“— and then, they pulled him into a window on the side of the airship so he was safe,” Sasha says, swaying slightly as she drunkenly makes her way up the broad, baroque stairs that lead to the second floor of the al-Tahan mansion. “But Bertie didn’t see that and — did we tell you about Bertie? He was big like you but bad.”
“Yes, Grizzop told me,” Azu says from behind Sasha, though she is concentrated on making sure Sasha doesn’t fall, which is very hard when she knows Sasha doesn’t like being touched. She doesn’t want to offend her new friend. “Are you sure you don’t want me to carry you the rest of the way?”
Sasha waves her away. “No, s’good, I’m really dextru— destrus— agile. And sneaky. Eldarion never caught me drinking, ‘cept that one time when — gahhh!” Sasha says, tripping on the halfling-sized steps and falling backwards.
Azu, positioned conveniently behind her back, catches her easily and stabilizes her, before withdrawing quickly. Coming around to Sasha’s front side, she offers her hand to Sasha. “Why don’t you hold onto this?” Azu says, and to her relief, Sasha accepts it.
“Cheers, Azu,” Sasha says happily. “So like, Bertie didn’t see Campbell escape, so he went down himself to check…” she continues as Azu guides her up the stairs and tries to make sense of Sasha’s convoluted story.
The moonshine had been a good decision, Azu had thought — it had lightened the mood after everything had gotten so tense and sad with Grizzop and Sasha — but maybe she’d overestimated how much humans could drink. Or maybe it was something about being undead? She’d have to ask Healer Fairhands later. Either way, Azu was happy to rectify her mistake and put Sasha safely to bed while Grizzop took care of the servant who had enjoyed the moonshine with them.
“And there we go!” Azu says when Sasha reaches the landing. She’s stopped speaking now, instead examining Azu’s hand, comparing its size to her own and giggling to herself. Azu, holding back a blush, leads Sasha to the bedroom that a servant had indicated she might sleep in, and opens the door. “Do you need any help getting into bed?” Azu asks. “Do you… do you usually sleep in your jacket?”
“Yeah, s’where I keep my knives, see?” Sasha says with a laugh, producing with terrifying speed two daggers out of seemingly nowhere. She holds them unsteadily in front of herself, and Azu isn’t sure if she’s serious.
“That seems like it could be danger-” Azu starts, but stops when all of a sudden Sasha’s pale face turns green and she runs to the open door of the ensuite bathroom. As Azu rushes behind her, she hears the distinct sounds of vomiting. She finds Sasha leaning over the toilet, her unkempt black hair falling over her eyes.
“Oh. Oh no, okay” Azu says, her instincts to comfort in full force. Sasha retches again, and Azu approaches, leaning over her. “Why don’t you kneel until it’s all out, okay? So you don’t fall.” She gently guides Sasha to the ground and crouches beside her. “Can I touch your back?”
Sasha spits and gives a slight nod. Azu takes her cue and rubs Sasha’s back in circles. “It’s okay,” she says softly. “I’m here. I’ve got you.” She repeats meaningless phrases and murmurs sympathetically as Sasha droops over the toilet bowl; every time she’s sick, Azu holds back the lapels of Sasha’s jacket to keep it clean.
Azu doesn’t realize at first that Sasha’s crying, both because of the short but shaggy hair obscuring her eyes, and because she doesn’t make a sound while tears stream down her expressionless face. “Sasha?” Azu says. “Sasha, are you —”
Sasha pukes again, producing almost nothing, and coughs several times. She wipes her mouth instinctively with the back of her hand, and as it comes away, Azu can see a smear of blood intermingled with the tears that have run down her cheeks. Sasha stares at the blood in wordless shock for several moments.
“I’m dead,” she says. Sasha’s voice is hoarse, like she can barely get the words from her mouth. “I didn’t even escape Barrett. I’m dead and he still found me.” Her breath is shaky and the tears are flowing harder, but still Sasha maintains a neutral expression. Azu wonders if she’s trained her crying to be unobtrusive, as stealthy and guarded as her movements. “I should have known he would. He was always controlling it. Probably knew that I was going to die. All part of his plan.”
“We’ll protect you, Sasha,” Azu says, though she doesn’t understand half of what Sasha’s saying. She rubs Sasha’s back and hopes desperately that she’s helping. “I won’t let it get worse.”
Sasha lets out a short, choked laugh into the toilet bowl. “S’what Zolf said. Before he left.”
Azu feels her heart drop. She’s not sure who Zolf is, but Sasha says his name with a softness that feels unusual for her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t,” Sasha mumbles, her tone more defeated than bitter. Still crying, she reaches to wipe her eyes and streaks blood from her hand across her cheekbone.
“No, it’s not okay. Let me —” Azu says, getting up. In the ornate sink, she pours a glass of water and wets a hand towel. “For the blood,” Azu says, returning to the toilet and handing them both to Sasha, who’s sitting now, leaning against the toilet with her knees tucked against her chest. Sasha accepts the water and towel shakily and takes a few cautious sips through the tears. She looks awkward, like she’s never had anyone look after her while drunk before.
Azu considers Sasha’s state for a moment, takes a deep breath, and suddenly lowers herself to one knee in front of Sasha, as if swearing an oath. Sasha looks up in confusion.
“Sasha, I have only known you one day,” Azu says in a low, serious voice. “I don’t understand everything that’s happened to you or what you’re going through. But on my honour as a Paladin of Aphrodite” — Azu brings one hand to her chest, and rests the other on Sasha’s shoulder — “I swear that I won’t leave you until you have been cured, and I will not let this Barrett man hurt you.”
Sasha stares for a moment and then suddenly, to Azu’s surprise, she laughs. Not her cold laugh from before, but full and warm, with a broad grin that breaks through her tears. Azu withdraws her hand from Sasha’s shoulder and sits back on her heels, unsure if she’s done something wrong. Sasha shakes her head. “Thanks,” she says. “Dunno if you can, but… it’s nice to see someone try.” She rubs her cheek with the wet towel, then gives a drunk, wet giggle. “Never had anyone swear at me before. Well, not like that.”
“I was being serious,” Azu says.
Sasha’s face falls into a sincere, sad smile. “Yeah, I reckon you were.” She sighs, and for all of Sasha’s unusual body language, Azu thinks she’s telling the truth.
Sasha finishes the water and starts to haphazardly brace herself on the toilet to get up. Azu scrambles to her feet and catches her hand seconds before she slips and falls. “Cheers,” Sasha says as Azu helps her up.
As it turns out, Sasha does sleep in her jacket, and Azu tries not to worry too much about the knife that she removes from out of nowhere and places under her pillow. Azu, however, does insist that Sasha lie on her side with several pillows behind her to stop her rolling over, her arm out in front of her, and her neck straight, in case she throws up again in her sleep.
“Azu?” Sasha says quietly from the bed while Azu fetches a pail from underneath the bathroom sink.
“Could you… I mean, if it isn’t too much trouble…” Sasha says, muttering like she regrets each word the moment it comes from her mouth. “It could be good if you might, like… stay until I fall asleep? But like, I mean, you don’t have to...”
Azu, who hadn’t been planning on leaving her alone while drunk, smiles as she sets the pail beside the bed. “Of course,” she says. “I’ll be right in this chair.”
Sasha gives a faint smile of relief, finds a comfortable position, and yawns. “Thanks, Azu. It’s good — it’s good you’re here.”
As Azu settles into the squishy armchair across from the bed and prepares for several hours of vigil, she offers a silent supplication to Aphrodite. That she might know she’s loved, Azu prays, and watches Sasha’s peaceful breathing.