“You lied.” And now there was no anger in her eyes, only the sadness and disappointment remained. And it broke Laudna even more, shattering her into pieces just like that damned rock had done moments ago.
“No. No. I didn't do anything, Imogen.” She pleaded, and she hoped as hard as she could that Imogen would see, would understand. If only she would reach into her mind and see how scary it had been for Laudna, Delilah taking over her body, the scorching heat, and that eerie unfamiliar pulse spreading through her body. “Have you felt a searing heat from it before?”
Imogen let out a no, whispered so faintly into her mind.
Laudna felt cornered. She felt lost and powerless and guilty.
“Imogen I- I can fix it. I- I'll fix it.” It came out as a promise, but also as a wish. She didn't know how and she wasn't sure there was a way of truly fixing it but she was willing to try her hardest. She would do anything for Imogen.
Imogen whose eyes were now welling with tears, even more sad and even more disappointed with every passing second. And she wanted to reach out and wipe them away. She wanted to hold her and tell her that it was all going to be okay, that they would figure it out.
But she couldn't. Her body wouldn't move, this time not because of Delilah's control but her own. She couldn't face it. If she were to reach out and Imogen were to reject her, that would be the final blow. It would absolutely break her. One too many hits on a night where her spirit was feeling as weak as her body.
“We'll fix it.” This time sounding more like a plea, like a desperate call for mercy, for help.
“Yeah, we'll fix it. We'll fix it.” Imogen returned. But it felt empty, like and echo reflected on a wall. Like she didn't truly believe it.
“I'm gonna go to bed, Laudna.”
And there it was. Her name on Imogen's lips. A name that had always sounded so soft and drawled, so tender, now sounding jaded and cracked and like it was painful to say. It cut Laudna like a knife, deep in her guts, side to side.
A pause. Vast and uncertain and so incredibly scary. And suddenly there was nothing but them. No ship, no night sky, no moon watching down. Only them and the sinking realisation. The decisions they had made and the ones that had been made for them.
“Alright.” What else was she supposed to say? What else was she supposed to do? She didn't know. So she just watched Imogen disappear below deck, feeling like the only good thing she could do right now was giving her space.
After a moment she turned around and walked to the very front of the ship, as far from the night crew that remained on duty as she could get.
“What did you do!” She screamed, not quite certain if out loud or just inside her head.
“Don't worry, I've taken care of it.” The familiar voice came through, low and smug. And Laudna could swear it was also a little bit louder than before. “And thank you.” The voice echoed inside her head, burning like the most vile of poisons.
And then silence.
It felt suffocating, uncomfortable, and so tight around her ribs. So she screamed into the night until her throat gave out, until her lungs were burning her from inside and there were no more tears coming out of her eyes. Exhausted, drained. How could she had let this happen? How could she had let Delilah take control? She should be stronger than this. She should have gotten rid of her so long ago, whatever the means. She should have been more careful.
And now her failure had done the last thing Laudna ever wanted. She'd hurt Imogen. Sweet Imogen who didn't deserve any of this. Who deserved peace and quiet and nothing else. Who had found a bit of comfort and security amongst all the clouds, and Laudna had taken it away. She'd broken her promise. Broken her word. And it was all her fault.
The silence of the skies felt like the worst thing right now to Imogen. She would give anything to bury her mind in the deafening thoughts of the city. The ugly, cynic thoughts of thousands of people around her. Any thoughts but her own. Even with the inevitable pain it would entail, that scenario sounded way better than dealing with the storm raging inside her mind. Inside her heart.
She didn't sleep at all that night. Curled into a ball in the corner of the tiny quarter that had never felt more massive.
She felt angry. At Laudna. At that stupid fucking rock. At the moonlight coming through the tiny window, barely illuminating the space. At Laudna. At her dad. At her mom. At that tiny crimson moon looming in the sky. At Laudna. At herself.
It was stupid. This whole situation was stupid. Yet it hurt her like few things had done before. It hurt deep and wide and it felt permanent. Like there had always been a scar for this wound. Like it had always been a matter of time before she felt betrayed. By Laudna. Who had come into her life with honesty and truth, good and generous and so caring. Yet it all felt like a lie now.
The words kept replaying in her head. “I would never do anything without your permission first” How could she trust her again after that? “I would never” If not a minute later she was doing the exact opposite of what she'd told her? “without your permission, I would never” And she knew it was Delilah. She knew how strong that woman had once been. She wanted to believe Laudna so baldy. “without your permission first” But Laudna had made promise, and Laudna had broken it. “I would never” Laudna had lied.
She wanted to scream. Just like she had heard Laudna do in the distance after she'd gotten off the deck. It pained her so much to hear it. She felt the sharp squeeze at her heart every time. Laudna was hurting as well and it was her fault, and she hated herself for it. She felt the pulse of desperation with every shout, intense and sudden, and as hard as she had tried to block it out, to sever the connection between them, she could still feel it like her own. Yet she still wanted to go out and scream at her. Scream at the woman in Laudna's head. Scream at that fucking moon in that fucking sky.
It was so unfair. How ready she had been to trust her fully, blindly and unequivocally. How long it had taken to prove herself wrong, how little it had taken. How much she had given Laudna. How much care, how much power, how much of herself. It was unfair how many feelings she had to wrestle with, how many things she needed to share, wanted to share. With her. Where was she going to put all of it now?
