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  1. table of contents
  2. lucidity : alisaie pov, newly established relationship, takes place during the end of stormblood, somewhat angsty but hopeful
  3. red suits you : poppy pov, pre-relationship, takes place during stormblood, lightly angsty fluff, character exploration
  4. never again : poppy pov, pre-relationship, takes place during stormblood, angsty, "Oh No I'm In Love", character exploration
  5. monster : alisaie pov, established relationship, takes place between 4.1 and 4.2, heavy WoL angst and hurt/comfort
  6. magpie : poppy pov, established relationship, takes place shortly after 4.3, angst and hurt/comfort
  7. home : poppy pov, established relationship, takes place in nondescript future, light angst and romantic/domestic fluff, character exploration
  8. for want of warmth : poppy pov, pre-relationship, takes place during 2.55, WoL angst, character exploration
  9. treasure hunter : alisaie pov, newly established relationship, takes place during 4.1, purely cute fluff
  10. unbearable : alisaie pov, established relationship, takes place shortly after 4.4, angst and hurt/comfort, slightly spicy kissing
  11. unburdened and content : alisaie pov, established relationship, takes place a year after ala mhigo's liberation, romantic lovey fluff, super sappy
  12. of the blooming blade : poppy pov, established relationship, takes place around 4.2, light fluff and silly banter
  13. alone : poppy pov, established relationship, takes place during 4.5, angst and drama
  14. red and silver : multiple pov, established relationship, takes place in a peaceful future, romantic/sappy marriage stuff, just a pinch of angst
  15. not even you : poppy pov, established relationship, takes place after 4.56, WoL angst, character exploration
  16. black rose : poppy pov, established relationship, takes place in an alternate 5.0 timeline, heavy angst and depictions of death

Chapter Text

Being bedridden (or being forced into bed, as she liked to reason) gave Alisaie much time to think. Thinking lead to sleeping and sleeping lead to dreaming, for better or for worse.

The Warrior oft came to her in her dreams. They sat together or walked together or even danced as the scenes around them blurred and warped a thousand times in a confusing mess of colors. Poppy spoke to her, whispering indiscernible words excitably as she laughed. Alisaie could never quite hear her.

“Are you well?”

“Are you safe?”

“Will you return soon?”

The questions fell from Alisaie’s lips and landed heavily at her feet, remaining unheard. Dreams were simply dreams, after all.

The glittering phantoms of Poppy never answered. She smiled and turned away despite Alisaie’s protests, disappearing into streams of blinding light, slipping through her fingers like the sands of Thanalan where she was born. Alisaie would cry out but the illusion around her simply shattered, leaving her feeling empty.

Between bursts of fitful sleep, she woke to a tensely silent infirmary. There had been little communication between the Resistance and the forces sent with the Warrior in fear that the imperials might intercept carefully guarded information. The entire Reach seemed to hold its breath in anticipation.

Alisaie would rise to stretch, do light exercise as she was permitted, walk about the camp, and worry. She worried for Alphinaud, for Lyse, for Poppy. She would lean against the pillars in front of the infirmary in the evenings and stare over the south-most wall of the Reach where the Fringes and the Peaks and the Lochs laid beyond. She found a sliver of comfort in the fact that they all shared the same sky and gazed at the same stars.

The worry always persisted, gnawing at her like a starved beast until late at night when she lay in her cot. Pieces of memories long past played across the backs of Alisaie’s eyelids when sleep finally found her. She saw the fragments of Dalamud, the crystalline spires of the Burning Wall, the Warrior as she returned from one of her harrowing battles.

It was odd how she always looked the happiest after a fight.

Disheveled hair. Bruised knuckles. Bloody knees. Broken bones. She was shattered so many countless times. The fragments grew smaller with each blow and the fissures grew ever deeper, yet she emerged reforged without fail. Always laughing, glinting sharpened fangs as she grinned.

Alisaie watched the scenes unfold before her. She dimly wondered how Poppy managed to be so strong, marveled at her boundless well of energy. How did she do it all? Magic and blessings and a bit of madness, perhaps.

Suddenly, she was surrounded by red. An endless field of flowers billowed around her in the breeze, reminding her of the Ruby Sea’s gentle waves at dawn. The Warrior sat amongst them, not too far off. When she turned her head an ilm to the side and caught Alisaie’s gaze, she smiled and beckoned her to come forward. Alisaie was seated beside her in an instant. She didn’t bother to question the logic of how she’d moved so quickly.

Poppy plucked a flower from the ground and turned to give it to her, brushing fingers that felt too cruelly real against her hand. When Alisaie looked down at what appeared to be a lily with vivid red petals, the world around her snapped into lucid clarity as if the veil of sleep had been lifted from her eyes.

She felt the Warrior shift and lean against her side. Alisaie dared not look at her, afraid to shatter the dream, and focused instead on the glimmering flower in her palm. She soon felt calloused fingers graze across the bare skin of her neck and the warmth of Poppy’s breath bloomed across her cheek as she sighed.

“Do me a favor?” Her voice was thin and frail, like a sheet of ice formed across a pond at dawn.

Alisaie simply nodded, still focusing on the flower, willing the dream to continue despite how it already began to blur and shimmer at the edges.

“Don’t forget me after I’m gone.”

Alisaie almost laughed aloud at the absurdity of the request but managed to hold her tongue, not wanting to be cruel even to an illusion of her dear Warrior. But, she wondered, how could anyone forget the Warrior of Light and all her countless feats? The primals felled, the nations freed, the lives saved.

It took a moment before her thoughts whirred and it clicked into place that she meant the woman behind the title. The soft heart, the nervous flutter of her hands, the tears spilled for every fallen friend. In her shining clarity, Alisaie remembered that the fissures did not disappear even though Poppy always emerged whole. A pit of nagging worry formed in her stomach at the implication of her words.

You won’t be gone. You can’t be.

Her own voice was too loud, too real for the false world surrounding her. The flower was crushed in her palm when she clenched her fist and she turned her face towards Poppy.

I could never forget you, you Twelvesdamned fool,she added quietly, feeling her throat tighten as her grip on the dream slipped.

When Poppy laughed, the sound was bright like Starlight bells and all too real. A kiss was pressed against her cheek and fingers brushed against her neck once more as the light surrounding them turned thin and watery and too bright.

Alisaie woke to the sound of distant trumpets. She sat up and looked beyond the infirmary walls to see a sky tinged crimson by the light of dawn.

“They’ve done it!” A man in a cot across the room cried out, voice still hoarse from sleep as the others around him stirred from their own slumber.

The Reach was suddenly alight with similar excited cries as the sound of trumpets continued and grew louder, signaling Ala Mhigo’s freedom. Alisaie felt tears of relief prickle the corners of her eyes. She leaned back against her pillow with a sigh as images from the dream danced through her mind.

“You fool,” she muttered aloud to no one in particular and felt almost angry. “You would make me worry only to emerge victorious. How very like you.” She smiled despite herself, thinking of Poppy’s bright laughter.

Chapter Text

Thin beams of sunlight peaked in through the slats that covered the window in her small room. They stretched through the air like tiny arms, catching motes of dust in their wake as they reached for the Warrior. They fell across her cheeks and eyelids, willing her awake with their insistent, rosy brightness.

“Rise, my daughter,” she imaged Azeyma whispering to her, stirring her from her slumber with warm fingers of sunlight that grazed across her skin. “A new day is yours.”

And so she rose with the sun as most Sun Seekers did. She liked it that way. It was always quiet at dawn. No calls to action, no turmoil, not yet. The problems of the world still slept when she woke.

Poppy stood, stretching her arms above her head languidly until a sharp ripple of pain in her chest nearly made her double over. Though the light of dawn pooled around her feet quietly, her mind and body were loud when they reminded her of Zenos, his blade, and all that happened in the Reach only days before. She frowned, tasting bitter frustration rise in the back of her throat.

After dressing slowly through the soreness, Poppy made her way down the hall that housed the Scions. She could feel the weight of her failure settle over her shoulders like a shawl that grew heavier with each step. By the time she reached their shared common area, she was practically drowning in despair.

A sound caught Poppy’s attention and her ear swiveled towards it before she turned her head. When she did, she saw Alisaie who sat alone at a table with her jacket draped across the back of her chair. A silver hairband and red ribbon sat before her along with a half-eaten piece of toast and an empty mug. Her head was bowed forward slightly and face tilted to the side as she passed an ivory colored comb through a curtain of snowy hair that poured over her shoulder, practically shimmering against the black of her shirt.

Poppy inhaled a sharp breath of surprise. She was so used to seeing her companion’s hair neatly braided that the sight of the loose, wavy locks caught her off guard. She froze in the doorway, feeling like she was intruding on a private moment. 

Alisaie didn’t seem to notice her admirer. Her pale lashes flickered in silent concentration and blinked against the bright morning light that poured into the room. When she lifted her arms and moved them behind her head to form her usual braid, she paused mid motion and grimaced. She lowered her hand to rub her shoulder and sighed, brows furrowing in obvious annoyance.

Poppy felt a pang of sympathy. It seemed she wasn't the only one who was sore. The feeling pulled her into the room, tugging at her like an invisible string that made her feet move on their own.

“Need help?” she asked as she approached the table.

When Alisaie looked up, surprise flashed across her face as she quickly lowered her hand from her shoulder. “You needn’t trouble yourself,” she replied, words slightly clipped.

“It’s no trouble,” Poppy said as a bit of a sheepish smile tugged at her lips. Her fingers twitched at her side and she raised her hand almost unconsciously, pressing it to her chest where the fresh wound lay hidden beneath her shirt. She hoped the gesture would convey her silent understanding.

She held out her other hand and motioned to the comb. She saw how Alisaie gripped it and ran her thumb across the prongs as if silently battling with herself before her demeanor softened and she held it out for Poppy to take.

The comb was heavier than she expected. Poppy realized it was likely made of bone and admired how the polished surface shone under the sunlight when she lifted it. She moved behind Alisaie’s chair and pulled the other woman’s hair behind her head, brushing her hands against shoulders that tensed slightly beneath her touch.

Alisaie’s hair was just as soft as she’d imagined. Poppy dimly admitted to herself that she had, in fact, imagined it before and marveled at the sensation of snowy, silken strands slipping through her fingers and passing delicately between the teeth of the comb.

“You’re up early,” she said quietly as she gave a final pass with the comb and moved the hair upward into a high ponytail.

Alisaie's shoulders drooped as she relaxed and she gave a soft hum in reply. “I'm eager to begin our journey to Kugane. I’ve never done well with waiting.”

Poppy smiled as she reached for the hairband. “Aye, I’m much the same.” She clipped the band around Alisaie’s hair and paused to trace the delicate raised details on the silvery surface of the matching hairpin. She sighed lightly before tucking it in place. “I'm ready to move on. I just want to leave this all behind for a while.”

Perhaps her sigh had been too forlorn or her words too fragile. Either way, Alisaie had noticed and there was a pause before she spoke.

“I sincerely hope you do not blame yourself for everything that has happened here.”

The words were loosed with all the preciseness of an arrow and hit directly at the heart of the matter, making Poppy wince at their truth. She remained silent for a breath too long and Alisaie turned her head, practically wrenching her hair from Poppy’s hands to flash her a serious look.

“There was no way we could have foreseen the ambush.” Her tone was firm and held a sort of finality that Poppy knew she had no chance arguing against.

“I know,” she replied through gritted teeth, deciding she would argue anyway. “But for me to be cut down like that-"

“Dwelling on it will change nothing. We carve a path forward.” Alisaie spoke tersely, but her eyes betrayed her with a hint of worry.

The Warrior simply stared, baffled by how Alisaie had managed to glean her worries so easily. In all the time they’d known each other, she'd grown frighteningly adept at seeing through her façade. Poppy's ears flicked back and she averted her eyes from Alisaie’s.

“You’d best carve a path forward with your eyes if you want me to finish this,” she muttered and flicked the back of her companion’s head.

Alisaie let out an amused huff and turned her head forward. Poppy didn’t have to see her face to know she was smirking when she next spoke, “I pray your mood improves before we set off. It would hardly do for you to mope all the way to Kugane.”

Poppy pouted and gave Alisaie’s ponytail a gentle tug in retaliation, which drew a soft sound of annoyance from her companion. “Right, right. I get it.”

She returned her attention to finishing her task. She separated Alisaie's hair into sections and began to weave them together, deftly pulling her fingers through the long, silvery locks. She continued the motion until the braid grew thin and then reached for the ribbon that sat on the table. She ran her thumb over the scrap of silk before she tied it in place.

“You know,” Poppy said as she formed a bow. She paused to straighten it and run her fingers through the soft, wispy hairs at the end of the braid and admired how the ribbon contrasted prettily against the white. “Red suits you.”

Alisaie was silent for a moment before she gave a thoughtful hum. “Is that so?”

Having said it on a whim, Poppy had no response and her face warmed with embarrassment. “All done,” she said quietly and stepped back from the chair.

When Alisaie turned her head, the long braid cut through the air behind her almost menacingly, like the edge of a sharp blade. “Thank you,” she said with a smile and, to Poppy’s surprise, pushed the chair back from the table and stood. She picked up the comb and turned to her. “Take a seat. It’s your turn.”

Poppy stared, feeling embarrassment bubble within her at the disheveled state of her own hair. When Zenos’s blade overcame her, one of her braids was cut completely off in the struggle. In a fit of anger afterwards, she’d cut the other one herself with a dagger which only created an uneven, choppy mess. But when she felt her companion’s expectant gaze burn into her, she relented. Alisaie looked pleased when she sat down.

The comb was passed through the roughly cropped strands with effective gentleness, tugging free the tangles that Poppy hadn’t bothered to brush out herself. She relaxed at the sensation of fingers brushing against her scalp and ears. Her mind wandered from her self-consciousness to the woman who stood behind her.

Alisaie was a bit prickly and her candor was sharp as thorns, but she was never cruel. She was a bit like a rose in that way. Maybe that’s why red suited her. Poppy made a face and was glad that Alisaie couldn’t see her expression. She silently scolded herself for the florid thoughts, but could still feel her face flush.

Alisaie continued to comb in silence for a while before she paused. Poppy felt her fingers run through the ruddy copper strands of her hair and brush against the nape of her neck. She watched as Alisaie bent over to rummage through her coat pocket and was surprised when she pulled out another ribbon similar to her own. 

She gathered Poppy's hair at the base of her neck and tied it together into a messy ponytail that managed to hide the worst of the damage. When she was finished, Poppy cast a curious glance up at her and Alisaie simply smiled. 

“Red suits you as well.”

The light of morning pooled around her feet quietly. Her mind was finally quiet too, thinking only of the warmth of Alisaie’s voice and the softness of her hands.

A new day was hers.

Chapter Text

Never again.

Poppy remembered repeating those words to herself over and over.

The weight of Tupsimati in her hands. The sickening crack of a shield shattering. Fragments of crystal falling from the sky like snow.

Never again. Never again. Never again.

Never again would she let someone sacrifice themselves for her sake.

She almost forgot those words somewhere along the way amidst the turmoil of war. She certainly wasn't thinking of them when she dragged herself onto the shore beside Lyse.

Poppy stood, wobbling and shaking, dripping salt water mixed with blood as a deep exhaustion settled in her bones. Though she could no longer drown, she almost felt like she had.

Lyse wanted to go back. Alisaie was at the Isle of Zekki, likely still fighting the red Kojin. Poppy thought about how brave she had been, how strong, how easily she cut the beastmen down. Yet the Warrior was still afraid. She wanted to go back too, but Lyse balked at that.

"Absolutely not," she argued.

She was oddly adamant about going alone. But Poppy would not yield and far too many precious seconds crept past as they bickered. Eventually, the Warrior stubbornly moved back towards the sea despite Lyse’s protests and stopped only when the other woman grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the water.

“She stayed behind so that you could escape. Even I know that.”

Poppy felt like Lyse had punched her in the gut. She went slack in her grip when she remembered her old mantra:

Never again.

Though her body ached and her blood felt like lead in her veins, she struggled against Lyse’s grasp with newfound strength, deaf to her pleas and protests.

Sacrifice was an ugly thing. There was no beauty in it, no sense, and certainly no romance. There was only heaviness. She carried those deaths with her but could only bear so much weight. She knew she couldn’t handle much more. Not now. Not Alisaie. Especially not Alisaie.

The word especially echoed across her thoughts and gave her pause for a moment. Before she could think too hard, the source of her and Lyse’s distress emerged from the sea.

Alisaie had the gall to joke. How tartly she spoke of "heroic and ultimately futile last stands". Normally, it would have been enough to make Poppy scream in frustration. Relief flooded through her instead, washing everything else away like the tide pooled around her feet. She was granted a precious few moments of ease. 

Poppy was surprised to see Lyse rush forward and pull Alisaie into an embrace. She was more surprised that she wanted to do the same. She wanted to hold her, to check her wounds, to scold her, to cry. It all swirled around her mind in a confusing cacophony of emotion. Instead of acting on her thoughts, she remained rooted in place, swaying slightly as her exhausted body struggled to keep her upright after the overexertion of slaying a primal.

When Alisaie approached, her silvery hair clung to her face, still dripping water from the sea. She was scratched up and bruised, but still whole. 

Never again. Never scare me like that again, Poppy wanted to say, but didn't. "Are you alright?" she managed to croak out instead.

"Me? Of course," was Alisaie's brusque reply. She smiled almost smugly, but reached out and gave Poppy's arm a gentle squeeze that wordlessly spoke reassurance.

They were returning to Isari. That's what Poppy assumed Lyse had said, anyway. She trailed along behind her companions, lost in thought.

Guilt pricked her mind like tiny needles and she frowned. Why was she so concerned about Alisaie in particular, when she was clearly an adept swordswoman? Had the others not meant as much to her before they passed? No, that wasn't it, of course they had. Yet as she stole lingering glances in the direction of Alisaie, her mouth went dry and her chest ached. She felt heavy, as if an anchor was weighing her down and dragging her into the depths of the sea.

There was a brief moment of terrifying clarity that nearly made her heart stop its fluttering beats. She wondered at what point she'd fallen in love.

Chapter Text

The fire crackled lazily in the corner. As Alisaie turned a page, it popped loudly enough to startle her away from the contents of her book. She looked up as she let the page slip from between her fingers and saw that the flames had died down considerably. When she stood from her desk to tend it, she rubbed her eyes sleepily.

She’d gotten up nearly a bell ago and had promptly buried her nose in a book when she couldn’t fall back asleep. A nagging feeling of apprehension had burrowed itself deep enough into her thoughts that she couldn’t quite shake it off. Perhaps it was from an unpleasant dream she couldn’t quite remember or perhaps it was residual anxiety left over from the past few moons of warfare and battles. It was irritating either way.

Alisaie yawned into her palm as she knelt before the small fireplace. She reached into the basket beside it to retrieve a log from the pile that she promptly fed to the dying flames. The fire sputtered back to life in an instant, crackling almost happily as it consumed the fresh tinder. Alisaie sat for a long while, comforted by the warmth. She was still often surprised by how cold nights could be in Gyr Abania.

A sudden knock drew her attention away from the fireplace. It was so quiet that she thought she’d imagined it at first, but when it came again, slightly louder that time, she looked over her shoulder towards the door. She was confused as to who else would be awake at such an hour and also feel the need to see her.

As she stood, she realized that it was likely Alphinaud and felt mildly annoyed. Much like herself, he probably couldn't sleep and came to talk her ear off about politics or some other nonsense. She almost considered not answering, but made her way across the room nonetheless, thinking that her brother's rambling would at least put her to sleep.

When Alisaie opened the door to see the Warrior of Light, she was caught off guard. Her mild annoyance faded into surprise and then quickly turned into alarm when she took in the other woman's disheveled state. 

"Sorry to bother you so late," Poppy said with uncharacteristic meekness. She offered a weak smile, but Alisaie saw how her ears were pinned back and how her hands balled into fists at her sides. It was dark in the hall, but she could also see red splotches on the front of her shirt. 

"Twelve above," Alisaie murmured softly. In a panic, she grabbed Poppy by the wrist, who flinched but allowed herself to be pulled into the room. With the door shut behind them, Alisaie tugged her closer to further inspect her face. Thanks to the light of the fireplace and lantern behind her, she could clearly see the bruises painted beneath the Warrior's eyes. Her lip was split and still bleeding and there was dry blood caked beneath her nose, which explained the stains on her shirt. "What happened to you?" Alisaie asked, trying her hardest not to sound worried.

"Just got in a little scrap. Nothing to worry about," Poppy said dismissively. She tried to sound calm, but Alisaie felt her tremble beneath her touch and saw her tail twitch behind her erratically. 

