Rating: Teen. Some references to violence and adult activities, though nothing too explicit.
Author's Note: Spoilers for Pathfinder: Kingmaker. This fic uses some elements from the romance talks with Tristian in the game, but also adds, changes and removes certain parts. It also doesn't follow the game's timeline, as writing 'and then a year and a half of leveling up kingdom stats happened' isn't very compelling.
Pain. Tristian has felt it before – his fall and loss of Sarenrae's light was a hollow, cold sort of pain that still chills him, and Nyrissa's 'service' has certainly included physical pain, though the pains it caused his conscience were far greater. He knows pain; he's lived pains for a long time now.
Even so, this pain… This pain feels overwhelming, shattering. It's not the loss of his sight, though his eyes still burn from the pain of the blinding light. It's not even the loss of whatever faint hope he still clung to that Sarenrae might find him and free him from this nightmare.
It's the heartbreak. His, and hers, and he feels both keenly. He can still hear the disbelief in her voice as he betrayed them at the tomb, the mounting desperation as she asked him to fight it for him, and the genuine relief in her voice when she found him at Candlemere. She cared for him. (Perhaps more than cared, but he doesn't let himself think about that, or his heart will break even further.) He should have pushed her away sooner. He shouldn't have been so drawn to her. He should have stayed away from her alluring warmth and light. He shouldn't have… He shouldn't have let himself even think about her.
Even now, he can't quite stop thinking about her. He fears for her, fears what Nyrissa will do now that he has failed again, but he also longs for her, to hear her voice and feel the warmth of her presence.
Weak. He is weak, so very weak. Even now, he can't let go of her.
Distantly, he is aware of voices – Nyrissa's and her sister's, arguing about what to do now. He doesn't care. He will probably die now, and it feels like a strange sort of relief even as he is deadly afraid of what will come after. At least it cannot be more of a nightmare than this.
Without hope, he recites prayers to Sarenrae. It won't save him, he's sure, but he has nothing to lose.
He's lost everything already.
He loses himself in the words, not quite aware of anything else, until a voice cuts through it all, all the way to his heart. She's her, his baroness, calling his name, and he's torn between terror and hope. Strangely, Nyrissa leaves rather than attack, and he wonders if she too, has seen the light in the baroness and finds it hard to see it perish personally. Much easier to order it done by a faithful sister, who is full of bile and boasts and…
Her words finally register, and he stumbles onto his feet. His loss of powers was not Nyrissa's doing? She just took advantage of it? What?
"Lies? It was all lies?" he manages to say, his voice not quite sounding like his. The sister doesn't hear him, but he can feel eyes on him, and most importantly, her eyes on him. Strangely, he feels no anger in her, just… Relief?
Moments later, he hears weapons being drawn, and reaches for his crossbow without even thinking. He won't stand by and watch her die. Most of his healing might be already spent, and he is deadly tired and drained, but he will not let her die as long as he's still alive.
She seems to have the same idea, because in moments, she's right by his side, drawing blows from the golem that were surely blows meant for him. He can hear her stagger as one blow hits, and finds the strength to cast one more healing spell after all. For her. For her life.
How long the battle rages, he isn't sure. It seems measured in sensations more than minutes. He can hear chanted words, metal on metal and metal on flesh, and smell sweat and blood mixed with dust into a slightly sickening mix. One golem shatters, then another, and at last, the sister's dying wail becomes a scream of pain and fear and abruptly, just stops.
In the silence, his own heart seems to thunder in his chest. He can feel her looking at him, and he swallows. He still doesn't know quite why she is here, but he knows he owes her the truth.
So he tells her. All of it, answering every one of her questions truthfully. Who he is, who he was, what he's done and why, even admitting his weakness and fear when he's tempted for a moment to lie. Her voice is strangely even as she asks and he answers, but every now and then he hears her breath catch. Why, he doesn't know. Disgust? Anger? Pity?
Finally, she seems to run out of questions. She pauses for just a second, then exhales. When she speaks, her voice is all light and all steel. "I've decided what to do with you."
He swallows, feeling a flash of fear. He won't begrudge her exiling him or even ordering his death, but he can't say he would bear either bravely as he would wish. He can hear her companions weigh in, some harsh, some more compassionate, but he knows they will all follow her in the end. They know who their leader is – she's become so through deed, word and personality as well as title. It is her choice.
She steps closer, and he can't help but look at her. He might be blind, but he still has something more than mortal senses, and he can still feel her light. So bright, so warm, so alive, and so… forgiving?
Her arms slip around him, pulling him close to her, and he lets himself be held, overwhelmed. Softly, he can hear her voice against his ear.
"Let me take you home," she says, and he closes his eyes for a moment, just letting himself feel... At home. In her arms, for that moment, he feels at home, as if he wasn't a fallen deva lost in the dark.
Gently, he pulls away, and feels the ghost of a kiss against his brow as he does.
"I will never be able to fully thank you," he says, and means it. To get a second chance at being by her side is more than he dared hope for.
What else might he get a second chance at, he wonders, and finds the courage to dare hope again.
The baroness is marching to war, he soon learns, as barbarians are attacking her allies. It doesn't take him long to realize that she actually postponed answering her summons (though she did send forces ahead) to get him first.
He feels almost dizzy with the realization, his head spinning with the implications. She seems to notice, and at a break during travel, she pulls him aside.
"Tristian," she says gently. "Please do not feel guilty. I made the choice to follow you first. It was my choice, and any guilt or blame is mine. It is not yours."
"It is mine too," he says, and can hear her draw a breath as if to argue. "If the reason for your choice is… If…"
"If?" she repeats. "If what?"
