Disclaimer: I own nothing. Don't sue.
A/N: What can I say? I just finished playing the new Prince of Persia a few hours ago. At first, I was distraught. Then angry. Now, I'm still hurting, but appreciative, and I can't wait until the next game comes out.
Until then, imagination reigns...
It was so cold.
Long after the darkness had passed over them, blocking out the sun, the light still burnt weak. He shifted under its moaning caress and kept walking. The sand was grey under his feet, countless grains that shifted lifelessly with the wind.
The wind which was picking up.
He didn't know what time of the day it was. He didn't even know what day it was. It couldn't possibly be the same day that all of this madness had started... and yet, it was.
He shook his head. Angry. Empty. Stared down at her face. She was buried against his chest, her eyes closed, and he wasn't sure whether she'd fallen unconscious again or whether she was trying to hide from the nightmare he'd brought her into. A grim smile tugged at his lips and he kept walking, like a condemned man.
Such pain, such anguish. Her voice was still burning in his brain, but at the edges, like some dim whisper that he should have paid more attention to. But it was difficult amidst the swirl of his own feelings. He should have known. He should have known. He, who had taunted her about being naive... as soon as he'd learnt of the way the Tree had first been weakened, he should have known.
But he hadn't. Had never suspected it. He looked down at her face again. The beauty that stared back at him wasn't what mattered. After all, she'd been right. There was more to beauty than the skin. No. What stared back at him was Elika.
That was what mattered.
That was what had changed. She'd given him hope. He hadn't thought there were still people like her. Hadn't opened himself up enough to test its truth. But there was a simple clarity in being around her - a light that shone from her face even when he didn't believe a damn word of the faith she was spouting.
But he believed in her.
He squeezed his eyes shut briefly, then moved on determinedly ahead, face blank. There was nothing to it. Nothing but to keep going. Nothing but to ignore the void in his heart, the one that was slowly being filled once again by just being in her presence. It was agonisingly beautiful, painfully bittersweet. She was warm again, not cold. She was the only warm thing he could feel in this anomaly, this desert now iced over by Corruption and darkness. She was the only being now that mattered to him.
And she hated his guts.
He did not flinch as the thought hit him. He'd known this would happen. He'd known, but had paid the price anyway. Because it was worth it.
Still, that didn't stop the lump in his chest from shattering when she finally spoke.
"Put me down."
In all the time they'd spent together - such a brief, sweet, intoxicatingly deadly time, her voice had never sounded so wintry cold. He kept walking.
"I said put me down."
He felt her tense, and then relax unwillingly, her body still exhausted. For a moment, he felt a vague sense of disappointment. The Elika he knew would have fought. Why...?
"Put me down," she said, and this time her voice brooked no opposition. "I don't want to touch you."
He squinted ahead. The wind was picking up even more now, blowing gusts of sand across his vision. There was a town nearby, he was fairly sure. Once he'd gotten out of the twisting labyrinth underneath that cursed, fated, blessed cliff he'd fallen down, he was fairly certain of his landmarks. Which, of course, consisted of twisted tree after twisted tree. But hey, it had worked the first time.
He weighed everything up in his mind, considering, and then made his choice.
"Fine," he said, and though his immediate impulse was to drop her roughly to the dunes, he instead lowered her as gently as a bird made of crystal-blown glass. She tried to push away from him as he did, but the action only made her roll weakly onto the sand. He straightened and watched her struggle, watched her fall again, and sighed.
"Don't call me that," the retort came, vicious and sharp. "You don't have the right to call me that anymore."
He froze. And it seemed that for a long while, they remained there, above the desert cliffs, unmoving. And though something shifted towards them on the horizon, neither noticed it.
But then finally, he shifted. "Very well, Princess. I was just saying, unless you want to wake up under ten tonnes of sand tomorrow morning, I suggest we get a move on. And since you're in no condition to be walking right now, that means I carry you."
And they were back to that again. Fighting. Sliding around each other, moving in some intricate dance that neither knew the moves to, but was so beautiful that they never wanted to, couldn't stop. Elika stiffened, but knew her words were empty. "Not if my life depended on it."
His smile was humourless, but the way it transformed his handsome face remained the same, and she wanted to scream. "Oh, but I think it does."
"Damn you," she hissed, crawling away from him now, dragging herself through the sand. She didn't get too far, though, before she crashed into something and both of them looked up, astonished.
And then, for the first time in what seemed like the millennia since Ahriman had been unleashed upon the world... he laughed.
"Well, Princess, it looks like you got lucky." Despite the exhaustion weighing down his bones, he still managed to saunter over to the animal and give her a pat. "Now. Farah, meet Elika. Elika, meet Farah."
Elika stepped out of the inn bath, dressed slowly, walked back to the main room, surveyed the purchase and sighed.
