Disclaimer: Codex Alera belongs to the one and only Jim Butcher. I am only borrowing it for a while.
Cold as Ice
"Will she be all right?"
Placida Aria didn't turn her head. He could feel the sympathetic pain flowing from her to the First Lady of Alera, the wonder and – yes, pride. As if Gaius Isana belonged to her and she took pride in her incredible success. But there was a certain streak of anger that he knew was addressed at him – Antillus Raucus. A shame ran through him – he fully deserved Aria's anger and contempt. He hadn't listened to her. Crows take him, he might have killed the best hope Alera had. The woman Septimus had loved. And Aria had told him. She had tried to show him how very wrong he was. He hadn't listened.
He might have made an enemy out of her. He knew it was dangerous – he had known her since his days at the Academy and he knew how lethal she could be. But he could not bring himself to care. I've become as cold as ice, he thought, distractedly. Indeed, he was. His way of life had made him so. The care for his people was the only emotion that could break the ice. Nothing else. Not even the hatred of an old friend like Aria.
"She'll be all right," Lady Placida said and he felt a knot in his chest untying. He could now breathe again, so he did. "We treated her wounds and they are mending. She just needs a rest."
Was it that simple? Raucus was not sure. The concern and pity coming from Aria were stronger now. Surely she would have not reason to feel this way if Gaius Isana was truly on her way on getting better.
Aria stood up and turned to him – and he gasped. The concern, the sympathetic pain, and now something else that he couldn't quite recognize – they were not for the First Lady at all. They were all for him. He immediately bristled. He didn't need anyone's pity. He didn't want it. He opened his mouth to bark a sharp remark but Aria beat him to it. "Stay put, dolt," she scolded and for a moment, it was just like before – before all that took place. Before Septimus died. Before he became a High Lord and ruined his life by marrying Kalarus Dorotea. Only for a moment, though.
Aria's face softened. "I do not pity you, Raucus," she said calmly.
"Crows take me, you don't," he grunted.
"No," she said. "How could I?"
She came nearer. It was already dark outside and the fire played strange shadows over her face. She suddenly looked as young as she had been at the Academy, then as old as she would be one day. Her eyes shone unusually bright. She was a tall woman but he still towered over her, so she tilted her head to look him in the eye. "You are the strongest man I've ever known, Antillus Raucus," she stated matter of-factly. "I cannot pity you for that. But I do care about the way life has been for you all these years."
He was so mesmerized by the way the firelight played across her face that he was late to notice why her eyes looked so bright: they were filled with tears that would fall any moment now.
He startled. The intensity of her feelings almost overwhelmed the ice that was his heart: sympathy, concern, grief, tenderness. And the strange emotion that he had not recognized before, for he had not felt it for so long: love. Not the love Aria held for her husband but enduring affection tried and proved in their years together at the Academy and after, their adventures, triumphs and failings, their pain at their friends' deaths. He had forgotten so much but now he remembered that once, he had felt the echoes of this love all the time, so he had stopped noticing them. Aria had loved him for his temper and his unswerving loyalty, for his talents and his weaknesses. And he had loved her back. He had loved all of them.
He slowly raised his hand to her face and traced her tears with his finger. Looked at them as if they were precious gems. Stepped back. "Thank you," he said, so softly that he was not sure she had heard him. No one else had wept for him before, not even his mother who had died before she could see him. "I feel honoured." Then he placed his finger to his lips, drinking the tears. His eyes did not leave hers and he felt the wave of relief that coursed through her. She smiled faintly. "I really think the First Lady will make a full recovery," she said.
"And I think I might have a visitor later this night," Raucus said and when Aria nodded, a new burden lifted from his heart. If the finest mind in Alera – and Aria was that, second maybe only to Sextus, crows take him – agreed with him, Sunset would come. He would. Maybe – just maybe – they still had a chance. His people. His sons. Aria's sons. Everyone.
Aria smiled at him. "I think you must be ready to meet him," she said. "Will you dine with me? Araris will be willing to stay with her and we might call a few watercrafters, just to be on the safe side."
Without waiting for his reply, she took him by the hand and headed for the door.
Raucus left his hand in hers like a small symbol of the rising hope, finally ensconced within a tiny ball of warmth.
A. N. I am thinking of making this into a two chapter story. What do you think? Any ideas are accepted and will be considered.