Follows in the same universe as my other W.I.T.C.H. stories, but they're not necessary to understanding most of this one. Hope you enjoy!
"So… remind me again why you have to go to this coronation?" Matt said grouchily.
Will sighed, barely glancing at him as she packed. "Because it's a show of good will, or something, from Kandrakar." She turned back to her bag.
Matt leaned on the wall in her doorway, still not satisfied. "Couldn't the other girls just go?" He asked, "You could have had a complication. Keeper of the Heart business."
Will's glance was frustrated as she looked at him again. "Matt, you know I've been planning this for a while. To not show up would be so incredibly rude, and we've kinda become ambassadors for Kandrakar and the worlds they protect so I can't do that."
"Matt!" Will finally turned around, her hands on her hips. At eighteen, she had finally grown into the body that her guardian form hinted she might have. Years as Keeper of the Heart made her gaze and stance imposing, but years as a Regent of Earth and her boyfriend made him able to meet her without backing down. "What is your problem?"
Matt threw up his arms, pushing himself off the wall. "I don't know, maybe the part where their prince freaking proposed to you!"
Will took a moment to absorb the information, before she smirked, crossing her arms. "You jealous?"
"What?" Matt yelped, "No, I… not that you have any room… ugh, so not the point!" He looked so honestly distressed that Will took pity on him, stepping forward to catch his hands.
"Matt, hey, nothing is going to happen," She smiled reassuringly at him. She took his left hand and touched the silver band resting on his ring finger, exposing the similar ring on her own left hand. "I am yours and you are mine."
"I know babe," He cupped her cheek and kissed her gently. "I just don't like him," Matt still seemed worried when he met her eyes. "I've got a really bad feeling about this, Will."
"I know." Will looked away.
"Especially with their culture…"
"Matt, it's because of their culture we have to try to support them," She looked at him again. "Prince Reglan is the first male to take the throne in generations. And they're an incredibly matriarchal society. If we're not there to show our support, as the female Guardians of the Veil, it could mean war for their world."
Peace on the world of Darbonne was on the brink of breaking down. The world was heavily matriarchal, with males seen as barely better than slaves. Their current Queen had only a son, Reglan, and on her deathbed, wanted to see her son crowned before she died. As she was a legend upon her world, it seemed possible the people would begrudgingly accept the prince, at least, long enough for him to possibly give birth to a daughter. But there was an undercurrent of discontent on Darbonne, and it was that discontent that the Oracle feared would lead to war.
She took a breath through her nose and out through her mouth, as she knew why the marriage proposal had been extended. Reglan was around her age, at eighteen, and the Queen had thought that perhaps a union between the Keeper of the Heart and her son might bring strength to her son's rule. The Guardian could only hope that the offer had merely been extended as a courtesy, and that Reglan had other suitors who might suit the role better.
"I just wish I could go," Matt pulled away from her, walking over to sit at the edge of her bed.
"You know what the conditions of that would be," Will said tightly, crossing her arms again in discomfort. "I don't want to put you through that."
The council had stressed that when it came to the Guardians attending the coronation. Respect had to be made for all customs of the Darbonne in the attempt to keep peace. If the Darbonnians suspected that the Guardians did not respect their culture or were plotting to overthrow their way of life by supporting this coronation…
Will blew hair out of her face, the ends sparking. If Matt were to attend he would have to do so under the guise of her personal slave. Which the council had mentioned might make Will seem more like the female leader the people were used to, but Will refused to ask that of Matt, given his history.
She was broken out of her thoughts by Matt's quiet voice. "What if I wanted to do it?"
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"Yeah," He said, looking up at her. "I want to be there for you. And besides, if something goes wrong, I want to be able to protect you."
Will was already shaking her head. "Matt, if you go with me you'll have to be submissive to every female you meet, wear… the slave attire, especially since you'll be with me, and people will… touch you," She said gingerly. "You wouldn't be a person there. Just an object."
Matt nodded with a slight cringe. "I know. But you're protective as hell already, and I'd like to see someone else try to touch me around you." He cracked a grin, "And I kinda have to follow your orders anyway, so what's the difference?"
