They stood watch until the watch changed, whenever that was, since “time” was an interesting concept at the moment.

He felt distinctly uncomfortable. Of all the moods he had experienced, the one she was wearing now was the most disconcerting. She seemed…defeated.

She felt everything and nothing, a confused morass from which the only respite was a subconscious island of ambivalent middle ground.

They’d barely exchanged any words for the entire watch.

She didn’t like this. The world outside her head walled off in glass with her on the inside. A pattern walk. Something she had done repeatedly, blithely, with that dogged voice in the back of her head that said “Keep going. Keep going or you will die”. There had been a need to talk…when she stopped telling herself to get over it and that it was, in fact, an issue…when each avenue she took seemed mired in what she perceived as “Hold Please”…when the words didn’t stick in her throat because she was afraid  what the answers to her questions would be. In the end, she gave up. She wasn’t here because she thought she could stop it, she was here because she didn’t want him to die alone.

He didn’t like this. Moreover, he didn’t like the way he was feeling about this. He didn’t do difficult, moody, challenging. He didn’t. So why in all the hells was he now so deeply worried that she was being all three. It was doing the most unexpected things to his own emotions. He felt rather irrationally angry…life should not be this complicated.

They stepped down from the barricade as the next watch stepped up.

“Hungry?” he asked.

“Not really.” She hadn’t eaten all afternoon.

This couldn’t continue, not like this. He thought about finding a quiet place, somewhere to talk that wouldn’t involve manticores or, worse, being overheard by other rangers. and then…

This couldn’t continue, not like this. She wrapped a hand around his upper arm, which was strangely cold, and steered him through the opening of the nearest tent…

which happened to belong to the Quartermaster. Two rather tired looking storemen looked up as they entered. Sioned frowned at them, and they very quickly exited.

“Esmond…” He stopped her and sat her down on the closest clear surface. It wasn’t that stable, and she hoped there was nothing of an explosive nature underneath it.

“Hang on, just…wait…For a series of…confusing reasons…which are…confusing, I need to…you are…not…” He made an nondescript and gently frustrated motions with both his hands in an attempt to articulate what he was unable to say.”I don’t really understand…well, it’s probably because of…I don’t even know where to begin with…You’re worrying me.”

For the love of the Unicorn, why could he not even string a sentence together?!

She stared at him. This was odd. He wasn’t usually so indecipherable

“I don’t…do…complicated, Sioned. Except…with you…for some reason?” He finished lamely.

“I…”

The words tumbled around in there, over and over, through and around, but none of them could get their act together long enough to be spoken. Her frustration tipped her into kissing her teeth in vexation and hitting her own hip with a clenched fist.

He almost moved to stop her. How had that nearly become an instinct?

“There are things…” She took a deep breath. “I want…need to talk about…but it’s been…difficult to…” despite herself, tears started welling in her eyes. Gods-damn-it. Had she not cried enough over the last few days. “I…tried…to talk to…people, but…things just…” This wasn’t working.

She held out a hand to him, closed her eyes and tried to find a calm place. She was silent for a few minutes before she began to speak again, very quietly, as if from a distance.

“There was a pattern walk. I’ve done them before, and it’s hard to explain what each one is like without a common frame of reference. You have no idea how frustrating it is that “family” are the only people who could really understand”

When she said the word ‘family’ it was obvious she didn’t mean her father. There was a distant and slightly dismissive tone. She was talking about other Amberites.

“The Pattern…shows you things. Generally a melange of head-fuckery for you to work through to get to the centre. Sometimes you get a mix of truths. This time the Pattern showed me the truth my mother’s death, Flora…dying. And you. Alone, in pain, dying. And that was upsetting. I didn’t realise how much until a few days ago when everything started falling apart.” She squeezed his hand involuntarily and opened her eyes. “No one takes me very seriously, Esmond, mostly my own fault. So when things like this happen, it’s hard for anyone else to deal with me, let alone me being able to deal with myself.” She smiled a little wryly. “I’d offer to just let you wander around in my head to see what I feel, but I don’t think that would end well for you. Most things to do with my mind don’t end well for other people…or me, really.”

