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An Apple a Day

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Estinien awakens slowly, so different from the fitful bursts of consciousness he had experienced over the course of his recovery. He blinks, finding his eyelids remarkably light in comparison to the past few days. The smell of the infirmary is different somehow, crisp and almost cold like the familiar coming of a blizzard. He considers for a moment that someone left a window open, but that is when he sees her.

Leaning against the wall near the window, arms lazily crossed in front of her and gray eyes fixed upon Estinien stood the impossible.

"I was worried for you." she spoke nonchalantly, as if he hadn't watched her plummet out of the skies above Azys Lla ravaged by imperial fire. When he went to challenge her, he found the words died in his throat.

She pushes herself from the wall, taking a seat instead at the foot of his bed and no longer looking to his face.

"'Tis no easy thing, overcoming such a violent possession. The eyes of wyrms will forever be beyond the control of man." For a moment, he thinks she's come to lecture him. To speak haughtily of the power of dragons and the greed of man as she had before. She looks to her hands in her lap and does neither.

"I was worried."

And he awakes.

The smell of snow is gone, replaced by the familiar scent of medicinal supplies and burning wood. Estinien finds his head throbs gently, and the familiar heaviness has returned to his eyes.

Alphinaud sits at his bedside, as he has done for many of the nights the dragoon spent in the infirmary. Estinien's eyes slowly look over the otherwise empty room.

"Where is she?" his voice comes out dry, almost hoarse from sleep and disuse.

Alphinaud nearly drops the apple he'd been clumsily peeling with a knife. "Y-you're awake!", the surprise gives way to confusion as Estinien fixes the boy with his drowsy gaze. "'She'? Do you mean Lucia? Should I call for her?"

He feels a pang in his chest. A dream then. If anyone would have jumped at the miraculous return of the Lady Iceheart, it would have been Alphinaud. His confusion made it clear as day Estinien's imagination had gotten the better of him. He eyes the apple in Alphinaud's hands.

"...Nevermind that. You're wasting perfectly good apple flesh there." Estinien's cool judgement brought a blush to the young elezen's cheeks. The bits of skin collected in the napkin on his lap were thick, more like coarse chunks of the fruit than shavings.

"I may need practice! But you need rest, and nourishment." With a frown Alphinaud cuts a chunk of the skinned apple off and thrusts it toward Estinien. "Eat. And then go back to sleep!"

~
A gentle humming draws Estinien from his slumber once more, the crisp scent of cold snow wafting over his nose and drawing his eyes open.

She has her hair over her shoulder this time, seated where Alphinaud once was and moving a aldgoathair brush over her silver locks. Estinien does not recognize the song she hums, but finds himself calmed by the melody. He finds it's easy to push himself up, but she speaks before he can question her.

"Not that you've taken much care of it before, but your hair will become a matted mess from that pillow. Come." She motions with one hand, and stands.

Estinien frowns, but turns without argument and allows her to brush his hair. She was gentle, but firm enough to pull the coarse bristles through the knots, easing them out as she hums.

"It's a song my mother would sing when I would awake from my nightmares. If you can believe it, I was once as afraid as any Coerthan child when my dreams were filled with dragons. It must have been frustrating to be woken so often, but my mother would come to my bedside and sing to me while she brushed my hair." She did not speak of Nidhogg this time, instead she offered stories of her childhood. She spoke softly, brushing all the while. Eventually he feels a gentle touch upon his shoulder.

"There. That's much better, don't you agree?" She helps ease him back down and he finds his mind drifting off as she resumes her quiet tune.

He awakes feeling more rested than he has in a long while.

It is the Lord Commander who sits at his bedside this time, artfully peeling an apple with a small knife. The unbroken spiral of skin is perfectly devoid of flesh, dropping slowly toward the man's lap as he cuts. A small smile comes to his lips when he looks at Estinien. "I had a feeling you might wake soon, and thought you'd like to eat something."

"Apples are fine, but I think I'd prefer water at the moment." his throat is dry once more, and he almost croaks the words. Aymeric moves to the desk, and pours water into a goblet as Estinien eases himself up to rest on the backboard of the bed.

Estinien gulps down two before he feels satisfied, and rests his head against the wall.

"The Captain will have your head if he finds you sitting up." There's amusement in Aymeric's voice as he returns to his seat and begins to portion the peeled apple.

Estinien scoffs with a grin, relishing the feeling of being upright after so long. He reaches out for a bit of apple, and eats it as he speaks. "He is welcome to take it, if he can."

"Ah but he'll be glad to see the fight has returned to you, though I somewhat doubt it ever left." They continue their conversation for exactly two and half apples and not once can Estinien find himself able to bring up the dreams. It is then that Lucia sharply knocks on the open door and calls Aymeric away for business.

"Duty calls, try and sleep some more. Your recovery is going well, it would be a shame to slow it down because you wanted to rebel against Captain Whitecape."

Estinien snorts, "Bring some meat with you next time."

He finds himself more eager to return to sleep than he would admit.

~

"Were you afraid?" This time, she's already seated at the foot of his bed. Her hands are clasped in her lap, her hair draping despondently over her shoulders.

Estinien sits up easily, finding himself comfortable without leaning back.

"'Tis scary, no? Even after you've accepted something as your fate, even when you've come to terms with your own destiny. Once you find yourself face to face with your own mortality, there's still that moment of fear."

She's uncharacteristically melancholy, so similar to the broken girl they had left at Zenith.

"It's not that I regret it. Not for one moment. It was my decision, and given the choice I would do it again a thousand times." She turns now, offering a weak smile beneath those icy eyes. "Perhaps at the end of it all, I still have much of that frightened child in me. Even resolved as I was, there was that involuntary panic in the pit of my stomach. I had thought myself above that fear for so long."

He wants to offer some comfort, but finds himself once more unable to speak.

"But you know... when I heard your voice... heard you beg them to end your life..." she rests her hand lightly on his blanketed legs. "So much more so than before... I was terrified."

Her thumb idly smooths the wrinkles in the blankets, her gaze shifted away from Estinien's face. The weak smile on her face gains a new strength as she speaks again.

"But here you are, alive! Torn from Nidhogg's clutches, safe and sound. To call it a miracle would disparage all the work and effort that went into it but it truly feels that way."

She turns and clenches Estinien's hand. "You've overcome the burden of your past, free to live a life without being consumed by hatred and revenge. More so than even the echo, to see you this way is a gift."
She shifts along the sheets, the scent of cold growing stronger as she approaches him and lays a soft kiss upon his forehead.

"You've made it through the storm, and found yourself at a warm hearth. Promise me you won't go back into the cold."

She pulls away and stands, fixing him with a serene expression. Exhaustion sweeps over him, and try as he might he finds himself unable to fight against the weight of his eyelids.

~

When next he wakes, the Warrior is seated beside him. The soft sound of snowfall against the window cuts through the late night silence of the infirmary as Estinien easily pushes himself up. He doesn't meet the Warrior's gaze, even when he feels the heat of tears streak down his face. They just silently offer a cloth napkin, which Estinien promptly ignores. The two of them sit in silence for a long while before the dragoon speaks.

"I dreamt of Ysayle." He catches the Warrior's expression from the corner of his eye, somewhere between sorrow and joy. They busy themself preparing an apple, sharp knife cutting slice after slice to the core. Neither of them have had the luxury of mourning, and this comfortable silence between them would have to do.

The Warrior offers him a slice of apple, skin intact.