"Matt, I…" That was still a sore spot between them.
Will, Matt projected into her mind, sensing the emotions brought on by his allusion to that part of their bond. I'm sure.
In the years since their telepathic bond had been formed it had matured quite a bit. They could both project thoughts, although Will was better at actual words than Matt. Matt usually chose to express himself across their bond through emotions, and right now all she could feel was how sure he was. Nervous and concerned, yes, but that was conviction that she felt.
"Matt, I…" She tried to start again, but just rushed forward and folded him into her arms. "Thank you…" She whispered.
Matt nodded into her shoulder. I love you.
I love you too.
"Uhh…" Matt seemed concerned. "I have to wear what?"
"A uh… a collar…" Will was blushing as red as her hair, "And uh… a leash."
"Who's a good puppy?" Irma teased, only chuckling when Matt sent her a glare.
They were waiting for their escorts to arrive in Kandrakar, and the anxiety about this mission was starting to get to Will. What if she messed up? There were so many cultural norms she had to remember for this and then there was the whole Matt thing. She would have to be responsible for making sure that he followed protocol too, and he knew that meant she might use their compulsion.
"Matt, you know you can still back out…"
"No," Matt flushed, rubbing his bare arms. "I'm not thrilled about the get up, but I'm not backing out."
Will was equal parts thrilled and not thrilled about what Matt would have to wear. While the girls were all were transformed, Matt had a slightly different dress code. Deciding that Matt's Regent form should be kept secret, Matt was in his human form for this. Many of the slaves in Darbonne went naked, but the Oracle had thankfully given Matt the option to wear a pair of very light harem pants, that went down to just below his knee, cinching at the bottom. The rest of him, feet included, was bare.
Except for the locking metal collar he would wear around his neck.
The locking metal collar Will now held in her hands.
Matt sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "Alright," he finally said, "Let's do this." Will nodded, stepping forward. Matt glanced down at the collar, but then up at Will, where he held his gaze. She could feel that he was nervous; nervous for how he would have to behave in the upcoming days, and apprehensive of having to wear a metal collar around his neck that would mean so much more than just a necklace, even if they were only pretending. But she also felt the overwhelming trust had in her, and the knowledge that no matter how much power she held over him, she would not violate that trust. It almost felt like the moment they should have had before Will irreversibly bound him to her almost three years ago.
When the collar clicked closed, Matt's eyes closes briefly and he shuddered, a breath hitching out of his lungs. And suddenly, Will could feel a reaction she hadn't expected bleeding over their bond: lust.
"Matt…" And then Will yelped as Matt unexpectedly slammed the bond closed. "Matt, what are you…?"
"Uh, ladies," Cornelia cut them off as the sound of a fold opening met their ears, "Our escorts are here."
Will was staring at Matt, who was pointedly not meeting her gaze. What in the world was going on with him? Will, what's going on? Taranee hissed in her mind.
Matt just closed our bond, Will was bewildered, trying to desperately school her expression as the royal guard, three female Darbonnians, approached. She couldn't remember the last time Matt had completely closed their bond. Usually they both just kept it open in the background, just in case, but now Will felt nothing.
Uneasy, Will turned her gaze to the approaching Darbonnians. She blew her bangs out of her face, squaring her shoulders. At the last minute, she noticed Matt still staring off into space, and hissed, "Matt, here, kneel!" She felt a twinge of pain as she watched Matt obey her with the efficiency he was compelled to from direct orders. She watched him fall to his knees at her feel, eyes downcast. She wished she could apologize, but there was no way to communicate.
What in the hell was he doing?
"Guardians?" The Darbonnian at the center spoke.
Will inclined her head in acknowledgement. "Matari be with you."
The Darbonnian inclined her head back. "And be she with you, as she is with us all."
Will felt better having completed the traditional greeting. She took a deep breath before continuing. "My name is Will, I am the Guardian of the Heart." She introduced all the other girls by their names and elements, before finally reaching Matt. Her heart rate picked up, as he had still not looked at her, and she longed to know what was going on in his head. "And this is Matt, my… slave." The word felt wrong on her tongue.
