Chapter 1: (in)complete
“for those we have lost,” she mourns from deep within
her your chest, her your grief and love, impossibly vast and echoing the forgotten songs of a time beyond time, surging you onward.
heretical Light shrieks in your grasp.
“and for those we can yet save,” he rallies, the hands of loved and lost at
his your back, as they always have been and always will, to keep him you steady with every determined step in your advance.
the axe blazes in your grip and against the suffocating darkness you scream, hurling your every fragment full force.
Chapter 2: rabbit chases the cat
she is a terror. a menace.
g’raha stares at her and she stares back. both are stock still in their respective, opposing positions in the current idiotic standoff occupying their precious researching time (not that g’raha’s bitter, or frustrated mind you). he stands low in a half-crouch, legs tense and the tip of his tail twitching from side to side in anticipation. his eyes flick over to the tome in her grasp, his tome twelve damn this woman, dangled precariously over the rough crystalline ledge of silvertear, threatening a thorough swim in the aether-rich lake.
were she any less known to him, g’raha would have debated the merits of risking a full frontal assault on the realm’s famous, beloved warrior of light. she was quicker than she had every right to be, but so was he. he thinks he could take her down, at least the once. they would both end up in the lake, more than likely, but he was perfectly willing to make a sacrifice of his clothes and also her in exchange for the safety of his book.
however, he need not consider any of that, because he knows her. despite her mischievous streak and tendency for mild to moderate amounts of chaos involving anyone within a fair range, she is not cruel. she did not commit acts that would leave lasting damage, lasting hurt. he knows his tome will not be so much as scratched by the end of the day, as her antics were all merely a game. g’raha knows games.
and ultimately, that’s really on him, g’raha thinks. he started this pseudo-feud to begin with, lacking a single onze of insight into just how far of ridiculous lengths the warrior would go to match and surpass whatever he tossed in her direction. he underestimated her cleverness and adaptability, and the timely retaliation he then received so boldly was scathing.
… he kept a cautious berth around her, by this point.
“quit messing around, you two! you can bicker like children when we aren’t so damned busy!” cid calls from camp. all four ears swivel in the direction of his voice, but neither legendary warrior nor esteemed archon so much as flinch.
“you heard him,” g’raha says lowly, “time to give up the antics. a truce?”
she grins crookedly at him, delightfully. “since when have i ever listened to voices of reason?”
and that, he supposes, is fair.
quick as a flash, she bounds back down the path and passes g’raha with such uncanny swiftness that he’s left nearly spinning in place when he attempts to follow her movements. the tome is hugged securely to her chest as she bounces cheerfully back to the NOAH camp.
g’raha casts her a scrutinizing look, his ears tilting back, before sighing out a breath and trailing after her at a much more depressing speed. exploration of the tower aside, merely interacting with this woman on a regular basis was going to gray his hair at an astonishing rate. such is the price of progress. of tempting fate.
he finds the tome in his tent that night, leaning against his bag, and none worse for wear.
(it would be a very, very long time before he would find the pressed wildflower slipped between its pages, preserved within the text and untouched for hundreds of years. his hand trembles when he catches it from falling to the ground, and with a shaky exhale he gently returns it to where she had left it, closing the book and holding it close.)
Chapter 3: upkeep
“it’s not good for your hair to keep it tied up all the time,” she says, making a mild noise of displeasure while running her pointed nails through g’raha’s much neglected braid. “you should let it down more.”
his ears tip back towards her in embarrassment and she politely pretends to not notice the blush staining the back of his neck, under her hands.
“it hasn’t been much of a priority,” g’raha admits, doing his best to sit still in front of her even when she painfully picks at a tangle, the foreign sensation causing an uncomfortable prickle up his spine. “for a while i had simply cut most of it off, but with it still growing as it is despite my age, i decided it wasn’t worth the fuss.”
she hums thoughtfully and smooths her claws through the strands, satisfied with her administrations. the dual-color of his hair fascinates her in a way she can’t quite place; a visible display of his age even while the rest of him still appears handsome and youthful as she remembers.
“well, as someone whose kind considers a hundred years only just breaching adulthood, i wouldn’t mind assisting you in these endeavors for healthy hair care. it’s been a part of my regular schedule for decades, you know.” she gathers the locks and tucks them around his neck, over his shoulder, a little too pleased with herself at the parallel to the way she keeps her own hair.
she can very nearly feel g’raha’s awkward reluctance at the idea of her pampering in the way he immediately stiffens, looking down ever so slightly.
“you need not concern yourself with such matters,” he says quietly. “i imagine your energy is better spent elsewhere, not on something so frivolous.” she says nothing to that right away, only watching the back of his head and weighing her outstanding options to spoil the man while he attempts to tear himself down.
she settles for dragging her fingers across the sides of his head, catching around his ears and minutely digging in her clawtips at their base. he responds with a full body shudder and unrestrained sigh, to which she claims as a victory and just reward.
“you’re an idiot,” she tells him fondly as she massages around his ears. they strain upward, twitching as she works. “i can do whatever i like, and there is always importance in taking care of oneself. your happiness and health are important, and it brings me great joy to be able to shove that in your face at every opportunity.”
she can hear a shaky sigh escaping g’raha. part of her hopes he isn’t crying again, since she’s not very good with people crying, but if that’s what it takes for him to feel better and care for himself then she would learn to handle it.
“i… thank you.” he murmurs after several beats. “i know not what i’ve done to deserve your kindness, but i will cherish it nevertheless.”
“we’ll work on that too,” she adds quickly, making a face. “you’re incredible, the right bastard you are, and i’m positive everyone here would offer you up the world on a platter were we able.” she leans forward, dropping her hands to her lap, and presses her forehead against the base of his head. “i learned to see myself how you saw me, so now it’s your turn to change perspectives. see how loved you are, and all that.”
g’raha releases a watery laugh so genuine and warm that it causes a tightness in her chest. she holds onto that feeling greedily.
“i’ll do my best,” he says, which is good enough for her.
Chapter 4: regards
it takes her a full day, right up until the sun had fully disappeared behind the horizon, to return to the ocular in an uncharacteristic silence. when she corners g’raha, her steps heavy and filled with intent, he muses internally about how he had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, to put it mildly, and for the warrior’s patience with him to at last run dry.
he had been waiting since the final confrontation with emet-selch, deep within the ruins of an impossibly ancient city, for this very moment. back when the warrior smiled at him, tiredly but still so warmly as only she could, all while bearing the brunt of countless injuries, and with what was likely her own blood flecked across her face and clothes. she had bid him good morning, and the openness of her expression and the sound of his name in her voice succeeded in breaking the last threads restraining him as the exarch.
g’raha latches onto the memory as selfishly as he can, even while the woman in question steps directly into his space, her posture tense with what he assumes is anger. she has plenty to be angry with him for-- for his constant lies and deceit and stringing her along into his manipulations, even going so far as to coerce the scion urianger into participation, if only to save her life. save their worlds.
why she did not immediately lash out during any of their homecoming, and thereafter, was beyond g’raha’s ken. if he were to guess, however, it was to keep the confrontation as private as she could manage. though she was proactive and aggressive with every act she made, she was nevertheless courteous enough to keep her fury behind closed doors, and away from those who would have reason to judge her for it.
she shudders out a breath and g’raha feels rather than sees her claws twist into his robes, where they grip the fabric mercilessly. he watches her quietly, though the terrified racing of his heart he thinks is loud enough to be heard by such sensitive ears.
she towers over him with her full height, and he has no doubt that with her strength, she would be able to effortlessly haul him bodily into the air, should she so choose. he is unafraid of this. it wouldn’t be entirely unexpected of a reaction from her, though certainly unfavorable for him.
seconds tick by one after another as the warrior doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, doesn’t make any inclination to do anything but hold g’raha there. he feels concern leak into his chest at her hesitation, though over what he is unsure. had she not always been an explosive personality, leaping before thinking, never pausing to second-guess herself or allow room for doubt? her rage is justified and his own guilt is certain. whatever she deems fit as her retaliation for his sins, g’raha will wholeheartedly accept.
“you’re such a bastard.”
g’raha’s attention snaps back into focus, and when he sees tears streaking down her cheeks, his world comes to a very abrupt halt. her lips pull back, eyebrows pinching, and she coughs out a sob. then another. he can only stare at her with widening eyes as she falls apart before him, a visible tremble starting in her hands, both still clinging to him, and traveling up to her shoulders. she draws them up tightly and weeps and shakes him a little, very weakly.
“you’re such–! you’re horrible. you’re horrible, g’raha. you’re so stupid, your plan was stupid, everything was–!” she wails, her voice echoing throughout the room. “you would just go and die, and kill yourself, and,” she inhales sharply, “and i’m so, so godsdamned angry you would even– even think that would be alright! that i would j-just be able to take it! that anyone here would take it! yet another person dying for me, again! again!”
she looks up and meets his gaze then, and her expression of utter despair and heartbreak nearly ends him on the spot, much belatedly. his mouth falls wordlessly open, heat prickling in his eyes.
“didn’t you learn a single sodding thing in all those stories you read?! how much i’ve lost, how many i’ve seen die, i’ve killed, and for– for what–?!” she shakes him again a little harder, but not enough to budge him. “you were going to die, going to leave everyone here, and you didn’t even– you didn’t–”
g’raha reaches out to her before he even notices himself move, his crystal hand settling on her wrist and squeezing gently. she rapidly shakes her head but does nothing to try to dislodge him.
“you know what?! i’m glad emet-selch shot you. i’m glad he took you down right there, before you could piss off and die like that!” he winces at her words, suppressing the memory of light fracturing his insides and the numbing pain of a shot to the back.
