Lanisen is sitting alone on a bench along the castle walls, bent over a book. He seems to have been engrossed for some time, because the sky is now too dark to provide enough light for easy reading, but it doesn’t look like he’s even noticed.
Darrin strolls through the gardens, a small basket in one hand. His fingers are stained a bit purple and he’s busy picking blackberries, humming what sounds like a popular sea shanty under his breath.
Lanisen tunes it out for a moment, then comes back to himself and his surroundings with a small guilty start. He rubs the back of his neck and looks up toward where Darrin is walking.
Darrin doesn’t seem to notice Lanisen right away. The humming cuts off abruptly as he pops a blackberry in his mouth.
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth and keeps still, rather than draw any attention to himself.
Darrin gets distracted from his berry picking by a patch of barely tended wildflowers. He considers them for a moment before plucking several in a deliberate fashion – blue violets, pink and purple asters, and a sprig of ivy to tie them all together.
Lanisen keeps his head down and carefully doesn’t watch.
Darrin binds the flowers into a small bouquet with the ivy and sets it in his basket. He starts walking again, only to pause in front of a yellow wild rose. He bends over to sniff one, and then lets out a long sigh when he straightens.
Lanisen keeps being quiet and invisible. He raises his head a couple times to check where Darrin is in the garden.
Pausing at the rosebush has brought Darrin closer to the bench where Lanisen is sitting than he has yet been. He looks troubled for a moment before he lets go of the rose he’d pulled gently towards him, the branch springing back into place. When he looks up to move on, Darrin finally notices Lanisen. He visibly startles.
Lanisen’s shoulders are tense, but he keeps his eyes down, wordlessly offering to maintain a polite fiction that neither has noticed the other.
Darrin exclaims, “Lanisen! I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you there.”
Lanisen inhales, as if he’s kind of forgotten to do that for a minute. He closes the book over his finger and gets to his feet, glancing at Darrin for a skitteringly brief second. “I’m sorry, sir,” he answers, bowing. “I didn’t want to, to disturb you.”
Darrin looks down, at the book in Lanisen’s hands, and then back to his face. “Looks as though I’m the one doing the disturbing, to me,” he observes.
Lanisen says, “No, sir, no, I can– I prob’ly should go in anyway.” He glances up at the sky, which definitely is too dark for reading, and then back at Darrin for a moment.
Darrin follows his glance and wrinkles his nose. “Oh,” he says, as though he has only just realized how much the light has faded himself.
Lanisen hesitates, and then nods and bows again, turning toward the infirmary door.
Darrin bites his lip as he watches Lanisen turn away. He takes a step forward. “Lanisen?”
Lanisen halts. He swallows and looks back at Darrin, wary and a little bit resigned. He crosses one arm over his middle, and then drops it again.
Darrin asks, “Are you all right?”
Lanisen pauses, guarded. “Yes, sir,” he answers.
Darrin studies him. He sighs, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I know…I know I’m probably the last person you want to talk to, but I just…wanted to ask. I’m glad you came; I know it probably was not the easiest decision right now.”
Lanisen goes still for a moment, then sort of slumps, shutting his eyes briefly. His head lowers and his shoulders sag, and he rubs a hand wearily over his face.
Darrin considers him, looking unhappy.
Lanisen draws and releases a breath, then shakes his head slightly. “I– I’m sorry, sir.”
Darrin asks, “For what?”
Lanisen shifts and looks back at him wretchedly.
Darrin asks, “Can I ask you a rather impertinent question?”
Lanisen looks down and swallows, his hands gripping the book. “Yes, sir.”
Darrin asks quietly, “Why would you tell Meg that now?”
Lanisen shuts his eyes again, struggling. He takes a deep breath. “Because… she… she already knew,” he says finally.
Darrin furrows his brow, looking confused by this statement.
Lanisen stares at the book in his hands. “She already knew, it was– she was, she was tellin’ me about… how you’d told your parents, and she, um, she wasn’t wanting to tell me because she knew, and I wanted to…” He stops, and pulls his lips between his teeth, and doesn’t continue for a moment. “I just wanted her to know I wasn’t– I wasn’t…”
Darrin asks, “Wasn’t?”
Lanisen lets out an unsteady breath. “I couldn’t– hide it, it’s, I tried, please, I tried so hard, she just– she knows me too well. I wanted– I wanted to tell her I’m not– askin’ for anything, I’m not hopin’ for– I know it’s not ever, it’s not gonna happen, and that’s… that’s all right.”
Darrin looks increasingly distressed by this. “Lanisen…” he starts, his voice thick. He scrubs a hand over his face, and then steps towards Lanisen, deliberate enough in his movements to give Lanisen a fair amount of warning before he grips Lanisen’s shoulder and drops his forehead against his.
