A/N (Aroihkin's Notes) 01.17.2010:

Brainfear asked for some kind of definition between POVs when I switch them within the same scene. I felt this was perfectly valid, so I'll be putting in * * * until ffnet decides to stop allowing asterisks (again? I seem to remember them not working for a few years, just like ~ and ^ didn't. Sigh, ffnet). I would probably just toss in an extra linebreak in that spot if ffnet let me, or if the paragraphs were indented I'd put in one linebreak between, but alas. Asterisks seems to be the cleanest method. I've edited chapter 28 to have the new system and should be using it from here out for quick POV-shifts, or something else similar if not. :)

There will be a TAF 05, though it won't get put out as fast as the second half of TAF 04 has been. One chapter every two or three days is a quick path to burnout for me, which I want to avoid. I may not start TAF 05 immediately, however, as I want to figure out the full plot to use first. I have several ideas, but some of them cancel each other out, so I need to pick and choose from among them. Some of these ideas already have seeds planted into this story, waiting in case I decide to water them sometime in the future.

TAF 04 is not yet done, but it's getting very close. I estimate that this is probably the second to last chapter. I've also been slowly doodling on old TAF artwork of mine and have finished re-working "Mine", which can be seen on my deviantart account (linked from my ffnet profile). Other pictures are going to be fixed as well, such as Raistlin's bone structure in "Only Now", and some new pictures will be getting sketched up in the future. I lament the lack of visuals, so I've been at work on that, too. ;)

Apologies for the super-mega-ultra-long author's note this time. Thank you as ever for the reviews, guys, they help keep my courage up for these tricky, tricky closing chapters! No pressure, right? Right? :D;;

Take me home, take me home and leave me there
Think I'm going to cry, I don't know why
Think I'm going to sing myself a lullaby
Feel free to listen, feel free to... stare...
-- Ani DiFranco - Cradle And All

05.02.2010: All scene-dividers have been eaten, again, on all of my stories. I give up. Please just go read this story on arowrites dot net where it hasn't been made incoherent; I am unable to keep up with this site's stupidity.

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TAF: Face to Face
In Love, In Sanity

And then, Raistlin Majere lunged forward--

And Raistlin Majere stabbed her, the knife sliding through her side--

And Akara Krinir froze, terrified, horrified, as he closed even further in, pinning her to the wall with his body and his other hand--

The knife slid deeper, until the delicate hilt pressed against blood-drenched cloth and she felt a shattered exhale burst from her lungs, and Raistlin smiled, his eyes glittering like mirrors.

Krinir thieves counted in heartbeats. That was just how they did things. When they snuck, stole, skulked, and struck, their hearts beat quite slowly for the situation, almost as though they slept, speeding up only a little when they performed their acrobatic stunts and only beating fast while they ran, laughing, into the night. Or so it had always felt to Akara, anyway. When she'd danced with Raistlin, it had sped up. When they had done... things, it had sped up a lot. Each heated glance, each teasing moment, and her heart had sped up like few things could make it, pounding away in her ribcage and making her breath catch with its fury.

In this very moment, her heart beat so fast it skipped in its rhythm and the pain in Akara's side was echoed dimly by the pain in her chest, the thief staring in numb horror into reflective golden eyes. She sucked a breath in, wondering if her lungs would fill with blood, the pain pain pain pain pain pain was almost too much and she raised her shaking hands to Raistlin's thin chest. A normal person would have shoved him back, a sane person would have grabbed at his knife hand, screamed -- anything. All Akara could do was knead weakly at his clothes, trying to breathe, eyes locked on his and her heart skipped again when his smile only widened a fraction, the split in his lip bleeding a little.

The world had slowed down to a crawl for her. Everything grew hazy and distant, the blood roaring in her ears drowning out the world.

Akara watched Raistlin pluck her right hand -- her good hand -- from his chest, pinning it to the wall above her head, knitting their fingers together as though the blade he held stabbed into her flesh was something else entirely, as though his legs tangled with hers were for a different purpose. She saw his lips move, and wondered dimly if it was a spell. Would he finish her off with his magic? Akara's left hand clung weakly to his clothing, the thief unsure as to why she couldn't -- wouldn't -- scream. Didn't people scream during this sort of thing?