The night was cold on her skin. The wrong kind of cold. Not the soothing kind, not the balm of a palm doing circles on her back, not the fingers wrapped around her own, no. The kind of numbing cold that bites at your ears and makes it hard to think.
The right kind of cold was at the other side of the wall, and a little part of Imogen wanted to reach her arm right though it. A little part of her wanted to get out of bed and walk left out the door, wanted to crawl right into the arms that held her every other night when she had trouble sleeping, just like she had done the night before. But a bigger, louder part of her despised anything to do with Laudna right now.
She hated the thoughts that had lied to her, hated the hands that had crushed her, and hated the mouth that made promises like it was second nature. The soft eyes and the bright grins and the knowing looks and the sound of her own name. She hated it all.
And after the hatred came the frustration again. And then another wave of hate. And then the sadness that was not only her own. And back to the top. Hours upon hours of clashing feelings, and hurtful words, and trying to block her out as best as she could, which by the end of the night wasn't any good at all.
And then the morning light came, shining on all of her shattered pieces on the floor. It didn't cleanse, it didn't purge, and it didn't reset anything. It just gave it all a slightly different hue, a softer edge.
She never expected sleep, but she was hoping for a bit of numbness to carry her through the day. Instead all she got was the anger setting a home in the pit of her stomach. It made the hunger more prominent and it was ruining her plans of staying in her room the whole day. She would still try her damn hardest.
She didn't want to see anybody, she didn't want to talk to anybody, and she didn't want to even hear the sound of her own voice. She just wanted to lay still and disappear until everything was fine again.
A betraying growl stemmed from her belly, and a consequent sigh did as well from her lips.
Fine. She'd go out, put forth her best attempt at a normal and collected semblance and face things like an adult. A hurt and very scared adult.
However, she didn't think she could talk to Laudna, at least not yet. There were so many things she wasn't ready to admit, specially not out loud and specially not to her.
Another growl came, and along with it a ping of guilt that travelled up her spine. How could she be so mad at Laudna, who was only trying to help, to understand. How could she have accused her of lying when deep down she was certain of the truth in Laudna's words.
But then the anger in the middle of her chest made it's presence known again. Laudna had promised, like she always did, and then she had broken it, like she had never done before. How could she trust her again after last night. And yet she wanted to. She wasn't sure she knew how to live without it any more.
The mere thought terrified her.
All this mess over a stupid, little, pretty rock. A comforting rock. A rock that could mean a bigger chance at understanding what was wrong with her, at finding solutions. It had brought her peace and sleep and reassurance. But not any more. Not after it shattered. Not after Laudna shattered it, after she took a chance away from her. Laudna knew how important this was for her, she knew, and still she had done it.
No. Not Laudna. Delilah. That awful, cruel woman that haunted Laudna's brain. If she could, she would go in there and rip her out herself. Make everything good again.
Imogen took a deep breath, got up, and walked out of her room, beelining for the kitchen of the ship.
Laudna's door was still closed. Not that she looked. Not that she opened her mind the smallest amount just to check if she was still in there, breathing and beating and there. She was.
When she got to the kitchen it was deserted except for Denalia. Imogen gave her a little smile, as much as she could muster today. She grabbed a piece of fruit and one of the last remaining cookies from Lord Eshteross and walked back out. She was tempted to go straight back to her room but she needed fresh air. She needed to clear her head and go back to normal, even as fake as it would feel right now. She had this. She could do it. She could do anything, right?
A squeeze from the sadness around her heart.
She got out onto the deck and the group was standing right in the same spot as the two of them had done the night before. As if they knew somehow. And it all came rushing back like a flashback, so strong it almost knocked her down. However, her feet kept moving on their own and before she was aware of it she was standing right beside everybody, being greeted like every other morning.
Except the chorus of voices was missing a member. She looked around, not sure what she would rather find, and Laudna was not there. Of course. She already knew that. She had sensed her in her room not even five minutes ago. And despite that, a breath she wasn't aware she was holding rushed out of her lungs, releasing it's grip on her shoulders.
“Good morning! You've slept in quite a bit.” Said Fearne, who caught Imogen's attention first.
“Oh, yeah, sorry about that.” She tried to replicate Fearne's smile but she knew that it wasn't reaching anywhere near her eyes.
“Oh, don't apologize for that. It's perfectly fine. You should get some rest whenever you can, with the nightmares and all. Did you get any tonight?” And her concern seemed genuine. Fearne was always more attentive than she looked at first glance and their bond had been growing quite a lot since they had met.
“No nightmares” How could you have them if you didn't get any sleep at all. “Thanks for asking Fearne.”
“Hey, is Laudna coming up too?” Orym asked, and Imogen had to try her hardest not to wince at the sound of her name, to try to keep the flashback's at bay. It was gonna be a hard day to get through.
“I don't know. I think she wasn't feeling too well. I'm sure she'll come out whenever she's feeling better.” Imogen tried to look at anyone but Orym, but she could still feel his scrutinizing gaze on her.
“Oh, was it something she ate? Maybe FCG could help her out?” Fearne chimed in again and Imogen just needed this conversation to stop. She needed to stop talking about her, stop thinking about her, for even just a minute. Deep breath, get it together.
