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Between Catastrophes

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Ten nights together, eleven days. And then the Warrior was gone. Coloring all the Exarch’s activities from the moment she slipped through the Portal was one simple imperative: daydream. Daydream all day long, as long as he could.

Mostly, he wondered how she would return to him - with arms around his neck? As a surprise in the middle of the night? - but in his darker moments the question became thus: would she return to him at all?

He reclined over a plush sofa they’d brought into the Umbilicus, his body heavy, as though he'd spent the day wandering Lakeland instead of coordinating recovery efforts just outside. His eyes were closed, his neck curved over the arm rest, teeth pulling at his bottom lip. Amorously as he and she had parted, the nature of her status as the Warrior of Darkness meant he could not escape the fact that she had many admirers in Norvrandt, and he imagined the Source as well. For the first few days he skipped. And then he stewed. And then he clammed up entirely.

Jealousy did not befit an Exarch, but it wasn’t the only emotion he’d not felt in earnest for some number of centuries. The Warrior’s companionship made him feel adolescent in many regards, made blood flush to certain parts of his body, kept him awake when he ought sleep, made his heart beat and palms sweat when nary a soul was near. Oh yes, he was well aware of, and embarrassed by, the symptoms. For the second time in his life, he lived like an agitated and lust-addled scholar. As much as he thought of loving her, he thought also of having her again, of studying her body so thoroughly that he alone could satisfy her, send her to the stars, to -

His ears flicked to towards the Ocular. Even as footsteps echoed about, it took his weight in willpower to stop his hand from issuing another hearty stroke. Though he had resigned to pleasuring himself when he felt he had to, he did so only with his duties fulfilled, appointments met, errands run. No one should have been in there. No one. Unless…?

“Raha?”

He stood so fast he nearly tripped over his tail. Holding his breath, he fumbled to right his smallclothes, smooth his robes, wipe his forehead with the back of his hand. Shock or guilt kept his face emotionless as he went about the Umbilicus, checking papers, fixing chairs, searching for nothing in particular, but anything that could have tipped her off to the nature of his seclusion.

What a weak man he had become.

And how excited was he to have her home.

“Mercy…” A little spirit caught on his breath, nothing more. He inhaled, exhaled until his face didn’t feel quite as hot. Uncertain still that shame no longer colored his cheeks, he stepped into the Ocular and saw, for the first time in what felt like an age of lust and tumult, the woman he loved and longed for.

The Warrior clicked her helmet off and held it against her waist. With eyebrows upturned just so, blush on her cheeks lit against her scales - G’raha felt shamed to have doubted her affections. “H...hello, then,” she said, tapping the tip of her boot on the floor. “Have you managed without me?”

“Managed?” His ears went back, his tail flared. It was all he could do to stop himself from leaping into her arms. His hands searched for the right thing to do: embrace, caress, grasp? “I-I’ve - I must say it troubles me how acutely I felt your absence.”

“And I yours...I’ve no choice to admit.” A wry smile.

“I hope your time in the Source was suitably...productive?”

She blinked and lowered her head. “I saw Edmont…”

“I am glad.”

“He is well.” She brushed back her bangs and smiled through a web of pain. “But there is another problem.” Two worlds weighed upon her shoulders, small as she was, and in those moments she wore that weight more than he’d seen it since...since…

...since she defeated the Lightwardens on his behalf…

A pit formed in the Exarch's stomach. Who was he to forsake his decades and play a young man once again? To lust after someone a fraction his age, albeit a dear and powerful friend? Each time he parsed a conclusion - This is okay. This is all right. This is true. - something fingered the wound once more, and he bled until someone had the nerve to ask why he was bleeding. The answer, never quite the truth.

But her return was no time to play the brooding lover. He clicked his chin up and advanced, arms wide and warm. “Oh, of course there is. My love…” But a few ilms taller than she, he felt his frame was formidable enough to offer her some comfort should he guide her forehead to his chest. Horns rubbed his collarbone. He searched for places on her mail not liable to stab him. She lost her grip on her helmet and it tumbled across the crystalline floor.The embrace was anything but graceful, but perhaps that’s part of the reason she started laughing.

“Raha,” she said. “We must summon the others.”

“Of course! But I want you to know how thankful I am that you are safe.”

“You are...too kind.” She gazed at him with glowing Auri eyes, deep as the seas her fellows claimed. Would that he could see that place someday and meet the ones she cherished.

Slipping into a lover’s behaviors made sense to his body, but his mind lagged behind and questioned each move. While his fingers traced her eyebrows to her scales, he wondered whether he should have stopped to pick up her helmet. While he cupped her cheek and leaned in, he wondered if he should have asked to kiss her first. He inhaled when their lips met and caught the scent of rainwater and greenery. Visions of Gridania reached from beyond the Portal and convinced him that yes - someday he could return - but when she pulled away the truth did not linger as her cheek did beneath his hungry touch.

“We must summon the others,” she whispered, eyelids yet low and full of ardor and affection. A look of love and trust. “This could be very serious.”

“I understand. And I am with you.”

She swiped a strand of hair from the bridge of his nose. “And thank the gods you are.”