|One Step Back, Two Steps Forwards
Author: kali6 PM
They defeated the monster and won the battle. Touchstone knows the next step is happily ever after, but does Sabriel?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Humor - Touchstone & Sabriel - Words: 4,051 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 1 - Published: 09-09-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8512126
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Written for the first ever Rare Ship Swap, this fic was a present for automaticdoor who, like me, thinks that Sabriel and Touchstone are the best couple ever. It's been a treat to write this!
Disclaimer - I own nothing of the Old Kingdom. I want to live there, but instead I write fic. Also, this had not been beta-read. If you find errors, tell me and I'll fix 'em.
They stayed in Wyverley for two weeks, until Sabriel felt well enough to whistle up the Paperwing. Touchstone wasn't conscious much during the first couple of days. His leg had to be reset, and healing with minimal magic was exhausting. The smaller wounds he'd accumulated during their long fight lingered on, causing him more discomfort than he remembered from his time in the Guard.
After the first few days, he was awake enough to insist that he be moved into Sabriel's chamber. Rogir might be neutralized, but that did not mean the Abhorsen was safe from threat. It didn't mean Sabriel was safe. He needed to be near her.
Once he finally convinced the charter mage soldiers to let him in, he found her attended by two young women. They introduced themselves as Sulyn and Jacinth, school friends of Sabriel. As Sabriel moved in and out of consciousness, they told him tales of their school days together. Sabriel's skill at magic and fighting, her impatience with etiquette class, and her kindness towards the younger students. He laughed until his ribs ached anew at the story of Sabriel leading a secret mission to steal the ginger crisps the students had baked for the parents day picnic before the biscuits were all eaten by the adults.
When the girls would leave for the night, he would sit on the floor beside her bed and hold her hand.
"I love you," he would whisper. "Please come back to me. I love you."
Sabriel's laugh rang out, startling him. Touchstone caught the goblet he'd almost knocked off the desk in his surprise and tried to remember if he'd ever heard her laugh like that. Their time together - all of five and a half weeks - hadn't held much levity. It gladdened his heart to hear her so happy. It also made him curious to know what Sabriel found amusing.
He turned in his chair to look towards the window seat where she sat. She was bathed in the warm light of the setting sun and his breath caught a little at the sight of her. Touchstone tried to banish the unworthy desires that filled his thoughts by squeezing his eyes closed. When he opened them again, he saw Sabriel cover her mouth as if to hide a smile.
Her gaze was directed to the floor beneath her seat. The two cats, who never strayed far from her side, were tangled together on the rug. Mogget was pinning the black cat to the floor, subjecting it to a... bath? The black cat mewed pitifully as his ears were firmly groomed. Touchstone couldn't help but chuckle at Mogget's unusually feline behaviour.
"I think he's decided it's the best way to prove dominance." Sabriel's voice was a mock whisper. "Show that he won."
"I can hear you," Mogget growled as he wrapped his front paws around the black cat's throat. "And I *did* win. If this abomination and I have to share a common form, I think it only fitting that it learn its place."
Touchstone bit back his smile as he observed "I believe you have convinced your foe of your superior position."
It was true - the black cat was on its back, paws in the air and throat exposed. Mogget nipped its left ear before stepping back and allowing it to slink away. Sabriel laughed again.
"You certainly put it in its place," she said. "Very impressive."
Mogget hissed slightly and pointedly turned his back on her as he curled up for a nap. Touchstone met Sabriel's eyes and they exchanged a smile.
"You're feeling better," he commented. Wrapped in a rich blue robe, with the sunlight in her hair, Sabriel appeared almost her old self. Appearances could be deceiving, though. She still slept for much of the day, napping nearly as often as the Ranna-spelled cats. It worried him, this exhaustion that seemed to pull her towards death every time she closed her eyes, but he knew that Sabriel wouldn't appreciate his concern. If anything, it would push her further away and he couldn't bear that.
"I am feeling better," she agreed, swinging her legs to the floor and standing up. "In fact, I'm feeling hungry. Want to go scare the kitchen sendings?"
The Rogir cat was curled on the foot of his bed. Touchstone watched it warily. He was never certain if his brother was behind those feline eyes, or if the cat was mostly a cat. Either way, he found its presence disconcerting and didn't much like having it in his room.
A knock on the door startled both Touchstone and the cat. The tiny black beast leapt from the bed and ran to the door. Touchstone followed at a more reasoned pace, smoothing down his new shirt and checking the collar.
"How can I help you, Abhorsen?" he asked as he swung open the door.
Sabriel grimaced at his words. "I've asked you not to call me that," she said.
"It is what all citizens of the Old Kingdom will call you now," he pointed out. "You have to get used to it at some point."
