Author's Note: The writeblr-monthly Discord channel gets all the credit (or blame) for this. If it's absolutely terrible, my only defence is that I wrote it in half an hour with no prior warning for a classroom assignment. Luckily(?) I already had a vague plot bunny, so I wrote it down, changed a few details, and tried to make it angsty. Why is it that I can write angst just fine when I'm not required to, but as soon as I'm told to write angst, nothing turns out as sad as it's supposed to?
At the minute this is a one-shot, but it's also a sort of prequel to a longer story I'm planning.
Sariye had done many foolish things in her life. She had made some truly terrible errors of judgement, one of which had literally killed her. She had accepted an offer of resurrection without asking what strings were attached. Thanks to those strings attached, she had sworn an oath of loyalty to a man who intended to conquer half the world.
But the most foolish thing she'd ever done was fall in love with her prince.
Common sense told her it was hopeless. Princes didn't marry undead assassins. Not even ones they'd knighted and made a general.
Common sense also told her that she had no evidence Prince Ilaran was capable of returning her feelings even if he'd wanted to. For ten years she'd fought beside him. In that time she'd never once seen him so much as look at anyone, male or female, with anything approaching desire. He treated almost everyone around him with the same distant, chilly sort of politeness, or else with outright rudeness. True, he treated Sariye with more friendship than most people, but he was friendly with all his generals. There was nothing unusual about how he behaved towards her.
And yet, Sariye could never fully drive away the inconvenient attachment she had developed for him. Sometimes she almost convinced herself it was gone. Sometimes she could go for months at a time without being distracted by unwanted feelings. And then she would see her prince smile, or (rarely) laugh, or even ask her something in the tone he used only with people whose opinions he truly valued. And she realised she had never managed to conquer her love for him.
There were even times when she wondered if he might return her feelings. When he smiled at her with just a little more warmth than a prince would normally show a general. When she could have sworn she saw him looking at her longer than necessary. When their hands brushed against each other, and he didn't immediately draw back.
It was probably just her imagination. It was easier to tell herself that than to allow herself to hope, even for a minute…
Every week she gave him a report on the troops she commanded. It was routine, professional, one of their few interactions that no awkward longings could interfere with. And then she just had to speak without thinking.
"I request permission to move young Aradjal to another division. He came to me this morning, told me he loved me, and asked to marry me. I turned him down as politely as I could, but that sort of thing always causes trouble."
It wasn't the first time Sariye had had to deal with unwanted proposals from her soldiers. It wasn't the first time she'd told Ilaran when one happened. But today Ilaran granted her permission without making a single joke about it.
"Why haven't you married?" he asked, to Sariye's confusion. "You've refused so many proposals, even from foreign princes."
Common sense told her that she should speak lightly, as if the subject had no particular importance to her. Instead she sounded much too serious as she said, "Perhaps the man I want to marry hasn't proposed to me yet." In an attempt to turn attention away from herself, she said with forced cheerfulness, "If we're talking about marriage, why haven't you married, your Highness?"
It was a question that had come up many times over the past ten years. Ilaran had an amazing skill for dodging it without truly answering. Sometimes he made a sarcastic remark, or found some sensible diplomatic reason, or just didn't answer at all.
"Perhaps I can't propose to the woman I want to marry," he said now, in an oddly serious voice.
Sariye tried not to read too much into that. He was just turning her own answer back on her. It didn't mean anything. She couldn't let herself believe it meant anything. Her imagination had taken an idle remark and spun it into something it wasn't.
It was nothing, she told herself firmly. Nothing at all.
Her attempts at convincing herself only left her feeling more depressed than before.