Alisaie took a breath and bit back the retorts that formed on her tongue. She waited for a moment, expecting an explanation of some sort, but got none. Poppy broke away from her gaze to look at the fireplace, seeming intent on staying silent. Alisaie sighed and let go of her wrist. She stepped back towards her desk to give the other woman some space despite feeling the burning need to both scold and coddle her. It was a dance the two of them often did. Poppy was too stubborn to openly speak of her troubles, but with a bit of patience Alisaie could pry out what was ailing her. 

She busied herself with playing nursemaid and found a towel and pitcher of water on her bedside table that she took to her desk. After moving her books aside, she rummaged through a drawer to find several fire shards and a jar of poultice kept for just such occasions. She dropped a shard into the water and then cast a furtive glance over her shoulder.

Poppy had crumpled onto the floor before the fireplace. She hugged a leg against her chest and rested her chin atop her knee as she stared into the flames, looking very much like a beaten child. She swayed gently, likely from exhaustion and blood loss, and a pained expression was pulled across her features. Alisaie turned back to the pitcher and frowned. The Warrior's injuries didn't seem life-threatening, but the silence was troubling. Poppy had shrugged off worse before with little more than a laugh and a toothy grin. Something else was clearly amiss and she ached to know what it was.

With the warm, damp towel and poultice in hand, Alisaie crossed the room and paused to kneel before the Warrior, moving slowly as to not startle her. Poppy stirred from her stupor to look at her when she sat. The dejected expression she wore caused Alisaie's stomach to knot, but she lifted the towel an ilm and shot the Warrior an inquisitive look. Poppy stared at it for a moment before she let go of her leg and leaned forward slightly. Alisaie took that as permission granted and reached out to run a finger down the bridge of her nose. When she felt no obvious bumps in the cartilage, she began to wipe away the blood that had dried there with the gentleness of someone who was afraid to shatter a delicate glass. 

"It's not broken," Poppy said quietly, echoing Alisaie's thoughts. "I checked." 

Alisaie tried to meet her gaze, but Poppy insisted on looking down at the floor as if the stonework was the most fascinating thing in the world. She gritted her teeth briefly and tried to hold her tongue, but her patience was worn thin from worry. It was time to end the dance and get to the bottom of things.

"Do you intend to tell me about what manner of trouble you've gotten yourself into, or must I drag it out of you?" she asked slowly, sounding mildly annoyed despite her forced patience. 

"I told you, it was just a little scrap," Poppy replied with an edge of defensiveness to her words. She winced when Alisaie dabbed at the cut on her lip with more pressure than intended.

"I do believe that I deserve to hear the truth," Alisaie shot back. "Especially after you've barged into my room at such an ungodly hour."

Poppy finally lifted her gaze from the floor only to pout at her. "To be fair, you were awake and you did drag me in here."

Despite the circumstances, the attempted humor relieved Alisaie a touch before she remembered her impatience. She hastily uncapped the jar of poultice and sighed. 

"You knocked," she reminded the Warrior pointedly as she spread some over the cut. "Clearly, you wished to speak with me. So speak." 

The dim light of the fireplace illuminated the tension written on Poppy's face. Any inkling of ease and humor had evaporated in an instant and Alisaie felt guilty for sounding overly harsh. Something akin to fear flickered behind Poppy's gaze briefly before she took a shuddering breath that made her shoulders sag. Alisaie saw how her knuckles paled when she firmly dug her nails into her thighs. 

"A stray band of Imperials attacked the salt mines near Loch Seld," Poppy began, finally relenting. 

Alisaie's hands froze. A small flame of anger ignited within her when she heard their enemy's name. "Did they do this to you?" she asked, barely able to conceal that anger.

"They got a few jabs in before I cut them down," Poppy replied absently. "The miners seemed relieved. They thanked me for helping them. But..." she trailed off and her gaze became distant as if she were looking right through Alisaie. When she next spoke, her voice was barely audible, "Am I any better than Zenos?"

Alisaie nearly dropped the towel as she stared at the Warrior, confused by the suddenness and absurdity of the question. "What? Of course you're-"

"Am I, really?" Poppy cut in before she could finish. Her voice sounded so distant and frail, as if she would shatter at any moment, but seemed to force herself to continue, "There was a man there, one of the miners. He watched me fight. Stared at me from afar afterwards while I talked to the others. Then as I was about to leave, he came up and punched me. Right on the nose."

A tense silence hung around them for a long moment as Alisaie reeled in shock. Mind blank, she watched as Poppy flattened her palms against her legs and bowed her head low over her lap.

"He said he had a brother who joined the Resistance because of me. He died in the ambush. He said it was my fault."

The flicker of anger flared up in Alisaie's chest, consuming her in its flames as she wrung the bloody towel in her lap. She remembered how Poppy had shouldered the blame for the ambush, how she'd beaten herself down over something she had no control over. How dare a stranger blame her for that when she fought so hard to prevent it. How dare he. "We've discussed this before. That was hardly your-"

"He called me a murderer," Poppy cut her off harshly as her head bowed lower. "He pointed to the bodies of the Imperial troops and said that would've been all of them if I'd been on the other side. He said I was no better than Zenos. He said I was a monster." She paused and began to tremble, breaths coming out in ragged huffs. "The others restrained him and apologized, but I could see it in their eyes. They were scared. They were scared of me." 

It was not often that the Warrior of Light unraveled. Yet there she sat amongst the rubble of her crumbled facade, broken and anguished and so unbearably defeated. Alisaie felt her throat tighten and burn until she almost couldn't breathe.

"Poppy," she whispered urgently, desperate to reach her before she fell apart completely. Alisaie moved towards her, but the Warrior flinched away to bury her face in her hands. 

"Gods, they're right," Poppy breathed heavily between her fingers. "I'm a monster."

Alisaie knew that the realm's peace was often paid for at Poppy's expense; every drop of blood shed, every bone broken, every bruise, cut, and wound. Yet people would repay her sacrifice with such cruelty. If only they knew the depth of her sadness or the crushing weight that she carried. If only they knew how she pushed forward with such admirable strength. If only they knew her.

Alisaie shifted closer to the other woman so that their knees nearly touched. A curtain of loose, snowy hair slid over her shoulder as she leaned forward and reached out to brush her fingers against Poppy's hand. She flinched, but didn't pull away.

"Look at me," Alisaie urged gently.

After a few more shuddering breaths, Poppy calmed herself enough to drop her hands from her face. Alisaie moved a finger beneath her chin and lifted it so that she could meet her gaze. Poppy looked back at her with glassy, bloodshot eyes. The flickering light of the fire beside them exaggerated the shadowy bruises that made her skin look sickly.

Before Alisaie could speak, Poppy found her voice, "You and I are one and the same. He said that to me once."

Alisaie knew she referred to Zenos. Her lips pursed into a thin frown before she spoke, quiet but fervent, "You have been a pillar of strength for this world and have done more for all of Hydaelyn than most could ever hope to do. To think that some would twist those accomplishments and compare you to him..." How could they? How dare they? she added silently, but swallowed the words. "You kill for necessity, not sport. You are no monster. You are nothing like Zenos. And if any fool should dare lay a finger on you or say otherwise again, then they shall answer to my sword." Alisaie practically spat the last words out as anger twisted violently in her gut once more.

Poppy watched her the entire time she spoke, gaze unwavering, eyes watering slightly and looking oddly hollow. She didn't look wholly convinced, but her face softened. "Thank you." She breathed the words between them softly, so soft that they almost seemed to float away like the tiny flecks of ash carried by the warmth of the fire.

"I was simply speaking the truth," Alisaie replied, offering a small smile as she moved her hand from beneath Poppy's chin to cup her cheek. Please believe me, came her silent plea. "I only wish that I could do more for you."

"You already do so much," Poppy said, sounding almost offended by Alisaie's words. She tilted her head and closed her eyes as she leaned into the touch. 

They sat in silence for a long moment. Alisaie allowed the Warrior time to reforge herself as she always did and offered what little comfort she could by dragging her thumb idly across her cheek in soothing motions. The fireplace crackled lazily next to them. When Poppy finally stopped trembling beneath her hand, the flames had nearly died again. 

"I'm tired," Poppy said after a while, voice hoarse from exhaustion. "I just want to sleep and forget everything for a while."

Alisaie nodded before she retracted her hand. "Of course." 

When they were both on their feet, she lead Poppy towards the bed. The Warrior divested herself of her boots, her bloody shirt, and the light armor bound to her shoulders. Only her daggers escaped being thrown into the heap on the floor. She placed them on the bedside table with great care before she crawled beneath the sheets and collapsed with a sigh.

With Poppy against her side, Alisaie leaned over to press a soft kiss against the other woman's lips, tasting the herbal perfume of the poultice she'd applied earlier. "Rest," she ordered gently. 

Poppy flashed a weak smile. Alisaie was relieved to see it, even if it was strained.

She watched Poppy until her breaths slowed and all the tension finally left her body. The Warrior clung to her as she slept, hanging onto Alisaie for dear life as if she were the only thing keeping her afloat on a sea made of nightmares. She absently smoothed Poppy's ruffled hair as her words replayed in her mind over and over:

Monster. I'm a monster.

The Warrior hadn't believed her when she said otherwise. She could tell by the look in Poppy's eyes that she'd only managed to offer her an empty platitude. But, at the very least, it had granted her an onze of relief. For now, that was enough. 

Alisaie wondered if the Mother Crystal knew how her daughter suffered. She quietly seethed at the unfairness of it all and wrapped an arm around Poppy, vowing to shield the Warrior of Light from the damnation of both gods and men alike.

Chapter Text

As she entered the Rising Stones, Poppy's attention was immediately drawn to the far hall that lead to the Solar. She wasn't surprised when her gaze fell on the Elezen who leaned against the wall there. Her arms were crossed and a pensive look furrowed her brow, but when she looked up at the approaching Warrior, her mood seemed to brighten a touch.

"And what has my magpie brought for me today?"

Alisaie called the question out, sounding wry. A smile lit up her face and though it didn't quite reach her eyes, Poppy was still glad to see it. The Warrior narrowed her eyes in mock offense at the greeting, but let a grin slip as she lifted a paper bag.

"Nothing quite so shiny today, I'm afraid," she quipped in reply and gestured with the bag towards an empty table.

Nearly a fortnight ago, with the dust of the prisoner exchange and all that followed suit just barely settled, Y'shtola had pulled Poppy aside to that very table. With quiet whispers and furtive glances towards Alisaie, she'd urged, "'Twould be a kindness if you were to visit from time to time, and distract her from her cares."

Poppy hadn't seen her quite so distraught since their adventures that uncovered her grandfather's fate. Alphinaud was a capable man and could handle himself, but Garleans were still Garleans and Poppy found herself sharing Alisaie's worries. However, there was naught they could do but wait for his word to reach them. If Alisaie's patience was no virtue as she'd grudgingly mentioned, then Poppy's own impatience would be considered a sin. Waiting was painful, like nails itching irritably beneath her skin, and worry for both siblings nearly drove her mad.

And so Poppy had done just as Y'shtola said. Truthfully, she barely even left the Rising Stones at all. Though her duties pulled her all across Hydaelyn, she'd returned nearly every day, unwilling to leave Alisaie alone for long even at the expense of overexerting herself with aether draining teleportation spells.

Her sudden near constant presence hadn't gone unnoticed, of course. She heard the well-meaning but teasing whispers from her fellow Scions about how she'd become a love struck pup waiting at her lady's heels. A dagger-sharp glare from Poppy had been enough to silence even the boldest among them. It was certainly enough to fend off the leering glances she felt as she sat with Alisaie at the table. The other Scions quickly left the two of them to their business, not daring to fan the flames of their Warrior's ire.

Her attention returned to her partner, who glanced from her to the bag between them with bemused anticipation. Poppy grinned again as she tipped the bag over and let the bright orange fruit inside tumble out.

"Ta-dah," she announced cheerfully. "Persimmons!"

Alisaie stared at the fruit for a moment before she let out a breathy laugh. Disbelief was written across her face as if it was the most absurd sight in the world. Perhaps it was absurd, Poppy realized, to be hand-delivered exotic fruit by the Warrior of Light.

"You lied. These are quite shiny," Alisaie said pointedly as a smirk curled her lips. She lifted a persimmon close to her face as if to admire the bright, polished surface of the fruit. "Where in the world did you procure these from?"

"Namai. I was there earlier," Poppy replied, smiling as she retrieved a knife from her belt. "The villagers insisted I take some. I guess they're in season."

She reached for the closest persimmon and began to skillfully cut the stem and leaves away as instructed by the man who gave her the fruit. She cut a thin slice and handed it to Alisaie, who had been watching her with interest. She fearlessly popped the piece of fruit into her mouth and immediately gave an appreciative hum. Poppy cut herself a piece and soon enjoyed the pleasant, honeyed taste.

"It's good. Very sweet," Alisaie said and nodded when Poppy offered her another slice.

It had become a strange little ritual for them to sit together with the things Poppy brought back from her travels. With her nervously fluttering hands, the Warrior reached out and grabbed any sort of small distraction she could pull in, anything to ease Alisaie's ache, anything to make her forget her worry for just a moment. Perhaps she was like a magpie after all, she thought.

There had been a handful of shells from the Ruby Sea that they cleaned and arranged on a shelf in Alisaie's room. She brought back a fistful of flowers from the Azim Steppe that Alisaie identified in a botanical tome and helped Poppy press into her journal. The Warrior even returned with a strange novel from the markets of Gridania and was stunned to find out it was just badly written smut that they'd laughed over together one candlelit evening. Those small distractions didn't make word from Alphinaud come any quicker, but they offered a bell or two of ease, and that was enough.

The pair sat together in comfortable silence then, exchanging bites of fruit and enjoying each other's company. Poppy smiled when she saw Alisaie's smile and quietly relished in the moment of peace she'd managed to create.

"Thank you for sharing the persimmons with me," Alisaie said after a while, sounding wistful. "I can see why Gosetsu is fond of them."

When she saw a hint of sadness return to Alisaie's expression, Poppy inhaled a sharp breath and mentally kicked herself for her thoughtlessness. In her haste to lessen the blow of Alphinaud's absence, she'd dredged up memories of Gosetsu's departure.

Poppy stared down at the bright fruit in her palm, suddenly thinking of Yotsuyu and all the disturbing events that took place at Castrum Fluminis. Pity and anger and whole host of other feelings wriggled in her gut like little worms that nearly made her ill. She hastily placed the persimmon back on the table, unable to eat any more. When she ventured to look at Alisaie, she saw how the other woman stared back at her intently. Poppy could almost feel a question forming on her partner's lips and quickly moved to intercept it.

"Why don't we go for a walk around the Toll? Weather's nice today."

The sudden, too-cheerfully delivered question made Alisaie's brow quirk. "You consider the gloom to be nice weather?" she asked in return, sounding skeptical.

The question gave Poppy a pause. She blinked as she realized her misstep, but the sweetness of the persimmon was suddenly too cloying on her tongue and she truly needed some air.

"I do, actually," the Warrior shot back, sniffing indignantly as she committed to her new plan. "What, you don't think weird aether fog is nice? Come on, let's go stretch our legs."

With that, Poppy stood from the table and marched them out of Rising Stones, with Alisaie offering no further protests aside from a weary sounding sigh.

-x-

Though it was barely past midday, it looked as though twilight had already fallen across the Toll. As Alisaie had pointed out, the gloom was in full effect. Pinkish fog curled around them and clouded the sky overhead, causing the meager beams of sunlight that managed to shine past it to cast an odd sort of shimmer through the air. It was certainly a bizarre phenomenon, but Poppy really did think it was nice in a strange sort of way. Despite the fact that all the ambient aether made her feel woozy, it made the otherwise barren, crystalline landscape of Mor Dhona a sight to behold from the walkways above the Toll's markets.

Poppy hopped up onto the parapet to get a better look. She lifted a hand to shield her eyes as if that would help her see through the fog and squinted at the distance.

"You can kinda see Silvertear from here," she commented quietly and rocked forward on her heels to admire the eerie, shimmering crystals sprawled around the distant tides of the lake.

Instead of appreciating the landscape as Poppy hoped she would have, Alisaie was more interested in gazing up at her warily. "You're going to fall," she deadpanned, doing her best to guard her worry.

Poppy glanced down at her partner with a sneer. She was content with making a fool of herself to brighten the other woman's still sullen mood, if that's what it took. "Will not," she chirped back as she leaned forward further. Her toes dangled precariously over the edge of the parapet, leaving only her heels on the stone surface. Her tail waved behind her triumphantly like a flag and brushed against Alisaie's cheek as if to remind her that Miqo'te didn't just fall.

"Don't blame me when you end up gored on the crystals below, then," Alisaie huffed in reply as she swatted the tail away. She pouted and stuck her nose up in that arrogant, smug way that Poppy so adored.

As the Warrior tried to spin on her heel to stick her tongue out at her companion the fog swirled around her, filling her head with cobwebs and making her feel dizzy. She lost her footing and likely would have fallen if Alisaie hadn't quickly grabbed her by the hand and pulled her back towards the walkway. Poppy sat down heavily on the parapet and held her head in her hands, silently cursing her stupidly high aether sensitivity.

"I told you. Twelve, you're going to send me to an early grave," Alisaie said, sounding almost annoyed. After exhaling a breath of relief, she placed her hands on Poppy's shoulders. "Are you alright?"

When the worst of the dizziness passed, Poppy looked up at her companion. It was an odd sensation, she noted blearily, to be looking up at Alisaie for once. It was a reality she likely would have to get used to in the coming moons and years when her love would sprawl heads above her as most Elezen did. She shelved the thoughts for later and flashed a weary smile.

"I'm fine," she replied. "Just tired from traveling so much." 

Alisaie stared down at her for a moment with an unreadable expression written across her face. Her hands retreated from Poppy's shoulders so she could cross her arms and then tilted her head to the side as if she'd just pieced together some sort of mystery that had been plaguing her.

"You've been visiting quite frequently as of late," she mused quietly, shooting Poppy a wary look. "Y'shtola wouldn't have happened to put you up to that, would she?" 

Poppy stared up at her partner, reeling in disbelief. As per usual, Alisaie had struck at the heart of the matter with little hesitation. "I just thought you could use some company," she said quietly, ears flicking back and betraying her guilt. "With Alphinaud...gone and all..."

She trailed off when she saw a flicker of what looked like irritation cross Alisaie's face. The other woman was silent for a brief moment as her lips pursed into a thin frown.

"I am perfectly capable of being by myself. As you may recall, I have spent most of my time in Eorzea alone. My dear brother need not be plastered against my side," Alisaie said. The words were clipped and harsh and stung like nettles. "I am no child who needs to be coddled, Poppy."

The Warrior stared down at her lap and wrung her hands as the possibility of distracting Alisaie from her worries slipped from between her fingers. Though she had good intentions, she hadn't considered that perhaps her actions were patronizing. She felt the cloying sweetness of the persimmons rise in her throat and the draining sensation of the aetheric fog made her head swim. She wallowed in her failure, feeling miserable suddenly.

Above her, Alisaie was silent. Poppy heard her exhale a long breath and when she looked back up, her companion's features had softened. She seemed to regret her words. "Pray forgive my harshness. I'm...on edge, is all." 

Alisaie's gaze was pulled over the Warrior's head. She finally looked out at the pink-tinted landscape with an impassive expression. Poppy glanced up at her, unsure if she should apologize or argue. She wet her lips but no words came out so she settled on silence, feeling as though cotton bolls filled her mouth.

"I hate this," Alisaie whispered after a while, still staring out at the horizon. "I hate waiting."

Poppy frowned. "I know."

"I feel helpless. I want to do something, not just languish here all day."

"I know," Poppy repeated herself quietly.

When Alisaie finally looked back down, her stoic mask had cracked. Her pale brows were drawn together and her steely eyes were soft with worry.

"Will he be alright?"

Poppy thought for a moment before she gave a nod. "Yes," was her simple but firm reply. She truly believed it. She believed in Alphinaud.

"And if he's not?"

The question hung in the air between them for a moment as if stuck in the fog.

"Then I go to Garlemald and burn it to the ground."

Poppy fixed a hard stare up at her companion and hopped she knew just how serious she was. Alisaie stared back in disbelief just as she had when the persimmons spilled across their table at the Rising Stones.

"I see now why Thancred forbade you from going with him."

Poppy stood with a huff, ignoring the dizziness that made her want to sit back down. "I trained with shinobi. I think I could've handled myself," she muttered more to herself, still mildly offended by Thancred's implication that her sneaking skills weren't up to snuff.

At her full height, Poppy stood a scant ilm or two above her companion. Though Alisaie looked up at her with the beginnings of a smirk pulled across her lips, her expression reflected the same hesitation Poppy felt. The Warrior reached out and tentatively placed a hand on her arm to break the tension built between them. At that contact, Alisaie finally let her mask slip and stepped forward into Poppy's arms, allowing herself a rare moment of vulnerability. She pressed her face against Poppy's shoulder and sighed.