"It is good to finally meet you, Guardians of the Veil," The Darbonnians were a desert dwelling people, from an arid world. They were humanoid, but a very pale people, with eyes that blinked with two eyelids and blood vessels running visible under their pale skin. They were hairless, and wore oversized white dresses. They carried silver weapons with them, and while there was no hostility, Will could sense the air of unease that the followed them. "We have heard so much about you."
Will nodded. "We are honored to have been invited to this occasion."
"As we are honored to have you," The Darbonnian turned as her two escorts followed her lead. "Please, follow me. We have festivities planned." She and her guard stepped back through the fold.
Will took a moment to meet everyone's eyes. We good? She asked. She got four determined nods in response. "Matt, follow me," She said quietly, knowing she had to override the kneel order. He stood stiffly, still avoiding her gaze.
But she couldn't let herself think about that right now. She had a job to do. "Let's go," She said, and the group stepped through the fold.
The air that met them was dry and hot. No humidity, Cornelia commented. My hair is going to look fabulous. Will smiled, knowing Cornelia was trying to lighten the mood. She must be feeling the unease that permeated the very air here.
"Holy cow!" She heard Hay Lin exclaim, and when she turned to see what the air guardian was reacting to, her mouth dropped open. She had thought it was just a mountain, but upon closer inspection, she could see that it was much more than that. The entire face was a mass of carvings into the golden white stone that made it clear it was a castle of some type. Towers, balconies, grander than a scale Will had ever seen on earth.
"Wow," She whispered.
The Darbonnian smiled. "This is our world's center, the Heart of Matari. For generations the Royal family has inhabited the Heart, and thousands of years of construction have gone into the masterpiece you see today."
"It's gorgeous," Will murmured, and the other guardians echoed her sentiments. They were headed towards an opening on the ground that as they approached, Will could see was a giant, intricately carved doorway. There appeared to be a crowd of Darbonnians gathered, lining the entryway to the castle.
Will startled as a low but joyous chant met her ears. "Are they singing?" Irma asked.
"It's a song of Welcoming," Their guide said. "It's not every day we have the Guardians of the Infinite Realms visit." Will nodded, the chant reaching its peak as they finally entered the doorway.
Darbonnians lined the entryway, a chorus of female voices singing their song. Will could see that some of the females had male escorts, but all either stood behind the line, or knelt at the feet of a female. Will felt a shiver of unease, casting a glance at Matt, worried for what she had gotten him into.
The singing followed them through the hallways of the castle. If Will had to put an earthen name to the sound of the song, it was reminiscent of a blend of middle eastern and Saharan tones, with something otherworldly Will couldn't quite identify. It sounded festive, but Will couldn't shake the feel that something way wrong. You guys feel it too? Taranee asked. They all nodded.
Something feels sick, Hay Lin responded quietly, always more in touch with the energy of places, Something twisted and wrong.
Finally, they seemed to come out in what was clearly a throne room of some variety. The crowd parted to reveal an ornate sandstone throne lined with sapphire blue blankets and pillows. In the throne, sat a female Darbonnian. Even not knowing the appearance of Darbonnians very well, Will could tell that this one was very sick. Her skin, rather than being the pale whitish color that most possessed, was sallow and yellow. It was wrinkled, seeming to sag in places that it shouldn't. Yet, when she lifted her head to see her visitors, her pale eyes shown with a life and fight that belied her physical condition.
This was clearly their Queen, Queen Ayaka.
As they came within ten feet or so of the throne, the Queen had only to lift one hand and the whole room fell silent. The silence was almost deafening after the chorus, and the Queen sat up, a male aid hustling from his kneeling position at the foot of her throne to help her sit upright. "Reglan, I am fine," the Queen insisted, and the guardians rested their eyes for the first time upon the Crown Prince, Prince Reglan.
He was attractive, by Will's standards, with a slightly more earthen appearance than his people. He finished helping his mother, and knelt back down at the foot of the throne, but once kneeling, met Will's eyes, their pale blue astonishing her. He clearly knew who she was, as he nodded, smiling slightly. Will kept her expression schooled, but her heart started racing. She had forgotten about the marriage proposal in the wake of Matt cutting off their bond.
