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Amaranthine

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“Marshall?”

Ah, a new voice? The dream was full of them, forming a natural melody that accentuated life well, though this one sounded so close by. So familiar, as if he heard that high-pitched tone before. He heard many footsteps, and the sounds of running made him want to run too.

“Trahearne?!”

His heart jumped. He definitely recognized this other voice. The warm comfort the dream provided left every part of his body, replacing it with the strain of gravity pushing down on his body. The light hurt his eyes as he opened them. His vision was blurry, but he made out several figures above him, around him, one brighter than light itself.

Shifting around, he felt leaves under his back and on his legs, soft to the touch. His hand was grabbed, warm fingers closing around his. The figures became more detailed, shocked and worried expressions abound. So diverse like all the races of Tyria, Humans, Asura, Charr, Norn, Sylvari… They wore the same colors, and he knew they fought for the same cause. He remembered a time of those standing with him, fighting to survive against an enemy that seemed unstoppable.

One human in particular, as light as snow, in the dream he saw him always fighting, always glowing, smiling, thriving, living. There was no smile now, his mouth a thin line and his eyes intense. And it was then Trahearne finally realized, he was not in the dream anymore. Above him, he saw golden fruit pods between the dense foliage and frowned in thought.

Something’s not right.

“Everyone, evacuate these premises!” One Asura started to bounce about, angrily shooing away the other pact members. She pushed Norn and Charr alike despite her small stature. The last person to leave, a tiger-patterned Charr, took one last glance at them before standing outside the leafy curtain.

Once the fern-grown area was clear, the white-haired man started to shake. Tears fell down his face, the man clinging to his hand as if letting go meant he himself would perish. The angry dark eyes of a large jungle being, burned into his vision ever since entering the dream, lit up at this very thought, sending a searing pain in his chest. The young human spoke, and the eyes, the pain, dissipated instantly.

“I can’t believe… When you died, I… The pale tree, she said this never happened before, but something about strong emotions and the deep desires of everyone combined… Dwayna, help me.” The man rambled, choking on words and tears.

“I… died?” His voice was raspy, the words nearly too heavy for his tongue to say.

The man nodded. “In the jungle. The dragon had captured you. I…”

Memories slowly trickled back into his mind. How he was trapped within the vines, hoping that he would perish there before Mordemoth would fully take him. All he longed for was death, so much so he had to beg for it from the last person he wanted to see suffer.

“How did I come back?”

“The moment you came out of a pod, the Pale Tree had someone come get me. I don’t think I’ve ever ran faster,” he chuckled, but his smile faltered too quickly. “We’re not sure how or what, to be honest.”

Rebirth. Trahearne hadn’t thought it possible. Yet here he was. “Am I the only one?

“We’re not sure of that either. Amira and the others are looking into it.”

Trahearne nodded, and a burdened silence followed. The commander squeezed his hand over and over. He felt many small scars and saw the dark circles under the commander’s eyes. He wondered how long it had been while he wandered in the dream, how much the commander had to endure while he was gone. Too much. I should have been there for him. If I had not been on the Pact Fleet…  Could I have done things differently back then? Does it matter now?

“I had wished over and over for you to come back,” The commander interrupted his thoughts, “but I didn’t think it would happen. I didn’t dare hope… I’m overjoyed, yet-“

“Leverett,” Trahearne whispered, covering the human’s hand with his own. “I’m sorry. For what I made you do. For leaving you alone.”

The commander chuckled again and gently moved closer until he had his head on Trahearne’s chest. “Don’t apologize. You did what you had to do.”

“But that doesn’t make the pain easier.”

There was no reply, but Trahearne felt tears fall on his chest. Gently, he lifted his free arm and hugged the commander as tight as he could.

“There’s a lot you’ve missed,” the commander said, and it made Trahearne smile. Be it the Pale Tree, Ventari or the Human Gods, he got a second chance. He was back to experience life with the people he loved. He felt hope again.

“Tell me everything.”

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Ginni slapped the top of her mech, a hollow bang reverberating through the air. “This bad boy can quite adequately conform to any multitude of homo sapiens!”

The dark green Asura stood proud on one of the metallic arms of her mech like a newly won trophy. The mech was a technological wonder, the commander’s right hand claimed, but all Trahearne saw was a floating bubble pod with two arms. A tiny pod, no less.

Trahearne tried to be diplomatic. “We’re not sure, we might break something.” Or it might break them, he feared.

