Title: Waiting for Tomorrow
Warnings: Fantasy Violence; Implied Sexuality; Psychological Themes.
Summary:Not knowing why, Jennsen saves a man whom she thinks is her brother. Walter comes to love his rescuer. A tale of love, loss, and waiting for better days. Walter/Jennsen.
Important Note: This story takes place in the time between Walter escaping the looting of the People's Palace, and meeting up with Malray again in the bar. All lines you recognize are from the episode Walter. I want to say thank you to hrhrionastar and madmguillotine, as the way Jennsen is portrayed here is influenced by the both of them.
Waiting for Tomorrow
"There he is!" cried a man in the crowd.
"Baneling!" shrieked another voice.
Jennsen ducked into a shallow space between two houses too small to be called an alley. She recognized the sound of a mob in full cry.
It was familiar now, in this time where death had no meaning. Soon would come the screams, followed by the tramping feet. And then the burning.
Always the burning.
The lost soul they chased ran by. His legs flashed out from under a roughly hewn black cloak. One boot flopped around his knee as he moved, the laces that would hold it tight to his calf broken or stretched to the point of uselessness. The boot betrayed him, sliding on his foot, sending him sprawling into a mud filled rut in the road, likely left by a wagon wheel.
Jennsen backed into the shadows of her shallow hollow of darkness, not wanting to be drawn into the conflict.
She had already seen more than she ever wanted in the short eternity she had been searching for her brother.
The roar of the mob grew louder as it spotted its prey, downed in the street. The man scrambled to his feet, sliding in the mud, chest heaving.
Jennsen thought it unlikely that he was a baneling.
Banelings didn't run.
The crowd would burn him anyway.
It wasn't Jennsen's problem. If she tried to stop them, they would turn on her.
It had happened before.
Finally the poor wretch made it to his feet, gaining purchase on the sloppy dirt road. The hood of his cloak fell back, the bottom hem drenched with muddy water dragging at the fabric. Jennsen caught a glimpse of unkempt black hair.
And a face she never thought to see again.
The man ran.
Not knowing why, Jennsen followed, keeping to the secret places between buildings, out of sight of the mob.
The glow of torches grew visible in the distance, casting a sickly red orange light over everything.
It spoke of hell, of blood and smoke and stinking bodies, far more than the trenches of green fire that Jennsen could not see.
The mob grew closer, and the hunted more desperate, darting to and fro for a place to run, a place to hide, a place to escape the maw of the monster made of frenzied men.
Any second, they would find him.
Any second, he would die.
"Over here," Jennsen whispered, hoping and haunted.
"Over here," she hissed again.
He looked up, blue eyes finding hers.
He was smaller than she remembered. His gaze less intense.
Or maybe her world was larger now. She couldn't say for sure.
She led and he followed, through the maze of back alleys and over garden fences, a path known to thieves and beggars.
The underground roads, the untraveled paths that all respectable people avoided.
The sounds and sights of the mob receded. Their thirst for blood would go unquenched.
"Thank you," the man said in a voice she didn't know. He placed his hand on her shoulder.
Quick as a flash, she whirled away, drawing a hunting knife she kept at her waist. "Don't touch me!" she sizzled, as fierce as fire.
"I'm sorry!" He exclaimed with soft, deep blue eyes and fingers spread wide.
"How are you alive? My brother ... our brother killed you!"
"Please, I'm not him. I know I look like him, but I'm not Darken Rahl!"
They stood there, frozen in time, a surreal scene. Jennsen hoped he could not see how her hand shook, how white the knuckles were that gripped the knife.
There was a thunk and a splat, and the man cringed, expecting to see blood as red as the false robes he used to wear pouring to the ground.
A moment passed. He opened his eyes. The woman's knife lay on the ground, where she had dropped it. She hugged herself now, as if she were cold. Maybe she was.
"My name is Walter," he offered at last.
"Why did you save me? If you thought I was him?"
The red haired beauty picked up the fallen knife, wiping away the mud with the edge of her cloak.
"I'm Jennsen," she said, and began to walk away.
"Why are you following me?" Jennsen asked, hours later. She had not looked at Walter in all the time he walked behind her, trudging on in the grey light of false dawn.
The sun would rise soon.
"Why did you save me?" Walter asked again, voice soft.
They continued on in silence for several moments more, and Walter thought she would not answer. But then she stopped, turning a gaze on him that was so sharp he felt the sting. He stopped, and she stared, those blue eyes reminding Walter of another pair that had watched him that way.
Jennsen's gaze softened. "I don't know why I saved you," she said gently, like a cooing dove. "I just had to."