He draws a ragged breath, then dares asking what he's wondered since he learned. "Why did you come for me first?"
"Don't you know why?" she asks, and he swallows at her tone, so loving and soft. He can feel her stepping closer, and gently, take one hand in hers.
"I do not feel worthy of… of such a reason," he manages to say, his voice low.
"Tristian," she murmurs, his name like a caress. "Do you remember when we spoke about mortals and love?"
He nods, then leans his forehead against hers. "Love given willingly."
"Yes," she says. "Given, Tristian. It is not about worth. It is not about earned, or deserved, or even reason at all. It is about what your heart tells you, and my heart…"
He swallows. Somehow, his thumb seems to have started caressing hers, and his other hand has slipped down to her waist. It seems like his heart is speaking loud and clear as well.
"My heart," she repeats, lifting their joint hands to rest over her heart. "My heart told me where to go."
To him, he thinks. Her choice wasn't just to forgive him, her choice was to save him before doing her duty. It certainly doesn't lessen his guilt (already threatening to choke him), but it also makes his heart ache in a strangely… good way, like a good pain.
Is this what love feels like to mortals?
The battle is close to a disaster when they arrive, and the scene of it reminds him of the attack in the capital during the bloom and the confrontation with the kingdom, when he knew every death was partly on him.
He could have chosen differently; he should have chosen differently.
Still, they might be late, but they aren't too late. They manage to broker an agreement with the main force of barbarians, and defeat the others, though the chieftain has left to find… something. Another artifact Nyrissa wants for his plan, another victim of Nyrissa's lies.
How many are there, he wonders, feeling bone tired.
The baroness – Queen to be now - sounds tired too as she gives orders, sending out scouts to look for the tomb and researchers to go through the libraries to look for clues. He doesn't blame her for her fatigue, given how much she has been through. Still, she has managed to endure all challenges thrown at her, defeated all enemies and kept her kingdom through it. He is so proud of her, and humbled by her. She is a mortal, yet shows more strength and courage than a certain deva he could think of.
He vows to himself to do better, to be more worthy of… being whatever he is to her. They haven't quite defined that yet. She wasn't prepared to lose him, that much he now knows, no matter how unworthy he feels of that sentiment.
When she sighs, he steps close and takes her hand, needing to show that he is here for her. Her palm feels warm against his, and she lets out a soft exhale and he can feel her relax a little. Giving her comfort and support is the least he can do, but he is glad he seems able to do so.
"You can do this," he says, willing it to be true.
"We," she corrects gently. "We can do this."
"We," he agrees, and she leans her head against his chest. Gently, he puts a hand on her back, and she seems to welcome the touch, her shoulders dropping a little. She feels tense, and tired, and he wishes he could carry all her concerns and pains for her.
"I can't do this without you," she says after a moment.
"I am here," he promises. "My spells are yours."
He can feel her shake her head slightly. "You are a fine healer, Tristian, but it's not your spells I need. It is you. You, as you are."
"The fallen deva that betrayed you?" he says, and his voice sounds as bitter as the words taste. Oh, how he wishes he could have been something else. If only he'd had the courage to tell her from the beginning who he was, or spoke up even once during the thousands of times he wanted to scream from the guilt of it all. If only…
He can feel her lift her head and look at him. Her gaze feels warm and… accepting? "That's far from all you are, Tristian, but yes, that part of you too."
He swallows, and swallows again. She means it, he knows. She speaks and acts from her heart, even if it will cause her heartbreak. And it has – he has. Yet she doesn't let that deter her from following her heart again. He broke her heart, and yet still has room for him in her heart even now.
"I have truly forgiven you," she says as he remains silent. "You don't doubt that, do you?"
"No," he says. "I don't doubt that. I don't doubt you."
"But…?" she prompts.
He thinks, trying to put it into words. "I have spoken so many times about the virtues of forgiveness and mercy. I didn't realize… how it would feel to be given it rather than to give it. How hard it is to forgive yourself."
"Oh, Tristian," she says, and her voice is pained. "However long it takes, please, please find a way to. For me, yes, but most importantly – for yourself."
He tries to. Oh, he tries to. As they wait for news about the tomb, he devotes himself to all the good causes he can think of: helping Jhod at the clinic until he can barely stand, helping the barony – kingdom to be – as an advisor until his head hurts, being there for her every time she needs support or comfort no matter how tired he feels, and praying to Sarenrae for forgiveness whenever he has some time to himself.
There is no answer. He's beginning to wonder if it ever will be. Or perhaps the silence is the answer.
He sleeps badly. In his dreams, he relives his time as Nyrissa's skylark, seeing the deaths he helped bring about and he often wakes with a desperate prayer or cry on his lips. Sometimes, his cheek is wet with tears. He feels… hurt, but his wounds are all on the inside.
He's a healer, and he can't heal himself. He's not even sure how to heal something like this.
On the fourth night, he wakes to find he's not alone in his chamber. She's there too, he can sense even before she speaks. He can feel her warmth, her hands caressing his, and she seems to be kneeling by his bed.
"I heard you cry out as I passed by on the way to my chambers," she says, and even if her tone is gentle, he can hear the hurt too. "Why didn't you tell me you suffer nightmares?"
"I did not wish to burden you," he murmurs. He still feels breathless from the nightmare, but her presence is strangely soothing.
"Am I a burden to you?" she asks.
"No, of course not!" he says hotly. She is the only warmth and light in his life, and helping her and supporting her feels nothing but good and that she'd even think otherwise is… Oh. "Oh."
"Oh," she mimics. "Don't you dare think your nightmares, your worries, your troubles or your concerns a burden to me ever again."