“you didn’t… you didn’t trust me,” she croaks, her cries softening. “you didn’t give me a chance to help you, or figure out a better solution. you…” the grip on his robes loosens significantly. “you never actually talked to me.”
her arms fall back to her sides and she takes a wary step back. g’raha is left with his hand awkwardly hovering, as if he were debating whether or not to reach out to her.
his warrior appears so hopeless and dejected and hurt, and this was the last thing he had ever wanted to do to her. he would have taken her wrath, her hatred, over this gaping wound he’s inflicted with his choices. all those years locked away in the tower spent methodically planning, and he had never entertained the idea that he would be left alive in the aftermath, to see the fallout of his scheme a hundred years in the making.
but, even still… he lives now.
“i am sorry,” g’raha speaks through deafening silence. “i am so sorry.”
the warrior blinks rapidly as fresh tears begin to form in her eyes, and she sniffs. refuses to meet his gaze.
“you should be sorry,” she retorts with no bite. “and if have to remind you about that every day that i’m here, i will, because i’m not letting you pull another stunt like this ever again. do you hear me, g’raha tia? never again. i will not let you go again, not ever.”
with this declaration, g’raha is left stricken and lost in the torrent of emotion building in his chest. this time, it’s he who begins to weep, and his warrior stands and watches and waits.
Chapter 5: quietus
“the power that a dark knight possesses is born from her pain.”
one after another the rogue automations before her are reduced to unrecognizable, twisted metal. shrapnel explodes and scatters across the walkway with every heavy sweep of her blade, her steps calculated and defensive. timing her breathing to be in tandem with her movements, she inhales deeply, the acrid taste of metal and aether sticking to the roof of her mouth.
“her rage, her despair. to partake in the depths of the abyss but not be consumed by it. to be free of her shackles and to fight, her suffering reforged into that which will protect her, and in turn allow her to protect others.”
like the most intimate and macabre of musics, is the steady rhythm of her heart. she listens and moves in a violent dance of both magic and steel, leaping effortlessly from one target to the next. her weapon sinks through layers of metal with ease and gouges into the floor below from the sheer force of the strike.
it’s there that she pauses for a brief rest, settling down onto one knee. she holds onto the hilt of her sword with both hands, more as a comfort than necessary support, and allows her eyes to slip shut.
“she will forsake law and moral alike in her pursuit of justice. she will be as cruel and merciless as she need be. she will not engage in falsehoods and will not proclaim to be anything she is not. neither hero, nor savior.”
she wonders if he can hear her. she knows he sees her, that he’s currently watching her foray into the unknown chaos of the tower. there’s a prickling awareness in the back of her mind that she doesn’t remember possessing, at the very least outside of her echo’s effects during combat. just as clearly as she knows where her enemy will attempt to attack her next, she knows there are eyes on her.
perhaps it would be better to be heard as well, in this case. she doubts she'd have the fortitude to speak these thoughts to him directly, after what had only recently occurred between them. the idea of his expression twisting into desperation and grief, in the most unwanted gesture of sympathy for her, makes her feel vaguely nauseous.
“because when she acts, it is not for king, nor country. it is not for personal gain, not for the benefit of the people.”
she rises and pulls her blade free. hangs it to her back and glances over her shoulder, to where the next access point lies. above the sealed doors remains the smooth print of an ironworks logo, so easily recognizable, from a time and place that no longer exist. she has already seen countless like it in the duration of her time there, and is ready to follow them like breadcrumbs through to the end.
she breathes. listens to her heartbeat.
“she acts, she fights, out of love. it is love that drives her to the abyss, and love that allows her to wield it. through that pain, that anger, she continues to walk forward on an endless path for the sake of those she will dedicate her life to. who she chooses to dedicate her life to.”
something shifts in the distance. the subsequent ringing of her echo is a sensation both abstract and uncanny even still, after all these years, and with it comes a wave of relief and familiar bloom of warmth in her chest.
so, he is listening. she smiles a little.
“and in your darkest hour, in the blackest night...”
Chapter 6: fracture
tw: depiction of severe mental health issues, trauma
she emerges one night from the portal to the source, wholly unexpectedly from g’raha’s every timely estimation, and with far too little fanfare than she had exhibited previously. she was fond of announcing her visits with as much enthusiasm as she was capable, never minding the fact that she had only left that morning and had been gone for some odd hours. she was wont for the dramatic, not that g’raha would ever complain about the eccentricities she was well-known (and adored) for.
in a tense silence, her posture stiff and unnatural, she comes to a slow stop not far from the glimmering surface of the portal. her inky black and purple armor is splattered generously with old and drying blood, the sword secured to her back faring just about as well. after a moment’s pause, she wobbles in place.
there is no shortage of concern, panic, on g'raha's end when what he sees finally registers. he's there at her side in an instant, magic readied at his fingertips and a dozen questions already firing out one after another in rapid succession. he quickly looks over the metal plating covering her frame and into the gaps in between that expose her skin, seeking injuries. there are none.
he double checks, though a little slower. his worry for her physical well-being is snuffed out, for the most part, but a heady confusion rises in its place and traces his features. all the while, the warrior has said nothing, nor has she moved an ilm from that single spot.
she says nothing to g’raha, and doesn’t so much as acknowledge his presence. all she does is gaze blankly ahead, her face utterly void of emotion. a sick unease lurches in the exarch’s chest and he clenches his jaw shut, any other possible inquiries dying in his throat. no longer a boy dreaming of possibilities far beyond him, who did not truly understand the horrors of war that he was only ever able to read about, g’raha can now recognize the hazy look in her eyes. the way she seems to be both looking into the far distance, and also staring into nothing.
"my friend," he tries anyway, in a gentle voice. he does not try to touch her and takes a measured step backwards and out of her way, still intentionally positioned within arm’s reach. he is not surprised when she doesn’t respond, though her eyelids seem to twitch, as does the corner of her lips.
g’raha swallows hard in a vain attempt to smother his anxiety before attempting to find his words, scouring through his attained knowledge for anything that may be of use. her arm flinches and the soft sound of the armored plates sliding draws his attention, both ears upright and alert.
her arm snaps upward, and g’raha only has time to startle at the sudden movement before he sees her hand freeze mid-way through its path to the hilt of her blade. she inhales sharply, her fingers clenching into a fist, and blinks rapidly. looks down at him with an expression so perfectly schooled and neutral and not in any way like the open joy she had always greeted him with-- and he feels his heart breaking.
“you’re in the ocular, on the first,” he tells her softly, the ache in his chest easing as she returns to awareness in slow steps. her arm falls near limply back to her side, armor clacking loudly together. she begins to breathe heavily, her shoulders trembling from the effort, and glances behind herself at the portal, then over at the sealed doors across the room. “you came in not too long ago. are you... is there anything i can help you with?” he adds when she returns her attention to him, her eyes much clearer.
“i... i’m sorry,” she says weakly, exposing her teeth in a rueful grin, “this is really embarrassing. i’m not entirely sure how i got here.” there’s no humor in the following chuckle. she looks as though she’s about to cry.
“i can only guess as to what lead you here, but...” he trails off, daring to move closer to her as she continues to wilt, unable to meet his eyes. “you are here now, and i must ask that you rest and recover, and allow me the courtesy to assist you however i am able.” he presses his crystalline hand against her chest plate, as if he would be able to support her weight with the gesture alone.
the warrior purses her lips, struggling to keep her composure as tears begin to streak through the blood and grime on her cheeks. she nods then, and g’raha smiles kindly, though she still won’t look at him.
“i’m sorry,” she murmurs, her voice cracking, as g’raha leads her out of the ocular. “i couldn’t... i’m sorry, i’m sorry--”
there would be few out near the dossal gate at this time, even with the novelty of the night still keeping the crystarium otherwise lively with excitement. the standard guards on their rotation would be respectful enough to not pry, to not allow their stares to linger on neither the exarch nor warrior of darkness for any longer than was necessary. a small blessing he is eternally grateful for.
in the safety of a private room nestled within the spagyrics, she lies curled up in bed without blankets, weeping openly, and begging for forgiveness while clutching onto g’raha’s hand as though she would be lost without. stroking his thumb over her knuckles, and through her death grip, all he can do for her is listen to her cries and offer silent support. he awaits the day where he will be able to wipe away her tears, himself, though he knows full well it may never come.
as much as he wishes it were otherwise, g’raha has no words to give her in the face of these demons, these wounds that have never had the chance to heal. he hopes his presence will be enough to provide what comfort she needs in such a fragile state, as she mourns for what he can only imagine from written word.
he squeezes his eyes shut, feeling as though his chest may cave in at any moment by the sound of his beloved’s anguished wails. he tries not to think about where she would have gone, what she would have done, had she not unconsciously sought him out. he knows the answer, found in that split second when she had instinctively reached for her weapon, and he can’t bear it.
Chapter 7: mammeteer best title
“i call it the bastard radius,” she says cheerfully while adjusting the tiny clothing on her mammet-replica-self. the automation peers up at her silently, cloth ears twitching.
“the–” g'raha doesn’t finish, giving her a peculiar look. he was still quite confused about the presence of the toy to begin with, much less the work put into it. the esteemed hero continues to… astound everyone in very much unexpected ways.
“i attuned her little heart with aether from the crystal tower. it wasn’t overly hard, just fiddled with some components i found while i was exploring in there the last time. and it didn’t take a great deal of time and energy for the systems to work, thankfully.” satisfied at the mini-warrior’s appearance, she pats it affectionately on the head, smooshing its tiny crafted viera ears down.
“anyway, i programmed her to have special behaviors depending on the distance she is from the tower.” she continues, ushering the toy back out towards the markets with a poke to its back. it looks at her, then g'raha (who remains utterly speechless), before scrambling off at breakneck speeds as though with a goal in mind.