"Look," she heard him whisper, dimly, through the haze, "come and look, Victoria. Her terror... ah, she never expected this, now did she? Look..." Akara felt her jaw open as she struggled to breathe, shrinking back as she saw Victoria approach, though the woman stayed well back, looking at her from around Raistlin's head. And then he released her hand and slid his down low, smearing her blood on his fingers and then raising them almost reverently to Akara's open lips.

Repulsed, the thief turned her head away, gasping weakly, but his hand followed, smearing the too-hot blood against her mouth. Victoria drew nearer as Raistlin pushed gently on the knife, making her gasp in pain, and sealed his lips over hers in a savage kiss, claiming the blood with his lips and tongue and clashing his teeth against hers as she thrashed weakly against the wall. She couldn't breathe! And then Akara felt, her skin crawling with unspeakable revulsion, another hand -- not Raistlin's -- slide between them, slipping down to the mage's hips, lower...

Victoria was feeling him up while she bled out to die, trapped against the wall by the man she still loved; couldn't push away; couldn't struggle against; her lips softening as she simply gave up. Akara was going to die. She'd been right, so long ago, that it would be Raistlin who would kill her someday. He was killing her and she was letting him, and her legs would have given out from the pain and black despair if he hadn't held her pinned tightly to the wall.

The knife was pulled free. It hurt worse, somehow, on the way out than it had on the way in.

Akara waited, breathless from the pain against Raistlin's lips, for it to pierce again.

It didn't.

The hand between them jerked, and there was a strangled scream, the odd half-scent of an old spell coming undone hitting the air. Akara re-opened her eyes just in time to see the knife buried between Victoria's ribs as the woman staggered backwards, grasping at Raistlin's black clothing. There was a grim smile on Majere's blood-stained lips as their kiss broke, but he stayed between the other black-robe and Akara, holding her up, shielding her, the scent of magic stronger yet, building like a bomb--

Over both mage's shoulders, Akara saw, almost as though in slow motion, as part of the shadows detached from the rest and strode forward silently, a gleaming broadsword held tightly in one gloved hand. The blade came up -- and then it plunged through the back of Victoria's throat, sliding crimson out the front as the woman half-crumbled in place from the blow, words of magic turning into a rough gurgle, hands lifting to the blade in shock--

Alleyana gave the weapon a savage twist, then jerked it to one side, slicing outwards and sending the quickly-dying black-robe to the floor. She raised the sword again.

Akara finally couldn't help it anymore, she turned her head to one side and lunged away from Raistlin, falling to the floor -- away from Victoria as her skull was cleaved in two upon the stone with a sound not unlike a melon being broken in half -- and vomited. Raistlin merely crouched down beside her, shielding her from the sight -- if not the sound -- and placed a slender golden hand against the stab-wound in her side, trying to put pressure on it. She shoved him away, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand and staggering to her feet, intending to run and run and never, ever stop.

When her gaze fell as though drawn on the scene in front of her, her legs nearly gave out, and she shrank back against the wall, staring, shaking uncontrollably as the blood seemed to drain out of her much faster than before. On the floor was a corpse, but not the one she'd expected. Victoria Krinir looked as a corpse decayed and preserved for hundreds of years, shrunken flesh barely clinging to bone, dried eyes staring up around the broadsword embedded in her skull. Standing over the slain abomination was Alleyana, her eyes gleaming colder than even death itself, and she bent and placed the item in her other hand upon the ancient corpse, almost reverently.

A white rose.

If one could think that Alley's reverence may have been for Victoria, one would be quickly disabused of the notion as Alleyana jerked her sword free and wiped it clean on old, rotten black robes, sheathing it before stepping away and glancing towards Akara. The thief gasped harshly, realizing she'd been staring in a peculiar morbid entrancement, as the Weaponsmaster nodded to her and then looked to Raistlin. Everything seemed to move too slowly, as though through water, sounds hitting Akara's ears after they should have, the world muted and dim. Shock, she realized numbly, so this is what real shock feels like. "I'll send Jones," Alley grunted, and then she simply strode out of sight as though this was a normal, every day occurrence, leaving Akara alone with Raistlin, the corpse, and the rose.