"Thank you for visiting me. I appreciate it, truly," Alisaie said softly, warm breath tickling Poppy's skin. "But you needn't do so at the expense of your health. Surely there are more important things for you to do than fuss over me."

Poppy felt the drained heaviness that came with extended periods of aetheryte travel settle across her body, but didn't care. The strain was worth it to her. She leaned forward to press a cheek against the side of Alisaie's bowed head and murmured into the other woman's snowy hair, "Nothing's more important than you".

Alisaie said nothing in reply. Poppy thought that perhaps she hadn't heard her, but only a moment later Alisaie pulled her closer. Her arms wrapped around her waist like vines starved for sunlight and held tight. The nervous flutter of Poppy's hands finally ceased when she reached out once more to hold her in return. The gloom swirled around them as they embraced. It was silent as a ghost and just as eerie. They were silent with it, finding words no longer necessary.

Poppy knew that persimmons and sea shells wouldn't fix things. Neither would idle words nor sweet embraces, but it was all that they had. It was enough. It would have to be, until they could finally act.

Chapter Text

It always took her a moment to remember where she was when she first woke up. Poppy would stare up at the ceiling for a while, blinking as the haze of sleep lifted from her mind, and slowly remembered where the winding roads of her life had taken her.

It was usually exciting; waking up in a new town every morning, finding mischief to get into, helping people and saving lives. It was every adventurer’s dream and it had been exciting at first when the world was still largely unexplored and her responsibilities were as minute as delivering packages and culling pesky wildlife.

Poppy had traveled the world enough to sate her wanderlust for ten lives. The excitement of mornings inevitably grew dull and often turned to trepidation as more and more responsibility was heaped onto her shoulders. Her accumulated titles were like weights on her chest that sometimes kept her in bed long after she remembered where she'd ended up.

There was one morning she realized that the impossibly large world she traversed had grown incredibly small. It was that same morning that her excitement had turned into a gnawing loneliness that pulled her somewhere in some indiscernible direction, leaving her feeling empty and confused. Despite the world’s smallness, she didn’t know where in it she belonged.

She often wondered if she had a home. Adventurers never settled, after all, and the Warrior of Light always had to be somewhere, but not for long. She had many places she could call home, if she was so inclined; a room at Rhalgr’s Reach, a room at the Rising Stones, a room at the Waking Sands, camp Dragonhead, Idylshire, Fortemps Manor, and a room at every inn in every city-state across Eorzea and beyond.

None of those felt quite right.

Poppy would occasionally return to Eastern Thalanan and ride across the sands where she was born. It should be her home, she thought, but she just felt like a stranger there. When she happened to catch the leery glances of her former tribe, she felt more like a trespasser.

She would visit the tavern where she grew up, nestled among the rocks of the Nanawa mines. Her mother would ruffle her hair and call her L’arra and make her cups of ginger tea. She should have felt at home there, but didn't. Instead she felt like a ghost of herself, of who she was before she became the Warrior.

Ul’dah was the closest she ever came to having a home. That was ruined by the plotting of the Syndicate and Ilberd’s treachery. She’d lost the Scions and her dignity and some small irreplaceable piece of herself there. She could never quite shake the unease that settled in the back of her mind when she wandered those familiar streets.

Eventually, she stopped trying to find her place in the world. Or perhaps she simply forgot amdist the turmoil that she always found herself entangled in. That alone was often enough to conceal the sense of misplacement and the biting feeling of loneliness.

However, she wasn’t always alone.

The air was dry and hot. It had been warmed by Azeyma's rays but was not yet unpleasant. A faint breeze pushed into the room and draped itself over her like blanket. A gangly, sleeping Elezen was also draped over her like a blanket, though was far more bony and not nearly as comfortable.

She and Alisaie were a tangle of limbs and sheets. The Warrior's snowy-haired bedmate lay on her stomach beside her with her cheek pressed against Poppy's shoulder, breathing warm puffs of air against her collarbone. Though her arm had nearly gone numb and the rest of her was half-trapped beneath the tangle of her partner's long legs, it was certainly more welcome than the mornings she woke up on her own.

Poppy stared up at the ceiling, blinking as sleep still veiled her senses in a dreamy fog. Absently, she ran her fingers through Alisaie's hair to root herself in reality and push back a subtle jab of anxiety. It still took her a moment to remember where she was, even on those days.

Her gaze was pulled across the room to where open windowpanes clattered quietly against the wall when the breeze grew stronger. She saw peeks of a pale blue morning sky and spires of sandy rock when the gust settled the billowing curtains down. She lifted her head an ilm and could see the distant dunes of Blackbrush glisten across the canyon.

Her partner shifted and wrapped the arm that had been draped across the Warrior’s chest around her waist, pulling her closer. Poppy lowered her head back against the pillow with a sigh as her eyes were suddenly drawn towards Alisaie’s sleeping face. Pale lashes were pressed against her cheeks and equally pale hair hid half her face like a gossamer veil. Her breaths were deep and even and her eyes fluttered lazily beneath her eyelids. Poppy wondered what she dreamed of. She hoped it was something nice.

Home, a voice hummed happily in her head before she caught herself thinking it. She pondered for a moment, tossing the word through her mind to see if it would stick.

Poppy’s apartment was small but comfortable. It was a colorful cacophony of trinkets and treasures and anything that caught her eye during her travels across Eorzea and beyond. It was "organized chaos", as Alisaie called it, and a true reflection of the hectic nature of her life. She’d carved that space for herself among the cliffs hidden beneath Ul’dah’s quiet shadow. It was something that was truly hers.

When she gazed down at her sleeping partner, she knew that the room itself wasn’t wholly why she felt so at ease. Though life was oftentimes pure madness, Alisaie was always there. If not with her then waiting for her, stubborn and steadfast as a rock settled in a tumultuous river. Her presence was like a beacon that pulled Poppy across the world and through it all, a pull stronger than that of any aetheryte or the call of any god. Her chest ached at that knowledge. It felt as heavy as her responsibilities, though not nearly as painful.

Alisaie stirred and snapped Poppy out of her sleep addled reveries. She blinked a few times as if shaking away the last few fragments of her dreams and smiled up at the woman she reclined on, so soft and sweet that Poppy felt her heart swell.

“’Morning, love,” she murmured in greeting.

“Good morning,” Alisaie replied, and after a stifled yawn continued, “Did you sleep well?”

Poppy hummed in reply when she realized she had. Better than in a long while, in fact. “Well enough,” she said, tone catching a wry edge, “Until your big head started to crush me, that is.”

Alisaie made a soft sound of apology and propped herself up on her elbow, detangling their limbs and freeing Poppy’s numb arm in the process. When the Warrior stretched languidly beneath her and let out an exaggerated sigh of relief, Alisaie rolled her eyes. She finally found her wit through her drowsiness and huffed in feigned offense.

“Perhaps you should consider a larger bed lest you be crushed beneath my big head every morning.”

Poppy stared up at Alisaie’s sleepy, teasing smirk and pouted. In her partner’s defense, the bed was rather too small for both of them to share comfortably. It wasn’t chosen with a much taller than herself Elezen bedmate in mind. She’d have to remedy that.

“Not a bad idea,” Poppy replied in earnest, silently delighted by how the phrase every morning sounded.

Alisaie’s face softened when she smiled down at the Warrior. The pale light of morning made the blue of her eyes practically glow beneath lashes made of snow. It was an achingly beautiful sight. Poppy felt the long strands of Alisaie’s hair tickle her cheek as she leaned down to press a gentle kiss against her brow. She sighed, happily basking in the warmth of her love’s presence.

I’m home.

The word resurfaced in her mind again. She didn’t question it that time.

Chapter Text

White.

Oh, how she was beginning to hate that color.

Poppy didn't understand why people even bothered living in Coerthas anymore. The snow was enough to drive any sane person mad, yet droves of them filtered in and out of Camp Dragonhead all throughout the day.

There were groups of adventurers passing through, weary merchants coming to trade their wares, and knights going through the motions of their duties. Lots of them complained about the cold, groaning like the tree branches heavy with their snowy burden, but they marched onward anyway, some even managing to laugh and be cheerful as they pushed through the frigid landscape.

Poppy was up on the walls of the camp, crouching on a rampart like a sullen gargoyle as she stared at those passing through the gates below. Strands of hair curled around her face like a mane, free from its usual braids and lightly matted from wind and snowmelt, unruly and unkempt as the sharp nails that dug into the icy surface of the stones beneath her. She certainly must have looked like a gargoyle as much as she felt like one.

She couldn't quite place what she was feeling at that moment, but it was somewhere between angry and annoyed and utterly broken. Some small part of her hated the people milling about below, so blithely oblivious of the freedom they had. They could come and go as they pleased while she was trapped there in a frozen prison surrounded by naught else but cold stone walls. It wasn't fair.

The snow was uncaring of her turmoil. It fell from the sky in large puffs that looked like the downy feathers of a chocobo chick and stuck to her hair and her lashes and every part of her it could reach. Every flake felt like a needle against her skin when it touched her, melting into icy droplets that quickly soaked through clothes ill-suited for the weather. A loose cotton shirt, a thin sarouel, and strapped sandals of all things; her dress was a foolish choice, but a deliberate one. It was a spiteful act of defiance, as if getting frostbite would somehow make the endless winter melt into spring.

It was at that point that Alphinaud found her, somewhere amidst the sulking and shivering. Her usually sharp senses were dulled by the cold and failed her, causing her to startle slightly when his voice suddenly spoke: 

"You look cold." 

Alphinaud looked up at her with an impassive expression. He seemed rather warm himself, all bundled up in a coat clearly made for someone much taller. Unlike him, Poppy had rejected all the coats forced on her, too offended by how she drowned in them like a child. Frankly, she was surprised that her equally stubborn companion suddenly had the sense to dress for the weather.

Poppy regarded him with a flat state for a moment before she noticed the bundle he held against his chest. She offered little more than a halfhearted grunt and tore her gaze away to continue staring at the gates, tail flicking behind her with open agitation.

"Glad to know you still have eyes," she retorted without looking back at him. She heard a breath that sounded more like a scoff and the crunch of snow beneath boots as he stepped closer.

"It wouldn't do for Hydaelyn's champion to finally be bested by something so mundane as the cold," Alphinaud said lightly, ignoring her comment.

His tone was a bit tart in an attempt at humor, but Poppy frowned when she heard it. It was more of an insult than anything to call her that then when she felt so utterly abandoned. The Mother Crystal's name just felt like a knife in her gut. 

"What's it matter?" she muttered in reply. "Let Hydaelyn take her champion back."

There was a pause and Poppy swore she could almost hear Alphinaud roll his eyes in that moment.

"I see you haven't lost your flair for the dramatic in the slightest," he said tightly, words a bit too clipped to be considered polite.

Poppy let out a chuckle of detached amusement and curled in on herself, huddling against her knees to stop the shivering. "Oh, I'm dramatic? I'm not the one who wanted to give up and throw myself at the Syndicate's feet the minute we got to this godsdamned place."

The words slipped out before she realized her cruelty. When she looked back at him, Alphinaud seemed wounded. He mirrored her frown as he placed the bundle on the stone ledge and hesitated for a moment, looking ready to leave. Poppy had expected -- hoped, rather -- that he would fling another barb back at her so they might bicker as they used to. Those days never felt more far away. 

Poppy sighed. For a moment she simply watched the cloud her breath made rise up and mingle with flakes of snow. When she stood she gritted her teeth and finally realized she was so cold that her body ached. She slid down the rampart rather carelessly and crept onto the parapet of the walkway right near the bundle Alphinaud offered. When she was close enough, she realized it was a woolen blanket rather than another ill-fitting coat. The thoughtfulness of the gesture touched her a bit. 

"Sorry," she murmured, ears flicking back with shame.

"No need to apologize," Alphinaud said quietly as he fidgeted with the oversized cuffs of his coat. He brightened a bit when she draped the heavy blanket over her shoulders. "It has been a trying time for us all as of late."

All of who? she wanted to ask, but bit her tongue instead. It was just the two of them and Tataru, after all. Poppy tried her hardest to resume her vigil over the gates, but it did little to stop the bile that rose in her throat. She closed her eyes. Looking at all the snow and the people just made her sick.

Her heart keened loudly for Thanalan. She longed for the sun, for the sands, for the warmth, but only vivid memories of that fated night in Ul'dah played across the backs of her eyelids like apparitions that mocked her. She saw the Sultana's lifeless body and felt the stinging humiliation of Ilberd's betrayal and heard the sound of the tunnels collapsing behind her after the Scions urged her to run.

Warmth finally found her, and it wasn't because of the blanket. The back of her throat burned and there was a dull sting behind her eyes, but she pushed the thoughts down, shoving them deep inside herself until they settled in her belly like a hot coal.

The long silence that passed between her and Alphinaud was filled only with the sound of icy wind whipping past them. As if reading her thoughts, he spoke after a while, voice trembling a bit, "I find myself often wondering what would have happened to us if Alisaie had not sent that merchant our way..."

He trailed off, sounding like he didn't actually want to know, but Poppy could fill in the blanks. They likely would be rotting in some gaol at Raubahn's side or worse, six fulms beneath the Saint Adama Landama lichyard. For whatever reason, thinking of those possibilities wasn't what drove another knife into Poppy's gut; it was hearing Alisaie's name.

Though what felt like an age had passed since they saw each other last, Poppy clearly remembered how Alisaie looked on the day they parted ways. She was all smiles and relief with determination clinging to her words when she spoke: "When next we meet, I promise I will not disappoint you." 

Poppy wondered what Alisaie would think of her if she saw her then, a fool fallen from grace sulking in the snow. Her face burned with shame at the thought.

"Have you sent word to her about...everything?" Poppy glanced back at Alphinaud to see him shake his head.

"I haven't. I thought it best to remain silent for a time, as our communications are likely still compromised."  

"You should," Poppy said, nearly cutting him off. "We owe her our lives." 

Alphinaud's brow furrowed for a moment, giving him that distinct, familiar look that came before a rebuttal. He nodded instead, shaking loose several flakes of snow that had blended into his equally snowy hair. "I will, at the earliest opportunity," he promised. "Perhaps when we reach Ishgard." 

Poppy scoffed at that. "If we reach Ishgard," she corrected. They'd spent nearly a moon holed up in the camp. She'd quickly learned that birch syrup dripped down a frozen tree trunk faster than Ishgardian politics moved.

Alphinaud stared out at the Coerthan landscape, saying nothing. His expression was a mask of grim solemnity as he likely considered the harsh nature of their position. "Lord Haurchefant is expecting to hear word back today, if I recall correctly," he said after a while, sounding cautiously hopeful. 

Poppy hummed thoughtfully. Though she wasn't thrilled about the prospect of entering a frigid city filled with equally frigid people embroiled in a thousand year war, she was eager to move on and do something rather than waste away at Camp Dragonhead. Alphinaud's words admittedly allowed a small blossom of hope to bloom amidst her despair.

When she stood up on the perch she'd been crouching on, her knees cracked painfully and the blanket draped around her shoulders unfurled behind her, billowing in the wind like the cape of an ill-fated queen. Again, she found herself thinking about Alisaie's determination and suddenly, she was tired of feeling sorry for herself.

"Well, let's go see if these Ishgardians think we're worthy enough for their city," Poppy said, hopping off the parapet to stand next to Alphinaud. She flashed him a small smile and was relieved when he returned it, no matter how unsure he looked. It was a far cry from his usual grating confidence, but it would do for now. 

Poppy lead the way down the steps. When they were about halfway across the courtyard, she realized she hadn't stopped thinking about Alisaie. Even as she blinked past the snowflakes that threatened to blind her, she could clearly see her smiling face. The memory made her chest ache and a feeling she didn't wholly understand wriggled around her insides.

Poppy pulled the blanket tightly around her shoulders. She vowed that she would dig herself out of the hole she found herself in. She would go to Ishgard and play their games, if that's what it took. She would become stronger and make each any every bastard who betrayed her pay and find every Scion they'd lost. She would become someone worthy of admiration. Then, when she and Alisaie met again, she would thank her.

Chapter Text

It was her final day in the infirmary and Alisaie couldn't have been happier. She was so unbelievably weary from all the poking and the prodding and the unnecessary fussing that came with being a patient there. It was all thanks to her dear and worrisome brother, of course, who had insisted that she stay and not lift a finger until her wound had fully healed—which, in her not so expert opinion, had already been well over a moon ago. During the chirurgeon's thorough examination earlier that day, she'd been informed that her condition was vastly improved and she could return to her usual duties (given that she not push herself overmuch, but Alisaie was wont to forget that bit). She was truly overjoyed, especially knowing that Alphinaud wouldn't be able to argue the word of an actual expert.

Alisaie collected the few belongings she'd dragged in from her room during her prolonged stay as she tidied the sheets pulled across her cot. There were a few books on aetherlogy and red magic, her journal, several quills and jars of ink, as well as her rapier which she painstakingly hid beneath the bed to sneak in a few light drills when no prying eyes were watching. She placed everything aside from the sword in her knapsack and hurried the process of cleaning up along, practically bursting at the seams with pent up energy. There was much to be done since Ala Mhigo's liberation and she hadn't had a hand in helping out with anything yet. She was more than eager to throw herself headfirst into something.

With the bed taken care of, Alisaie looked up just in time to see Poppy pass beneath the arches that marked the entrance of the infirmary. A smile quirked her lips at the sight of the other woman who she hadn't seen in a few sun's time. More than anything, truthfully, she'd missed the little jaunts and adventures the Warrior always dragged her into and hoped she might have some exciting task for her to join in on.

When Alisaie caught her attention and waved the Miqo'te over, she realized that Poppy must have only just returned from an adventure of her own given how bedraggled she looked. Mud caked her boots and was smeared across her face and she was covered in a fine layer of dust, as if she'd just trudged across the entirety of Gyr Abania on foot. When she got close enough, Alisaie also noticed the faint scratches and bruises that trailed up her arms and explained her arrival at the infirmary. She would have been concerned at the sight, but the feeling died when she saw how cheerful the other woman looked. 

"You're looking well, dearest," Poppy practically chirped as she approached the cot. She leaned over the bed just as Alisaie moved to drape her folded blanket across it and planted a feather-light peck on her cheek in greeting.

Alisaie felt her face flush a bit from the the endearment and the gesture. She was still adjusting to such open displays of affection, having not expected the Warrior to be so doting a partner. Still, she smiled despite herself at the fluttering in her chest when she caught the other woman's smile, though she made sure to pointedly brush the specks of dirt off the sheet that had fallen from Poppy's clothing.

"I should hope so," Alisaie replied, making sure to sound triumphant. "I've finally been discharged." 

Poppy looked delighted by the news. "About time. Gods, I was staring to think they'd keep you here forever," she said and paused to grin. "I'll have to warn the rest of the Reach that you're on the loose again."

Alisaie smirked and moved around the cot to stand before the Warrior. "Before you run off to do that, tell me—what sort of trouble have you gotten into this time? You seem quite pleased with yourself," she said, noting the decidedly smug aura that surrounded her partner which was more potent than usual.

"Oh, me? Just got back from hunting down some treasure," Poppy said a bit coyly. She had a self-satisfied sort of gleam in her eyes when she plopped down on the chair beside the cot.

Alisaie's interest was piqued, but she made sure to look unimpressed as she leaned back against the bed. "Is that so? I would have guessed that you just took a dust bath with the chocobos."

"It was incredible! Me, Alphy, and Arenvald found the—hey, that's rude." Poppy cut herself off to pout at the comment and pinched Alisaie's knee, who simply chuckled at the retaliation. She cleared her throat in a rather dramatic and loud way before she continued, "Like I was saying, the three of us found that mad Ala Mhigan king's treasure. The old bastard was loaded! We've got enough gold and fancy shite to fund whatever the Resistance wants for years."

Alisaie's brows shot up in surprise. "Truly? How much treasure are we talking about, exactly?" 

"A whole bloody room full! A big room. We had to to come back here just to send a team back to get it all," she replied excitedly as she brushed some of the dust off of her lap. "Had to fight a bunch of nasty ghouls and ghosts for it too, so it was a well earned bounty."

Alisaie watched Poppy pick some clumps of dirt from her tail and didn't doubt her claim at all with how battered she looked. "A moment—ghosts? And you said Alphinaud went with you?" she asked, genuinely surprised, though she smirked when she thought of how her brother quailed at the mere mention of the otherworldly. "How I would have loved to witness that."

Poppy rocked back in the chair and grinned. "It's really a shame that I didn't get to hear his screams. We split up and raced to see who'd find the treasure first," she said and paused her preening to sneer. "I won, of course."

