Unusualmusic asked for some of the ambiguities of "Firebird" to be cleared up, and who am I to refuse? A short little 'ten years later' epilogue. All previous warnings apply...this is also less proofread, so sorry for any errors.
The shout echoed through the palace. In his chambers the former tsar, peacefully retired to a life of watching his kingdom prosper, smiled to himself and turned back to watching the flight of bird outside his windows. In the portrait gallery, visiting dignitaries looked up in alarm until their guide smilingly assured them that there was nothing wrong, drawing them back to contemplation of the land's rich and great history. In his office just off the main throne room Ivan looked up and sighed in resignation, casting one glance back towards the papers that really needed to be reviewed before today's council session, and then hauling himself to his feet. And in the library, a dark-haired man smiled a smug, oddly feral smile and ignored the outraged yell with aplomb, his eyes firmly fixed on the book he held.
That is, until a fuming woman burst through the door. The Great Tsarina Helen the Beautiful, no less lovely as the years wore on, let the heavy oak doors of the palace library thump shut behind her as she leveled a glare at Andrei. Long golden hair hung to her elbows, held in place by the gleaming crown that proclaimed her the most important person in the kingdom, and her rich skirts swept the floor. She was a grand and imposing sight, especially since the level of her glare went up several notches as the man continued to ignore her.
"Andrei. Perhaps you could explain to me why my son and heir has just informed me that he is 'learning to be a wolf so I can be just like Uncle Andrei'?" Her voice had been known to reduce criminals to shivering heaps of terror, but Andrei simply glanced up from his book and flashed a gleaming smile.
"Helen. How nice of you to come visit me…however did you make the time, considering all your duties?"
"Andrei. We had an agreement. No shapeshifting until he's twelve, we said. How old is my son?"
"I do believe he was ten this past Midwinter, o great tsarina."
"Exactly! I will not have you teaching my ten-year-old son to become a wolf, Advisor and Court Magician or no!"
"I haven't been."
That seemed to stymie Helen for a moment, although her glare, on principle, didn't waver. "You have not." It was more a statement than a question, but the Court Magician answered it blandly nonetheless.
"Most certainly not. Of course, I have been teaching him shapeshifting, along with his other lessons." The tsarina gasped in outrage but Andrei simply continued blithely. "Elya's form is obviously not that of a wolf, however. If I were to make a guess this early in the proceedings, I would say a bird of some sort, most probably a hawk." He took in the flash of surprise on Helen's face and smiled, oddly sharp canine teeth glinting in the light. "This pleases you."
"Well, I always thought he seemed to…no! No, Andrei, you are NOT distracting me like this! Two years early? What are you thinking?!"
"Mm…mostly I believe I was thinking something along the lines of 'this should be fun'." This smile was obviously intended only to provoke, and as Helen drew in breath to prepare for a tirade of scolding, the library door creaked open once again. It admitted a man, his pale gold hair and ice-blue eyes contrasting sharply with the dark colours the library was furnished in and the purple sash around his waist that marked him the Tsarina's vizier and top advisor. Ivan took one look at the tableau presented to him and sighed.
"Andrei. Provoking Helen again?"
The magician stood, his eyes fixed on Ivan from the moment the door opened, and the smile he shot him had none of the mocking his others had contained. "I cannot help it; she makes it so easy." He laughed as Helen let out a squawk of outrage. Ivan rolled his eyes in exasperation but allowed himself to be pulled into the other's arms and kissed softly in greeting. He hummed happily, pulling away only a fraction of an inch to be caught by silver-grey eyes that were always at their most intense when fixed on him. "Mm…I have not seen you all day, my Vanya…" Ivan shivered, a reaction he could never seem to control and wasn't sure he wanted to, and pulled Andrei down for a longer kiss which was broken only by Helen clearing her throat loudly.
"If you're quite finished. Ivan, my so-called vizier, would it be too much to ask for you to control your husband?!"
Ivan laughed slightly, shaking his head ruefully. "Apologies, sister." Though there was no relation between them and Helen was only his sister through her formal adoption by the former tsar, after losing two brothers so suddenly Ivan had clung to the only family he had left. Helen was his sister in all but blood…up to and including sibling arguments. "What did he do this time?"
"He is teaching Elya to shapeshift. I may not understand magic but I know that it's dangerous! We had an agreement and he started two years early!"
Ivan glared at Andrei for a moment, one hand reaching out to smack the back of the other man's head. It was an odd sight; the shorter prince whose youthful face made many doubt his professed age and the dark, mysterious magician who could only be described as 'intimidating' with his waves of dark hair and his feral smiles. However, the residents of the palace were by now accustomed to the couple and hid smiles behind their hands at their many playful fights. "You are sleeping on the floor tonight. You should have told her." Ivan scolded, but his voice turned soothing as he informed Helen "But truly, sister, the danger isn't as great as you might think. And with Andrei teaching him, Elya will be perfectly safe. You know we'd never allow any harm to come to our godsons."
"Obviously." Andrei couldn't resist interjecting, and received twin glares of exasperation.
"He'll be safe. He isn't even shifting yet, isn't that right Andrei? Just doing meditation exercises to help him find his form?" The wolf nodded. "You can watch a lesson. There's nothing that can hurt him."
"You're certain." That voice promised worlds and worlds of pain if he lied, but Ivan just nodded.
"He may be an immature idiot—who really is sleeping on the floor tonight, by the way—" The vizier smacked a hand that was reaching for his waist and continued without a pause "but he would never hurt Elya." After a pause to make sure she believed him and was no longer worried for her son, Ivan allowed himself a taunt. "See? Everything is fine. Go back to your harem."
Helen flushed at that, which made Ivan laugh delightedly. "Two husbands is not a harem."
"Of course not."
"Oh, go do vizier things. Make my kingdom work."
"But of course. Don't forget you have a public audience at sunset."
"I'll be there." Helen smiled at her brother, shot Andrei another glare that was not without exasperated fondness, and left.
"He really is safe, right?" Ivan leaned back against his husband and smiled when arms came up to encircle his waist.
"Of course. At his current rate of progress, he won't be making physical changes for a least a year and a half in any case."
"…and you couldn't just tell her that?"
"Obviously not. Where would be the fun in that?" Ivan sighed, about to scold more, but gasped softly as he felt lips brush his neck.
"Andrei…I was working."
"'Was'. Past tense."
"I should be working…as should you…nnh…" Teeth scraped the junction between his neck and shoulder and Ivan gave up. "Lock the doors at least…"
He could feel Andrei's smirk as he pause to whisper something in an odd, echoing language and the library doors swung shut with an emphatic 'no one goes in or out until we say so' sort of thump. Ivan was intending to say something sarcastic about using magic where simply walking over and shutting the doors would have worked just as well, but when he turned to look at his husband he was caught instantly in a fierce kiss. They were both short of breath when it ended, Andrei recovering first.
"…am I still sleeping on the floor tonight?"
"We'll see." Ivan smiled as Andrei set about proving that he did, in fact, deserve part of the bed, and reflected that while he would never have guessed his life would turn out this way, he wasn't complaining in the least.