“So…you’re upset because of what you saw in your Pattern walk, because people died.” He was trying to grasp onto a level of seriousness in her words that was a little beyond him.

“It’s hard to explain. Pattern walks aren’t just visions or experiences, they are also realities and truths and change from certain points of view…I can’t really explain…I just didn’t want you to be on your own when you die. I mean, it’s going to be spectacular, the Pattern showed me evidence of that…”

“How spectacular?” On any other day, he might have been flippant about that, instead he frowned slightly.

“Um. Pretty spectacular. I’d say raining fire and lighting from the heavens kind of spectacular. I think you knew you weren’t going to make it out, and, being you, turned off all the safeties.”

“That’s surprisingly accurate.”  He hadn’t meant to say it out loud. That was a bad habit he’d picked up from her.

Now it was her turn to frown slightly.

“Surprisingly accurate?”

He pondered for a minute. This wasn’t how he wanted to approach things. But to be truthful, he hadn’t actually yet figured out how he was going to approach it at all.

“You…missed it…” Yep. That’s a great start.

“I missed it? I…missed…your death?” She spoke slowly.

“Yes…and apparently no at the same time…taking into account pattern walk…”

“Wait…you don’t look particularly deceased, Esmond. You recovered…from death…”

He nodded.

“There was an incident on patrol, with some very out of control vampires…”

“Ah.” She interjected. That pretty much explained it.

“…there was some intense fighting, with a lot of “raining fire and lighting from the heavens” as you said, followed by some pretty uncomfortable death, before  waking up half buried…”

Half buried?” She said it as if that were the most offensive thing you could do to a corpse.

“Yes. Don’t worry, words have already been had.” He continued, completely mis-understanding her consternation. “And…a vampire. So, yes…you could actually say that I did recover from death.” He chuckled a bit.

Sioned sat blinking for a period of time as she processed that information.

“Wow. So…well, I’m certainly glad you’re still around, and…sorry I missed it? I’m not sure how I should commiserate on that count. Sorry I missed your death, I’ll try and make it next time just doesn’t seem right.” There was a touch of the old Sioned in that. Amongst the dawning realisation that she’d been a bit of a tiresome dick-bag to everyone about this for, as it turned out, no real reason.

“Are you ok?” Somewhere in the side of his brain a little voice was rather desperate for her to be ok with this.

“Yes, YES, absolutely I’m ok. You seem remarkably together considering. I’ve spent a bit of time lately dealing with the not so together ones, and trust me, you maintaining your faculties is pretty reassuring. I should actually be asking if you are ok…Osric’s curse isn’t exactly fun times in the traditional sense.”

He smiled slightly, relieved.

“It’s been…interesting, and a bit challenging. Explaining things to Julia and the other rangers was a bit time consuming and really weird…finding small bags of eye liner and hair product left outside my tent is becoming irritating though.” A throw-away line; he felt they were in desperate need of a little brevity. She didn’t even crack a smile. Damn it.

“I’d hoard them up. They’ll come in useful when you get to that stage.” She said it matter-of-factly, without even a hint of humour. He faltered slightly…she wasn’t serious…was she?

“That stage? What do you mean…that stage?”

“It’s ok,” She patted him gently on the hand. “I’m told even Hagen went through it, and you wouldn’t even know to look at him.” He looked a little horrified at that thought.

“Just promise me that when you decide to change your name for a while, which is perfectly normal, all the young ones have done it at some point, try not to go overly ostentatious. It’s really hard to live down something like Mortas the Impaler or Asmodeus Oleander when the faze passes. Especially out here in Arden I imagine.”  She smiled gently at him and nodded reassuringly.

If it was possible for him to go any whiter, he would have done. He suddenly felt the need to sit down.

“Oh, and another thing…” He looked at her, incredulous…more?!  “You should try as much as possible to make an effort not to be so delightfully easy to tease.” She stood, grinning widely, and kissed him lightly on the nose.

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