Brought to Light
by Rana Eros
Written for the Yuletide 2005 Secret Santa Challenge. Thank you to Isabeau, for making the request that sparked this story, to the organizers of the Yuletide Challenge, and to Eliza, Em, and Rhi for fantastic beta duty.
She loves the touch of sunlight on her face almost as much as she loves the touch of her husband's hand. Still she dreams of moonlight and stars and running her fingers through the night-dark fur of a wolf.
She nearly forgot he was fair-haired, before she saw him again.
She cannot remember being the hawk, but flight is another thing she dreams, flight and a dizzying freedom. They go hawking and she startles herself with tears, watching the falcons spiral overhead. Her heart jumps when one of them dives for the kill; she tells no one she prefers the fruits of those hunts undercooked. She eats with exaggerated care, fighting the urge toward savagery.
She does not ask Etienne if he misses the wolf. He was a hunter before the curse, and he is one now, restored to his place as Captain of the Bishop's Guard. He's happy, alive and with her; this she holds onto, this she would not give up again. There are shadows in her memory, but she would rather that than shadows in his eyes.
They have ridden the road they once took out of Aquila, she and Etienne, the one on which they were struck down by the curse. It eased something in her to ride as far as they had that day, to pause and see Etienne smiling on her, to look back and see the city unchanged in the daylight, to feel herself unchanged. Still her mind worries at the edges of what she can remember, scrambling for how the city and river might have looked, how Etienne might have looked, through the eyes of a bird.
She keeps such restlessness to herself. She loves her life, loves tending her household and visiting with her cousin, harvesting honey and herbs and ensuring the care of her servants. She loves riding with Etienne in the sunlight and eating by his side at night, torches and candles turning him gold. She loves how beautiful he is in moonlight, and if she misses black fur, it's not because pale skin and pale hair are not to her taste.
"Isabeau," Etienne breathes against her throat, and yes, that is the very essence of what she won't give up. She doesn't think she can be blamed for wanting more of it, for wanting the memories the hawk has of him.
Then Father Imperius comes to visit for the first time since the curse was broken, and she thinks she's found a way to know a little of what haunts her. They share a midday meal while Etienne serves the Bishop.
"Have you spoken with Philippe?" she asks. It's unaccustomed bluntness, but with Imperius it's often better to be blunt.
"I last saw him shortly after you and the Captain were restored. He said he wanted to see more of the country, so he left Aquila for a time." Imperius snorts, but it's a fond sound. "It's more likely he just didn't want to encounter the Captain again while picking someone's pocket."
That almost makes Isabeau smile, save it means Philippe is beyond her reach to question. Imperius does not know as much of what she seeks; Etienne only sought him out in desperation.
"I did try to convince him to stay on with me," Imperius continues, "but mine is hardly the sort of life to interest him."
"I had thought to offer him a position here, for his aid, but we didn't know where to find him."
"That's probably best for your coffers." Imperius gives her a look that reminds her he was her confessor once, and knows her well. "Though I'm sure the tales he could tell would have been worth a little coin, particularly of his time with you and Navarre."
"Oh, yes, particularly with his embellishments," she says lightly, but Imperius looks grave.
"It's a marvelous enough tale without embellishments. Perhaps it's better told by a plain-spoken man."
"Plain-spoken men aren't inclined to telling tales. More bread?"
"Isabeau," Imperius says, and it's not at all the way Etienne says it, but still it holds all her attention. "Have either of you asked what happened when you were transformed? Have you spoken of it?"
"Of course we have." She busies herself cutting the bread, though he asked for none. "We couldn't very well have not."
"Then if I asked him if the wolf ever threatened you, he could tell me."
She looks up at him sharply. "The wolf didn't, and you will ask him no such thing."
"The wolf didn't." Imperius leans toward her. "Have you told him that?"
"I don't need to."
"Are you so certain? Did the hawk ever cause him grief? Did she cut his arm or nip his ear? Do you know?"
"I would never hurt him."
"The hawk wasn't you, Isabeau."
It's the sudden silence that makes her realize they'd been nearly shouting. The two servants in the room look distressed, and she feels herself trembling. Imperius takes a breath and leans back from her a little, looking both tired and determined.
"The hawk wasn't all of you, and you can't remember what she did or did not do. You think the Captain isn't worried you won't speak of it because the wolf did something to you? Frightened you in some way? I cannot give you back that time, Isabeau, for all my hand in stealing it from you. I can only beg you not to let your silence steal more of it. You both deserve the surety you alone can give each other."
She considers, tearing the bread before her into shreds. She stares at her hands and considers how much more suited a hawk's talons are to tearing.
Did she cut his arm or nip his ear?
She doesn't know.
You think the Captain isn't worried you won't speak of it because the wolf did something to you?
She meets Imperius' eyes again, the compassion there the same as it always has been. "I will ask him."
She waits until that night, when they curl together on the bed and he threads his hands through her growing hair as she strokes his arm. She moves her hand to where the hawk would have rested on his glove, feels reassured at the lack of telltale scar tissue.
"Do you wish you could remember?" she whispers softly, tracing her fingers over his fire-lit skin. For a moment, his movements pause, and the look in his eyes turns distant and sad. She stops stroking, pressing her hand close against his forearm, and he swallows.
"Yes." It's like standing in the light of the darkened sun to speak of it, dangerous and exhilarating. As she did then, she draws closer to Etienne. They faced the Bishop together; she should have known this would be the same. "I want to know what your days were like, with the hawk as your companion. Was I intractable?"
"You were beautiful." He presses tight against her, his fingers tilting her face up. "As beautiful as you are in the moonlight. I'm sorry I missed any chance to see you so."
"You were beautiful too." She does not have to move very far to kiss him, to murmur against his lips. "Beautiful and fierce, with such soft black fur. You protected me, just as you do now."
"And you watched over me." His lips curve in a near-smile against hers. "We were ourselves, then, even if we can't remember it."
"We were ourselves." She answers the curve of his lips with her own. "I'll make you a bargain, milord. A memory for a memory, until we share them all."
"And shall we keep each other up until sunrise with these memories, milady? Three years is a long time to share."
"Then we shall divide them up so the telling is less arduous."
"The lady is wise as ever." Etienne kisses her, and it tastes like memories of the river and the road, and like sunlight breaking over them both at last. When he pulls away to draw breath, the light lingers. "Shall I tell you of watching you fly?"
His voice too is like the sun, warm and comforting. He speaks, and she basks in it.
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