Minerva leaned over the temple parapet, staring down at the city below. Tiny people swarmed around the damage the Nehrimese siege machines had caused, all lending a hand to repair the breaches in the walls, the broken roofs, the stoved-in walls.
Tiredness dragged at her muscles. It had been early yesterday morning that she had finally managed to finally reach Ark, and she hadn't slept since, between the Nehrimese and... and everything else.
Behind her, the Black Stones thrummed with the almost palpable energy, only barely contained and directed by the peculiar, twisting forms of the Beacon. Were she less bone-weary she would have mused lengthier on the peculiar symmetry of the strange construct.
Footsteps padded up the steps and across the stones behind her. One leg was being heavily favoured. It must be Lexil then. He had been injured by a lucky strike that had almost hit the Beacon.
"Minerva," Lexil greeted, and she acknowledged him with a simple, silent nod, as was her wont.
Her panpipes dangled loosely from her fingertips as she braced herself on the rough stones. Heavy purple bruises lurked under her eyes, ghosts of the sleep she hadn't been getting. Her body slumped under the crippling weight of exhaustion and guilt that she carried.
Lexil's brow furrowed slightly as he joined her at the stone balustrade. He was worried about her, though he'd rather bite off his own tongue than admit it to anyone. He could see the loose, messy bandages wrapped around the wounds she had received from the blades of the Nehrimese, some stained rust-red with dried blood. Her long hair was messy and matted with dirt and filth. At least she was comfortable, or maybe tired enough to have shed her armor.
He thought about what to say to her, perhaps if he should say anything. There was the generic 'Are-you-all-right,' but that was idiotic. Of course she wasn't all right. Nobody was all right anymore, not her, not him, not Arantheal, nobody.
"Do you need anything?" he finally asked quietly, slipping a hand over hers. Like everything about the huge woman, it dwarfed him by comparison.
She shrugged slowly, her muscles moving laboriously under the crushing weight of exhaustion. Lexil sighed, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"You know that's not helpful," he told her, with an echo of the jovial teasing they had shared before she had set off for those damned Stones. She had been so much more relaxed and happy than when they had first met; and then when she had returned and dropped the three stones in his hands...
The slightest hint of a smile crept into her tired eyes as she nodded slowly. Perhaps it was a labored stab at a jest, but it did make Lexil feel better.
Ruffles that were so often mocked by his fellows trailed from his sleeves, brushing against her bare skin and bandaged forearms. His smaller hand cupped over her larger one in a gesture of the warmth and companionship in a time when she needed it the most. Jespar had spewed venom and glimmercapdust, and then disappeared. Calia had been avoiding her like she was a plague-carrier. Rynéus' ashes were spread along the shores he had so loved.
It had not taken much of a stretch for her to blame herself for her friends' ills, and it made Lexil's heart ache.
Pain pricked Minerva's heart at the thought of the boy. He had been an innocent, a child who had reminded her of herself at that age; cast out for something beyond his control. And she... she had all but killed him.
"Stop that," Lexil said gently. His long-fingered, gentle hands turned her toward him, away from the sunset that begged for melancholy contemplations. "You aren't to blame for what happened with Dal'Varek or Sakaresh or Rynéus." He had to tilt his head back to be able to look her in the face. "Minerva," he repeated calmly. "It's wasn't your fault."
Her eyes said otherwise. What if it was? What if you're lying to save my feelings, just like I almost did for Calia? she thought, and was scribed across her face for all to see..
But no. She looked at him, really looked at him. Pale purple was smudged under his eyes, just like it was beneath her own. His face seemed drawn and gray. The once-fastidiously clean suit was splattered with ink and rumpled from the catnaps he had been reduced to catching at his desk. His silvered hair was tangled, his goatee untrimmed.
And yet here he was, trying to comfort her, ease her doubts. He still cared about her, wasn't lashing out because of her failures with what she could have done or should have done. Despite the fact that he was just as overworked and tired as she was, and probably in more far more pain, she added, thinking of his leg, he was here for her.
It was a little too much for her tired, traumatized, unsure soul. She didn't think, and caught him up in a tight embrace, trying to push back hot, emotional, shameful tears. If she could speak, she would have thanked him.
He patted her on the back as best he could, muffled in her tight embrace.
When she finally let him go, a dark flush dusted her golden features. With marked embarrassment, she turned away, signing the I'm sorry.
"Minerva," he said, catching her shoulder. "I-- Don't be sorry."
She paused, eyes wide like a frightened deer, but she didn't pull away. Instead, she turned back toward him, her hands twisting together in a time-honoured unconscious gesture of nervousness.
"Minerva," he said gently, almost tenderly as he reached up to touch her cheek. "Don't apologize. You--" he faltered, just for a moment. "You should know that I'll be here for you when you need it."
A smile, albeit a slow, halting one spread over Minerva's face. For a single, wildly hopeful moment, she wanted to kiss him. Instead, she haltingly cupped his face in her hands and leaned down to gently touch her forehead to his.
It was a rare moment of peace for both hectically harried souls. Minerva felt a tiny knot of discomfort and grief loosen. Perhaps not disappear, but loosen.
If I don't do it now, I never will, Minerva realized.
Slowly, half-hesitating, she leaned forward, slightly. When Lexil didn't pull away, she pressed a chaste kiss to his lips.
When she pulled away, she knew her cheeks were burning with preemptive shame. What if--?
Her fearful musings were interrupted when he stood on the very tips of his toes to kiss her back.