"I promise, he says. That much, he can promise. "I am sorry I did not tell you. My…. My deception made me feel very isolated. I am not used to having someone to truly talk to."
"Now you do," she reminds him, making it sound like a promise too. "It is nearly morning. Let us take a walk in the garden and you can tell me about your nightmares."
So they do; she waits outside while he dresses, and then they walk underneath the rising sun while he talks about the nightmare until it feels faded and faint, and her hand in his feels warmer than the sun on his face.
The nightmares don't magically disappear, but they feel more… bearable, somehow, when he can take an early morning walk and talk about them with someone who listens, and cares, and offers comfort with her mere presence.
One morning, she tells him about one of her nightmares – of loss, of pain, of so many deaths she is helpless to prevent, including arriving too late and finding him dead at Nyrissa's feet. Her voice wobbles when she gets to that part, and he takes her hand without even thinking. It's become natural to do so, to feel her fingers intertwined in his. Such a change from the first time he held her hand and felt terrified of how good it felt.
It still feels as good, but his fears have changed. Now, he fears never being able to hold her hand again, to lose her, to be apart. He understands her nightmare all too well, because it is his too.
He tells her as much, and she exhales, leaning her head against his shoulder. "Would she have killed you if I had arrived later, Tristian?"
"I don't know," he says honestly. He could lie and tell her yes, but he refuses to lie to her again, even about something like this. "She may have, but she may also have let me live for a while, to suffer the consequences of my…. Failures."
"I see," she says quietly. "She did not seem happy you destroyed the Oculus."
"She was not," he agrees. She lifts her head, and he can feel her gaze on his face. Gently, she touches his cheek with her hand before moving up to the corner of his right eye. A light touch, but it still feels warm against his skin.
"It hurt to watch," she says in a low voice.
"It hurt to do," he admits. "Yet I am happy I did it. One of the few things I need not feel ashamed of since I became mortal."
"One of the things?" she prompts. "What else, Tristian?"
"I am… happy I found ways to keep protecting you," he says after a moment, remembering all the times he fought by her side when Nyrissa would have wanted him not to if she knew. "And as your advisor, every advice I gave you was genuinely for the best of the people. It wasn't Nyrissa's orders or suggestions. All of it was genuinely the best I could think of for your barony."
"You were – and are – the best councilor I can imagine," she says, and he lowers his head, feeling… not quite worthy of the praise, but not… utterly unworthy either. It doesn't make up for all the horrors he was a part of, but… He supposes it is a start.
"You are going to be a great Queen," he says, and he can feel her smile even if he can't see it. "I will be honored to serve your kingdom."
"You have great confidence in me," she says, almost teasing.
"With every reason," he counters, and she chuckles. For a moment, he feels strangely lighthearted when listening to her - shame, fear and pain forgotten at the sound of her quiet laugh. He wants to make her laugh again. He wants to make her happy. He wants…
He knows what he wants, but he is afraid to ask. She has given him reason to hope, yes, strong reasons, but he is far from certain and in uncertainty lives fear.
Still- could he forgive himself if he never mustered the courage to ask? Nyrissa manipulated him through fear. To be fully free of her, perhaps it is time to be brave.
Soon, he thinks, making it a vow. Soon.
The tomb is well-hidden, but the scouts do their best and a strange man offers his baroness a vision and they finally locate it after what feels too long, but is actually in time. Armag is still there, and the ensuing battle is draining in every sense of the word. Tristian has to use every healing spell at his disposal, and it's still only just enough to keep everyone alive.
The battle doesn't end in death, though. Armag collapses, and after giving his side of the story, is offered mercy and forgiveness and a second chance – and takes it. Tristian cannot help but feel awed at that, at how the baroness can make friends out of enemies without threats, manipulations or lies. So unlike Nyrissa, he cannot help but think. Light night and day, dark and light, destructive and life-giving.
A new life for barbarians who want it as well, those who want to stay being allowed to. Others choose to return home with a promise of peace, and it is a victory, though one marred by deaths Tristian knows will haunt him.
It is also not a complete victory. Nyrissa will plot again, that he is certain of. She is a meticulous creature though, and will take her time to plot and plan. For now, they have time and reason to celebrate.
A coronation. The Stolen Lands will be a true kingdom of its own, and the baroness will be a queen. He can think of none more worthy – she will be a shining light as a ruler, he is certain. A Queen he will be proud to serve.
Serve is not all he wants, though. The time after she saved him from Nyrissa has made him more certain of that. Being so close to her, without any lies between them… From the moment he met her, he has longed for her, and now, it feels almost overwhelming because it no longer feels as hopeless.
He decides to approach her just before the coronation. The throne room is abuzz with excitement, though about half of that seems to be Linzi. By comparison, the almost Queen seems more muted – pensive, he senses, though not unhappy.
"Your Highness," he greets her with as he feels her walk closer. He always feels aware of her when she's near, in a way he can't quite explain. When she is close, he sense it; when she is not, he feels the loss.
"Far too formal," she retorts, and he bows his head. "We have come too far for that, Tristian. Please."
"Of course," he agrees. "We have been through a lot together. Without you, I would be dead – or worse. I might still be serving Nyrissa, who tied me down with her lies."
"I am glad you're not," she says softly, and he smiles faintly. Yes, though she might not accept the formality of it, he is far happier to serve her – his Queen.
"I am glad too," he agrees. "I am sorry I had to deceive you for so long, but there were things I was sincere about."
"I know," she says quietly. "You were sincere as my advisor, and you sincerely tried to protect me. I don't doubt that."