Akara Krinir was not given to fainting, but today had warranted it. Her world went strangely white, like the petals of the flower, and then the blood rushing in her ears became deafening and she felt herself caught in slender arms and lowered, bleeding and gasping, to the floor. And after that, she didn't see or hear or feel much of anything at all for a while.

Raistlin lowered the unconscious thief to the floor, careful to maneuver her to avoid any of the... fluids on the ground, and went back to putting pressure on the stab-wound, waiting for the doctor to arrive. While his knife was reasonably long, he'd kept the angle carefully shallow, knowing intimately how to avoid anything vital, and so he wasn't particularly worried about the wound itself. The archmage held pressure with one hand and raised the other to Akara's face, brushing her hair back in unspoken, un-seen apology. Alleyana almost hadn't gotten here in time, despite his stalling...

He looked up when Jones came into view, her bag of medical supplies in hand. The doctor gave Victoria's ancient corpse a cursory once-over, not looking at all surprised, her odd amber gaze resting on the white rose for a moment before she stepped past it and came to a crouch beside Raistlin. "You knew," Raistlin murmured, turning over the wound to the woman's small gloved hands, "you already knew that Victoria was a lich?"

Megan Jones ripped Akara's tunic open further around the wound, and bent closer to inspect it, pulling it open as it welled blood. Looking slightly annoyed at the inconvenience, she wiped the thick liquid away with a cloth from her bag, and then inserted a long, flat bit of metal into the wound to see how deep it was and at what angle it had been inflicted. "Of course I did," she commented, almost drawling in her monotone as she withdrew the instrument, "surely you have been here long enough to hear the rumors about me, Majere? Victoria was not my work, but the first-hand observation of such a creature is what has kept me here all these years."

"Necromancer," Raistlin rocked back on his heels, watching the doctor in a new light, aware of the irony as she withered and decayed in his vision. A regular mortal herself, unlike most Krynnish necromancers who tended to be their own experiment. "I strive to not simply accept rumors of that nature, doctor, particularly when they are whispered snidely of someone not well... understood. Your profession as a coroner was not enough proof for me, I have known others who dissected the dead."

Jones' odd gaze went from the wound she was cleaning out, to the corpse on the floor, and then to Raistlin for a moment before going back to the task at hand. If Alleyana had never seemed impressed with his stare, Megan Jones had always been disdainful of it. Small wonder, now, although she was disdainful of everything from what he had observed. "I see your dagger, mage," Jones' monotone bit into the cold air of the library, "you will explain why you stabbed Akara, in detail." It was quite the demand, as lacking in societal posturing as ever. Raistlin considered for a moment what she would do if he refused to answer. Perhaps she would ask the other witness? His eyes narrowed, going to the corpse briefly as well before fixing back on the doctor's gloved hands, smeared in Akara's blood.

"I would think it safe to assume that others have tried to kill Victoria before," he mused aloud, and was gratified by Jones' very slight nod. "They failed because of her shielding. Somehow, she maintained a powerful stoneskin at all times," Raistlin straightened, standing up and taking a few steps away, looking towards the fireplace where the fight between Victoria and Akara had taken place. "Even Akara, after Tannusen's death, could not pierce it; only her blood could touch Victoria's skin. That is how I knew. I was able to shatter her shields with a knife coated in Akara's blood, as fresh as possible, and Alleyana took care of the rest."

Jones was silent, beginning on the stitches in Akara's side. Raistlin didn't watch, he'd seen the doctor do far more... invasive things to Akara and he wasn't worried about a simple cleaning and stitching. Seeing the woman peel Akara's shoulder apart as though she were a cadaver, re-aligning delicate bones by hand and securing them with metal rods... after assisting in a surgery more advanced than he was accustomed to being possible, he hardly doubted her skill with a needle.

Raistlin stepped nearer to the ancient cadaver, staring at it for a moment. Victoria's beauty had been unchanging, which had been suspect. Harold Krinir, Akara's blood father, had aged before his sight and so he had known that Paladine's enchantment on Akara had not been made into a family trait. Making his own vision blur had revealed all that he'd needed to know, much as he'd done to unmask Councilor Shavas so long ago. Once again, his curse had proven to be another's downfall. "...Why a white rose?" Raistlin asked after long moments of silence went past, turning back towards the doctor-necromancer and the fallen thief. "I did not ask, and she did not explain."