He'd been right. There had been a lot of gold on that donkey. And most of it he'd unloaded, casting it away like rubbish on the breeze. She hadn't even been able to make a scathing remark, she'd been so shocked. In fact, she hadn't even been able to push against him as he lifted her up gently, so gently, and deposited her on Farah's back before guiding them towards the nearest city.
In the end, she'd only been able to manage another disbelieving "Why?", and he'd simply shrugged and smiled again, as if nothing had changed and he hadn't realeased a dark god upon the land and made cheap her sacrifice.
"I told you I was bound by nothing, remember?"
She'd nodded slowly, uncomprehendingly. "And all that talk about carpets..."
He'd met her eyes. For the first time since she'd first drawn breath, and she hated it that she was the one who looked away first.
"Well then, Princess," he said, his voice hard, "I guess you weren't the only one playing coy with the truth."
Elika swallowed and pushed the memory of the conversation away. The inn room was dark, and she made her way clumsily to the bed before falling into it. The rough wool felt like silk against her exhaustion, and she closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep. But it was damnably elusive, and she scowled.
Damn him. Damn him. As if it wasn't enough stealing her sacrifice, stealing her back - now he had to steal her sleep too as he invaded her thoughts. She twisted angrily onto her side, her back to the window and her eyes facing the door. The door she'd locked him out of. That thought at least gave her a small surge of satisfaction. He hadn't expected it either, and the slightly wounded look on his face had been so worth it she'd even felt slightly better. Let him find another room. Let him walk out of her life. She didn't care. She wanted him gone.
She couldn't believe he had done this to her.
Unconsciously, a hand fisted in the pillow, and she had to lift her other to her eyes to stop herself from crying. Damn him. Damn him. Everything she'd fought for. Everything they'd fought for. Destroyed in an instant, just because that thickheaded, selfish idiot couldn't let go.
At least he couldn't see her now. Weeping, quietly in the dark. Alone at last, she finally let the walls come down, let every last inch of grief loose from her soul, and wept. For her father. For her kingdom. For the world. For herself. Her sobs were muffled, but to her they sounded like the universe around her was echoing back her grief.
And so that was why she didn't hear it at first.
It began as a scuffling, the near-silent tread across stone and mortar. And then there was a quiet grunt, the creaking of a ring, and the sharp snikt-snikt of metal on rock. But it was only when the wind blew through suddenly opened glass and curtains did she realise someone was there.
Logically, she should have panicked. Should have flown to her feet and reached out her magic to strike. And yet she simply lay there, her eyes gently opening, her breathing hitching only every so often as the sobs died down in her throat.
Because somehow, she knew it was him. Unbidden, a smile curved unwillingly across her face. After all, who else would be crazy enough to scale a thirty-foot inn wall? The place had once been a fortress, and this particular inn was built into the stone bordering the gates. She'd thought that she'd be safe tonight.
She still was. Even without turning, she knew, she knew it was him. From the shadow cast on her wall, he was staying crouched on the window frame, content to stay leaned against its wooden solidarity. She fought the sudden urge to widen her smile. Only he could stay still, and yet still manage to project such cocky arrogance through his shadow. But Elika knew that even if she'd kept her eyes closed, she would have known it was him. The unspoken, the steps they'd danced around each other, the sheer chemistry between them was enough to let her know.
And so instead of panicking, instead of leaping up and attacking, she simply lay there, exhausted and confused, facing away from him and waiting for him to make the first move.
And he didn't disappoint her.
It was as if the last few hours hadn't happened, and the day before that had stretched into years. There was a tantalising familiarity to the way he said her name, almost a caress, and she fought the urge to shiver. Hadn't she forbidden him to use that name? Was that why it sounded so sweet now?
"Elika," she was brought back to her senses instantly the second he said it again. She could count the times he'd sounded completely serious during their day together on one hand. This was another, and she wasn't quite sure how to deal with it. So she lay and listened.
"Elika," this time it came out like a prayer, but then the next words hardened into grim determination. "Look, I'm not sorry, and I never will be."
And all the softer feelings that had suddenly been summoned by his appearance vanished. "Go away."
And of course, he stepped inside instead. He landed with a soft thunk on the wood, his boots raising dust motes that danced in the moonlight, and Elika's mouth tightened even as she inwardly relented. Just a little. Because this she could deal with. The stubborn stranger. The stubborn, charming, mysterious, rash, hot stranger.
What she couldn't deal with was the same, seemingly carefree, selfish stranger sacrificing the world for her.
"No," he said, and she heard the slide of metal as he folded his arms across his chest. "No, I'm not going away 'til I've said my piece. I didn't just climb a thirty-foot wall to run away from you now, Elika."
For a moment, he just sounded irritated, and the familiarity of that melted into her heart with a smile. But then his next words banished the warmth as quickly as it came.
"And I just want to say this. I'm not sorry. No regrets. Nothing."
At that, she snapped. Elika swung into motion, sitting up and bringing her feet to plant solidly on the floor. But she didn't turn to look at him. "Great. Just great. Well, you've said it already now, twice. So just go already."
