Notes: Originally written by Yuletide 2008.
Kiriel and Auralis have a heart to heart. For them anyway.
In the end Kiriel caught him as one would a wayward lover, skittish and fleeing under the cover of darkness.
Except, of course, she'd never had a lover so she wasn't completely sure this was how such confrontations went. Kiriel suspected it wasn't because truly, how often did things follow their usual courses of action when she was involved? Still, she found the analogy fittingly ironic.
After all, this was the first, and only, man she'd ever asked to come to her bed.
"So," she said finally, breaking the grim silence that stretched between them. "Where do you plan to go, now that you've finally chosen to leave?"
Kiriel couldn't say when she first noticed the signs. And if given a choice, nor would she ever. To do so would admit she'd been watching, and watching another person with such vested concern was a humanweakness.
Even now months after the first battle had been won, even here in the heart of the Tor Leonne where the Kialli dared not tread, not when the Tyr'agar, this Tyr'agar, wielded the Sun Sword, the old conflict persisted. Compassion versus calculation. Her mother's human frailty versus a father's all-consuming power. It took more than time to erase the teachings bestowed upon her in the Shining Palace. Some beliefs ran too deep.
But others Kiriel could change and alter, sometimes even re-learn. Through this was she able to come to terms with both sides of her nature, in a fashion. And because of that, she'd come to learn that some obstacles were insurmountable - not because they couldn't be overcome, but because to overcome them would mean the utter destruction of the goal that waited on the other side.
And so she waited, in the shared room that Southern law chose to overlook by virtue of a tolerant Tyr'agar, for Auralis to come home.
Auralis responded with a question. "Does it matter?"
His words incited anger with a ferocity that surprised even her. And because of it, she fought the impulse to cross the room that separated them. If she touched him now, she couldn't be certain he'd survive unscathed. Her power ebbed and flowed and, much like the color of her eyes, eluded complete control.
"I told you I'd go with you."
He shook his head. The denial cut straight and true. How she hated this newfound frailty in her heart. "You should stay," Auralis said. "Valedan needs someone like you in the Tyran."
"No, he doesn't. There hasn't been an attack in months." Indeed it was true. The Kialli had withdrawn, accepted the battle as a disappointing - but acceptable - loss in a much larger war. Kiriel suspected, as did many others, they'd returned their gaze to the North, to the Empire, to Essalieyan. "He has many other Tyran." Including more of those who'd once fought under the banner of the Ospreys. "He has Anton. And Andaro. His generals. The Radann. Diora."
Auralis laughed at the last. "What can she possibly do? Demons aren't impressed with beauty."
"So you do still recognize beauty? I wondered."
Once he would have bristled at the laughter in her voice. Once it would have stung his vanity and pride.
Now he only closed his eyes.
Kiriel felt something like regret. And because of her shortcomings, she didn't know how to bridge the gap. Wasn't entirely sure why she wanted to, not with this man who'd made it clear in no uncertain terms that such overtures were unwelcome. "You know Diora is more than a pretty wife."
Auralis said nothing. He didn't need to. Like anyone who lived within the Dominion, he'd heard the whispered rumors about the Flower of the Dominion. But unlike most others, he knew those rumors to be true.
No, Valedan had nothing to fear, not with such a woman by his side.
Stripped of excuses, Auralis offered the one thing he had left: the truth. "I never accepted your offer."
"You don't want me to come with you."
A smile. A sharp and bitter smile. "No."
And because she could, Kiriel looked at him and saw. "Why?"
He came, as he always did, at the end of his shift, sweating and complaining of needlessly complicated armor.
And as she always did, Kiriel laughed. "You look Southern." She'd said it so often, it'd become a refrain. To date, it was the only way she succeeded in pricking this new, different Auralis. He may given up many old habits but the old grudge against the Annagarians was not one of them, Valedan notwithstanding. Perhaps not even then.
For his part, Auralis merely glowered and went about the difficult task of stripping himself of that armor. He didn't ask for her help, and Kiriel did not offer.
She tossed Falloran a biscuit. The enormous dog caught the offering and crunched it between impressive teeth before lowering his head. It'd taken weeks, months really, before her old childhood guardian had stopped growling at her roommate.