“special behaviors,” g'raha repeats flatly as he watches the adorable mammet version of his warrior pull several gazes on its path and startle a wandering pedestrian.
she beams at him with such happiness and pride that g'raha nearly forgets the state of the area surrounding the dossal gate when he had come across the minion: panicked onlookers and excited children and at least one guard with his weapon drawn, over a single toy. he nearly forgets.
“she’s programmed to be more and more of a reckless little terror the farther in distance she is from the crystal tower.” the warrior says simply, smiling into the distant crystarium.
“i am too old for this,” g'raha mutters so very quietly, but she hears him regardless and busts up laughing.
Chapter 8: living shadow
au where the wol gets soulnapped and fray/esteem is left behind
“relate me to an ascian once more and i’ll prevent you from ever speaking another word so long as you live,” they snarl at thancred, who glares evenly back at them, and the warrior’s face they are currently wearing.
not that he’d call it that since the last time he did, going so far as to say they possessed her, they socked him in the gut with zero hesitation and a fair amount of the warrior’s strength to boot. there was… significant bruising, still.
“how else am i supposed to explain this… thing, that’s happening?” he asks with a stiff gesture at them, clad in plate armor of deep purples and black that he’d only seen a scarce amount of times during their adventure on the first. if he were to be honest, he would admit that it didn’t suit the conjurer he had gotten to know over time. the friend who had shared countless pains with both he and the rest of the scions.
that said, the warrior was wont to change and adapt her fighting style depending on the situation at hand, especially as she grew more experienced and powerful in ways thancred had difficulty quantifying. this “esteem“ character, on the other hand, stuck to the dark knight crystal with fierce certainty, the massive blade at their back serving as a perfect extension of themselves. they refused to wield anything but.
esteem breathes in deeply, their eyebrows pinching together in visible frustration, and exhales an aggravated sigh.
“i am her, but i am also not. we are one individual, but parallel sides like that of a coin.” they adjust their gauntlet straps, flexing their fingers to test the fit. “i was born of her heart and her aether, and am the shadow she casts who exists to safeguard our selfish desires that she, ever the altruist, won’t act on. our desire to care for naught but ourselves and be free of hopeless obligation.”
thancred understandably, infuriatingly, doesn’t regard esteem with a lick of trust, but is momentarily appeased by the explanation for its honesty more than its context. he crosses his arms over his chest and leans back into a stone wall.
“for all your claims that you’re the same, or close to, you’re nothing like her at all.” he says this as a casual fact, an absolute, and esteem cannot help but laugh a terrible, bitter sound.
“you truly believe that, don’t you?” they ask, lips pulling back into a smile that bares their teeth. “that you and yours know more about your precious hero than anyone? and why, because you’re friends? because you’ve lost together, killed together?” thancred’s eyes darken significantly but they press onward even as their expression twists from amusement to loathing. “you assume that she could not harbor anything less than unconditional understanding and compassion, that she would not find it in herself to resent the scions, despise the realm, for all that you’ve put her through? all that you’ve wrought to destroy her as a person?”
esteem shakes their head, turning away from him in a clear disengagement before he has the chance to respond. “you know nothing,” they snap with finality, eyes firmly ahead. “of the burdens she bears or the damage done to that brittle heart of hers. and if i am to be in control of us, i will not allow any of these empty sentiments to get in my way of saving her.”
“… that sounds an awful like a threat.” thancred’s voice is a low rumble, and esteem can nearly feel his rage in the form of blade held to their back. it’s of no matter.
“if you care as much as you think you do for your weapon of light, then it’s no threat at all.”
esteem is engulfed in a burst of aether as they teleport away. thancred stands there for several beats longer, gritting his teeth and hissing out a swear.
Chapter 9: unreliable narrator
WHOOP finally using her name
“so!” alisaie exclaims as she rounds the table the warrior sits at, slamming her hands onto its surface. “you and the exarch! what is the story of that?”
tiamat looks past the girl and at alphinaud while she absentmindedly chews on a slice of sugar beet. the boy is only a pace or two away and has the audacity to not look remotely embarrassed by his sister’s outburst.
“the story of what?” she asks blandly through her teeth. “there’s a lot of stories to tell, you’ll have to be more specific.” alisaie gives her a moody look, not convinced by her feigned ignorance.
“how you met, obviously.” she explains quickly, rising to her full height and crossing her arms. “since i’ve come to understand you two are more than familiar with one another, and the exarch’s utter devotion to you in the past year has been so earnest in its romanticism, ‘tis almost nauseating.”
alphinaud clears his throat sharply and ah, there’s the embarrassment. tiamat crunches on the bits of root vegetable she has been steadily working through and silently mourns her decision to pick it as a snack instead of something easier to eat.
“yes, well, to me it was different,” she says with a lazy wave of her hand. sensing the oncoming tale, both teenagers slide into separate seats with the synchronized precision only twins would ever be capable of. “it was just… for the most part, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking or ripe to burst with drama. it was something special, certainly, and an experience i’ll never forget, but just as well… it was…” she trails off, nervously drumming her claws into wood.
she didn’t want to talk about this. there were many things she skirted around, many painful memories she wasn’t prepared to confront quite yet to make her peace, but this was one of its kind. back before her life had spiraled into death after death after death, and when there was always time for everything she did, when she had been naive and brash and didn’t bother to think before she jumped, because what of consequence?
had she not successfully took the fight to the empire, brought low the black wolf himself? had she not reached new heights none other were capable of? at that time, victory was a song blaring in her chest and she and had yet to truly understand the burden of the title that now sat heavy upon her shoulders. the notoriety and privilege so deeply rooted into her like thorny vines that she struggled to reconcile herself as whoever she was before it.
her and g’raha’s parting had cracked open something within her, and spilled forth a torrent of rage and betrayal that swallowed her up whole and spat out something pitiful and ugly.
during that summer tiamat shared with the scholar, their closeness was a subject of much debate within the confines of the noah camp, members all of whom struggled to identify exactly what in every hell are they–? do they even like each other–?
maybe she could have finally raised the flag in defeat and admitted how much she cared for him as a person, beyond all the ribbing and teasing. maybe, with more time and some serious introspection, she would have even grown to love him. perhaps she would have done both, had she not so foolishly cast aside any honesty within her in favor of avoiding discomfort about her feelings.
tiamat was the warrior of light and could do anything, then. she had all the time in the world and then some to sort out her problems, to grow stronger and better for every trial she faced, and the world would always, and without fail, wait for her. then, when she was at last ready to depart for her next adventure, everyone and everything would be there at her side to accompany her.
and then her only friend abandoned her.
she knows she’s being too quiet and also knows the twins are beginning to grow concerned, but she doesn’t have an inkling of clue where to continue from these thoughts. how could she possibly explain the expedition in ways they would be able to understand, and what it meant to her truly, and where g’raha and now the exarch fit into all of it? in all actuality, none of them had the time to put the pieces of that tragedy back together enough to make any sense of it.
so, she does what she does best, and smiles at them with as much humor as she can muster.
“do you remember what i told you in ishgard, about the haughty archon i had met in mor dhona, and the trick i played on him with oranges?” tiamat asks to break the silence, glancing up at alphinaud.
his eyebrows furrow for a moment as he thinks back, but before long clear recognition lights up his eyes. alisaie’s confusion becomes apparent by her expression, and she quietly repeats “oranges?” to herself in a murmur.
“you and the– that was him?” alphinaud says in a disbelieving laugh, any trace of worry now smoothed over by open amusement. alisaie looks at her brother and then at tiamat with a demanding glare.
the warrior nods sagely. “to summarize: i had him convinced for a good while that i actually ate the peel. since it was summer and he liked oranges, i would bring some from time to time, and always made a show of saving the rind. he’d never seen a viera before in his life and was evidently too polite to question it, trying so hard as he was to be in my good books after the stunts he pulled. his pride took issue with me having fooled him over something so silly.”
she can see the gears turning in alisaie’s head as she tries to place the exarch in that ridiculous position, and her lips quirk up into a helpless grin. alphinaud chuckles into his hand in a vain attempt to keep quiet, and tiamat continues to smile as she fondly recollects that particular memory. the way g’raha had stared at her with a combination of disbelief and offense, his tail thrashing behind him as he attempted to restrain the emotion.
“went back to my tent and everything was flipped upside-down. he worked fast.”
she closes her eyes and listens to the sound of the twins’ giggles, the ache beneath her ribs subsiding for the moment as the kinder memories she held onto soothed the prickling anger that resided still, tucked away deeply in her heart.
Chapter 10: a matter of trust
“prithee... entertain mine inquiries for a moment, if thou wouldst be so generous,” urianger says to break the companionable silence between him and tiamat, who blinks up at him in mild surprise.
there were few words to be had during their study sessions considering how deeply the warrior would pour into her selected book, running a fine comb through the texts to pick out every detail she could. urianger would know better than anyone, as it was he who taught tiamat to read in the first place, in what seemed like an eternity ago during their time at the waking sands. she was ever the impatient learner, but was far more clever than he had anticipated and picked up the skill quickly. it made sense, in hindsight.
she simply watches him and he takes the invitation to continue: “for all mine deceit, mine woven lies at thine expense, thou hast...” he trails off and tiamat cocks her head a little, ears pivoting towards him. “i have yet to receive of thee thine ire, though ‘tis sorely deserved.”
she looks a little annoyed, but huffs out an amused laugh and snaps her tome shut. resting her head in her hand, tiamat slouches forward and gives urianger a fond look from beneath her messy bangs.
“that’s what you don’t get, urianger,” she tells him, and he blinks rapidly with bewilderment at her casual, friendly response. “my trust in you is not mutually exclusive, and i don’t always expect whole truths out of you-- or anyone for that matter.”
his mouth falls uselessly open as he wracks his brain for a reply, but she quickly cuts in and continues before he has the chance to make a fool of himself.