Guys, kneel, Taranee hissed, always the one to be unflustered in these situations. She had become their master of foreign relations over the course of these ambassador missions, attacking each new culture with a fascination. Thank goodness she at least had not gotten distracted.
The guardians knelt to the Darbonnian Queen, and she smiled at them. "Matari be with you."
"And be she with you, as she is with us all," Will responded.
The Queen smiled wider. "Please, rise," She said. The guardians stood. "As you may know, I am Queen Ayaka. I presume you are Will, Keeper of the Heart?"
Will nodded, moving through introductions of the rest of their group. The Queen met each of their gazes and nodded. When Will got to Matt, the Queen spoke before she could introduce him. "I see you have a slave." Will nodded, glancing at Matt, who stood behind her, his gaze downcast.
"He is my personal aid," Will said evenly.
The Queen nodded, turning her attention back to the group as a whole. Will let out a breath when the Queen's unexpectedly heavy gaze moved off of her. "Welcome to my Kingdom. I hope you have enjoyed your experience so far."
"The singing was really cool," Hay Lin, stepping forward, "And your architecture is gorgeous!"
The Queen dipped her head. "Yes. It is the product of thousands of years of artisans. It is as much a living embodiment Matari as I. I'm sure someone would be willing to show you around if you are interested?"
Hay Lin's eyes lit up. "That would be awesome! Uh… your highness."
The Queen shook her head, smiling lightly. "Please, we have no need for titles between us. Call me Ayaka."
Hay Lin grinned. "Thank you… Ayaka."
The Queen cast her gaze around to room. "I will have someone escort you to your rooms. Your bags are there, and you can get settled there before the dinner tonight." The girls nodded, and were turning to leave before the Queen said, "Will, if you would stay back, I would like a few words with you."
Will's heart sank into her stomach. She had hoped to be able to talk with Matt. But what choice did she have? "Yes, Ayaka." She agreed.
Reglan rose again to help his mother down from the throne. The Queen beckoned for Will to follow them. Will had only taken a few steps before Ayaka spoke again. "Have your boy stay with the other guardians. I would prefer this to be a private talk." Will turned to see that Matt had started to follow her, probably still obeying her order from earlier. For the first time since he had blocked the bond, Matt met her eyes. She could tell he clearly wanted to come with her. He had that protective glint in his eyes.
Unfortunately, Will didn't want to disrespect their hosts this early, and with an apologetic look, said, "Matt, go with the other girls and start unpacking our stuff. Wait for me there."
Matt was upset with that, she knew that, could see it in his face, but still had to follow her orders. As he walked away with the group, Will saw his right hand come up to fiddle with the collar around his neck.
Will swallowed down the apology that wanted to come bursting out of her throat, and turned around to address the Queen and her son.
She followed them into a room that adjoined directly behind the throne room. It was smaller and more intimate, and Will could tell that it was soundproofed by the way that when the door closed, all sound from the outside disappeared. This made Will incredibly nervous, and she felt within her for the throb of life that she knew to be the heart. She was fine. This was a peaceful mission.
Reglan escorted his mother to a soft chair, and then left the room at the Queen's nod. The Queen looked at Will. "Feel free to sit or stand. I just have some information to impart."
Will nodded, deciding to sit cross-legged in front of the Queen. Once she was comfortable, the Queen began speaking. "I assume you received my son's proposal of marriage?"
Will nodded stiffly.
The Queen sighed and leaned her head back in the chair. "I do apologize for putting you in such an awkward position." Will's eyes widened. She hadn't expected that. "I know that this almost certainly not what you want. In fact, I imagine your slave is actually your romantic companion."
Will didn't know how to answer. "Uh…" Was all that she could make come out of her mouth.
Ayaka smiled comfortingly. "I am sorry to have placed the pressure of this upon you, but it seemed a solution to my kingdom's problem. Your reputation precedes you Guardian, and it is something that I hope to take advantage of. I will do my best to make this as painless as possible for you, but still protect my son."
