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some call love a curse - Reign ; Lola/Narcisse ; 2,200 words. Lola and Narcisse meet again. (Set after 2x10 - "Mercy.")

Content warning: this story includes some brief discussion of rape.

+++

It is a cold, sharp day; stepping outside, Lola understands why the Protestant prisoners thought they might die of it. Still, it’s better than being inside the castle, where the air is heavy with fear and sorrow.

At least out here, the world seems vaster. It’s easier to feel that there is an escape from the cage of court.

Mary is back in her own rooms now, and Lola hasn’t seen Francis visit once. She, Kenna, and Greer have tried to be there often, but Mary seems uneasy with them. Earlier Catherine came in, looking a little dazed—even she must be shaken by the attack and the chaos that followed. Mary dismissed Lola and Greer and Kenna, preferring her mother-in-law’s company. Things have certainly changed in the last year. Maybe even Catherine has done a bit of growing up.

And so now Lola has the afternoon free, and no idea what to do with herself.

She tells herself that a walk to the lake will make her feel better. Of course, walking to the ends of the earth couldn’t fix things, not now, but it’s a comfort to pretend. To have some sense of purpose.

But as soon as she starts walking, she knows that no amount of fresh air will clear her head. She can’t stop thinking of Mary—the horrible pain lurking behind her eyes and the careful strength in her voice.

It’s a threat that hangs over every woman alive, every day, but somehow Lola can’t quite believe that it dug its claws into Mary and turned real. Mary had evaded such things more than once before, as if guardian angels were always there to steer her out of harm’s way at the last moment.

There was the last time that the castle was invaded: Catherine saved them all then.

And once, there was Colin. Colin, who would have raped Mary too. Lola was so busy loving him that she blamed Mary for his death, and did not stop to consider what a hideous thing he had nearly done. How young and love-blinded she was. She likes to think she is older and wiser now, but she’s still made so many mistakes since.

Sometimes it feels like she’s hurt Mary so badly that she doesn’t deserve any more chances. And still Mary has faith in her.

She is determined, at last, to become a woman worthy of her queen. A woman worthy of her friend.

She only wishes it hadn’t taken this.

She walks quickly, the snow crunching under her feet; the cold stings inside her with each breath, a sharp feeling not quite like a headache.

When she reaches the lake, she stops, her heart pounding. She looks out at the frozen stretch of it and remembers ice skating with Mary and Greer and Kenna and Aylee when they were small. It always made her so giddy with happiness. None of them ever had any fear of falling back then; they reckoned themselves invincible, as long as they stayed together.

She doesn’t quite notice she’s begun to cry until she feels the tears hot on her cheeks. She doesn’t bother to brush them away.

She wonders if Aylee is looking down on them now. She hopes so. Aylee was always closest to Mary, and loved her so much; maybe her soul will bring Mary’s some peace. Lola draws in a shaky breath.

Behind her, a man clears his throat.

Lola knows at once who it is.

She wipes her cheeks, then turns.

He looks as finely dressed as ever, the golden curlicues on his teal cloak glinting in the pearly light. But he looks haggard, too; his face is bruised and thinner, and his eyes are a little dead.

Despite everything, Lola feels a surge of sympathy for him.

“Surprised to see me?” Narcisse asks. His voice lacks its usual sinister charm. A good thing; she feels much less inclined to punch his smug face. But it still chills her to see him brought down so low.

“I am.”

He says nothing for once. Just gazes at her with an expression she cannot quite read. He looks so weary. It would be easier if he were raging.

“You’ve been crying,” he says at last.

She draws a steadying breath. “It’s been a hard week.”

“Indeed,” he says.

She wonders just what he’s been through since she saw him last. When she asked, Francis only said that Narcisse was taken care of for the time being. She had clung to that ‘for the time being,’ that tiny indicator that he still lived, at least.

And now here he is, looking soundly humbled.

She decides there’s no point in dancing around things. “I had to tell him where to find you. And I don’t regret it.”

He grimaces. “Because you are Francis’s, first and foremost.”

“Because I love Mary! She’s my queen and my friend, and I will always choose her first. I’ve made choices that hurt her in the past, and I don’t intend to do it ever again.”

As soon as the words are out of her mouth, she worries that she’s said too much—that Narcisse will be able to find the truth of what happened to Mary in her words. But he doesn’t seem to notice anything.

“You owe me no explanation,” is all he says. “I understand loyalty.”

“Do you? And where does yours lie?”

“With France.” His expression sours. “And its king.”

Everything has shifted, then. Francis has made it clear that he won’t be controlled any longer. Good.

“I’m glad he let you live,” Lola admits as he comes to stand by her side. “I was afraid he wouldn’t.”

“As was I,” he says dryly. “Was it you, then, who planted the idea in his head?”

“I told him you might be of better use to him alive.”

“So I have you to thank for making me the king’s new puppet.”

“Don’t pretend you haven’t earned this. You were playing a dangerous game and you lost.”

“Did I?”

She knows he is not a good man—the farthest thing from it—and still she lets him disappoint her. Annoyance surges through her. “If you intend to scheme against them still, I swear I’ll never speak to you again. Francis and Mary have suffered enough.”

“I only meant,” he says, his eyes on her, “that perhaps I have my eye on a different prize now. One that I never could have anticipated.”

A shiver runs through her. She wishes she could blame the cold.