“i have faith in you. just as much as i trust you to tell me the truth in honest, i trust you to know when and how to lie. i may be cross with you when that happens, but i know your heart is in the right place, and i will never hate you for it.”
urianger feels heat prickle in his eyes when she smiles at him. he swallows hard and looks away from her gentle gaze, this blessed warrior of light who has always been far too kind, far too compassionate for one such as he. what he has done to earn her comradery despite all he has done, he will never be able to comprehend. ... perhaps, there was nothing to it at all.
he hears her huff once more and glances back to see her wrinkle her nose in a sour, yet somehow humorous expression.
“think of it this way: i love raha, but i do not trust him. this hasn’t changed since he was a boy, and he’s doing a fantastic job of continuing that trend to my great displeasure.”
a helpless laugh escapes urianger and she flashes a grin at him, and in it he sees her just as he did so many years prior. an overly-ambitious and crafty woman the scions had plucked from the ruined aftermath of the calamity, where not even they could have anticipated the resounding effect a single person would have on the realm at large.
when the matter of an important missive arose, and tiamat had loudly and haughtily told the group, given such educated and worldly students they were, that she couldn’t read. she then proceeded to show up unannounced at urianger’s private quarters that same night with a much quieter, embarrassed favor to ask.
“thou art more wise than thine reputation proceeds,” urianger offers at last, a soft smile present on his features and a massive weight gone from his shoulders.
“i’m a gift,” she agrees with a nod, and snatches the tome from his hands to pick up where he left off.
Chapter 11: falling snow
when he finds her miraculously present in his study without a single notice in regards to her visiting the first, g’raha has several light-hearted inquiries at the forefront of his mind. they quickly wither and die unsaid in his throat, however, at the bittersweet expression he catches her making while she stares down at the book in her lap. heavensward, he would recognize anywhere in its well-worn, well-loved state. her thumb traces over the dragon heraldry with something tender and near reverent, and despite tiamat being the one to show up in his home unannounced (though never unwelcome), g’raha second guesses himself on if he should bear witness to such a poignant scene.
“i don’t think i’ll ever be able to read this,” the warrior says quietly. both of his ears shift upright in her direction. “maybe some time from now i’ll have the heart to see what edmont wrote, but now, even years later– i… i don’t think i’m prepared to read it. i didn’t even know he was archiving that mess, actually.”
g’raha makes his way into the room, his attention focused primarily on the viera. she sits hunched over in the single, lonely desk chair, both her ears tilted back and overall appearing so heartbreakingly despondent and small. it wasn’t often tiamat sank into such a dour mood, but each time she did was no less fraught with pain than the last. the sliding scale of her emotions were to mutual extremes, and g’raha could say with certainty that she struggled to find a safe middle ground between them to properly cope with the conflict within both her heart and mind. she needed time to work through them all, though he was well aware that she could not afford such luxury with her ever-mounting responsibilities.
“it was a memoir beloved by countless, passed from one generation to the next,” g’raha says to her kindly, and is pleased to see a hesitant smile quirk at her lips. “i daresay it may have also been my personal favorite of your tales, as it were.”
he fears this may be the wrong thing to say when tension quickly builds in her shoulders, and her hands find careful grip on the sides of the tome. ever respectful of his possessions, her claws courteously avoid digging into the weathered, hard cover.
“i can only imagine how incredible it must have all been to read about that long after the fact. the dragonsong war was a definite spectacle, all those hundreds of years in the making with its endless, frankly idiotic war. and all the dragons. truthfully, i was just the sorry sap who was dragged into it by chance, after everything that happened in ul’dah.” tiamat doesn’t meet his gaze while she speaks, but he understands her reluctance to do so by now. never was there a view into a soul quite like hers, through her cherry-red eyes, and she was well aware of it and guarded that weakness adamantly.
“you arrived in their hour of need, and helped their people and beyond despite every prejudice they flung your way. despite every reason they gave you to not want to act on their behalf.” g’raha tries to keep himself from rambling about her exploits, but after an actual hundred years of doing nothing but, it remains a hard habit to break. “you are certainly the hero of ishgard.”
no, this was the wrong thing to say, he realizes too late when she snaps up to her feet so suddenly the chair rattles behind her. intensity twists the previous calmness of her expression, her brows set and eyes blazing. she handles the tome stiffly, at an impasse with her desire to clutch onto it with a strength far too great for its worn state. she restrains herself from giving into the temptation, though her fingers visibly flinch.
“no. no, i am not their hero. i was their weapon, their trump card, maybe even their savior, but i am not their–” her voice is harsh. “would you like to know who the real hero of the dragonsong war was? the bastard knight with a heart too big for his chest, who loved everyone and loved everything and loved me, and who was the reason any of it was possible in the first place.”
she locks gazes with g’raha then, and his breath stutters, his jaw falling slack. the ferocity in her eyes is an unrelenting torrent he’s consumed by, helpless to do naught but drown in the depths of her violent grief and anger.
and yet still when confronted by the image of his warrior’s trauma, g’raha manages to utter “lord haurchefant.” the edges of her posture soften almost immediately at the sound of his name, her fury rapidly cooling, and she nods curtly.
“a man too good for this shite world that only ever gave him equal amounts of it in turn. i doubt the stories describe the lengths he went just because he cared about me, when it only caused him trouble for all his efforts. how it was he who fought to grant me, grant us, asylum in ishgard when everyone in the alliance refused. it was he who was the instigator for the war’s end, and he who ushered me there to make it happen. he lit that beacon of hope and ran with it and i followed after him.”
she drops back into the chair with an audible thump, and resumes staring at the memoir with visible frustration written across her face. g’raha swallows nervously and takes slow steps to stand at her side, leaning partially against the wall between haphazard piles of books.
“i loved him,” tiamat says in such a bold proclamation that it nearly staggers him, leaving him sucking in a sharp breath and uncertain what to feel. “i would have brought the whole city to the brink of destruction if only to… to save him. i really couldn’t have no matter how hard i tried, but i didn’t know that until later, when– when i fought the heaven’s ward. neither of us would have survived that attack, and i understand that now, even if it barely helps the guilt.”
at no point does it occur to g’raha that he is hearing a firsthand account of one of the warrior of light’s greatest achievements in known history. any thrill his inner historian may have held in the past is well and thoroughly trounced by his overwhelming concern for her well-being, recounting such a devastating trauma as she is.
“‘life for death. i will have ser zephirin’s heart for what he did to haurchefant.’” she says lowly in a broken exhale. “that is what i told them, and i meant every word. i even followed through with it in the end, but i know for a fact that detail remains unknown to all but me, and edmont would have surely been upset had he known how driven i was to get revenge for his son.”
he wouldn’t have been, g’raha wants so badly to tell her but can’t, not in this delicate moment. he considered you his family, never stopped worrying for your safety in any of his letters to the speaker and to the scions, and he would have wanted you to share the burden of your pain with those who could understand better than anyone. the fortemps loved you– love you– so, so much.
“i cut them down one by one, and when i finally gutted whatever creature zephirin had become upon my blade, there was only aether left within his body.” tiamat laughs bitterly through her pointed teeth and tilts her head back, her throat bobbling in a swallow. “he no longer even had a heart for me to take, and disintegrated on the spot just like every other primal i’ve ever slain. i was left with nothing but the confirmation of their deaths by my hands, and it only made me feel worse.” her sentence breaks as her voice does and she hisses out a terrible, grieving noise, her throat catching.
g’raha’s hand finds her shoulder and squeezes gently. the warrior ducks her head back down even further, chin nearly to her collarbone, and she sobs and clutches heavensward tightly to her chest.
“vengeance didn’t do me any good, s-so i guess i just have to be a big godsdamned hero like he wanted me to be, huh?” she weeps at a volume that’s nearly a shout and shakes her head. “i won’t allow anything he did for me and every bit of faith he had in me to be for nothing, even if i have to flip every world out there onto its head– every sodding shard!”
a shaking hand lifts from the tome and finds his. g’raha intertwines their fingers to anchor her with a firm hold, even as her claws hook into his spoken flesh.
“you better be watching me from wherever halone took you, haurchefant, because i swear to every god i do and don’t believe in that i’ll make you so proud of me you’ll cry all over her halls! i’ll make her jealous!”
despite failing to withhold his own tears as was usual, g’raha can’t stop a warm bark of laughter from escaping him. tiamat looks up at him, her face blotchy and messy and her smile wobbly, but her eyes are impossibly clear and bright.
Chapter 12: moments of no import
“i’ve always hated the sound bows and arrows make.”
of all the spontaneous confessions to hear from her, and despite g’raha becoming more or less used to such things shaping into his new normal, this would be a definite outlier.
she sits slouched against a pile of tomes, knees brought up to her chest, and the side of her head resting awkwardly against a book which tilts precariously forward from the added weight.
“i think i might have been an archer. before the calamity, i mean. whenever i hear the string i feel sick and scared and i don’t know why.”
g’raha considers her quiet words, pulling his gaze from where the warrior sits and bringing it to his crystallized hand. he hadn’t let loose a single arrow in the great expanse of time he had spent within the tower and the first, and he doubts he would be strong enough to do so again.
she burns while casting ancient, ruined magics in the dreadwyrm trance, burns while succumbing to the blood of the dragon as she leaps from one target to the next.
the question is always there for alphinaud, right at the tip of his tongue, but he remains perpetually unsure if he truly wants to know the answer. estinien had not been the only one to be chosen, influenced, by nidhogg‘s eye.
her control is trained and fluid in either case, and her combat arts have never raised an issue, and so he keeps his thoughts to himself. sometimes her aether feels cold and sharp, boiling and devastating, and not like her own. it always goes back to normal when the fight is over.
her skull-inspired helm keeps her eyes hidden, but he sees her snarl, and the flash of pointed teeth and rumbling noise in her throat reminds alphinaud too much of their confrontation at the steps of faith. surely, she would have all the reason in the world to shatter under the weight of her vengeful heart, to become consumed by it and twisted into something monstrous.
he says nothing of it, fear simmering quietly.