"There is one more thing I was sincere about," he says, swallowing and summoning his courage. "I know I have no right to ask you for anything. I know I should be grateful that you even let me stay near. But I will never forgive myself if I do not ask."
He steps closer, taking a breath before continuing. "You gave me another chance as your councilor and as your companion. Would you perhaps give…. us another chance?"
The moment before she answers feels like an eternity, though it's probably no more than a few heartbeats. He never realized how subjective time could feel until he became a mortal – one of his many lessons.
"I still want to be with you," she says warmly, and he feels… overwhelmed, a deluge of emotions sweeping through him. Relief, happiness, desire, longing, gratitude… So many emotions all bundled together. He takes her hand, and the gesture feels strangely more intimate now.
"I promise… No, I swear – I am all yours. If you wish it, I shall give my life for you. No more duplicity. No more deception. No more lies. Just the truth. Just…" he trails off, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing it tenderly, hoping she will feel the emotion in it.
She does, he thinks, as she draws a long, ragged breath, leaning into the touch.
"I do not wish you to give your life for me," she says a touch sternly. "But yes to everything else."
"Yes, my Queen," he says, and hears her chuckle. "I'm sorry, was I too formal again?"
"Oh no," she says lightly. "When you say it, 'my Queen' sounds… downright intimate. I rather like it."
"I will remember that," he promises, trying hard not to think too much about intimacy and the Queen. Not here. Not now. Not yet. "Go on, my Queen. Your subjects await. May Sarenrae bless you."
He kisses her hand again before letting it go, and she walks out to what he is convinced was always her fate – to become a ruler in title, just as she has been in deed.
He isn't entirely surprised when, near the end of the festivities, she seeks him out, taking him by the hand and leading him to a secluded area where they can still hear the music and laughter, but are away from prying eyes. She's performed her official duties. Now it seems she wants to engage in something more private, and he feels a strange thrill at that he is it.
More than he could ever have hoped for, he is well aware, yet here he is.
"Dance with me?" she asks. Lightly, he takes her into his arms and swings her around, and feels her surprise as he does.
"Linzi taught me a few steps," he says as ways of explanation, and she makes something close to a snort. "Called it one of my official duties. She was rather insistent I learn."
"She is also rather perspective," she remarks. "I'm almost afraid of what sort of chapter she will devote to 'Tristian and the baroness' – well, 'Tristian and the Queen' now - in her book."
He laughs lightly. "Given her choice of literature and fondness of exaggeration, I can understand that fear."
"Mm," she hums. "It will certainly be quite scandalous."
"Yes," he agrees. "However, she thinks very highly of you, so I am sure it will be well-meaning scandalous."
She laughs, and he delights in it, daring to pull her a little closer. She feels so light, so warm in his arms, truly radiant, and he imagines this must be what mortals consider 'intoxicating'. She smells faintly of honey and something he can't recognize, something that is probably just her.
"Tristian?" she murmurs, and as always, his name sounds so sweet on her lips.
"Yes, my Queen?"
He can feel her soft smile at that. "You made me a promise earlier today. I've been thinking, and I want to do the same. I promise – no, I swear, that the us you want will be about what you want as much as what I want. I won't push you or rush you into anything. Everything that happens between us will be mutual. Just mutual. Just…"
She takes his hand in his, lifting it to her lips and kissing it tenderly, mimicking what he did earlier in the day. The gentleness of it all makes him makes his heart ache. Just mutual. She knows now how new this all is to him, and that is part of it, he is sure. She also knows some of what Nyrissa did to him, and probably suspects the rest, and wants so badly to make sure he doesn't feel forced or trapped by her.
It means more to him than he can say. Oh, he already knew she was nothing like Nyrissa and never will be. She is his sun, guiding him back to the light, and being with her makes him feel free, not trapped. But the care she is taking to make sure he feels… just good about being with her, that means the world.
"Mutual," he manages to say, his voice sounding slightly choked up even to him. "I want that too. But I want you to… to feel free to ask when you want something. I will try to do the same, but I am not used to mortal love and mortal desires. It is hard sometimes to put to words what I feel. I may want what you want, I just might not know how to ask for it. Like our first conversations. What you wanted from me, I wanted too. I just didn't recognize it at the time because I had never felt anything like it before."
She exhales. "I was afraid I was too forward with you at first."
"No," he says. "Not too forward. I was just… too confused, and too aware of my deception to do what my heart was telling me."
"What is your heart telling you now?" she asks softly. They've stopped dancing, he realizes, and now, they're just holding each other.
"How good – how right – it feels to hold you," he answers truthfully. "How I'd like to do it again – how I'd like to do it often."
"I'd like that too," she says, and he thinks he can detect a hint of longing in her voice.
"It is also tells me I should dare ask for one more thing before this day ends," he goes on, tilting his head down, and feeling her face so close he can hear her breath. "May I kiss you?"
"You may," she says breathlessly, and he does; just the lightest touch of lips against lips and it still feels like a sunrise.
Kissing her feels even better the second time, he discovers, a quick good morning kiss during their morning walk that becomes another, and another, and another, each kiss just a touch longer. Her lips are warm, brushing against his, each touch feeling like a caress.
He's seen eternities pass; he's pretty sure he would happily spend at least an eternity exploring kissing with his Queen. For now, he settles for one last kiss; the soft sigh she makes into it makes it very hard to resist going for another.
"Did you sleep well?" she asks in a low voice.
"Not well," he admits. "But better than the night before."
"I wish I could help you more," she says, and he presses his forehead against hers.
"You are helping me so much," he insists. "You mean so much to me. You… You make me feel alive like nothing else has since I became mortal. I may have lost Sarenrae's light, but your light… Your light warms me and guides me. You brought me out of darkness."