"Ayaka… If I can speak with completely honesty…"
"If I may," Ayaka interjected smoothly, "Please hear my offer, and then you may take the next few days to decide." Will took a deep breath, before nodded.
The Queen cast her a grateful look before speaking. "At dinner tonight, my son will propose to you. I would have you accept. In two days, I would have you marry, and then the third day at Sunrise will be his coronation, and therefore, your coronation."
Will felt like she couldn't breath. "Uh…"
"I am hoping this will give my son some time to conceive a child."
"Wait-wait-wait-wait! I don't…" Will stammered, not believing any of this. "Are our species even compatible…?"
Ayaka held up her hand. "I know that possession of a Heart makes it impossible for you to have children…"
"Well, I don't really have the time for it…" Something suddenly in Ayaka's gaze made her pause, and she took a second to reconsider the monarch's words. "I'm sorry, run that by me again?" Will squawked, hands finding their way to her stomach subconsciously. "What do you mean the Heart makes it impossible for me to have kids? Because I'm too busy or…?"
Ayaka's brow was furrowed in confusion, but then cleared in understanding. "You were not told?"
"Uh… told what?" Will squeaked.
"Our people have a history of the Heart of Darbonne being born into the Royal family. A Heart, having been conceived to carry the Heart of a world, cannot bear children, so as to prioritize the Heart. In this case, surrogate parents are chosen to carry the heir. There is a ritual…" Ayaka trailed off, seeming to see the stricken look on Will's face. "You were not told."
It was a statement.
"I can't… I can't get pregnant?" Will whispered, pressing her hands against her stomach. Certainly she didn't want a kid now, not with the whole saving the universe biz, but she had always thought that someday she'd have little Matts and Wills running around her house, little dark haired girls and red headed boys… A whole future evaporated in front of her. And Matt… Matt would have been affected too. "They never…" Her face was wet. "I wasn't told."
The Queen's face was all sympathy as she reached out to place her hand on Will's head. "I am so sorry, my child."
Will gripped her hair. "I can't… I can't…" She shook her head. "God, I can't deal with this right now." She stood up and paced the room. She couldn't handle this right now, not when Matt was being weird and when she had a possible civil war on her hands. Much as she wanted to curl into a ball and be terrified Will Vandom, right now, at this very instant, she had to put on her big girl panties and be Will, Guardian of the Heart of Kandrakar.
"I'm not…" Her voice trembled, so she cleared her throat and continued. "I'm not going to think about this right now. My priority is your world, not mine." She turned to Ayaka, squaring her shoulders. "How is this heir thing going to work?"
There was sympathy in Ayaka's voice when she spoke again. "If it comforts you at all, as Princess of Darbonne the child will be yours, as you will be acting Queen of Darbonne," Ayaka said softly. "She will be conceived by our ritual, which you will take part in, and when she is born, you will return to Darbonne for her coronation."
Will frowned, trying to make sense of the statements while ignoring the maelstrom of emotions in the back of her mind. "And then, I'm no longer Queen of your world?"
Ayaka smiled. "Correct. Then you can return to your world and not trouble yourself with our affairs. Your daughter and my son will handle that."
"My…" Will stopped herself. She couldn't go there. Not right now.
"I don't know how else to assure the safety of my kingdom," Ayaka murmured, and for a moment, Will saw the real person behind the visage of the confident queen. "If I die and my people do not accept my son as King, then there will be anarchy. And I cannot do that to my people." She looked beseechingly at Will, begging her to understand.
And she did. At least, to some degree. Being a leader meant asking things of people that weren't always to their liking. Will knew that intimately. "I… this is just so much to absorb," Will murmured, feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed.
"I know Will," The Queen looked pained. "And I hate to ask this of you, but I have to think of my kingdom and my people first. And this is a solution I have come up with."
Heart beating fast, hands still subconsciously resting over her womb, one that she now knew would never carry a child, Will slowly nodded. "Okay," She agreed, just trying to breathe. "Okay, I'll do it."
The dying Queen nodded, a wave of relief seeming to overtake her as she sagged back into her throne. "Matari thanks you," She whispered, "And may her blessings protect us all in the days to come."