“i remember more of my father than my mother, which is weird, since he’s been dead for decades. my mother’s viera like me but i can’t recall her face.” tiamat chews absentmindedly on her thumbnail.
alisaie gives her a baffled look, brow raised, and sets her glass back on the table. “me being shocked by your estimated age notwithstanding, i wasn’t aware you’re… half viera, then?”
“mmhm,” the warrior confirms in a light hum, and makes a small show of poking one of her fangs with her tongue. “my father was a keeper. assuming my memories aren’t that messed up, i look a lot like him. i must have outlived him by nearly a century since miqo’te have notoriously short lifespans.”
there’s nothing suggesting any further discussion in tiamat’s relaxed features, so alisaie leaves the matter be and takes a drink of her now lukewarm lemonade.
Chapter 13: prices paid
tw for mentions of major injury, amputation
“does it hurt?” g’raha asks her with no shortage of hesitance. he had not-so gracefully avoided the subject of her prosthetic after the initial shock of the thing, as well as the glamour, had worn off (naturally, tiamat muses, none of the stories talked about its existence).
“oh yes, quite a lot,” she responds and rolls the metal fingers into a loose fist in demonstration. “but not much more than i’m already used to. i’m no stranger to injury, slaying primals and saving worlds and all.” he winces in sympathy, his ears folding back.
“don’t you dare try to apologize for decisions i made,” tiamat snaps the second his mouth opens. he nearly jumps right out of his robes at the sharpness of her voice, his tail fluffed up like a spooked coeurl. “this was my idea and i’m the one who coerced ironworks into doing it. or, well, harassed nero enough that we forged a secret pact to not tell cid what we were doing until after the fact. i still don’t think he’s forgiven me for that, honestly…”
she looks away with a mildly pained expression as she remembers the confrontation between the three of them. cid had only drilled into nero, assuming without a shred of doubt or as much of a glance in her direction that it was only he to orchestrate their plan. that he’d somehow roped her into a vile experimentation for his entertainment and benefit.
she had the unwanted pleasure of telling her faithful, genius friend who saved her and her friends’ lives on multiple occasions that it was all her own idea, including both the operation as well as intentionally keeping cid in the dark about it. the hurt disbelief crossing his face still kept her up some nights, and she hates herself a little for the ordeal.
g’raha’s smile is bittersweet when tiamat returns her attention to him.
“there were… certain tomestones possessing information of rather bizarre mechanisms wholly unrelated to the tower.” he tells her, and she briefly wonders what sort of memories are being tossed about in that strange head of his. “complicated aetheric transfer systems on such an astoundingly small scale, built into equally small and dense apparatus. no one had the slightest idea of what they had been for, but nevertheless they were protected alongside all of ironworks’ archives. only now does it occur to me that they had not belonged to cid at all, yet found their way into his records all the same.”
she exhales a long breath and leans back against both hands, favoring the left. there is no sensation in her magitek limb beyond pressure, and the constant humming sting of her aether cycling through its processors. the ache pulsing up her spine and neck and shoulder were a downside that she quickly adjusted to, but blessedly the shuddering bite of pain that its now-defunct regulator inflicted on her was gone. all that light had been good for something after all.
“that sounds like him. he always cared so much about me and went out of his way to help my shenanigans any way he could. i can’t count how many times over i’d be dead were it not for his clutch saves, not even getting started on this one instance which i’m pretty sure rounds up to the several hundreds, at least.” she feels some weight against her limb but makes no mention of it and idly swings her legs forward and back.
g’raha chuckles when he lifts her mechanical hand as though it were weightless, its parts gliding silently against each other with total precision. despite the awkward and unyielding structure of her claws, he manages to carefully thread his spoken fingers through hers, edges poking into his skin and all.
tiamat stares at the contrast of metal to flesh and thinks back to every single time she had done the same gesture with his crystallized hand, more often than not during fragile moments wherein he’d shied away from view, or expressed self-loathing for being more tower than man or some equal amounts of bullshit.
emotion snags in her throat and she swallows hard, utterly failing to rid herself of it. her cheeks burn. g’raha’s eyes meet hers and he smiles at her with such open adoration and warmth that she lacks the heart to even attempt to muster up any humor to tease him about it.
she squeezes his hand, so, so gently, and hopes it doesn’t hurt him too badly.
Chapter 14: rising wind
sequel to falling snow
when g’raha hears it, it becomes readily apparent he isn’t the only one. at once lyna pauses in her lecture, her tall ears canting towards the sound, and the both of them seek its origin as best they can through the dark. the nearby guards follow suit, and conversation and movement across the crystarium come to a slow, wondrous halt as the residents seek out the voice.
“is that–?” lyna starts, visibly squinting and pointing to the spire atop one of the highest points of the city. g’raha can’t help a bewildered huff of laughter when sees tiamat, because of course that’s where she is, perched at easily one of the most dangerous spots she could be in the dead of night.
she stands in a relaxed pose, for as well as he can see her, her head tilted back and drachen mail sweeping around her feet like rested wings. from her comes a wordless song, dual-tone notes so familiar but not, weaving into a singular chorus that resounds across the crystarium and captures unanimous attention. g’raha is utterly enraptured by the impossible, echoing nature of her song as it both takes the breath from his lungs and breathes new life into him in equal measure.
the chorus, he realizes belatedly as he feels distinct wetness down his cheeks. she had only just confided in him of her pain while weeping over his copy of heavensward, that morning. this is dragonsong.
lyna covers her mouth with a hand, valiantly attempting to muffle her sobs with little success, though to her credit she keeps herself from trembling outright.
g’raha didn’t know his warrior could sing. he’d never heard of her doing such a thing, not himself or in any of the tales he read of her exploits. she was never known as musical, at any recorded point of her life.
but dragonsong was not the same as a lyric spun by bards and played on instruments. it was the way dragons communicated with their brood, unable to be understood by men save for those few blessed with the ability to transcend language. to hear the sweet melody of time eternal and love across generations, disguised under the guttural and horrible sound of beasts. and tiamat was one of the two last azure dragoons of her time.
this is my heart, she sings without saying, this is what i want to tell you, to show you. this is my love for you and the love you have given me in return.
he is lost within her song and doesn’t notice his eyes slipping shut as he listens. he feels the delicate threads of hope that glimmer, holding strong, against endless waves of despair and regret. fragile like butterfly wings but tenacious as the vibrant bloom of a flower in desolate, lifeless soil. it causes his chest to ache, his heart too full as it beats in time with hers.
my dear friend, my light, i can hear you. he wishes he could answer in kind, but knows she sings of her emotion in place where she cannot speak with words. there was no need for idle talk when action would express herself far more clearly.
an awful, beautiful pain lurches within him and rattles through his ribcage when he hears tiamat’s voice take on the melody only he and her ever knew, that he had so desperately tried to remember through every tragedy shaking his foundation. still so haunting in its delivery, g’raha can nevertheless whisper the words alongside her voice as they come to him all at once, as though he had never forgotten.
once again she shares with him the inner most workings of her heart, for only he to understand in earnest, making the crystarium as a whole an unwitting witness of such uncanny intimacy between them.
the eternal winds throughout the land ascend, she tells him through her dragonsong as he quietly continues to only his own ears.
“here to lift us that we won’t end.”
Chapter 15: nonsense vol. 1
their collection of oddballs stares up at the now-airborne mt. gulg in thoughtful silence. to reach vauthry would require both a method of transport and intense firepower to cut through the masses of sin eaters protecting the mountain, and while one was feasible, both was entirely out of their prospective abilities.
“i could turn into a dragon, but i don’t think i’d be able to keep the form long enough to haul everyone up there with the aether as threadbare as it is,” the warrior hums, tapping her clawtips against her chin and not paying any mind to absolutely everyone within hearing distance all staring at her as though she had grown multiple heads.
“begging your pardon? you would what?” thancred says incredulously, alisaie hot on his heels and nearly shoving alphinaud aside in his shocked state. poor kid has been getting that treatment far too often as of late.
“becoming a dragon? is that a recent development?” she demands, the woman under scrutiny making a small pout as if the notion of her lack of being a dragon was a slight against her skills. her ears cant backwards and add further emphasis to her look of displeasure.
“of course not. azure dragoon, remember? i’ve been fighting with dragon’s blood for longer than i’ve known some of you. besides, it wouldn’t be any fun if i gave away all my secrets.” she talks as though the feat is just another one of her many cards to play, shrugging nonchalantly.
the exarch specifically looks as though he’s re-evaluating everything he’s ever learned of the warrior, and she waggles her eyebrows at him.