Lanisen’s whole body tenses and shrinks, but he stays where he is and doesn’t pull back. After a moment he shudders and sags forward, his face twisting.
Darrin drops the basket of blackberries abruptly and hugs him tightly.
Lanisen just shakes, breathing with the sort of deep, unsteady breaths that mean somebody’s just barely keeping control. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he manages.
Darrin runs one hand over the back of Lanisen’s head and neck soothingly and shushes him.
Lanisen subsides. His breathing is still unsteady and too quick, but after a little while he wraps his arms around Darrin in return.
Darrin murmurs, “This is going to sound really snotty, but you deserve to be happy, you know that, right?”
Lanisen huffs out a breath that’s a little like laughter and a little like a sob.
Darrin muses, “Also it would be really hypocritical of me to stay frustrated with you about all this given what you just said is…pretty close to exactly what happened when Meg found out about my feelings for her.”
Lanisen pulls back a little so he can look at Darrin.
Darrin shrugs awkwardly. “I have, at times, handled this courtship of Megren very poorly. I mean, it’s not exactly proper, falling for your subordinate.” He exhales and meets Lanisen’s eyes. “But, all that to say, it’s…sometimes love is this thing you happen into, whether you should or not. I’ve come to understand that very well.”
Lanisen draws back and nods, looking at the ground. “I didn’t… want for either of you to ever know.”
Darrin tells him bluntly, “That’s stupid.” He gives a small grin, softening the words. “For several reasons, Megren’s perceptiveness for one. You were never going to get away with it. And for another…” Darrin rubs his neck. “This has been tearing you up inside, Lanisen. /You/ deserve better than that, better than holding all your feelings inside until they fester and then feeling guilty about it.” He pauses, pursing his lips. “Meg has said you…don’t want this to change anything between you. But that’s, it’s, kind of impossible? Because there’s change in any kind of relationship over time. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be bad.”
Lanisen rubs a hand over his eyes and nods, not looking at Darrin. He looks exhausted.
Darrin cups a hand around the back of Lanisen’s neck, urging him to look up, and then Darrin hesitates. “Um. Let me just – say one more thing and then we can stop with the heavy feelings part of this conversation.” He gives a small, self-deprecating smile, then sobers to say, “I…care about you. Megren cares about you. Maybe not the way you want the most, but still, okay? I don’t know how much that helps right now. But I do – we do.”
Lanisen shuts his eyes again, and this time tears spill. “I thought I lost you both,” he whispers.
Darrin pulls a handkerchief from somewhere and presses it into Lanisen’s hand. “Nah,” he says, his voice warm but a bit rough. “We’re both too blooming pushy to be gotten rid of that easily.”
Lanisen laughs, and sobs, and makes grateful use of the handkerchief.
Darrin takes a small step back to give him space to do so, nudging his fruit basket with his heel as he moves. He looks down, purses his lips thoughtfully, and picks up the basket. Plucking a moss rosebud from a small pot of them hidden amongst the other herbs and flowers, he undoes the weaving of the bouquet from before to pull out a few blue violets, which he offers to Lanisen along with the moss rose.
Lanisen accepts them a little uncertainly, looking past them at Darrin with a question.
Darrin says, “Um, blue violets, faithfulness; moss rose for…for affection,” he explains, blushing high on his cheeks, though it may be hard to see in the low light. “I know, I know, language of flowers, it’s a bit silly,” he says quickly, waving a hand dismissively.
Lanisen whispers, “Oh.” He takes a deep breath, looking down at the flowers in his hand. Then he steps forward and hugs Darrin again, tightly.
Darrin breathes out in surprise and then hugs him firmly in return.
Lanisen says quietly, “Thank you.”
Darrin says, “You’re welcome.”
Lanisen draws back again. He looks down at the flowers, and back at Darrin. He nods a couple times, and breathes out, and offers a wobbly smile.
Darrin smiles back. “All right?” he asks softly.
Lanisen nods again. “Yeah,” he answers. “I’m– yeah.”
Darrin says, “Good.”
Lanisen asks, “Are– are you, sir?”
Darrin looks surprised by the question, and then his smile turns crooked and eyes crinkle at the corners. “Yes. I’m…glad we could talk.”
Lanisen says, “Me too.”
Darrin smiles bigger.
Lanisen takes a deep breath and looks up at the sky, where the stars are bright. “Are you goin’ in?”
Darrin says, “I should, yeah, it’s late.”
Darrin jostles his basket. “Wanna head in and share some blackberries with me before we turn in for the night?”
Lanisen hesitates. “I’d like that.”
Darrin grins, then gestures for the other man to lead the way. “Shall we?”
Lanisen ducks his head and moves down the path obligingly.
Darrin follows, swinging the basket as he walks.