She opened her mouth to protest, but a loud guffaw made them all look at the tiger Charr, with a grin full of sharp teeth.

“Only sardines sleep in metal casings!” Lieutenant Stormfang stepped in front of the mech and ignored the high-pitched protests behind her. “I have exactly what you need. You want to prove you are true survivors, sleeping under hides you skinned yourself, waking up to breakfast you hunted.”

She pointed to her tent, sturdy leather held in place with finely carved wooden poles. Impressive on its own, but even more so was a butcher’s block. Despite the dangling knives and its surface being clean, Trahearne didn’t want to get too close.

All around, soldiers were setting up their own tents or dousing their campfires, preparing for the night to come. The lowering sun painted the forest in a warm glow. Aurene napped peacefully on the mountainside, and Trahearne found himself enjoying the presence of a non-hostile dragon. All in all, a perfect end of a day filled with travel and a perfect chance for a romantic opportunity. It was what prompted Trahearne to request private quarters from the commander’s advisors.

Now Trahearne wondered what caused this lapse in wisdom.

His face betrayed his thoughts. The commander tried and failed to hold in laughter, holding his hand in front of his mouth and coughing when Trahearne looked at him. “Right. You’re both very kind, but we’ll sleep on the airship tonight.”

“Are you sure? There are less guards on the airship and more patrols on the ground,” Stormfang protested.

“I concur! What if a dragon attacks? Or the Mists open again?” Ginni said, jumping off her mech. “You both perished once. Next death might be your last!”

The commander started countering them, but Trahearne didn’t register it. For a split second, all noise minimized to a flatline tone.

“What do you mean, both?” he said, softly.

The three of them paused mid-argument, all gazes turning to him.

“Leverett. When did you die?” Trahearne asked, louder.

Both lieutenants eyed each other with concern, and slowly backed away to give them privacy. Silently, Trahearne thanked them.

“During my first battle with Balthazar. The short version is, he had caught me unaware, and I was taken down before the Pact could arrive to help me.” The commander said it as if he were explaining the basics of spellcasting. “I wandered around in the Domain of Grenth, unable to recall who I was. Luckily I regained my identity quickly and found a way out.”

Trahearne’s mind flooded with horrible thoughts of the commander’s body being burned or maimed. “You haven’t told me this.”

“It didn’t matter.”

His words sparked something inside of Trahearne, a feeling the scholar didn’t think he possessed. Anger.

“How did it not matter?!” he yelled. The commander’s sky-blue eyes went wide. No doubt some camp soldiers were alerted by that, but he could not care. 

“I may have not there to witness your death and return,” Trahearne continued, and paused. I should have been, he thought with a heavy heart. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not important to others! Don’t you see-“

“It didn’t matter,” The commander gently interrupted by emphasizing his words, and lifted his hands to Trahearne’s face. “Because I got to see you again.”

The commander touched the ridges of his chin and neck, featherlight caresses tickling sensitive bark. A human’s face could be just as beautiful, Trahearne thought, with the dusky evening casting shadows on the commander’s face, a dance between light and dark.

“When I wandered in the domain of Grenth, I saw you. You were only a memory, one of many, but even in my addled state I followed you. It felt good… and painful to see you.

I thought about staying, but I know you wouldn’t have wanted that. So I left. I often wished I hadn’t, after a long day of battle only to find an empty bed.

But then I wouldn’t have met you again. So it doesn’t matter that I died. Because I came back. And you did too.”

The commander closed his eyes and smiled. “For that, I thank the Gods every day.”

There was more he wasn’t aware of, Trahearne realized. He had been given an inkling on how many adventures the commander had been on since his death, but it hadn’t sunk in yet how much it had cost the commander, and how it weighed on his shoulders. Heavy was the burden of the living, for dying was easy to do and hard to deal with.

In one impulsive moment, Trahearne took hold of the commander’s face and kissed him, his lips warm and soft. The commander’s eyes opened and fluttered half shut, cherishing the time they had and each other, for as long as fate allowed it to last.

When they let go, Trahearne saw in the corner of his eyes a few soldiers grinning, and blushed. “Your lieutenants have chosen to flee the scene.”

“Good. It’s late,” the commander smiled.

With a simple beckon, Aurene lept down to them and allowed them to climb her back. She flew them up to the airship with such ease, they must weigh as much as flies, Trahearne thought.

