Title: Attrition
Author:
Ever1/Everworld2662
Length:
One-shot
Fandom:
Prince of Persia
Pairings/Characters: The Prince/Elika
Summary: This is what happens: they walk away.
Genre: Angst/Romance
Rating: T
Warnings: Angst. Really.
Set: End of Prince of Persia, in lieu of the (dreadful) Epilogue.

A/N: I am faintly disgusted with myself that after having my SoT PoP fic in the (slow, haphazard) works for practically over a year now, I write a PoP (2008) fic in a day. Uhrg, typical.

***

The definitions of 'attrition' on the Merriam-Webster Online are:

1) [Middle English attricioun, from Medieval Latin attrition-, attritio, from Latin] Sorrow for one's sins that arises from a motive other than that of the love of God
2) The act of rubbing together, also the act of wearing or grinding down by friction
3) The act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack
4) A reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death

***

What candle will shine in the darkness now that she is gone?

***

This is what happens: they walk away.

The end, then, belies all the magic of their journey. It does not finish like a children's story. But then, in the Prince's experience, it never does: he should know, he is a tomb-robber by trade, and there are no ghosts in the dark, no vengeful spirits. Just silence and bones he stumbles over if he is not careful; the riches of the dead waterfall through his fingers like golden sand as he examines them, and they feel light when he loads them onto Farah's back. He leaves, finds a town and spills the barest fraction of his winnings across some tavern's counter; gets the first good night's sleep in weeks.

No, not a children's story, at all.

*

This is what happens: together, they cross the desert.

For the first half of the journey, Elika is nothing more than a weight in his arms. She drifts in and out of sleep as they walk, waking sometimes with small sighs that flip over his heart. It feels a little like thievery, this retreat: there is the same silence, the same lack of vengeance. The same weight of treasure in his arms.

Meanwhile Ahriman sweeps over their heads like a shroud, turning the very desert they are crossing to ice beneath their feet. This is the form his retribution takes: a few slides, a stumble. Whenever he trips, Elika sighs herself awake again. She doesn't speak, doesn't ask to be put down, and he's glad because he wouldn't even if she asked.

At this exact moment, there is no remorse in his heart.

*

This is what happens: in time, they reach a city.

Elika is in his arms again when it happens, still sleeping, still unspeaking. She's been drinking the water he offers, eating the food he shares; she even lies down next to him when he makes his bed, even though there is probably other, more comfortable terrain to be found in her homeland. He, meanwhile, has been collecting moments like these, storing them for safe-keeping: the time he unwrapped his scarf from his head and they used it as a blanket; the time he woke to find her open-eyed across from him, examining his chin. He has grown fond of these instances, but not so fond that relief doesn't lightning through him when he sees a silhouetted tower in the distance. He shakes Elika awake and sets her on the ground; she turns sleepy eyes in the direction of his outstretched hand.

"See? I told you we'd make it."

"The tower's summit is swathed in darkness." It's the first thing she's said to him since her resurrection, since that anguished why? of awakening that made a dull impact to hear, like a small fist batting at his chest. "You should be able to discern it from this distance, but Ahriman's cloud is preventing us." Her short laugh takes him back to an old knife-wound. "My mother and father are dead, my homeland destroyed, and the darkness I would have—no, the darkness I have given my life to contain has been unleashed across the world. And you would have me rejoice?"

"Talking to me again, are you?" Although he tries to make his answer as scathing as hers, he fails, easing instead into good humour. "A thank you would've been nice, but oh well! I suppose that's too much to expect from a Princess."

She knots her arms against her chest by way of response, but suddenly, the line of her mouth softens with exhaustion and her voice emerges deceptively gentle with weakness.

"The city that…lies ahead. It is not an escape. There is—no escape…" The sentence trails off and Elika closes her eyes.

"Anywhere's an escape," he counters. "Ahriman won't touch us; if he wanted to kill us, we'd be dead already. The city'll be safe. Hell, this desert's probably safe…although I wouldn't recommend staying here."

"No…" she says, and this time the shake of her head ends in a sway.

