Larch finds a small note inside her vodka bottle. It reads: Just ask him out. Guys are too dumb to notice. ~CC



Really, it was all that damn god’s fault. Without him, she’d still be in blissful ignorance. But the note on her vodka bottle sent her bone pale then puce with rage, and she had stalked to his door and demanded he explain himself. 

 

There is a saying, about being careful what you wish for. And unfortunately for her, he did. 




“That. Is. I- if you can see my mind- how can you think that-” Larch draws herself up, cutting the angry sputtering short. “I am ABSOLUTELY not in love with- I- he- he reminds me of the man who enslaved me. Absolutely out of the- he is intelligent, but that’s not- no. How dare you.”

 

Cayden leans back into his chair with a look of surprise while Larch leans into him. “WHOA… HEY! I didn’t even use my power for that! That’s my TWO THOUSAND YEARS experience talking! GODS! I throw a tiny bit of advice…”

 

“I did not wish for any advice. I did not- it’s just- absolutely out of- it is patently, absolutely, one hundred percent impossible. He- He’s a fucking alchemist, and I- you are wrong.” Larch starts to pace. “I- he terrifies me at times. I remember what he did and I still look at the Doctor and see- how could I- you’re wrong. I tolerate him. At. Best.”

 

Cayden narrows his eyes. “Then… don’t take it?” the god shrugs. “From what I’ve seen, you two are great colleagues, you admire his work, so maybe you would also show some admiration for the man??”

 

“I… admit his theories are… often correct and… inventive. To his credit, he never experiments on anyone but himself. And… he genuinely seems to have found a calling as… his namesake. ” It sounds a bit like pulling teeth to admit, but she does admit it. “Admiring the “man” is- is- I- No. It’s impossible. He- He wouldn’t want it anyways. I don’t even know if it would be- which doesn’t matter because it is not happening.”

 

In her mind, there is memory, though. A man with teeth sharp enough to cut his own mouth and intelligence to match, and that she had not actually found the grin grotesque, only wondered about it, about the pain it caused him… and the knee jerk reaction away from the idea.

 

Cayden rubs his face in frustration. “The point is, Doc isn’t the same guy. They have similar trimmings, sure… but that’s like calling a duck a chicken.”

 

“…I have trouble looking him in the eye because Master beat us when we did. I am- I am working on it. I do not need- I am absolutely not-” Larch cuts herself off, is silent for a long moment. She looks… haunted. Haggard. Like the bedrock of her world has been moved.

 

“I… apologize for my- yelling. I am usually more… respectful. I do not… often lose my temper. But you are wrong. I will endeavor to…. treat him as a…. more congenial colleague. He is not Master.  And my… my faults are my own.”

 

He has to be wrong. He has to be.

 

An awkward silence passes. Cayden reaches under the table and brings up a fresh cup of coffee. “You… want one?”

 

“….Since drinking in excess to forget is against the creed of the god in front of me, yes please. I prefer tea, but coffee is alright.” Larch sounds…. a bit hollow and more than a little wrecked.

 

Cayden reaches down with his other hand and pulls up a soothing green tea with lavender.

 

“Thank you. ….Mm. This is nice, actually. I would like to gather myself before I return, please. They are likely worried. I was… not my usual self.” Larch is clearly trying to pick up the pieces of herself and her walls, with mixed success.




And of course, once spoken into the world, it proceeded to consume her. She spent the rest of the time in that damn bar doing what she did best: using cold logic to compile a list to ensure she was making rational decisions. Surely this was nonsense. If she thought it through, she could prove it.

 

That turned out to be an even bigger mistake, as it clarified nothing and confirmed her worst fears. 




THE NOTE HYPOTHESIS:

 

-For:

 

>As intelligent as I am. Able to keep up with me.

>On that line, has always respected my intelligence in turn.

>Despite my difficulties, which have not always been subtle, has been respectful and actively works to contribute to both my endeavors and the party.

>Has not asked awkward questions.

>Has never put down my profession or the importance of plants in magical sciences. Might be willing to share in my passion as well, if I trusted him enough to allow it. He understands it at the very least.

