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brittle bones, it seems

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Just a few hours ago, Roe was fighting for her life and for the fate of the world beneath the seas of Norvrandt. Now, against all odds, she’s sitting on a bench.

Upon their return to the Crystarium, she, the Exarch, and the Scions were greeted by a small welcoming party of citizens and soldiers alike, all clamoring to congratulate them on a mission well-fought. It was sweet of them, of course, and far be it from Roe to put a damper on the proceedings by complaining, but after their somewhat emotional (okay, embarrassingly tearful) reunion at the Crystarium gates, she and Thyme had decided to spend the evening together to celebrate her return—and standing around chatting with the entirety of the Crystarium wasn’t precisely what she’d had in mind for her first newly-earned night off after narrowly escaping a harrowing death.

Besides, the more people wanted to talk to her about what had happened, the more she would have to think about it. And that was very, very bad. Thinking: good in theory, in her experience, but much less good in practice.

But as the hours dragged on and her friends showed no signs of ceasing their hobnobbing, Roe’s normally near-boundless energy was struggling to keep her afloat. Thyme had even left her side, promising she would return after she “made the rounds”, and was currently wrapped up in an intense conversation with Y’shtola and Urianger—probably about the intricacies of aetherical… something-or-other, knowing them.

So for the moment, Roe’s taken shelter by loitering in a less-occupied corner of the plaza. Alphinaud, talented diplomat that he is, had noted her exhaustion and taken on the task of distracting eager passersby with aplomb, leaving Roe to people watch mostly undisturbed.

Which is wonderful. Because Roe is so, so tired.

She’s taken up staring at the plaza floor, trying to count and categorize each brick by color and shape, when Alphinaud’s voice cuts through the air.

“Miss Thyme!” Alphinaud beams with delight, giving a small wave as Thyme approaches through the crowd. Roe practically flies off the bench she’s been slumped on.

“Sorry for the delay, darling.” Thyme, noting Roe’s eagerness, smiles apologetically.

“Welcome back,” Alphinaud says, smiling. “How has the evening been treating you?”

Thyme beams at Alphinaud. “It’s been wonderful, Alphie.” She takes Roe’s hand to give it an encouraging squeeze. “But I think we’ll be taking our leave shortly.”

“Oh, of course! You must be exhausted. Please, don’t let me keep you.” Alphinaud smiles warmly. “I’ll inform the others you’ve gone.”

“Thanks, Alphie.” Roe ruffles his hair affectionately. “Make sure you get some rest too, okay? Especially after all that swimming you had to do.”

Alphinaud flushes slightly and opens his mouth to retort—something about Roe’s own lack of swimming skill, no doubt—but Thyme cuts him off with a giggle, a grateful smile and another “thank you” before she begins to deftly weave her way back through the crowd, making toward the Pendants with Roe’s hand clasped firmly in hers. Roe gives Alphinaud a small, apologetic wave as she is tugged away, and he rolls his eyes but waves back.

As they walk, Roe feels her exertion catching up with her at last, and it’s all she can manage to just put one foot in front of the other, let alone string words together. Thyme, fortunately, seems to be able to read Roe’s mind better than Roe herself, and quietly leads her through the Crystarium and up to the Pendants at a slow, steady pace. A quick word of greeting to the excitable attendant out front—Thyme deftly parrying his poorly-timed attempt at conversation, bless her—and soon they’re up the stairs and stepping into Roe’s apartment, the heavy wooden doors swinging closed behind them with a soft click.

All of a sudden Roe finds herself swaying where she stands as she is enveloped by the cozy silence of her room, sagging under the weight of an exhaustion she didn’t realize was crushing her. Just before she begins to lose her footing, Thyme is there, wrapping her steadying arms around her waist.

“Sorry,” Roe mumbles, her gaze sinking to the ground. Thyme hums softly, reassuringly, pressing her cheek to Roe’s shoulder from behind.

“You’re exhausted,” she murmurs. “Let me help you.”

