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Falling Towards Grace

Title: Falling Towards Grace
Fandom: Ladyhawke
Pairing: Etienne/Isabeau
Summary: All stories have a beginning that needs to be told. Written for Ruby2 for yuletide 2005.




Once upon a time...

#

The first time he saw her, she was wearing gold and green, a dress that flowed like water around her. Her hair, a darker shade of the gold in her dress, was like sunlight; her face was the moon, her eyes the stars; her laughter was music.

He didn't even know her name.

#

The first time he dreamed of her, he was hopelessly in love. He wasn't much for dreams, normally, but she walked into his dreams and took his heart with a single smile.

"I have been waiting for you," he said hoarsely. Knowing, in the way of dreams, that it was true, without knowing why. "All my life."

"I know."

"How--" He was relieved when she silenced him, one finger touching his lips lightly, because he wasn't quite sure what he was going to ask.

"Shh," she said, and she kissed his cheek and he woke up, his skin tingling where she had touched him in the dream.

#

The first time he met her, it was like a dream in itself, moonlight-silvered and almost magical. It was then that he learned her name, and it tasted like rich wine in his mouth as he repeated it. "Isabeau," he said, almost wonderingly. "Isabeau, Isabeau, Isabeau. It is a name as beautiful as you are."

She smiled and ducked her head, blushing. "And you are Captain Navarre," half question and half shy statement. "Or at least that's what some of the other guards call you."

His mouth twitched with a suppressed smile. "That's probably because it's my name," he said dryly.

"Ah-- your given name is Captain, then? Unusual."

"No, that's--" he started to protest, before seeing the mischievous glint in her eyes. She grinned at him, unrepentant, and he found himself smiling in response. "You are impossible."

"And we've only just met," she said, and tsked in mock disapproval.

He reached out and took her hand, small and cool in his. Their fingers twined. "I feel like I've known you forever," he murmured, staring intently at their joined hands.

"Yes," she said in a whisper.

#

The first time he kissed her, he felt as awkward as a schoolboy, and she laughed at him for it. "I'm not very practiced at this," he admitted. Give him a sword, or a crossbow, and he would be as adept as any master, but the weapons of love were unfamiliar to him.

She touched his face, fingers trailing lightly over his cheekbone, jaw, mouth. "I love you," she whispered, and then added lightly, "and that makes up for any faults in kissing."

"Good to know," he said gravely. He cradled her face in his hands, gazing into her wide dove-grey eyes. His heart twisted in him, a near-painful stab of love and joy. Whispering her name, he bent his head and kissed her forehead, each cheek, and then, tenderly, her mouth.

Her kisses were like strong, fine liquor, sweet and deceptively strong, leaving him giddy and light-headed afterwards. He nuzzled her neck, breathing in her scent, and then dropped to his knees before her, looking up, breathless.

"Ah, God," he whispered, feeling like he was falling.

#

His men noticed, of course, and teased him -- Francesco and Adrian in particular, who held the closest relationship of the men serving under him. They didn't know the identity of "the Lady" who held Navarre's interest, but they could definitely see the change in their Captain.

"He's smiling," Adrian said to Francesco in a stage whisper, easily loud enough for Navarre to hear. "That's not natural."

"Maybe we should call in the Bishop," Francesco suggested, "to perform an exorcism," but Adrian whapped him on the arm.

"Don't be an idiot," Adrian said, as Francesco rubbed his arm in mock pain. "We'd need another exorcism to get the Bishop out." Almost in unison the two made a hand-sign to ward off evil, and then dissolved into laughter.

"Who's being exorcised?" asked another guard, by the name of Jehan, who had caught only part of the conversation.

"The Captain," Adrian said in a conspiratorial voice. "He's happy."

"Downright cheerful," Francesco added.

"We think there's a lady involved."

"Shows he's human, at any rate."

"Unless it's a figment of his imagination."

"Imagination? This is the Captain we're talking about."

Adrian smirked at Francesco. "Love?" he echoed. "This is the Captain we're talking about."

"Enough chatter!" Navarre called over to them, and they scattered laughing to their duties.

#

Isabeau brought the Bishop's first letter to Navarre; it trembled in her hand. The seal was unbroken.

"I've seen the way he looks at me," Isabeau whispered. She clung to Navarre, her face against his chest. "I know he's a man of God, but he scares me."

"It's all right." Navarre murmured the promise into her ear as he held her. "I'm here; you're safe. I'll protect you."

She took a deep, shuddering breath, and relaxed a bit. "May God forgive me for saying this, but the Bishop... he is evil."

"God will forgive you for speaking the truth."

Isabeau looked up at him, eyes bright with unshed tears. "Then He will also forgive me for saying that I love you." She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, a gentle brush of lips on lips. "I love you, I love you, a thousand times I love you."

As always when he was around her, something inside him seemed to twist and melt. Francesco teased him about being inhuman -- though all the guards were, to a certain extent; had to be, in order to do their job -- but Isabeau always made him feel so much more than human.

