Author's Notes: It has been entirely too long since I last updated this story. Now that I'm re-watching Gokai and plan on watching Shinkenger again next I had the sudden urge? inspiration? to continue working on (and ideally finally finish) this story. Fingers crossed!
Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum
Chapter Eleven: How It Came to Be
Mako watched Ahim and Luka chat in bemusement. For once the sun was peeking through the clouds in the sky, letting its rays shine in the crisp, cold morning air. The light sent a shiver up Mako's spine as she realized how close she might have been to never seeing it again.
Since falling ill she had never been alone for long. Everyone was careful to keep an eye on both her health and her ensuing depression. Mako liked to think she was on the mend now as she sat propped up upon her bed, listening to the two women's anecdotes and teasing even as she felt a sharp longing for her own sister. She felt unbidden tears well and as she blinked rapidly to keep them at bay, Ahim glanced her way and caught the moment.
"Ms. Mako?" Her voice was filled with concern despite the faint trace of sleepless nights under her eyes.
Mako shook her head. "Please, continue," she urged.
"I promise your son is being well looked after," Ahim continued, her voice urging Mako to believe her. "While the orphanage might seem like an unpleasant place to be, I assure you Luka as vetted all who would look after him."
Luka rose a dark brow Mako's way. "What's the matter, Princess? The idea of a lowly peasant feeding your child make your stomach churn?" The young woman's tone was flippant but laced with a trace of steel.
"No," Mako answered back softly. "I am more than grateful that someone is able to do what I cannot."
She missed Luka's lips pressing together in guilt.
"My concern," Mako continued with delicacy, "is that, however well you have ensured this woman's discretion about our position, I am aware that some loyalties can be purchased for the right price. I know you vouch for her," she hurried when Luka opened her mouth in protest. "But she has my child in her hands. After losing –" Mako's hands fisted in her covers. "I'm not sure I'd survive it a second time."
Ahim and Luka exchanged glances, Luka subtly shaking her head at the question in Ahim's eyes.
"Don't worry, Princess," Luka answered, filling in the momentary silence. "She'd rather die than betray anything to ol' Almanzor and his sidekick." She met Mako's questioning gaze with a grim smile. "The king killed her sister after a particularly long liaison to ensure her silence and discretion when she threatened to go public with the relationship and bring shame to the royal family." Her face darkened. "Or at least that's what the officials who dragged her away stated."
"You don't believe it."
"Rumor has it that the woman was pregnant with the king's child."
"Before or after his marriage to Kamilla?"
"I see," Mako answered after a moment, able to fill in the gaps all too easily. It sounded just like Kamilla. To have a pregnant woman killed in a fit of jealous fury.
"So," Luka started, shaking out the shirt she had finished mending and eyeing it with a smile of satisfaction. "Is it true your husband was your sex slave?"
Ahim, who had just taken a sip of her lukewarm tea sputtered and coughed. "Luka!"
"Oh like you weren't wondering the same thing," Luka responded, waving away the younger girl's horrified protestations.
Mako flushed slightly though it was nothing compared to Ahim's cherry-red face. She chuckled quietly, coughing a bit at the sudden change in air in her lungs before, waving away their looks of concern, she gave a small smile. "I've been asked the question several times before, though, I admit, not quite with Luka's flair."
Luka shot her sister a wink and a knowing grin. Ahim sighed quietly into her cup, her cheeks still covered in rosy blush. "So," Luka tucked her legs up beside her, her face eager. "Dish. What happened? How did the two of you meet?"
"You've apparently heard the stories already," Mako hedged but Luka brushed away Mako's hesitations.
"Those are rumors spread about by bored housewives and idiots who drink too much. I want to hear the real story."
Mako glanced at Ahim to see that, though she tried to hide her interest behind a polite aversion of eyes and busy hands, her face was just as eager as Luka's. Mako gave a small noise of amusement before settling back into her propped up pillow. "What do you want to know?"
"Everything." Luka's answer was immediate, her eyes glimmering with a cat's curiosity.
"That would take a long time to tell," Mako mused.
"When did you first meet?" Ahim inquired, trying to keep her tone courteous.
Mako studied her eager audience for a moment, weighing her answers, unsure where to begin. She'd told the story before – many times in fact, to different faces, different ears. But it was one thing to tell Kaoru who already knew Takeru like the back of her hand, or even Kaoru's court – although that conversation had been quite watered down and told through an interpreter and only for a matter of record and recourse – it was another thing entirely to tell it as a story that someone already knew. She had a moment to marvel that perhaps her own children might ask her one day and felt a strange moment of vertigo as she wondered how in heaven's name she'd tell it to them until she realized that one child would never get the chance to ask. She grimaced at the pain that lanced through her heart, her palm pushing at the spot as if it could erase it if she pushed hard enough.