"Tristian," she says breathlessly. He can feel her fingers playing with strands of his hair, and he moves his head to kiss her wrist, feeling her pulse against his lips. "You have such a way with words."
"You do too," he assures her. "More than you know. Your words… How you spoke about following your heart, how you spoke about always fighting evil… It made me choose to destroy the Oculus. Your words stayed with me."
"Then please let these words stay with you too," she says, cupping his cheek and he leans into the touch. "You mean so much to me. I meant it when I told you I couldn't do this without you. You are my strength, my heart. Know that."
"I will," he promises, and she buries her face in the crook of his neck as he holds her, memorizing her words to keep them in his heart forever.
Trade arrangements, envoys and kingdom matters keep them both busy for a week, though they manage to have a few moments alone together every day. They have their morning walks, but often, she finds him at sunset too, as he prays. She doesn't ask what he prays for or to who; she knows.
She always holds him afterwards, her embrace always comforting.
Sometimes, he wishes her was more… whole for her, less broken, but he also knows she would tell him off for thinking like that. He wants… He wants to be the best he can be for her, and he is trying to be, trying so very hard.
He even starts thinking about gestures, for now and for the future. (It still amazes him that he has a future, a future with her. Just months ago, it seemed like hopeless daydreams. Now, he can make at least some of them a reality.) For now, there is one special day coming up he wants to make a gesture for, and he spends half a day setting it all up. Elina is all too happy to help, while Octavia and Linzi requires a little more convincing before going along.
The Queen's birthday. The last one they didn't really have time to celebrate, dealing with another crisis, and they weren't an 'us' at that point either. This time, he intends to make it special.
He meets her outside her chambers early in the morning, taking her hand in his and kissing it lightly.
"May I take you away for the day?" he asks, and he can feel her look up at him. "Octavia and Linzi will look after your kingdom while you are gone, and they know where we are if there is a crisis."
"You've planned this," she observes.
"I have," he agrees. "There will be gathering at the inn for you this evening. A more official celebration of your birthday. This is… This will be my celebration for you."
"Oh," she says, clearly touched. "You didn't have to."
"I wanted to," he says sincerely. "Do you want to? May I take you away for the day?"
"You may," she says, lifting her head to kiss him enthusiastically; it makes his toes curl. "Where are you taking me?"
"You will see," he says, kissing her when she sounds as if she's about to protest. "It's a surprise."
"Surprise me then," she agrees, smiling against his lips as he kisses her again.
He takes her just outside the city; the farmhand he has hired leading the horses until they are at the cottage, then leaving them alone. He can feel the sun on his face as he helps her dismount – he hopes the view is as beautiful as he remembers, and the cottage as charming, with its thatched roof and flowers climbing the walls framed by hedges.
"What is this?" she asks, and she does sound pleasantly surprised.
"A place to rest," he says, swallowing. "Or I hope it will be. When you want quiet, when you want space, when you want to rest, when you want time away from your official duties, when you want… just us, this place could be that. If you want it."
She pulls him into a tight hug, clinging to him. "You bought me a cottage?"
"I haven't bought it yet," he clarifies. "I made an agreement to buy it if you like it. I rented it for today. If you don't like it, we will just spend today here and…"
"I do like it," she says, pressing a kiss against his cheek. "I might even love it. It reminds me of my grandmother's cottage. I always felt at peace there."
"I hoped it would," he admits. "I saw this place over a year ago, when I was out dealing with a matter as your councilor. It reminded me of how you described your grandmother's cottage."
"From when I told you about my childhood," she says, her voice catching a little. "Tristian, I told you about that just after we first met. You remember it that well?"
"Yes," he says softly. "Even then, I was… drawn to you, and I wanted to remember our conversations, especially when we spoke about things that nattered to you."
"For someone new at mortal love, you are incredibly romantic," she tells him, tip-toeing to kiss him before he can even reply. He sighs happily into it, lifting her up a little to deepen the kiss. Her lips part against his, and it is like tasting sunshine, warm and bright.
He feels wonderfully breathless when he finally eases her back down on her feet. "Elina should have made a feast for us inside. Happy birthday, my Queen."
"Thank you, Tristian," she says, and she sounds so happy it makes his heart skip a beat.
They eat, explore the cottage and settle down on a blanket outside afterwards, her enjoying the view, him enjoying her presence. She settles into his arms, her back to his chest, her hair tickling his face every time the wind catches a little.
He can smell the orchard behind them and the flowers nearby, and hear the occasional bird or buzz of insects. It is peaceful as can be, and he can feel tension ease from her shoulders and body as she relaxes more and more.
"This is wonderful," she says softly.
"I will buy it then," he promises. "It will be yours, and ours when you want it to be. I will get it refurnished. I will even stock it with books for rainy days."
"I will always want it for us," she says quietly. "Tristian, you are a part of my peace and quiet and rest. Just being with you is…"
She shifts, climbing into his lab to face him, and her hands brush his face, soft, soft caresses across his skin.
"Being with you makes me happy," she says. "I wouldn't have peace and quiet here without you. I'd miss you too much. If you feel differently, I…"
"Differently?" he says, incredulous she'd even think that. "If I could spend every second with you for an eternity, I'd still want more."
"Oh," she breathes, and he kisses the bridge of her nose. "The feeling is very much mutual then."
"Very much mutual," he agrees. "We will just have to make this… this time we have together, however long, into our little eternity."
"Our little eternity," she repeats, and kisses him as if to underline it; a kiss that becomes countless kisses, and they end up arriving far too late for the official celebration; he should probably feel guilty about that, but somehow, he just doesn't.