“Yeah I could totally do that. What's wrong? What does she need?” They rolled towards her, eager to be of assistance.
“I- I'm not sure.” She was. She was awfully aware of what was wrong. Damn she was standing right were it had all gone down. Again the memories invaded her mind, intrusive and inevitable.
“I'll go check on her then. See if there's anything I can do.” And with that he was already rolling away, headed towards the inside of the ship.
“I'll go with you.” And Fearne was off too, right behind them.
“Are you okay?” Imogen's attention turned back to Orym, and suddenly she was extremely conscious of how guarded her posture was. Her shoulders hunched, her head low, and her arms crossed over her chest, hands fidgeting with the hem of her sleeve. She dropped her arms in a futile attempt at stopping her body from making it so blatantly obvious but now she just felt rigid and uncomfortable and like she had just made it worse.
“Yeah. I'm fine.” Maybe if she kept saying it, kept pretending, she'd even convince herself.
“Okay...” He looked suspicious of her statement, but there was no malice or mistrust behind it. Imogen knew he hadn't believed a single word that had come out of her mouth that morning, but she also knew that he was going to let it slide until she was ready to talk about it. He was always gracious like that and she was very grateful for it.
Laudna's night had been the hardest she could remember in a long time. Three decades to be precise.
After her throat had given out and she had gotten no answers back, Delilah long gone and retreated to whatever wretched corner of her mind she lived in, Laudna had picked up all the little shards scattered around her and had tried to mend them to no avail. Well, she now had a single piece of dull, purple crystal, but that would help no one, that wouldn't fix anything.
Drained and defeated and shivering, she had retreated to the loneliness of her room. A room that was one door too far down for it not to hurt.
She hadn't been able to contain the sob that arose when she had gotten to Imogen's door, pausing for a brief moment, wanting to go in but knowing she couldn't. Knowing she shouldn't. Still she had wanted to do it so badly, to slip into the room, into her arms, and apologize until her days on this world were over, to fix everything, to hold her until everything was good again. Until everything had passed. Like waking up from a nightmare, scared and exhausted but knowing that everything was alright, that the danger was not real. That it hadn't really happened.
But it had happened and it was her fault and the danger was as real as ever. And it had a name. Or maybe two, she wasn't sure any more, not after that night. She wasn't sure where she ended and Delilah started. How could she tell, how could she trust herself any more? Or maybe she knew, deep down she knew. It was all a mess in her head right now, a swirl of emotions and words and memories.
The sudden touch of a cold tear on her cheek had pulled her out of her head and she had noticed her hand wrapped around the handle of Imogen's door. She had dropped it like it was as hot as that gem had been on her hand, searing and dangerous. She couldn't, she really couldn't. She wanted to. Another tear, another uncontainable sob.
She had gotten into her own room before Immogen could hear her, or maybe she already had, she didn't really care, and as soon as she had closed the door the tears came pouring out, unrestrained, untameable, and the pain in her chest just became unbearable.
What had she done? It was all her fault, everything was ruined and it was her fault. Imogen was hurting and it was all her fault. How could she have been so careless? She couldn't even keep a promise. And she couldn't keep Delilah at bay either. And now Delilah was even stronger. She was a danger, to herself and to the rest of the group, but especially to Imogen. She couldn't risk that, she wouldn't. She was a failure. What had she done?
She had wanted to run, as far as she could. As far as it would have be necessary to keep Imogen safe. She had wanted to run but her body wouldn't move, collapsed on her knees in the middle of the room, her forehead to the ground.
Then the plans had started flashing through her mind, some ugly, some just desperate. She could jump off the ship. She really could. Just let herself fall, ease the landing, and run as far as her legs would take her. Maybe if she was lucky she'd get caught by one of those crawler gangs.
She had to fix this. She had to find a way.
But what if she couldn't? What if this was it? What if Imogen would never forgive her? What if was too weak on her own? Too weak to fix anything any more?
She was. Delilah knew it. She was weak and she was a fool and she had messed everything up.
She had just wanted to help, to understand. And then it had all gone wrong. A split second and then everything was ruined. She had ruined it. Delilah had played her and she had let it happen. How could she had let it happen? How could she have known? She should have known.
She was scared. She was so scared and so lost.
And then she had heard the faintest of sobs coming from the other side of the thin wall between them and it had broken her. Knowing she had been the cause of it was devastating. All she had ever wanted was to see Imogen happy and safe and she had gone and done the complete opposite. What a fool she had been, careless and dangerous and useless.
And then she was back in that moment again. Seeing the rock broken in her palm. Seeing the look on Imogen's eyes turn from disbelief to anger. A scorching rage she had witnessed so many times before, and then the power and fury that came after it, but never directed at her, never because of her. And it had been terrifying, the split second where she had believed it, where she thought Imogen would do it. And she would have accepted it, all of it, because she deserved it. It would have been easier.
But then it had transformed again and there hadn't been anger in her eyes, and it was somehow worse. So much worse. Because then there was just sadness and disbelief and disappointment and all this things Imogen didn't deserve to feel.
All her fault.
What was she supposed to do now?
She was sorry, she was just so fucking sorry, Over and over in her head, for hours on end, like a mantra.
And when the light of the morning had come she was still sorry.
And then it was now, well into the morning, still in the same position her limbs sore and stuck in place. But she didn't care because she was still sorry.
