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A Normal First Date

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It was neither a Friday nor a Saturday when Kimberly Ford and Dave Martyniuk went out on their first date. It was, as it happened, a Tuesday.

It had taken them quite a while to get around to arranging the dinner; there were just so many things to take care of after their return from Fionavar. Kim had seen or spoken to Dave nearly every day – it was comforting to have someone else who understood, who really knew what she was going though. The burden and joy of memory, the disorientation of being a stranger in your own home.

It was odd, though, being seated across from him, sipping wine and making small talk like two people who had never heard of Fionavar. Dave had chosen a nice Italian restaurant near Kim’s flat, which had allowed her just enough time to rush home and change after finishing at the hospital. She’d put on a black dress that accentuated her white hair; she’d decided there was no point in hiding it, and Dave, at least, never gave her strange looks. She wore Matt’s vellin bracelet; her finger, as ever, was empty.

Dave had come from the office, and was wearing the sort of suit he usually wore, nowadays. Kim had to admit that he looked pretty good in it, which she hadn’t actually ever noticed before. It made her strangely uncertain about what to say to him. This is Dave, she reminded herself, you’ve talked to him every night this week. This shouldn’t be that complicated.

For his part, Dave seemed as calm as ever – though calm was not a word Kim would have ever expected to associate with Dave Martyniuk. Fionavar had changed him, she thought, not for the first time. Perhaps even more than it had changed her.

“More wine?” he asked, seeing her glass was empty. She nodded, and he signaled the waiter. Kim wondered if she was drinking more than she usually did, wondered why that was. Perhaps she was just woefully out of practice dating. It hadn’t exactly been her top priority as of late.

“I can’t remember the last time I went on an actual date, “ Kim admitted, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “Can you?”

“A date? Not really.”

“But surely you must have gotten friendly with some of the Dalrai women?” Kim teased, striving for the casual tone that had come so naturally just on the phone last night.

The old Dave would have flushed, awkward, but he just smiled. “Perhaps,” he admitted. “What about you? Any Fionavar conquests?”

“Loren, actually” Kim said, grinning at the surprise on his face. “Although it was Maidaladan, so,” she trailed off, and was gratified by the instant understanding that was clear on his face. She wondered if anyone in all the worlds understood her as well as Dave did. “Still, Loren is – was, I suppose – the first mage of Brennin. Top that, Davor of the Axe.”

Unexpectedly, that was what made Dave flush, bright red creeping up his neck for some reason that Kim didn’t comprehend. Until he told her about Ceinwen, the glory of a goddess forbidden yet seen, and the encounter that had come from that moment. Of the child that goddess carried, perhaps even now, who would bear the name of their friend.

They were silent, after, each quieted by the weight of memories. Kim was thinking of another conversation, when Jen had told her that she was pregnant with the child of Rakoth Maugrim. She remembered months of pleading with Jen, the icy terror she’d felt at the thought of the Unraveller’s child. And yet, in the end, Darian had chosen light. Even now, Kim marveled that her friend could have been so right, so terribly, wonderfully right.

She shook her head, impatiently. “Can we pretend, just for a few minutes, that we are two normal people on a normal date?”

“No mages and goddesses and children of the andain?” he smiled. “Sure.”

There was another moment of silence. “What do normal people talk about?” Kim asked.

Dave shrugged. “I have no idea.”

"Jobs?" Kim suggested. "Family? Friends?”

Dave looked at her, and she knew what he was thinking. They already knew all of those things about one another, truths shared over weeks of late night confidences. She knew he was working ridiculous hours to convince the law firm he'd left without warning that he was worth giving a second shot. He knew she was back in medical school, struggling with uncertainty about her career, knew she was contemplating dropping out, though he was encouraging her to see it through.

She knew he’d begun the difficult effort of repairing bridges with his brother and father, but that it was painful and slow; she knew how often he’d wondered if it was simply too late. She knew how he drew on the patience and surety his time in Fionavar had given him, image of families sundered and made whole before him as an inspiration and a warning. He knew that she wasn’t speaking to her younger sister, who insisted that Kim had disappeared and come back with white hair as some sort of bizarre grab for attention, knew how much she longed to repair that which her sister considered irreparable.

