In all fairness to Azu, she was new to the group and didn’t quite know what made everyone tick yet. Hamid and Grizzop seemed easier to read, but Sasha was a mystery to her, and it seemed that was the way she liked it. She was a strange woman, and surprisingly hard to describe. Even with her scars, she was easy to miss in a crowd-- Easy to lose anywhere, really. Azu really wasn’t used to it.
She was herself extremely hard to miss, as a tall, dark skinned orc in glowing pink armour. She knew this, but she was used to it. She didn’t mind the stares or looks. Being easy to pick out made it easier for people to find her, and for her to make new friends, anyways, so it wasn’t like it was necessarily a bad thing. Even Hamid and Grizzop stood out with how fancy the halfling was and how...goblin Grizzop was.
Once again, Sasha had wandered off from the group, and Azu was worried sick. It was getting on night time with the sun lowering over the desert like a painting, and Sasha hadn’t come back yet. It hadn’t even been her fault that she left either! Probably. Azu hadn’t been able to tell what had offended Sasha the time before. It was all very complicated.
Hamid and Grizzop didn’t seem too worried: Hamid because he knew Sasha, and Grizzop, because he figured she’d be able to find her way back in the dark anyway. It wasn’t as though the al-Tahan residence was extraordinarily hard to miss. The three of them were relaxing in one of the house’s lounges, Hamid sitting at a table in the corner writing something, and Grizzop on the floor polishing his breastplate. Eventually growing tired of Azu’s pacing, Hamid took pity on her. Apparently, when she needed to think, Sasha tried to get up as high as she could. That did make sense.
It took a while for her to be able to climb up to the roof of the mansion in her amour, and if Sasha was up there, she was sure she knew Azu was there with all of the clanking. However, as she heaved herself over the side of the building panting, she found Sasha sitting on the edge of the building with her back to her, none the wiser. Azu took a moment to catch her breath, watching the woman in front of her.
Her short black hair and long coat were blowing in the wind, an after effect of the sandstorm that had just passed through. Her hands were holding onto the stone edge of the building lightly, not seeming to be scared at all of the prospect of the steep drop in front of her. Azu couldn’t see her face, but her posture looked relaxed. Or as relaxed as she’d ever seen her. The sun dipped lower, allowing the sky behind her to fade slowly to indigo with the coming darkness, and she sighed, watching the ripple of the remaining orange sunlight in the highlights of the woman’s hair.
But it was getting late, and Sasha needed to come inside. It wasn’t safe being out alone in a new city, no matter how well she could handle herself. And besides, they had no way of knowing if another sandstorm would blow through that night, and the thought of Sasha getting locked out here alone in the middle of it was chilling.
So she wandered her way over and grabbed Sasha’s shoulder. Apparently, this was a mistake.
Quick as a flash, Sasha was spinning around, reflexively popping a knife out of her sleeve to hold to Azu’s throat, as another blade dug into the skin of her belly as it poked between the edges of her armour. Panicked, she held up her hands.
“Sasha, wait! It’s Azu!” She yelped, watching Sasha’s pale face and wide eyes. It took her a moment still before she seemed to remember who Azu was, and she stepped back slightly. Her face looked stormy and tired, and the knives from before stayed locked in her grasp despite the lack of threat.
“Don’t. Do that again.” Sasha ground out.
“Okay, okay, I won’t.” Azu said, hands still held on either side of her head, “I was just coming to bring you inside. It’s getting late, and I--the other’s were starting to worry.”
“I’m fine on my own.”
“I’m sure you are, but we’d just feel a bit safer knowing everyone was in the same place tonight after everything that’s happened.” A tense moment passed between the two of them before Sasha relented.
“Fine.” She said and stepped backwards off the edge of the roof. Azu cried out and collapsed to her knees to look at the ground far below, entirely convinced that she was going to find a Sasha shaped body on the ground, but was only met by empty space and a pair of gauzey curtains blowing through an open window two stories below.