The front of the large steel airship was free of any Pact members, allowing them the privacy and a front row seat of the stars above. Just as they spread their large bedroll, they felt a loud thud under their feet – followed by the young dragon laying herself to rest behind them, taking over most of the deck.

The commander looked sheepish. “Is this a bad time to mention Aurene died and came back too, and that the soldiers think we’re all related to Palawa Joko?”

Trahearne laughed and wrapped an arm around the commander’s waist. When the moment was right, he’d ask who Palawa Joko was.

Chapter Text

“Commander,” she said, “Do me the honor of sparring with me tomorrow.”

She held up a mug of beer and clinked it against his with cheers. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes. She’s tall for a Norn, he had thought, tall enough to notice how she made a beeline for him when entering the tavern they visited. Because he was the only human she saw, she told him, but there were two other human privates next to the door.

These inklings of suspicion should have been enough, but the commander hadn’t listened to his own warning bells. He missed the daily routine of the Pact and plunged headfirst into a training bout. After all, he had seen her plenty of times with the other privates. Always trying to convince them to drinking challenges or boasting about her missions.

He didn’t question it when they went deep on the forest. He didn’t have time to, when the moment he turned to face her, he felt a dull sting and saw a dagger in his chest. He stumbled backwards and leaned against a tree, its broken branches digging into his back.

The muscles burned from the blade in his flesh. Warm blood seeped into the cloth of his uniform, and he feared if he checked how deep the dagger was buried he would lose focus. He fought his instinct to shift away from the tree.

“Why?” he rasped.

Her eyes narrowed. “Why you?”

She’s cold. Norn were passionate, warm-blooded enough to grandstand the mountain, but she radiated nothing but soberness when looking into her eyes.

“All your friends are alive. All of them unscathed. Have you stopped for a moment to think what others have lost?”

Always, he thought. Marjory lost her sister. Braham lost his mother. Taimi is still dying. Was she not there to witness it? “We fought… together…” he faltered. He’s struggling to breathe. He feared the blade might have punctured his lungs, and now he tried not to panic.

“Know that I have never forgiven you,” she whispered, keeping her hand on the hilt, glove clean of his blood.

I can’t let her pull out the blade. “Should… have told me…” he rasped.

“Would you have listened?” she said, too calmly. He started to suspect her words are an excuse for a different reason, but doubt consumed him. He would have listened to her, he thought, but maybe he never had time. There were many stories he would never hear in his human lifetime.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try. That didn’t mean she could take his life.

He willed the heat in the air to cluster together, fingertips hot until a fire sparked in his right hand. Before the startled Norn could react, he grabbed hold of her wrist, searing the leather armor and the skin underneath it.

She screamed in pain and let go. He fell to the ground on his side and the pain of the knife overcame him, all he saw were stars. He expected her to retaliate, instead he saw her blurred form hesitate before running off.

It took him a few seconds to hear the voices and footsteps of others.

“Commander!” One of the privates from the inn. Micah, he believed. The blue-haired human’s glasses almost fell off while rolling him on his back, staring frantically at the bloodied knife in the bigger wound. “We overheard her taking a bribe from someone and followed you. Sorry! Please don’t move,” he said and conjured a glowing blue book. The commander almost laughed, as if an apology was needed for saving a life.

Several flashes of black butterflies nearby told him private Ethan was in hot pursuit, recognizing the teleport. The loud cursing made him aware that the capture was successful. No doubt he’d have to deal with her punishment later.

“Leverett,” he heard, and there’s only one person who can say his name in a way that made him forget painful feeling of damaged nerve ends and flesh being knitted together by healing magic. As he winced, Trahearne kneeled and took his hand, holding it tight.

He’s going to nag endlessly about my recklessness, the commander knew, and smiled when Trahearne picked him up.

“We can’t leave you alone it seems,” Trahearne said in a worried tone.

“If it’s you, I don’t mind at all,” the commander sassed and winced again. That was going to leave another scar.

It was easy to joke. but deep inside he was unsettled. The knowledge that he was sold out for something as basic as money gave him little comfort. It confirmed his earlier suspicions, and that it meant she hadn’t intended for him to die – maybe she would have passed him surviving off as an accident and the guilt trip would have stopped him from delving further into her motives. But his life had a price, and some of the soldiers were willing to accept it.  

His last thoughts before a magic-induced slumber in the arms of his lover was that he hoped that this wouldn’t change him, even if he knew that was futile.