Walter smiled nervously, twisting the edge of his cloak in his hands. "I don't know why I'm following you. It just… seems better than not following you."
Jennsen giggled at that, then, surprised at herself, giggled again.
She had forgotten how to laugh.
Walter thought she was beautiful when she laughed. He saw the woman that might have been in a happier time, elusive better days that weren't filled with death and blood. Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks dimpled with the sweet curve of her lips, even her coppery red hair seemed brighter.
Then her laughter faded away, and the darkness of night, the hopelessness of the times they lived in pulled the color from the air, turning them both as grey as the early morning light.
"You're his sister, aren't you?" Walter asked, emboldened by her laughter. "He talked about you sometimes."
Jennsen didn't need to be told who hewas. She knew.
"Yes," she said, choking on the word. Darken Rahl. Her brother.
The kindest monster she had ever met.
She couldn't look Walter in the face.
Walter put his arms around her, shocking them both with the embrace. Jennsen could hear his heart pounding. He could smell her hair.
It still held the scent of smoke. The fire of the torches carried by the mob.
"What did he say about me?" Jennsen asked. Her lips brushed Walter's chest along the sliver of skin the ragged collar of his shirt left exposed.
Walter swallowed hard, his mouth going dry. Flushing, he stammered, "N-never m-much. Just descriptions. W-what you looked like. But…"
"He always looked sad. He never looked sad, except for when he talked about you."
Abruptly, Jennsen pulled away, starting down the path once more.
"You can walk beside me," she called back to Walter.
He hurried to catch up.
It took them three days to reach the next village. Walter's legs ached. It had been a long time since he had had to walk anywhere. One of the perks of being Lord Rahl's double – he lived the life of a pampered noble, at least when he was 'on duty.'
Of course, being taken for Lord Rahl had been terrifying at other times. Walter did not like to think of it.
The things he had seen. Heard.
The way people screamed when they saw his face.
"Wait here," Jennsen said once the village gates were in sight. "It's too dangerous for you inside."
"I know," Walter said ruefully, looking down.
Jennsen stared at him. "What?" he asked, suddenly afraid that she was going to leave him there, that she was trying to think of the best way to be rid of him.
"Nothing. It's just… it's so odd, hearing your voice coming out of my brother's mouth," Jennsen answered, pulling up the hood of her light lavender traveling cloak, using it to hide her distinctive red hair.
"It's mymouth," Walter said, harsher than he had meant. Calmer, he continued, "My face is mine. I can't help that it looks like his." He looked away, rubbing his lips.
He stopped, when he realized what he was doing. Darken Rahl rubbed his lips, not Walter.
He couldn't find work, not once people saw his face. He couldn't talk to the nice serving maid or the miller's daughter without them screaming for guards, or just in terror. He couldn't seek shelter at a farm without the family begging for their lives.
Couldn't have a drink in an inn without a mob forming.
And he dared not go to the only places his visage would be a welcome sight. He'd never fool the Mord'Sith, the D'Haran soldiers for long. He looked like Darken Rahl, but he would never become him.
He didn't have the stomach for it.
Jennsen's cloak rustled, her slippers making a soft shushing sound on the dirt road as she turned toward the village.
"Jennsen," Walter called urgently. "Promise you're coming back for me?"
She gave him a shy smile that crept across her face as if she didn't remember how a smile should feel. "I'll be back, Walter."
"I'll wait here," he said in relief.
He hadn't known how much it meant to have someone look upon him without fear until the night Jennsen saved him.
"Where are we going?" Walter asked after they had been traveling for some days.
Jennsen glanced back at him, biting her lower lip thoughtfully. "Why are you asking now?"
Walter shrugged. Unspoken was the sentiment that he didn't really care where they went, so long as he was no longer alone.
"We're following my brother. We'll catch up to him soon," Jennsen told him.
Walter stiffened, his skin going white. Belatedly, Jennsen realized her mistake. "My brother Richard, the Seeker," she clarified, taking Walter's hand and squeezing it. She felt cruel for having frightened him.
"It's alright." Walter's cheeks tinged pink, and he looked down at their joined hands.
Jennsen pulled away, rubbing at her flesh like his touch had burned her.
Perhaps it had.
She took a step back from Walter, babbling to cover the awkwardness of the moment, "Richard promised that when our bro- when the Midlands were free, he would come get me and we would be a family. So I waited. I waited for the war to be over, for the world to be safe, for Richard to return."
