Author's note: OK, OK, here it is, please don't kill my family!
Seriously though, sorry this took so damn long. Games, classes, finals, you know how it goes. I can't promise the next chapter will come much faster, but I will finish this story if it's the last thing I do.
Oh, and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to you all, and Happy New Year!
The word kept running mercilessly through his head, wracking him with guilt and shame.
He had failed. He had failed to protect her. He had sworn to keep her from any more suffering, yet even as he frantically paced the front hallway of the manor she was sitting in a cell, soon to stand trial for nothing less than cold-blooded murder.
It had been ten minutes since they had taken Tear away, and Luke had spent this time desperately trying to figure out what he should do, the sporadic circles he made as he traveled throughout the room mirroring his ever-shifting thoughts. The maids and servants had long since made themselves scarce, somewhat afraid of their young master in his current state.
His first impulse had been to break her out of her cell, but that idea was immediately vanquished; he wanted to save her, not make her furious. He tried to calm himself down and think through the situation logically, as she would want him to do, but his mind kept insisting on picturing all the horrible sentences she could receive if she were found guilty.
They would not be able to do anything to her right away, due to her pregnancy, but Luke did not intend to ever let them harm her, whether it was now or in eight months. But unless he could calm himself and figure out what to do, he would be useless to her.
Luke halted in his steps, hoping that if he forced himself to stop moving physically it would help stop his panicked thoughts as well. It helped a little, but he still could not come up with a plan that did not involve knocking out guards or busting open locks. He needed help. He needed to talk to someone, someone smart.
His first choice would naturally have been Tear, but that was clearly not an option at the moment. His mother and father were gone, and all of his closest friends had left mere hours earlier.
No, not all; most. Natalia was still at the castle.
By the time he finished processing the thought, Luke was already halfway to the doorway. He hastily pushed open the door and blew past the White Knight guarding the entrance, who was clearly confused by all the comings and goings but knew his place enough not to ask questions. The castle guards were equally confused when the king's nephew sped past them in an apparent state of panic, but did little more than shrug and continue watching their posts.
It was the guards inside the castle who finally approached Luke, since he seemed to become lost and confused the moment he entered the building. He was not sure where to look first for his cousin, but his growing sense of urgency would not allow him to calm down enough to pick a direction and start searching. When a guard asked him what was the matter he literally jumped, before rounding on the unsuspecting man.
"Where's Natalia?!" he asked in his most informal tone, feeling there was no time for pleasantry.
The guard was a bit shocked by his bluntness, but recovered and answered, "I believe the princess is in her room, but I'm not sure-"
The end of the guard's sentence fell on deaf ears; Luke was already to the stairs.
As Luke charged down the hallway that led to Natalia's room, he nearly ran right into the subject of his search.
"Luke!" Natalia said in surprise as he came to a stumbling halt in front of her. "Are you alright? I-"
"Tear!" Luke cried out as soon as he regained his footing. "They took-"
"I know," Natalia interrupted him, holding up a hand to stop him. "I was about to go see how you were doing."
Luke was clearly still panicky, so Natalia smiled sympathetically and tried her best to sound comforting. "Luke, I am sure the situation will work itself out. Please, come and sit down, it may help you relax."
Somewhat reluctantly, Luke followed Natalia into her spacious room and plopped down on the couch near the door. Natalia stood in front of him and waited for a few seconds while he attempted to slow his breathing to a normal pace.
"I am sure you would like to know why they arrested Tear," Natalia said before Luke could ask, "But I still do not know the details myself. It would probably be best for you to ask her yourself."
At this remark, Luke immediately perked up and forgot why he had originally come there. "I can see her?!"
Natalia remained calm, which somewhat irritated Luke in his hyperactive state. "I suspect they are questioning her at the moment, but I am sure you would be allowed to visit her when they are through."
Luke leapt off the couch and looked ready to bolt out the door, but Natalia placed a hand on his arm and shook her head. "It will take several hours at least. There is nothing you can do until then. Sit down and attempt to relax. I will get you something to drink."
With an aggravated sigh, Luke once again seated himself. Natalia signaled a maid, and after making her request she sat down beside him.
Natalia simply watched him for a minute. He was staring blankly at the table, concentrating so hard it seemed a shame to interrupt him. However, she became concerned for his safety when he became so still that his breathing practically stopped, so she broke the silence.
"I realize you are worried, but I do not believe there is cause for too much concern. I am sure it is simply a misunderstanding. You know as well as I do that Tear would never do such a thing."
This took Luke out of his trance-like state, and he looked up at Natalia, now appearing more anxious and desperate than panicked. "I know she didn't do it, but they seemed so sure she did. It's so frustrating, not being able to do anything." He shifted positions so that his whole body was facing Natalia, and his eyes shone with a sudden determination. "I don't want to do anything violent, because I know it would be wrong, and I know it would upset Tear. But I will if I have to. I won't let them take her. I won't let them hurt her. If they say she really did it, if they threaten to punish her, I'm getting her out of here using whatever means it takes."
Most people would have thought that Luke was exaggerating, but Natalia had known him his entire life, and she recognized the deadly serious tone in his voice. It was both touching and frightening, knowing that Luke would literally kill to ensure the safety of his wife.