"Naturally," Alisaie said and rolled her eyes at the self-satisfied Warrior. Admittedly, even despite the smugness, she was relieved to see the other woman so happy again after how she suffered during the war, and couldn't help the fond smile that tugged at her lips. "It seems that I've missed out on quite a bit of excitement during my forced bed rest," she said, feeling a pang of jealousy. She hoped Alphinaud had at least quelled his fears for long enough to appreciate the outing.

"I'll make sure to invite you next time I go rob a dead king's tomb," Poppy said and somehow managed to sound reassuring despite the absurdity of the promise. "Oh, that reminds me. I have something for you." The Warrior stood from her seat and Alisaie watched as she began to dig in the pockets of her skirt. Her face lit up when she seemed to find her prize. "Let me see your hand," she said and held out her own. 

Alisaie relented with a bit of amused apprehention, half expecting Poppy to slap a fistful of dirt into her palm. She was stunned when the Warrior removed a bracelet from her pocket and clasped it around her wrist without another word. It was made of an ornate gold chain that connected together several golden flowers studded with red gems. Alisaie wasn't usually one for finery, but even she could appreciate the beauty of the piece. She lifted her hand to get a closer look and admired the way the sunlight made it sparkle.

"For me?" she asked in disbelief, to which Poppy nodded.

"Do you like it?" she asked in return, sounding almost shy. 

"Of course. It's beautiful," Alisaie replied a bit breathlessly. "Thank you. Though I'm afraid I don't have anything to give you in return," she said, feeling guilty.

"Oh, don't worry about that." Poppy stepped forward to place a hand on her arm. "Just seeing you well is enough for me."

The frustration of being bedridden for moons seemed to melt away in an instant. Alisaie lost herself in the glow of receiving such a precious gift from her partner. She felt the warmth of Poppy's relieved smile and the fluttering feeling returned to her chest before a realization clicked into place and tore her from the moment. 

"Wait," she said and squinted down at the bracelet. When she looked back up at a confused Poppy, her suspicions were confirmed when she finally noticed the earrings, necklace, and rings she wore—all of which were just as ornate as the bracelet. "Where did you get this?"

Poppy retracted her hand to cross her arms and looked off to the side nervously as if she'd been caught red-handed, which only cemented her guilt. "W-well, you know," she stammered and gulped when she noticed Alisaie's hard stare. "I...might've skimmed a few things off the top of the treasure pile."

"Poppy—"

"What? I think I deserve a little reward for all the hard work I did." 

"That's stealing."

"Can you really steal from a dead man? I don't think he'll miss any of it."

"That's not the point," Alisaie said as she pinched the bridge of her nose. She was relieved that the infirmary was at least mostly clear and none were around to hear their Warrior of Light openly admit to robbing the grave of Ala Mhigan royalty for her own ends. "You said the treasure you found was for the Resistance." 

"And?" 

"Twelve above—that would mean you're stealing from them. What would Lyse say?"

Poppy pouted at that. "She'd say hey, those earrings match your daggers, looks great, you should keep them," she muttered in what apparently was her impression of Lyse, which wasn't very convincing.

Alisaie sighed when she realized that was most likely true. The Warrior and the leader of the Resistance were two (often boneheaded) peas in a pod, after all. "Regardless, you really should turn it all in."

"Do I really have to?" Poppy asked, perhaps sounding and looking more petulant than intended with her puffed out cheeks and whiny tone. Alisaie had to bite her tongue to stop herself from bemusedly accusing her of acting like a baby.

"The coin earned from these trinkets will serve to pave the way for Ala Mhigo's future and aid those left after the war. Is that not better than simply wearing them?"

In the silence that stretched between them, Alisaie watched a parade of emotions play across the other woman's face as she probably tried to think of suitable excuses. Poppy eventually relented with a sigh, ears flicking sideways. "Fine, fine. You're right. I'll give it all back," she said. She paused to flash Alisaie a defeated look and gestured towards her hand. "That too."

Alisaie had almost forgotten about the bracelet. She lifted her hand to admire it once more, feeling almost rueful at having to return the gift. It would be a shame for something so pretty to just be traded off for coin...She noticed how Poppy raised a brow at her hesitation.

"Hold a moment. There's no need to be too hasty—"

Poppy had already reached out to unclip the bracelet. She let out a gasp of mock offense at her words. "Alisaie Leveilleur, you horrible hypocrite," she tutted and dangled the trinket in front of her face as if to scold her.

"It was a merely a jest," Alisaie said with a huff. It really had been. Mostly. Poppy's sneer was still enough to make her face burn with indignation.

"For shame. What would Lyse say?" Poppy grinned from ear to ear as she began to back away, looking very pleased with herself at the comment.

Alisaie eyed her warily. "And just where are you going?" 

"To return all this," she said, trying to sound innocent despite the devilish look on her face. "And to let the whole Reach know there's a thief in our midst." The Warrior turned on her heel and began to walk away at a brisk pace, making for the exit of the infirmary. 

"Are you really going to try to pin this on me?" Alisaie called out, but the other woman just sped up. "Poppy!"

Forgetting about her belongings, Alisaie sprinted after the Warrior. When Poppy glanced over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps, she looked alarmed to see the daggers being glared at her and broke out into a run. Alisaie apprehended her past rows of empty cots and reeled at the absurdity of the situation, caught somewhere between mild annoyance and utter amusement.

She soon closed in on Poppy, who was much to fast for her own good, and reached out to grab a fistful of the short cloak that billowed around her shoulders. Her feeling of triumph was short-lived when the Warrior skidded to a halt with a yelp before a table laid out with potions and ethers and careened right into it, dragging everything including Alisaie down with her. The resulting crash was likely heard by the entirety of the Reach. Alisaie suddenly found herself sprawled on top of her partner with an ocean of spilled concoctions and shattered glass scattered all around them. She blinked down at a bewildered Poppy. 

"Are you alright?" The Warrior asked, sounding concerned. 

Alisaie nodded. She was more stunned than anything else. "I'm fine," she replied.

Seeing that she was unharmed, Poppy's worry melted into amusement and she tossed her head back to let out a hearty laugh. Alisaie couldn't help but laugh along at the pure chaos her afternoon had turned into. All for some silly jewelry.

"What in the Seven Hells is going on here?!"

The two women's mirth was quickly cut short. Both their jaws snapped shut at the same time as they sheepishly looked up to see a very peeved Orella peer down at them. The head chirurgeon didn't look as amused by the mess as they were.

 


 

It was Alisaie's last day in the infirmary. Or at least it had been until Poppy's little stunt earned her an extra couple of days in her cot. Orella had tersely explained that her wound reopened during her fall, though she couldn't help but feel that her condition had been exaggerated to punish her with an extended stay. She supposed she fared better than Poppy, who was banned from the infirmary unless she was "literally bleeding out and dying" as per the irate chirurgeon's exact words.

Resigned to her fate, Alisaie flopped back against her pillow with a sigh, thinking about how she'd box Poppy's ears off the next time she saw her. Unfortunately for her, she didn't get much time to seethe before a voice whispered from somewhere above her:

"Alisaie! Up here."

Alisaie looked up to see none other than the Warrior herself lean over the edge of the window several fulms above the cot. She couldn't fathom how she'd managed to climb up that high from the outside. Regardless, she pouted up at the other woman from her where she lay.

"Come to get me in more trouble, have you?" Alisaie asked tartly. "You'd best leave before Orella sees you here."

Poppy folded her arms on the windowsill and grinned down at her in that fearless way of hers. "I'm not afraid of her," she said, but her eyes betrayed her when they darted up to survey the infirmary. Seeing that the coast was clear, she looked back down at Alisaie with a softer smile. She hesitated for a moment before she added, "Besides, I came to apologize."

"Oh? Whatever for?" Alisaie's words were curt and she crossed her arms over her chest to further punctuate her annoyance. 

Upon hearing her biting sarcasm, the Warrior's brows drew together. "For causing a scene," she replied and shot her a guilty look. 

"You also did try to blame me for your blatant grave robbery," Alisaie pointed out. Her tone softened with a bit of humor at Poppy's sullen expression despite her best efforts to scold her. 

Poppy sighed. "Sorry about that too. I just..." She trailed off for a moment and looked to the side, resting a chin on her palm. "I was excited about finding treasure and got carried away. It felt like the old days for a while, like before things got so...complicated and hard."

Alisaie's mood sobered slightly at that. She sat up and then moved to stand up on the cot so she could be face to face with Poppy, where she was just barely able to rest her elbows on the windowsill. She glanced outside and bemusedly realized that the other woman stood on a makeshift ladder of stacked crates. 

"It's alright," she said softly and smiled when Poppy looked back at her. 

"Are you hurt again?" Poppy asked, sounding worried.

Alisaie scoffed. "Not at all. Just sore, really. It's nothing so serious as to warrant more than another sun or two in this prison." 

Seeing her smirk, Poppy relaxed enough to smile again. An almost mischievous glint returned to her eyes. "Well, I brought something to make up for all the trouble." The Warrior held up a hand to stop any protests when she noticed how baffled Alisaie looked to see her retrieve the very same bracelet from earlier out of her pocket. "Before you say anything, it was all Lyse. She insisted I keep it. Said some garbage about it being romantic." 

Alisaie could do little more than shake her head in disbelief when Poppy clipped the bracelet around her wrist once more. The little trinket had caused quite a bit of trouble, but she supposed it was worth it. She decided it looked even prettier in the waning light of sunset.

"You're ridiculous," Alisaie said quietly, unable to hide the fondness in her voice. "Thank you."

Before Poppy could reply, Alisaie leaned forward as far as she could to steal a kiss. The other woman's lips were soft and pliant against hers and she felt the smile that bloomed across them. The Warrior's hand reached out, fingertips brushing against her cheek and her ear and then tangling into the hair at the base of her neck to deepen the kiss in a way that made Alisaie feel breathless.

They stood like that for a long moment with her up on the cot and Poppy balanced on the crates, kissing through the window like a pair of forlorn lovers from a storybook who were forbidden from meeting. It really was silly and perhaps a bit foolish, but it made Alisaie feel fluttery inside all the same. 

"I thought I told you to stay out," a booming voice from inside the infirmary called out. "Unless you're dying, I don't want to see you in here."

The moment was shattered in an instant, just like the potion bottles that they painstakingly cleaned off of the floor earlier. Poppy was startled enough that she almost tumbled backwards off the stack of crates. Alisaie looked over her shoulder to confirm that they'd, of course, been caught by none other than Orella herself. The chirurgeon placed her hands on her hips and tapped her foot impatiently as she stared up at the Warrior.

"I'm not technically inside. Besides, I was dying to see Alisaie," Poppy said and flashed the Highlander a sweet and innocent smile. Orella looked unimpressed. 

"Shoo, you pest. Quit harassing my patient," the chirurgeon deadpanned. She waved a hand at the Miqo'te as if she were little more than a bothersome stray. 

Poppy pouted, but leaned forward for one last quick and defiant peck from Alisaie before she relented to Orella's order. "Rest well, dearest. I'll be back to rescue you!"

With that, the Warrior grinned and stepped backwards to hop to the ground before Alisaie watched her bound across the Reach. She heard the chirurgeon sigh behind her. 

"Going against my orders. Getting your feet all over my sheets. Arranging clandestine meetings with your sweetheart. No shame at all," Orella chided her from the foot of the bed. 

Alisaie quickly sat back down, face warm with embarrassment. "Pray forgive my indiscretions," she apologized. 

Orella shook her head and Alisaie saw her face soften with a smile. "I just came to say that you can leave in the morning," she said. "Unless, of course, you want to stay longer and play damsel in distress for that doting Warrior of yours."

Alisaie felt her face grow even warmer at the sight of the chirurgeon's smirk. "That won't be necessary," she said after clearing her throat. 

"Thought so. Now stay put without moving so much. I'll be back to redo your bandages in a bit." Orella turned away from the cot with a final sigh and added more to herself, "What a handful."

Alisaie watched her cross the infirmary to tend to her other patients and wondered who the handful was in that case. It was likely both of them, but she couldn't help but think of Poppy in particular. She smirked and traced the outline of one of the golden flowers on her ill-gotten bracelet.

Handful indeed. But her handful, Alisaie thought with much fondness.

Chapter Text

The Solar was quiet. 

The disconnecting click of the linkpearl echoed in her ear for a moment before it was replaced by a silence that was stifling in its weight. Perhaps that was why Alisaie paced—to create some sort of noise to distract herself from the ghost of the conversation that replayed itself in her mind. The sound of her boots tapping against stone offered little relief.

"No luck?"

Poppy's question pulled Alisaie from her thoughts. "I'm afraid not," she said with a shake of her head. "It was the same answer as most of the others—the topic is simply beyond their ken." 

A subtle frown tugged at Poppy's lips, but she nodded and wordlessly reached across the desk to cross the name off their dwindling list. Another dead end.

"Well, at least the Sons of Saint Coinach said they'd send some of theirs in the morning," she said as she squinted at the piece of parchment. "That's something."

The Warrior flashed her a hopeful little smile and, despite how frail it looked, Alisaie returned it. She was right. It was something, and enough to feel like they'd at least made some progress in aiding their fallen friends—enough to give her some small shred of hope to cling to. She made her way back to the desk, where Poppy resumed scouring the tome she was hunched over.

Alisaie's gaze flitted over the mess they'd made. There were scattered books, sheets of parchment, pens, jars of ink, and long-tepid cups of coffee that F'lhaminn had made for them that morning. She'd raised a brow when Alisaie asked for it instead of the usual tea, but complied without question, likely having noticed the pair's weariness.

She sifted through the clutter to reach the sheet of contact information that was just as messy as the desk it sat on, with lines drawn through names and notes written in the margins containing suggestions on who to reach out to next. Despite the wealth of connections the Scions had garnered over the years thanks to her grandfather and Minfilia, their options diminished by the day.

Alisaie chewed on the edge of her thumb as she scanned the list, then placed it back down with a sigh and undid the buckles of her coat so she could shrug it off. Perhaps it was the stones that trapped in the heat of the hearth or perhaps it was the damnable silence that amplified the pang of despair that tore through her—no matter the reason, she felt stifled again. Alisaie hung the coat from the back of her chair before she let herself slump onto it.

She glanced at Poppy, who sat cross-legged beside her with an elbow propped up on one knee while her other hand fiddled with a pen. The page she stared at likely held something of interest, as she scowled down at it with a furrowed brow and popped the end of the pen into her mouth to dogear the corner. Despite their circumstances, Alisaie was still amused by the sight.

"It's rather disarming seeing you with your nose buried in a book," she said. A thin, nearly wry smile tugged at her lips. "I thought you hated reading."

"Oh, I do," Poppy replied in a tone that would have been droll, had her voice not been pulled taut as a bowstring from exhaustion. She paused and made a sound that landed somewhere between a scoff and a sigh. "But this isn't a problem I can solve with my daggers."

The short-lived humor of the conversation vanished when Alisaie caught sight of her partner's frown. She shifted her attention away to pick at the hem of her skirt and think.

Unlike when Alphinaud first left, Poppy dropped all pretense from the start and hadn't left the Rising Stones once since the horrific events that befell the Scions. Some small, selfish part of Alisaie was glad for her prolonged company, but guilt brushed against her sharply at the thought and clung to her like a stubborn little burr.

"You needn't stay here if there are other tasks that require your attention," she said, voice quiet and almost meek. She hoped it was enough to free Poppy of her perceived burden if she truly wished to leave.

"You shouldn't have to do all this alone," Poppy shot back in an instant, sounding as stubborn as a burr herself. "Besides, nothing's more important than this right now."

Despite the obvious exhaustion, she still managed to flash a determined smile before her attention dutifully returned to the book. It gave Alisaie enough strength to resume her own work.

Both she and Poppy had pulled their chairs to the side of the desk, having silently agreed that it felt wrong to sit where their previous Antecedent sat. Still, as Alisaie reached for the drawer, she hesitated and felt as though she desecrated a grave when she pulled it open. She focused instead on the sensation of blank parchment between her fingers and the weight of the quill in her hand as she began to pen a letter to one of the few promising contacts left on their list.

It didn't take long for her eyes to blur from weariness. Her attention faltered, and she found her gaze wander back to the Warrior. She was surprised to see that Poppy's eyes were closed and an expression that looked pained was pulled across her face. When she noticed the subtle tremble of her hands, Alisaie reached out to touch her knee. She brushed a thumb across it to wordlessly express her worry.

The sensation seemed to snap Poppy from her stupor. She offered another frail smile, but Alisaie could see the cracks form on her facade. "Just need some air. Be back in a minute," she said as she stood. She wobbled a bit when she made for the door.

Alisaie looked after her, unable to say anything before the door clicked shut abruptly, and was left alone in silence. She let the Warrior have her space despite how difficult it was when unease settled in her gut like a rock, but she pushed the feeling down to instead focus on the letter for a while. The pen seemed to do the talking on its own, while she simply guided it to form sentences more coherent than she thought herself able to write.

By the time the letter was done, half a bell had passed. She hesitated for a while, but Alisaie could no longer ignore the nagging worry that pricked at her like a thorn, and so she stood from the desk to see where her partner had wandered off to for so long.

She emerged to the main hall of the Rising Stones, which was no less silent than the Solar. Many of the remaining Scions had left to enact Thancred's plan, and others went to hand-deliver letters and contact experts in person, while the rest were likely asleep, as the night had long grown old. Aside from flickering candlelight and the sound of her boots that echoed far louder than before, Alisaie was alone—or at least she thought so until she caught sight of a figure slumped in a chair in the far corner of the room.

The other woman's face was shielded from view, but Alisaie recognized her in an instant. She froze in place and stared wide-eyed for a moment as she watched Poppy run her fingers through her hair and press against her forehead. She remembered suddenly and very vividly the horrible headaches that had her doubled over in agony and threatened to tear her head apart. In a blind panic, Alisaie rushed across the room and grasped the Warrior's shoulders when she was within reach.

"Is aught amiss? Are you in pain?" she asked, unable to hold back the raw fear that gripped her.

Poppy's head snapped up. She stared at her in an almost owlish way, clearly surprised by the sudden intrusion. Her eyes were puffy and reddened as if she'd been crying, and the sight made Alisaie's grip go slack.

"No, no. I'm fine. I just..." Poppy trailed off, voice weak. She swallowed thickly and averted her gaze, leaning back to free herself from Alisaie's grasp so she could rub her face. "I'm sorry."

The whispered apology seeped through her fingers and stuck in the air between them like a fine wisp of smoke. Alisaie said nothing, but retracted her hands to give the other woman space. She felt relief and worry and confusion all at once, but struggled to give voice to the thoughts that tumbled uselessly in her mind. Silence stretched between them, but Poppy eventually dropped her hands from her face to speak again.

"I'm supposed to be giving you my full support. I should be stronger than this." Her voice was cracked and harsh, like the sharp end of a broken crystal. She glared off to the side with a cool sort of anger that Alisaie knew was directed at herself.

Not knowing what else to do, she knelt before the Warrior. The stones beneath her were surprisingly frigid, biting into her knees with their incessant coldness. Alisaie ignored the discomfort and leaned forward as she tried to get a better look at the other woman's face. Poppy was as stubborn as ever and kept her eyes averted, looking at the fabric of the armchair with such intensity, as if it held the cure to their friends' mysterious ailment.

"You've offered me nothing but support. Clearly more so than you even realize," Alisaie said with a bit more sharpness than intended. Tentatively, she reached out and took Poppy's hands in her own. "This burden is neither of ours to shoulder alone. We have the remaining Scions and we have each other." Her voice grew soft at the edges, and she had to pause to wet her lips as the rest of what she wanted to say struggled to come out, "You needn't pretend for me. I'm terrified too."

Upon hearing the quiet admittance, Poppy finally looked at her. Her expression was hard to place, but she squeezed Alisaie's hands in return before she tugged at them, pulling her from where she knelt to urge her up onto the chair. She slid easily onto Poppy's lap without hesitation or second thought.

Had it been a different time, she would've been scandalized by such a blatantly intimate display, or joked about how they would be caught and teased by their companions to no end. The Rising Stones was far too quiet and far too devoid of life for such jests to hold any merit. Alisaie said nothing, and instead reached out to place her hands on the Warrior's shoulders. Only the faint sound of fabrics that barely brushed together filled the space between them.

The contact seemed to break whatever faltering composure Poppy held onto. She reached out in return, hands grazing against Alisaie's sides before they wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer so that their bodies were flush. She buried her face into Alisaie's shoulder and exhaled several shuddering breaths. The warmth of them bloomed across her skin even through the thick cotton of her shirt. She wrapped her arms around Poppy's neck and pressed a cheek against the side of her head, nuzzling into the soft copper of her hair.

For a while, they were silent. The Rising Stones seemed to heave a weary sigh around them to fill the void.

"How could I let this happen again?"