"I apologize," Ahim began at once, jumping from her seat to check Mako's forehead for a sudden fever spike. "We should not have upset you when you are still ill."
"No, it's not that," Mako assured her. "I'm f –," she pulled herself short of saying 'fine' when it was very clear she was not. "I can tell the story," she amended. "In fact, I think the distraction would be best." She waited until Ahim settled back down, the younger girl watching her with a slight frown though she nodded to Mako's insistence. Mako tapped her fingers upon the blanket covering her thighs for a moment before deciding it best to simply plunge in, shifting her thoughts of Ayako gently to the side where she could drown in them later. "It was at my coming-of-age ceremony," she began. "I was the First Princess to the court of Aduro and I hated every minute of it. The title meant nothing except a higher bid for my hand in marriage, one that was likely to go to a man I would not meet until our wedding ceremony, one that would bring the king the most advantages in our union."
She fiddled with a loose thread on the blanket, gathering her memories. "It was tradition in our court to give a princess a personal slave when she came of age to practice certain…other traditions Aduro was known for."
"A sex slave."
Mako felt her lips quirk up at the side commentary. "Men were trained for battle on the field, women were trained for battle in the bedchamber," she agreed. "When Takeru was first dragged in, weighted down by chains and enslavement –"
"It was love at first sight?" Ahim's eyes shone at the prospect though Luka rolled hers.
"Actually, I didn't even notice him," Mako admitted, much to Ahim's astonishment and Luka's sudden interest. "I'd had no interest in the court politics or traditions, much less my new 'gift,'" she reminisced. "I feigned attentiveness but the entire time I was looking for my sister, waiting to be released from the ceremony so we could escape back to the quiet of my rooms." Ahim gave a little gasp of shock.
Mako nodded at her, absently pulling at the silver collar around her neck, half caught in the memory of the one around Takeru's. "I should have been paying attention," she admitted. "Everyone deserves to be noticed. I apologized to him later."
"You're skipping ahead," Luka cut in. "The banquet – what happened next?"
"Takeru was led out and I endured boorish speeches and drunken idiots before I was finally released," Mako shrugged one shoulder. "I do not remember much – it wasn't important at the time."
"When did you see him again?" Ahim asked, her voice quiet.
"That night, when he was brought to my rooms."
"They wanted to catch you up to speed on your traditions," Luka exaggerated with a bite of impudence for Ahim.
"I suppose that was the idea," Mako allowed. "Although his treatment after his capture had been…rough." She closed her eyes shut against the memories for a moment, never comfortable with the image she recalled even after all these years. The recollection all the more painful now after the years of friendship, compassion, love – the life they'd shared. "Ryunosuke, my caretaker, led him away to be cleaned, healed and fed properly."
"Did he say anything?"
"No, Shiba." Luka's eyes were eager, brimming with the desire for more knowledge.
"No," Mako's voice was soft as she remembered their first moments. "He did not speak a word to me – not for a very long time."
"Not one word?" Ahim's voice was breathless, she hung onto every word.
"Not one," Mako affirmed. "I had a lot of trust to gain and he had no reason to give it. He saw me only as the king's daughter – an enemy. One who would seek to drag what honor and dignity he still clung to further down into the mud with torment and cruelty. You asked if it was love at first sight, but I assure you that he hated me and all I represented with a fury to rival the one you hold for Almanzor or I for Kamilla."
There was a moment of stunned silence though Luka was the first to nod in understanding. "I'd've done the same in his position. Or probably try to kill you."
"Oh, I'm sure the thought must have crossed his mind a time or two." The two young women shared a glance of understanding that Ahim could only shake her head at.
"And yet you fell in love."
Mako's smile was gentle, habitual. She wasn't even aware she had one though it didn't miss Luka and Ahim's eyes. "Yes, although it took time and went through several tests and trials."
"Stop skipping the good stuff!" Luka burst out in exasperation. "Stick to the timeline. Shiba hated you. He probably wanted to kill you. What happened after that first night?"
With amusement Mako continued her story, inciting gasps and ah's, mostly from Ahim, at all the right parts, and plenty of sarcastic, often descriptive side commentary from Luka that had Ahim pressing her forehead into her palm with a groan more than once.
"And then you got hitched on the side of the road? Just like that?"
Mako laughed, her laughter dissolving into a fit of coughing though she waved the two women back when they began to rise out of their seats. "I'm alright," she rasped, pushing a smile upon her lips at the look of skepticism from Luka and concern on Ahim.