There was a funeral to get to, and everyone was ready and waiting in Hamid’s room except for Sasha who was nowhere to be found. Again. Grizzop was busy trying to pull Hamid into any semblance of ready for his sister’s funeral-- His sister… It was just so sad to think about. Azu couldn’t even bear to think about what losing her few family members would feel. There were fat tears falling down Hamid’s cheeks, making his eyeliner run. Grizzop had his work cut out for him.
The goblin looked at her overtop of Hamid’s head, and jerked his head back in the direction of their rooms, his intent clear. It was her turn to find Sasha. It kept being her turn to find Sasha. She really wished someone else would take a turn.
It wasn’t at all that she didn’t like the woman, she just always seemed to make a mess of things whenever she tried to interact with her. She reminded Azu a tad of Aaron Fairhands only because she couldn’t help but feel the same need to prove herself to Sasha that she did to her mentor. It was very strange, but she supposed it wasn’t that odd since she felt the same thing about Grizzop and Hamid to a lesser extent.
She hummed quietly under her breath, tapping her pointer finger against her thigh as she walked. As she found her way back in the direction of their rooms, Azu couldn’t help but cross her fingers and hope she wouldn’t have to go all the way back up to the roof. It wouldn’t be proper probably to show up dirty and sweaty to a funeral-- especially one put on by the al-Tahans. Only stalling a bit, Azu first checked all of the nearby lounges before starting in on the bedrooms, and even then, she checked her own first, and then the boys’ before even considering Sasha’s. There was a funeral to get to; She couldn't keep wasting time like this.
As tentatively one can be whilst wearing heavy armour, Azu knocked on the door. Tapping her foot quietly, she waited a full minute. When there was no answer, she nervously knocked once more, called out a quick “Sasha? I’m coming in!”, and turned the doorknob.
The first thing Azu noticed was how empty Sasha’s room was. It wasn't as though any of them had been there long enough or had enough things on them for their rooms to be very lived in, but at least Hamid had folded up his cloak on the chaise at the foot of his bed. Grizzop had carefully placed a tiny shrine to Artemis by his window, made with the objects in his bag of holding. Sasha’s room was spotless as though she hadn’t touched anything-- the only reason it was so easy to find her.
Beside her fully made bed, Sasha slept, curled up in her funeral clothes under a blanket on the floor. Despite the time crunch, Azu couldn’t help but freeze for just a moment to take in the scene. Sasha didn’t necessarily look incredibly peaceful, at least not in the way she heard about in books, but there was a certain calm look on her face that Azu didn’t think she’d ever seen before. Her eyebrows were still drawn together as though she was tense even in sleep, but her mouth was slightly open. Every few seconds, she would huff out a puff of air that made a chunk of overgrown fringe hanging over her face float up minutely before falling back over her forehead.
Shaking her head, Azu walked towards the sleeping woman, not really bothering to quiet her footsteps since she was trying to wake her anyway. Once she was close enough, Azu crouched down and started calling Sasha’s name, hoping to be able to wake her without getting in stabbing distance. When that didn’t work, nor did rasing her voice do anything, Azu resigned herself to her fate and scooted forward. As soon as one of her large, armoured hands landed on Sasha’s shoulder, the woman jolted awake, eyes wide and breath juttering in her chest. Azu felt herself grow painfully worried as she watched Sasha instinctively flinch back from her and raise her arms in front of her body.
“Sasha, It’s okay.” She lifted her arms again and tried for a gentle voice, “You weren’t waking up. We have to get to the funeral. For Hamid. I mean, to support Hamid. It’s for his sister?” She was rambling. Sasha nodded jerkily and gave a thumbs up, pushing herself to her feet.
“Cheers. Thanks. Been, like, um, tired recently, I guess? Whatev-- Who cares. It’s fine, like-- Let’s go.” Without waiting for her, Sasha glided out of the room, fast enough that in the time it took Azu to stand and close the door, Sasha was nowhere to be found.
When the group had arrived in Damascus, three of the party members almost immediately leapt from the carriage, leaving Hamid alone to stare at them in confused shock as the carriage got smaller and smaller in the distance. Azu and Grizzop were in a heap on the ground laughing as Hamid shouted back at them. Even Sasha, who had landed spectacularly on her feet and remained standing beside the two paladins, was cracking a smile and seemed to be suppressing laughter.