Poppy's words were so very quiet, but Alisaie still heard them and felt the way she trembled against her at their utterance. A hundred and a half rebuttals flew to her lips at once, but she swallowed them down as they came to her. There was no point in saying things like it's not your fault or you couldn't have prevented this, no matter how true they were—Poppy wouldn't hear them.

Alisaie could never fathom why the Warrior always insisted on shouldering the blame, but she hadn't been there when the Waking Sands was ambushed or on that fated night in Ul'dah when everything fell apart. She understood then, finally, what it was that Poppy must have felt, having witnessed her comrades collapse before her very eyes—it was a guilt and helplessness that were unbearably crushing in their weight.

"We're going to fix this," she said, whispering into Poppy's hair, trying desperately to convey at least a small scrap of determination.

The other woman remained silent. Only the slight shift of her ears and the tightened grip of her arms indicated that she heard. After a while, she lifted her face from Alisaie's shoulder to look up at her.

"I want to take you to the Azim Steppe," she said, voice slightly hoarse, and Alisaie could feel the warmth of her breath on her cheek from how close she was. "You said you've always wanted to go."

Despite everything, Alisaie managed a smile and wondered what had prompted the sudden thought. "Perhaps sometime soon," she replied. "We can get away, just the two of us."

"We could go right now," Poppy said in a hushed tone that sounded almost desperate. She stared up at her with a wide-eyed, hopeful sort of look, though the shimmering green of her irises only exaggerated the red-rimmed outlines, as if she held back more tears.

Alisaie stared back at the Warrior, feeling a stab of sadness. She knew the other woman well enough to realize exactly what she was doing: she tried to offer a distraction. It was something small and fleeting to help ease the ache and pass the time, just as she had tried to do for her when Alphinaud first left.

"We can't," she replied with as much sternness as she could manage. We can't run from this, she amended silently, but knew that part didn't have to be said out loud.

Poppy frowned, and Alisaie knew it would have been a pout had the situation been less solemn. She leaned forward to press a kiss against Alisaie's lips that was chaste in its softness. "Are you sure?" she asked quietly, eyes searching her face as if she hoped the gesture would somehow change her mind. She kissed Alisaie again for good measure, that time on the corner of her mouth, then peppered several more along her jaw. Each was slow and gentle and left a fleck of warmth in its wake.

"There's work to be done here," Alisaie said, but her resolve wavered when the Warrior's kisses came dangerously close to her ear. She closed her eyes and imagined the Steppe from the fragments of descriptions she'd heard from Poppy and read in books: endless plains of grass that billowed in the breeze like the sea, with an even more endless expanse of stars hanging just above it that looked close enough to touch. Alisaie steeled herself and shook her head, despite how tempting it was to give in. "We have friends to save."

Poppy let out a sad little hum at that. "I know. You're right," she whispered, slumping slightly against Alisaie as if in defeat. Still, she pressed a kiss against the base of her ear and then dragged her lips along its length in a deliberate sort of way. "Always quashing my fun, you are." It was meant to be a jest, but the words were frayed—tattered and torn at the edges like a discarded scrap of silk.

"Someone has to keep you in line," Alisaie murmured in reply, trying to play along despite how her voice cracked and a shuddering breath threatened to escape her.

Poppy hummed again against her ear, and the sound sent sparks down Alisaie's spine. She marveled at the Warrior's boldness when she lowered her head and nudged her way beneath the high collar of her shirt to reach the skin underneath, where her trail of kisses continued. A shaky breath finally left Alisaie at the sensation of lips that just barely grazed against her neck, and her grip on the other woman's shoulder's tightened. Poppy continued downward until she reached her shoulder, where she paused for a brief moment before Alisaie felt the quick nip of fangs against the edge of her collarbone.

The bite pulled a breathy laugh from her. When Poppy leaned back, Alisaie caught the glint of mischief that shone in her otherwise weary, saddened gaze and tugged at the corners of her mouth just so. It all but confirmed just how deliberate the action was—Poppy knew very well just how ticklish she could be.

Her partner wasn't done with her senseless teasing. Her head dipped back down to where her lips met the sensitive skin of Alisaie's neck with more intensity than before. She peppered her affections and didn't stop until her tongue darted out to taste Alisaie's fluttering pulse and then graze it with devilish teeth. She pulled away suddenly, looking very pleased with herself at the sharp breath she drew from Alisaie, who glowered in return.

The Warrior was clever in her vying for distraction. The shift in mood was rather bewildering in its abruptness, but not unwelcome, and Alisaie appreciated the fleeting moment of levity all the same. Though, for whatever reason, the warmth behind Poppy's subtle smirk made her remember very suddenly just how afraid she was.

Alisaie leaned forward and caught the other woman's lips in a kiss that was far less chaste than before, almost desperate in its urgency. The thought that either of them could be snatched away at any moment just as their fellow Scions had made icy fear creep through her veins like frost. She clung to the Warrior and refused to let go, as if that would root her in place and shield her from the machinations of whoever or whatever it was that conspired against them.

The sensation of their lips pressed together grounded her in reality and reminded Alisaie that she wasn't alone and that Poppy was still there. The subtle sharpness of fangs against her mouth further proved that. A silent gasp was drawn from her when her bottom lip was gently pressed between teeth, and the other woman moved against her with the same hunger she felt coil around her insides. Poppy parted her own lips to deepen their kiss to dizzying depths. 

Everything was soft and slow and purposeful, from how Poppy's hands pressed against her hips, and how she dragged her thumbs deftly beneath the hem of Alisaie's shirt to feel the gooseflesh on the skin underneath, to how her fingers trailed up the curve of her spine to tangle into her hair.

Onze by onze, the weight of their burdens fell away. It was nice, Alisaie realized, to not think for a moment and only to feel—to simply exist and be touched. So she let the Warrior kiss her until everything else melted away, until it was all distant and hazy like a bad dream that could be pushed aside until morning. And she kissed her back until nothing else existed but them on that chair surrounded only by the silent stones of their empty home.

"I don't know what I'd do without you."

Alisaie tasted the words on Poppy's breath as she spoke them against her lips. She recognized them, because those very same words had escaped her only a few suns prior, though it already felt like an epoch had passed since then. They were spoken in a moment of vulnerability when she could just barely hold herself together and had been so unbearably thankful to still have Poppy at her side after all that had happened—just as she felt then. She flushed at the realization that Poppy felt the same way.

Alisaie opened her eyes a fraction to find Poppy gaze back at her from beneath dark lashes. The look they exchanged spoke volumes in its fervor. Words formed and reformed in her mind, but nothing clicked into place properly, and she found herself mute. There was nothing she could say, she realized, that would convey the depth of what she felt. So she contented herself with more kisses and spoke instead with her hands to wordlessly tell the other woman, it'll be all right

And it would be, because they had each other.

Chapter Text

A pair of arms emerged from the dark and wound around Alisaie's waist. For a brief, fleeting moment, she panicked. Her hand instinctively reached for the hilt of the rapier that happened to not be on her belt for that one rare occasion. 

"Guess who?"

The question was caught between velvet and silk, a light rasp clinging to otherwise smooth words. The warmth of a familiar giggle danced against her neck, bringing with it the equally familiar scent of petals and spice that was also accompanied by a thread of rich wine. Alisaie relaxed.

"You're far too adept at cloaking yourself in shadow, my dear Warrior of Light." 

She made sure not to intone the surprise she'd briefly felt and the title was a sharp little knife when she spoke it—much like the ones its bearer often threw around without care. The other woman giggled again upon being unmasked. 

"Caught me," she replied in a rueful, singsong way. Poppy pulled Alisaie closer from behind and leaned forward to prop her chin on her shoulder. "Just wanted to see if my darling little wallflower was enjoying herself."

The jab was gentle, edged only with as much sharpness as Alisaie had used. Still, she glanced sidelong in a petulant sort of way at the woman who used her as a headrest only to catch sight of bright eyes crinkled with a sweet, genuine smile. Alisaie couldn't help but smile in return as she found herself lean back into her love's embrace.

"I'm enjoying myself as much as I can during these sorts of things," she said, sounding droll. She crossed her arms and sighed lightly to punctuate her response.

Parties were never her preferred environment, but she'd learned to endure them in her own way by slipping to the darkened sidelines from time to time to catch her breath. It had been a long evening of speeches and pleasantries, though Ala Mhigans were at least a lively bunch and the celebration could hardly be considered stiff. Alisaie smiled again when she looked across the crowd and caught glimpses of her fellow Scions who mingled amongst members of the Resistance and leadership from the Eorzean city-states.

"Though, it is good to see everyone together again," she added quietly. A warm feeling of contentment tinged her words. The hum of agreement Poppy replied with held a similar warmth.

"It's been a while, hasn't it?" she asked.

Alisaie tilted her head as she thought of the night they were all together last. The memory was vivid despite being years old at that point, and replayed in her mind as if through the clear facets of an unaspected crystal.

Having defeated the Warriors of Darkness and collected their missing members, every Scion had crowded into the Solar of the Rising Stones in attendance of an impromptu meeting called by Alphinaud in order to decide the course of their future. It felt like an epoch ago, before their entanglement in the war, in a time when Lyse still counted herself among their ranks and before Papalymo—

Alisaie shook her head to clear the thoughts away. The motion helped combat the stab of sadness that suddenly slipped into her gut like a knife.

"It has," she said in agreement with the Warrior, quiet and just a bit somber. As if sensing her tension, the arms around Alisaie's waist tightened their embrace.

"Well, I can see you're clearly having the time of your life here, but..." Poppy's tone was teasing but still gentle, even after she trailed off, "Want to sneak away with me for a bit?"

The question, along with the puff of breath that came with it, pushed against Alisaie's neck and made the skin there prickle into gooseflesh. She turned her head, smirking at the sight of the playful twinkle in the other woman's eyes.

"Lead the way," she replied. She didn't bother with hesitation, having learned long ago that it was best to just play along with her love's mischief.

Poppy's arms released her. Her hand slid against Alisaie's not a breath later and their fingers tangled together, pulled taut as knots. She felt the other woman tug at her and grin in a wordless command to follow.

The Warrior lead her through the darkened edges of the ballroom with the silence expected of one whose multitude of titles included the darkest shadow. It was a marvel how she seemed to thread the ambient aether around them both to form a cloak of shielding darkness against any prying eyes. Alisaie smiled to herself. It was no wonder how easily the other woman often took her by surprise.

When they broke free of the confines of the celebration, Poppy let the shadows fall away. The palace opened up around them, all gold and buff marble and towering pillars that held up the lofty domed ceilings. Its beauty filled Alisaie with awe. She hadn't explored the massive place so thoroughly before, but noted how all previous manners of Garlemald had been expunged, replaced instead with rightful banners of rich purple and alabaster griffins.

The hoods of the Resistance were styled after the very same majestic beasts, beaks dipping down in respect towards the Warrior and her companion as they allowed the two women past their guard. A grand staircase was ascended, and Alisaie suspected she found herself on the famed Royal Menagerie when they emerged onto a grand terrace paved in ecru tile.

"Pretty, isn't it?"

They stepped towards the center of the garden still hand in hand, and Poppy's question broke through the prolonged silence of Alisaie's awe. That awe only grew at the sight of massive flowerbeds that swayed in chilled gusts of night air, painted in shades ranging from vermilion to rosy pink. When Poppy's hand slipped away from hers, it was replaced with a crisp coolness that made Alisaie miss her touch. She still nodded in agreement, eyes flicking over the flowers in quiet appreciation, though the Warrior spoke again before she could reply.

"This is where I fought him." Poppy moved towards the nearest plot and bent over to pluck a flower from its bed. There was a slowness to her motions, as if she feared the bloom would shatter at her touch. "A lot of things ended here," she added, words seeping quietly into the night.

Alisaie knew that Zenos met his end on the Menagerie, though she hadn't expected it to be a place so serene. That serenity didn't seem to reach Poppy fully. Something about her demeanor changed as she held the flower up. Her eyes narrowed, though more in deep thought than in anger. The sliver of moon that hung above them outlined her profile with a soft silvery glow and, though the light was scant, it still refracted off her eyes like a flicker of cold flame. Alisaie watched her, mulling over the words she spoke, eyes lingering on the jagged scar still visible beneath the chest wrappings of her sparse armor.

"Many things began here as well," she said. A determined little smile was offered to her companion in hopes of shaking off some of the heaviness that clung to her. "Ala Mhigo's unfettered future, for one."

Poppy met her gaze and let out a breath that seemed to lighten her burden. Her face cracked into a smile, and she nodded.

"I just didn't want this place to be soured, is all," she explained, sounding sheepish. She glanced down at the the flower that twirled between her fingertips. Its pink petals held fast to the stem despite the abuse. "It's too pretty for that. So, I brought you, because it can't be sour if there's memories of you here."

Alisaie huffed at the flattery, though a smile still tugged at the corner of her mouth just enough to betray her. Poppy caught sight of it in an instant and her own smile turned into a toothy grin. She shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs of dreary thoughts away and held a hand out to Alisaie.

"Enough talk. Dance with me?"

The question caught her off guard, as was likely evident by her gawping. The Warrior's grin only grew wider at her surprise, turning almost wolfish.

"I've been practicing," she added with a lilting note of pride, as if to entice her.

"I seem to recall this ending rather poorly the last time we tried it," Alisaie replied. The distant memory of their previous and only dance over the markets of Revenant's Toll that had them both tripping over one another left her feeling amused, if not a bit embarrassed.

"That so? I recall it being a rousing success."

"You define success rather strangely, then," Alisaie said, words lightly pointed. She was inexplicably pulled closer to her beloved after a moment, having no true intention of saying no. "Though, if you insist, I'll indulge my dear Warrior. It would be rude not to, after all."

Alisaie reached for the hand extended towards her and was rewarded with perked up ears and a pleased smile, as well as a step that closed the gap of space between them. Poppy's other hand deftly tucked the flower she held into Alisaie's hair where it made its new bed just above her ear. She smirked at the gesture, though the gentleness of it filled her with warmth.

Poppy took both her hands in hers. Alisaie looked down at them, feeling calluses brush against her own, seeing scars stretch pale lines across olive skin. The Warrior's nails were filed down to minuscule points and lacquered a dusty petal pink that matched the flower she'd just held. The charming style of it suited her.

Alisaie remembered, suddenly, something her mother often said to scold her long ago, when she was but a young girl who had a bad habit of chewing on her nails while she read: you can learn much about someone with just a glance at their fingernails (and thus you must needs care for your own). She'd never quite understood the meaning behind those words—not until certain keen observations she made about the Warrior.

She remembered long nails carved into menacing points on the eve of many a battle that were sharp enough to be considered knives in their own right. And she remembered nails splintered and shattered with blood caught underneath, sullied in conflicts won. She remembered still how in her darkest hours they were left overgrown and haloed by purplish bruises. Those were the hands of the Warrior, the soldier, the weapon. The hands that held hers then were her own, and bespoke contentment and peace.

She remembered, also, the scent of wine on Poppy's breath. It was there then as well, caught faintly between them in their closeness, rich and sweet. She thought of how the other woman quailed at the sight of a goblet and eyed opened bottles with obvious suspicion. Alisaie was surprised that she'd indulged, especially after having confided in her long ago about the fears that followed her after the night in Ul'dah, and the other at Falcon's Nest.

It clicked into place that the Warrior felt safe. Her myriad of wounds had begun to heal. The realization warmed Alisaie further.

"Ready?" Poppy asked, snapping her back to the present with amused impatience. "Or are you stalling?"

"I assure you that I'm not," Alisaie replied. She stiffened with a bit of embarrassment at her wandering thoughts. "Lead the way," she said for a second time that night, and knew her sneer likely made it sound more like a challenge.

The Warrior, of course, rose to that challenge in an instant. Their positions were sorted out, hands finding waists and shoulders and holding one another. And thus their dance began.

Alisaie thought it would be nigh impossible with no music to guide them, but Poppy managed. She pulled them both along with an ease that suggested she truly had practiced. Her movements were fluid, following the thrum of some unheard melody that steered her. Alisaie kept up through sheer determination alone, loathe to be outdone by her partner.

"You look a bit impressed," Poppy said after a while. She twirled them around with an effortless grace that was somehow tinged with smugness and made Alisaie roll her eyes.

"Quite. I'm impressed you haven't tripped over me yet."

Poppy tutted her disapproval before a wicked grin lit up her face. She was clearly undeterred by the comment.

"Oho, but you haven't seen anything yet!"

Both her hands traveled to Alisaie's waist and wrapped around her back, pulling her closer before she was urged backwards again. The sudden movement caught her off guard. She half expected to be dropped to the ground, but the Warrior held tight, dipping her so low that her head brushed against the flowers beneath her. Alisaie stared up at her partner, silent with surprise, and instinctively wrapped her arms around her neck in fear of falling.

The ornate bits of gold sewn onto Poppy's formal battle garb glistened beneath the moon's half crescent and clinked together softly as she shifted to lean over. The sharp pauldron that jutted from her shoulder, the fearsome daggers that hung from her hips, the faded scars that cut across her cheek and lips—she looked every bit like the gilded hero of legend she was oft made out to be, and Alisaie couldn't help but be enchanted by the sight.

Poppy's smugness melted into satisfaction, then turned to something even softer. Her lips grazed against hers in a feather-light kiss, and Alisaie's breath was stolen. Her eyes fluttered closed and she gave herself over completely when a more firm kiss followed.

She was practically gasping when Poppy pulled away, and some distant part of her mind was impressed that the Warrior held such an uncomfortable position for so long. Poppy peered down at her sweetly from beneath long lashes. The florid sweetness of the blooms beneath her clouded Alisaie's already reeling mind.

"You—" Words failed her for a moment. She'd been completely disarmed. "You...you hopeless, senseless romantic. You were planning this all along, weren't you?"

The amorous moment was shattered when another grin broke across Poppy's face. She laughed at the accusation as she straightened her back, pulling Alisaie up with effortless ease.

"Caught me again. It's your own fault, though," Poppy chided in a singsong way and her eyes narrowed with mischief. "I love you enough to prance around like a fool, after all. Lucky you," she added, tail swishing behind her to punctuate her satisfaction.

Alisaie should have been more irritated at being briefly turned into a blushing, swooning maid, though no such feelings of contempt ever came. Only a warm fondness filled her, along with an amusement that pushed past her lips as a chuckle that Poppy shared in.

The Warrior released Alisaie from her grasp, but didn't back away. Their hands came together again in a wordless want for contact and they swayed, fingers twined and cheeks pressed together. It was a ghost of their previous dance, though more pleasant with the added closeness.

"I am lucky," Alisaie said after a while, quiet and assured. When Poppy chuckled again in reply, Alisaie felt the sound rumble against her. 

"I'm glad you think so."

There was a frailty and shyness behind the words that made Alisaie's heart stutter. She caught the faint thread of wine on the other woman's breath again, and felt the subtle sharpness of nails against her palms when she squeezed them, and her thoughts abruptly turned to the precariousness of it all. The state of the realm, their lives, their love—everything was so delicate.

It felt like madness, sometimes, to think of the breadth of her love for the Warrior. And it was madness, for how could one fall in love with a whirling tempest, or the harsh crackle of a roaring fire, or the sharpened end of a freshly polished knife, or the light, blooming warmth of hope? It was a foolish notion to fall in love with intangible, fleeting things, but Alisaie was stubborn and ever content in that folly, because she knew that the Warrior of Light was no weapon cast in metal to be wielded, nor a statue carved of stone to be worshiped—she was but a woman of flesh and blood who loved just as deeply as she did.

Their love was foolish, perhaps, and it was terrifying. The feeling was fragile, caught between them like a little bird, its frantic wing beats not unlike the fluttering of their hearts. Yet in all its fragility, it also held an unfathomable strength. It was an act of defiance to love a hero, she knew, as it was to be a hero in love, but together they were both stronger for it.

"You're so quiet tonight," Poppy whispered, and Alisaie felt the warmth of her curious concern brush across her cheek. "A lot on your mind?"  

"Yes," Alisaie admitted. There was no point in lying, but she didn't know how to explain the thoughts that occupied her. "Just...thinking about things." 

Poppy hummed. It was a thoughtful little sound. She pulled back enough so Alisaie could see a face that was twisted into an unimpressed look.

"You think too much."

"Between the two of us, someone has to."

The jab pulled a pout onto Poppy's lips and Alisaie couldn't help but smirk.

"Seems like my wallflower is more of a nettle," Poppy said, speaking with as much sharpness as the plant she named. "Thinking is for politicians. We're the ones who fight," she reminded her pointedly. She sighed as if offended and moved backwards to step onto a flowerbed and pull Alisaie along with her. "Though, there's not much fighting to do for now. Guess all that's left to do is dance!" 