“Don’t flirt with me,” she orders harshly. “We’re past all that. Too much has happened. Too many people have been hurt. And if you ever say anything to me about baths again,” she adds, “I swear to God I’ll bash your skull in and enjoy it.”

To her surprise, he laughs at that—not one of his smarmy knowing laughs, but a truer sound. The delight on his face is downright boyish, and makes her like him more than she wants to. He is forever making her like him more than she wants to.

“You think I’m not serious?” Lola says—sternly, because otherwise she might be too tempted to laugh with him.

“Oh, I believe you are.” After a moment, he adds, grimmer, “And so am I.”

“What do you mean?”

“I spent a week chained up in the dungeon. I thought I would rot there, courtesy of our gracious rulers, just like my son did. And as the hours and the hunger and the cold and the pain wore on me, the only solace I found was in thinking of you.”

She folds her arms, uncomfortable. “You keep saying that.”

“Yes, well.” He looks to the ground, and sounds almost shy. “I keep thinking of you.”

Damn him.

“I cannot be with you.” She strains to keep her voice steady. “You’re an enemy to the people who mean everything to me. To my child.”

“I know what it is to lose a child. I would never wish it upon you.”

“But you would wish it upon Francis. I know I will always be a means to an end for you, no matter what sweet things you say. How can I not be? I’m the mother of the king’s firstborn. What you desire from me is the influence you’d gain from our marriage. I’m not a fool; I know that.”

“Who said anything about marriage?”

She scowls. “So you just wish to make me notorious.”

“You’re already notorious. A discrete arrangement between us would change nothing.”

She wishes she could argue there, but he’s right. That doesn’t mean she will consider the idea of them being lovers. (At least, not in front of him.) Coldly, she says, “I will never trust you.”

He lets out a frustrated huff of breath; it mists in the air around his mouth. “What if I swear henceforth to be an ally to the crown?”

“Your words mean nothing to me. It’s only your actions that matter.”

“And if my actions prove me to be a virtuous servant? What then?”

“Believe me, I haven’t got my hopes up.”

“As you recall, Lola, I do love a challenge.” He smiles at her, an inconveniently inviting smile—but it’s cut short by a cough. His time in the dungeons has clearly left him ill.

She puts a hand on his shoulder. “You shouldn’t be out here. You’re unwell. Go inside. Sit by the fire, and drink some tea, and rest, and—”

He stares down at her hand. “And?”

She pulls her fingers back. “And don’t burden yourself with thoughts of what will never be.”

He lifts his gaze again, meeting hers with real tenderness.

For a moment, she abandons the necessary distance between them and touches his cheek. Her hands are gloved. His eyes still flutter closed at her touch. At once, she knows she could get drunk on it: watching him savor her touch. Her thoughts wander to that journal again.

“Am I the only one,” he asks softly, “who feels that burden’s weight?”

“No,” she confesses.

Their faces have grown close. It would be very easy to kiss him.

But nothing good is ever easy these days. She must remember that. “It doesn’t matter.”

She pulls away from him. He seems a little dazed at the moment’s sudden end.

Before he can say anything, she turns to the most unromantic of subjects. “I know you were flirting with Princess Claude before Francis locked you up.” He raises an eyebrow at her. In explanation, she adds, “It’s the sort of news that travels fast.”

“And you can’t guess why I would do such a thing?”

“You aren’t really using a girl half your age to make me jealous. Surely even you aren’t that ... that pitifully conniving.”

“Depends.” The corner of his mouth twitches. “Is it working?”

“Leave her be. She’s a child.”

“I assure you, she’s plenty grown up, and on her way to being a more formidable hellion than even her mother.”

“I don’t know about that,” Lola says, doubtful. She can’t imagine anyone more formidable than Catherine.

“Princess Claude is petty and cunning and, yes, enticing. Her company can be ... very entertaining in small doses. But how could she hold a candle to you, after our time together? Now that I’ve had the chance to know you, how could a petulant royal compare?”

“Oh really?” Lola laughs shortly. “What am I, that puts her to shame so?”

She expects something smart and at least vaguely lewd.

Instead, his expression softens.

“A rare jewel,” he says.

She remembers the conversation from which those words came. The first time they spoke truthfully to one another, and she saw a man beneath the monster.

It touches her heart. She hides that at once. “Go inside, Lord Narcisse. There’s no sense in staying out here. You’ll only make yourself worse.”

He holds her gaze a long time. She lifts her chin, and makes sure not to give an inch.

“Very well,” he says at last. “Good day, Lady Lola.”

She turns her attention back to the lake, knowing he’d like it far too well if she watched him go. She listens to his footsteps get quieter, until at last she can hear nothing at all.


+


And yet she cannot quite shake him.

Once she’s returned inside, she pays a visit to the baby. The nursery is warm and cozy, and her heart swells to meet her son’s sweet eyes.

She thinks of Narcisse, cold and sick and alone. Forever in danger, now, of losing all he has.

She summons her maid. “Make certain Lord Narcisse has a fire in his chambers, and hot tea and broth.”

“Of course, my lady. Shall I tell him it was you who gave the order?”

Lola teeters, for a moment, on the brink of deciding.

“Yes,” she says at last.

Her maid curtseys and moves to go.

Just before the girl slips out the door, Lola adds, “Tell him I hope he will be relieved of his affliction soon.”

Her maid nods.

Lola waits until she’s gone, then sighs.

"Lord give me strength," she murmurs.

Some small weak part of her almost hopes the prayer will go unanswered.

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