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Even Now

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Even Now

.tahgahmehm tsahn botaygahn shem...

Even now, after so many years, she still liked to watch him sleep.

Katran sat silently in the dark room, and watched her husband in the gentle light of the moon coming through the small window. She thought that might have been when she first fell in love with him, waiting for him to wake up after he'd fallen through the well into her world, all those years ago. He still looked so young, almost innocent, sleeping.

He was so strong. She could still remember the first time she had seen him like this, back in the days when his father ruled her world with an iron grip, and tried to hold his son with the same. But Atrus had been with Anna too long; she had instilled in him a sense of worth, of purpose, that all of his father's rage and harsh treatment had somehow not been able to touch. But no, that was not quite true. His father had left him with blind spots.

Her heart clenched painfully at the thought of her own sons. She got up, restlessly, moving quietly so as not to wake him. She went out into the gentle summer night, and looked up at the comforting brightness of the stars overhead in a nearly cloudless sky. Folding her arms, she hugged herself and shivered in the light breeze, though it was warm.

Where had they gone wrong? How had they failed to see those same traits in their own sons, until it was too late? But she knew. Atrus was strong, but not that strong. How could she blame him for being unable to bring himself to willingly recall the bleak days of childhood spent with his father-much less attribute such fanatical leanings to his own flesh and blood. Bad enough that Gehn was truly his father. Atrus, she knew, had been incapable of admitting - even at that deep level where he might have recognized the warning signs - that his father's blood, his father's weaknesses, might run in his own veins. Might have been passed on to his own family. The idea that he, himself, had enough of his father in him for his sons to have the potential to turn out that way, was something his mind simply refused to acknowledge or consider.

And she, herself-she should have seen the signs. Should have known that once Sirrus had tasted that power, he craved it, let it warp him. She should have seen the gleam in his eye when he found himself able to use that power, to control others, other worlds. But she, too, had blind spots. She too, had done her best to forget Gehn, to forget what he had asked her to become.

For she knew that the madness which ran in Atrus' family was not alone to blame for their fate. Easy though it would have been, to find the fault solely in his heritage, she could not, in honesty, accept that. No, they had gotten an equal share of it from her. She felt, in her own chest, the pull of fascination at the idea of such power. The ability to ensure that no one would be able to rule her ever again. The desire to become the oppressor, to make certain that she would never be oppressed or denied. The lure of believing the lie that absolute power equals absolute freedom. She tried, usually, to forget it.

That there was a small part of her which had been tempted by his offer, to become his consort and rule the worlds with him. That part of herself disgusted her, terrified her, and she loathed it with all her being.

And so she had tried to forget the way Gehn's mind worked, the seductive promise of power, the way it could work on your soul and trick you into becoming something you hated. Had tried to forget the guilt and despair that came with knowing that at place, at that point in time, the only way to trap Gehn, to hold him, was to turn him loose on a world of innocents.

Her world. Her people. For Atrus, for herself, all so that the two of them could be free. Could be together.

Oh, she knew, logically, it was better for Gehn to wreak havoc on a single world than to be free to terrorize hundreds, even thousands...there was no limit to his greed. But that did not mean she carried any less anguish, any less personal responsibility for the fate of those who had died before she came back, before the Stranger had come again and helped them, finally, to defeat Gehn completely. All those who had bled, died, and suffered under years of his reign of terror, while she and Atrus had lived quietly happy lives of their own, far, far away.

Until her own sons had become him, and rose up against them to return her to his power. She shuddered. Suddenly the warm breeze was not enough to banish the chill of her thoughts.

Perhaps...perhaps she should have married him. Bitterness rose up and threatened to choke her for a minute; the very idea was enough to turn her stomach, but... Maybe she should have done what Gehn had planned, and become his wife, should have done what she could to mediate his harsh justice. Maybe she should have spent her life being a calming, controlling influence on him, restraining him, so that even a few less people would have died. She had blood on her hands, as surely as Gehn himself did.

But she had seen Atrus, met him at that critical point, and she knew immediately that she could never do as Gehn had asked. Had never really wanted to, but when Atrus and Anna had come into her life she knew, once and for all, that she could never be that for him. She couldn't sacrifice her life to be Gehn's keeper-even such as she could be.

For she was not naive enough to think that she would have made all that much difference...but it might have been enough. Yes, it would have meant that tens, perhaps hundreds less would have died-it would have been enough.

And yet not nearly enough, once she had seen the pure and noble spirit in his son, seen the light of exploration and thirst for knowledge in his eyes; his compassionate understanding of what it was like to have your world taken, and torn asunder by a mad god. For indeed, it had happened to him also, at a very young age. He knew what it was like to have his future stolen and controlled by the madness and lust for power that ruled Gehn's existence.

She had felt a kindred spirit in him, right from the start, and though it had taken her some time to truly trust him, she rather thought she had loved him from the beginning. Nothing that had happened since then had changed that. He was still, perhaps more than ever, the man she fell in love with.

She sighed, feeling the tension start to fade as she pulled herself back on center, reminding herself that they had made the only choices they could make at the time, done the best that they knew how with the results-and they were not to blame for the bad choices of others.

Regret it though she might, the past could not be changed. She stood, her black mood reluctantly lifting, and walked back inside. Her bare feet were light and nearly silent on the hardwood floor as she made her way through the darkened rooms. She would go and sit beside her husband, and if she grew weary enough she might yet get some sleep tonight; but it would be enough, just to have his presence there beside her. She would watch over him through the few remaining hours until dawn, and let his peaceful soul soothe her spirit.

Even now, she still liked to watch him sleep.

.tsahn, botaygahn shem...

-rehzuh-