Characters: Predominantly Richard and Nicci; slight Cara, mentions of Kahlan
Richard woke with a start.
There were no stages to his rousing as all five senses bombarded him at once. Midsummer dry heat. A warm, vacuum of a breeze. The walls of his tent buckling with the wind; the sound of ocean waves rippling with promise of a ferocious storm brewing just on the horizon. The smell of salt and sweat and sulfur. Of death and ill things to come. He could taste the bile of the battles fought lingering on his tongue.
It was sickening. Everything about this place resembled a nightmare. A dream he wished he could simply wake up from.
However, he knew things to never be that simple.
With a little more effort than usual, he urged himself to rise. Bones announcing their objection to his decision, begging for rest to appease the exhaustion that plagued him of late.
Observing the space, his eyes roved over the Mord’Sith asleep on their cots, and then catching the booted feet of the two who had stationed themselves outside of his tent. Despite his insisting that they take time to themselves, they had adamantly pursued him on this. Eventually a compromise had been reached. They would take rotations; two awake, two asleep.
Shaking his head, he glanced briefly at the large makeshift table containing various parcels and half rolled scrolls. Various candles had already burned themselves out, but there were three persistent flames providing minimal warm light.
His gaze shifted to the cot nearest to those scarcely lit candles. It was empty.
Furrowing his brow, and all the incentive he needed, he proceeded on his way. Pushing aside the cloth flaps of his tent, he was greeted by a more intense onslaught of the same wind; the same smells. Exhaustion hung heavily in the air, but he ignored it putting one foot in front of the other until his legs loosened and the muscles protesting his movement began to cooperate.
Lenne, a tall brunette with soft eyes, stepped forth from her perch; concern etched into her features. Richard lifted a hand to still her, shaking his head. Mord’Sith were far too obedient, he’d once thought. Still, the guilt layered thickly in his blood. The things he knew about them; how they were made, how they had once been treated. The disgust was something he would never feel.
“I’m just going for a walk.” he stated evenly, his voice quiet in the night.
They were close enough to the shoreline that he could see the dark ominous waves crashing in the distance. From where they had set up camp, his tent resided further inland, while his troops remained downwind, although various officers were stationed strategically around him. He was silent as he passed by smaller camps, taking note of the state of unrest. Each D’Haran soldier tensed briefly by his presence, but quickly relaxed the second they felt his bond intact.
He wasn’t sure just where he was going, only that his feet moved of their own will. They lead him nearer to the warring ocean, and it wasn’t until he came to the incline of a rock face that he noticed her.
Even in the thick of night, with dark clouds clinging to the skies and the heavy, dreary atmosphere; she still looked ethereal. Blonde hair splayed across her back, shifting lightly with the wind. Dark dress blacker than the storm clouds swirling in the distance.
He breathed a sigh of relief at knowing she were safe, although he was sure he’d have known if she weren’t. Still, his heart settled and the realization that his subconscious had sensed the absence of her presence in the tent dawned on him.
Richard never questioned the strange mental tether they shared. It was stronger than the Bond, a heartier devotion that went beyond their close friendship. For a long time he’d thought it were because of their shared magic, but now…
Her body relaxed visibly at his approach.
She couldn’t help the twitch of muscle that had the corners of her mouth beginning to turn upwards.
The tension gathered in her shoulder blades slowly began to ebb as he came beside her and took a seat on the edge with her. She didn’t turn to face him. Didn’t question his being there. She simply inhaled and continued to look upon the foggy mist of rain in the distance.
They sat in a companionable silence. Comfortable. Quiet. Easy. Safe, for now.
Nicci marveled at the way their shared magic enveloped them. She could see it, and she knew he could see it too, now. Her fingers absentmindedly began to trace her neck, the tips lightly brushing over the skin as her thoughts traveled elsewhere.
