Okay, so I'm not sure how far I'm going with this, but I figured I'd see how far I'd get. Also, people wanted a little bit of Fami POV, which randomly turned into family feels. Um. Not quite sure how that happened, but I actually like Maoric? Heh. Continuing the reversed Beauty & the Beast fic.

Title: Wedding Presents
Rating: PG-13
Universe: Lioness and Lamb
Characters/Pairings: Fami, Maoric. Mostly focused on family this chapter
Summary: An hour before his wedding, Fami receives a visit, and a present, from his eldest brother
Wordcount: 2386
Warnings/Notes: Arranged marriages, war marriages, family, loss, courage, hope
Claimer: Still mostly mine

Wedding Presents

It was odd to look into a sheet of gilded glass and see a man dressed in his wedding clothes. Fami studied himself curiously, reaching up to adjust the swathe of yellow-and-gold silk thrown back over his left shoulder. It was anchored well enough, seeming disinclined to move even under some duress. He traced the tiny beads stitched along the edges of it absently. He did look the part, he had to admit. A prince on his wedding day, no doubt about that.

Even the glasses matched well enough. Teoli, his very clever maidservant, had managed to tumble his hair around them just so, loose and artful beneath the gold cloth of his crown, so that as long as he didn't poke them too much they seemed almost a part of the whole. It was truly excellently done.

He only wished she hadn't cried when he told her so.

He took a slow, deep breath. Oh, but he would be glad when this was finally done. As terrifying and uncertain a future as he would be left with afterwards, at least it would be his alone to face or to flinch from as he chose, without a thousand other hopes and lives hanging in the balance around it. A marriage was a private thing, was it not? He would live and die for other people's whims, not they for his. An infinitely simpler arrangement, surely.

Oh, probably not. He knew that. He had a whole new land to navigate, a new court with all its pitfalls, and a wife who may or may not allow him much liberty. It would likely be very complicated and potentially very briefly exciting indeed. But at least his brothers would be safe by then. At least no one would cry for him where he'd have to watch them do it.

Only an hour or so now. Only a few hours until it was done, and then a day or two until they left the city. Left the kingdom. A few hours and then a few days, and then all he'd have to worry about would be Calime and what she meant for him thereafter.

He wasn't overly concerned about that, he realised. He looked around inside himself, stirred his feelings thoughtfully, but he really wasn't all that worried about it. She was an interesting creature, his wife. Dangerous. Surprisingly subtle. A warrior queen who'd destroyed two enemy kingdoms within eleven years of her reign. She was nothing safe to go home to, that was certain. Yet he didn't sense much in the way of cruelty from her. Ruthlessness, yes, practicality. She was cold and she was clever and she would kill anything that got in her way. If he crossed her, he would know about it very rapidly indeed. And yet. She hadn't needled much. She hadn't toyed with him. Only tested him. Only tried to take his measure.

He could understand that urge, at least. He'd rather like the measure of his wife as well. But, well. He'd have more than enough time for that soon enough, wouldn't he?

"... Fami?"

The voice was soft. Hesitant. Far too hesitant for a man who would shortly be a king, even one of a conquered kingdom. Maybe especially one of a conquered kingdom. They had to keep their backbone now, or risk losing it forever. Fami blinked once at his reflection, watched the expression cool and calm on that mirrored face. He knew Maoric didn't like that, but they didn't really have time for much else anymore. He added a little smile, to soften it, and put a touch of flamboyance into his turn, his wedding robes flowing out around him.

"Maoric," he said, his smile flickering brighter in defence against the pain on his brother's face. "I look well enough, don't you think? You must take care of Teoli when I'm gone. She has a touch of genius about her."

It would have been a needle when they were younger, a semi-wounding blow. Maoric and Kaeri both had always been oddly jealous of his looks, how little work they needed to shine. Teoli's artistry was largely wasted on him, and yet he had won her regardless. That had been a sharp bone between them once.

It was wounding now, too, but not for that reason. Not any more.

"Please don't," his brother asked. Near begged, drifting close to him. He was the taller by some fingers, hard and lean and imposing. Fami had truly never understood why Maoric, of all people, had ever been jealous of him. "Please, Fami. Not today. For this one conversation, I beg you, please. No artifice. I would speak with my brother while I still may. Please."

Fami blinked at him. His hand curled gently behind the shield of his sleeve. He nodded. Carefully. After a moment, much softer, Maoric spoke again.

"I know it's too late to move you," he said softly. "I know it's too late to stop this. It was too late months ago. It shouldn't be different now that I've seen her, and yet ... What do I tell Father, Fami? If he wakes up. What do I tell him when he asks where you are?"

Fami winced, but only faintly. "He's not going to wake up, Maoric," he said, as gently as he knew how. "The illness has worn him down to nothing. It won't be long now. You don't have to answer to him. You're king in all but name. You only answer to yourself." A pause, and he grimaced ruefully. "Well. Yourself and my wife, but with luck, as long as the tribute is regular, she won't be watching you that closely. I don't think she's the kind to interfere too much, though I suppose we'll find out soon enough how right I am."

Maoric stared him. Near angrily, Fami thought, that so familiar frustration that had always edged their conversations. More so now. Fami couldn't help it, though.

"How can you be so calm?" his brother asked, almost helplessly, his hands curled into fists of frustration. "How, Fami? How are you always so calm? You know what you marry in an hour. You know what will take you beyond any hope of our help. Our father is dying, you are taken from us, and I can save neither of you. How can you be so calm? In the face of that, in the face of everything?"

Fami felt a spark of anger at that. A little surge, a hard little curl of fury in his own chest. After a moment, he let it show. No artifice, Maoric said. Well then. No artifice indeed. He let his expression slide, let it show his brother the truth he so badly wanted.