>Seemingly genuine about his hospital and his work there.

>Despite being very strange emotionally, he is capable of affection and caring (see rat farm, pro bono hospital, relationship with Mallory specifically and the party in general, spearheading getting Bolke’s axe, ect) at least on a superficial level.

>He trusts me- more than I trust him- and has some affection for me as a colleague. Possibly a friend?

>Physically adept, especially when under the influence of his creations. A strong warrior.

>Skin color…. unusual. Red like autumn leaves. Horns… interesting. Nice elegant hands. 

 

-Against:

 

>Alchemist. Can he really be trusted? To a degree I have, but not to the extent he has shown, and not as I trust the others (ie Mallory).

>I am uncertain I am capable of untangling my past from my present. This would affect any relationship negatively.

>Surface impressions aside, largely unknown entity and morality. Party occasionally alludes to questionable decisions. I know him, but I do not know if I “know” him.

>Emotionally…. strange. Affection and caring or logical relationship building to benefit himself? Unknown.

>Likely not interested. May have issues with the idea given his origins, in something of the way I have issues with alchemists.

>I would have to tell him about my past and the Master.

>I would rather eat glass than tell anyone, especially him, about my past and the Master.

>Never considered being with someone who was not Kellid. Does this matter? Little remains of my tribe. Would he respect us/our traditions? Which of them do I intend to uphold? After so long with the Master, then running… but it is important.

>Physiology not conducive to typical intimacy. Does this matter? 

 

….No. No. This could not be happening. 

 

If I do not feed it, it will not grow, she decided. It shouldn’t be hard to not become attached. This thing would die in infancy if she ignored it. 

 

The wings, however, force her to consider it. 

 

The wings and the riverbank.  

 

He’s as graceful as a newly hatched bird, which is to say not at all; the wings had ripped his shirt to shreds and the Doctor stumbles slightly, unused to their weight. They resemble spidery legs, the same ruby crimson color as his skin, the webbing over them a silvery silky sort of material. Anatomically, she has to admit they are sort of… 

 

…Fascinating. 

 

Larch wants to touch them, and the feeling takes her off guard, making her stomach lurch. But she can’t bring herself to look away, either. His shirt hangs in tatters around him, and he is… built, in the way that a fine warrior would be, the planes of him rather chiseled and remarkably interesting in how the light plays on the red skin and the scars there. He is colored like the trees in October at the first chill of winter. 

 

She drags her eyes from him, stands, and turns to go gather firewood so no one will witness her ears slowly going red. 

 

Unfortunately, she finds herself considering him in that context far too often afterwards. He honestly doesn’t help. He’s completely unaware (thank the spirits and all her ancestors) and utterly unselfconscious- this has given rise to certain incidents that engrave themselves in her mind. The Wings, for example, are joined shortly by the memory of him, shirtless and sweating under the tutelage of the Oread. Glaz is much the same, the two talking idly in a brief break between sets of some kind of exercise. She’d turned around and left then, too, before she could torture herself any further or they could notice. Other smaller moments slowly worm their way into her heart- split second glimpses of the man beneath the mask as he laughed with Glaz, sparred with Bolke, shared a meal sitting next to Mallory, and rolled his eyes at Miri’s latest play.

 

As he told them of his past, and the hate she knew so well from the mirror was reflected in his eyes toward Urvine. 

 

But then, the riverbank happened. The smell of reeds heavy with pollen at spring, the sparkle of sun off blue water, the cool sandy river mud between her toes… she took off her other layers, trying to fit in with the rest, though she wasn’t going to go quite as far. Her green tunic was shortsleeved, ending a little less than halfway between knees and hips. She’s curvy- more so than when she started, and the weight looks good on her, like maybe it was missing before. Now it’s… more natural, less sharp. Her green eyes are bright in the afternoon sun, and Larch pushed a blonde braid behind one ear; similar streaks of color marked her otherwise brown hair and the little vines and things that grew in it. 

 

Whatever madness possessed her, she doesn’t know. But after a cautious month of actively working to be a normal goddamn human being in his presence, spurred on by the humiliation of his assumptions, her facade of calm shattered when he casually stripped almost completely nude but for his skivvies. She almost didn’t notice him handing her his belt until it was under her nose. 

