It was always so quiet in the graveyard.
Sonea had made the trip here more times than she could count in the last six months, but today was the first time it had snowed. She shivered as she sat against Akkarin's headstone, unwilling to let so much as a heat shield get between them any more, and all she could think about was that time, so long ago and so far away, when they had shared warmth and skin and everything with each other and there had been nothing between them, not even a scattering of snowflakes.
There had been a time, not that long ago, when she had wished she could lie down here, next to Akkarin, and never get up again. But now there was a child to think about, Akkarin's last gift to her, and she had no choice but to survive for him – to grieve, and keep living.
So she sat in the snow.
Sometimes, she wept, but today was not one of those days. Today was the other kind of day – a day when the tears seemed so small against her grief, so meaningless in the face of the uncaring fates, that she could not bring herself to cry, as though it was an insult to his memory. On days like these, she preferred to remember silently, alone with him, but not in the way she once was – the way she never would be again.
She sat as long as she dared, knowing that if she stayed away from the Guild too long Rothen would begin to worry – as would the other magicians, for a different reason. Few of them trusted her now, even knowing that everything she had said and done had been vindicated.
(She had wondered, in her very darkest times, what it would have been like if she had been the one to die – whether, if High Lord Akkarin, rather than the slum girl, had lived, he would have been feared and distrusted by all he had once known. Whether the city would have mourned a slum girl as their hero.)
But, too soon, she had to step away from Akkarin, leave him alone here in the snow, and make her way back to the world of the living.
Sonea stumbled as she got to her feet. She was colder than she had realised. She resolved to hurry back, and perhaps pay a visit to the Healer's Quarters on her way, but she had barely reached the gate out of the graveyard when her numb legs slipped from underneath her and sent her sprawling to the ground in a shivering heap.
"Sonea! Are you alright?"
Sonea felt a bubble of warmth envelop her. She supposed she was lucky that another magician had been passing – or perhaps it was not so much luck. After all, she was not the only one still mourning.
She pushed herself up, wiping snow from her lashes until the stars in her vision cleared and she made out the face of her rescuer.
He placed a hand on her forehead. His touch felt like a flame against her skin.
"I – I – "
But Sonea's teeth were chattering too hard for her to speak.
"I don't care what happened. I'm taking you to Vinara."
Sonea felt a disc of magic forming underneath herself, and she tried to protest that it was a waste of power, she could walk fine, but before she could form the words tendrils of darkness began to eat at her vision, and all of the lights went out.
Sonea awoke to Vinara's stern face frowning down at her.
"Awake at last! What happened?"
The Healer didn't look happy, and Sonea knew what she was thinking. But months had passed since those days when she had turned her face to the wall and almost forgotten what it was to eat, to sleep, to breathe. Months in which she had found something to live for.
"Is the baby alright?" she asked nervously.
Vinara's face softened. "He'll be fine. You were hypothermic, but Osen found you in time."
"I didn't realise how cold I was," Sonea admitted. "I must have stayed outside for longer than I thought. I'm sorry, I should have …"
Sonea didn't know what she should have done.
Vinara held her gaze for a moment, but whatever she found there seemed to satisfy her.
"You'll need to stay here and rest for a while," she told Sonea. "But you should be fine."
Then she swept out of the room, back to some more deserving patient.
Sonea leant back against the pillows and closed her eyes, appreciating the warmth that surrounded her.
She opened her eyes again. Someone was still in the room. Sitting up, she realised that Osen sat in the visitor's chair next to her bed. She was surprised to see the he had waited for her to wake up – the Administrator was always busy, and in recent months, the Guild had needed even more organisation than normal.
"I sent a message to Rothen," he told her. "He'll be here soon."
"Thank you," Sonea said, expecting him to leave, but he remained seated.
"Sonea..." he said. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine," Sonea replied. "I was just a little silly."
"You forget your shield?"
"I didn't want one," Sonea admitted. "I was visiting Akkarin. I... didn't want there to be magic between us."
Sonea expected the Administrator to shake his head and say he didn't understand, but he nodded sympathetically.
"I can understand that."
"Why were you –" Sonea realised too late that it was rude to ask, but she decided to plough on anyway. "Why were you in the graveyard?"
Sonea glanced away.
As long as she lived, would she ever be able to hear that name again, or the names of anyone who had died at the Ichani's hands, without wondering if there was some way she could have saved them? Perhaps if she had convinced Akkarin to tell the Guild about the Ichani, perhaps if she had stayed in Imardin when he was exiled, perhaps if they had managed to return from exile a little faster...
Even knowing that any of those could have gone wrong, could have gone far more wrong than what had really happened, didn't stop her wondering if she could have saved more of them. The Guild. Lorlen. Akkarin.
"I suppose it's nice, having somewhere to visit," Osen said conversationally. "Somewhere to talk to them."
Sonea shook her head. "I would talk to him anyway."
"But – there's somewhere to go." He sighed. "I just keep wishing he would answer."
Another question rose to her lips, and even knowing she shouldn't ask it, Sonea couldn't stop herself.
"What do you ask him about?"
Osen shrugged. "Everything. Nothing. The Guild, being the Administrator, what he would have thought of it all. What it would have been like, if..."
"If he was still alive." Sonea bit her lip. "I suppose that some of our questions will never be answered, will they?"
"I suppose not," Osen said. "But that doesn't mean we should stop asking."
"Perhaps it would be easier if we could."
"Perhaps," Osen shrugged. "But I wouldn't want it to be easier that way."
"No," Sonea said thoughtfully. "I would rather remember. Even though... it's hard, sometimes."
"It'll always be hard," Osen shrugged. "Living without them. Thinking that perhaps, we could have..."
He paused for a second, unable to finish.
"But we'll keep doing it," he insisted. "We have to."
"For everyone who's still alive." Sonea's hand moved to her stomach.
"For them," he corrected. "Because they would want us to. And because, if we had been the ones to die, we would have wanted them to keep living."
Sonea smiled, as genuinely as she could bear to, although she knew that nowadays, all of her smiles contained at least a little sorrow.
"I hadn't planned on doing anything else," she reassured him.
"I know you hadn't," he said. "I just – I – Sonea." He touched the back of her hand. "I'm sorry. For... everything."
"I'm sorry too," she said, and, for the first time, Osen smiled.
"Sonea! Are you alright?" Rothen burst into the room in a whirlwind of worry, shortly followed by Jonna, and Sonea had to reassure them that she and the baby were both fine.
In all the commotion, Osen slipped quietly out of the room.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Rothen repeated.
Sonea just smiled.
She was better than she had been in a long time.