Chapter 16: XXI. The World
there are too many thoughts racing through tiamat’s head even as the wardens’ light seeks to rip her apart from the inside. the exarch stands firm before her, ready to sacrifice himself without a second’s hesitation, and the only thing she has the strength to do is pathetically reach out to him with a leaden, shaking hand.
she had known he was g’raha, but she hadn’t known. he was so kind to her, so endlessly devoted and watched her all but literally hang the stars in their sky. he had begged her for help, but she had heard the tremor in his voice, the longing in the way his mouth would open to speak when they were in private, before he decided against it and looked away. he spent so long planning and preparing for this very moment, waiting for his death. for his story to reach its dramatic conclusion.
he had shown tiamat boundless love, and far more of it than she could nearly tolerate. he showed it in every concern he raised for her well-being and every gift he had freely given her. his warrior’s heart gradually warmed from his compassion, despite the lingering bitterness that prickled in the pit of her stomach from the calling of her friends. nevertheless, she trusted him when he said it wasn’t intentional, and that he was doing everything he could to send them back whole and hale. she had been skeptical initially, but she grew to trust him through his actions more than his incredibly vague words.
perhaps that was her mistake: trust. but g’raha had made it so easy, when he loved her this much, gently pushing aside her guards and renewing a blaze she hadn’t known since…
she screams his name through the bright poison in her throat, and he looks at her in an entirely new way. wide-eyed, stunned. why? why was he so amazed, even now? hadn’t he known she would always remember those who allowed her to know happiness? to know love?
tears and light are streaming down her face, out her nose, in what she doesn’t doubt is a truly horrific sight for him. she does not care. she crawls across the cold marble, reaches and reaches and begs– please, please, not now, not after all of this, not when you– not when i–
a shot rings out and g’raha collapses, his face contorted in pain. tiamat barely registers the voice of emet-selch tearing into her, expressing his immense disappointment at her weakness, and spitting at her with vicious hatred. she only sees g’raha lying there, almost within reach, yet her body won’t move to him. she has to move. she has to save him, has to thank him, has to tell him with the words she never understood how much she–
a foundation gives way and tiamat inhales sharply, her everything fracturing from within. the world surrounding her shudders into non-existence and her chest bursts from the intensity of her emotion, a gust of freezing wind clearing out the debris of sorrow from the vast opening in her heart. her vision blurs. she sees g’raha. she sees–
estinien on his knee, begging her to kill him. she refuses and races to him. alphinaud is at her side in an instant and even with severe exhaustion from her fight with nidhogg sapping her of what power remained, she does not falter. no more, she decides then. i won’t let this war take anyone else from me. her pain fuels her and the searing agony of the eye attempting to dislodge her is no match for the love she bears for estinien, for the love of an echo beside her, covering her hands with his.
haurchefant smiling up at her with blood running down the corners of his mouth. she begs him then in a broken voice to not leave her, while fat tears stream down her face. she prays for some kind of miracle to give him the strength to survive, like hydaelyn had done for her time and time again. she loves him more than she had ever known herself capable, and even with his demise cannot find the proper words to tell him such.
g’raha barely looking over his shoulder at them, at her, when he seals the gates to the tower. it’s the first time she has tasted heartbreak, and it destroys her.
her father is old and gray and tells her in no uncertain terms to give her mother a hard time, when he’s gone and can no longer cause trouble. tiamat doesn’t understand what he means, why he would be gone, and he smiles sadly at her and ruffles her hair. he tells her he lived a full, long life, and knew great love and happiness. it was simply time for him to leave this world, no matter how sad the parting would be, and even if he wishes he could stay with his family for much longer.
“but,” he tells her, holding her small hands in his weathered ones. “know that no matter where you go, and no matter what happens, i will always be right there to cheer you on. even if i’m only background noise, i’ll be there for you, and i will always love you. you’re going to be a fighter, i can tell already, but you will never have to fight alone. remember that, little flower.”
tiamat and her mother plant a tree at his resting place. she visits decades later, grown into a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, and still venturing out in search of her place in the world. setting her bow aside in the grass, she rests in the shade of the oak’s leaves, and tells her father about her adventures while plucking the delicate strings of her harp. she plays for him the songs she’s learned in her travels, as well as the ones she’s written herself, and sings lyrics about triumph and love.
“that’s what the story’s always been about, hasn’t it?” her own voice asks her from the flood of light. it’s too warm, too rich to be esteem’s, but it is hers all the same. “love. it’s always been about love, even all the way back to the start of this mess. it makes us do crazy things.” her tone is laced with amusement but still manages to sound so sad. “my tale may have ended an eternity ago, but yours has only just begun. so what will you do, my dear child, my beloved soul? will you write them all into these pages of yours with your own hands? will you take charge of this fate and share with them this happy ending you’ve fought so hard to achieve?”
she rejoins with ardbert, embracing wholly of his conviction to save their worlds. she wields the tremendous force of light against emet-selch to bring him low. she casts out the despair, the hopelessness, every bit of anger and sadness she had clung to helplessly for far too long. she drives through the darkness intending to suffocate her, piercing it directly with the sheer belief of her loved ones at her back and at her side.
her heart screams a chorus, harmonizes with the voices of souls lost, and she slams the back cover of the book shut.
Chapter 17: the twain shall meet
special guest star
“so tell me, do you seek retribution for your actions out of genuine guilt, or are you actually just trying to die?”
ah, so it is to be one of those dreams. at least the clawed hand stroking through his hair is pleasant and familiar. he is far too drowsy to participate in this kind of conversation, in whatever context, but whether or not the soothing effects of sleep help or hurt his case remains to be seen.
“i do not intend to die, especially now when i am needed, but i nevertheless expected it as the result to save you. i… did not know of another feasible path.” g’raha tells her far too calmly and easily. his head is pillowed on her lap, his eyes relaxed shut. pointed clawtips press lightly into his scalp in a stinging reprimand.
“semantics,” she responds sharply, “you anticipated your death with such certainty that you failed to entertain an alternative route, even with the full support of the warrior at your disposal.” her tone momentarily lapses into mockery at the title, the sound of her voice nearly dripping with rancor.
save for her sporadic, worse moods, g’raha rarely ever heard his warrior speak in such a manner. it’s certainly fitting enough for a dream intending to beat him senseless with his own guilt, and the one he loved most at the forefront to wield his self-loathing. her anger and rejection of him hurt him far deeper than most things he could think of, and despite all of his preparations to receive such fallout.
“rather than considering the notion that she may contribute to your plan, that she may have her own thoughts and methods to better it, you disconnected yourself from her entirely.” he feels her hand brush the bangs out of his eyes and lazily smooth them back, where they rebelliously slide right back into his face. from where her fingers brush his skin in their travels, he notices they are uncomfortably cold.
“your plan was suicide and you did not trust her enough to make decisions in regards to her own life, her own fate. you assumed she would throw her life away in an instant for you, if you gave her even that chance alone. that she would do exactly as you did.”
this is remarkably specific and new material for the contents of his nightmares, and the former feeling of peace is stripped away by paralyzing dread. though her touch is wonderfully tender and unhurried, g’raha realizes too late he cannot see her from where he lies. he hears his warrior’s voice, but his eyes open to a pale abyss and see nothing of the person so intimately close.
“but you’ve probably already realized this, haven’t you? hindsight is so very clear, and self-doubt is so very easy. it’s easy to die, easy to blame, easy to wallow in your hurts. now, living with all of it? that is far more difficult.”
he can feel the tower’s influence, its awareness of his immediate and nonthreatening surroundings. he feels its ancient power steadily coursing through him like his own blood, and answering to his summons with the rapid pace of his heart. this isn’t a dream.
g’raha jolts in alarm and attempts to move away, but fails to muster enough strength to even prop himself upright and struggles pitifully. her hand leaves his head and spreads across his back to support him in his fight against immobility, against whatever is binding him there. who? why?
“you– i don’t know you,” he murmurs shakily through the panic hammering in his chest. “what–” it’s a losing battle and he slumps uselessly back into her lap, both of her hands carefully steadying him with such continuously familiar gentleness that his heart aches, knowing it isn’t her.
“i would certainly hope not, since we’ve never met.” his warrior’s voice tells him with fond amusement while she once again fiddles with his hair, as though she is used to doing so. g’raha manages, through supreme effort and with a grimace, to turn his head and catches a sliver of white against a dark silhouette. a sad smile. “and should the fates be kind, dear one, we never will.”
Chapter 18: all work all play
“i really want to fight you,” tiamat says into the fabric at his shoulder, the sound of her whine only somewhat muffled by layers of cloth. his quill continues uninhibited across the most immediate form at his attention, even while the warrior stands slumped pathetically over him with most of her weight.
“when you told me of your intentions to speak more honestly, this was not quite what i had envisioned.” g’raha feels her head tilt up so she may leer at him, only a vague sensation where her chin digs harmlessly into crystal. he smiles wryly.
“i am being honest, i’ll have you know,” she shoots back, “i have to constantly hold back whenever i do anything even sort of combat-related with anyone… it’s immensely frustrating, knowing i can’t truly practice to the best of my ability, since i’d break everything if i looked at it too hard.” her ears tilt with visible displeasure and one brushes the side of his head, sticking partway in his hair. “the only time i get to cut loose is when the world is about to end, or if i’m way too close to a dirt nap. i have full confidence you can hold up against me for real and i’m a bit excited about it.”
g’raha pretends his grip doesn’t tighten dangerously close to snapping the quill into sad little pieces, though his hand’s sudden flinch leaves a messy streak of ink across the otherwise pristine writing.
“you do me too much credit,” he murmurs, immediately feeling swift retribution to his comment when tiamat reaches up and mercilessly pinches one of his ears. he yelps out a small, startled noise.
“i told you how incredible you were when we went to kill the first lightwarden! when you were standing in front of us all with that arcane sword and shield, and kept all those sin eaters at bay! just you and your magic! i would love to see that technique again, except in a situation so much less dire where i can appreciate it properly.” she releases his ear and apologetically rubs the shell between her forefinger and thumb, soothing in a way that has g’raha releasing a long sigh of contentment.
“i want to know what it feels like to have my sword deflected by that shield of yours. oh– and when we were with the dwarves– i want to see how big of an explosion we can make pitting two flares against each other! i would very much enjoy getting to taste that power of yours for myself.” tiamat’s voice tapers off, but the deep admiration in her tone warms him long after she falls silent.
and yet, he still can’t help it: “would that i could share with you such ability of my own making, and not merely what the tower has provided.”
she growls indignantly at his lapse into self-depreciation and buries her face into his hair. her arms snake around his neck in a loose embrace.
“yes, and i would be perfectly as skilled in combat without any of my job crystals, or my weapons, or any of my armor. don’t be an idiot, raha.”
the following laugh comes to g'raha remarkably easily, a cheeky grin crossing his features.