"Hey. Do you need me to carry you?" he asks then, more gently, and she leans the side of her body against him, her shoulder warm through flimsy material. It is not really a question, but he wants to hear her answer anyway.

"Yes." Surrender: half hateful, half willing, like drowning furious but unfighting. He is happy to take that, consume it, place it alongside another moment of his chained recollections. It is full of hope for Elika's forgiveness. They are just words, but he wants them and their implications anyway: wants them, fiercely, but doesn't need them.

Not yet.

*

This is what happens: they reach the sea.

The port town in question is so crowded that he is forced to let Elika walk alongside him. She hasn't spoken to him since their strained conversation about safety, but she has conferred in an undertone with at least three beggars since then and he is strangely comforted to see she still knows how to form syllables. He wonders what she is asks them, but by now he knows better than to ask.

As they move through the streets, being spared Ahriman's wrath begins to feel like a kind of immortality. The darkness is everywhere now, attached to the walls and floor like pestilential sores, but they traverse the city unscathed all the way to the sea. There are people praying along the docks, on their knees with their palms outstretched upwards, right to the water's edge. Ormazd. Hearing the name makes Elika stumble, and when the Prince catches her, he notices that her eyes are bright.

"This is pointless," he says when she drops to her knees, face upturned to Ahriman's starless sky. Patience has never been a virtue he has been interested in cultivating.

"Your god is dead," he tries next, and when one of the supplicants lashes at his leg angrily, several weeks worth of frustration suddenly bursts out of him. "It's true! Where is he then, if he's not dead? Why isn't he here in your hour of need? Elika? Look at me!" She doesn't. "Where was he when you died? Or when I brought you back the way that I did? If he was ever here to begin with, he's dead now, and you're all wasting your time!"

Surprisingly, Elika gets to her feet, but her expression as she looks toward him is odd, not the exhausted submission he has come to recognize. All around them, the kneeling tell Ormazd secrets in Chinese whispers, a constellation of raised arms and susurrations: they are murderers repenting in the face of the oncoming storm, and he feels disgust, not pity.

"I'm done," Elika says beside him, softly. "We can move on."

"These people…they need to get up." The frustration is still within him, still fighting to get out. "They need to do something. They can't just sit here and wait for him to come, hoping Ormazd is going to swoop down from the heavens to save them! Elika, they have to run; we have to tell them—"

"There is nothing to tell them," she interrupts, and her voice has gone back to brittle. "Not when we are the ones who doomed them. We will survive, and they won't: that is the bargain you made."

"And I'd make it again in a heartbeat." He means it. Even then, in that darkened, corrupted, suffering city, he means it. "You can't make me regret saving your life, Elika."

She draws her arms around herself like a curtain.

"I know. But perhaps I can make you regret robbing them of theirs."

"No," he says, but it sounds like her yes from earlier. It sounds like a surrender.

*

This is what happens: they cross the sea together on a boat of would-be survivors; many of them die on the journey, but he and Elika do not. They survive, and alight on new soil to find that the darkness is absent. They stay until it comes, and after that, they move on.

This is what happens: they forsake civilization for a time, choosing instead to linger on some foreign mountain range which Ahriman has yet to find until one morning the prince of thieves stumbles his way off a high reach in an over-enthusiastic search for game. Elika saves him from the inevitable long fall and short stop and they decide to emigrate, secretly all too willing to leave this particular memory behind.

This is what happens: Elika stops praying, and city by city, desert by desert, the world falls to darkness until she is the only light left.

After a while, they cease having the energy to pretend not to care about each other. The first time they sleep together is after his fall—curiously careless—from that mountain plateau; after she catches him and kisses him, the unexpected lesson in fear making all her limbs tremble. When she wakes up, encircled in his arms, he picks leaves out of her hair; the sky visible past his elbow is clear and blue and free of Ahriman, and for a moment, she forgets that she is meant to be dead.

This is what happens: little by little, even Elika's flame starts to flicker, and by the time that they realize, it no longer matters.

***

A/N: No, no, no, that's not how it happened. Shall I begin again? Hopefully what I was trying to do came across here. I get a (sleepy) feeling that it did not. -__-