He buys the cottage. An issue with Hellknights looking for a wanted fugitive keeps them both busy, but they still managed to spend two afternoons there the following weeks: one afternoon with her in his lap, reading to him from one of Linzi's suggested books until she's all giggles and he's all embarrassed blushing, and one afternoon devoted entirely to kissing her utterly, completely breathless.
Good memories. Oh, he still struggles with all his bad memories, but he's beginning to think that enough good memories will be what heals him in the end. Enough good deeds, enough good memories, enough good and he might feel like he's fixed his mistakes. Not undoing them, no. He'll always have to live with what he did – but it can be a life knowing he always did better afterwards too.
He's always believed in giving a second chance and forgiveness as a matter of principle, but now… Now he has faith in more than that – in living second chances and through that, forgiving yourself. In fixing, in healing as more than just spells.
Of course, there is something that might not be fixed at all. He is still mortal. Now that he knows Nyrissa was not the reason for the loss of his wings, and that it must have been Sarenrae herself, he knows he may never return to her light. It hurts – oh, how it hurts – but he is determined to make the best of his mortal life. He can still do good. He can still love (and protect his love). He can still help people. He can fix as many of his mistakes as possible.
That's when one particular mistake comes back with a deadly vengeance.
They get ambushed by cultists on the way back to the capital, already fatigued from an earlier battle. His heart drops the moment he realizes it's not bandits, and even more when he realizes they're all attacking the Queen, ignoring the rest of the party.
They're attacking her, and he's all out of spells.
He won't let her die. Even if she told him quite sternly not to die for her, he is more than prepared to – and almost manages to do, taking an arrow and a sword slash meant for her that staggers him and brings him to his knees. It hurts, and her cry of his name hurts, but pain, pain he's learned to live with and live through and if she is safe, it will be more than worth it.
They win the battle in the end, and a few muttered spells from Linzi and a potion later while the Queen never lets go of his hand, the pain is gone. He half expects her to tell him off, but instead, she just sighs and kisses his hand very softly.
"My heart told me where to go," he says into the silence, and she sighs again.
"Your heart told you to step in front of an incoming arrow and cultist with a sword?" she asks softly.
"Yes," he says, lifting their joint hands to rest against his chest, just above his heart. "Because it protected you."
She leans her head against his chest. "I could tell you never to do that again, but I also know… I would do the same in a heartbeat for you."
His heart aches with the thought of that, and he fights the irrational urge to tell her not to. He can't forbid her to risk her life for him when he just risked his life for hers, but oh, how he wants to.
Instead, he leans forward and kisses her tenderly, not caring that they're probably in full view of everyone. "I know. And if you did, I would probably want to tell you off for it as badly as you want to right now."
She chuckles, though a touch sadly. "I want to very, very badly."
"I know." He squeezes her hand lightly. "You did promise me whatever happened between us would always be mutual."
"I did," she agrees. "I just… I didn't realize the full implications of… of strong mutual feelings. Parts of this is very new to me too, Tristian. Being with you… I have never felt like this before."
"Makes two of us," he says softly, and her kiss is so loving it hurts.
He spends the trip back to the capital with a heavy heart. He knows who those cultists are; he can feel it. His mistake – Nyrissa's plot, yes, but he was a part of it. He tried so hard to undermine her, but he never directly disobeyed, not until… the Oculus.
The Kingdom of the Cleansed. He should have done something. Innocent lives were lost. His Queen could have died. Now, now they're back. Or rather, they never completely went away. More might die. They might still be a threat to the Queen. He has to fix this, has to repair it, has to make amends. Has to.
She finds him in the garden, taking his hand without saying anything. He wonders if she's put two and two together already, or just knows him well enough to know something is wrong. Perhaps it's both.
"People have been vanishing from the capital," he says after a moment. "Those cultists that attacked us… It's the Kingdom of the Cleansed that is behind the attack and the disappearances. We have to stop them."
"You feel responsible," she says, and he swallows.
"I am responsible. I could have done something. I should have done something," he says bitterly. The words chill, and he feels so, so cold. "I… I have been thinking a lot. About everything. Nyrissa didn't make me mortal. I don't think it is even in her power to do so. There is only one who could have done that."
"Sarenrae herself," she says quietly.
"Yes," he agrees.
"I am sorry," she says, and sounds it. "I know how much she means to you."
"I let her down," he says. Putting it into words makes him feel even more morose. "I was arrogant. In my pride, I made a terrible mistake, and in my cowardice, I continued making terrible, terrible mistakes. Until… Until you made me realize just how far I had fallen. I fell so far. Sarenrae may never forgive me or restore me to grace, but perhaps it's no less than what I deserve."
"Tristian," she says, her voice breaking. Gently, she brushes a tear from his cheek. Strange. He didn't even realize he was crying. Perhaps putting it into words has made it feel more real.
"I've tried to make amends ever since," he continues. "I know it won't make it right, but I need to… Fix what I can. Will you help me stop the Kingdom?"
"Of course," she says without hesitation. "Of course I will. I will always be here for you. You know that, don't you?"
"I know," he says. "You… You are my saving grace."
Gently, she embraces him and holds him; it slowly chases the chill from his bones until he feels warm again.
His saving grace. She truly is, he has come to realize, and he has to find a way to show her that. For now, they have a mistake to fix, and he is more grateful for her help than he could ever express in words.
They travel to the old meeting place of the Kingdom first, and sure enough, there are cultists there. They put up a fight, but he is also able to talk some of them down. Most importantly, on one of them, they find a letter. The Kingdom has set up an altar in an old Cyclops ruin to make human sacrifices.
He feels ill at that. So many lives lost. So many… He can't let there be any more.