He knew about the terrible conversation she’d had with Jen’s parents, how they’d stared, blank and uncomprehending, while she’d struggled to explain that their daughter had gone away and wouldn’t come back. He knew she felt responsible for their grief, knew the depth of the hurt that caused her, she who had caused so much hurt but never come to accept it. He knew the gap Jen’s loss had left in her life, knew how often she stared around the empty flat, trying to make sense of who her friend had become and where she had gone.

None of this was the sort of inconsequential first date conversation Kim had been striving for, though. Kim shook her head, grasping for a topic that wasn’t heavy or painful.

"Perhaps I could ask you what you like to do in your spare time?” she asked. “Have any hobbies I don’t know about?”

“I’ve been trying to find a gym that will let me practice my axe work,” he said, a deliberate attempt to lighten the mood, “but they’re surprisingly hard to find in Toronto.” Kim had an amusing image of Dave trying to practice blade work in the gym she knew he frequented, and smiled.

Amusing, and yet melancholy too, another reminder of how much they’d left behind. It was strange to think that something that had become so central to who Dave was, how he was seen by others and how he viewed himself, might be something he never regained. A piece of himself found and lost in Fionavar. She knew, Kim thought wryly, exactly how that felt.

“Don’t you ever worry you made the wrong choice, coming back home? That you’ll never really fit in here again?”

“No,” Dave said simply. “My choice was different than yours.” No man of Fionavar may see Ceinwen hunt, the goddess had said. It also seemed to Kim that Dave’s meeting with Ceinwen had merely served to make clear that was already woven; Dave had needed to return home and make thing right with his family.

It was different for her, Kim realized. In spite of white hair, in spite of power held and relinquished, in spite of the two souls she bore, Kim was far less certain of her path than Dave seemed to be of his. Eilathen had spun her the Tapestry, shown Kim her place in the weaving, and yet she still had no surety that her choice had been the right one. Ysanne dreamt that there would be need for a dreamer in this world, Kim reminded herself, wanting to believe it, and so did I. It was harder, though, without any sense or reminder of her own power, to believe she still had a part to play.

“I’m not much of a seer lately, am I?” she said, with a forced lightness that failed to mask the bitterness she felt. How can you separate the dreamer from the dream? she’d once wondered. These days, it seemed far too easy.

“Still nothing?” Dave said, with a look she knew all too well. It was a look of expectation – of hunger, desire even – she had seen on far too many people’s faces since Yvonne had given her the Baelrath. It seemed unfair that after relinquishing its power she should still have to live with that look. Sometimes it seemed that the one thing harder than having power was letting it pass away.

“I’ll tell you if I see anything, Dave, I told you,” she said tightly. “Please stop looking at like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like I have something you want. I can’t give it to you, Dave.”

“What makes you think that? That you can’t give me what I want?” he asked calmly, with the quiet assurance that was new to him.

Kim stared at him, her frustration slipping into something else entirely. Dave held her gaze until Kim looked away, unsure if she was ready for what she saw there.

“Let’s get out of here,” Dave said, paying for the bill she hadn’t even noticed arrive. “We can go back to my place, open a bottle of wine, and talk about goddesses and mages and fates woven together. Forget about being two normal people on a normal date. Let’s just be us.” He rose and held out his hand to her. “That’s all I want.”

Kim looked at him, at the hand he held out to her, so steady and sure. She remembered, unexpectedly, that she had been the one to invite Dave to join them that first night back at the Convocation hall, noticing his loneliness and uncertainty and inviting him in to all that had followed. Throwing out a tenuous spar of friendship, though neither of them could know where it would take them.

And suddenly, sitting among strangers who had never heard of Fionavar, Kim recaptured the certainty she hadn’t known since she had left it. There would be knots in the weaving, unexpected places where the pattern changed from what she’d thought it would be to something else entirely. And yet: everything was going to be all right .

She gave him both her hands and let him help her rise.