident. Meat was scarce, as always during a war, but more would have to be found somewhere to maintain a healthy standard for both the military and the citizens. Crops were average in Nisan, but the northern territories had a surplus, and if their merchants could be assured in before the early snows closed the mountain paths-
Nisan would still be short. Their money had been spent on weapons and fortifications, with little left over to import food. They could not spare armed escort for the fishermen on the coast or along the river.
The pen went back to its holder, and Krelian leaned back with a heavy sigh. We can't do this. We can't...
There was a knock at the door, so soft that at first he wasn't sure he'd heard it. But it came again when he didn't answer, and with another sigh, this one resigned, he called, "It's open." He didn't bother to look up from the hateful form.
The door opened long enough for someone to shuffle in, then closed with a gentle click. The scent of roses, thin and delicate, told him who it was before she spoke. "I saw light under the door..." Sophia's tone was apologetic. He could picture her clasping her hands together tightly, looking at the floor. "It's late, and I wanted to check on you."
Krelian shifted in his chair so he could face her without twisting himself into a knot. Her hands were clasped, but her eyes were steady on him, lit with the golden gleam of candlelight. "You couldn't sleep?"
"I couldn't stop thinking about..." She glanced to his desk, and the papers scattered across the surface. Her calm, serene demeanor was shadowed, and it wasn't just the candle. "Things have gotten more complicated. My task hasn't changed, but I see you spending more and more time chained to this room, if you're not out with the recruits. I don't think I've seen you sleep even once this week. I'm worried about you."
Her confession was soft, and addressed to the form on his desk. He would have found it funny under other circumstances. "I'm fine. You don't have to worry." It sounded trite, and it was a lie. But Sophia had enough stress weighing down her slender shoulders. "Shevat has been a great help, but their addition to our forces has tripled the paperwork. There are also other concerns that need to be taken care of, and I can't trust anyone else with this. Not right now."
He shrugged and turned back to his desk, shuffling his notes into some semblence of order as he cast about mentally for an answer that wouldn't alarm her. Nothing came to mind. Maybe she was right about sleep. "Morale is our strength right now. We can't let doubt enter the equation, if it can be avoided."
Sophia was quiet for a moment, watching. Her gaze had a certain weight to it, something almost tangible that he could sense when it was directed to him. That intensity was something to be coveted, but this time, he almost wished it would go away, that she would return to her room and try to sleep. Part of him felt guilty for wishing her away, when he wanted nothing more than for her to stay.
"There's a problem, then." Her shadow on the wall moved closer, and he could feel her behind his shoulder, and hear her soft breathing. "What is it? Please tell me."
"It's nothing that cannot be taken care of." It was a last-ditch effort to avoid the subject, but he knew it wouldn't work. She deserved to know the problems plaguing her army, and her people. But a worried Sophia would be as good as a banner proclaiming to the world that Nisan's support was about to buckle under the strain. "It's routine and mundane. Enough to give anyone a headache."
There was a smile, now, he could sense it. "Routine enough that it has to be a secret?" A knowing smile.
Another sigh. He was learning to speak volumes just by breathing.
"If it's enough to give you a headache, maybe it's something that you should talk about." There was a feather touch on his shoulder, and the slight creak of the back of his chair as she leaned her weight on it. "You don't have to shelter me from everything. I think I have the easiest job in this war, sometimes. Smile, wave, smile. Talk a little. I think my routine can withstand a little more pressure."
"I hope so." He fingered the corner of the empty form, staring at the edge of their twin shadow. Maybe he was just overreacting. He was tired. "Our supplies are low, and even with imports from the north, it will stay low. The influx of volunteers and immigrants has put a heavy strain on our food supply. Unless Shevat is holding out on us, it will be a hard winter for everyone."
Her hair fluttered into his line of vision for an instant as she nodded. "Have you spoken to Zephyr?"
"Yes. She said she would try." His lips thinned. "I don't know what that means from her yet."
"Why not just take her at her word?"