Years ago, after the Seeker had successfully prevented the Keeper from taking over the land of the living, she had been enslaved by Darken Rahl. For all the power at her disposal, the Rada’han he had placed like a noose around her neck had stayed her hand. As a Sister of the Dark, she had once suffered far worse, and yet...
Richard had saved her, again. He had used the Sword of Truth to free her of her magical restraint, and at first, she fled. He’d given her the option. Stay, help them rebuild their world; an obvious gesture of redemption without the judgemental. Or, leave. Live her own life, find her own answers. So, she’d left. Unable to stand the kindness of a man she had wronged and intended to wrong so many times before. Unwilling to take any further forgiveness.
At least, that’s what she’d thought. However, despite her greatest effort, she returned.
He had been true to his word. He had accepted her, and then slowly, eventually - - the others did, too. It was more than someone like her could’ve asked for. More than hope, even.
As good as things had been at first, disaster was always sure to follow a calm.
When she had given him his magic back, she had done so in increments. It was meant to combat his headaches and to their astonishment, it had worked. Nicci had always known he’d held a great capacity and affinity for magic. He was the embodiment of power and wisdom and truth. Honesty. Righteous.
She continued to watch as his gift evolved and matured with him, his body having grown used to the addition little by little. As a result of their rituals, whenever they were near the other the air around them would crackle and fizz, coming to life with their proximity. It was even more pronounced when they would touch, and lately it had become even more potent. They’d resolved to having as very little physical contact as possible, unsure of what outcome would occur if it were prolonged, but small fleeting touches were snuck in here and there. It was almost a necessity, she’d noticed. There was a strong, heady need to touch him. And from the way she often caught his attentions focusing on her, understood that it was entirely mutual.
“They’ll come looking for you.” She had to be the one to break the silence. As much as she enjoyed merely sitting in his company, sometimes it was just so hard to be near him.
His laugh swelled her heart, causing her chest to tighten further and her chin to dip slightly.
Richard was a keen man, but he was also painfully oblivious at times.
“Perhaps.” he nodded, dark eyes focused on the horizon. “Perhaps not. I’m with you.” his sure tone resonated, but it was her soft melodic voice that drew his eyes to her.
“I was thinking I wanted to watch the stars, but clearly the Creator had other plans for me.” she motioned to the clouds above with a scoff before leaning back and catching herself on her hands; legs dangling from the cliff side. The beach below hardly visible beneath the undulating oceanic waves.
Richard hummed for a moment, resting a forearm on a bent knee as thunder began roaring from afar. “When I was a boy, my father used to take me storm watching. We’d climb to the highest point in Westland, and watch the clouds roll over the boundary. He used to say that you could never appreciate a storm unless you saw where it began.” he shook his head at the fond memory, smiling. “I never realized it then, but his words held so much more meaning than I took them for.”
Nicci agreed in her silence, her own lips pulled up and body warm from his reminiscing. She didn’t have any good memories, and the ones she did were so faint they might as well be false hallucinations of childish hope and abandon. Richard knew this, so he’d taken to padding their conversations with tales and stories of his past.
She didn’t know if he knew, but his friendship filled all those holes that had previously been in her heart. She was whole with him.
“He was a wise man,” Nicci sighed, “I wish I could have had the honor of meeting the man who sired the Seeker.” While playful, there was nothing but truth in her words.
“He’d have liked you. The two of you would have bickered more often than not, but he would have enjoyed the banter.” Swaying his body towards her own, he nudged her shoulder with his. The electrical current that surged suddenly and abruptly and briefly between them had them both inhaling nose full amounts of air. “Sorry,” he muttered, having caught the way her eyes fell closed at the contact, and her head tilted forward a little more.
“Don’t be.” she murmured, thankful when he cleared his throat.
Lightning struck in the distance, igniting the sky and exposing their enemy. Richard and Nicci settled their eyes upon the ships grappling with the ferocious sea. Until now they had kept their attentions drawn from the obvious. Their conversation light and airy, but now the tension was once again beginning to seep into their collective bones.