They were surrounded on all sides by flowers. Poppy took her hands again to spin them both around. Alisaie conceded, grinning as she gave in to her love's whims. A fondness filled her heart again that made her feel as resilient as the blooms that bent against their movements.

"I suppose I can't argue with that."

Alisaie loved her always, but loved her most as she was then—unburdened and content, twirling among petals, bathed in scant moonlight as she laughed. No titles, no duty, no pain. She was purely herself, and that was all who she needed to be.

Chapter Text

"Do they really call me that?"

The usual bustle of the Reach was distant. When Poppy laughed, the sound was loud and just a bit grating—almost like the gentle scratch of metal on stone that filled the meager space between her and Alisaie.

"I've heard it a handful of times," Alisaie confirmed with a nod. She smirked sidelong at the Warrior from her place seated beside her on the mat they shared. "Is it not to your liking?"

Poppy tilted her head, thinking for a moment as she silently tossed the title through her mind. "I like it," she decided. "It's just...more grand than what I've come to expect," she said as she dragged the length of her dagger against the surface of the sharpening stone. Several throwing knives and the sibling of the dagger she held sat neatly before her, all freshly sharpened and polished. She caught Alisaie glance at the arrangement from the corner of her eye. 

"Are you really so surprised? You can practically smell them from a malm away," Alisaie said, sounding both incredulous and amused. Poppy wrinkled her nose at that.

"Not true! I'd be shite at sneaking if that were the case." Poppy wagged the dagger at Alisaie in a bemused reprimand. The other woman shook her head and continued to wipe clean the rapier that sat across her lap. It glittered faintly even in the shade of their shared hideout by the stalls near the creek.

"I would hardly call anything you do sneaking," Alisaie retorted. "That usually involves not announcing your presence before you even arrive by dousing yourself in floral oils."

Poppy paused her sharpening to make a strangled sound of disbelief. Alisaie let out an amused breath at her reaction that sounded more like a snort, to which the Warrior puffed out her cheeks. She heaved a dramatic sigh as she uncorked a bottle of the mentioned oil and sighed again when the potent scent of roses wafted up from her polishing rag. 

"A well-oiled blade is a well-cared for blade," she said rather matter-of-factly as she worked it across the metal. It was a saying beaten into her mind long ago by a blacksmith friend who'd quickly gotten tired of fixing knives rusted from overuse. "Mine just happen to smell nice to boot." 

"Nice enough to earn yourself such a florid title," Alisaie reminded her. Poppy sighed once more, finally conceding. Her partner wasn't wrong.

"Poppy of the blooming blade," she said the title out loud after a moment of silence, as if to cement it in reality. "Have to admit, it's got a nice ring to it."

After a final pass of the cloth, she held the dagger up. Its edge caught the harsh light of midday, glistening bright, almost as if aether-touched. The slim, sliver blade reflected scraps of a cloudless sky that peeked out from between the colorful banners that hung overhead. A patchwork of reds and oranges and blue danced across the surface until she tilted it just so to catch Alisaie's gaze on the mirrored shine.

"Really though, they should call me of the shining blade instead," Poppy said in admiration of her own work before she flashed the other woman a satisfied grin.

"Yes, very impressive." Alisaie somehow managed to sound and look rather unimpressed as she likely agreed only to humor her. Poppy lowered the blade to pout at the woman no longer reflected on its surface. Before she could remark her offense at the apparent disinterest, her companion continued, "Though, it seems to be missing something."

Poppy's brow arched, pulled up by her piqued curiosity. "Oh? Not flowery enough?" she asked, amused.

"It reeks of a bouquet, I assure you," Alisaie replied.

Her expression was guarded as she gestured for Poppy to hand her the dagger. It was with mild hesitation that the Warrior gave it over, having seen a glimmer of mischief in her partner's eyes that made her expect some sort of trickery. She watched with interest as Alisaie turned the blade in her hands in a seemingly thorough inspection. Then, to Poppy's surprise, she lifted the dagger to her lips to press a kiss against the jeweled pommel.

"For luck," she explained, tone caught somewhere between seriousness and amusement. Poppy chuckled at the sight.

"As if I need luck," she said with an exaggerated lilt to play at being offended.

Poppy tilted her head to coyly glance up at Alisaie from beneath her lashes despite how the thoughtfulness of the gesture had warmed her. As if embarrassed, Alisaie's cheeks took on the faintest pink tinge. The dagger hovered near her face even as she glared.

"Well then, how about this instead: May the wounds you inflict be fatal, dear Warrior," she announced with all the gravity of an evoked blessing. Alisaie pressed her lips to the pommel once more, gentle but assured. Despite the teasing edge to the grandiose words and the smirk that curled her lips, she still managed to sound genuine, "...so that you may return to me, always."

In the final words of the whispered plea, the warmth of Alisaie's breath painted fog against the polished surface of the blade. Poppy watched, captivated, as she gingerly held it back out to her. Some unnamed feeling made the tips of her fingers burn as she accepted it and curled her hand around Alisaie's to press it against the hilt. For a moment, the dagger was held between them like a wordless promise made tangible and sharp.

"I will. Always."

Poppy lowered her head and loosened her grip just enough so she could graze her lips against Alisaie's knuckles. Her own whisper pulled fog onto the surface of the dagger just as Alisaie's had, giving weight to their shared words. The perfume of the rose oil hit her nose and she could practically taste the floral notes of it when she smiled.

"After all, my blade blooms only for you, my lady," she added with just a bit of a theatrical edge to her tone.

As she watched the Warrior, Alisaie's pale lashes fluttered slowly against the thin streams of sunlight that fell across them. The tips of her ears were dusted pink in her embarrassment and her nose wrinkled just enough to suggest a barb would soon roll off her tongue. But none came and she chuckled instead, light as the breeze that made the banners overhead billow.

"You needn't be so dramatic," Alisaie scolded gently.

"You started it." Poppy's voice cracked just slightly at the emotion that pressed against the inside of her throat in an odd, sentimental way. She let go of Alisaie's hand, letting the dagger sink onto her lap, heavy and cold. She grinned when Alisaie rolled her eyes at the gentle ribbing.

"Besides, I can do much better. Here—" The Warrior cleared her throat and leaned over to wiggle her fingers over the surface of Alisaie's rapier, as if she meant to cast a potent spell. "May this sword remain as sharp as its wielder's tongue, so she can cut down anyone fool enough to stand in her way." For dramatic effect, she then tapped it with her index finger. Alisaie shook her head at the absurdity of it all.

"Thank you. 'Tis a blessing most appreciated," she said, sarcasm dripping off her words. She bumped her shoulder playfully against Poppy's as they both shared a laugh.

The fleeting moment of sweet, silly sentiments soon passed. It was replaced by a silence that felt as heavy as the weight of every title earned by the dagger in Poppy's lap. She stared at her arrangement of blades—all sharp, shining, and deadly. They were why she was called so many things, though not every moniker was so poetic and flattering as the one she'd just learned of.

Poppy frowned. When Alisaie's hand found hers in the space between them and curled around it a moment later, she felt a little less burdened and a smile was pulled back onto her lips.

Chapter Text

The new armor felt odd. Poppy had long cast off such plates and pauldrons for lighter fare that allowed the speed required of wielding daggers. However, she'd decided to wear it, as it was best to not leave anything up to chance when dealing with the Empire. She couldn't risk putting a much-needed victory in jeopardy due to her own foolhardiness.

And so dark metal wrapped around her torso, her legs, her hands, shimmering black like scales plucked from a dragon made of night. It was heavier than what she was used to, yet somehow still lightweight—a contradiction and testament both to her armorer's great skill. Though, the heaviness was more likely due to the weight of the glances pointed at her by what felt like the entirety of the Alliance. 

Despite the nervous chatter and bustle of preparations that filled the encampment, it all felt oddly distant. Her conversation with Alisaie had also fizzled, though Poppy wouldn't be able to say what it was they spoke of if asked. Her mind was off somewhere else, pulled to the battlefield where her teeth were already at the imperial's throats. She itched for a fight, for a chance to release the stress of everything that had come to pass until that point. She felt like she would burst if she didn't act soon.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed how Alisaie watched her poke at the straps of her vambraces with hands that moved with fluttering nervousness. Her gaze felt no lighter than those of the others, though when Poppy glanced up she caught sight of eyes that were eerily calm. She noticed how Alisaie's lips were pulled thin in an expression that made it look like she held something back. 

"Have something important to say?" she asked. "You sure look like you do."

A weak smile tugged at the corner of Poppy's mouth in her jest, but Alisaie only shrugged at the prompt to speak. Her eyes were pulled upward towards a dark, clouded sky. She was silent for a moment before she finally spoke:

"Don't you dare leave me alone," she whispered, voice wavering just so.

Her gaze fell on Poppy once more and the look she shot her nearly shattered the Warrior's heart. For a moment, fear was written plainly on her face, visible even through the smoky gloom of night and etched into the frown that pulled on her lips and eyes. 

"Ali—"

Before Poppy could make sense of the tangle of emotion roiling in her gut for long enough to speak, the other woman shook her head. She hid her vulnerability beneath a frail smile that brightened her face just a touch.

"No matter what happens, we have to survive. Together." Alisaie's words were firm despite how they still wavered, almost sounding like an order. For a long, breathless moment, Poppy could do little other than nod. 

"It'll take more than a few Garleans to knock us down," she said. 

A shaky grin crossed her face, but her voice still cracked slightly to betray her. Alisaie's own smile grew wider regardless. Though, when her expression shifted suddenly to something caught between apprehension and embarrassment, Poppy felt the burning need to reach out and touch her, to draw her close and comfort her. Alisaie chose that moment to turn away. 

Without another word, she made her way across the encampment with swift steps. The Warrior watched until she disappeared among throngs of soldiers, her snowy hair like a beacon of light that was snuffed out by shifting darkness. Poppy was left alone, feeling stunned and unsure. When Matoya's words rang clear in her head, her feet began to move on their own—there was no time for dithering, after all. 

It didn't take long to find Alisaie again. She was shielded by the thick shadow of a watch tower that loomed overhead, arms crossed, expression distant and pensive. When Poppy approached she seemed a bit startled to see her so soon and went rigid as she pushed away from the fence she leaned on.

"Shouldn't you be preparing for the battle?" she asked.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

Despite the assured words, Poppy felt unsteady in her armor and wobbled slightly in her greaves when she walked thanks to the anxiety of the battle to come that nipped at her heels. Still, she managed to settle in before her partner and leaned against a beam of the tower. They stared one another down in silence for a while, both wary as they wordlessly tread on eggshells. Alisaie seemed conflicted, battling with herself, fingers paling as they gripped the railing behind her. It was still her who cracked first.

Alisaie closed the gap of space between them to press herself against the cold metal of Poppy's breastplate. Her hands slid up the polished surface until they settled at her shoulders and she bowed her head to bury her face into the bit of fabric that poked out from beneath the armor at Poppy's neck. The Warrior placed a hand on the small of her back to urge her even closer. When she felt her partner's tense muscles go slack beneath her touch, she released the shaky breath she'd been holding. 

"How are you feeling?" she asked, voice barely above a whisper. She felt Alisaie shake her head before she replied. 

"I'm not afraid," she said with quiet confidence, as if she worried that Poppy might think otherwise. "I thought I would be terrified when the fighting started. I should be terrified. But with you at our side...I can't help feeling everything is going to be all right," she trailed off and lifted her head to look at Poppy. A faint smile lifted the corners of her mouth despite her somber tone. "But I'm not you. I just wish there was more I could do." 

Poppy wrinkled her nose at the disparaging tone Alisaie directed at herself. "It's going to be all right because you'll be right there with me. There's no one I'd rather have fight at my side," she said.

"You overestimate my skill," Alisaie replied, nearly deadpan. 

"You underestimate it," Poppy retorted in an instant. She gently bumped her forehead against the other woman's in a silent reprimand, feeling frustration kindle within her at realizing how often it was that Alisaie doubted herself. "Have more faith in yourself. Please," she begged. 

"With everything that's happened as of late, I can't help but feel helpless," Alisaie argued. She closed her eyes and exhaled a weary sigh, sounding frustrated herself. "I feel like I've done nothing to aid the Scions since they fell."

"You know that's not true. But fine, be stubborn." Poppy ground the words out and her ears flicked back with defiance before she continued, "Now's your chance to act. Let's tear out the imperial's throats and end this war—for the Scions. For our friends."

Alisaie opened her eyes a fraction at Poppy's fervent plea and stared at her for a long moment. Something in her seemed to shift and click into place. The Warrior was surprised to see her crack a smirk. 

"General Aldynn was right to be relieved at not being on their side," she joked lightly. "I suppose you're right. Moping now will avail us little. We must fight with enough strength for the friends who are absent, so that they may wake to peace." 

Despite the noise of coming war that echoed around them, Alisaie's words rang clear. Just like that, the spark was back in her tone, shining bright enough to chase away even Poppy's jitters. The Warrior met her gaze, which was determined and fiery again—just as it always was well before their recent troubles had thrown her into despair. A warmth tinged with affection filled her as she looked at the woman who had long ago stolen her heart with that very same fire. Though she was often lauded for her single-handed strength, Poppy knew in that moment that she would all but crumble without the unbending resolve of Alisaie at her side.

I love you, she wanted to say, but the words got caught in her throat like painful little needles that choked her and refused to come out. Even after all their time together, it still terrified her to say it out loud. Frustrated by her own cowardice, Poppy leaned forward to instead press her lips against Alisaie's. She hoped the gesture would be enough.

The Warrior's arms wound around the other woman's waist and held tight as she worried that Alisaie might vanish into the shadows that cloaked them both if she let go. A hand soon trailed up her neck in a wordless response to those silly fears, stopping to cup her cheek, prompting a shiver to crawl beneath her armor when a thumb grazed the dead nerves of scars along her jaw. Her lips were soft, warm, wanting, pressing light sighs into her mouth. The kiss was fragile, yet frantic all the same and felt almost rushed in the mounting energy that was nearly palpable around them.

It was only when the trumpets blared that they pulled apart. In the split second of pure silence that followed, they stared wide-eyed at one another before the encampment sprung into frenzied action. Their time was up.

"To battle we go, dearest," Poppy whispered into the scant ilm between them. "Together."

Alisaie stepped out of the Warrior's embrace. Her hand reached for Poppy's and held tight, bare skin pressing against thin gauntlets as she lead them from the safety of their hideaway. When she smiled, she looked more determined than ever before.

"Together."

 


 

The whole world went white.

Static buzzed in her ears, deafening her for several painful moments until she could see again. When she opened her eyes, Poppy already knew. She still refused to believe it.

"Ali?" 

Poppy was on her knees. She didnt want to touch the fallen woman, afraid that she might shatter beneath her fingers, so she watched instead. Deep breaths, eyes closed, expression blank. It was unsettling how much it looked like peaceful sleep.

"Alisaie. Don't—"

Panic flooded her and she was frantic then, reaching out to grip her partner's shoulder with hands that held too tight in a desperate attempt to wake her. She still didn't rouse. 

"Gods, no. No! P-please," Poppy begged, stumbling over the words in her haste to say them. She shook Alisaie again and again. "Don't leave me behind."  

It was no use. Alisaie was gone, and Poppy was alone. Fear closed in around her like cruel walls made of cold steel.

"Are you all right?" 

Hien's question was all she heard over the pounding of her heart. The icy numbness of shock made her nod despite how her mind screamed in protest. He and Yugiri knelt beside the Warrior and exchanged a look of thinly veiled worry. They spoke—to each other, to the others, to her. She didn't hear them, couldn't process their words, wouldn't formulate coherent replies. Her eyes were fixed only on Alisaie's expressionless face.

Encampment. Chirurgeons. Retreat.

Poppy was able to piece together that much. She reached out to cradle Alisaie's limp body in her arms, glad that the others didn't protest her insistence to do so. She carried her all the way back to the Alliance's base, one painstakingly slow step at a time. 

Everything happened in a hazy blur, as if she trudged through a thick fog that made it difficult to breathe. Hands and voices urged her onward, leading her to a tent and an empty cot that she placed Alisaie on. Poppy stared down at her for a long while, still hoping that she might somehow stir. When she didn't, something inside the Warrior snapped like a brittle thread and she fell to her knees in a loud clatter of cold armor. 

She leaned over the cot and buried her face into Alisaie's shoulder. The smell that clung to her coat was foreign—all war and no comfort. There was no trace of her left. Smoke stung her nose and made her eyes well up but she stayed still, silently willing the nightmarish reality she found herself in to dissipate. Her hand fumbled blindly across the rough sheet until it found Alisaie's. Limp fingers didn't respond to the touch of her own, but she still squeezed them tight.

Poppy heard shuffling and the cautious sound of her title spoken by unfamiliar voices. People—chirurgeons, likely—shifted around the edges of the room like ghosts too afraid to approach her. She remained motionless and oblivious to their questions even though she heard the words. Her face remained pressed against her love's shoulder in an attempt to block them all out. It wasn't until a familiar presence found her that she stirred from her stupor.

"Poppy." Lyse knelt beside her. When she placed a hand on her shoulder, Poppy finally looked up. "The chirurgeons want to take a look at her," she said as gently as she could in the moment. "Come with me for a bit?"

The smile she offered Poppy was weary and looked as frail as she felt, but the Warrior still nodded in agreement. She looked back at Alisaie once more and pulled the hand she still held to her lips without much thought. It was the best goodbye she could muster. The other woman's knuckles were cold against her lips and her hand fell back onto the cot when Poppy let it go, soulless and ashen. 

She let Lyse hoist her up by the elbow and lead her out of the room. She spared a final look over her shoulder before the curtain was drawn in her face, blocking Alisaie from view. Hastily, she made for the exit of the tent in an attempt to escape her mounting panic, but Lyse forced her to stop before she could.

"I'm fine," Poppy said in a weak attempt to convince them both. Her voice was coarse as gravel, words tasting of ash.

Lyse shot her a pointed glance that made it seem like the blatant lie had hurt her. She pulled Poppy into an unoccupied room and drew the curtain behind them before the Warrior could protest.

"You're clearly not," she said, sounding incredulous as she urged Poppy to sit on a stool with a gentle shove. "Take a minute to breathe. You've earned that much."

The worry in Lyse's tone made Poppy duck her head to avoid her gaze. She stared at her lap in silence, willing the fragile walls that held her feelings back to hold. It would do her little good to break down then and there. The realm still needed its strong, faultless Warrior, after all. But Poppy only felt weak and sick with shame. When her vision blurred, she buried her face in her hands, not caring that the gauntlets pressed painfully into her skin. 

"I'm alone." Past the thin scales of dark metal that bound her fingers, the words slipped out. "I'm alone," she repeated so quietly that her voice quivered.

"That's not true. You know it's not," Lyse whispered firmly as she knelt before the Warrior. Her hand was on Poppy's knee a moment later to give her a gentle but insistent squeeze. "You have Krile and Tataru and the rest of the other Scions. You have me," she added. 

Poppy swallowed the tears that threatened to fall. She let her hands drop from her face instead. Lyse smiled at her, reassuring and strong.

"Krile and Matoya will figure this out. I know they will. Until then, you have to be strong. For Alisaie." Lyse's smile grew shaky and her face twisted with obvious worry. "You have to give her your full support, remember? You promised. Even if she's just...just napping! You'll have to scold her for her bad timing when she wakes up. She shouldn't be passing out in the middle of battlefields like that," she added with a strained chuckle, babbling to push through her own sadness.

Hearing Alisaie's name was a fresh stab of pain in her heart but Poppy still managed to nod along absently, thankful for the attempt at humor. A whorl of emotion wriggled in her gut at having such a dear friend who cared for her and Alisaie both. Before Lyse could say more, the trill of a linkpearl sounded from her ear.

"Raubahn? I...I can't right now. I'm with—"

"Go," Poppy cut in, more harsh than intended. "I don't want to keep you. I'll be fine," she added in a softened tone.

Lyse's brows furrowed with hesitation. She didn't look fully convinced, but she nodded after a breath. 

"I'll be there in a minute."

The linkpearl clicked off and they both stood to leave the infirmary tent. The fresh air was a relief when it hit Poppy's face, though it made everything all the more lucid and bright and far too loud. She longed for a moment of quiet, for some sort of relief, but Lyse's hand caught hers before she could slip away. 

"Promise you'll come to me if you or the Scions need anything," she said.

"I will." 

Lyse's grip tightened. "Promise," she repeated, more firm than before.

"I promise," Poppy said and squeezed her hand in return. She managed to crack a tiny smile of reassurance.

Lyse watched her for a moment as she seemed to silently weigh her seriousness. Poppy finally noticed how exhausted she looked, coated in a layer of soot and sweat and blood that trickled down from a gash on her arm that should've been cleaned long ago. Her throat tightened with guilt at the sight. Poppy knew she had lied when she promised, but couldn't stomach the thought of burdening her friend with more worries.

