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pulled from the dark

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For a moment – less than a breath, or a blink, or a heartbeat – Fjord hesitates on the edge of sleep, the memory of a blade sliding into his chest, of cold darkness closing in around him, playing on repeat in his mind. But, the crystal is gone now, the Nein are sprawled around him, not a one of them willing to let him go; and there, in the darkness, is a warmth too. A familiar warmth, almost; like the ocean on a sunny day, or the warm embrace of a mother he’s never had before.

He breathes in, finds comfort in the warm, steady presence that drives away the dark, the pain, the cold, cold fear.

I would have caught you if they did not she tells him, a feeling on the wind, in the spray of the waves, in the way she holds him, now.

I know he tells her back, surprised even to find that he believes it. Faith is such a strange thing, still, and he’s still finding his way through it. He doesn’t know if he’s doing it right, most of the time, but he finds comfort in the amused approval he can feel, the warmth lulling him to deeper sleep.

Uk’otoa will try again, he knows it deep in his bones, deep in the dark parts that once belonged to it, that now fill with green, growing things and the dapples of sunlight on the water. But he does not belong to that creature any longer; he is his own, his goddess’s, the Nein’s.

With his family around him, and the Mother holding him, warding the nightmares away, Fjord sleeps, and he heals.

*

He wakes from darkness into pain again, familiar hands in his own, a heat pressed against his back that could only be Caleb.

“Slow, slow. Breathe, Fjord,” his voice curls warm into Fjord’s ears, still ringing in the silence and there’s a vision of white and pink swimming in his vision when he finally finally opens his eyes. Caduceus stares down at him, something like panic, like rage, fading quickly from his eyes as he sits back and Fjord’s hand goes to his own chest, feeling the half-healed wound, the remnants of the fungus.

“Are they-are they gone?” his voice is rough, pained, panicked; if they aren’t all—

“They’re dead,” someone tells him, and “you’re safe,” and he doesn’t gasp in the breaths he still feels like he’s struggling for only because he doesn’t want to panic his friends -family- further. He hisses as he sits up, Caleb’s hands warm on his back, helping hold him until he can hold himself, Beau at his side, watching, always watching, but something cracked in her gaze before she hides it away, Caduceus silent, hands still shaking, Jester turned away, helping Orly-

Fjord breathes, shoves down the horrified realization of I just died, and turns to face the truth.

*

“This is gonna hurt,” Caduceus says and Fjord’s eyes widen and then he’s thrown back into the darkness again as Caduceus’s hand touches his chest except it’s warm, that warm place she takes him when he’s lost until –

Until it isn’t.

It’s pain and it chases the warmth away until he’s sure he’s dying -again- until he can’t feel anything but the white hot sharpness in the center of his chest and he almost wants to stop it, to tell Caduceus to stop, stop it, I can’t handle it, not yet, not now, not after-

But he doesn’t and Caduceus doesn’t and the pain and the nausea crawls its way up his body until he’s falling to his knees with Caduceus, barely conscious of the way he’s crushing Jester’s hand or holding on to Caduceus, aware only of the pain, of the hope of please, Wildmother let him get it out of me please-

He retches, vomits briney seawater from some dark center in him, the pain almost blinding until its gone with a thud on the deck below and he’s left opening his eyes, breathing out a shaky breath in time with Caduceus as they just look at one another and in the space between them, comfort on a warm breeze, pride from on high and Fjord just takes a moment to breathe.

Freedom, at long last, except –

A shred of fear, of doubt, and he calls on the seed of power, eyes catching on Jester – blue skin and curled horns and he pulls on the mask, panicked.

“What was that,” Jester asks, and he’s faced with two clerics and their strange wisdom and

“I needed to see if I could still – I didn’t know it was still in me,” he admits, like shame curling hot in his gut but their gazes turn kind and Jester shakes her head and puts a hand on his arm, says

“Your powers don’t come from Uk’otoa Fjord,” and Caduceus nods, tells him “Not anymore” and he feels the warmth finally starting to spread through him, finally starts to believe that maybe he’s really free this time.

He breathes, alive.