“i can almost hear the compliment in the midst of that,” he tells her, unrestrained happiness filling his chest.
the moment he lets his guard down at the sentiments shared between them, tiamat closes in eagerly on the papers before him. g'raha quickly finds himself batting her wandering claws away.
“and i’m completely serious about it. let’s go beat each other up. half of those papers are mine, anyway. i had to give excruciating detail regarding the samiel herd we discovered as if i didn’t just stumble around with a pickaxe the entire time…”
somehow both of her hands end up caught in his, and the resulting immature struggle is very brief while she glowers down at the reports with humorous amounts of intensity.
“so what i’m hearing is that you’re ultimately responsible for my increase in paperwork.”
since both of her hands are otherwise occupied, tiamat retaliates at this offense by nipping at his ear. again, he laughs.
Chapter 19: wake
alternate scene to the twain shall meet
elidibus tries for the exarch only once. infernal technologies providing a crutch aside, he is yet merely mortal. his vulnerabilities and weaknesses, if taken advantage of properly, would spell quick disaster for both he and everyone who depended on his borrowed power.
he tries once. breaches the lifestream, the contrasting domain of piercing light, and claws his way across shards to sink zodiark’s influence into its fragile state.
elidibus, for all his efforts of caution, is siphoned haphazardly into an empty space and suffocates, writhes, in the utter lack of darkness he finds there. he flounders and backtracks desperately, while his thinly spread aether is shredded at the edges by ravenous, glittering teeth.
he sees the exarch, impossibly, resting in the presence of another, who raises her masked gaze to meet him in a placid expression elidibus can only gape at. the sheer heartbreak and denial that lances through him then will remain unmentioned, unacknowledged, for far beyond his perpetual existence.
he flees. he would pray for strength from his god to face her, were he not so pathetically alone in his battle. were emet-selch still present to challenge the traitor of their worlds, the ultimate betrayer. she who still held their hearts in her hands even while she made certain of their total demise.
the power she wields, her unrelenting rage and steadfast conviction, is second to none. the awakening of her memory in mere fragments spells destruction for him, for zodiark, for possibly even more, and elidibus has no choice but to impose as much distance as he is able if he is to survive another moon.
no matter his pleas, he knows full well the fourteenth would not hesitate to strike him down the moment she has the opportunity to do so. even should the choice destroy him, he must treat her imminent ascension as the deciding battle he knows it will be.
Chapter 20: origin of light
g’raha finds himself dreaming of this same, unknown woman far more often than he’s willing to admit. he’s long since cast aside the possibility that she is a mere figment of his wounded imagination, but lacks the knowledge to properly judge as to whether or not she… exists, in whatever form, elsewhere.
she is astoundingly tall, not unlike a highlander, with dark skin and piercing yellow eyes. initially, he could see the association to the late emet-selch in the color of her gaze, but now that the stark contrast of the two is so apparent, he’s somewhat embarrassed for having entertained the thought at all. where the ascian’s eyes had been cold and hateful, hers are blazing, so openly warm and welcoming like the first day of sun after a long winter.
it’s a wonder g’raha is even able to remember such a thing, as long ago as it had been since he was last able to experience seasons. something in this familiar stranger rekindles his past in a way not unlike his warrior does on a regular basis, and it serves to lower his guard in her presence. though their first encounter was terrifying in its own right, he has good reason to believe she had not directly been the cause of his horror. rather, the opposite. she had protected him, though from what, he is uncertain. she has been very skilled at evading his inquiries on the matter.
“just consider me a funny-shaped dreamcatcher,” she says to him breezily while braiding a section of her lengthy hair. her voice is a perfect match to his warrior’s, though the inflection is not quite right. “i’m keeping you out of trouble. doing everyone a favor and making sure you get proper rest, being so old and whatnot.”
their sense of humor is identical. g’raha gives her a withering look and she smiles broadly.
“truthfully, it’s only here that i can exist as i am. i lack the power to conjure a shade anywhere else, most especially in the waking world.” something sad crosses her expression. “this is for the best, either way. your tower is delightfully adept at processing and transmuting aether. without it, i would not have been able to take shape at all. plus, being out there would cause… significant problems i am not equipped to handle.”
his ears pivot upright when she looks away. he draws his knees up to his chest and drapes his arms around them, his tail curling idly, and watches her for several heartbeats. the same mannerisms, same rationale, same…
“if i were to ask of your identity again, would you consider giving me a better answer?” g’raha meets those sharp eyes with his own when her attention returns to him. gone is the light-hearted cheer, and there rests someone impossibly ancient and wise, and burdened in equal amount. he has a feeling he already knows the answer, but would rather hear it spoken all the same.
“i’m afraid not, dear one. ghosts such as myself have no place in your present, your future.” she tilts her head back and closes her eyes. g’raha can imagine the tall ears she does not have, moving with her emotions. “i would not interfere as much as possible, in this life i have no place in. i am… content to be as i am, to offer what meager protection i can against those who would do you harm. i feel i owe that much.” her voice drifts into a near whisper.
to what, to whom do you owe? he wants to press, despite knowing the question would fall through.
“yet… i find myself weak, in this moment. perhaps i am lonely. perhaps i am being influenced by those i left behind in this world of yours.” her smile is frail, but honest.
he remains still when her hand reaches out and gingerly holds his jaw. her thumb traces along the crystal running jagged across his cheek. so gentle, so fondly. she sighs.
“it’s more than likely you won’t be able to recall this when you wake, but some part of me hopes you’ll remember. my name is hestia, and i have caused you far too much pain.”
Chapter 21: vanity
tw for potential body image issues, mild body horror / injury mention
“stop looking at me like that,” tiamat barks, her words lacking a significant amount of bite. if anything, she merely pouts indignantly in g’raha’s direction, who raises his hands in defense and offers her a placating smile.
“i am unsure, then, how you’d wish for me to look at you.” his words are calm, deliberating tempering the oncoming blaze of her irritation– and with rousing success, if the sagging of her shoulders is any indication. tiamat’s claws pick at a zipper on her side, and already he can see scars lancing across her bicep and ribs. g’raha feels his jaw clench unwittingly.
she sniffs and yanks off her top. he tries valiantly to not immediately shy away or cover his face at the sight of her exposed skin, though his face burns intensely regardless. this is not meant to be intimate in a romantic pretense, he is fully aware, but there is still such an achingly deep trust the warrior is showing him as the glamour masking her marred body fades.
and, entirely truthfully, it’s so much worse than he had feared. … she always took so much pride in her appearance, after all.
“so, there’s a lot of stories, here,” tiamat mutters, nervously running a hand across the knots of raised tissue below her bound breasts. g’raha traces along the line of the old injury with his eyes and watches it taper down to her belly button. some webs out at her side, spanning up and across her chest, and it doesn’t take a great deal of consideration for him to see the overlap of different wounds. in such a vital area, these were not meant to leave scars.
he doesn’t know what to say, his throat too tight and heart breaking all over again. he sees every manner of weapon and magic torn into tiamat’s flesh, slices of glancing blows into the fat at her waist, burn scars riddled across the forearm she had used to shield herself, and all meant to kill but only succeeding at ripping her apart. to leave her struggling to put every messy piece of her image back together, only for her to jump into yet another fight, another war, to repeat the process indefinitely. the scarring around her magitek limb very nearly consumes her shoulder, snaking around her neck in a pattern not unlike levin. the physical price she has paid, g’raha thinks, for having merged with something inorganic to prolong her battle. he tastes blood at the back of his throat.
“see, there’s that look again. the one you’re making right now.” her voice is too weak to jest properly, and her smile is forced. “i’ve been… hurt pretty bad a remarkable amount of times for such a short career. at first it was just primals, but then a lot of folk decided they hated me that much, i guess. and then there were still primals. and they… they aren’t really known for having merciful directives.”
he doesn’t notice when he rises to his feet and walks over to tiamat with slow, methodical steps, but g’raha does see her tense in reflex at his sudden proximity to her. she is so uncomfortable, so vulnerable at this moment, and the exarch wants to bury her under a ludicrous amount of cloaks and blankets. everything he can to shield her from the reality of what was done to her, to allow her to live in ignorance and pretend she does not feel as broken as she believes.
it’s a futile effort and he knows this well. perhaps this is what ultimately drove tiamat to him: the mutual understanding of what it meant to give up everything you are for a cause. to sacrifice flesh and blood alike for a future you may never live to see.
upon closer examination, he sees previously glamoured scars cutting up her jaw and into her lower lip. a discoloration resting at her hairline and sinking into her eyebrows, all hidden carefully underneath her bangs. though her ears are flattened back with apprehension, he can imagine they have a fair amount of nicks taken out of the edges, and lasting damage to the fur growth on the outer shell.
g’raha exhales steadily, silently, and meets her gaze with as mild of an expression as possible. just as tiamat possesses great disdain for the way he views her and her hurts with overwhelming sympathy, he is certain she would not appreciate empty sentiment and token reassurance. she is not just the warrior, the weapon of light. she is but a single woman with a terrible destiny. she yearns for acceptance and companionship, for someone to exist with her as an equal, same as he.
“i would like to hear these stories of yours, if it would not cause you too much trouble,” he says to her in a low volume reserved for just such private moments. he reaches for her hand, which in turn lifts to meet his in the middle. their fingers cling to each other loosely.
tiamat huffs out a small, but honest, laugh. “it’ll take a while to get through them all, and don’t think i’ll leave out the stupid bits where i slipped and fell into witchdrop multiple times.”
“then i suppose we’d better get started as soon as possible, to work our way through them.” he gives her a lopsided smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners. she ducks her head and smiles as well, a little flushed across her cheeks, but looking happier than he’s seen her in a long while.