"Tannusen," was all Jones said in answer, tying off a stitch with small, abrupt movements. The wound was still oozing blood, and she dabbed it away for a clean view of what she was doing. At the angle he'd pierced, it hadn't precisely gushed, although it had probably still hurt like the Abyss. The small thread guilt he felt was shoved aside; he had granted Akara revenge, and revenge was far sweeter than the pain of any wound.

Raistlin spared the flower another glance, bending to retrieve his dagger and cleaning it off as Alley with had her sword, before tucking it back up his sleeve. "That would explain her... viciousness." The black-robe mused aloud. He had been a little surprised at the tactic she had taken, going through the throat, twisting, slicing out, and then going through the skull. His brother would have gone for her back and through the ribs to the heart, perhaps, or simply tried to go through her neck in one cleave... if he could be convinced to actually kill her in the first place, which was highly doubtful. Raistlin felt mildly impressed at the Weaponsmaster's utter lack of hesitation. It reminded him, a little, of his sister.

"She is efficient," Jones agreed flatly, applying some sort of cream to the stitched wound and then a thick pad of gauze, ripping the abused tunic further so that she could wrap bandages around the thief, tying them off expertly. When this was done, the doctor made quick work of inspecting Akara's abused shoulder, frowning faintly and tucking the thief's arm back into its forgotten sling.

Then she lifted her bag and stood, her form far too small to have the strength to move the unconscious Krinir. The arms under Jones' stark black clothing were even thinner than Raistlin's, and she had little bulk to speak of. It was a wonder she could even lift what she did on a regular basis. Megan stared at him for a moment, as though contemplating some sort of strange bug, and then nodded to something past his shoulder.

Alleyana stepped into view as though she'd been waiting to do so, striding grimly for the thief on the ground.

Raistlin managed to not startle... much. He hadn't expected the scar-faced woman to be waiting on hand, although he realized that he should have. Someone had to move Akara's unconscious form away from all the blood and brains and vomit, and it had always been one of the two half-siblings before. Now that Tannusen was dead and gone... "You'll be going soon," Alleyana said, interrupting his thoughts as she knelt down to scoop Akara up from the stone floor.

It didn't sound like one, but Raistlin treated it as though it was a question, and nodded. "As soon as she is able to travel, yes." And he paused, thoughtful, before looking at both the doctor and the warrior, "...I could transport you both as well, if it pleases you to leave Krontis."

"Heh," Alley seemed amused by this, though her faint smirk was a grim one as she walked for the door with Akara dangling from her arms, her broadsword tight against her back, "you'd inflict us on Krynn, hm?"

Jones for her own part said nothing, only shooting him a disdainful glance before also striding for the way out, her boots clicking hollowly on the floor. The coroner was the only one who made significant noise, although Raistlin still felt loud compared to the warrior, who was a far cry from the jangling, creaking, stomping fools he was so used to as sword-wielders. If Alleyana wore armor at all beneath her loose, plain clothing, then it was finely-made indeed to not make a sound.

The archmage trailed casually after the women. "Krynn has done me no favors, whereas both of you have been invaluable." It was a simple enough equation to him, and what did he care if it could cause trouble for the world? Raistlin was a black-robe, one who had successfully broken ties with even the Conclave, and they had proven to be quite useful. Krynn would manage.

Megan Jones gave a faint, delicate snort. "I think not," the disdain from her glance had leeched into her flat voice, her stride not slowing. "Krynn is a barbaric, filthy land. You may find it appealing, but I assure you that I do not." The insult after his gesture of good will was stinging, not really easily ignored, but after so many weeks of dealing off and on with the caustic doctor, Raistlin had learned to simply grit his teeth and bear it, or her tongue would only grow sharper. She was far too useful to simply drop into the middle of a lake as he was sometimes tempted to do.

Jones split up with them outside of the library without another word, striding off in the direction of her office. Raistlin turned his gaze to Alleyana next, who merely shot him a look over her shoulder, and responded with a faint shrug, "Krynn doesn't have enough coffee." And that was all she said about it, pausing to let Raistlin push open the door to Akara's room, once they were there, and carrying the thief inside.

