Aymeric stood near the infirmary tent as he wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and drank deeply from the flask of water a chirurgeon had handed him. He had returned to Ishgard's encampment from the front lines a short while ago after his First Commander had insisted he rest, then suggested he check on their wounded. Which, in Lucia-speak, translated to, "I will not allow you to remain here and fight while your mind is focused on another battle nearby."
He heaved a frustrated sigh while he stared into the distance for Lucia had been correct in her decision to send him away, of course, as he would have done the same to her if the situation had been reversed. Although he wanted to be on the battlefield, the front was not the fight he wished to take part in. Nay, he longed to join the fray his heart, his life, his Alex was engaged in at that very moment. He desired to be with her, to fight alongside her as they were more than best friends and more than lovers for they were a team, true partners by nearly every definition of the word.
He had been on his way to speak with General Aldynn when had seen her briefly as she sprinted away from headquarters with her dark blue, silver streaked hair done up in her "battle braid", as she called it. However, that had been a couple of hours ago and there was still no word from Alex nor about her as all lines of communication from that end of the battlefield had been cut off. Calls to their linkpearls either went unanswered or were met with static or, worse, naught but silence and neither Alliance nor Doman scouts could penetrate Garlemald's blockade around the area for the crown prince had made certain that his "dance" with Alex would not be interrupted. As such he was worried, even more so as he mulled over his conversation with the former Flame General.
Aymeric had been livid when Raubahn had told him Alex had fallen to her knees while the "Voice" spoke to her mere moments before she had run off to help Lord Hien and take on the Ascian who masqueraded as Lord Zenos by herself. He had been adamant that he would lead a contingent of Temple Knights and rush to her aid only to be informed that Alex insisted the Ascian was hers and that General Aldynn himself had given her his word that he would keep everyone clear. Therefore, he had gone to the front lines, but his heart and his mind were not there. They were with the woman who brought light, joy and love to his world, the woman who now fought a monster, fought the darkness alone. He had tried to push aside his thoughts and concentrate on the war that waged in front of him, however, he was unsuccessful. Ever since Alex came into his life he found that his priorities shifted for wherever she was concerned, Aymeric was first and foremost a man in love and the Lord Commander second. Although the two roles were combined, she was always at the forefront of his mind and there were moments like now where he was merely a knight who would single-handedly fight the entire XIIth Legion for the woman he unequivocally and irrevocably loved with all his heart and soul, fight for his Alex.
He turned his head slightly for movement from the troops near where he gazed caught his attention. There, silhouetted against the heavy haze which hung in the air from the battle that raged, Aymeric saw an outline of a man who appeared to be headed in his direction. A sense of foreboding settled over him while he watched as the soldiers parted before the man in deference and it only grew as he observed the Temple Knights' behavior for those in the area knelt on one knee and bowed their heads' in prayer as the figure strode past them.
His heart ceased mid-beat and his mind swam from the roar of the deafening silence that surrounded him as a fear unlike aught Aymeric had ever known seized him when the man emerged from the thick veil of smoke that had obscured him from his view and the reason for his men's respectful display became evident. He shook his head in denial and tears clouded his vision as the former Azure Dragoon neared for cradled tenderly in Estinien's arms and held protectively to his chest was the limp and lifeless body of the Savior of Ishgard, the woman he adored and cherished above all else, whom he loved beyond reason, the body of his Alex.
Aymeric rushed to his friend's side and managed to choke out, "Estinien, is she-" before his voice cracked and he broke off, unable to bring himself to utter that last word. He quickly assessed her for mortal wounds with trained eyes from years spent on the battlefield. Her hair had come undone and fell in loose waves, which he brushed aside to examine her face. He noted that she had a multitude of cuts and bruises upon it, most superficial, however, a few were not and would require sutures and as he perused the rest of her body, from her neck to her thighs, he saw the same. Though Alex had taken quite a beating, none of her injuries seemed to be life threatening.