 

Then he waded into the water. 

 

His musculature is on full, entire display, close enough for details minus the mask and his practical underwear. Water sluiced down the planes and angles (and scars) of him as he ducked under and came up, dripping, pushing black hair out of his face with one hand. His wings shook themselves off, and the sunlight on his wet skin emphasized the almost jewel-like crimson tones. The only small mercy was that the water covered his lower portions, and so she was not subjected to any… outlines it may have given to the cloth covering his modesty. 

 

Heat crawled from her toes to the tips of her ears, and she turned to exit the river and also put herself away from the others. She could not have them see this, not when her own traitor heart hammers unevenly at the sight of him. 

 

Not to mention the rest. How they shared a brief look with each other in the Ravidras house, each knowing the other would do what was necessary to protect Mallory.  And yet…. It’s a pipe dream at best. She knows that. Larch can’t not know that. She remembers him, covered in blood, the patient on the table, her own reaction: the roar of her ears and the churn of her stomach and how she had dropped the cup in shock and horror. The nightmares after. He’s an alchemist, with all the memories that entails, and even if he wasn’t, he may have his own hang ups regarding physical relations, let alone his emotional difficulties. He was capable of affection, but love? 

 

Unlikely. His confession, as clinical and calm as if he was describing the weather instead of atrocities, lingered in her mind. He was a monster by his own admission. He would likely be the first to say so.  Even if he was capable of emotions deeper than the friendship he shared with most of the group, it probably wouldn’t be for her. He thought she was racist and oh, she had wanted to die on the spot when he told her that, trying to spin it into some kind of compliment about how hard she was trying. 

 

She had to overcome her own difficulties, though she had undoubtedly improved. Larch still had nightmares, and she was self aware enough to know that as long as she remained in conflict, any relationship was a bad idea. Even if she could get to where the guilt of thinking of him in that context (she must be a monster, to be harboring these kinds of thoughts about a fucking alchemist given what one had done to her and her people, and what he had done to the poor souls that passed through the Shop) he may not welcome such advances…. His own origins implied as twisted a birth as her imagination could come up with, after all, and a hellish childhood bereft of anything resembling love or care. And she was not like Mallory, generally liked and pretty and… well. Lovable. Larch knew she was sharp, sometimes unsociable, bluntly spoken, and occasionally even arrogant. The idea of any relationship beyond cautious colleagues was probably impossible. She would not burden him with her feelings when they were so jumbled and his were rather clear. 

 

So giving him the necklace was, naturally, madness. Absolutely crazy. She doesn’t know what possessed her.

 

…That was a lie. She knew exactly what possessed her.

 

Larch was a Kellid, even here, even now, even separated as she was from what remained of the Wolves of the Northern Pines. She remembered the traditions of her people, honored them where she could. Like many Kellids, she respected strength and competence. Her homeland was harsh; those qualities gave strength to the tribe, protected the weak, and helped them survive against the monsters and machines of Numeria. The Doctor even danced the line of ruthless sometimes, and that too she respected, for some things had to be fought without yielding or mercy to keep the tribe safe. But he was also intelligent, so very, very smart- he could keep up with her, she knew, if she ever needed help. He was possibly smarter than she was, though she would admit that to no one but herself.  And he of all people understood the importance of the work. For him, it was his alchemy, and for her it was her plants. He would never belittle that, not like others might. He might help, if she was ever able to let him. And while he was guilty of the sins he committed (and didn’t seem sorry, to such an extent that she wondered if he was capable of being so) he also had his hospital: pro bono, one hundred percent, and his own admission that he wanted to -even liked- helping people; that he did not enjoy causing pain, like his Boss. She wasn’t so naive as to think the hospital was entirely unselfish, given his inclination to study anatomy… but. 

 

Still. It bore mentioning. A kernel of him that hinted at possibilities. 

 

And… Larch remembered his offer of mercy to the dying hobgoblin, instead of a cruel and dishonorable death. It was exactly what she had planned to do. He just beat her to it. But he also understood doing what it took to protect the ones you cared about. That too was important to her. 