Lyse eventually uttered a goodbye and slipped away to attend to her own duties. Poppy watched her until she was out of sight. Without her there to hold her steady, Poppy ran. She ran and didn't stop running until she reached the spot where she and Alisaie stood only bells before. It was the only place she could think to go that was far away enough from prying eyes. The Warrior pressed her back against the beam of the watchtower and finally let herself crumble. 

Tears slid down her face, carving thin streams into the layer of dirt and blood that coated her cheeks. Poppy looked up at the sky through her blurred vision. Despite how morning fast approached, the night's last stars were hidden by a layer of impenetrable darkness made of smoke. All was inky and lightless, much like the armor she wore. She felt small in it then, like a frightened child shivering in ill-suited clothes. 

Poppy rubbed her eyes. No matter how she tried to push them away or hide from them behind her hands, thoughts of Alisaie flooded her like the tears, each more painful that the last.

She wished she had held Alisaie for longer. She wished she had savored that final kiss just a bit more. She wished she had said I love you out loud instead of being so foolishly choked by fear. But it was too late. Wishing would avail her little other than more pain.

The memories that came were a patchwork—a bit tattered and frayed, sewn of scraps stolen. She thought of the barbs so often exchanged, of linkshell calls that cracked with the static of distance, of scribbled letters made barely legible, of small trinkets brought together from lands thousands of malms apart. They were both used to the other's occasional absence, though nothing could ever keep them apart for long. And when they were together the time was well treasured, no matter how brief. But this—this was different.

Alisaie was gone. She was gone and Poppy didn't know when she'd be back, if ever, if at all. Her soul was plucked from her body just like the others before her and she didn't know how to get her or any of them back. She was alone.

Reality hit her in full force and made despair needle in her chest as painfully as shards of glass that tore through sinew. Alisaie's words rang in her head unbidden, blaring like an alarm:

Don't you dare—

Poppy almost laughed at the cruel irony of it, but choked on a sob instead at how those words had been twisted back on her. She slid down the beam to sit on the ground in a boneless heap of metal and flesh.

Don't you dare leave me alone.

Chapter Text

The meeting had run late. It was a common, albeit unfortunate occurrence that Lyse often went through given how much talking went into politics and policy. It was something she endured with all the calm and collected perseverance that was expected of a leader, despite how sitting still for so long made her antsy. Normally, an extra half bell didn't make much of a difference, but normal days didn't account for expected company.

Lyse rushed out of the tent as soon as the meeting was done, not caring if she came off as rude, having long lost her last scrap of patience anyway. She couldn't keep Poppy waiting much longer, after all—especially not when her dear friend came all the way to the Reach to talk to her about something important, as she'd said.

Subtle worry plucked at her nerves over the implication of those words and so Lyse scoured the Reach in search of the Warrior. When she couldn't find Poppy at any of her usual haunts, she began to suspect that the other woman had grown impatient and left. She wandered near the falls with the thought to give Poppy a linkpearl call in mind, but as soon as she set foot onto the bridge her hand fell from her ear before she could click the device on. 

Sprawled on the center of the bridge was a very familiar-looking Miqo'te. The woman was, interestingly enough, lying on her back with her head dangling over the edge of the walkway, as if she meant to stare at the falls upside down. Despite the awkward and uncomfortable looking position, she tossed what looked to be a stone up into the air before it landed back in her palm, only to be thrown back up again. Lyse had to stop herself from bursting into laughter at the bizarre sight.

"What in the world are you doing?"

She leaned over and managed to catch the stone just as Poppy tossed it up again. When it didn't fall back down onto her waiting palm, Poppy's head snapped up. Her face was a picture of shocked surprise, like she'd just been pulled from a stupor. 

"Lyse!" she exclaimed and scrambled to sit up. 

"What's this for?" Lyse asked, glancing down at the stone that sat on her hand, roughly half the size of her palm. She gripped it and looked out across the pool with a grin. "Oh, want to see how far I can throw it? I bet you I can reach the falls from here!"

Just as she wound her arm up for a throw, Poppy sprang upward to grab her wrist and gave a frantic tug. "No! Give it back!" she yelled. The panic written on her face was enough to get Lyse to stop.

"Gods, all right. Here," she said and fought back a fit of laughter that bubbled behind the words. She dropped the rock back into the other woman's awaiting hands. "What's got you so worked up? It's just a rock." Despite having the apparently precious thing back in her possession, Poppy looked no less distressed than before.

"It's not just a rock! It's a raw star ruby. A really high quality one that you almost just threw away," Poppy replied. She held the apparent gem close to her chest and shot Lyse a pointed look. "If you'd done that I would've made you go swim to get it back," she added, practically hissing the words. 

"Oh." Lyse blinked down at her companion, dumbfounded. When she looked at the rock again, she could indeed see flecks of red sparkle against the otherwise dull surface. Suddenly, she felt just a bit foolish. "Sorry...about that." 

Her sheepish apology was enough to make Poppy's harsh gaze soften. The Warrior sighed and flopped down on the stones of the bridge to sit cross legged. Lyse crouched down to sit beside her, noting how her companion's expression grew clouded again. 

"So...does this rock—I mean ruby—have anything to do with the important thing you wanted to talk about?"

Lyse saw how Poppy's grip on the raw gem tightened. The flecks of dirt still stuck to its surface flaked off onto her hand and the Warrior stared down at them for a moment before she absently brushed them away.

"Yeah," she replied and then hesitated for a moment, wetting her lips before she continued, "It's...it's for, ah..."

Poppy's drawn out stammering was so unlike her usual boisterous self that Lyse almost began to worry again.

"For...?"

"For...for a ring."

"A ring?"

Lyse was confused. She considered all the potential reasons why something so mundane as a ring would cause her companion such distress, but couldn't come up with anything that made sense. When she looked over at Poppy, who nodded and flashed her a shy, simpering look, her confusion melted away in an instant.

"Oh, Twelve," Lyse muttered. The pleasant tickle of a surprising realization passed through her and made a grin spread across her face. "For Alisaie! You're proposing to Alisaie!" she exclaimed, unable to stay quiet in all her excitement.

Poppy lurched forward to slap her free hand across Lyse's mouth. "Gods, Lyse! You don't have to announce it to all of bloody Gyr Abania," she hissed through gritted teeth. 

"As if this wasn't a long time coming. I doubt anyone will be surprised."

The words and the sly chuckle that came with them were muffled by the Warrior's hand, who glowered at the teasing. Lyse reached up and grasped it, pulling it down to squeeze it with her own. She couldn't help but grin again when she saw the faint pink of embarrassment that colored the other woman's cheeks.

"Poppy, that's great news. I'm so happy for you," she gushed. However, when she saw the Warrior's face fall, the edge of her excitement dulled and was replaced by a knot of worry that needled in her gut. "You look too upset for someone who's going to propose to the love of her life. What's the matter?"

"Am I...am I mad for wanting to do this?" Poppy blurted the question out. The words were tinged with desperation and her eyes searched Lyse's face as if she'd find the answer there.

"Is that what you came here for? To ask me if you're mad?" Lyse asked gently, both in disbelief and mild amusement. "Well, yes, but not because you want to get married."

The reply pulled a scoff from the other woman and Lyse was glad to see her face soften a bit. The Warrior looked down at her hands that sat within Lyse's grasp, thumb passing over the ruby again and again. 

"I just...I keep thinking about how precarious things are. It's all so...so damn fragile and dangerous. I don't want her to get hurt because of...me and everything I do. Then I think about if I'm worthy of this—worthy of her. I'm not Sharlayan or a noble or rich or—" 

Poppy babbled, troubled thoughts spilling from her lips like the nearby falls. Her tone grew more and more desperate as she went, but she eventually cut herself off to breathe. Lyse gave her hands a tight squeeze in the silent lull that blossomed between them. 

"You know Alisaie doesn't give a damn about any of that. Especially not the nobility bit," she said said firmly. Poppy's tense shoulders drooped a bit, but she still didn't look all the way convinced.

"What if she says no?"

The question was a frail thread laced with just enough fear to make Lyse's heart clench. 

"It's more likely that Yda will rise from the dead and attend all these boring meetings for me."

Upon hearing that, Poppy stared at her in stunned surprise before she burst out laughing. "You're horrible. That's horrible," she managed to say through her laughter.

Lyse joined her when she saw the remaining tension leave the Warrior onze by onze. When the humor faded, a genuine smile quirked her lips. She pulled her hands away from Lyse's grasp to bring the gem closer to her face and turned it in her fingers, as if looking to appraise its worth.

"A ruby's a good choice, right? Think she'll like it?" she asked, still sounding just a bit worried. 

"It's red. Of course she'll love it." Lyse gave an affirmative nod. She smiled, voice softening before she continued, "Almost as much as she loves you."

Poppy's face flushed again, eyelashes fluttering shyly against her cheeks. With the pall of worry cast away, Lyse had never seen her quite so vulnerable or gentle or happy before. The sight was enough to make her heart clench again and urge her reach out and wrap an arm around the other woman's shoulders in an open embrace. 

"Well, I hope I'm invited to the wedding if you're planning on having one. I'd make a mean bridesmaid—or bridesmoogle, if you want. I can wear a pom and wings and everything."

"Pfft, maybe you can be the one to marry us too. I hear the moogles in the Shroud can do that."

The two of them sat on the bridge for a long while, chatting and laughing together. Despite the renewed levity of the conversation, Poppy's worries tangled in the back of Lyse's mind like incessant little vines. To doubt her own happiness in such a way...It reminded her of the all too real harshness of her dear friend's position in the world, despite the peace she'd earned after years of toiling. 

But, if anyone deserved that happiness, it was the Warrior of Light—along with her equally deserving partner, of course, and Lyse would stop at nothing to protect that.

 


 

Alphinaud emerged from the Solar with a thin stack of papers in hand. He glanced down at them while he walked, brow furrowed as the rows of numbers stared up at him in a confusing jumble. He took a moment to silently thank the Twelve for Tataru's continued presence in the Scions. He wasn't sure how they'd handle budgeting without her keen eyes and exacting hand there to guide them. 

It was a miracle she even let him hold the documents, frankly, but someone had to deliver them to her in Kugane. She was still wary of him handling anything pertaining to gil despite how many years had passed since the incident with Gosetsu's sword. The earful he'd gotten after that was hard to forget.

So lost was Alphinaud in the embarrassment of the memory that he almost didn't notice that someone was seated at the table closest to the Solar. His head snapped up and he retreated a few steps when he realized that someone was the Warrior of Light herself.

Poppy was hunched over, head resting on her folded arms. What he assumed was a long-cold cup of tea was near her elbow, while what looked to be two tiny squares of metal sat before her. The strange things seemed to occupy her attention, as she hadn't raised her head even when Alphinaud approached. She chose instead to continue staring at them, looking forlorn. He wondered what the metallic scraps had done to earn her apparent displeasure.

"Hello, Poppy," he said in greeting, electing to ignore the oddity of the sight. "I wasn't expecting to see you here. I thought you were afield."

The Warrior glanced up, then jolted upright when she realized who it was that addressed her. "Alphy!" she exclaimed, already large eyes wide with surprise. "I was but...I came back because I wanted to ask you something."

Alphinaud tilted his head, wondering what it was that had the usually unflappable woman so jumpy. Curiosity piqued, he invited himself to take a seat beside her and placed the documents off to the side.

"Ask away, my friend. What is on your mind?" he asked and offered her a smile of encouragement.

Poppy stared down at the table, wordless for a while. Her ears shifted sideways and her hands worried themselves into anxious knots. It was quite a sight to see her so uncharacteristically...nervous, perhaps?

Before Alphinaud could question her hesitation, Poppy reached into one of the leather pouches tied to her belt and retrieved something small wrapped in a swath of pale cotton. She pushed the fabric aside to reveal a round red gemstone that sat prettily on her palm, glistening under the torchlight. Alphinaud's brows quirked at the sight.

"I pray you haven't been robbing the graves of any more kings," he said in a mock reprimand, thinking back to their adventure with Arenvald with fondness. The way Poppy puffed out her cheeks made Alphinaud chuckle and the sight was well worth the pinch on his arm the comment earned. 

"I'll have you know that I found this thing myself. All the way in the arse end of the Forelands. Practically got mauled by a bear for my troubles," she grumbled. "Even had it cleaned up all pretty last time I was in Ul'dah."

After she heaved a long-suffering sigh, Alphinaud saw the nervousness return to Poppy in the flutter of her hands as she pushed the two squares of metal before him. She placed the gem between them and looked to him, expectant. 

"What looks better with the ruby: silver or gold?"

Alphinaud stared down at the arrangement, silent in his surprise. Of all things, he hadn't expected to be a sit-in goldsmith for an apparent jewelry consultation.

"While I do dabble with the occasional sketch, I'm no artisan," he said, feeling humbled. "The opinion of someone with a trained eye would be more—"

"I want your opinion."

Despite sounding adamant, Poppy looked sheepish after she cut him off. The Warrior took a deep breath before she continued:

"It's going to be a...ring. A ring for Alisaie."

Alphinaud tilted his head, still puzzled. "For Alisaie? While we are siblings, I can't say I know her preferences for such finery. Why not ask her your—Oh."

He wasn't sure what it was that made his mind piece the puzzle together so abruptly. Perhaps Poppy's incredulous expression had something to do with it. Either way, the realization hit him like a chocobo going full tilt.

"Oh. Oh, Twelve," he murmured.

Alphinaud placed his elbows on the table and pressed his hands against his face, dragging his fingers through his fringe as he fell into a stunned silence. Poppy reached out to grab his arm and give him a shake.

"Alphinaud? Gods, don't go quiet on me. Say something—"

"Silver," he blurted out, cutting off Poppy's panicked plea. "I think Alisaie would like the silver."

Poppy stared at him, eyes wide. "I—so you...approve?" she asked, shifting in her seat uneasily enough that he caught her meaning. 

Alphinaud's nose wrinkled. It was his turn to be incredulous. "Approve? Alisaie hardly needs my approval. She'd box both our ears off if she heard you ask that," he said with just a bit amusement. He looked down at the samples of metal and pushed the lighter one towards Poppy. "Silver will do."

Poppy looked down at the tiny square. She traced the outline of it with her finger, then placed the ruby atop it. After a moment of consideration, she nodded.

"Silver it is, then."

Her voice was quiet, sounding nearly frail. The way she smiled, so soft and slight, made a wave of emotion stir within Alphinaud that replaced his surprise. He was happy—incredibly so. The Warrior had been at his sister's side for many long years enough that he knew for a fact that she made Alisaie happy as well.

"I suppose this means that I'll soon have another sister. How fortune for me," he said after a while, feigning apprehension. He knew the smile that tugged at his lips likely betrayed him. "Though, I'm overjoyed to know that it will be you, my friend."

When Poppy looked up at him, she seemed surprised by his words. He swore he saw her eyes well up, but didn't have a chance to look for very long before she leapt from her chair. She pulled him into a hug, wrapping her arms around his neck while he still sat. Alphinaud chuckled at the sudden gesture and lifted a hand to pat her back. 

"You know, I'm the youngest of all my sisters. It'll be nice having a little brother to boss around, I think," she muttered into his hair. The words were somehow fond despite how smug they sounded.

"Oh, but you already do. Besides, I'm not so little anymore. You're barely my height while I'm sitting."

The comment earned him another pinch—that time on the ear—but Alphinaud could only laugh again.

 


 

The climb up the hill to Poppy's apartment was not difficult by any means. The cobbled stones sloped gently, easy as can be, but the Warrior felt she would fall apart if she had to take another step. Perhaps it was the long day of training recruits at the Immortal Flames barracks or perhaps it was the armful of groceries she carried that left her so exhausted. Either way, she was eager to get home and flop onto her bed. 

"Winded already, dearest?" her partner said from beside her. The taller woman's tone was playful and laced with mischief. "My, my. You must be getting old."

Poppy's ears flicked back at that. "Very funny. It's not my fault my legs are shorter that yours. I have to work twice as hard to keep up with you," she retorted. 

"Mhm, likely story," Alisaie teased. "You'd best pick up the pace, or I'll leave you behind." To prove her point, the Elezen sped up, taking several long strides that were impossible for the shorter woman to match. Poppy stopped in her tracks, puffing her cheeks out in offense.

"Yeah, you're impressive. But you forget that I have the key."

Alisaie stopped a few paces ahead and turned, shifting the basket of groceries on her arm. "Ah, it seems you've won this bout, then. I concede," she said in a grave, dramatic way.

The Warrior sneered at that and reached into her pocket to retrieve the mentioned key. When her fingertips grazed the edge of a tiny velvet box instead, her heart nearly stopped. She'd almost forgotten that it was in there.

She glanced up to see Alisaie gaze back at her, smiling as the light of the setting sun outlined her in a hazy glow that even Ayzema would envy. The coral color of the sky contrasted against her hair, which was painted the same peach as the puffs of cloud that hung high above them. All was gold and warm and wonderfully serene, and the sight nearly stole Poppy's breath.

She always imagined she would know when the time and place were right, and so she carried the ring in its small velvet box for moons and moons. It was like a little weight that sat in her pocket and had enshrined itself in the back of her mind.

One day, she often thought, one day I'll know.

That day had caught up to her, surprising in its mundane perfection.

"You've been gawping for nearly a minute. Is everything all right?" Alisaie asked, concern edging her bemused tone. 

"I—"

Poppy's jaw snapped shut. Before she knew what she was doing, her basket had fallen to the cobbled stones at her feet. She approached Alisaie in quick, determined steps and reached for her hand when she was close enough to press the little red box into her partner's palm before hesitation could find her.

Alisaie stared down at it, utterly bewildered. "What is—?"

"Open it," Poppy replied in a strained whisper. 

Alisaie wordlessly did as the Warrior bade. When she saw the ring nestled inside, shining against the waning sun, her eyes went wide. 

In the brief silence that followed, Poppy panicked. Every horrible thought and doubt that she'd worked to smooth away came back in a torrent of inky fear. Her knees went weak and her hands balled to fists at her sides, but she pushed past the feeling to speak.

"I'd get on one knee, but I'm already short enough," she said, voice cracking with strained humor. "Marry me?"

Alisaie's eyes finally left the ring upon hearing the question. Her expression shifted to something unreadable. "Allow me to kneel, then," she said.

Poppy's fear surged when Alisaie handed the ring back to her. It was replaced by confusion when the other woman indeed knelt before her, and was replaced again by surprise when Alisaie retrieved her own small box bound in black silk from her pocket. She opened it and Poppy was faced with a delicate rose gold band twined around a gemstone colored a dusty, petal pink. She stared, completely enchanted by the beautiful thing. There was long moment of breathless silence that passed between the two women that Poppy eventually broke:

"Did...did we both—"

"That seems to be the case. We've both come prepared for this."

There was another brief silence that quickly crumpled into shared laughter over the coincidence.

"I know you've a multitude of titles already, but would you mind one more?" Alisaie asked. She gazed up at her through a snowy, gold-tinged fringe, looking as sheepish and amused and flushed as Poppy felt. "I think wife would suit you quite well."

The words were soft, stretched to thin gossamer in the dreamlike haze of dusk that surrounded them. They were only just past Alisaie's lips before Poppy gave a vigorous nod.

"I think I can manage, if you can too," she replied, coy despite her thundering heart, and began to grin madly before she continued, sounding almost offended, "Still had to one-up me with the whole kneeling bit, didn't you?" 

Alisaie matched her grin with a smirk and reached out, slipping the ring she offered onto Poppy's finger. "Well, you beat me to it by asking first. I can't let you have all the glory, now can I?"

Alisaie held her hand out and Poppy slipped the other ring onto her awaiting finger. She discarded its box among their mess of spilled groceries and stared down at her own hand where a flash of gold and pink winkled back up at her. The sight made something well up inside her that was overwhelming enough to make tears sting her eyes.

"Oh, dearest. You needn't cry," Alisaie said softly, all joking gone from her voice. She reached for Poppy's hands to comfort her.

"I just never thought I'd live long enough to be able to do this."

The Warrior's blurted admittance seeped into the air between them like smoke, tasting acrid on her tongue. She thought of the wars, of the fighting, of all the death that had followed her for so long. The tears fell freely then, streaming down her face, blurring her vision into a muddle of orange and red. Alisaie watched her, expression guarded as her hands trailed up her arms and brushed across her shoulders to hold Poppy's face.

"Well, you did. We both did."

The seconds between Alisaie's reply and her pulling Poppy into an embrace were lost in the haze. She fell into her love's arms and circled her own around the the other woman's neck, burying her face into her hair.

It was at first a dull realization that she was happy. Truly, unabashedly happy, more so than she had been in a long while. The fear, the worry, the guilt of wanting to live a peaceful life even after everything she'd been through—it all faded away, smothered by Alisaie's arms around her waist, holding her close.