She smiled softly, her eyes filled with a quiet sorrow that pierced Walter's heart, "And the war ended, but the world wasn't safe, and Richard didn't come. He sent me a letter. I must have read it a dozen times. He has to find the Stone of Tears, and seal the veil, and when the stone is found, and the veil is sealed, then Richard will come for me, and we'll be a family. So I waited. I thought, 'he'll find the stone tomorrow.' 'Tomorrow he'll be at the door.'"
Jennsen looked up, her eyes every bit as sharp as Darken Rahl's had ever been. "I got tired of waiting for tomorrow."
Walter felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. "So you're looking for the Seeker."
Jennsen nodded. "He was last seen heading toward a tomb."
Shyly, Walter took Jennsen's hand once more, pulling her along at his side.
"Walter, run!" Jennsen shouted, the pale skin of her calves flashing beneath the purple of her skirts as they fled a caravan of merchants.
"Get him!" a voice shouted. Rocks pelted them, one striking Jennsen in the back of the knee. She yelped, her leg giving way. Walter skidded to a halt, going to Jennsen and pulling her arm around his neck, half carrying and half dragging her along.
They turned a corner, out of sight of the merchants that had mistaken Walter for Darken Rahl – for the moment. "Off the path, quickly," Walter urged. There was a thicket not far from the path. Walter pulled back the overhanging branches, pushing Jennsen into the concealing foliage before crawling in after her.
They sat there, breathing hard and trying to hide the sound of it, crushed together in a cocoon of branches and thorns. Jennsen was forced to essentially sit half in Walter's lap, their sides pressed together. She wound her arms around his neck for balance, burying her face in his hair to muffle the little grunts of pain she couldn't help making.
Walter's heart beat so hard it hurt, and he didn't know if it was because of the belligerent merchants even now searching the woods for them, or the woman he held in his arms.
At last they were gone, and Walter let out the breath he had been holding. "A-are you hurt badly?" he whispered to Jennsen, afraid to move.
She shifted in his lap, a hiss sliding between her lips as she straightened out her leg. Walter let out a gasp of his own when she pulled up her skirts, revealing a shapely calf and well-formed thigh. Her knee was swelling, and had already turned a dark, mottled purple several shades darker than her dress.
"It does look bad, doesn't it?" Jennsen whispered, strain in her face.
Walter gulped, blushing. It was her exposed flesh, not her injury that had made him gasp. "Oh, yes. The bruise. Does it hurt?" He held his hands over it, fingers splayed, unsure as to whether he should touch. Unsure as to a great many things.
"I've had worse," Jennsen pronounced, wiggling in his lap.
Walter swallowed again, his mouth going dry and his blush increasing so that he could almost feel the heat coming off his own skin. "This is my fault," he said sullenly. "This never would have happened to you if you weren't traveling with me. If I didn't look like… like this."
"It's the fault of the man who threw the rock," Jennsen replied firmly, giving Walter a squeeze.
Her breasts pressed against his chest, her soft hair against his face. She smelled like the woods, and the light rain they had walked through that morning.
Timidly, Walter turned his face down, sliding his lips along Jennsen's skin until he could place a kiss on her cheek. When she didn't object, he went further still, his lips meeting hers.
It lasted only a moment, but it made Walter short of breath. Her lips were soft against his, the touch sending little shocks of lightning along his limbs. He hadn't felt so alive since those hazy times before he became Lord Rahl's double, when life had been much simpler. The kiss was a promise that life could be that way again. A promise that there was a world where the only thing that mattered was the two of them.
And then she pushed him away, as hard and far as she could, given that they were still hemmed in by the thicket that had given them refuge.
All Walter's hopes of the moment before came crashing down to earth.
"You look like my brother," Jennsen said, her breath hitching. Walter didn't have to look to see the tears in her eyes. He could hear them in her voice.
"I understand," he replied from far away. He didn't recognize his own words, didn't realize he had spoken. He'd thought that Jennsen saw past his resemblance to Darken Rahl, but he couldn't blame her.
There was a ringing in his ears.
"No," Jennsen cried, her voice climbing in pitch and volume, only to be broken by a small sob. "You don'tunderstand. I don't hate your looks." She leaned forward once more, clutching at the edges of his tattered shirt, her nails scratching at his chest. "I love how you look. That's the problem."
And then she kissed him, opening her lips against his. This kiss had none of the sweetness of the first. It was a crush of lips and tongue that tasted of desperation and the salt of Jennsen's tears. Walter made a surprised noise in his throat, wrapping his arms around Jennsen once more.
A thousand thoughts and fears tumbled through his head. A thousand thoughts he did not want. All he wanted was the woman in his arms and a quiet place to call home, somewhere by the sea.