"Because there's no point being otherwise," he said, with all the clipped command of a prince on his wedding day. "For either of us, Maoric. In an hour I will be a husband and a hostage, and in a few days or weeks you will be a king with a war torn kingdom to rule. We have neither time nor space for anything other than calm, and you know it. Kaeri has no head for politics, and his army is splintered. He's only going to be of so much help. You need to calm down, brother. Father is dying. As cruel as it is, he can't be your concern much longer. And I ..."

He stopped. Took a breath, held it long and slow. He breathed it out, letting himself soften in its wake. He moved forwards. Slowly, carefully. He touched his stricken brother lightly on the shoulder, closer than had been their wont in a very long time.

"I will be fine, brother," he said, warm and gentle. "You have to trust me. I will learn the measure of my wife. I will learn how to deal with her. I will learn her court and her kingdom and its rules. I will learn how to help you, if I can and as much as I can, as long as I am in her court. I will learn, brother. I am a scholar first and foremost. This I am good at. You have to trust me. You have to put me from your mind, do what is best for our kingdom, and trust that I will either survive it, or count it worth dying for. I'm not afraid, Maoric. Marriage may not be something I had looked for, but it's nothing I can't handle."

He hoped. He hoped. But if they lost their backbone now, they'd never get it back again. And besides. Fami had had enough crying for today. He was only getting married in an hour. It was a political arrangement. It wasn't that much to cry over.

Something odd flickered across Maoric's expression. Something strange, something Fami wasn't sure he'd seen before. His brother stared down at him, and something that might have almost been a smile slid slow and careful across his face.

"You really are her son," Maoric said. From nowhere, or so Fami thought, but then his brother reached up. Touched his cheek, the rim of his glasses lightly. "She was a war bride too. Mother. I don't know how much you remember her, Fami. You were young when she died. But you ... you do more than look like her. She was a war bride too. I think there was no one Father ever loved more in his life. She had him from the first, and never let him go."

Fami blinked at him. Uselessly. He didn't ... he didn't know what to say.

"I ... I have something for you," Maoric went on, fumbling awkwardly with his belt pouch. He pulled something free of it eventually, holding it uneasily in his closed fist. Fami only continued to blink. "It ... It was hers. It was meant to be yours. I stole, years ago. Back when I didn't like you very much. She brought it from her home kingdom. I think ... I think when she saw you, she always knew it was going to be yours."

He opened his hand, and Fami stared blankly at a ... a shell? A shell frozen in stone, brown and polished where it curled on his brother's palm. Thin wires of gold were woven around it, a golden thread looped through it so that it might be worn around the neck. His mother had been from the western mountains, the sea beyond them. She must have carried the thing a long way.

"Call it a wedding present," his brother said softly. Awkwardly, and Fami had never felt tears threaten so strongly in his entire life. "From me and ... and from her. One war bride to another. It should have been yours a long time ago. Maybe I hoped it wouldn't have to be. Or ... or maybe I just really didn't like you back then."

Fami laughed, helplessly, and did his best to pretend he wasn't crying. Pretended he could see through the mist across his glasses. Maoric tugged him awkwardly, carefully into a hug.

"Don't die, little brother," he whispered, into the mess he'd made of Fami's artfully tumbled hair. "Don't let her break you. Until the day she came here, I didn't think any human could face that beast and win, but I didn't count on you. I don't think anyone did, and her least of all. So show her, then. Show her what our mother showed our father. If I have to manage our entire kingdom by myself, the least you can manage is a marriage."

Fami made a noise. Even he wasn't sure what sort of one. He curled both his hands in his brother's tunic, and pressed his face into Maoric's chest. "I promise," he said thickly. "I promise, Maoric. You mind Kaeri and the kingdom, and I'll mind my wife. I'll manage it. I promise you."

"... I know," his brother said, steering him gently back and looking at him. He had never looked more a king, Fami thought. It suited him better than it ever had their father. "I know you will, Fami. The beast won't know what hit her. I don't doubt it at all."

And well. Well then. That said that as plainly as possible, didn't it?

Fami reached up. Pulled his glasses off, wiped his hands across his face. Wiped his glasses too, for that matter. He looked down at himself, and plucked lightly at his wedding clothes. They weren't that badly rumpled, really. Someone had anchored them very well. Maoric had to have made a terrible mess of his hair, though. Fami didn't know if he even wanted to see how much of one. He grimaced up at his brother, and put his glasses firmly back on his face.

"Go out and stall my wife for a little while, will you?" he asked calmly. "And send Teoli back in here. She's going to have to redo the bulk of her work, I fear."

Maoric laughed softly. Hard and wondering, like it pained him. He touched his hand gently to Fami's cheek one last time, mopping up the last remnants of his tears.

"She won't know what hit her," he said again, more strongly now. Not meaning Teoli at all. "She won't even know where to start. You're going to win this, Fami. I know you are. A beauty to master a beast. This isn't beyond you at all."

That remained to be seen, Fami thought wryly. That wasn't guaranteed at all. But either way, he wasn't going to come any closer to it standing around here.

"Go away, brother," he said lightly. "I have a wedding to prepare for. Kindly don't make me any later for it than I have to be."

An hour, he thought, while Maoric made a wry and far from kingly retreat. Less than an hour, though likely they'd have to push it back a bit. But still. An hour to be married, and a few days to be taken away. He could hold it that long. He could keep his calm at least that far ahead.

And after that ... he'd do what needed doing as it came. Nobody could do more than that, after all. Nobody could do better.

And nobody ... could do it half as well as he.

A/N: Continued in Wedding Night


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