They hurry to the ruins, barely resting on the way, and he feels exhausted by the time they get there. It is worth it, though, as they are in time Just in time, but in time. The First Faithful falls, and they even manage to save Amalia, making his heart feel strangely lighter.
He can fix his mistakes. He can. He…
Sarenrae's light and presence fills him so suddenly, so unexpectedly, it makes him stagger. It is almost painful at first, as he's grown used to the absence, but then… Then, then it is like coming home, warm and bright. She laughs at him, but fondly, and explains that he was right – his mortality was her doing, but now, now he is ready to return. Her pride in him feels like a healing balm, cleansing him.
Distantly, he hears another voice that is home to him. He turns, and through Sarenrae's light he can see her again, his Queen, looking stunned.
"I am here," he says. "And with me, the light of my goddess."
"Can I talk to her?"
He laughs softly. "Forgive me. Only her servants can hear her voice. But I will tell you what she told me. In turning away from her will, I caused the hurt of so many mortals. For that, she took away my wings. She has watched me since then. She feels I have learned much living as a mortal, and she is proud of me. Proud enough that she has allowed me to return to her. I can be her deva again."
He pauses, realization suddenly setting in. A deva again. No longer mortal. No longer… "But… the Stolen Lands… Nyrissa… the kingdom… my Queen… You…"
She smiles sadly, he can see. Her eyes are bright with tears, happy for him, but heartbroken too. "Tristian… I feel incredibly selfish to ask this, but I will never forgive myself if I don't. Don't leave me, please. I cannot imagine my life without you."
He closes his eyes, for a moment feeling torn between two loves, but then he feels Sarenrae's approval. He doesn't have to choose. He can have both. A mortal life. A return to deva life afterwards. He can be happy.
"My goddess sees the shining thread that connects us," he says reverently. "She blesses you, and us. I can remain with you until the day our fates come apart."
He opens his eyes again, and see her smiling brilliantly, shining like a sun – and then Sarenrae's light is gone and he is blind again, though he can feel some of her light linger in his heart. He is truly forgiven then, and doubly blessed, even if he feels cold for a moment without her.
Then he feels a hand on his face, full of sunlight, and smiles. He won't be cold with her. He is going to be happy, so happy.
"You stayed," she says in awe.
"I stayed," he confirms, kissing her hand and stepping closer. "All this is because you didn't turn away from me. You gave me a second chance, and with it, I tried to make amends. For this, I have received the grace of my goddess. I don't know if I can ever repay you for this."
"Did you stay to repay me?" she asks, and he shakes his head, pulling her into his arms.
"I stayed because I wanted to," he says sincerely. "I want a mortal life with you. Having a lifetime to attempt to repay you is just a bonus."
She chuckles, but through tears, he realizes, and he gently kisses them from her cheeks. If it's from relief or happiness, he's not sure. Perhaps both. He certainly feels both, and something else – and overwhelming surge of love for her.
"Let me take you home," he says, tilting her head up and kissing her lips; they taste faintly of tears and all of light.
They go home. It is close to night when they return to the capital, and the rest of the party head for their respective chambers, Linzi still furiously scribbling in her notes while she does. He imagines Sarenrae's return to him will end up embellished quite a bit in the final version, but finds he doesn't really mind.
That leaves him and the Queen standing in the street, and the stars above, though they are nothing compared to her light. Her can feel her light even more keenly now, with a little of his deva senses returned to him.
"I got something for you," he says, taking her hand. "Before all this, but it feels more appropriate to give you now than ever. I tried to do what you do, and listened to my heart. I hope you like it."
Slowly, he slides the ring onto her finger. He can hear her swallow, but otherwise make no sound.
"It reminded me of you," he says, feeling strangely nervous. "I couldn't actually capture sunlight in a ring, so I had to settle for a topaz. I got it imbued with a few protections too. I hope you don't mind."
"It is beautiful," she says. "Though not as beautiful as the sentiment behind it."
He tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear, caressing it as he does. "The sentiment behind it… I can't even put that into words. Sarenrae's light is with me again, but it was your warmth, so familiar and alive, is what returned me to life and faith. There is nothing I could give that could repay that, but everything I have, everything I am, is yours. Know this."
She leans forward and kisses him, and he wraps his arms around her, delighting in how good it feels to hold her, to kiss her, to love her.
"I love you. I always have," he whispers against her lips. "Since we first met. I was so afraid I'd be your downfall, but instead, you saved me. More than saved me. When I was languishing in Nyrissa's dungeon, trapped by her sleeping spell and tormented by nightmares, all I knew of mortal life was pain. But now… Now I am happy. I'm so happy."
"I love you too," she whispers, and he can feel her smile as he kisses her again, kisses her as lovingly as he can. As good as it feels, he is very aware that it is very late and that they are both exhausted.
"You should get some rest," he says, feeling reluctant to let her go.
"You should too," she points out, and he smiles. She has a point there, but he doesn't want to go to his cold, silent bed. He wants… He wants to rest in her warmth.
"May I stay with you?" he asks quietly. "Just to sleep in your arms. I want… I don't want to let you go tonight."
"You may," she says, tilting her head up and kissing him a touch possessively.
They fall asleep curled up together in bed; his sleep is all peace and not a single nightmare.
He wakes a few hours later to find her head resting on his chest, her hand in his, and lets himself just enjoy the sensation of it. He could imagine falling asleep like this every night and never tire of it. She is warm, and soft against him, and her hair feels adorably messy spready out against his chest.
He can feel her stir after a while, lifting her head slightly. "Are you awake too?"
"Yes," he says softly. The air feels strangely charged as she moves to kiss him, and her kiss feels like an invitation.