"Alex yet breathes, Aymeric," Estinien rumbled softly, his gravelly voice but a whisper. He did not protest when the other man took her from his arms. To be truthful, he was relieved that Aymeric had for he had been disturbed by how small and light she was. He had known she was tiny, of course, she was a Miqo'te after all, however, he had not realized just exactly how petite, how fragile she truly was until a short while ago when he had held her for the first time for it felt as if he carried a child, one who weighed no more than a feather. To have someone as delicate as Alex bear the weight of the world on her shoulders and accomplish all of the things she had alone was wrong to him. Not only that, but to watch his close friend, the woman who, beneath her dainty appearance, had the strength and powers of a goddess, fall to a mere "voice" was an atrocity and it shook him as naught else had.
"Praise Halone!" His words came out in a woosh as he released the breath he had not realized he had been holding. He smiled then, relieved, "She is only unconscious?"
"Nay, old friend. 'Tis more than that, I am afraid," his heart ached for Aymeric as he met the other man's hopeful gaze. "Alex has fallen victim to the sleeping sickness that claimed the boy and the others." Estinien averted his eyes for he could not bear the anguish that had appeared in the Lord Commander's light blue ones at his words. "I am sorry, Aymeric. You have my deepest sympathies."
"Nay, not Alex. It cannot be. There must be another explanation."
"I was there for the entire battle. I saw her fall to her knees with my own eyes. I heard the Ascian disguised as Lord Zenos say 'Someone calls to you' with my own ears moments before he raised his sword to deliver the fatal blow. That bloody coward was going to strike her down, was going to murder Alex while she was incapacitated!"
"Pray walk with me for I have questions, however, I must get her to our chirurgeons," Aymeric turned towards the medical tents, then peered at Estinien. "How is it she yet lives?"
"I rushed to her defense and hurled myself at Zenos with enough force to send him flying backwards about twenty fulms away from her. I engaged him in battle to keep his attention off her until I was certain he would not give chase and allow me the opportunity to ferry her away safely."
"You fought an Ascian for Alex?" He stopped and stared at the man.
"Of course I did," he frowned as he shifted, uncomfortable with the way Aymeric was looking at him. He became defensive, "She would have done the same for me and need I remind you Alex saved my life." Estinien stared at his boots as he muttered, "You are not the only one who loves her. I do as well for along with you and the boy, she is my dearest friend." He raised his head and glared at Aymeric, "Do not dare tell her I said that or I swear I will never speak to you again!"
"Your secret is safe with me, old friend. Alex would not even believe me if I told her," he offered a small, strained smile. "While I thank the Fury you intervened, I am rather curious as to how you miraculously came to be there in the first place."
"I must take my leave," the dragoon replied gruffly, then spun on his heel.
"Have you been following Alex all this time, Estinien?"
"Not the entire time for there was something I had to do that took me away from Eorzea, however, for the vast majority I have been," he scowled. "Someone has to keep an eye on that woman to ensure she stays out of trouble and is safe."
"You have my eternal gratitude, my friend," Aymeric shifted Alex in his arms to hold her closer to him. "Pray continue to watch over her for me when I cannot do so myself."
"I had already planned to do so," he nodded. "I will be around."
Aymeric watched as the dragoon turned, then abruptly jumped away out of sight. If circumstances had been different he would have laughed, or smiled at the very least, at his friend's swift departure for 'twas classic Estinien behavior, but he found he could not. He cast his eyes downward and gazed at the woman he lovingly cradled against his chest. She looked so serene and so peaceful just like when they were home in their bed and she was sound asleep in his arms that if not for the ache in his heart, he could nearly believe that that was all it was. He fervently prayed to Fury that Estinien was wrong, that he had not heard correctly, that she only slumbered and that his Alex would soon wake and smile at him again.
* * *
Aymeric awoke early the next morn in a chair beside Alex's cot with his hand still wrapped around hers. He sat up, then groaned involuntarily as his joints and muscles were stiff and sore from the awkward position in which he had slept. However, he ignored the protests his body issued as he leaned forward and softly stroked her cheek. "Open your eyes, Apple. Pray return to me," he whispered as he thought of that night at the Steel Vigil. "We promised. You promised, Alex, and as such, do not dare leave me alone."
"Ahem," a man cleared his throat. "Pray forgive the intrusion, Lord Commander. We have come to examine Mistress Ysera."