 

Strong. Smart. Physically… intriguing. He’d be a fitting mate for a tribe’s shaman, if either of them would be capable of such emotional connection. 

 

Granted, some of his physicality was… different. A little scary, even. Larch didn’t know how the mouth would work for anything like kissing, given that maw of needle teeth and that Dwayne was a part of him and what have you. And while it wasn’t the norm… it wasn’t unsightly. Not really. It was simply… The Doctor. Neither positive or negative. He was who he was, and the circumstances of his birth were not his fault. Interracial couples with greater difficulties existed. When he used his more monstrous form, that was a bit of a stretch, but even so… 

 

…He wasn’t unsightly. It would be easier if he was. 

 

She had wondered before about how he might receive a courting gift, were she so inclined. When she caught herself thinking about it, Larch threw herself into her work until she was so tired she kept dropping her pestle, but the idea remained despite her efforts. He wouldn’t be impressed with hunting a great beast, or a wrought golden torque, or anything typical. She tried to squash the idea.

 

And then she stepped on something at the edge of the riverbank. 

 

It was an amulet. Familiar? She picked it up, rinsed the grit off in the river’s playful current. Yes. Familiar. But the aura was stronger- it almost tingled her skin as she held it in her palm. Though similar, it  was not the same as what he wore. It was more ornate, and much much older, weathered from time and the river, but entirely undiminished in usefulness. In fact- 

 

Her body moved before her mind. 

 

It wasn’t a lie, what she told him, as he came striding out of the river. He was the most efficient use of such an object, if it was what she thought it was, and his shocked expression was something she savored. It made her feel… good, to surprise him in such a way, though the words snarled themselves into awkwardness as they came out. 

 

She left before his incredible chest could do anything else to her already fragile heart. 

 

This was stupid. This was insanity. Nothing good would come of it. She needed to stop hoping and stop caring and above all, she needed to never do what she just did again. It was selfish, for he didn’t know the meaning and surely did not intend it how she might, and moronic above that, because she knew how many obstacles stood in the way. 

 

Larch returned to her clothes, dressing. With each article she tried to gird her heart. 

 

Flower watched her, all too knowing. 

 

“Sprout-“ 

 

“Later. Please,” she said, in Kellid, utterly exhausted for some reason. “Just… later, Flower.” 

 

Later she would deal with it. For now, she needed to get her fool head on straight.

 

 

 

Naturally, that doesn’t happen. 

 

The aboleth writhes in the iron grip of thorny wrath, Larch battered and bleeding herself. Savage triumph surged through her as the spirits heeding her call took revenge on the creature that ruined thier home. The taste of her own blood and the muddy filthy water was on her tongue, and triumph was singing in her with the magic. She could feel the team rally behind her, the shock at Glaz’s domination and her own subsequent recklessness wearing off. 

 

Larch, duck!” Said a voice behind her, familiar and so sweet to hear. She did, of course. That was the Doctor, moving at her back, and he threw something that exploded into green alchemical flame and tangling black pitch. It covered the aboleth and exploded- and exploded a second time in contact with the water.

 

Doctor, you are a delight as always! 

 

She opened her mouth to say something along the line of We make a good team! Or something else about the two of them and thier effectiveness when thier talents overlap. But what comes out snarls itself in her throat, and she laughs instead. “Oh well done, Doctor!” 

 

It’s… it’s  too soon for any implications. He probably doesn’t even like her, not like he enjoys the company of Glaz or Mallory. A compliment would acknowledge his skills though, would show him she noticed. That she cared? Something like that. It all flickered across her mind and then was gone, for the battle wasn’t over, and she had to focus. 

 

Maybe someday. 

 

Maybe.




Heibarr. Which should be a safer place, with less derringdo that inevitably resulted in the Doctor doing incredibly attractive things like killing a t-Rex single handedly, but such was Larch’s life that it was not to be. 