A knock on the door startled her but she made no move, no sound. Maybe if she didn't respond they would leave her alone.
“Hey! It's your pal Fresh Cut Grass. Are you in there?” She heard through the door.
“And Fearne.” Great. Imogen had probably told them what had happened and they were now coming to make sure their friend was safe, to throw Laudna overboard, maybe even kill her and get rid of Delilah for good. She couldn't blame them. She also didn't answer.
She heard the door open and the telling sound of a squeaky wheel rolling towards her. She stayed still, her back to them and her head resting on the floor, bracing for the impact of whatever was coming her way.
“You doing alright? Imogen told us you weren't feeling too well, so we came in case we could be of any assistance to you.” Oh.
So Imogen hadn't told them. Sweet Imogen who was hurting and sad and probably very rightfully angry at her. And yet she still remained kind and caring. She didn't deserve her. She was an awful friend and she didn't deserve her at all.
“Are you hurt? Nauseous?” He kept insisting, now rolling up to her same level.
She lifted her head from the floor just enough to look at them, her hair falling in front of her face and her joints popping loudly. “I'm okay, don't worry about me. Just leave me alone.”
“I could stay here with you for a while if you want to.” Offered Fearne standing just outside the door, the room too small to fit the three of them comfortably.
“NO!” She snapped.
“Oh, okay, um, just tell us if you need anything, alright?” Fearne's smile faltered and turned into a look of genuine concern.
“Are you sure we can't help?” FCG asked once again. They were accommodating to a fault sometimes.
“Leave.” She growled, her voice low and scary. There's was no bite behind the bark but she was feeling very cornered right now and scary was definitely her default defence.
And with that they left, closing the door behind them and leaving Laudna in the same position they had found her in, albeit little bit more guilty and still so fucking sorry.
The rest of the day went quite uneventful aboard the Silver Sun.
Thankfully for Imogen, Fearne and FCG came back up to the deck alone not long after they had left and were gracious enough to not ask hey any more questions. She had a feeling it wouldn't last for too long but she would take it for now.
There weren't many tasks for them on the ship, especially without any monsters lurking around, so Imogen spent the rest of the day prestidigitating away the grime stuck to the outside of the vessel and barely engaging in the conversations with the rest of the group.
Midway though the afternoon Laudna came up to the deck and Imogen's breath caught in her throat. It was the first time she had seen her face since last night and she didn't even know if Laudna looked back at her at all because she couldn't take the view for more a split second. She was surprised at the lack of anger she was feeling right now. She had been prepared to control the rage and not snap at her, prepared to keep the ire at bay. But she was not prepared for there to be none, for there to be only sadness and hurt. Not prepared for the heartbreak to come shining through. It was way worse.
Greatfully Laudna didn't try to approach her at all for the rest of the afternoon. She wasn't ready. She still was not ready and it was so hard.
However, a little part of her was screaming to go run at her, right into her arms, and pretend like nothing had happened. A little gravitational pull of sorts. It was hard to avoid and it was becoming extremely difficult to think with her around, to resist the temptation of opening her mind up, just a little, and say something, say anything.
The headache brewing behind her eyes wasn't making it any easier either and she could feel her willpower thinning. She should really just leave the deck before she did something stupid that they weren't ready for and made everything worse.
She was in the middle of debating whether or not to retreat to her room when she heard Letters rolling up to her.
“Hey, Laudna seems to be doing better now.” They offered as an opener, but she knew there was more to their approach.
“It seems so, yeah.” She tried to make it sound as nonchalant as possible to try and avoid as many questions as she could, but it just came out flat and empty.
“I've noticed there that you haven't talked to each other at all today. Is everything going alright between the two of you?” He probed.
“Yes, FCG, everything is perfectly fine.” Imogen's characteristic sarcasm shining through, a pristine fake smile on her face.
“Are you sure? You both seem pretty upset.” He pressed on, clueless to the nuances of her tone.
“Just drop it please.” She really didn't have the energy to explain things to them or to keep this conversation going any further.
“Maybe you two just need to talk things out.” They offered genuinely. “I could be there if you need like a mediator or something. To help you communicate your points.”
“No, FCG, we really don't need to talk right now. Just let it be, please.” Imogen was getting pretty frustrated at this point. He was really none the wiser to social cues sometimes and this was the last thing she needed right now on top of everything else, an overeager therapist automaton who didn't know when to drop a subject.
“Well I know it can be hard disagreeing with your friends, but maybe if you try to see thing's from the other's perspective you can reach an understanding-”
“I said drop it.” And with that final sentence, stopping short whatever very well rehearsed speech he was about to get on, she stormed off into the bellows of the skyship, straight to her rooom.
However, before she could reach the open door that lead to the interior she caught Laudna's eye for a split second, who was hanging out near the back of the deck next to Ashton and Fearne. Imogen knew that look in her eyes, like she wanted to say something but she was second guessing herself, the twitch of Laudna's hand instinctually trying to reach out to her.
And she really wished she hadn't seen her, because now all she could feel was the sob stuck at the back of her throat threatening to escape her mouth.
She really needed to get out of there.
It didn't take her long to get to her room and close the door, the relief of a physical barrier between them almost immediate. She slumped against the door and slid down until she was sitting on the floors, bracing her knees and resting her chin on top of them.