“What is wrong with Hamid!!” Grizzop cried through peals of laughter and a wide grin, causing Azu to break out in giggles once again. She winced briefly at the strain in her side where a bruise was undoubtedly forming under her armour. Small spaces weren’t good to her, and she panicked, but at least she had her friends with her (or most of them. She laughed again as she remembered Hamid’s tiny perplexed face staring at them from the carriage.)
As she pulled herself to her feet grunting slightly, she gripped Grizzop’s hand tightly and yanked him up beside her. Swaying slightly from standing up too fast, Azu dropped a heavy steadying hand on Sasha’s shoulder, not thinking too much of it as she felt the woman tense. Grizzop kept up his rambling about how irresponsible it was for Hamid to leave the rest of the party, and Azu was struck with how happy she was that she had found these people. Smiling widely, she pulled Grizzop and Sasha in tightly for a hug. Grizzop’s little arms came up to circle her back, holding for a moment and patting her waist lightly before he squirmed out of the hug. Sasha remained frozen in place until Grizzop left the hug when she also ducked out from Azu’s grasp. It wasn’t until Sasha had left the embrace that Azu remembered.
“Oh, Sasha, I’m sorry!” She gasped, the happiness from earlier almost entirely blanketed by guilt and worry, “I should have asked.”
Sasha rubbed at her arms awkwardly avoiding her gaze.
“S’alright.” She said unconvincingly, and then changing the subject, “Hey, don’t you have a camel?”
“Oh, uh, yes I do.” Azu stumbled over her summoning, burying a hand in Topaz’s fur as she mentally berated herself. She knew Sasha hated touch. How could she have forced her into a hug like that? What was wrong with her?
It took a while for things to leave the awkward space they’d gone to, but one second they were all walking in terse silence together, and then suddenly Grizzop was on her shoulders. And then Sasha was also on her shoulders juggling knives. Topaz grunted in exertion, and as the desert sun beat down on their slow-moving troupe, Azu let the happiness flood back into her system. Things were alright.
They were standing on the bumpy glass of what used to be the seemingly abandoned factory. It was hot enough that as Azu looked out over the horizon, the air was rippling, and she was immensely grateful for Endure Elements. The boys were asleep behind Sasha and her, as Azu had offered the first watch and Sasha hadn’t been able to sleep quite yet. Wilde, of course, wasn’t sleeping but had wandered slightly away from the party to keep working without disturbing them. One of these days, Azu was going to force that man to sleep, she swore it.
It was still dark out as the pair sat together. Hamid snored quietly, and Grizzop mumbled something in his sleep. Despite everything, it really was a lovely night.
“It’s a lovely night.” She said, voicing her thoughts. As much as Sasha seemed to be enjoying the silence, there was only so much silence Azu could take before she couldn’t stand it any longer. It was fine if Sasha didn’t want to respond, but Azu needed to be doing something , and it was either this or singing and that would just be far too embarrassing at that very moment. It was one thing that she was still coming to grips with her growing crush on the woman beside her, but entirely another thing that she kept making mistakes that mucked things up between them. She was genuinely trying, but Sasha was just so hard to understand.
“I can’t believe it was Hamid’s grandfather that did all this, technically. I mean, they mentioned there hasn’t been a sorcerer in ages, and we just found him, huh. I’m glad he has that spell for the heat, though. I’m sure otherwise we’d be being cooked like chickens right now.” She absolutely knew she was rambling, but the silence was stifling. As she continued to speak, she turned back to look at Sasha, prying her tired eyes from the horizon in front of them. Sasha’s gaze was already locked in the direction of her face, slight amusement sparkling in her eyes, only visible due to Azu’s dark vision. Her voice petered off as she looked at the woman.
