Aric had settled into routine for the past month, which left him little time for rest or recreation. He kept busy with tutoring the kids and staying later, as well as volunteering at the shelter and training his new dogs. It was time for them to sleep, and Aric set them inside their crates inside his room at Old Temple before looking at the clock. There was an internal debate on what to do for the night, and he settled for going on a walk around the district rather than attend any of the dueling venues. He put on a hooded sweatshirt before walking outside, choosing a direction at random, and began his late night walk down the street.
Lirssa had delivered the weeks delayed message to Jewell at the Annex. There had been a pros/cons list in her brain between seeking out Aric or Jewell first. Since whatever it was going on with Jewell was what had nearly killed her, the visit to Jewell had won, and knowing Jewell?s routine with dueling made it easy to find the Empress.
It had been relatively quiet at the duels, which was lucky for her. Some day that luck was going to run out, but at least it kept her alive a little longer. Even with the brief meeting, Lirssa discovered much had happened. She would need to catch up with so much -- and fast. But with the weight of her news for Jewell lifted, a new one settled in as she started for Old Temple. Fear was in the pit of her stomach. No one had said Aric had moved on, but their minds had been elsewhere -- except hers. She could not walk as quickly as she wanted to, but she knew the quickest route. She pushed her legs to carry her beyond weariness.
* * *
Aric wasn't paying much attention to anyone he passed by, not anymore than he normally would. Aric always kept an eye out in case of danger, either to himself or others, but for the most part he would only give a small smile and nod if people did so to him first. Some recognized him, some did not, but he was proud that his district was relatively safe, and thought that by being out on the streets he could help contribute to that.
So the rapid steps that slowed he passed by only received a cursory study, brief and tossed aside as non-threatening. Until the voice carried his name to him. "Aric."
The voice was unmistakable and immediately froze him. Though it was something that should have been impossible, and Aric thought it might be his mind playing tricks on him. He turned back, expecting it to be someone who he didn't know, and that his ears would be to blame for confusing him. But even in the dark and even with the different color of hair, he would recognize Lirssa's face. Confused and stunned, Aric wore an expression that conveyed both looks and more. "Lirssa?" he asked, but quiet and tentative.
It might have been shame or guilt drawing her brows together, the pain of seeing him so confused and dismayed. "I'm sorry, Aric. I never meant...Yeah, it's me." One hand lifted up slightly toward him, hopeful and afraid both.
There were things he had seen in his long life, but the resurrection of a loved one was not among them. He hadn't made any enemies that he knew of here, but that didn't mean one from a past life hadn't found him here. When her hand lifted, his immediate instinct was to take it, but Aric paused halfway. "Jewell said you were dead. Burned up in the sun. How can it be you?"
She met his gaze. No obfuscation or hiding from the hurt she caused him. "I was caught in the sun's corona without sensors. I couldn't be found until the ship drifted free. Salvage crew found me, radiation poisoning kept me on a medical ship for weeks, and I made my way back as soon as I could, I swear. I didn't mean to hurt you." The words carried on a voice, soft and low, but unflinching from the facts. No embellishments.
"Your hair?" He didn't step closer, but he also did not step away. Eyes swept over her, as if he was trying to look past an illusion, before they came to her face.
"Someone tried to use my death as a message to Jewell. I did not know, still do not know, who or what she is facing, but I did not want them to easily recognize me until I could reach her. I did so just moments ago. I dyed my hair so I could learn what had happened while I was gone without adding to the threats. Aric," she straightened her shoulders, taking in a breath to steel herself for her next words, but it seemed she was not quite certain what she wanted to say. "Have you...are you ...can you forgive me?"
After another moment, Aric laughed. His face broke out into a grin and instead of taking her hand, he rushed toward Lirssa with his arms wrapping around her. He'd have tackled her to the ground if he didn't instead lift her from her feet. It appeared any confusion or reluctance to believe her had passed, and so he was fully embracing Lirssa - something he thought he never would be able to do again. "Forgive you? Nothing to forgive you for! I just can't believe you're back!"