"By all means, gentlemen," he rose and took the chair with him as he moved away to give their head chirurgeon and the two chirurgeons' directly beneath him room, then stretched and worked the kinks out of his back, neck and shoulders while he watched as, one by one, each performed their own examination of Alex.
When they had finished, they grouped together and spoke in hushed voices while they compared notes and consulted with each other. The two senior chirurgeons glanced at him, nodded respectfully then exited the tent and he was left alone with the head chirurgeon, whom had his head bowed either in thought or because he was fascinated with his footwear. Aymeric knew not which one it was nor did he care at the moment for all he cared about was his Alex. His voice was sharp and impatient as he asked, "Is it the sleeping sickness or not?"
"We cannot be certain, Lord Commander, however, 'twould appear to be. There is no other explanation as to why she has not awakened yet for her physical injuries are healing nicely, albeit slowly, and none that we have seen would cause her to still slumber. There is naught more we can do for her here, I am afraid," he offered a small, apologetic smile. "That said, before we examined Mistress Alexstrasza I sent an urgent missive to the Elder Seedseer and requested her counsel on the matter. This is beyond our expertise, I fear, and if anyone is able to give you a definitive answer, it is she, Ser Aymeric."
As Aymeric stared at Alex it felt as if his heart were breaking and he came to a decision rather quickly. "Very well," he replied quietly, his voice hoarse. "After the Elder Seedseer has examined Alex, I am taking her home," his eyes shifted to the chirurgeon and dared the man to oppose him.
"As you wish, Lord Commander. However, I advise you to take the time to plan accordingly as it is a long journey and she will need to be cared for along the way-"
"That will not be necessary. I will be taking Alex and Ser Aymeric to Ishgard myself."
Aymeric turned towards the voice and saw Cid Garlond. He stood inside the doorway of the tent, his arms folded across his chest and stared at Alex with a pained expression on his face. He approached her cot, then knelt beside her as spoke softly, "Little fool. How many times must I tell you that you are not immortal, that you are not invincible before you believe me?" He shook his head, then stood. "I told you to take care of yourself, Alex, and you damn well better come back to us, you hear me, so I can give you a bloody earful about not listening to me."
"Master Garlond, I truly appreciate you flying Alex and I home. You have my deepest gratitude."
"Think nothing of it, Ser Aymeric. It's the least I can do after everything she has done for me."
Aymeric gave a small smile at that. "To hear Alex tell it, 'tis the other way around and she owes you for saving her arse quite a few times."
"Let us just say that both her and I have saved each other's arse's on many different occasions," Cid smiled fondly.
"Alexstrasza has saved us all. We owe her a great debt," Kan-E Senna spoke softly as she entered the tent, then looked at Aymeric. "I came as quickly as I could. Pray tell me everything you know."
He did as she requested and when he had finished she asked, "Ser Estinien specifically heard the Ascian say 'Someone calls to you'?"
"I see." She glanced around and her eyes rested on Alex. "If I may have a moment please."
He had begun to file out with everyone else when the Elder Seedseer's voice stopped him, "You are welcome to stay, Ser Aymeric." She smiled warmly as she gestured to the foot of Alex's cot, "You may stand here if you wish."
Aymeric nodded, then stood where she had indicated and silently watched her examine Alex. Kan-E Senna knelt and placed her hand on Alex's chest then closed her eyes. While he carefully studied her face over the next ten minutes he saw a myriad of emotions as they flashed across her delicate features before she rose and turned to him. She need not utter a word for the sorrow and sympathy that were evident in her green eyes confirmed one of his greatest fears since Thancred fell and he whispered, "Nay, not her, not my Alex."
"I am truly sorry, Ser Aymeric. I am afraid she has been called like the others."
Aymeric walked numbly to the head of Alex's cot, then dropped to his knees beside her and took her smaller hand in his larger one. When he gazed at her the pain struck and he laid his head upon her chest, then began to weep quietly as his body trembled.
"Pray Ser Aymeric, you must allow me to finish." He raised his head and peered at her when she placed her hand on his shoulder. She smiled, "All hope is not lost."