"Navarre." His name fell whispered from her lips like a prayer; her hands were pale, cold to his touch. "We can't continue this. He thinks I'm available. If he finds out I'm not, if he finds out I'm yours..."

"He won't," he assured her, more confidently than he felt.

"He'll kill us," she finished desperately. "Oh, God, Navarre, I'm frightened. Why can't he just leave me be?"

"Return the letter," Navarre suggested. "Don't open them; that will only encourage him. Perhaps he will give up."

He didn't.

Every day there was a new missive from the Bishop, a new play for her attention. The letters were sealed, but the poems the Bishop wrote for her were not. She showed one to Navarre, and it was all he could do not to laugh. "The Bishop is no poet," he said dryly, and Isabeau laughed.

"And I suppose you are?" she teased him, lightly. Navarre gave her a disapproving look.

"Of course. Let me see. 'Your hair is as gold as... things which are gold / Your eyes are as grey as the sea which is cold / Your hands are--'"

"Oh, stop, stop," she interrupted him, laughing. "Your talent overwhelms me!"

"Hmph," he said, pretending offense, and kissed the tip of her nose. "You wound me."

#

"Another letter?" Navarre frowned down at the Bishop's wax seal. "He's rather persistent, isn't he?"

"He's in love," Isabeau said wryly.

"That would require him to be human," Navarre said, and then gave a bark of laughter as he realized he was echoing his own men's comments about him. "I don't think he knows what love truly is, any more than he knows to stop a pursuit when it's hopeless."

"We could wed," she said, smiling up at Navarre. "That might finally stop him."

Her suggestion was mainly in jest, and he returned it in kind, not quite laughing. "Ah, no. It would never be permitted."

"Oh?" She cocked her head at him, almost birdlike.

"I am the Captain of the Guard. I oughtn't be bothered with mundane things like love." He flung his arms wide and called to the skies, "I am the right arm of God! I am His sword and His strength!" She was laughing at him. "I wreak his vengeance on... on miscreants and wrong-doers! I--"

She stopped him by practically leaping on him, kissing him, laughing into his mouth. "Shush," she said, her voice quivering with amusement, "they'll hear us."

"Let them," he said, not even glancing at the small group of guards some distance away, but he dropped his voice. "I would tell the world of my love for you, my dearest Isabeau, if we but dared."

"But we don't." She was breathless with laughter, but the merriment was fading from her eyes. "And that is another reason why we could never wed."

"Hm?" he murmured.

"The Bishop." Isabeau shivered, and clung to him. "He would never let us be joined in the eyes of the church, and I fear what he might do, if we asked."

"We could simply not tell him."

"He is head of the church! How can we marry without his knowledge, without his..." She grimaced. "Without his blessing, such as it is."

Navarre frowned suddenly. He had spoken without truly meaning it, but the words had unlocked an idea. "No," he said slowly. "If we... make vows to one another, in secret... It would be like being wed, only the Bishop would never need to know."

Her eyes lit up. "We would need to confess it," she said.

"Not to the Bishop, though." And Navarre smiled. "This will work. Trust me."

#

It did work, for a short while. Those days were very nearly the happiest days of Navarre's life. A year before, he would have mocked the dizzying power of love, and laughed at anyone who told him that he would someday be in love with anything other than a sword.

Isabeau was nothing like a sword, and he was helplessly, uncontrollably hers.

It very nearly got him killed.

It was Francesco who warned them of the coming storm, Francesco alone who was smart enough to read the signs and loyal enough to defy orders. "Captain Navarre!" he gasped, winded from running. "Captain--!"

"Yes, what is it?" Navarre said, half distracted by the report he was reading.

"Marquet comes for you."

"Aah." He set the report down and rubbed his face wearily. "What does the old buzzard want now?"

"To arrest you and bring you before His Grace the Bishop."

Navarre looked up sharply at him, alerted by the grim tone of voice as much as the words. "On what charge?"

"I wasn't told." Francesco gave an awkward shrug. "But he comes with a host of armed men sworn loyal to him, and I do know that if you resist, or flee, they have authority to kill you."

Navarre shook his head, feeling a slow flush of irritation. "This is insanity, but if they will not listen to reason, I will fight them. I am better than they are." It wasn't a boast, just a simple statement of fact.

"I do not think that 'reason' holds much sway here," Francesco said quietly. "The Bishop-- he has lost his sanity, I think-- he said that if he couldn't have her, no man could-- he didn't say who 'she' was, but Marquet's men have orders to bring her before him, and to kill anyone who tries to prevent it--"

Navarre could feel his face drain of blood, as he realized the full implications of that, and his lips moved soundlessly. "What--" he managed. He then shook his head, clearing it of the momentary shock. "I know who the Bishop is after, and she would not go willingly. You must send word to her-- her name is Isabeau d'Anjou, I can give you her address--"

But Francesco was grinning and shaking his head. "Already done, Captain."

"You knew?" Navarre asked sharply, not sure whether to be relieved and angry.

"You are not her only friend," Francesco said. He held up his hands in mock surrender as Navarre glared at him. "I was her friend only, nothing more, and that much only because she knew you trusted me. I know the way she looks at you. And I told no one."