So he closed his eyes and decided not to think.
Walter waited in a roadside inn, his cloak pulled low over his face. Jennsen had gone ahead, into the city to see if there was news of the Seeker. Walter stayed behind because they thought the city too risky for him. With all those people, someone was bound to see his face and think he was Rahl. It was better he stayed here, with his hood up, where no one would bother him.
He hadn't counted on the innkeeper confronting him over counterfeit coin.
Jennsen made the money at a ranch, milking goats for a week while Walter hid in the fields, waiting until she was alone to sneak into the barn and help her. The rancher had cheated them.
Walter tried to explain, but before he knew what was happening he was standing, backing away from the innkeeper, his hood thrown back to reveal his face. A quick survey of the bar revealed many rage-filled faces – not enough people to be considered a mob, but more than enough to overpower Walter and exact whatever punishment they felt Darken Rahl deserved.
But before Walter could try to run, a sword was drawn and a man in D'Haran uniform came to his aid. For a horrible moment he thought he was going to have to pretend to be Darken Rahl, but then he recognized the man's face with a jubilant cry of, "Malray!"
Malray kept the crowd at bay, his sword held in front of him while Walter edged his way to the door. Once outside, they both turned tail and ran until the inn was lost among the trees lining the rutted dirt road.
Walter bent, panting and clutching at a stitch in his side before turning to his old friend.
Malray was the soldier that had spotted him doing Darken Rahl impressions so long ago. The one that brought him to Darken Rahl. But despite all that, Walter considered him a comrade. They'd been through a lot together, in the months when Walter was learning to impersonate the fearsome lord. Malray's life had depended on Walter's abilities, and Walter in turn had relied on Malray's quick tongue and gift of persuasion.
Straightening, he embraced his rescuer, greeting him breathlessly, "Malray, old friend!"
"Good to see you again, Walter!" the grizzled soldier returned. His uniform was coated in road dust, his hair a little unkempt, and the leather of his scabbard worn. It hadn't occurred to Walter that D'Harans might fall on hard times in Lord Rahl's absence.
"That's the second time you've saved my skin," Walter pulled back from the embrace, scrubbing a hand over his sweaty face. "I wish I could wriggle out of it. I wish I looked like someone else."
So much trouble, so much pain, all because of his face.
Malray had that look in his eye that Walter had come to fear. "Walter, it's how you look that's going to be our salvation!" He slung an arm around Walter's shoulders, gesticulating with his other hand as he spoke. "What we're going to do is convince a few Mord'Sith that you are the true Darken Rahl."
"Mord'Sith?" Walter squeaked, already hating this plan. He wondered when Jennsen would be back.
"The good Sisters at Jondralyn are protecting gold stashed there by Darken Rahl," Malray grinned, jostling Walter as he pulled his arm tighter around Walter's neck. "Now, when their true lord and master orders them to return it, we will have enough gold to last the rest of our lives!"
Walter freed himself from Malray's grip, backing away with his hands held before him. "Do you know what those women can do to men with those- those- the torture sticks they carry?"
Walter turned his back on Malray. Where was Jennsen when he needed her? She'd have no part of this plan.
Not to be deterred, Malray grabbed Walter's shoulders and spun him around so they were facing each other again. "They'd never dreamof using those torture sticks against their one true master."
"Which I am not!" Walter returned with vehemence, wondering if anyone ever heard anything he said. "And we would have to get close to them, and then they would know – "
"Walter," Malray interrupted, drawing out the second syllable of Walter's name. "Just close your eyes and imagine yourself by the sea."
If Malray waggled his brows any harder, he'd take flight.
"Last time you told me that, my shoulders were pulled from their sockets!" Walter protested.
"Yes, but this time I mean it! We'll get the treasure, and then we'll sail to Merilandria, live at our ease, strolling on golden sands, with a different woman every night…"
That gave Walter pause.
To be safe, happy, away from D'Hara and the Midlands where everyone recognized his face as that of Darken Rahl. To have a family, a better life. A little cottage by the sea with a red haired wife waiting for him to get home every day.
"I'd be happy with just one, if she were the right girl," Walter murmured.
"Then we'll find you the right girl," Malray promised, not knowing that Walter had already found her. "But first, we need the treasure. What do you say?"
"It sounds dangerous," Jennsen clutched at Walter's hands, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
Walter couldn't deny that, but he so wanted the little cottage by the sea that waited for them in his dreams.
"It's your choice, Walter. If you want to try to get the treasure and go with this Malray to Merilandria, then you should."
