Chapter 1: Waking
Will you catch me?
The words aren't the first thing that comes to mind when Faran wakes from unconsciousness heavier than sleep, born of both her and Ssithra's pain, and of the exhaustion that comes of being the focal point of complex magic meant to simulate the work of a god. The first thing that comes to mind is was it a dream , and she almost dreads to open her eyes in case it had been. When she does, even Aral's worried face can't quite dispel the fear, and it's not until she hears him name her a full Blade, hears Siri call her Master Faran , that she can allow herself to truly believe that she's achieved the impossible.
She is a Blade.
She's what she'd trained to be, what she'd dreamed of being, what she'd been certain had been stolen from her at the temple's fall, along with her teachers and her friends and her family, and what might pass for innocence in a child committed to an order of assassins.
As that sinks in, it makes room for other thoughts, chief among them that she isn't wearing any fucking clothes , and that she's apparently spent however long it's taken her to recover lying in Aral's arms.
Will you catch me?
It isn't the first time he's done so, even if she pares the words down to encompass only fact, not metaphor. And it's never mattered, because even if he's entirely too sentimental and she's the colder killer and the better mage, he's been her mentor. The Master Blade to her apprentice, and that's made it his job to catch her and counsel her and give her back pieces of her stolen childhood, just as it's been her job to prod him and test him and give him something to live up to, and it's been both of their jobs to watch each others' backs, even if it had taken him entirely too long to realize that part.
But she was a Blade the moment the swords bonded to her, the moment whatever remains of Justice in the absence of the Goddess accepted her as a servant and healed her wounds, and that means this time, he hadn't been her mentor, he'd been her equal. First among equals, maybe, but she's never been one to stand on ceremony, and damned if she's about to start now.
She'd asked as an equal, and he'd answered as one, and watched over her while she slept, and somehow, that feels as though it's changed something. As though it should change everything, perhaps, and there's a small part of her that almost regrets not hearing his answer to Siri, not knowing whether he would have stayed with her or gone in search of the swords, and it's that more than anything that has her face heating and her hands scrabbling to hold the poncho in place until Kumi can fetch her the cowl and she can preserve the modesty she's never much cared about.
She can feel the weight of Aral's puzzled gaze on her back, like an itch between her shoulder blades, and it's almost a relief. If he's puzzled, it means this can just be her acclimating herself to finally becoming what she'd thought she could never be. It means things don't have to change far enough that she might lose him, though they will inevitably change as they both grow into their new roles.
Almost a relief, because there is a small part of her, that same small part that wishes she'd heard his answer, that feels almost disappointed. She stuffs it down tight in a corner of her mind, and vows to brick it over until she can forget it ever spoke at all.
Chapter 2: Waiting
It was one thing to agree to Faran's request that she be the one to kill Chomarr when it was a simple matter of executing him where he lay imprisoned in another room, and acquiescence would distract her from thinking too hard about the possible causes of his exhaustion. In retrospect, Aral is half amazed that she hadn't worked out his predicament, between her own skill with magic and Kumi's lecture on the danger of necromancy.
But Chomarr had escaped – and when he'd asked how, Faran's only answer was to curse the risen until he was able to work out from context that they must have somehow broken the bastard's confinement while managing not to save everyone a great deal of trouble by killing him in the process. That in itself wouldn't have been a problem, had he not managed to set himself up as the next Son of Heaven during the chaos stirred up by the madness and destruction of the hidden risen.
Escaped, and proven that one need not be bound to an elemental creature of death that manifests as an undead plague in order to be a monster. The purges had been expected – while transition to the office of the Son or Daughter of Heaven is often not quite so bloody as other forms of succession, the deaths or disgrace of many of the church's upper echelons had left deep rifts within its structure. But the extent...
A part of him almost wishes he could feel some satisfaction at the damage Chomarr had wrought, but Torgana had proven that there was some decency left in some corners of the Hand, and anyway, the effects of the purges had rippled outward from Heaven's Reach, breeding schisms in faith that had only fanned the flames of revolution and desperate bids for power in those nations most thoroughly gutted by the gaps in the traditional power structure left by the deaths of Corik's pawns.
Ordering the execution of the blood kin of those amongst the Hand who opposed them hadn't been Chomarr's first mistake, but it had been his last. It was enough for even his own supporters to begin deserting him – not all, of course, never all, but enough to leave gaps in his security, and unlike Corik, he had no undead slaves to form a new shield around himself.
More importantly, it had snapped the last of Faran's patience. In retrospect, Aral is also half amazed that it had taken so long.
Still, after two months with no word – and he is reminded nearly every day, usually by Triss, occasionally by Jax or Siri when his restlessness builds enough to show through in the ring or in his voice that of course there hasn't been word, Heaven's Reach is distant and communication would be difficult even if half the continent weren't at war – he's begun to thoroughly regret ever promising Faran that she could be the one to claim Chomarr's head. His nightmares have had ample time to show him all the ways in which that might go catastrophically wrong, and much as his friends might remind him that Faran is more than capable of looking after herself, it's becoming harder and harder to banish them.
Much as his friends might remind him that losing one of the Blades is going to be an eventual consequence of his office, he's not certain he can bear losing Faran , and that adds a layer of guilt atop the already bruising weight of worry.
And so, when word finally comes, he's almost giddy with relief. It takes a little longer for the details of the news to sink in, details like lured to his death in his own play room and head left on display over the gates of the Son's compound . It's gratuitous, and he's hardly relieved when Jax takes the scroll describing the nature of Chomarr's death, reads it, and bursts out laughing before remarking that it seems Faran has learned a thing or two from her, too.
Still, when his wayward monster herself arrives, two weeks after the news of the Son's demise (and even telling himself that of course she would have to lay low a while to be certain of covering her trail, particularly if Heaven's Shadow still exists in some form), he's hard-pressed not to hug her before the formalities are tended to, her testimony given and responsibility formally discharged.
In time, it may grow easier to send her out and wait; for now, it's something to add to the ever growing list of questions he wishes he'd asked his own masters while there was still a chance.
How do you let go?