“I know that you’re more than capable of handling yourself,” he began, and instantly she knew where this was going yet couldn’t help but feel honored and cherished by his concern.
“Richard,” she hushed him slowly, “I’ll be fine.”
“I know. I’m just saying, be careful.”
“You know that I will.”
“Good. So promise me, then.”
Her magic surged to the surface of her skin as he suddenly, and quickly, laid his hand over her own. She didn’t have the strength to pull away from him, found she didn’t truly want to, and for once - just once, she wanted to know what this magic would do if they allowed themselves this one, tiny ounce of physical dependence.
His eyes were so dark and filled with everything she’d never known; kind and caring and genuine. He was staring at her like she was the most important person in his life. It made her throat tight and her eyes burn and her heart ache.
“No, Nicci. They took her. They took her and we were none the wiser until after she was already gone. I don’t know what sort of nefarious purposes they have in mind, nor why they’re invading our land. I don’t know who they are, where they’ve come from. I don’t know what we’ll find when we lay waste to them here on this beach tomorrow, or where those ships will take us when we commandeer them back to their homeland. What I do know, is that the future is uncertain; there are no guarantees.”
Nicci’s stare moved between his, searching, trying to read into his thoughts. His body shifted towards hers then, and she slowly entwined her fingers with his as he brought his free hand up to cradle her face; fingers curling around the back of her head and neck while his thumb swiped gently across her cheek.
It was a strange sensation, the coursing electricity through her veins that had her clamping down on her desires to the point where she was sure she might lose consciousness. Her mind was in an odd state of fogginess and clarity. If she so much as blinked and let even a tiny slither of her control slip, she thought that maybe she’d wipe out the entire ocean.
She said nothing as he moved forward and pressed his forehead against hers, his nose lightly bumping her cheek. Bringing a hand up to wrap around the wrist of the one he had one her face, her lips parted and she breathed him in deeply.
“You are invaluable to me,” he whispered then, and her brows furrowed further. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you, too.”
Letting out a small gasp that was more of a sob and a whine than anything, she didn’t notice her tears until his thumb was wiping them away. Pushing her forehead harder against his, she nodded slightly, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth as she tried and failed to find her voice.
Richard swallowed the intensity of the magic humming between them, all around them, and lulled back slightly. Her eyes were still closed, but the expression she wore shot straight to his heart. Finally, those blue, blue eyes of hers opened; and the emotion he found there overwhelmed him.
“You won’t,” she promised, and when her gaze fell to his lips she was reminded why they kept each other at arm’s length.
“Don’t blame me if you fall off your horse tomorrow.”
Jolted from their blissful reverie, both Wizard and Socercess tore themselves apart and whipped their heads toward their guest.
Cara stood with her arms folded, but the expression she wore was of sorrowful understanding. She mentioned nothing of their closeness, nor the obvious direction their encounter was heading in.
She said nothing of Kahlan, and Richard ashamedly let go of the blonde.
“As if you’d ever allow that.” he commented, his appreciation apparent as he stood and held a hand down for Nicci. He wasn’t surprised when she ignored the hand he offered, and he simply let the limb fall to his side, ignoring the lingering heat and pull.
“You two go on ahead, I’ll be right behind you.” Smoothing her dress, Nicci turned away from them both and with quiet nods they began on their way. She knew Richard paused, she felt his gaze on her back and she drew in another lungful of air.
In such a short time she had gone from being his teacher to his mortal enemy; from his mortal enemy to his potential captive; from his potential captive to a free woman.
From a free woman to his mentor.
From his mentor to his advisor.
From his advisor to his friend.
From his friend, to his General.
And tomorrow, she would do what any General in the D’Haran Army would do. She would protect him with her life, and because of that, she would protect herself.
It was the first time she’d felt any need to care about her own well being.
And for that, she had Richard to thank.