She wasn't sure at what point they'd pulled apart. It could have been bells or suns later with how oddly time seemed to flow. But when they did, they both laughed again, and Poppy realized that her tears had long dried. Wordlessly, they both began the task of fetching their fallen groceries.

"Let's get inside," Alisaie said when everything was back in its proper bag. She stood, smiling down at Poppy as she took her hand. "I have to cook dinner for my future wife."

The way the word wife sounded was so lovely that it made Poppy's throat tighten, but she managed to push a retort past her lips, "You, cook? I'd rather eat something edible."

"I've burnt dinner exactly once and yet you still don't let me forget it." Alisaie punctuated the response with a roll of her eyes and a sigh, but still smiled as she gave Poppy's hand a tug to lead her the rest of the way up the hill.

The Warrior grinned and clutched her partner's hand, feeling the band of her ring press against her palm, a cold little pinprick of red and silver. It made the weight of her own all the more obvious. It was a foreign sensation that sat on her finger—a bit heavy, but not at all unpleasant, and a reminder of the happiness that they'd both earned.

Chapter Text

The instant she set foot in the Rising Stones, all eyes were on her. A tense silence fell over the group gathered in the main hall like a sheet of fog, almost thick enough to cut with a dagger. The only sound to follow was the click of the door as it shut to seal her inside. Poppy felt herself shrink beneath their gazes.

"Gods, what's with the faces?" she called out, words loud and tinged with tartness. "You all look like you've just seen a ghost."

She crossed her arms and the armor she'd insisted on wearing back from Ishgard shifted around her at the motion, heavy and painful as it weighed down on her bruised body. She managed a grin that she hoped looked less like the grimace she felt herself quell.

The remaining Scions exhaled their collective held breath. Some of the tension dissipated into relief when they heard their Warrior's usual pointed humor, no matter how brittle it sounded. Their stares still lingered, likely seeing past the armor that hid her wounds and the grin that masked her exhaustion.

The reunion passed by in a blur. With information exchanged and the gift of new armor given, she was urged rather forcefully to bed by an irate Tataru. Poppy retreated to her quarters without argument, too weak to protest beyond a pout. The glances cast after her weighed heavily on her shoulders. Though she knew her comrades' worry was genuine, it reminded her how fragile she truly was.

Poppy eventually reached her room, where her brooding thoughts turned sharper, needling into unexpected apprehension. She stood for a moment, frozen in place.

The feeling of the door behind her was an unexpected comfort when she moved to lean against it. She pressed her hands flat on its surface and let her head roll back against the wood as she stared up at the ceiling, seeing but feeling sightless. It was a sturdy and uncomplicated thing at her back, something tangible for her to cling to where she might've otherwise faltered in the dimness of the hall.

Poppy waited. For what, exactly, she wasn't certain. Perhaps for herself to crumble or for the impact of everything that had come to pass to hit her in full force. Numbness was all that greeted her in that darkened corner of the Rising Stones, along with a detached sort of emptiness that reflected the state of the rooms that lined its seemingly endless, yawning expanse.

But the door stood behind her, steadfast, solid, almost patient. Unlike the rest of the world, it wanted nothing from her. So she took that blessed patience and waited—for bells, for minutes, for seconds. She couldn't quite tell how long it'd been, but time didn't really matter much anymore. All that mattered was that she had to move at some point, and that's when it would hurt. Because, unlike the door, the room behind it was wanting, lying it wait for her to press past its threshold. 

When she found her last frayed scrap of strength, she did.

The metal that was curled around Poppy's fingers caught each rivulet of the wood's grain as her hand slid across the surface. In a near-silent whisper that came with each passage of a breath, it sounded not unlike the rhythmic click of a chronometer. With a turn of the knob, the door was then gone, replaced by a cool emptiness that dug into her back with all the sharpness of a knife. When she turned towards her faceless assailant, she was greeted only by darkness.

The dim torchlight of the hall trickled into Poppy's room like the weak flow of a stream nearly dried. It stretched across the floor, outlining her shadow among flashes of warm fire, and stretched it into distorted shapes that mingled with the darkness. The fleeting moment of strength was quashed beneath the dread that pooled within the Warrior, inky as the night that veiled her.

She'd always been afraid of the dark. It was silly, perhaps, for the Warrior of Light to harbor such an admittedly childish fear. That was why, aside from her own mother, the only other person she ever confided that secret in was—

Poppy inhaled a breath that cut through her lungs like ice, nails digging into the door's frame.

No, no, no.

Some nameless urge nipped at her heels and forced Poppy to step inside the room. In a futile attempt to lock the thoughts out, she closed the door behind her with far too much force and flicked the latch. She then made her way towards the bed, willing her mind to go blank along the way. When her fingers found the straps and buckles of her armor, she was glad for the distraction.

The gauntlets were the first to fall to the floor. The vambraces came next, followed by pauldrons. Sabatons and greaves were kicked off. The heavy breastplate discarded. A piece fell with each step, causing clatters that tore through the hushed room. Poppy left a trail of worn metal in her wake on her seemingly endless journey across the room that felt as wide as the entire expanse of Thanalan. The trained, idle motion of her hands was another comfort—same as the door had been—and the task of undressing left her feeling numb again.

By the time she reached the bed, she was left only with her underclothes—soft, vulnerable, exhausted. So very, very exhausted, enough to feel the ghostly heaviness of her plates even after all was shed. Though, the longer she stared at the sheets that should've been an enticing sight, the more she felt dread rise up again like bile that bit at the back of her throat. 

Poppy clenched her fists at her sides, feeling tension burn her weary muscles. It would be fine. It had to be fine. If she just crawled into bed and fell asleep without thinking, she knew it would be. 

The Warrior lowered herself onto the soft surface, fearing the blanket might bite her if she moved too fast. The next moments were little more than a held breath and a gaze that burned a hole into the darkened ceiling. Slowly, Poppy felt her body unfurl with each shaky exhale. Her eyelids soon grew heavy with the weight of strength spent in battle.

There was a brief flicker of peace that made her truly believe she would be fine. All was well until she turned her head just so and caught the thread of a faint but familiar scent that clung to the other pillow that sat next to hers. In a sleepy haze, she reached out for the comforting warmth that should've been beside her, but the cool emptiness that greeted her hand instead made her remember.

Alisaie wasn't there.

When reality knocked the air from her lungs, Poppy knew that she was the furthest thing from fine. The breathless moment of painful realization passed and was replaced by a sob that tore through her. It hurt more than every fresh wound that Elidibus had carved into her with Zenos's blades. 

Poppy pressed her eyes closed. How long had it been since her partner slept beside her last? Surely no more than a sennight passed since the day she fell, though it felt like years.

Despite how her body protested more movement, Poppy rolled onto her side and grasped Alisaie's pillow, curling herself around it as if it were the only thing that might keep her afloat. It was the only shred of solace she had, but the familiarity of the scent was worn out, no longer welcome but overwhelming. It made her feel too much too fast and too soon.

Is Alisaie all right?

That was the first thing she asked Aymeric when she woke in a confused, panicked haze, before she remembered the battle that nearly cost her her life if not for Estinien's timely rescue. She remembered the look of gentle pity her dear friend gave her before he answered. It was the same look that made Cid frown when he offered her a ride and creased Raubahn's brow when he asked if she still had the strength to fight and made Tataru's eyes well up when she forbade the Warrior from fighting again.

She wondered if they all truly thought her so weak, if she'd finally outlived her use. It was an insidious thought—one she knew Alisaie would scold her for if she were there, but she wasn't.

Her eyes closed tighter, but it wasn't enough to force away the images that danced behind Poppy's eyelids in a silent procession. The steely blue gaze that peeked out from beneath a snowy fringe, rosy lips quirked into a smirk before a quip came out, a limp and soulless body crumpled among ash. It was all vivid, even in the dark.

Sobs came in merciless waves and tears turned the fabric pressed against Poppy's face into a wet mess that made it hard to breathe. She clung to the pillow in a desperate attempt to keep herself from drowning, but it was hard to find any shred of hope. The torrent of fear was too strong, the reality of being without Alisaie crushing.

She felt so achingly alone.

Minutes blurred into what felt like bells, but Poppy eventually stilled. Her body had nothing left to give. Numbness claimed her once more, lulling her into an exhausted slumber, though not even her dreams could bring relief.

The deafening sounds of battle rang in her ears. The air was thick with acrid smoke. The taste of copper was on her lips, her breaths short and shallow. The bodies of her friends piled around her as she ran, ran, ran, only to fall beneath Zenos's blade. The nightmarish phantoms of war chased the Warrior through the night and well into the morning, until she woke with a start. She was just as exhausted as before she slept, still wrapped around the pillow. 

Poppy hadn't the strength to move, lest build up a facade and parade about the Rising Stones as if all was well. A long while passed, bleary and blank, and morning stretched into midday. Eventually, there was a knock at the door. She lay motionless, breath held, silently begging whoever it was to leave her be.

"Poppy? Are you awake?"

Tataru's question was soft, laced with concern and wrought with hesitation. The Warrior considered feigning sleep, but didn't have the heart to lie. 

"I'm up," she called out. Her throat was hoarse and her voice rough enough to sound like she'd just swallowed a mouthful of gravel. She heard Tataru shift behind the door for a moment.

"F'lhaminn made lunch. You should come eat if you're hungry," she urged gently.

Though she was muffled by the door, she sounded a bit brighter at hearing the Warrior reply. Poppy was still inclined to reject the invitation, but her traitorous stomach grumbled at the mention of food. Truthfully, she didn't remember when she'd eaten last.

"I'll be there in a bit."

There was a pause before Tataru replied, sounding cautiously cheerful, "Take your time. We'll be waiting."

With that, the Scions' faithful clerk excused herself. Poppy listened to her footsteps patter away and felt the tiniest of smiles tug at her lips. Leave it to Tataru to coax her out of her misery. Her friend's urging gave her enough strength to begin the painful process of piecing herself back together again. 

Poppy sat up and rubbed her face to push the lingering tiredness away. She glanced across the room from between her fingers at the trail of armor she'd left in the dark. Plates of black metal lead to the bed, where her gaze fell on the daggers that sat on the stone floor, glinting the harsh light of midday across her vision.

Not even the precious blades had escaped the haphazard disrobing. Before she could scold herself for her carelessness, the sight of the red ribbon bound around one of the hilts made her throat tighten.

Poppy reached for the dagger and placed it on her lap as her fingers gingerly toyed with the scrap of silk. The ribbon had seen better days. It was faded and worn, frayed in some places and tied back together with knots. Alisaie gave it to her what felt like a lifetime ago with the explicit instruction that she return to her after the battles that took place at the Lochs. The Warrior had, and she was all the more thankful to it for perhaps bringing her enough luck to do so. The thought made a memory resurface in her mind.

When she was young, her mother told her stories of how all people were bound in a tangled web of fate. Those who were the most important to one another, she'd said, were connected with invisible red strings that kept them tied together, no matter the distance or circumstance.

Poppy wasn't sure she believed in fate. No matter the prettiness of those stories, she preferred the thought of forging her own destiny without the meddling of some higher power or the pesky persistence of invisible string. But, perhaps for just a moment, she could pretend that the sullied ribbon would lead her back to her beloved one day soon.

Poppy tugged at the bow until it came undone. She ran her fingers through the unruly copper mane that her hair had become and began to weave the strands together into a braid. With shaky hands, she used the ribbon to bind the end when she was done.

Even if she didn't believe in fate, Poppy believed in promises. She promised Tataru that she'd find the Scions and bring them home. She promised Cid and Aymeric and Raubahn and all the others that she would take better care of herself. She promised Alisaie that she wouldn't leave her alone, that they would both survive together.

Though she'd been an ilm from dying only a day before, and even closer to giving in just then, Poppy felt something kindle within her. That spark turned into an ember of anger and determination and a muddle of other feelings that urged her to stand. Her hands fell from her hair, brushing against the ribbon once more.

Poppy would face the future no matter what it had in store, and Alisaie would give her the strength to do it.

Chapter Text

Change things so that even my other self, dying somewhere in that future Calamity will smile and say, "I knew you would win."

 


 

Hot flecks of ember stuck to her lungs with each shallow breath while ceruleum fumes and tears stung her eyes, turning the battlefield into a blur of black and orange and red, making it near impossible to see. Still, she ran. They both ran. To what fruitless end, she didn't know. Some mindless instinct slammed against the inside of her skull, screamed at her to flee, urged her footfalls to continue pounding the scorched ground. And she obeyed it, with Alisaie's hand held tight in her grasp.

Everything burned—her body, her countrymen, the world. All crumbled to ash with every excruciating moment that crept past and there was nothing she could do to stop it. The Calamity breathed down their necks, snarling with snapping jaws that spat fire.

The metal buried deep in Poppy's side began to snarl as well and joined in on the horrific cacophony of war that echoed in her ears. She pressed her free hand against the wound and it was sticky, slick with fresh blood. A wave of pain crashed down and her vision flickered to black, making her slow just enough that the uneven terrain tangled beneath her feet. The ground sloped downward, gentle, almost inviting, like a cradle or a tomb, and she let it catch her. The Warrior's final onze of strength burned away and she collapsed, sliding down the sandy hill where sharp rocks tore at her armor and her skin.

Poppy heard her name somewhere in the distance—muffled, as if screamed a thousand malms away. She came to her senses what felt like both a century and a second later to see Alisaie crouched beside her. Dark streaks of ash and dirt covered her face, clung to her clothes and her hair and her lashes like flecks of gray snow that sat among bruises and spatters of blood. Her brows were drawn together in either concentration or anguish or both, and soon Poppy felt the familiar kiss of her aether mingle with her own to knit her flesh back together again with a faint shimmer of pink light.

Beautiful, she wanted to say and to touch her, but couldn't find her tongue in time to form the words or the strength to reach out. Instead, she remained still, her mind in a fog.

Poppy looked down to see a fresh veil of crimson coat her clothing, bright against the dark umber already caked there. She remembered then, in vivid clarity: the Garleans with their blades, allies that tumbled down, her body a shield and a bullet caught in place of her beloved. Her beloved who yet had breath in her lungs and strength left in her limbs to flee the invisible horror that loomed all around them. What blood the Warrior had left within her went cold.

"Go," she managed to croak out when reality tore through the aching haze of pain, "Keep going."

Without looking away from her work, Alisaie gave a rough shake of her head. "There's nowhere left to go," she muttered in reply.

"Run," Poppy insisted. She heaved the word out as she sat up, nearly retching from pain. "Alisaie, run. Run and don't look back. Leave me," she begged, and the coppery desperation she tasted on her lips made her chest ache.

"We can't outrun this anymore! Look—"

Alisaie gestured to the side and the Warrior's eyes followed to find several silver canisters that sat only a handful of yalms away. Swirling black thorns were etched onto their smooth surfaces, ending in shadowy blooms stamped onto lids that were unlatched. Even there, the perfume of the Black Rose surrounded them.

Alisaie jerked back to face her. She finally met Poppy's gaze with a whirlwind of emotion that danced behind the steely blue of her eyes. "You know I would never leave you here, you Twelvesdamned fool," she spat out, "Even if I had the barest chance—I have nothing left to run for." Her voice cracked and sank with each syllable, and Poppy could hear the hoarseness of her screaming for Alphinaud behind it.

Alphinaud. Urianger. Y'shtola. Thancred. Lyse. Tataru. Hien. Yugiri. Aymeric—

The list went on. A silent procession that marched and fell into an unmarked grave, cloaked in a pall of invisible death.

Poppy sank back onto her elbows. Acceptance was numb and icy, lead in her veins and bitterness on her tongue. She watched Alisaie continue her mending and saw how her eyes reflected the sparks of her own aether—a precious thing, fast running out.

"Stop," Poppy whispered. She reached for Alisaie's hand out of fear that she might fade faster, but was swatted away.

"What's the point of me living a minute longer?" she snapped, "You don't deserve to die in pain."

Aether cauterized the wound and the pulsing agony faded to a dull ache. A final gift, given with a stubborn hand. But the way her voice wavered urged Poppy to reach out again.

"I'm fine," she said, "With you here, I'm fine."

Alisaie didn't push her away that time.

Black Rose's thorns pricked deep. Every movement was a struggle, but Poppy inched her way backward until she felt the solid sharpness of rock press against her back. She urged Alisaie along with her, who then collapsed against her chest. They became a trembling tangle of limbs pressed together in deafening silence, waiting for the end. 

"What was it all for?" Alisaie asked, the words a barest thread of a whisper that seeped into the side of Poppy's neck. "The toiling, the suffering—for everything we've done to go up in smoke like this. I can't bear it." Her voice cracked but she sounded so angry, full of the fire that burned the battlefield around them into nothingness.

"We did everything right." Ardbert's words were hollow when Poppy spoke them. "I'm sorry. I wasn't strong enough to stop it—"

"Don't you dare blame yourself," Alisaie cut in, "You've carried this world on your shoulders for long enough."

She struggled, but Poppy felt her push herself upright. The fire in her eyes was no longer roaring and their usual sharp determination was dulled, but it was there, fighting against the poison that slowly siphoned her away. Bullheaded 'til the very end. Poppy couldn't help but smile, no matter how much it hurt to do. 

"We had a grand adventure, you and I," she murmured, "Didn't we, love?"

Poppy's hand pushed past gravity's increasing weight and reached up to touch Alisaie's face with worn fingers that speckled her bruised cheek with fresh blood. Alisaie leaned into her, pressing her eyes closed against the few tears that slipped out to carve paths through the mess on her face. She choked out a brittle laugh.

"One that ended far too soon."

Alisaie leaned forward and caught Poppy's lips with her own, speaking what precious little life she had left against her mouth without words. It was a fragile kiss, tasting hopeless and ashen and far too much like goodbye.

"I love you."

The words slipped between them when they pulled apart, and were echoed back by the other in less than a breath.

"I love you too."

Alisaie looked pale and faint. The soft breaths that pushed against Poppy's cheek grew steadily weaker.

"Poppy, I—" Her eyelids fluttered and she slumped forward against Poppy's shoulder. The Warrior sat upright, fresh panic jolting her limbs to life again.

"Oh, Gods. Ali, stay with me. Please," she begged. Sobs clawed up her throat as she grabbed the other woman's arms, shaking her gently. 

Alisaie looked up at her, gaze hazy and distant, as if she were a world away. Her hand found the side of Poppy's neck, thumb barely able to graze her jaw. Despite how all their friends were gone, despite how they lost the most important battle, despite how the world crumbled to pieces around them and the Calamity swallowed them up—despite it all, Alisaie smiled, seeming at peace.

"I knew you would win," she whispered with the final onze of strength she had left. Poppy didn't understand, but had no time left to ask.

Alisaie was gone.

The Warrior of Light was left alone—truly and utterly alone in a garden of sickly roses that supped on her aether, slowly and painfully draining her away.

Poppy came apart at the seams. She screamed and wailed and sobbed, feeling it all wrack through her as she cradled Alisaie's body in her arms and buried her face into her hair. Anguish lanced through her with such intensity that no wound she'd ever earned could compare to the pain she felt. If the Black Rose didn't kill her, that feeling surely would.

Just then, the rumble of engines pulled her gaze skyward. A Garlean airship coasted lazily overhead, carrying the orchestrators of the world's misery who all likely gazed down in triumph at their merciless victory. They could not possibly fathom what it was that they had set in motion.

"Cowards," Poppy screamed, "Fucking cowards." She bared her fangs and snarled, words tearing through her already torn throat. She clenched a pebble that sat beneath her fingertips and threw it with strength she didn't know she had left. It sailed upward in a pathetic arc, but managed to clatter against the side of a silver canister a handful of fulms away. "Come on, hurry up! Take me too!" 

Her head fell back against the boulder, the bout of anger snuffed out and her body fully spent. The ship was long gone, so she stared up at the patchwork of distant stars that poked out between puffs of thick smoke. She wallowed in the finality of it all.

Being a hero was such an odd thing. She was so often seen as invincible, immovable, an untouchable force of nature. But there Poppy sat, face to face with her inevitable mortality, feeling small and broken. It should have been terrifying, perhaps, but she was too tired to be afraid. Too tired and full of grief, her heart mourning for the world she could not save.

All she could do was hope that her Mother would not be disappointed with her in the end.

Everything went dark, but it was inviting—a gentle comfort after a lifetime of battles fought for the light. She knew she would suffer no more, and there was a modicum of relief in that. Her hands barely had any feeling left, but Poppy's fingers managed to card through Alisaie's hair one final time.

"Sweet dreams, love. I'll be with you soon."

And then she was gone too. The last light of hope was snuffed out and the world was left cloaked in a blanket of stifling darkness that would choke out every bit of life it could reach.

The Eighth Umbral Calamity began.