"Tristian?" she murmurs, and he knows what she is about to ask. He's wanted to ask it himself for a while, waiting for what felt like the right time. "Do you want to… May I… Would you like to try… I mean…"
He laughs softly. "Yes, I want to. Oh, you may. I would very much like to try. If you mean making love, that is."
"I do," she says, and he kisses her eagerly, slanting his mouth across hers until he feels almost dizzy with the taste and feel of her. Her fingers seem to have worked their way inside his shirt, moving across the skin on his chest slowly, as if mapping every inch. He can understand that desire. He would very much like to see, feel and taste every inch of her too, and he starts by tracing the lines of her neck down to her collarbones, marveling at how smooth her skin feels against his fingertips.
They undress each other slowly, pausing to kiss and touch as they do. She runs her hands down his back and presses kisses along his collarbone; he kisses his way down her arm and lingers at her wrist while gently brushing his fingers down her side. He marvels at the feel of her breasts against his palm; she makes appreciative noises while kissing her way down his chest and doesn't stop there.
He feels breathless when she lifts her head, and her breath is ragged as well as he kisses her neck, feeling her body press against him. Her skin is so warm, so smooth, and seem to grow warmer with his touches and kisses. He feels growing heat himself, building to something he isn't sure what is, but feels… good. More than good.
Like him, she seems to find as much pleasure in kissing and touching him as being touched and kissed; mutual, just as she promised him. Mutual love, mutual pleasure, and he suspects he's about to find out just how much pleasure there can be in mortal love.
There is a lot, as it turns out.
He's known divine bliss, but the moment their bodies join, the moment she arches into him and moans his name, the moment he is hard inside her and feels all heat, the moment he growls her name into her hard, demanding kiss – all those moments feel blissful, physical, emotional bliss that eventually becomes… bright, hot pleasure and nothing but.
They nestle underneath the covers afterwards, both slowly catching their breaths.
"That was amazing," he tells her. "I did not think…"
He pauses – even if he did think, he couldn't have imagined something like this. If he had imagined, he's not sure he would ever have been able to stay away from her, as he tried so hard to in the beginning.
"That was just the first time," she replies, sounding slightly mischievous. "We have many nights ahead of us."
"And days," he adds, slowly tracing the arch in her back. He loves her curves and lines, all of them beautiful to him. "Our little eternity."
"Our little eternity," she agrees. "My lifetime. Is that what Sarenrae meant by letting you remain until the day our fates come apart?"
"Yes," he says, pressing a kiss against her forehead. "I don't know how long that will be. You emit warmth like the sun, but even the brightest of suns eventually dim. One day, you and I may be separated. Until then… while we are together… I want you to be happy."
"I am," she says softly. "I love you. Being with you makes me happier than I can say."
He kisses her happily, and she leans into it, her lips still flushed from all their earlier kisses.
"Tristian?" she asks hesitantly. "Please say no if this is something you do not want. I am truly happy being with you as we are now."
"I promise," he says, knowing how much it matters to her that he never feels pressured into anything.
"Would you marry me?" she asks after a moment, sounding nervous.
Marriage, he thinks. A public declaration of love. A commitment. They have already made a commitment in heart, but he can understand wanting one tangible as well. After all, he has tried very hard to find tangible ways to show her how much her forgiveness and love means to him. Of course she would want the same.
Being married to her, being her husband… The more he thinks about it, the more he likes it.
"Yes," he says, giving her a quick peck to stress the point. "The Stolen Lands know only one Queen, but I would be honored to be your Prince Consort."
"Truly?" she asks, and he strokes her hand, feeling his ring on her finger.
"Truly," he confirms. "As soon as this madness is over, we can arrange a wedding. You already know I am yours, but I will happily promise to spend my life as your husband – I love you. I love you so much. I worship you."
"Mortal love is not about worship," she says, and puts a finger to his lips when he begins to protest. "I am sure you want to say something incredibly romantic about that, but just listen. I am not a goddess. I want… partnership. I want us to be together, truly together."
He nods. "I understand that. I want that too. I want you, as you are. I hope you feel the same way. I am a deva as well as a mortal. Love as a deva will always be part worship and devotion too. It is how we are. You may be no goddess, but you are far more worthy of worship and devotion than so many gods I can think of. I promise to love you as a mortal, as a partner, but I cannot help but love you as a deva too. I am sorry."
"No," she says, leaning against him. "Don't be sorry. I am sorry. I… I didn't think of it like that, and I do love you as you are, Tristian. Deva and mortal."
"I know," he says, pressing a kiss against her hair.
"That was even more incredibly romantic than I could have imagined, by the way," she says after a moment, and he laughs. She laughs too, softly, happily, and he feels… Certain. Breathing in her scent, feeling her warmth, being with her… He feels no fear.
"You know, I have not been as sure as now for a long time," he tells her softly. "When I was Nyrissa's prisoner, I had no more freedom than a bird in a cage. I even doubted Sarenrae's mercy in my darkest hour. But with you… With you I'm not afraid of the future. I'm not afraid to make mistakes because I know I will be able to fix them."
She kisses him at that; he soon discovers that the second time, the second time is even better.
In the morning, they walk out of her chambers and into the throne room holding hands, getting quite a few curious glances and he is pretty sure Linzi gets more scandalous material for her book. He is even more sure there is far more scandalous material to come – a mortal lifetime of it, in fact. A happy little eternity with his true love.
Once, all he knew of mortal life was pain. She changed that. She gave him a second chance – a chance to love, a chance to heal, a chance to make amends. She gave him life again.
He can't wait to live the rest of it.