That stupid fucking rock.
It wasn't even worth it. Now that her head was more clear and she had shaken off whatever influence that shard had had over her she could see it. It wasn't gonna help her at all. Not to understand what was wrong with her and certainly not to make it go away. It would have only made things more complicated. It had. Why had she even picked it up in the first place?
Even in her memories the comfort it had brought her felt fake and shallow, an illusion. And now she had lost the only two sources of it she had. Great.
It still hurt though. The way she had trusted Laudna's judgment, her promise, blindly and oh so ready to do so, and the way Laudna had broken that trust in a matter of seconds. She knew that it hadn't been her fault how the stone had broken, she really did, but it hurt nonetheless.
The anger came back to her.
Laudna had to stop making promises she couldn't keep. And she had to sop believing them.
She was also very scared about the reality of Delilah being more that just a voice in Laudna's head, annoying and harmless. What if she tried to hurt them through her? What if she tried to hurt Laudna?
She could remember, clear as day, the look of pure fear in Laudna's eyes as she was telling her how she couldn't let go, how Delilah wouldn't let her. She had looked helpless and Imogen had felt powerless against it. It was absolutely terrifying. How long did they have? How long until Delilah took full control?
Until she took Laudna away from her.
God she couldn't even stand the thought of it.
The tears came back in full force.
The thought of a future without Laudna. With no music around her. Without anyone who truly understood, who was willing to listen for long enough to do so. No one around to always have an eye out for her, for how she was feeling, ready to accommodate for whatever she needed in order to feel better, more at peace. Without her.
It was really all that she ever needed, all that she ever wanted. Peace, quiet and Laudna. Laudna who was charming and funny and always attentive. Laudna who was honest and transparent and good. Laudna from two days ago, who hadn't yet broken a promise, who hadn't yet broken her trust. Laudna whose words had always matched her actions.
This shouldn't have happened. It was unfair and it shouldn't have happened.
How were they supposed to deal with this mess now? How were they gonna go back to how everything was before? Maybe that was not possible. Maybe they couldn't. Maybe it didn't matter any more.
She was exhausted. The previous restless night was taking it's toll on her and it was like that, amongst thoughts of the uncertain future ahead of her, ahead of them, that sleep found her even before the sun light had completely died down.
Laudna had spent the better part of her day in her room.
After FCG and Fearne had left her alone again she had finally moved from her collapsed position and had sat on her poor excuse of a bed in the tiny room. Her whole body hurt but she wasn't sure if it was from not moving for hours or just to match the pain inside her.
The hours had blurred together as she spaced out and the thoughts of failure and regret merged and transformed into the urge of fixing everything. It was what she was best at, repairing and mending and putting back together. Why couldn't she find a solution this time? Why wasn't there a way to fix all of this?
Maybe she could find a new rock, maybe a better one even, and then everything could go back to normal.
Maybe she could also find a way to get rid of Delilah and then Imogen would be safe around her again.
Oh god what had Delilah done? What had she done?
Some more hours had passed and she had started to feel a tug in her chest, uncomfortable, unfamiliar. Forgotten. They had never gone this long without talking to each other since the had met. Never gone this long without being in each other's presence. It was excruciating. She hated it. But she couldn't come up and just approach her, talk to her like nothing had happened. She couldn't.
What would she even say apart from 'I'm sorry' and 'I'll fix it', 'we'll fix it'? Maybe they could. They had to.
But they couldn't do that if they were not talking, if this ache in her chest was all that she could focus on. So maybe that was the first step, just getting out of her room and seeing Imogen, try to talk to her and see where they stood. See if Imogen didn't hate her enough to not let her try at least.
Some time well into the afternoon she had made up her mind and had followed the tug right up to the deck of the Silver Sun, and there she was, mingling with the group, just talking, relaxed, beautiful. What a sight for sore eyes.
She felt that tug again.
But in that split second she had seen how Imogen had avoided her gaze, how she had turned away, and all the courage Laudna had gathered in the past hours had slipped out of her.
It had been the first time Imogen hadn't greeted her with a warm smile, or a knowing look. It was hard knowing that she had brought Imogen pain but it was somehow even worse to not bring her happiness any more. That she couldn't take.
She had almost turned on her heels and headed back to her room to hide before some of the others caught up to her, wondering if she was feeling okay and telling her about what she had missed throughout the day.
She had tried to wait for her courage to some back at some point, to get over it and find the right words again, but it never happened.
And then Imogen was storming off and she felt like she had lost her chance. For now at least.
Now, back in her room, already past midnight and still awake, she couldn't help but feel as lost as she's ever felt.
She had no plan, no clue of how she was gonna fix it all. If talking to Imogen was not a viable option as of now and she had no clue how to get that little rock glowing again or how to get Delilah out of her head for good, what did she have? What could she do?
Nothing. There was nothing. She was stupid and useless and she had messed everything up.
And now Imogen wouldn't even look at her.
Imogen, who was at the other side of the wall, so close yet they have never felt further apart.
She couldn't stand it for a minute longer. She really needed to fix it.
It was like that, drowning in regret and guilt and so many other feelings that she was desperately trying to push down, to keep ignoring for a little bit longer, that sleep finally caught up to her.
She woke up after a night full of shallow sleep, of dreams about broken gems and very scary outcomes. Dreams about losing herself. Dreams about losing Imogen.