Chapter 22: a heartfelt present
“got something for you.”
thancred barely has time to turn around before a bullet cartridge is tossed to him, which he catches effortlessly and solely by reflex. tiamat stands a few fair yalms away, both hands on her hips. he looks down curiosity at the case and then up at her, an eyebrow raised.
she holds herself somewhat awkwardly under his attention, her ears flicking back and forward, and her jaw working as she struggles to piece together her words. the strange ammunition hums in his hands, even through his gloves.
“ryne showed me how to imbue these things, so i figured i’d put my monstrous amounts of aether to good use. but– listen--” she shakes her head a little, but whether the gesture is intended for herself or him, thancred is unsure. nevertheless, he waits for her patiently while she strides closer to him, stopping within a comfortable distance and ready to continue speaking.
“i wanted you to have these, for… for emergencies, i suppose. but different than what we’d usually consider emergencies. these bullets are terrible, awful things and it took me way too much internal debate to decide if i should even make them at all.” she wrings her hands together. her glamour is dropped and the magitek arm contrasts disturbingly against the rest of her well-groomed appearance.
“these are for killing.” tiamat says firmly, more confidently, and meets thancred’s gaze. “sometimes skill and luck aren’t enough, and sometimes you need something– someone– dead. there may be a time where you can’t risk the alternative, where even if you could fight, you aren’t willing to make that gamble.” she rests her mechanical hand lightly on the cartridge still openly displayed in his own. it burns with the kind of raw power thancred sorely lacks, that the warrior of light is both respected and feared for in equal measure.
“so that’s why i wanted you to have these; to make sure whatever you use them against will die. this kind of ammunition isn’t just a last resort… it’s so much worse, but that’s really on me for putting them together.” she smiles ruefully at him, withdrawing and feigning nonchalance in a loose posture, her weight shifted onto one side. “i know you’ll use them well. i trust you.”
the sineaters are a less constant hazard since the return of night, but facing them at all is still a very real danger while traveling across the first. this close to the light bleached waste of the empty, they tend to gather in larger numbers to leech what aether they are able at its borders, before inevitably starving of it and perishing in bursts of glimmer. it’s all they can do, since going within range of any populace leads to an even swifter demise.
thancred knows he can continue to fight the one hovering before him. though it is large, it’s still very weakened, and he knows he’ll be able to wear it down no matter how maddened from hunger it may be. he’ll pull its attention and give ryne enough leeway to flank it from her position, hidden in the shade. together, they should be able to take the it down, so long as they’re cautious about their actions.
but, he is tired from their journey, and from this battle of endurance. even more so, ryne is tired, and trembles from exertion while unflinchingly seeking his guidance and instruction. thancred sees fear weighing down her shoulders and causing her hands to grip her daggers that much tighter, her knuckles pale.
he could fight it off himself, if need be. should ryne stumble or mismanage her attacks due to exhaustion, thancred is certain he would be able to, at the very least, fight the creature off so they could retreat. he could get them to safety.
ryne swallows hard, her throat dry from their extended time out in the desert, but nevertheless lowers herself into a proper combat stance. she understands his thoughts without him needing to tell her them proper. she will fight at his command.
and yet… and yet–
something in his chest tightens. she will fight the eater alongside him with every bit of strength she has, and he knows she will do her best to not falter, but even still thancred can’t–
he doesn’t know what makes this time different than all the last, but he can’t do it. he can’t risk her.
thancred jams a cursed bullet into his gunblade and lunges for the eater before he has another second to think. the roar of the warrior’s power courses so violently through the weapon and up his arm that he clenches his teeth, the strain on his body causing him immense discomfort. he misses ryne startling from her position and instinctively leaping backwards into relative safety, no doubt alarmed by the potent burst of aether thancred should not be wielding.
he snarls with uncharacteristic aggression and drags his blade at a heavy angle through the eater, bisecting it with a precise explosion of aether. its halves shriek and thrash and dissolve from the empowered strike, each crumbling part of its body shredded so viciously, so thoroughly, the remaining particles vaporize into the atmosphere. it all takes less than a second, and leaves a near vacuum in its place where thancred struggles to breathe due to the sudden displacement of aether.
he lands hard in the sands below and gasps for breath, ryne rushing over to his side and gingerly placing a small hand on his shoulder. thancred coughs raggedly, his chest heaving with every pained inhale, and he dumbly blinks up at her.
the girl’s expression of horrified bewilderment causes him to rethink that meeting with tiamat. the way the warrior of light and dark shuffled so nervously, uncertain of herself, while entrusting to him the most deadly of gifts she could offer. despite his best efforts to refute the thought, this casts the woman in a drastically different light, and thancred can see a similar realization turning over in ryne’s eyes.
this power to utterly kill, to destroy beyond measure, given to him in a gesture of love and the burden of knowing that he would no longer be able to view her in the same way.
Chapter 23: king's gambit
“i’m beginning to suspect you’re dragging this game on intentionally,” thancred mutters while moving his knight, a little wooden figure shaped into a dragoon’s helm, back towards himself. tiamat is silent, considering her options for several beats, before she slides her rook into the gap at its side from the corner of the board.
“hilariously, that was a very common occurrence during games i played against ishgardians.” she crooks a fond smile while watching him drum his fingers absentmindedly on his leg. “so high and mighty about their skill at a game of logic and strategy, and thinking me some kind of idiot just for being an outsider. right up until i drive them into madness with my nonsense plays. even if i lost, it was still worth it to make them so flustered for having their precious logic toyed with.”
thancred rolls his eyes both at the thought of ishgardian nobles as a general entity, and also at the way tiamat mentally checks out while she relives memories of her causing people mild amounts of grief, solely because she could. he takes her bishop while she doubtlessly strokes her own ego.
the following silence is companionable, at any rate, and thancred is glad for the moment of inconsequential peace. the soft clicking of chess pieces permeates the rustling of wind through trees, and distant chatter of marketeers in the crystarium is only occasionally interrupted by hesitant birdsong. this sort of calm is a rare luxury, indeed, and he isn’t looking forward to resuming their venture out into the empty in the coming days.
“what are you even doing?” he questions a little harshly and tiamat shoots him a nasty squint, her nose wrinkling in indignation. his queen is well on the opposite side of the board and she pays it and his other actions no mind, instead choosing to fuss over the movements of her pawns while unflinchingly sacrificing several greater pieces to him. she moves her own queen forward and thancred scoffs, immediately claiming it with a dragoon-knight. “if you’re looking to frustrate me over a game, you’ll have to try a lot harder. i did room with urianger for years while we were still in our studies.”
“your romantic life isn’t my concern, i assure you. i play to win.” the warrior responds smoothly and with unfair amounts of grace, leaving thancred to sputter uselessly. she moves her remaining bishop in a short, diagonal line and punctuates its positioning with a solid tap of wood against wood. she looks up at him, the angle of light giving her gaze the familiar gleam of a predator closing in on its kill. “checkmate.”
“no…” thancred groans lowly in disbelief, seeing his poor king stuck in a deadlock between her knight and bishop. she had so meticulously moved her pawns and forsaken so many of her pieces that she’d successfully drawn his attention away from her subterfuge. it was a little embarrassing, really, to be beaten at his own game. it wasn’t as though tiamat were a kindred spirit in that regard.
he slaps a hand across his face and chuckles warmly, even if the loss and subsequent blow to his pride stings a bit. a good game is a good game, no matter who the victor may be. “unbelievable. i should have known better to not challenge someone who lived in ishgard for the better part of a year.”
tiamat shrugs. “if it makes you feel any better, they weren’t the ones to teach me how to play. i just got a lot of practice there.”
she knocks his king over with a small flick of her fingers.
Chapter 24: culmination
g’raha has her pinned down against the carpet with most of his weight, her wrist held firmly overhead and her arm bent at a steep angle. tiamat heaves a long, likely exaggerated inhale and sharply blows some loose strands of hair out of her face. his heart hammers beneath crystal.
he knew eventually their generally innocent, ridiculously childish roughhousing would take a dramatic turn into something far more intimate. he knew, since he was but a boy and their playful closeness and the warrior of light’s antics for mayhem were terrifying and, more specifically involving the former, wholly unfathomable to him. g’raha had always known, since she would push and prod (and oh, how she loved to prod) him every which way seeking any number of responses and delighting in his embarrassed stammering.
she enjoyed testing his boundaries in all the best and worst ways, but fortunately for his sanity, g’raha has rather impressively expanded his horizons in the last century. he credits this fact to explain how he is able to keep himself from combusting instantly as he lies above her, his face nevertheless blazing red with heat. learned composure aside, at the rate this standoff is going, his heart may very well burst from his chest entirely.
“so…” tiamat starts softly, staring up at him with wide eyes. he’s never seen her so flushed before and it causes his blood to boil. “is this a yes to my earlier offer, then?” she sounds breathless, looking so utterly bewildered at him through her mess of dark hair, caught off guard by something achingly personal and, on a greater scale, insignificant. just by meeting her openly surprised gaze the once, g’raha feels any tension between them break apart into nothing and his world spins quickly back around onto its proper axis. he laughs.
his head slumps forward into her collarbone and he laughs harder than he knew himself capable and definitely harder than he has in a very, very long time. after mere seconds, tiamat follows suit and begins her own fit of humor with a voice so wholehearted and obnoxious and wonderfully her own that g’raha’s heart leaps at the sound of it. he struggles to continue holding himself more or less upright with his free arm through his laughter, while she, as extremely unhelpful as ever, pats him on the back in rapid and light movements. she cackles into his hair and he wiggles his ears, shivering a little over mixed sensations and the feeling of her breath against his fur.
“okay, okay– but–” tiamat wheezes, “seriously is– this is a yes, right? it’s–?”
in lieu of an answer, and because he would be damned to not press the advantage while he still could, g’raha captures her mouth with his.