She looked so soft-- Sasha would hate it if she heard that, so Azu resolutely locked that thought in a box to be dealt with never. Her lips were twisted very slightly in a wobbly smile, and her dark eyes were facing her, just barely missing Azu’s face-- a reminder that she was the only one of the two of them who could see. She looked as though she were in on a joke that Azu wasn’t. At the thought alone, Azu felt her face heat up, glad that Sasha wouldn’t be able to tell even if she could see in the dark.
“What?” She asked eventually. When Sasha didn’t seem to even register the question, she asked again, a bit louder. This time Sasha raised her eyebrows.
“You know I can’t, like, hear you, right?” She said, “Least not on that side, yeah?”
No, she did not.
“No, I didn’t.” She said, feeling shame creep into her voice. How had she not known? Some friend she was…
Sasha stood up smoothly enough that Azu wasn’t even aware that she’d moved, and then suddenly, she was sitting on Azu’s other side.
“There. Um, now you can talk as much-- as much as you want. And I can actually hear you, right?” Sasha blindly flashed her a double thumbs up, and then relaxed her posture so that she was leaning back against her arms with her legs kicked out in front of her. Her hand was placed close enough to Azu’s that if Azu wanted, she could have reached out and placed hers overtop. But she wouldn’t. Sasha wouldn’t like that.
She cleared her throat and forced her eyes back onto the horizon.
“I was just thinking of ways I could get Wilde to go to sleep.”
“Right, then. Go on. Let’s hear ‘em.”
There was nothing about this day that Azu was enjoying. The pipe they were in was too small. They had just walked past a trap that could trap a person in a tiny coffin and lock them in the water below until they stopped breathing. It was dark. Everything was too close and too much, and Sasha wouldn’t shut up about her knife.
Azu knew to have a certain amount of patience, especially when it came to Sasha. Especially when it came to Sasha’s daggers. But this was too much. She had already been on edge for much of the day, and her resolve had slipped a long time ago. Sasha and Grizzop were shouting at each other over the sound of the rushing water that was quickly filling the room. They needed to get out of there or they needed to move or they needed to shut off the water or they needed to--
No one seemed to notice Azu’s breath quicken. She needed something to do. She needed to be helpful, and they all needed to get out of there. Sasha. Sasha had been hurt by the water. She watched silvery strands of light come from Grizzop’s hand as he petulantly held it against her arm, ignoring her furious protests in favour of getting something actually done. She could do that. She could heal Sasha and then they could leave and everything would be okay.
She reached out an arm mechanically, calling to her goddess with panic in her heart. Grateful for the rush of warm comfort her goddess sent back alongside the glow of warm pink energy, she placed her hand over Sasha’s shoulder and channelled whatever healing she could into her. As soon as the healing took effect, however, Sasha let out a frustrated yell.
“Don’t touch me!” She was breathing heavily, but out of anger and frustration at Grizzop where Azu’s heavy breathing came as a result of the panic she was feeling. Hamid, also nervous, was trying to usher the group into a larger space, but Sasha wouldn’t leave her knife well enough alone. It was more important for them to get out than it was for her to have another dagger. She has a million! What was one dagger! They could get another one, but first, they needed to get out.
She placed her shaky hand over Sasha’s shoulder again, channelling more warm energy into Sasha so that they could leave.
“I said don’t touch me !” She shrieked, angrily letting herself get dragged out of the room. Grizzop grabbed her knife from where it was jammed in the door, but he didn’t look happy about it.
Everything had gone to hell and all Sasha could think about was how exhausted she was. She would think that after a while, she would start to perhaps get used to dying, but that was definitely not the case. As the party sat in silence scattered around the cellar, she stared and the ground and continuously ran her fingers through the patch of dead white hair on the side of her head that hadn’t been there an hour ago.
It wasn’t normal for the group to stay this silent for that long, but everyone knew what would happen if they made noise here. Surveying the group, Sasha watched Einstein dejectedly sitting in a corner attempting to get some sleep in spite of the frigid cold that stuck in Rome’s shadows. Hamid was sitting beside the professor attempting to raise his body heat somewhat as he half heartedly drew patterns in the thick layer of dust coating the floor. Azu had left the building a few minutes ago to patrol while the rest of them rested. There was no point in any of them getting any sleep in if they were just going to be woken up by another invisible monster anyways.