Navarre was silent.

Francesco said, "At any rate, as soon as I knew what was happening I sent word to her, warning her. She will meet you outside the walls of Aquila."

Navarre looked at Francesco for a long moment, and then put his hands on the other man's shoulders. "You are a true friend," he said, voice hoarse.

"You will always be my Captain," Francesco said softly, "whoever else may lead us." He knelt, head bowed with respect, Navarre's fingers still trailing on his shoulders.

There was another moment's silence. Both men were intently aware that with the Bishop as an active enemy, and with Marquet acting as the Bishop's sword, it was likely that Navarre would not be back to Aquila for a while.

Then Francesco stood and clasped Navarre's arm in farewell. "Go," he said, with a grin. "I will stay here, and delay Marquet as long as I can."

Navarre gave him a crooked smile, saluted quickly, and left at a run.

#

Isabeau knew how to ride a horse; it was one of the things her father had taught her. ("It isn't ladylike," she'd admitted once, laughter dancing in her eyes, "but he didn't care much about that. He didn't care about appearances.") It made the escape easier; she waited for him already mounted and ready, stroking the mare's neck as she pranced sideways with nervous impatience.

"Navarre," Isabeau said with relief as she saw him. "You've heard? The Bishop--"

"Francesco told me. Come."

Isabeau's mare was neither as fast nor as battle-trained as Goliath. Navarre kept pace with her, keeping an eye out behind them for signs of pursuit.

Marquet did not come -- he sent a quick, silent prayer in Francesco's direction. The Bishop, if he followed, was never close enough to see, but Navarre could feel his wrath like a malevolent cloak smothering the both of them. Only the warning bells of Aquila pursued them, a cacophony carrying through the air.

Either Marquet or the Bishop had evidently anticipated that they might flee, and sent word in advance. A group of soldiers rode out to meet them; some saluted in confusion at Navarre's rank. One of them called, "Halt!"

"Ride on," Navarre ordered grimly, and Isabeau nodded her understanding. She bent low over her mare's neck, urging her on.

"Halt, in the name of the Bishop," the soldier called again. Something sang past Navarre's ear, and then there was the thud of a crossbow bolt hitting flesh. Isabeau's mare went down, the horse's squeals mingling with Isabeau's shriek of alarm. "Navarre!" she called in desperation, trying to scramble clear of her thrashing, dying mare.

Navarre nudged Goliath, who swung around without breaking stride and thundered back. He trained his crossbow on their pursuers, mounted men of Marquet's ilk with faces unfamiliar to him. "Harm her in any way," Navarre said in a voice as quiet as death, "and you will live only long enough to regret it."

"We have our orders," one of them said loudly, nervousness in his face and voice. "But there doesn't need to be any harm. If she'll just come quietly..."

"Then what?" He wasn't interested in the answer, so much as the time; as long as he kept them talking, they wouldn't be acting.

"She will be provided for, and cared for."

"And kept a prisoner of the Bishop, no doubt," Navarre said bitingly.

The soldier flinched but didn't answer that.

"And what of me?"

"If you stand aside, you will be permitted to resign with honor, and the Bishop himself will grant you land to live on for the rest of your days."

In other words, Navarre translated silently, exile from Aquila -- and from Isabeau! -- along with forced inactivity. His mouth tightened, and he glared narrow-eyed at the soldiers, pointing his crossbow at each one in turn as Goliath paced in a restless barrier between Isabeau and the soldiers.

One of the other soldiers, a man Navarre knew vaguely but could not remember the name of, called out, "Do not make this any harder on yourself than it has to be, Captain Navarre! Cooperation will make things easy for the both of you. Resist us, and I can make no guarantees."

Navarre gave a grim smile. Without taking his eyes off of the soldiers, he called over his shoulder, "You've heard what they promise us, Isabeau. What say you?"

"That the Bishop can go to hell." Her voice was low but unafraid.

"I don't think that's in doubt." Navarre gave a wolfish, unamused grin, and fired the crossbow. His aim was deliberate, missing but only barely; the leader's horse reared in alarm as the bolt whined past its neck, and several of the other horses showed signs of panic.

In the momentary disruption, Navarre swung around again. Isabeau had gotten to her feet, and he leaned over and lifted her up without slowing. She wriggled into position in front of him-- they'd ridden like this, before, though never in this sort of situation-- and he wrapped one arm around her as he urged Goliath onward.

There were shouts behind them, and sounds of pursuit, but Goliath ran freely. Even carrying two, he was fast enough to get them away.

#

"He will keep coming after us, I think," Isabeau said miserably, as they rode. "The Bishop doesn't seem the sort of man to simply give up. He will go wherever we go."

Navarre brushed her long hair away from the nape of her neck, and kissed the skin there. "Then we will go farther. Past the ends of the earth if necessary."

Isabeau was silent for a long moment, and then said, "I don't care where we are, as long as he isn't there, and as long as you're with me."

"I will be with you," he promised. "Always."

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