Once Akara was deposited safely onto the bed, the Weaponsmaster turned and left, just as abrupt as she always was. Raistlin dimly wondered if he was the only person around who had any sort of social grace, between the various quirks of the warrior, the doctor, and the thief.

The irony was not lost on him.

Akara was going to die. She was going to die. Gunfire exploded in her mind, the sharp reports of six-shot revolvers emptying in her direction. No, not just her direction, but Tannusen's. Tannusen was going to die. Blood steamed in the air, an explosion wracked the earth around her as she ran, the smell of burning flesh... and she ran, and ran, and when she found Raistlin he was cooking pieces of Tannusen's body against metal bars, and he turned towards her with a knife in his blood-streaked hand and a sly smile on his lips...

Akara was going to die.

She screamed, and struggled as something warm -- too warm -- wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her close and she shoved with her one free arm and -- it -- wasn't -- enough. Breathing so fast that it hurt, Akara jerked her head back and opened her eyes, suddenly sharply awake, and nearly shrieked again to see that it was Raistlin embracing her. The scent of cooking human flesh still filled her mind. "Get away from me!" she gasped, shoving again, harder, feeling something pull sharply in her side that suddenly hurt so bad it left her breathless and weak, and her struggles ceased.

Raistlin remained, lifting a hand to her hair. Instead of being soothed, Akara felt her skin crawl and she clenched her eyes shut. He'd stabbed her! Her free hand moved weakly to her bandaged side, feeling the familiar pinch of tiny stitches beneath. The number of scars she picked up when around Raistlin was astonishing, she thought dimly, oddly detached. First the teeth marks on her wrist when he'd been sick, then the crossbow bolt in the back of her shoulder, the poisoned sword slash on her arm; the marks left from protruding bone and subsequent surgery on her left shoulder; the ring of fingers around her neck... and now a goddamned stab wound in the side. If she'd had an opinion on her body before, it surely would have plummeted with all the brand new shiny, disfigured-looking scar tissue. It wasn't going to be a pretty sight.

"...I mean it," Akara clenched her teeth, coming back to real-time, "let go and back the fuck off, Majere!" How was she supposed to get the room to think if he was holding her so close like some kind of... of...! His hand continued to stroke her hair, and she ducked her head to get away from it, burrowing against his thin chest. That wasn't the desired outcome. "L-let go!"

"I refuse," Raistlin's soft whisper somehow reached her ears over the sound of her own panic. His fingers followed after her bowed head, sliding over and over through her hair, petting her like he might a pet rabbit, his other arm like a band of steel around her shoulders. They were on their sides on the bed, on top of the blankets, dried blood from her torn-up tunic flaking off onto the bedspread.

"St... stop it!" Akara tried to lunge down and under his arm and back, but the archmage merely grabbed a fist full of her hair and stopped her mid-movement, tears of pain and frustration beading in the corners of her eyes. "Why do you always do this shit!" she gasped, struggling fitfully as he hauled her back up to his shoulder, "You always do this! I don't belong to you, Majere, you can't just manhandle me as you see fit! Let go!"

"You do not?" Raistlin mused aloud, his fingers going back to stroking through her hair, "Hmm..." The archmagus' tone made her want to claw his eyes out, suddenly. So condescending! And then the grip in her hair was tight again, pulling her head up, and his lips still tasted faintly of her blood. Akara froze, her heartbeat increasing like it only seemed to do around Majere, and she tried twice more to shove away before giving up and holding still, the velvet tip of his tongue stroking past her lips, their breaths mingling. When he pulled back, she almost followed, except that sly little half-smile was there and she froze, his words sliding over her, "I think... that I would beg to differ."

Beg to differ? About what? Akara's half-scrambled brain dug in for traction and made the connection, and she felt her eyes narrow to slits. So he thought he owned her, did he? "Fuck you," she hissed, "you stabbed me! You can just fuck the fuck right off!" This time, she got her hand up to his chin and shoved his head up and back while trying to push away, her fingers splayed on his jaw so that he couldn't simply turn his head and break free. "Let go of me!"