Sighing, Sasha ran a hand down the side of her face, scratching her nails lightly against the bumpy scar on her cheek. It was seeming nowadays that she was almost more scar than human. A few minutes was far too long to be alone in this place. Sasha wasn’t worried of course, but it wouldn’t be good for the...team? If Azu were to die? Yeah. It was for the group.
She found Azu sitting against the wall of the building, her head resting on the baking hot stone. It was a wonder she wasn’t getting cooked inside that armour of hers. Sasha stepped forward, stopping in front of Azu with her hands on her hips.
“Having a rest out here, then?” She said, her voice coming out a lot sharper than she had intended. She winced even harder at the way Azu flinched and lurched forward into a standing position.
“Ah, Sasha! I was just...thinking.” She said looking uncomfortable, “We haven’t had a lot of time to just think recently. There aren’t any monster though. Or at least there aren’t any near enough to worry.” A horrible screeching sound came from miles away, and Azu flinched. With how close the two of them were, Sasha had to crane her neck upwards to look Azu in the face (Not in the eyes, but she’d learned to look at people’s noses instead so-- It didn’t matter.)
“Nah, it’s fine. I just came out to make sure you were okay. Because it would be bad for the...group if, um-- if you, uh--”
Azu sighed, looking miserable and sagged forward, careful enough that she still didn’t touch Sasha despite the hunch in her shoulders.
“You don’t ha--”
The women stopped and looked at each other before simultaneously insisting the other spoke first, stumbling over one another until finally, Azu took a sharp breath.
“Fine. I wanted to say I’m sorry. It’s all my fault that we’re stuck here. I’m sorry, okay?” Now that Sasha was paying attention, she could tell that Azu’s hands were shaking fiercely at her sides, “I got us into this mess, and I can’t even do anything to get us out of it. I can’t even heal here. I’m--”
Not waiting for her to stop, Sasha took a step forward, closing the couple inches of space left between them, and threw her arms around Azu’s neck. It was stiff and uncomfortable and Azu’s armour was far too hot, but it seemed to do the trick. Azu immediately bent down the rest of the way and pressed her face into Sasha’s shoulder, muffling a whimper as though just remembering that they were trying to remain quiet.
“I, uh, I was going to say it wasn’t your fault?” Sasha said after a moment, her arms still stiffly sitting around Azu’s shoulders, “You didn’t, like, get our families taken. I guess it’s Hamid’s fault more than anyth-- Sorry, uh, not what I’m trying to say.”
Azu pulled her face out from where it was buried in Sasha’s shoulder and froze, leaving the tiny gap between them feeling like a canyon.
“I’m still sorry” She breathed.
“Oh, shut up,” Sasha said, rolling her eyes. Using her hands around the back of Azu’s neck, she pulled her down to close the space between them, pressing their lips together. The kiss was as tired, angry, and intense as Sasha felt. The way Azu inhaled sharply nearly made her knees give out, the exhaustion finally catching up with her, of course-- Nothing more. It felt like it lasted longer than it did, and by the time they’d broken apart (Sasha jumping away from Azu, not sure what had made her give in to her impulses), Sasha nearly fell on the ground, “Oh gods. Um, that’s n-- It isn’t what it looks like?? No. Shit. Uh--”
“Oh, um! Well, if you didn’t mean--”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Th--The kiss? Just now?”
“Oh.” Azu sighed. She’d learned more about Sasha in the time they’d known each other, so instead of just reaching forward, she opened up her arms and gave her the choice, “Do you want to, maybe, um, try that? Again?” Azu was still surprised when Sasha lunged forward back into her arms.
They only broke apart when they heard a crash from inside followed by some vehement German yelling and Hamid apologizing loudly. The pair shared one more look before running back into their cellar to figure out what was going on.
Maybe things would be alright. They’d all get some rest, they’d find their families, and they’d teleport back to Damascus to meet back up with Grizzop. Everything was fine, and what wasn’t fine, Sasha was sure they could deal with it when it came up.