"And I will," she said, her voice slightly peevish, "at some point. But not from you. With you, I'm Sabriel and you're…" She paused awkwardly. "Well, you're Touchstone."
"I am indeed, milady," he said, cursing the fool's title and wishing he could be worthy of a proper one, for her sake. "And how might Touchstone be of service to you today?" He made an exaggerated leg and doffed an imaginary hat.
Sabriel rolled her eyes at his behaviour. "I need your help with some of the plans to refortify the Wall." She turned on her heel and walked down the corridor without bothering to see if he followed. He did. He always would.
"Do you miss the past?" Sabriel asked one night as they played stones by the fire.
Touchstone, focused on lining up his rear guard attack, barely heard the question. "The past?"
"Yes," she said patiently. "The past. Do you miss the people that lived and died while you were trapped on that ship?"
He sat back from the table, realizing from her tone that this was no idle question.
"I miss them terribly," he said finally. "My friends, my fellow Guardsmen. My sisters, my mother." He felt tears form in his eyes at the memory of his mother's face at the end. "I think of them every day."
"If you could be with them again, would you choose to?" Sabriel's hands fidgeted with a discarded stone. The firelight flickered over her face, casting dancing shadows. One moment, he could see deep pain in her eyes; the next, darkness.
"I believe that I will be reunited with them someday," he said, after a moment's thought. "We do not know what lies beyond the final gate, but I do know that my mother's spirit, my sisters' spirits, have all passed through. And when my time is through, my spirit will float down that river and I will join them."
"But what about now?" she persisted. "Do you want to be with them now?"
Touchstone shook his head firmly. "No. I miss my family like an ache in my chest, but I am not ready to join them in death quite yet. Now, I live. I have too much I value in this world to want to leave it. My work on the Wall, my plans for Belisaere. You."
Even in the dim light, he could see the flush rise in Sabriel's pale cheeks.
"You shouldn't say that sort of thing," she muttered. "It's not proper."
Touchstone felt a sliver of ice pierce his heart. They had danced around this matter for weeks now: his love for her, her refusal to accept it. Now it had been said aloud and could not be unsaid.
"As you wish, Abhorsen." His voice was tight as he rose from his seat and sketched a quick bow. "I believe I would like to retire now. I forfeit."
He tossed his Maker stone onto the board and quickly exited the room.
There was something ridiculous about seeking advice on love from a cat, Touchstone thought. It didn't matter that the cat in question was thousands of years old and actually a creature of powerful Free Magic, it was still ridiculous.
"She told me she loved me, Mogget," he complained as he poured another cup of wine. Perhaps it was the four cups he'd already consumed that made him seek the cat's council. Or perhaps it was the fact that none of the sendings showed the slightest interest in his troubles. Or perhaps the fact that even in human form, Rogir was the last person to ask about courting women. So Mogget was it, when it came to wise council.
"I'm sure she did," the cat answered, his attention on the plans Touchstone had drawn up for repairing Belisaere.
"Was she lying?" Touchstone could hear a whine in his voice. It should have offended his pride, but he didn't care.
"Probably." The cat jumped off the table and moved to a nearby bookshelf. "Could you pull out the fourth book on the second shelf?"
Touchstone was stuck in place, as if his feet had been spelled to the ground. "Probably? Why would she lie about that?"
"I don't know," the cat said irritably. "Humans do that sort of thing all the time. Although I've noticed that Sabriel isn't one for unnecessary lies. So she was probably telling the truth. Now, the book?"
He moved without thinking, pulling out the volume and laying it on the table for Mogget to examine.
"So she was probably telling the truth? She might love me?" He took a deep gulp of wine and sank into a chair.
"By the Charter, boy, how much of that swill have you had to drink?" The cat hopped up onto the table to examine the contents of the decanter. "Too much, it appears."
"She might love me," Touchstone whispered. "I can make that work."
"She does love you, you idiotic child," Mogget snapped. "But that doesn't mean it will work. Abhorsen have a terrible history of failed romance. Something about working with Death. It makes relating to the living very difficult."
"But if we love each other…" he trailed off, realizing the truth of Mogget's words. Ever since her final battle in Death, Sabriel had become more and more distant. "So she can't love?" he asked finally.
"It's not a question of can't," the cat replied in a quiet voice. "It's a question of won't. Have you ever looked at the succession?" Touchstone shook his head. "Well, it rarely passes parent to child. Many who don the bells choose not to bring another person into their life. Not because they don't love, but because they do. Not only do Abhorsen often die young and badly, but they, above all, must be able to resist the temptation to bring a loved one back through the gates. Which is hard when you love as deeply as Sabriel or her father before her.
"But Sabriel's father was married. He even had a child!" Touchstone protested.