"How so?" Hope ignited in his chest at her words.
"Although she has been called and her spirit is not within her body, wherever she may be, Alexstrasza is not with the others, Ser Aymeric, she is closer for when I reached out to her I felt her. I could sense a thread of her essence as if her soul is tethered to someone here in our world and this person is what has kept her spirit tied to her body," she laid her hand on his shoulder once more. "We must remember that Alexstrasza is different from the other Scions', that she is unlike everyone else as she has the Echo and the Blessing of Light. If any of them can find their way back on their own, it is her for you are the one who keeps her soul anchored, Ser Aymeric, it is you Alexstrasza has bound herself to. As such, you must have faith in her and believe she will return to you for I do."
* * *
Aymeric sat on the side of Alex's bed in their private room at the infirmary in Congregation. He held her hand while he tenderly ran his fingers through her hair, down the side of her face from her temple to her delicate jaw then back again and only deviated from this path to gently trace her lips with his thumb, as he simply stared at her. She appeared so peaceful, as if she were merely deep in slumber, however, he knew better as he had brought her home well over a week ago and her condition had not changed at all in that time. And yet he refused to succumb to despair for the Elder Seedseer's words had renewed his hope. He believed with all his heart and soul that she would wake for his Alex was not like anyone else and he would gladly wait by her side for eternity if he must for he knew she would come back to him. She had to.
He wiped a tear off his cheek as he leaned down and lightly rested his forehead against hers, then spoke softly, "Pray return to me, Alex. You promised you would not leave me alone and I will not allow you to break it. Please, sweetheart."
A knock sounded on the door then, and he sighed, "Aye?"
"Pardon the interruption, Lord Commander. Ser Handeloup sent me to fetch you. There is a situation that requires your attention."
"Inform Ser Handeloup that I will be there shortly, Saulette, then please return to stay with Alex while I am gone."
"Right away, Ser Aymeric."
Aymeric sat up and gently caressed her cheek, "Full well I know we can stand on our own, however, I do not want to for both of us are better together as we complement each other, we make the other stronger. I do not wish to stand alone as I desire to have you by my side now and always for I love you, Alex." He kissed her forehead and whispered, "I can only pray that wherever you are you can hear me, my love."
* * *
Several hours had passed and Aymeric massaged his temples for he had a massive headache from being cooped up in his office while he had had to listen to a few members of the House of Lords as they bickered and complained the entire time. He had reached the end of his patience for the day and had risen to call the impromptu meeting to a close when he heard a commotion in the hallway. As soon as he opened the door he heard a young girl say, " 'Tis imperative that I see him!"
He strode quickly to the end of the hall where he saw Saulette. His heart thudded rapidly in his chest, his palms had begun to sweat, his stomach was in knots as it also somersaulted in his abdomen and his knees felt like jelly while that spark of hope swiftly became a roaring inferno. Before he had the chance to speak, she turned and saw him, then shouted, "She is awake, Ser Aymeric! Mistress Alexstrasza has finally awoken!"
His knees nearly buckled from relief and sheer happiness, however, he managed to stay on his feet. Aymeric ran to their room, then halted in the doorway for Alex appeared the same as she had when he had left her a short while ago. He turned to Saulette in question.
"I swear she sat up and looked right at me, Lord Commander!"
Aymeric glanced at the bed once more and he grinned, he laughed and he wept with joy all at the same time for not only did he see the pair of apple green eyes which stared at him, he saw that his Alex smiled at him as well. "Pray fetch my personal chirurgeon, Saulette, then run home and tell her father the good news," he walked into the room, his gaze never strayed from Alex. "And close the door behind you, please."
"Aye, Ser Aymeric!"
He rushed to her bedside, then sat and just smiled as he stared at her, a part of him unable to believe she was truly awake.
"Is aught amiss, Sky? You are crying," Alex asked him softly, her brow furrowed in concern.
Aymeric chuckled through his tears as he gently pulled her onto his lap, then wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly against his chest. He kissed the crown of her head, then laid his cheek upon it as he replied quietly, his voice filled with love, "Not anymore, Alex. You have come home, you have returned to me."