She couldn't lose her. She wasn't going to let that happen. Not like this.
And if she didn't have the answers right now maybe someone else on the group could help her out, or at least give her some advice.
With new found direction and resolution she headed out of her room and straight to the deck, decided to find a way out of this somehow.
She went for the the mountain that seemed the least tall of the two, the least scary to climb, and searched around for Ashton, beelining for them as soon as she saw them.
“Here you are! I need your advice on something as... rock expert of the group.” She said gesturing around them.
“Morning to you too.” Their coarse voice dripping with annoyance, half joking and half serious.
“Morning.” She grinned. “So?” Quirked eyebrow, waiting for an answer, hoping they'd have some insight to offer.
“I mean, I wouldn't consider myself a rock expert exactly.” And with that Laudna's hope faltered a bit but she had to keep going, she had to give this a try at least.
“You're literally made of rock.” She briefly extended her hand towards them.
“You know what? Fair enough. What do you need?” They straightened up themselves, adjusting their hands, draped on the hammer in front of them.
“You remember the rock we found on that mine? The one that Imogen kept?” They nodded. “Well, it broke. I broke it, accidentally. And I put it back together, but it's not glowing any more you see, like it has no magic inside now.” The rumble of nearby thunder startled them both. There was a storm coming their way at it didn't look even remotely small or gentle. “So I thought maybe you knew something about putting rocks back together, or knew someone who did, like Milo maybe. Because you see it's very important for her and I made a huge mistake and now she won't even look at me, which I understand don't get me wrong. And I thought if I fixed the rock, if I gave her a solution...” She trailed off, lingering on the thought of how many things she could solve if she put the rock back together and trying to ignore how many she could not.
“Yeah! I think Milo could help you with that. It does sound right up their ally.” A lightning strike on the distance, followed closely by the accompanying thunder. “But I don't really think that's what needs to be repaired here, is it?” They directed a pointed look at the other side of the deck, where Imogen was talking to Fearne and Orym.
She must have missed the moment Imogen came up to the deck because she wasn't there when Laudna arrived. And now that she saw her again, all the feelings came back up to the surface, the good ones, the bad ones, the ones that always lingered in the background, that she would never allow herself to fully feel. This situation was making it really hard to keep them at bay.
“You should just talk to her.” Their voice pulled her back from the detour her mind had taken for a moment. “Figure things out together.”
“It's not that easy.” She wished it could be, but it really didn't seem like that right now.
“Just give it a try.” They shrugged. “What's there to lose?”
“Nothing really.” That was the biggest lie she had ever told. If she tried talking to Imogen and just made things worse she'd lose all that mattered to her, she would confirm her worst fears right now. The prospect of it alone was terrifying. She reconsidered her answer. “Everything.”
“What's there to gain then?” They offered in contrast.
“There you go.” She hadn't said anything out loud but it must have been evident in her face. The realization that being there for Imogen again, having her back in her life, was worth all the risks.
“Thank you Ashton” She squeeze their shoulder with her bony hand, a faint but genuine smile on her face.
Another strike of lightning.
“Don't mention it.” And for what little or much she knew about them, she believed they were being completely serious about that.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was really going to do this, and she was going to try her best. Because Imogen deserved it. Because she was worth it.
She hadn't even taken a step towards her when the chaos began.
“Heads up everyone!” Captain Xandis shouted from behind the wheel. “We've got company again! Load the ballistae!”
One moment she was standing on the deck of the skyship, her palms sweaty and her scars lightly buzzing, trying to fight the urge to go to talk to Laudna, or scream at her, to get it all out of her system and over with; the next they were being attacked by a group of skirath hunters again.
This time it was bigger. She could count five of them at least. It was hard to see with the shadow cast by the storm clouds around them.
The battle was harder than last time. The ballistae were helping, as well as the knowledge they had already gathered the last time, but this things were downright nasty. Especially when her spells weren't being as accurate as possible, her lack of focus and sleep quite evident.
A lightning strike hit the very top of the mast.
Great. More things to get worried about. Why couldn't it hit one of the flying things, help them out for a change.
She was having an eye out for Laudna like she always had, out of habit. Or at least that's what she would say if anybody asked. That's what she told herself.
She saw her getting hit out of the corner of her eye. She saw Laudna's body flying across the deck and slamming into the railing of the ship.
Imogen turned around, forgetting about the creature just barely ten feet away from her, the familiar rage building inside of her and pouring out of her hands. She was gonna have a long discussion with Laudna, they were gonna have to really talk about things and figure all of this out, but she needed her alive for that. She needed her alive for everything else.
Her witch bolt impacted on the creature with full force, making it scream in agony, Imogen breathing heavy, with the sound of her own heartbeat pounding in her ears and her eyes glowing with energy.
It took a bit of time for it to finally die, it's limp body falling onto the deck. And then she saw Laudna getting up, winded and heavily battered. Looking at her. Looking at each other for the first time in days.
And then the next thing she saw was a flash of white in front of her, her eyes adjusting in a split second to reveal the horrific scene in front of her. Laudna standing there, paralysed by a bolt of lightning coursing though her body from head to toe. And then she went down.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Her vision immediately blurred by the tears.
“LAUDNA!” The scream tore though her throat, wild and unrestrained.