Krelian stood up and paced to the other side of the room, his back still turned to her. Three steps. But the wall wouldn't be any more comfortable. "We don't know her. Shevat's reputation is less than savory. We still don't know their true intentions in this war." He finally turned to face her again, and was greeted by her almost-serene expression. "It's natural to be suspicious of them. That's part of my job."
"You do it so I don't have to?" She did smile then, tired, amused, and warm. "That's still no excuse to work yourself into the ground. We need to hire a few assistants." She glanced from him to the desk again, then to the neatly made bed. "And maybe an office. I think it's time we separate work and sleep, so you'll stop mixing them up."
"Yes, little mother." She shot him a look, and he felt the tension between them melt with the familiar taunt.
"If I let you call me that, will you do what I say?"
"Maybe." He finally let his expression relax into something resembling a smile, or maybe a devious grin, and he captured her hands, turning them palm up in his own. It was easier to look at her hands. "If I do what you say, will you stop worrying?"
"Maybe." Krelian chuckled. He deserved that.
Not long ago, those hands had almost been small enough to fit into his palms, from wrist to the tips of her delicate fingers. The younger Sophia had been spindly and almost tomboyish in her build, thin and light enough that he'd carried her on his back during their long journey. She was probably just as light now, but everything was different. Sophia had changed quickly, and perhaps all children did, when they grew up. There were times he still saw that frail little girl when he looked at her, when she wrung her hands, or stamped her foot when he was being particularly infuriating. She was reserved for her followers, but human when they were alone.
The little girl was disappearing little by little, and Krelian mourned her loss. He did not know what to make of the woman replacing her. It was still Sophia, still the same sunshine hair and sky blue eyes. Looking at her was like looking at a beautiful winter morning. But it was captivating now, where it had only been a novelty then. He wouldn't bring himself to watch, but from afar.
Krelian sank to one knee and buried his face in her hands, not quite sure if he wanted to give comfort or receive it. He thought of asking for her forgiveness, but he wasn't sure what needed to be forgiven. "I apologize."
"For what?" He lifted his head, and Sophia sank down to the floor beside him, bemused.
"Here I am trying not to add to your stress, and I accomplished just the opposite." She wove her fingers into his, and he dared to look up at her face. Shadows were beginning to show under her eyes. "I should stop treating you like a child."
Blue eyes sparkled. "I don't know, I rather like it."
"Then it is definitely time to stop. But first - it's time for you to go to bed."
Sophia sniffed and stood up, pulling him with her. "Are you going to follow your own advice?"
She sighed. "Very well."
He lifted his eyebrows as if to say, 'No argument?' and she returned it with a smile as she disengaged their hands. Then she spun on her heel and shuffled three steps to his bed, where she flopped down with less than her usual grace. His eyebrows couldn't shoot up any further.
Sophia waved with a pale hand and let her eyes drift closed, that same smile still playing on her lips. "Good night, Krelian. Don't let the supply forms bite."
Krelian blinked. Then he glanced to his desk, and the crisp white paper waiting to be filled out. Maybe it would bore him to sleep. The desk might be more comfortable. Sophia had an awful habit of tossing and turning; sleeping next to her was inviting an elbow to the face. He supposed he deserved it.
At least she was sleeping.
He suppressed the sigh that threatened to pass his lips and slipped back into his chair. The forms would have to be conquered, either way.
Finished: April 25, 2003 at ~8:00am
Notes: I don't really like this. Writing Krelian and Elly into the same scene is something I'm not very practiced at. I have some definite ideas of what the relationship between these two characters was in Episode IV and how they interacted with each other, but none of that shows in this "story." It's just a thin slice of the timeline that doesn't tell us anything.
After reading over it again (exactly two weeks later, if you want to know), I realized this scene is somewhat reminiscent of the RP logs by the Technomancy crew - Krelian and his paperwork, Sophia trying to drag him out of his office, et cetera. The similarity is unintentional, but it made me blink a few times. I'm sure their stories are much better.
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