 

Instead, when she could be finishing the last of the book Shantor lent her, she was confronted with the obscenely delicious imagery of shirtless Doctor (and Glaz, who, while not unattractive in and of himself, was likely dragon-sexual only and becoming something like a brother or best friend) drenched in sweat and the rising sun’s golden light. It was a clear cool spring morning, with the sun throwing shades of buttercream and peach and rose across the sky along with angelic rays of light. The clouds were lined in pale silver; the sky was blue. His skin under all of this was that same intriguing shade of ruby red, bright as arterial blood spray, with droplets of exertion running down the angles of his biceps and his abs as they slowed and Glaz waved. 

 

Larch felt her face catch fire. 

 

She inhaled deeply, mastering herself; rubbed her eyes; pushed her glasses up her nose; then turned on her heel and walked straight back into her house. 

 

Nope.

 

Nope. 

 

Can’t deal with it. Not today. She had a book to finish.

 

She missed Bolke, her smaller legs working overtime and her axe raised to hit the thirty fourth log Larch had stood upright for her training circuit, streak past the boys with an “On yer left, laddies!” And a curdling warcry. This was answered by Glaz’s noise of dismay at being overtaken, and he and Doc picked up speed .





And as he walked away from her, carrying the carefully potted suture vine under one arm, she wondered if he would use it. He hadn’t been suspicious, at least, not outwardly; his emotions were hard to read beneath the mask. Maybe he was faking. Maybe he would put it in a window and forget to water it and it would die. 

 

Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe the next time he was driven by that peculiar combination of madness and brilliance which drove him to take the knife to his flesh, he would use it after. The vine had a sharp end, an inch of it pointed and edged like razorgrass, and a rooted one. It would free itself of the soil, wiggling into his flesh, seeking the edges of whatever incision he may make. There it would weave its way- through red cutaneous and redder subcutaneous, leading with the sharper flatter end, stitching him shut even if his hands were tired or slick with his own fluids or otherwise occupied, or if the wound was of unusual size, shape, or positioning. The roots would splay flat, gripping slightly, anchoring the one end, and the other would loop on itself neatly. The vine absorbed nutrients through blood, but it did not seek to kill its host- no host meant no blood, and it would drop off once stated, leaving the flesh knit together and healing behind it. It could even be reused, and secreted a slight antibacterial sticky sap behind it that acted as a sort of glue for the wound when it left. Something like that was… intimate, more intimate than she had dared before. After all, he’d be vulnerable post-op, even if he was used to the effects of self-surgery. 

 

….Regardless. I…. Do not think I am at a place where I can assist him in any sort of operation. But I do not wish for him to hurt, even if he is driven to hurt himself in pursuit of his craft. This… this I can do for him. So I will. 

 

It was probably pointless. He probably wouldn’t use it anyways. 

 

Don’t get your hopes up, Larch. You have a long way to go for yourself, let alone anything on HIS end, before you are in a place to do anything about your stupid, errant heart. Remember, HE thinks the quickest way to the heart is several inches of steel up and through the ribcage, and YOU have nightmares where he is standing at the Master’s dissection table.

 

She made herself turn and walk away as well. 




Pretend to be prisoners. Tie us together- 

 

Her ears roared. 

 

The slaves in Rookwarden already had her… on edge. Now- 

 

Stop. Control. It’s only rope. It’s just your wrists-

 

-the chafing. Raw skin scraping rough hemp wet with her own blood. She can’t reach the knots and can’t get away and-

 

-No. No. No no no no, control, I am in control-

 

She wasn’t. Her heart hammered in her chest, mouse-quick and terrified. Her brain froze. The others tied themselves together, making a joke or two about it. Miri reached her with the rope. 

 

“…I can’t,” she felt herself say. It was distant. Shaky. “I- I can’t.” 

 

“Can’t… what?” 

 

She felt the eyes of her party on her. She wanted to die. She wanted to disappear. She wanted to be anywhere but fucking here– 

 

“I cannot- do not wish to be restrained in any way, shape, or form,” she blurted. The shame was all consuming. Surely they thought her weak- and her weakness was endangering the plan. She needed to snap out of it. But her words snarled in her throat, a cold fist jammed under her sternum. 

 

….But they did not condemn her. Mallory offered a suggestion, Miri started rummaging through her bag for alternatives, and The Doctor merely watched, inscrutable, from behind his mask. 