And then she felt the sharp pain. And she couldn't move. She looked down and saw the stinger protruding from her torso, feeling the rush of venom enter her bloodstream.
Then everything went dark. Peaceful and quiet dark.
When she came back to consciousness she was laying on her bed, the soft light of the moon filling the room.
The last thing she remembered was being on the deck fighting, surrounded by storm, and Laudna being hit by lightning.
Laudna going down.
Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.
It couldn't be real, it had to be a nightmare. This couldn't be happening.
She got up as fast as her bruised body would let her, ignoring the sharp pain shooting through her torso. She steadied herself as best as she could and got out of the room, straight into Laudna's. She didn't even knock, no pleasantries or tentativeness to her actions, it didn't even matter right now. The room was empty.
No, no, no, no.
Not like this. Not now.
The image of Laudna being severed by lighting flashed in front of her eyes.
That could have been her. That bolt could have been her own if she had let the rock consume her, if she had never let Laudna know about it, if it hadn't been broken. She would have become as explosive as that storm, frustrated and susceptible and paranoid. It could have been her hurting Laudna, taking her down.
This couldn't be happening.
She felt sick to her stomach. Laudna had to be okay. She had to. She couldn't lose her.
She tried opening up her mind as her body moved as fast as it could through the bellows of the ship, to find her as soon as possible, to know that she was okay and breathing. That she was alive and thinking, still singing.
As she tried to open the connection back up again, the one she had tried her hardest to block the past few days, she was assaulted by a wall of thoughts, ugly thoughts of being worthless, a liability, of being nothing but an obstacle in the way. Thoughts of jumping overboard and disappearing, of running away as far as she could to keep everyone safe, to keep Imogen safe.
She was alive. She was alive and she wanted to leave.
She ran out to the deck in hopes of finding her there and her body froze up as soon as she laid eyes on her and wave of relief ran through her body like she had never felt before. She was alive. She hadn't lost her.
And then the same wall of thoughts hit her again, louder and more intense than before.
Laudna had her back to her, leaning over the railing near the front of the ship. She hadn't notice her yet, or at least if she had she was ignoring her presence. Laudna's thoughts didn't stop and Imogen didn't trust the words to get past her throat so she reverted to the easier path, directly into Laudna's head.
“Please don't do it.”
It took Laudna by surprise, who was visibly started by the sudden communication. A little ripple of sadness cursed though Imogen's body, it pained her how little time it had taken them to grow unaccustomed to something they had once considered routine.
“Imogen.” It came out in the faintest of whispers, barely audible.
She finally conjured her body to move towards her, stopping several very awkward feet away, unsure of where the boundaries now stood.
“I though I had lost you.” Her voice cracked as she got another terrible flash of Laudna falling limp on the ground mere hours ago.
“I'm okay, don't you worry about me.” But Imogen still did. “I'm sorry.” And she knew Laudna was referring to a lot more things than just ,making her worry.
“Please don't leave.” She pleaded again, taking a step closer to her.
“You heard?” She didn't sound mad at the intrusion, just curious. Imogen nodded. “I don't think I should stay.” Laudna's tone sombre and sincere, resolute.
“Don't say that.” She didn't want to hear those words in that order ever again.
“You're not safe around me Imogen. Not any more.” It sounded like a fact Laudna accepted already. It broke Imogen in half to hear how the woman who always told her to keep trying had already given up.
“We'll get rid of her.” They had to. She wouldn't accept anything else.
“We can't.” A tear broke loose down Laudna's cheek and her hand twitched instinctually, she wanted to reach out and wipe it away but she didn't dare.
“We'll find a way.” She tried to reassure her and Laudna's eyes softened a bit as she was the smile on Imogen's face. “Besides, if you leave who's gonna fix our house when everything is over?” Her smile grew a bit more.
“Chetney could do it. He's quite skilled.” She gestured vaguely with her hands.
“Laudna...” A small incredulous laugh escaped her mouth.
“He is!” Laudna's eyebrows shot out in emphasis.
“Laudna I don't want Chetney to fix it, I want you.” Another step forward. They were standing now at arms length, the proximity already putting Imogen at ease. “We should probably talk.”
“Yes.” They both looked away at the night sky, a not entirely comfortable silence surrounding them.
“I was-” “The last-” They both spoke up at the same time.
“Go ahead.” Laudna conceded.
“I was angry at you. I was so angry.”
“I'm so sorry.” Laudna interjected, unable to stop herself.
“Let me finish, please.” A single nod in response. “I was angry. And then I wasn't. I was hurt, I still am. I trusted your word and you broke it, and it's gonna take some time to repair that, I'm not gonna lie. But I know that it was not your fault, that it was out of your control. I get that. I don't blame you for it. You wanted to help and it went wrong, I'm not gonna blame you for that. I know you wouldn't lie to me, not on purpose, but things like this are bound to happen sometimes, things out of our control. I have to accept that. We just need to be more careful in the future, stop making promises we can't keep.”
“I can do that, yes.” It sparked a bit of of confidence inside Imogen and she reached out for Laudna's hand, still bracing for the possible rejection. It never came. What came instead was a look of complete surprise on Laudna's face and a slight squeeze from her hand. It pushed Imogen to continue.