He finally released her, his snarl felt against her fingertips. She pushed back and toppled off the bed, hitting the floor with a dull thump and a small squeak of pain. But Akara kept the momentum and continued her movement, raising her legs as she fell onto her back and twisting to roll up, over her good shoulder, her boots touching down on the stone floor, lifting herself to her feet without the use of her arms. Raistlin was watching her with interest from the bed, not having had the opportunity to move yet, and she raised her hand to her head and staggered as the dizziness spiked--

When Raistlin moved to throw his legs over the edge of the bed and get up, Akara snarled at him and stepped back, adrenalin sharpening her gaze as she darted for the neat pile of saddlebags, bending and coming back up quickly with one of Grissom's knives in her hand. She held it between them as she backed up further, the archmage approaching slowly. "Akara," he murmured, holding out his hands, one toward her and one off to the side. She noticed he'd changed his clothes while she was unconscious, back to the thick velvet robes with the wide, sweeping sleeves. "Victoria is defeated," he whispered to her, stepping closer as she stepped back again, "I have given you the revenge that I promised."

"So you're done with me now, right?" Akara hated how shaky her voice was, and she lifted the knife to chest-level, held forward in her one hand as he continued to approach, and she had to stop retreating as her back bumped into a wall. "S-stay back!"

"Akara," Raistlin continued to approach, and he looked at the knife for a moment, then smirked faintly, "...the scabbard is still on." In response, Akara's eyes flicked down to the weapon, realizing he was right, and her face heated. She moved as fast as she could to pull the knife back and let her sling-held arm grab the scabbard, and barely had it unsheathed before he was on her, pressing her back against the wall. He didn't move to wrestle the knife from her, though, his hands moving to hold the sides of her head. She pressed the blade to his back as he bent to brush against her lips again. "You will not hurt me," he whispered, "but I would suppose that if you did, it would only be fair. Here," and he drew back a little, his fingers going to his robe, undoing hidden ties to open it to the waist and letting the heavy velvet hang from his thin shoulders, exposing the golden skin stretched over his frail, scholarly frame.

"Cut, if you like," he murmured softly, his gaze intent on her face, his arms held out to his sides, "stab, even. But know that in exchange, I will take your hand. You will be mine." It was such a dramatic gesture, domineering even at the same time as it was slightly reckless, but this was Raistlin Majere and that was how he approached life itself. Akara stared at him, clutching the knife between them again, the blade gleaming sharp in the light.

"You're fucking crazy," Akara spluttered, shrinking back against the wall as he drew nearer again, the knife-point lowering. She couldn't--! But something sparked in his expression, making her eyes narrow. He doesn't think I'll do it! she realized, Majere's toying with me, even while I point a knife at him! 'You will not hurt me', he'd said. Akara snarled, and lunged forward and up with her bent elbow just below his throat, shoving him back a step and then bringing the knife down with her arm.

At first, there was nothing but Raistlin's shocked gasp, his hands held numbly to either side, hourglass pupils dilating slightly. And then the golden skin split like a seam, welling blood, the crimson line running razor-thin from his right collarbone to his left hip. It wasn't a deep cut, just enough to split the skin and bleed a little, the edge of the Magekiller's knife just as deadly-sharp as it had been in her memory-dreams, and Akara bared her teeth at him in the face of his shock. "Don't toy with me, Majere!" she hissed, "Don't you dare forget that I'm just as crazy as you are! Now back off!"

Raistlin raised a hand to his chest, dabbing at the blood with his fingertips and looking down at the shallow wound. The smile that twitched onto his lips wasn't one Akara had seen before, and she realized her mistake right as the mage made a sharp gesture and whispered a single word, the knife tearing out of her grasp and imbedding in the far wall. "I am so glad," he murmured silkily, and grabbed her hand while she stared after the weapon in shock, "that you accepted my proposal so quickly."

And before she could react, he drew her near, pulling her flat against his slowly-bleeding front, holding her hand high and setting his other on the small of her back. "Shall we?" Raistlin asked, his odd little smile having turned decidedly smug, his eyes half-lidded.

Akara couldn't find the words to protest as she was pulled along into a dance that she had taught him herself, his blood mingling with hers on her tattered clothing.

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Dragonlance belongs to someone else.
All here that is not found in the books... is mine.
Never steal if you value your spleen.
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