They were camped in a clearing just off the road. Malray had gone ahead to get the clothes and things Walter would need to convincingly impersonate Darken Rahl. It was just as well. Walter didn't want Malray to know that he traveled with Jennsen Rahl until the dangerous parts were over.
He was afraid Malray would insist on Jennsen taking part, a thought that made Walter cold with dread. She'd been hurt enough because of him already.
"Jennsen, you don't understand. I don't want to go to Merilandria with Malray. I want to go with you. I want you to come with me," Walter said, rushing to get it all out before he could lose his nerve.
Her mouth dropped open, forming a perfect little 'o' as her eyes widened in surprise. Walter wanted to kiss her, but instead he sat perfectly still, heart in his throat.
"But what about Richard? And my grandfather? They promised we'd be a family."
"We can be our own family, Jennsen. With the treasure, we can go to a new place where no one knows Darken Rahl's face. We can be safe, and happy." Walter swallowed, unable to look at her, afraid that he would see refusal in her eyes. "You don't have to wait for them anymore."
Jennsen's hands were soft and very white. She placed them against his face, stroking his beard-stubbled cheeks with the backs of her fingers. Walter closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. When he felt her lips on his cheek, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close.
If this was going to be their final goodbye, he wanted to make it last.
"I'd miss you, if we were apart," Jennsen said in her voice like a dove. "I want to go with you, to live by the sea."
Walter grinned so hard it almost split his face.
"Then you will go ahead, to the port city, and wait. So that I know you're safe?"
"I'll wait at the port," Jennsen promised, with one of her slow smiles.
"And I'll meet you there with the treasure," Walter kissed her. "Between noon and dusk."
"Between noon and dusk," Jennsen agreed.
Walter went with Malray the soldier, to deceive the Mord'Sith into giving up the treasure. Jennsen went to the port, to book passage on a ship.
The first few days passed slowly, as if the sun hung still in the sky. Jennsen spent all day at the docks, watching the road. The ship she'd booked passage on sailed without them, but Jennsen dismissed her concern. The plan to get the gold was dangerous – she had to be patient.
She had to keep faith.
The next few days passed slower still, as if the Creator mocked her. Her nerves mounted, and she started to wonder if she was waiting for Walter, or news of his death.
Eventually her supply of coin dwindled, and she had to find work. She took a job as a washwoman for sailors, cleaning their clothes while they were on shore leave so that she could stay near the docks. Every day, from noon to dusk, she made sure to find a place to do the washing that afforded her a view of the road Walter would take, when he came.
Tomorrow he'll get the treasure, she told herself. Tomorrow he'll come, driving a cart down the road.
Tomorrow he'll be here, tomorrow he'll hold me, tomorrow I'll smile, tomorrow life will start again, tomorrow I'll start breathing.
Walter didn't know how long he was kept there, in the Mord'Sith temple. It was hard to mark time in the dark.
Hard to wait without light.
There was little hope left in his heart.
When he closed his eyes, the darkness faded, chased away by golden sands and bright smiles. He lived by the sea, in the cottage he'd always wanted, with his little red haired wife. She waited for him to come home every day, to give her his earnings. She managed the household, because he'd never had a head for such things.
But when he opened his eyes, the darkness returned. He was never going home to that cottage. That wife wasn't waiting for him.
Shewasn't waiting for him. Not after all this time.
If she wouldn't wait for the Seeker, she wouldn't wait for Walter.
He wasn't worth the wait.
Jennsen had almost given up hope, she had grown so weary of waiting, that when she saw him at first she thought she'd imagined it. But there was no mistaking that hair, those arms, the shape of his nose.
"Walter!" she called, dropping her washing and rushing into his arms. He caught her, his brows arched in surprise. "Walter?" he mumbled, before smiling a thin razor of a smile. "Jennsen," he said, stroking her cheek.
"I missed you," she laughed, thinking she might cry in relief. Then she kissed him, uncaring that people stared. She thought he must have missed her too, because once he got over the shock of her kissing him in the middle of the square, he pulled her close, enthusiastically kissing her back with an assertiveness that was unusual for him.
"Why are you using your Lord Rahl voice?" she asked when they broke apart for air.
"Habit," he answered, bending to kiss her throat.
Flushing, Jennsen urged him toward an alley where they'd have a little more privacy. "Did you get the treasure?"
"I'm afraid not," he said between kisses. "There's been a change of plans."
"I don't care about the treasure anymore, Walter. I'm just glad you came back." Jennsen kissed him again.
He tore away the scarf she used to bind her hair, so that the red strands tumbled free around her shoulders. "It's good to be back."