"He married Erinesell before assuming the bells," Mogget explained. "Her death was a terrible trial for him, as was Sabriel's birth. He had an Abhorsen's fear, as a result, for the bond between him and Sabriel. He sent her away as soon as he could. Even as he trained her, he kept her a safe distance away."
"That's terrible!" he exclaimed, thumping his cup down for emphasis.
"Idiot! You've got wine on the plans," Mogget complained. Touchstone apologized hurriedly and mopped up the pale liquid with his sleeve. "But you're right. It was hard on the both of them, and hardly achieved the desired effect. I recall the former Abhorsen's sadness at Sabriel's absence. In many ways, the distance caused him to feel more love for her than he might have if she'd been underfoot here. Now, let's see what damage that rotgut you're drinking has done to the plans."
Mogget might have intended his tale to be a caution, but Touchstone took it another way. Sabriel would not admit her feelings to him while they shared a house, so he left to oversee the work at Belisaere. He hoped that his absence would force her to reevaluate matters.
I'm still angry that you left, she wrote in her first letter. There's so much to be done here, on the Wall and on the southern lands. How could you just up and leave? I needed your help here. It's not like the Palace was going to suffer from few month's neglect after all these decades.
You're doing Abhorsen's work, was his answer. I have to do Royal work. It's my birthright as much as the wind flutes and charter stones are yours. I had done all I could with paper and pen. It was time to be here. Not that I don't wish I could have stayed. I can't get a decent game of stones here to save me. And I miss your laugh. Too many serious folk here.
The wind flutes are almost done and we're onto the fortifications. I hope to be done with all this next mooncycle, she wrote a week later. I wish you were here to talk to, you know. Some days, the feel of Death is very strong and I miss the living. My father would have said that that's the reason to be careful with the living, strikebut I miss you/strike. I shouldn't have scratched that out, I do miss you. But I am looking at ways of repairing the Charter Stones now, and so I may come up for visit to Belisaere to examine the Stone there. And you and I will have that 'decent game of stones' you were complaining about.
I didn't mean you he replied Mogget's the only player worth my time! (I jest!) I'm pleased to hear about your new project. Anything you can do with the Charter Stone would be much appreciated by all. No one can go into the reservoir without becoming ill. The rest of Palace Hill is looking much better, though. I would love for you to see what changes we've already made.
I think I will come up in about two weeks. I have a few matters that must be dealt with here, but then my time is my own. It has been far too long since I have seen you - almost two months - and I have so much to tell you. I always have to consider what's important so the letter isn't too heavy, and I have been very strict about writing once a week - I know you are busy. There is so much I have had to leave unsaid. I can't wait to tell you all of it. I miss talking everything over with you, Touchstone.
Just so you know, I'm using the name Torrigan now. Some even say Prince - I don't. I feel awkward about it, but people are hardly likely to take me seriously as Touchstone. I didn't want it to surprise you when you get here.
Torrigan is a good name, but I like Touchstone. I know it's a fool's name, but in Ancelstierre, there is another meaning. A touchstone is used to differentiate the good metals from the false. That's how I see you - you are my guide to what is true and what is right. When I have doubts, I think of you and my mind finds the right path.
"The restoration is going well," Sabriel observed. "You've made great progress."
"I'm surprised with how far we've come, and so quickly" Torrigan admitted. "And your work with the Charter Stone will help us greatly. Thank you for coming up to do that."
Sabriel threw back her head and laughed. Torrigan stole glance at her profile, so sharp against the blue sky. He had missed her so much.
"I came here to see you, my fool," she said, breaking into his thoughts. "I could have sent you the marks for your mages to repair the Stone."
Torrigan couldn't find words to reply. She seemed to find this amusing, too.
"Oh Touchstone, you do my spirits good. I have missed you," she confessed. "We should never spend so long apart again. I will come more often, and you must promise to attend the celebration of the reparation of the Wall."
"Of course, Abho… Sabriel," he said, correcting himself on her glare. "I wouldn't miss it. But you don't have to come here to visit. There must be painful memories here. I will come to you," he offered.
She shook her head. "If I avoided all those places where I have painful history, I would never see the people I care for. And besides, not everything that happened here should be forgotten."
She cast him a glance from the side of her eye, then glanced away, a faint blush high on her cheeks. He stared blindly up Palace Hill, wondering what she meant. His eye was caught by the entrance to the reservoir. Painful memories, for certain. And yet… the bloody kiss they had shared, the one that pulled him from Death. Their first and only kiss…
Sabriel leaned over and refilled his goblet. Torrigan blinked and returned to the present.
"It's good wine," she said. "And lunch was delicious."
"Yes, it was," he agreed. "The Three Lemons has a wonderful kitchen. I'm thinking I'll steal their cook away when I set up the Palace kitchens."