Even from the bed, she could hear his frustrated huff of air. "Hey, that's not all. I'm not leaving."
They were only two words, but even as they left her lips, she shuddered at how cold, how cutting they were. At that moment, she had never hated him so much. Ormazd, the nerve of him! To just stand there after he'd torn her world apart, made her life meaningless, unleashed a horror throughout the lands...
She shook. With rage, with anger, with exhaustion. It was so powerful it choked up her throat, rendered her silent even as the air between them was still and icy. It felt worse than Corruption sliding against her skin, and idly, she wondered if she'd broken whatever was left between the two of them.
And then he slid to his knees.
The crash gave her such a shock she spun around without thinking. And there, with the last of his defenses stripped away, she finally saw him.
He was sitting back on his heels, his face soft and open, the scarves wound rakishly around his head flowing down his shoulder. She froze, this time not because of shock or anger, but out of awe. He looked subtly different under the moonlight - his scar light and silvery, his eyes deep and magnetising like she was seeing into his soul.
And then he spoke.
"You know, at first I thought it was a dream. A bad dream. Or another one of the Concubine's tricks. I thought you'd wake up."
She couldn't move. She couldn't say anything. She could only remain frozen in her seat, enraptured by his gaze.
"Do you know what it felt like?" he laughed softly, but it held none of his usual mirth. "I was holding you, and you were so still and cold. I thought it was a dream, right up until I laid you on that bier and you didn't get up."
She wet her lips. She wanted to say his name, but she still didn't know it.
"You know what, Elika? I'm everything you say I am. A grave robber. A bandit. A thief. If I tried for a million years, I couldn't live up to your ideas of honour and light, and I wouldn't want to. But I have my own honour. And I swear to you, Ahriman will be bound again." He took a shuddering breath, clearly winging it. "I know you won't ever forgive me, but I'm going to try, with or without you, to make sure that that slimy, ancient piece of rejected divinity won't ever see the light of day again."
She swallowed, and when her words came out, they sounded like dry paper. "Then why?"
His eyes hardened, his stance changed, and suddenly, even on his knees, he looked inexorable. "Because I won't lose you."
The words were so simple, their meaning so indecipherable that she blinked. "I..."
He moved into a crouch, and now he looked deadly, like a predator ready to pounce on its prey. "No. I've been willing to give up a lot of things before, leave a few others behind to make my life easier. But not this. I'm going to make sure Ahriman rots, Elika, but not if I have to lose you. Not if you have to die."
Somewhere, inside her mind numbed by shock and honesty, a little part of her sang. But the rest of her reeled. "Are you... Ormazd!" she flailed her arms around exasperatedly. "Are you even thinking this through? What are you going to do? The Temple won't work now, and even if it did, I'd just have to die again!"
He didn't even flinch. "No," he said simply, as if that ended the matter. He stood up, cloak falling around his ankles. "We're not going back to the Temple. We're going to find another one. Or we're going to hunt down Ormazd. We, I am going to do something, anything, and I will keep doing that for as long as it takes until we seal Ahriman away for good. And we will, Elika. We will. We'll find a way to stop him, and I'll show you the ocean afterwards."
It was as if his words were magic. Elika's eyes fell shut, the power of her imagination and her dreams almost overwhelming her for a moment, and her voice faltered beyond her control. "Ormazd's Breath," she swore softly. "I... I want to believe..."
There was the sound of curtains swishing, and she abruptly opened her eyes. The room was empty before her, her handsome stranger gone. Unthinking, she crossed quickly to the window and peered down.
Nothing. Nothing but stone.
Somehow, the sight summoned a memory. She saw light, saw a cleansed Healing Ground and a brilliant pool of radiance, and his awkward face juxtaposed against it all. And his mouth was moving.
I believe in you.
Her eyes snapped open, and the empty length of wall, the knowledge that he couldn't possibly hear her, gave her courage.
"I do believe," she said gently to the wind. And then, softer, quietly triumphant "And you're wrong, you smug ass. I will forgive you. Eventually."
There was a loud, unrestrained whoop. Elika stumbled back from the window, her eyes wide as he appeared from under the sill, his gauntlet gripping tightly to a convenient outcrop jutting out from the stone. She stared at him, her mind working. He must have flattened himself against the wall. He must had known. He must have heard every word she...
"I'll hold you to that, Elika!" he shouted cheerfully, and then before she could swipe at him, he gripfalled down the wall, the claws of his gauntlet shrieking all the way.
She stood there dumbly at the window for a moment, before leaning over and gripping the sill until her knuckles were white. Far below her, she could still see him, his descent throwing up sparks as he laughed to the sky. The obnoxious sound made her want to scream in frustration, laugh with pain, and dance with joy, all at once. Just like the man.
And for the first time in a long, long while, Elika smiled as she thought of the future.