Roe falters. Part of her objects purely on instinct—she wants to simply say no, it’s fine, I’m being pathetic, I can do this myself, because it should be fine, she should be able to do this herself like she always has. But today she can’t just walk it off like always, can’t just shove it back under the surface with a laugh and a smile and a don’t worry, I’m fine before anyone looks at her with that horrible, pitying twist to their lips and furrowed brow. She hates with all her heart that this time, it’s not that simple.

But when she tears her gaze up from the tile floor to see Thyme’s violet eyes boring into her with such intensity, clearly wanting to help her so badly it almost hurts, her resolve crumples into dust.

So, with great effort, she nods.

Thyme smiles and takes her by the arm. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

It only takes a few steps to cross the room to the apartment’s small washroom but she almost stumbles anyway, her legs feeling like they can scarcely hold her weight, and Thyme ends up having to tuck herself beneath Roe’s arm to support her as they move, slowly, quietly. Once Thyme eases her down onto the edge of her bathtub, she kneels at her feet to begin carefully unlacing her boots, and Roe takes a slow, shuddering breath, hardly able to keep herself from slumping into the wall beside her.

She closes her eyes, desperate for a moment of peace, and tries to remind herself to breathe. Remind herself that she’s safe. She tries to take another breath, despite her lungs feeling as though they won’t fill all the way no matter how deeply she inhales. She tries not to think, to just be, to breathe, breathe.

It doesn’t work. Unbidden, the events of the last day bubble up into her mind's eye, try as she might to keep her traitorous, exhausted brain in check.

She’s back, then, inside that battlefield spread among the stars, where she was struggling to fight, to move, to even see, drowning in the throes of the light surging through her veins like a poisonous riptide, and even now her lungs still hurt from the horrible rattling gasps that tore from her chest. She thinks of Emet-Selch’s face, twisted with fury and heartbreak, his monstrous, immortal form towering what felt like miles above her as his screams rattled her bones.

She’s screaming too, writhing helplessly, eyes clouded and burning as Alisaie and Thancred’s blades glance off Emet-Selch’s form as if they were wielding mere children’s toys, as Urianger and Y’shtola crumple to the ground like paper dolls. She’s seeing little Alphinaud desperately scramble to shield his sister and being sent reeling by a titanic, searing blast of light, tearing a horrible, keening scream from Alisaie’s throat—and sweet, tiny Ryne rushing to Roe’s side amid the chaos, crying out to her in desperation, begging her to stand, collapsing just short of her outstretched, shaky hand.

Her stomach is turning with nausea as the light rises like bile in her throat, and then it’s splattering on the ground as she retches on her hands and knees, electric jolts of pain splitting her head in two, her vision blurring and fading to white as the closest thing she’s ever had to a family drops bleeding behind her, one by one, because she’s dying, because she isn’t strong enough—


Thyme has stopped short in the middle of unfastening Roe’s belt. Her brow is knitted with concern and Roe absently realizes—as though it’s happening to someone else’s body, not hers—that she’s begun to shake.

“Sorry. I’m okay,” she says. “Just tired.” She swallows hard, her throat suddenly feeling as though it’s filled with sand. Maybe if she says she’s okay enough times, she’ll start to feel it.

Thyme frowns. She obviously doesn’t believe her—of course not, she knows her better than that—but she resumes her work anyway without a word, now slowly undoing Roe’s shirt one button at a time. Roe numbly watches her slender fingers work their way up her chest, tries to focus on the sound of her breathing, the feel of her hands.

She’s safe now, she tries to remind herself. It’s all over, and Thyme’s here, thank the gods, and they’re both okay. She just needs to breathe, to not think.

But as Thyme helps her remove the stained wrappings from her hands, she feels her breathing picking up again and her hands are shaking just enough that she’s sure Thyme can feel it and she’s back, stumbling forward into the abyss with her head swimming with pain, so certain the halting, staggering steps she was taking are her last, sure that her family is dead and she’s never going to see Thyme’s smile again, hear her laugh.