Falloran would never like Auralis. That was too much to ask. The beast hadn't even liked Isladar who had owned him. And then proceeded to free him into her keeping.
But those were thoughts for another day, another time. Isladar was not here, the war had not come yet, and the Northern Wastes were so very far away.
"You are angry with me."
"Why in the world," he said, making each word a knife like the ones he favored, "would I be angry at you?"
Kiriel's vision never wavered. It remained true and told her all she needed to know. "Because I never told you about Anya."
No, she couldn't say when she first noticed. But if asked, if specifically asked andshe was in the mood to answer, she could point to the coiled tension in his shoulders that never went away. She could point to the restless shifting of his eyes that never settled on one subject and moved from one focus to the next.
She could point to the increasing darkness in his shadow.
But of course none could, or would, confirm the last. None had her sight. But they could feel it, for this kind of darkness had its reach. Anyone who looked and paid attention could see it: in the way Auralis grew harder, grimmer, deadlier as the days passed.
The Dominion was unforgiving. It made no difference to Kiriel who was used to harsher terrain, and had in fact been tempered in a much crueler environment. But to the women and men whose wings were now clipped, and to this one man in particular, it was nothing less.
It was more.
They'd been forged here. They'd buried their dead here. They'd returned at the side of their enemy. And they'd buried their dead again.
They would never go home.
Kiriel could sympathize with that, in her own way. For all its treachery and danger, the Northern Wastes were her home, the Shining Palace the playground of her youth. And she dared not go back there, not now. Perhaps one day but only when she was ready and she knew, as well as she could under these circumstances, that the time was not now.
It was the great irony, of course. She would not - could not - go home. And because she couldn't, she couldn't bring Auralis with her. Because even if he did not realize it, Kiriel knew it was the place where he wanted most to go.
It was Anya's home too, after all.
"How could you know? The past means nothing to the Ospreys."
Rote words, the only true law among the Ospreys, and ones used to defend her when the truth of her father had finally come out. In theory, they were pretty words, clinging hard to an ideal where a person's past could be superseded by the present.
In practice, they were meaningless. Just as the revelation that her father was the Lord of Night had changed everything with those around her, the revelation that Kiriel had known Anya had changed everything with Auralis.
And if the second had taken longer to yield fruit, that didn't make its impact any less important.
Kiriel pointed out the obvious. "The Ospreys no longer exist."
Auralis spat a curse. And because Kiriel was not a woman of the Dominion, could never be a woman of the Dominion for all that one of its serafs had a hand in raising her, she laughed.
"I am going with you."
"Even if I don't want you?" He flicked a glance at Falloran, who'd roused from his corner and padded silently to her side. "Either of you?"
"Especially because you don't." Kiriel smiled. "And where I go, Falloran goes. Do you really think you can stop us?"
Stalemate. For all that he was as near a partner as she could ever afford to have, the distance between their respective abilities was too great. If Kiriel truly wanted to go, there was no stopping her and to his credit, Auralis knew that. But it didn't mean he accepted it with grace.
Auralis spat another curse and vanished out the door. And after a moment, Kiriel followed, Falloran close on her heels.
He thought she didn't know. He believed he'd hidden from her, or perhaps that it'd escaped her notice.
Auralis wasn't usually such a stupid man, but in this there was no doubt he was a fool. He believed his death would make amends.
And Kiriel saw it for what it was: a coward's way out.
Death would not restore Anya's sanity. Death would not erase the past. All death would bring was peace - and that, only for Auralis. She wondered if he truly did not see that. And after a moment of thought, she decided she did not care.
And so she would go with him, as she had promised to do when she first realized he intended to go after Anya. That the day had come sooner than she'd expected was no one's fault. She could adjust. She could adapt. Evayne a'Nolan's interference had taught her that in the end.
As the daughter of the Lord of Night, the once and future Queen, and the intended general of his armies, Kiriel knew death, and knew it well. Had tasted its bitter edge firsthand when Isladar killed Ashaf.
If Auralis wanted to seek death, that was his choice. Kiriel would not gainsay him. Even if she did, she doubted he'd listen. But in this, she would make her own choice as well.
She would not taste death's bitter edge again.