Natalia was unsure of how to respond. How could one reply to such a declaration? However, she was saved the burden of thinking of a proper response, for the maid entered and placed a tray on the table in front of them.
Natalia dismissed the maid and took a cup, motioning Luke to do the same. He shifted back into a front-facing position and lifted his cup, looking disdainfully at the liquid inside of it.
"Don't you have anything alcoholic?" he asked with a slight pout.
Natalia shook her head firmly. "You know you would not be able to be responsible with alcohol in your current state. What would Tear think if you showed up to visit her completely inebriated?"
Luke responded by grudgingly sipping his tea.
Five pots of tea and several hours later, Luke was back to frantically pacing the room, a routine only broken by frequent trips to the restroom. Natalia had long since given up on trying to convince him to hold still. The extent of his patience had long since been passed; it was a miracle that she had kept him from trying to force his way to see Tear.
Though he did not show it, Luke was grateful he had Natalia to keep him company. He was sure that otherwise he would have snapped by now. The guards had been ordered to bring news the moment Tear was out of questioning, and waiting for one of them to appear was becoming unbearable.
When a guard finally entered the room, Luke set upon him in an instant and demanded information. The guard announced that Tear's questioning had been completed, but they would prefer she did not have any visitors yet. Blinded by anger and frustration, Luke did not remember exactly what he did or said after that, but whatever it was it must have been persuasive; within minutes he found himself in front of the castle dungeon, being told he could stay for a maximum of half an hour.
When the cell door creaked opened Luke had a momentary flashback of meeting Van outside that very same room years ago, but he pushed the unpleasant thought out of his mind and stepped into the dimly-lit cell. Tear was standing just inside, a small but meaningful smile on her face as she realized who it was. Luke barely took the time to register this before pulling her into a strong embrace, clinging to her like he had not seen her in weeks.
Tear clearly appreciated the show of affection. She relaxed against him and rested her cheek against his, nuzzling him gently. Both of them were silent for several moments longer; they knew each other well enough that verbally expressing their relief to see one other was unnecessary.
It was Luke who pulled away first, wanting to get a better look at Tear and make sure she was unharmed. The first thing he noticed was her eyes. Though they glinted with happiness at seeing him, there was also a distinctly tired look to them. His anger returned; how dare they wake her up and question her for hours when she clearly needed the rest?
As usual, Tear was able to easily read his emotions and guess their source. "Luke, don't be angry. My actions were what made me appear suspicious. The guards are only doing their jobs."
Tear's words had the opposite effect she intended them to have. Luke became even more enraged as he noticed the exhausted tone of her voice. He was going to ask what she had done to make herself seem suspicious, but it occurred to him that it might not be the best time. She had probably been asked to explain herself many times already, and he did not want to upset her by making her tell the same story yet again.
On the other hand, he really wanted to know what had happened...
"Tear," he began cautiously, "You don't have to talk about this now if you don't want to, but... why do they think it was you? What happened that night?"
Tear sighed and briefly looked away from him. When she once again met his gaze, he could see a hint of embarrassment in her eyes, and a slight tint to her cheeks.
"I went to our room to rest, as you know. But I could not fall asleep, and I became restless. I decided to leave the manor and walk around for a bit." She averted her eyes again and the red in her cheeks darkened. "I am not quite sure what possessed me, but rather than leaving through the front door, I snuck out through the window. I suppose I was feeling a bit sentimental, and was trying to relive a part of how our relationship used to be."
Had the situation not been so dire, Luke would have smiled. He understood what she meant. He also had fond memories of Tear sneaking in and out of his room at night, so they could spend some time alone together without his parents knowing.
"It seems I am not as good at it as I used to be," Tear continued, moving her eyes back to him. "Apparently one of the White Knights spotted me. I did not notice, but he told the city guards after he heard about the murder."
Luke frowned, and his eyes flashed angrily. "I'm going to find out which knight it was, and he is so fired."
Despite her situation, Tear could not help but smile at Luke's overprotectiveness. "He was only doing what he thought was right. It just so happened that I left shortly after Veronica was seen for the last time."
"So they think you snuck out to go kill her?" Luke asked, his tone showing that he found the very idea utterly ridiculous.
"Yes," Tear replied, her smile fading. "They believe I snuck out so that everyone would think I was asleep in my room at the time she was murdered. It is well-known that we did not get along, especially after the incident at the party."
Luke mentally cringed at the mention of that incident. It was not a pleasant memory for him, and he did not want to dwell on it. Tear had lowered her head slightly and appeared to be thinking. A slight frown on her face showed that her thoughts were currently as unpleasant as his.
Not wanting her to despair, Luke interrupted her thoughts by leaning forward and resting his forehead against hers. "Don't worry," he assured her, "I'll get you out of here. I'll figure out what really happened. You can count on me."
Tear murmured softly in response, but said nothing. The quiet sound reminded him how tired she was, and made him feel guilty for being there so long.
"Get some sleep now, okay? I'll take care of everything."
Tear nodded in compliance. "Just don't do anything that will get you in trouble."
Luke stepped back from her and forced a smile. "I won't. Just relax, I'm sure everything will be fine."
He hoped she could not see the fear in his eyes.