“I don't care about the rock Laudna. It's not important any more. At least not as important as this.” She looked down at their joint hands. “You were right, it was doing more harm than good. It made me feel safe, but it wasn't real or healthy. I can see that now. I tried to cling to it because I thought it could help me with the dreams. I was desperate to find a solution, I still am, but that was not it. Not at the cost of losing you Laudna. It could have been me. That bolt could have been me.” Imogen saw flashes of that fight again and she could feel her eyes welling up with tears. She tried her best to keep them at bay but it wasn't enough, wetness now trailing down her face. “If I had let that rock consume me, control my emotions and my judgement, it could have me the one to...” She couldn't even finish the thought, he eyes now closed tight. “I don't know what I would have done if I lost you.” Her voice cracked at that and she briefly felt the cold touch of a hand, her hand, wiping her cheek.
“But I'm still here, am I not?” Laudna's voice as tender as always.
“You are.” Imogen opened her eyes for that, still teary but smiling brightly.
“I'm just not sure if I should be though.” Imogen tried to protest but Laudna gave her a pointed look, more composed than she was. It was her turn to say her part. “I don't know how strong she's gotten after that. And I'm scared that she would do something to you. I don't want to put you at risk. I wouldn't forgive myself if that happened. Hell I can't even keep myself out of harms way. How can I protect you like that? I'm not strong enough top keep up. You'd be better off without me in the way.”
“Laudna stop.” Imogen grabbed both of her hands. “You're plenty strong, don't you see? You make me stronger. You help me believe in myself, in my powers. You're there when I need advice and you're there when I just need someone to listen. But it's not about that Laudna. It's not about what you can do, which is incredible don't get me wrong. It's not that I need you here. It's that I want you here, Laudna. By my side. I want to share it with you. All of it. My good bits and my bad bits. Your good bits.” She touched Laudna's chest with her finger, right on top of her heart. “And your bad bits.” She said touching her temple this time. They both knew what she meant.
Laudna didn't answer, not with words at least, but she gave Imogen a smile and a gentle nod and she knew her words had found their way in, that Laudna was beginning to understand.
They turned to face the night horizon, with their hands still intertwined and the night sky above them. The silence between them was comfortable again and Imogen was able to finally relax and let the tension leave her body completely, resting her head on Laudna's shoulder.
“We had just put each other up in very high pedestals and we were destined to fall from them some day.” Imogen reflected out loud after a bit.
“Well you can fly now so you could get right back up on it.” Laudna retorted without missing a beat.
“Laudna...” She tried to protest, eliciting a loud chuckle out of her.
“I know dear. I was only joking.”
They stayed like that for some time, just looking at the stars and sharing their space, at peace.
“Are we okay?” Laudna's voice sounded tentative, like she was afraid of the answer.
“We'll be.” Honest and simple.
Imogen wasn't sure how long it passed, it felt both like hours and seconds, but there was a shift, almost like a ripple though the horizon. She could feel it at the tips of her fingers, where their hands met. She could feel it building in her chest.
“Hey Laudna.” She projected into her head.
“Yeah?” Oh how she had missed that feeling, the very particular tingle in her brain.
Now or never. She had almost lost her before she could tell her. It had been more than a year since she had realised and she had almost lost her without letting her know. Hell, they could die tomorrow for all she knew.
Now or never.
“I love you.” Just like that, just the truth.
“I love you too darling.” My god, she could be the most oblivious idiot in the world sometimes. Her oblivious idiot. She turned to look at her, catching Laudna's attention and meeting her gaze.
“I'm in love with you.” There it was, out in the world. It felt like being at the edge of a cliff.
“Oh. I. Are you sure?” Laudna had never seemed more self conscious than now and Imogen couldn't resist the laugh that came out of her mouth.
“Yes Laudna. I'm sure.” This was ridiculous.
“Imogen there's nothing I can give you. I'm nothing but bad news.” she rolled her eyes upward, motioning to her head. “I'm barely even alive. I'm sure there's someone out there who could give you all that I can't.”
“You've already given me more than I could ever hope for.” It broke her a bit that Laudna couldn't see it yet. That couldn't believe something like that.
She took Laudna's face in her hands.
“Laudna. Listen to me. I'm in love with you.”
And there it was, a glimpse of a smile on Laudna's face. Like she finally understood, like she was beginning to. It was all the confirmation that Imogen needed.
She took a moment to look at Laudna's eyes, revelling in the anticipation of it all. The anticipation of something that she had been waiting a long time to do.
And she kissed her. And Laudna kissed her back. And everything was good again.
It was tender and it was almost familiar, as if it had always been meant to be, and it felt like coming home.
She was not really aware when they had stopped kissing, or she was, she couldn't care less. She was happy to just exist there together. Her head resting back again in Laudna's shoulder. She couldn't contain her sigh when Laudna kissed the top of her head.
“Oh I almost forgot.” And Imogen already missed the felling of Laudna's hand in hers the moment she pulled away.
She saw Laudna grabbing one of the pouches from her belt, opening it and carefully pouring it's contents I onto her other hand.
The rock. The stupid little rock. Now dull and powerless, but back again in one single piece.
“I know it's not the same any more, but I mended it for you. Maybe we could make something better out of it.” Laudna took her hand and put the rock in it, enveloping it with her own.
“Just like us.”
Laudna nodded, wide smile on her face.
“Just like us.”