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To Watch It Grow

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“I go where my love goes; where the sea salt sprays her salt into the blood…”

Aloy’s fingers are tight and callused where she grabs the flower by its metal edges and prises it back, opening it up like a heart to bare the words inside, and read them aloud. She says them a little wonderingly, a little haltingly, just the tiniest wrinkle in her brow. Poetry is a good way to describe Aloy, Vala thinks; the way she moves, breathes, fights; the way the flame of her hair whirls around her body in a battle, the way the solid stretch of her body gives and takes, like a whip snapping out and bringing a prize back with it. There is beauty in her movement, in her.

But as for poetry itself… she still doesn’t know what Aloy thinks of it.

Remembering a bench in the midst of an arrangement of flowers just like this one, with a long deceased figure draped over it, the roughness of Aloy’s voice and the wetness in her eyes as she’d touched the withered metal hand, Vala hangs back. But only for a moment. Aloy glances back at her, and she needn’t speak, for her eyes say it all. Vala strides over, sinking to her knees beside her lover.

“And it’s a new one? You’re sure of it?”

“Positive.” Aloy tosses her head to the north, just past the Main Embrace Gate, through which they’d so lately travelled. Homecoming. “There’s another clearing just up there, where I found one of the first flowers… damn, must have been more than a year ago. This one wasn’t here then, I’m sure of it.”

It’s been a strange year for Vala, to say nothing of deranged machines, cults, and Hades. Twelve months ago she had still been recuperating from the wounds she’d received at the Proving, gripping tightly to her brother’s hand and mourning Bast in her few lucid moments. And thinking of Aloy. Fire and gold, steel and shine, the girl who’d said she would best them all and was true to her word. And no matter Vala’s competitiveness, her own self-assurance, her burning longing to live up to everything her mother knows and expects she can be… there hadn’t been the barest sliver of resentment for Aloy, and all that she’d accomplished in her short, hurricane of a stay among the Nora. All Vala saw was that brightness, the tail of which lead out of the Sacred Lands, glinting as it went. All Vala wanted to do was follow.

She snorts at herself, softly, watching Aloy’s profile. Talk about poetry. Sentimentalism was never part of her nature; at least, that is what she might have said a year ago. When she found Aloy, she found out that that was not entirely so.

She looks back at the flower.

“Okay… new metal flowers. What does that mean? Do we know? Do we want to guess?”

Aloy shrugs. Her fingers still hold the little machine apart, and her focus is lit up in the way it does when it is telling her something. She stares into the heart, where the lines of poetry must be visible to her.

“CYAN did say that one of GAIA’s subordinate programmes was responsible for their creation. Maybe now that this is all over, it wants to continue the work that it started.”

Vala threads through the words that she doesn’t understand and latches on to the ones that she does. She has more than a couple months’ experience doing it. Her fingers find the edge of the construct, touch its heavy skin, its chrome ridges; thick with age but somehow so, so new.

“So it’s just going to cover the land with these metal things? These flowers and their words? What for?”

“See, that’s what I thought at first,” Aloy admits. She sounds thoughtful. “It’s just poetry. But the more I discover about this world and the one that came before it, the more I think that there’s nothing that’s just anything. After everything that we’ve been through… maybe poetry for the sake of poetry, beauty fort the sake of beauty, isn’t that bad.”

She shrugs again after she says it, looking a little self-conscious. There’s a downward slope to her shoulder and chin, like she’s about to look down, but Vala cups her by the cheek and pulls her into a kiss before she can, whispering, “come here” in a warm voice. The kiss is just long enough but also too short by far, leaving Vala rumpled and grinning, half-dazed with Aloy’s taste on her mouth.

She feels Aloy smile, grip her by the waist and pull her in for a second, harder kiss, because that’s just Aloy’s nature, to take all that she’s offered. She never whets, she sates, and when they break apart they’re both smiling sunnily enough to put the Carja god to rest.

“What was that for?” Vala asks.

“I had the same question ready to ask you,” Aloy says, laughing. Vala smiles as well, but her answer is serious.

“I kissed you because if this world is as beautiful as you say it is, it’s because you helped to make it so.”

Aloy only goes faintly pink at the praise; she’s not one to deflect or refuse a compliment when it’s true. She tugs Vala closer, squeezes her waist.

“And I kissed you harder because…” She laughs more. “Well, just because.”

They help each other to their feet. The Sacred Lands stretch for miles in three directions. Wood-smoke and salvebrush are thick in the air, scents that she associates with the Embrace, with home. Somewhere nestled in these green crags and hills, scattered in different villages, are her mother, her brother, friends, the house where she grew up. But next to her is the girl she’s slowly beginning to call home.

“Do you think that there’ll be more of those flowers, down in the Valley?” Vala asks, adjusting her pack on her shoulder. Aloy is already bringing her fingers to her lips, to whistle for the charger she’d left grazing beyond the Gate.

“I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Aloy had made no move to pluck this flower from the earth like she had done all the others, and Vala doesn’t question it. She simply stares down at the little construct, thinking of the lines that Aloy had softly read out.

I go where my love goes…

Aye, and nothing could stop her. The charger comes thundering up, the earth of the Embrace shuddering beneath it. Aloy sweeps herself up onto its back in one fluid movement, poetry in motion, and Vala makes ready to follow.