"So?" Luka prompted after Mako's fit had calmed.
"We didn't want to wait," Mako shrugged, her cheeks flushed as much from her illness as the looks both girls were giving her.
Ahim let out a soft, envious sigh. "Your story was even more romantic than the rumors led us to believe, Ms. Mako. After all you went through, you still found love."
"We were all very fortunate," Mako allowed, her voice quiet.
"I'll say," Luka agreed, her cheek resting on her fist. "It's a miracle you all didn't kill each other from the get-go, let alone survived all of that." She watched Ahim rise and pour them all a hot cup of tea, Mako's cup getting an added mixture of herbs to aid in her healing. The smell that wafted from it was as bitter as it was fragrant. Her nose scrunched up at the scent. "Ugh. Better you than me."
Mako felt her lips lift of their own accord at the statement even as she thanked Ahim for bringing her the cup. She let the warm porcelain's heat sink into her bones – she had yet to feel properly warm since her escapade in the snow – before taking a tentative sip. She swallowed the tisane without protest, letting its soothing mixture ease her raw throat. Settling back into her pillow she looked at the young women before her with inquisitive eyes. "What about you?"
"There's no way you'll ever convince me to drink that," Luka stated right away.
Mako smiled at the vehement retort. "I meant, what's your story," she said. "You've helped me and my family so much already, and yet I know almost nothing about you."
"Not much to tell," Luka shrugged her eyes on her cup.
"Luka," Ahim chided. When her sister's eyes met hers she held her gaze until Luka relented with a roll of her own.
"Fine. But it's on your head when Marvelous hears about this."
"It is past time, Luka. If we are to work together –"
"Yeah, yeah," Luka waved away Ahim's chastisement. "I didn't say I disagreed, only that he's not gonna like it."
"I shall deal with him if need be. But I feel it will not come to that."
Mako watched the exchange in silence, intrigued and just the slightest bit wary.
"My parents were court nobles to the previous king – Almanzor's father," Ahim began, voice subdued in recollection. "It wasn't a safe place even then – madness appears to run in their veins." She shuddered at some memory but pushed on. "Suspecting a plot for treason the king imprisoned and beheaded most of his nobles, my parents included."
Luka wrapped an arm around the younger girl's shoulders and squeezed gently in comfort. "There were some servants in the castle who smuggled Ahim out when the soldiers came for the families," Luka picked up. "But there was only so much they could do." Her brows drew together at the memory. "It was winter. I found her half-frozen in the snow, took her back to our place."
"How old were you?" Mako asked.
"About twelve, I think, I'm not entirely sure when I was born so it's mostly a guessing game, but Ahim was only eight." Luka's eyes fixated on the ceiling, trying to think back. "Marvelous must've been only about fifteen at the time, Gai about a year younger."
"You were just children." Mako's mouth parted in shock. Her childhood hadn't been easy but it suddenly seemed like a paradise in comparison.
"You grow up fast on the streets." Luka shrugged off the apparent sympathy. "We did what needed to be done – took Ahim in and looked after her as best we knew how."
"I cannot recall much from that night," Ahim admitted. "It was frightening and confusing, very cold. I do remember wakening to warmth and concerned faces." Her own brightened in recollection. "Particularly Luka and Marvelous. They took me in as part of their family." Her eyes lit up. "As it turned out, I did not lose all of my family that night as I had thought."
Mako's brows knit together in curiosity as Luka and Ahim exchanged knowing smiles. "What do you mean?"
Ahim turned to her roommate with a faint blush. "My father had been a frequent visitor of the red light district before he married my mother," she started. "He favored one woman fairly exclusively."
Mako blinked at the younger girl for a moment before realization dawned. "He'd fathered another child." As Ahim nodded Mako's eyes cut over to Luka.
Luka immediately waved off Mako's inquiring stare. "Not me – I don't have a drop of noble blood racing through my veins. Thank the stars, too; seems to be way more trouble than it's worth."
"Luka is my sister in every way but blood," Ahim insisted with the tone of one who has had to repeat herself too often. "And while that is enough for me, I admit that I am eager for the day when it becomes official."
Ahim nodded toward the auburn haired woman beside her. "Luka is engaged to my brother."
"You have a brother?" Mako couldn't keep the shock from her voice.
"Well," Ahim hesitated, "half-brother, technically." She glanced at Luka. "They are waiting until all this is over before they join in matrimony." She sighed though it was laced with equal parts amusement and exasperation. "They are equally matched in their stubbornness in this matter."
"Marvelous," Mako realized and Ahim giggled in response.