She sees Ardbert—once a bitter enemy, now one of her dearest friends—his gentle smile shining down on her like a beam of light through stormclouds, spurring her back to her feet, somehow—and she’s feeling too many things all at once to add even more heartbreak to the mix but she knows this is the last time she’ll ever see him before he fades away into shadow, finally at peace, and she’s standing tall and strong again, and she can feel him with her, warming her from within.

She’s free, then, standing battered and bruised but alive, in the sunlit aftermath of the worst night of her life, with the Scions rallying behind her and the Exarch—G’raha, her old friend—looking just as shaky and battleworn as she felt, but glowing with pride and relief even as his legs threaten to collapse out from under him, and her legs are so shaky it’s a small wonder she’s still upright, too. And then she sees the gaping hole in Emet-Selch’s chest spreading across his body like the slow pooling of water as he fades to dust; his final, sorrowful request ringing in her head, echoing down to her very core:

“Remember that we once lived,” he said. After all that she’s seen, how could she possibly forget?

But here, now, only a few hours later, everything is normal. Everyone is safe. She, inconceivably, is not just alive, but fine. The danger has passed. It doesn’t feel real.

It’s all been far too much to bear. She’s never been so tired in her life.

Thyme’s voice nudges out of her dazed reverie as she softly slips Roe’s shirt up over her head and off, placing it aside. “I’m going to start the water now,” she says.

It takes a moment to help Roe to her feet and over the edge of the tub—her limbs are so stiff—but Thyme is patient and steady, and before long they’re both naked in the small shower, facing each other, Roe bracing herself against the wall, head bowed as the warm water beating against her back and shoulders begins to slowly unravel the knots in her muscles. Thyme is always gentle, but today her hands move across Roe’s skin so softly, so delicately as she smooths the sweet-scented soap across her chest and back, occasionally pausing to softly press her lips against a bruise or scar. She runs her hands through her hair, raking her fingers across Roe’s scalp to work the bubbles into a lather, and it’s in that little moment when she tilts Roe’s chin up toward the ceiling to rinse her clean (“you’re going to get soap in your eyes, love,” she whispers) that Roe feels the realization hit her like a dash of freezing water on her skin—

She feels… cared for. Treasured. Adored.

It’s an unfamiliar sensation. Not that she’s never felt love from the people in her life, of course; but love of this type, of this strength—this, this is new, and Thyme almost seems to glow with it.

Roe almost feels like she’s floating.

When they finish, Thyme slips into a light, thin nightdress and rubs Roe down with a soft, white towel, meticulously leaving no errant drops of water behind, before helping her change into a fresh, clean shirt and leading her over to her bed. She’s only come to rest sitting on the edge of the mattress for a second before Thyme is in her lap, lacing her fingers through Roe’s to bring her hand to her lips and press a kiss into her palm. She wraps her in an embrace so gently, like Roe’s made of old, old glass, liable to shatter into pieces at the slightest errant movement, and Roe’s eyes suddenly begin to prickle with tears—both from sheer exhaustion and from embarrassment, hot and sharp in her throat.

She leans heavily against her, tucking her face into the crook of Thyme’s neck, and squeezes her eyes shut with a soft, shuddering breath. Thyme doesn’t move as Roe snakes her arms around her waist, and they stay silent for a few moments, as Roe soaks up the warmth of her skin, her smell—bergamot and lavender, she thinks, with a touch of spice from Roe’s soap. She hates being so tired, so emotional, so weak; but in this moment—although she hates to admit it more than anything—it feels good to be treated so gently, as though she’s impossibly fragile and cracked.

“You should lie down, darling,” Thyme whispers, her voice soft, turning her head just enough to quietly murmur into Roe’s ear. “Please.”

Roe is too tired to respond, and she idly wonders if Thyme would mind if she fell asleep right in this spot, right in her lap, and didn’t move for days. She could, she thinks.