Chapter Text

They had just finished talking to Crecia, discussing their best plan of action. Commander Leverett turned around, planning to rush to the imperators when his newest journey was literally blocked by his own Charr lieutenant. He faceplanted into her chest armor before stumbling backwards, rubbing his visibly confused face. This confusion grew when she told him he had to to relax.

“When was the last time you took a day off?!” Amira roared the moment the commander protested. “You’re one dragon minion away from a total breakdown. Burn me, you’re going to enjoy yourself or I’ll break the wheels of every caravan!”

He quickly relented. One simply did not argue with the leader of the Storm warband.

One announcement later and Dragon’s Watch dropped what they were doing to explore every corner of Grothmar Valley. Trahearne was quite pleased. He had been fascinated at the sights around him ever since they arrived. He rarely got a chance to see Charr culture up close, due to their xenophobia amongst others.

“Today we aren’t the commander and marshall. We’re just Leverett and Trahearne,” Leverett said. "Here." He held out a shirt.

“What’s this?” Trahearne asked, taking it. Leverett wasted no time changing shirts, which Trahearne certainly didn’t mind watching.

“We need to be dressed for the occasion. It’s time for Metal Legion!” he said, happy enough that he nearly bounced. It made Trahearne chuckle. "Braham said if I didn't see it, I would regret it my entire life."

Trahearne didn’t know exactly what Charr music was like, but if Leverett wanted to see it, he would too. He put the shirt on over his foliage, and it put a massive grin on Leverett’s face. His partner wasted no time grabbing his hand and dragging him to a road that went up into the mountainside.

There were already a lot of people when they arrived, and more followed after them. The stage was… excessive, to say the least. Terrifying metal dragons that didn’t look safely secured. Cables everywhere. A lack of staff, no doubt. But the crowd was so excited, the atmosphere was electric.

Behind the impressively dressed Charr was an Asura, and he could barely hear them talk. Something about security? Volunteers? Trahearne wasn’t sure if he should be worried. No one else seemed to care. 

Before he could voice his concerns, Leverett nudged him and pointed towards the front of the stage where the lead singer grabbed the microphone. Whatever his partner wanted to say, the words got lost in the sound as the crowd started screaming and hollering. The first beats of the drums played. The noise became impossibly loud.

The music was quite energizing. The charr’s hoarse voice vibrated through his whole body, and Trahearne wondered if his leaves could fall off. He didn’t have long to think however, when everyone around him started jumping up and down. Even Leverett joined them, yelling the chorus. Every second someone bumped him, and he couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or not when there was a group up front literally fighting.

The concert grew larger and more chaotic, and Trahearne didn’t know where to look. By the Pale Tree, were those Charr fighting? Were those sparks on the other side of the crowd? What was going on with the giant metal display? Was it on fire and… moving? Why was half the audience on the stage with the band?

It was so hot, his body threatened to shrivel up and wilt. Someone tugged at his arm and didn’t let go. Trahearne panicked for a fraction of a second until he saw it was Leverett. He was sweating as much as Trahearne was, hair slick and stuck to his forehead, cheeks bright red. Before Trahearne could tell Leverett that if he was alright, despite knowing he couldn’t hear it, the bright-haired man grabbed the back of his neck and captured his lips.

Their kisses were normally soft and sweet. Now it was rough, exhilarating, almost painful. Trahearne felt a rush when Leverett pulled away faster than he wished. That grin was a honeyed drug that invited him for more. He wanted to steal another kiss when a Charr fell in between them in a failed attempt to crowdsurf.

Just like that, the concert ended as it started, with a sudden roar, a thunderous applause and a slow hum. Trahearne watched everything slow down around him, his hearing dampened from rock music that no longer played to take action. The concert goers came down from their high and most of them departed, leaving a lot of trash behind.

“Dwayna, I needed this,” Leverett said, wiping his forehead, pulling Trahearne out of his concert trance. Sweat beaded down his neck and Trahearne focused in on it. “I’m sorry for dragging you here, you looked so uncomfortable."

Trahearne forced himself to look back into Leverett's eyes. “It was worth it," he said, wrapping one arm around his human partner’s waist and the other tracing Leverett’s lower lip.

Leverett shivered oh so slightly. "To make up for it, you can bring me to a concert you like."

He was going to regret that, if what he learned today about Leverett’s music taste. But a promise was a promise. “Deal,” Trahearne said, grinning.