Sabriel laughed. "You'll go from being called Torrigan the Charming to Torrigan the Dreadful if you do it."
Torrigan felt his cheeks heat. "Who told you about that?"
"Torrigan the Charming? Well, it might have been the chambermaid," Sabriel said with teasing smile. "Or it might have been the barmaid. Or it might have been the stable boy. Or all three of them. I honestly can't recall."
"By the Charter!" he cursed. It was the most embarrassing name he could imagine. And for Sabriel to have heard it. He knew his face was red as an apple.
"Oh, don't fuss," she said, laying a hand on his arm. "I think it's sweet. And true, when you put your mind to it. Although I think I prefer Torrigan the Bashful, myself. He's much more to my taste."
The music was loud and brash. Torrigan had never heard anything like it, although Sabriel claimed it had been popular in Ancelstierre for years. She called it Big Band, which well suited the musicians on the stage, twenty of them with brassy instruments.
Sabriel was on the dance floor, whirling around in the arms of a young soldier. Torrigan had watched in amusement as the Ancelstierrien's awe of the Abhorsen had faded over the hours. While she had laid the final marks on the Wall, sealing in all their work, the soldiers and mages had treated her as royalty. By now, alcohol, familiarity, and Sabriel's beauty had worn down their reserve.
She did look beautiful tonight. For the ceremony, she had worn her blue robes, but now she was dressed as in a simple green dress that made her skin look like silk and barely covered her knees. Torrigan had noticed that he was not the only man who found that short skirt fascinating. Sabriel had not stopped dancing all evening.
"Enjoying the music?" Her voice startled him. He hadn't noticed her approach.
"Yes," he said honestly. "It's loud but I like it."
"You should dance." She had to lean close to make herself heard. Torrigan could smell the scent of her soap mixed with clean sweat. He found himself clenching his fists to keep from reaching for her.
"I don't know how," he explained.
"You don't know how to dance?" she asked. "Weren't princes expected to know that sort of thing?"
"Of course," he said. "But not to this music. If you want me to waltz or piravelle, I'd be happy to. But this…"
"Ah," said Sabriel, nodding. "I understand. Wait here a minute."
Before he could reply, she rushed off, her dark hair bouncing. Torrigan leaned against the wall and watched her catch the attention of the band's leader. They exchanged words, and then she was hurrying back to his side.
"Come along," she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards the dance floor.
"Sabriel, I just told you, I can't…" he trailed off as the music changed. The tune became slow, liquid, romantic.
Sabriel smiled. "Now you can." She reached for his hands, placing one on her waist and holding the other in hers. "Waltz with me, my prince," she commanded.
Torrigan found his feet moving instinctively to the music. He whirled Sabriel across the floor and she smiled up at him. He couldn't imagine feeling happier.
Sabriel leaned her head on his shoulder, tucking her face into his neck.
"I miss you, my Touchstone," she murmured.
No, he couldn't possibly be happier than at this moment.
A month after their dance at the Wall, Sabriel came to visit Belisaere. They walked the grounds of the Palace and he told her tales of the old Old Kingdom. She leaned on his arm and laughed at his stories. When they reached the pinnacle of the hill, he turned her to look over the Saere.
"It's beautiful," Sabriel sighed. She stepped back and leaned against Torrigan's side. He wrapped his around her shoulders and looked down at her.
"Most beautiful view in the Old Kingdom," he agreed. "There will be a balcony here, on a suite on the top floor. It will be all light and freedom."
"Sounds wonderful." She tucked herself closer, sliding an arm around his waist.
"It's for you, should you want it."
He held his breath.
"For me? A suite for me?" Sabriel asked.
"Well," Torrigan hesitated, and then steeled his courage. "You would have to share it. With Mogget, and the black cat, and, um, me."
Sabriel's arm tightened around him, but otherwise, she was still. Torrigan could feel his heart beating in his throat. Had he misjudged her feelings? Was she trying to think of a kind way to reject his suit? He stared blindly at the harbour.
"Do I really have to share with Mogget?" Sabriel's voice shook slightly. "Can't we put him in his own rooms?"
She stepped forward and turned so she was facing him. Torrigan reached out and grabbed her hands. "So yes?"
"Yes what?" Sabriel looked up at him through her lashes, her cheeks beautifully flushed. "You have to ask me a question first," she scolded.
Torrigan laughed at his foolishness. He gripped her hands tighter and asked "So will you marry me? Will you live here and wake up to this view every morning and let me love you for the rest of my days?"
Sabriel's smile was brighter than all the stars in the sky. She pulled her hands from his and flung her arms around his neck.
"Yes. Yes, yes, and yes," she answered. "And I will love you for the rest of my days, my Touchstone. Yes."