Obediently, however, she lifts her head from Thyme’s shoulder and slides back to rest on her side on the bed. She knows she really should try to rest; her eyes are so heavy, and now that she’s lying down they absolutely refuse to stay open on their own. As she sinks down into the soft mattress and her body relaxes at last, her thoughts begin to slow, the soft fog of sleep descending upon her slowly and all at once.

“Good girl.” Thyme’s fingers are in her hair, gently stroking, soothing her to sleep, and Roe can hear the soft smile in her voice.

But it doesn’t take long for her mind to wander.

She doesn’t remember what she saw—the light had taken her eyes by then—but she vividly recalls how it felt: the sickening, overwhelming queasiness as the light strangles the life out of her, when her body was overwhelmed at last and began its inevitable transformation into a Lightwarden. She’s in indescribable pain as her very limbs begin to twist and stretch with nauseatingly wet, dull cracks, pulling her apart at the seams, and she’s screaming, a horrible, inhuman cry that’s tearing her throat to ribbons, that doesn’t even sound like her anymore.

And worst of all, the tiny part of her mind still remaining intact is reeling with utter despair and terror as she suddenly realizes that this is it, she’s not strong enough to keep herself from singlehandedly killing everyone, ruining everything.

She shudders, grasping desperately for the moments of peace she felt before, begging her mind for respite, but the thoughts won’t stop, rushing through her mind’s eye like a tidal wave. Suddenly, sleep seems like a terrible idea.

Her eyes shoot open. Thyme is quietly getting to her feet and moving away from the bed, intending to give Roe space, but before Roe even realizes what’s happening her hand shoots out, reaching, and tightly, desperately clenches around Thyme’s wrist, freezing her in her tracks.

“Thyme,” she says, pleading, “wait—”

Thyme urgently, silently scans Roe’s face, concern written plain on her features, and Roe hesitates, feeling slightly foolish. 

“Sorry,” Roe mumbles. She loosens her grip. “Can you just… hold me for a few minutes?”

She notices how small her voice sounds now, with a quietly desperate tone she’s never heard from herself before. She would be embarrassed if she weren’t so scared, if she didn’t need Thyme’s presence so badly it felt like the lack of her could make her suffocate.

A beat of hesitation. Then Thyme smiles, just a little.

“Of course,” she answers. She strokes the pad of her thumb across Roe’s cheek, once, twice, and something about her soft, deeply sad look in her eyes feels like a knife in Roe’s heart. Thyme steps away for a moment to dim the lights, but in a heartbeat she’s back and slipping into bed with her, wrapping her arms tightly around her and tugging her in close, pulling Roe into her chest.

Roe shuts her eyes and tries to breathe deeply. It's easier to push her thoughts away now, with the sound of Thyme’s breathing against her—steady, calming. Her lungs feel easier to fill.

“Sorry,” she says again after a few moments, her voice muffled against Thyme’s chest and slightly, embarrassingly choked. “I know I’m a mess.”

Thyme makes a quiet, reassuring noise, her warm voice thrumming against Roe’s cheek. “You have nothing to apologize for, darling. You’ve seen more in the last day than most would have to face in a lifetime.” She pauses to press a kiss to the top of Roe’s head. “But even still,” she says, “you’re allowed to be a mess sometimes.”

“I know, it’s just…” Roe swallows, hard. “It doesn’t feel like it,” she says, quietly, slowly. “It’s not usually this… bad.”

Thyme sighs, heavy and quiet. “Oh, sweetheart.” She lapses into silence for a few moments, but when next she speaks, Roe can hear her smiling—kind as always, so soft, and faintly heartbroken. “My love, I’m so, so proud of you.”

Somehow, those words cause an ache that’s even deeper and sharper than her wounds. Her tears are back, threatening to overflow at any second, and Roe is suddenly deeply grateful Thyme can’t see her face.

But Thyme, of course, knows precisely what to do, like always—and as they lay there in the darkness, she whispers exactly what Roe needs to hear.

“You can cry if you need to,” she says.

And finally, Roe does.