One day, Reani isn’t going to come home.
Fen knows this, okay. She is intimately aware of every inch of Reani’s body, the way her spine slopes downwards and her feet limp after a long day on the streets. More often than not, she’s walking around with blood in her hair and a split lip and she’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, but she’s as good as dead.
It’s hard to imagine, though. Fen tricks herself.
Without even trying, she can paint out a future in her mind: this, forever. No kisses or smiles – a hug on the odd occasion Reani needs something badly enough to visit. Fen doesn’t mind. So long as Reani is around – so long as Reani is sweeping the streets of scum, fur sleek and teeth sharp, Fen wouldn’t mind anything. She’s lost the right to grieve for their relationship. She hasn’t lost the right to grieve for her friend.
Every time, it descends to yelling. Fen doesn’t want to fight. Fen never wants to fight, but Reani just doesn’t want to listen.
“This is dangerous,” Fen says, nice and slow. “Do you know how many people have died trying to fix this mess?”
“I’m doing this. You can’t stop me.”
“I’m not trying to stop you,” Fen says, shoving back a screech of rage behind her teeth. Patience. Be patient. “I’m trying to get you to think. There has to be a better way.”
“I won’t die. It isn’t my time.”
“Just listen to me!”
Umagorn understands – well, Umagorn understands to a certain extent. He lets her drink out her sorrows on his cold stone floor when everything gets too much, when Fen is too tired to pretend that loving Reani doesn’t mean losing her too, when work is shit and there’s no one else to complain to because her best friend is a vagabond vigilante who only deals with her for favours now. Fen isn’t bitter. Fen is so past bitter she doesn’t even know what she is anymore. Old, probably.
For all his sympathy, though, he’s basically useless when it comes to giving advice.
“Just…don’t fight with her,” he says, like it’s easy. Maybe it is easy for him. He’s always been kind of a pushover.
“I try not to,” Fen says. She’s not drunk – she’s unpleasantly tipsy, the kind where the world swims but her emotions still writhe underneath her skin. What’s the point of getting drunk if she can’t drown that out? “But she’s really stupid. Just. So stupid.”
“Maybe,” Umagorn says. “Calling her stupid isn’t the best way to go about things.”
Fen scowls. “Stupidest person I know,” she says, but small. There’s been too much drinking going on around here lately, and they all know it. Sooner or later, Fen is going to have to find a real avenue to vent out her frustrations. This whole thing is getting ridiculous.
“Say you’re sorry,” Dylan signs.
Fen shakes her head. The world swims. “Absolutely not.”
“You’re both stupid,” Dylan signs, hands cutting hard through the air. Then she goes back to work. For all her faults, that’s something that Fen has always admired about Dylan – her complete unwillingness to suffer bullshit.
“She’s due to come over sometime soon, if you want to make yourself scarce,” Umagorn says.
Fen blinks sleepily down into her alcohol, and then heaves out a sigh. She doesn’t think she’s going to get very far by herself without one of her colleagues hauling her in for public intoxication, but hey, it isn’t like her life can get any more embarrassing. She’s sure there’s some kind of karma attached to this whole thing that will even everything out eventually. Either she’s making up for murdering a saint in her past life, or she’s going to be reborn into a world where someone loves her enough to stay.
“Put her in the back room,” Dylan signs. “She’ll do something stupid otherwise.”
“I’m not the stupid one,” Fen tells her, and then completely ignored Umagorn’s growl of warning as she walks into the back room and collapses face-first onto the floor.
“What happened to that girlfriend of yours?” one of her colleagues asks, once. “I haven’t seen her hanging around here lately.”
Fen doesn’t know what face she makes, but she does know that no one ever asks her that question again.
Despite all the evidence on the contrary – and there is, unfortunately, quite a lot of it – Fen isn’t thoughtless. She isn’t even in denial, which is probably a step up.
What Fen is, is desperate.
“I’ll do anything,” she tells the cold stone of the temple, hands clasped and shaking in front of her. Her knees ache. She’s not used to sitting like this, knelt forward with her legs tucked underneath her. “I’ll do anything, just let her be safe.”
The Moonweaver smiles enigmatically from above.
She doesn’t receive an answer, but that’s okay, because Fen isn’t Reani. She doesn’t have an angel in her head telling her what to do, who to kill, who to spare. She doesn’t have a halo lighting up her face or golden eyes or sunlit freckles, doesn’t have a sweet smile or an unshakable certainty that there is good in the world along with the bad. What Fen has is faith, cobbled together from raw terror. Before this – before Reani – she had never been particularly religious.
Deals with gods can go two ways: they ignore your existence, or they ask for…things.
Fen doesn’t have any strange dreams. There are no odd conversations with strangers, no signs from above, no miracles. Reani still goes back to her house with blood trailing from her ankles.
Maybe Fen is one of the lucky ones. Maybe there is no price here for empty prayers.
She doesn’t feel particularly lucky.
Reani walks away, but only because Fen does it first.
“I can’t have you betray me like this,” Reani says, and Fen wants to laugh. She hasn’t laughed in so long. There’s a cold spot in her ribcage that just won’t thaw. Maybe it’s the weather – maybe she’s been spending too long underground, away from the sun. But she doesn’t think so.
“I love you,” Fen says, pressing her hands to Reani’s cheeks and leaning in. She’s so warm. Fen wants this. Fen wants this so bad. “But I won’t do this anymore. I won’t watch you kill yourself.”
Reani pulls back, ripping herself away from Fen’s fingertips. Fen is left clutching at cold air.
“You don’t understand,” she says, shaky.
Fen wants to reach in and smooth her thumb along the lines of Reani’s forehead. She wants to grab her tight by the shoulders and hold her close, head pressed to her chest so Fen can hear Reani’s steady heartbeat. She’s spent hours in bed, listening to the reassuring thump, thump, thump underneath her cheek as she drifts off to sleep.
“I’m trying,” Fen says, Fen pleads. “I’m trying to understand, but I don’t think I can. Not like this. Not when you’re not making any sense.”
“If you loved me, you’d understand,” Reani says.
Fen closes her eyes and struggles to breathe. “You’re going to get yourself killed,” she says. “And I want no part in this.”
Fen has no right to Reani.
Reani doesn’t quite seem to understand this, yet, but she will. Eventually, she’s going to stop coming around to the training yard looking for a fight. Fen doesn’t know if she looks forward to the inevitable day of realisation with nausea or relief.
Reani is going to die, and Fen has lost her right to her funeral a long time ago.
(When Reani comes back from a dragon – a fucking dragon, of all the things – Fen watches from as far away as she can manage. Too close, she’s found, and she starts to burn. The distance works best. From here, she can see the shape of Reani’s smile, can see the golden glint of her eyes, and –
One day, Reani isn’t going to come back. But not today).