"Since the day they brought me in I had always thought of him as a brother – it was not as large of a shock as he feared once Luka convinced him to tell me."
This time it was Luka who nodded. "His mother told him who his father was before she passed. He was curious and went looking."
"I was unaware of it at the time. I was, perhaps, only about three years old. Although, Luka has since informed me that he kept an eye on me ever since."
"He was enamored," Luka muttered with a good-natured smile. "Couldn't stop talking about his 'adorable little sister'. You'd've thought she was a princess in a fairytale for all that he gushed about her. I might've been jealous if I hadn't thought the same thing the first time I saw her. Tiny little thing in her frilly, lacey pink dress – all wide-eyed innocence and sweet smiles." Ahim flushed, her smile quiet but evident.
Mako looked at her in surprise. "You never knew?"
Ahim shook her head. "They kept a careful distance, and I was kept away from both the streets and the courts. I had a quiet, peaceful, ignorant upbringing." She bit her lip. "As soon as Marvelous heard the news about the purge he came running." She smiled. "I could not be more grateful that he did." She giggled suddenly. "Although, I fear I was quite the handful."
"I was not raised to fend for myself. I had a lot to learn and fast – it was a steep learning curve; the streets are not easy on children. I was very fortunate to have Marvelous, Luka, and Gai watching over me."
Luka shrugged off the comment. "The three of us grew up together; we watched each other's backs."
"Luka would watch over the children who came and went from the district." Ahim's smile was bright even as her sister tried to wave it away.
"What about Joe?" Mako asked, curious as to how he fit into the story.
Ahim and Luka traded a look between them that spoke volumes without words. Mako felt a sudden pang in her heart for her own sister and worked to keep it from showing on her face.
"Joe was originally in the king's army," Ahim began, her voice both hesitant and quiet. It traveled no further than their little circle of three. "That is, until his best friend was murdered by order of the king."
"Almanzor." It was a statement, not a question but Ahim nodded anyways, her lips pressed tightly together.
"Marvelous found him in a tavern," Luka continued though her words were clipped and terse. "He recruited him." The note of finality in her tone told Mako not to push the subject further. Mako acquiesced to the silent request by changing the subject and both girls visibly relaxed.
"What about Doc?"
This time Luka's lips lifted in a grin. "Oh, he just sorta stumbled in." Ahim clapped a hand to her mouth to suppress her giggles. Obviously it had been an interesting encounter. The two girls ruptured into a bout of laughter and Mako felt herself relax at the sound. It'd been a long time since she'd heard any genuine laughter.
As the two worked to get themselves under control Mako let herself study the two, the freshly laundered clothes spilling over from the neat piles they'd been folded into as the two collapsed against each other in laughter. Curiosity nagged at her, waiting just long enough for the two to settle into easy smiles before the question burst forth from her lips.
"Why don't you leave?"
The two girls looked at each other in alarm, wondering if they'd somehow upset Mako without knowing though the look of concern on her face set them only further into confusion.
"Leave?" Luka repeated.
"Yes," Mako pushed forward, the easy atmosphere from moments before already broken. "Why do you not take Ahim now and run? You seem to slip in and out easily enough. It should be an easy task for any number of your crew."
Despite the sun shining through the high windows it was like someone had pulled a curtain over the brightness, dimming the jubilant air. "We can't," came Luka's short, terse reply.
"King Almanzor heard of my survival from the purge," Ahim began quietly, resting a comforting hand on her sister's arm. "Marvelous already had quite the reputation by then. Somehow he also heard of my involvement in the crew. I suppose he thought he would kill two birds with one stone by keeping me here, just within reach but unable to leave."
"Surely you could scale the castle walls, if need be, and fly off into the wilderness before anyone is the wiser."
"It's not that simple," Luka cut in, her tone harsh and laced with as much frustration as anger. "We tried that already. But Ahim got too sick. We had to come back."
"Sick?" Mako immediately turned to study the younger girl between them but she appeared to be the picture of health.
"The king poisoned me upon my imprisonment." Ahim's voice was quiet, almost soothing as she laid a hand upon her sister's clenched fists. "I am given an alleviant every few days, but…"
"We don't know what it is," Luka bit out. "We can't find a cure. Even if we could get our hands on the original substance the bastard killed the one who created the damn thing in the first place and then locked the stuff away. And he's the only one with the key to the door; he wears it around his neck at all times – to the baths, to bed – we've tried, but everyone who's been able to get close has been killed in the process."
Mako started at the two in shock, the answer to the riddle finally laid out before her. "To flee…"
Ahim nodded with great solemnity. "Would be to die."