 

Then, he said, slowly and very carefully: “You don’t have to be restrained. I can pretend to take your wrist- that you’ve been a rebellious slave, and I have to deal with you personally.”

 

If you trust me to do so  hung in the air between them, vibrating like piano wire. 

 

A hard hand, vice-like grip, the immense strength of a grownup to a child, overpowering; blunt heavy fingers in a meaty fist- 

 

She wrenched herself back to the present, blinking rapidly. Her throat worked; her fists clenched hard enough for her nails to cut into her palms. 

 

I bear you no enemity, Larch,” he said- gently, for all the monotone the mask gave him. 

 

One wrist. 

 

Just one. She could still cast. She could still defend herself. Flower bumped against her shins. 

 

“You don’t have to,” she said to Larch through their connection. It brought clarity she clung to. “They will find another way.” 

 

And if it fails? If we fail because of my weakness? If I dishonor those who gave me my secondname through my cowardice? 

 

I… told him I trusted him. I do. I can’t not trust his hate. And I think I trust the rest of him, or close enough. I do not think he will hurt me. Not really. 

 

All I have to do is let him hold me. I have survived far greater than this. 

 

“…No,” she said, to Flower and out loud. It fell into the world like a pebble in a pond, sending ripples. Her throat works, dry as paper, before she can continue. Larch looks at no one, no one at all, force of will making her chest move, concentrating on the feeling of the air in her lungs as she speaks. “It- anything less would look… strange. I do not wish to undermine our deception. We will- we will go with the Doctor’s idea. At least I have experience in that,” she said, that last line shaky, much fainter and farther away than she meant it to be. 

 

And if I break… at least it will be in character. 

 

There’s no telling what he thinks of this, with the mask. Terror and a fresh wave of shame comes, leaving her ghostly pale. Both hands, scarred and tattooed, tremble minutely. They’re ice cold and clammy as he simply nods and reaches for her. 

 

She doesn’t flinch. It’s a small thing, the one victory. His hand doesn’t match the illusion he’s wearing currently- it’s bigger, much bigger. Her thin wrist would be easy to snap in that lethal grip, like breaking a toothpick. 

 

But he only closes his hand around it. The illusion does most of the work; his grip is only as firm as the deception requires. He’s warm, shockingly so (or maybe she was cold?) and his hands are callused by his work. She can feel wrinkles and scars and the solid lethal weight of those ripping claws, the size of his palm, the fingers that remained monstrously long but almost incongruously nimble. 

 

It was a different hand. 

 

There was no mistaking the feel of his almost elegant hand for the thing of her nightmares, just as there was no mistaking his face for the Master’s, and she clung to that as they marched into the room bold as brass. Memory made her eyes water, the panic ramping up six notches immediately. She actually makes a small noise, like a frightened animal, and stumbles, and none of that is faked at all. 

 

“You’re going to learn, girl, if I have to carve the words into your back with my whip. Dogs. Don’t. Look. At. Masters.” 

 

Larch clenched her jaw hard enough to make her teeth creak, eyes watering. The memories threatened to take her waking moments now, superimposed on the Doctor’s disguise. The urge to rip free and run, run, run far away and keep running until not even the gods themselves could find her or catch her was almost overpowering. 

 

No. No no no no no, no, it’s not them it’s not them it’s not them, feel him, the hand is wrong it’s not them, she repeated to herself, as someone said something in the goblin tongue. She felt dizzy, cold, distant, untethered. Larch clung to the present by sheer grit and fingernails. 

 

The warm hand tugged ever so gently, and she stumbled forward. They were moving. 

 

Almost. Almost. 

 

Feel the hand, feel the scars, it’s him, it’s the Doctor, not the Master. Feel the hand feel the hand feel the hand… 

 

Door. 

 

Hallway. 

 

Door closed. 

 

Doc released her immediately once they were out of sight. Larch sagged against the wall as her knees gave out. Flower ran to her, soft and familiar and purring so loudly she half worried the enemy might hear. 

 

Every muscle was tense and trembling, like she’d run a thousand miles. The shakes took her, and she let them, unable to find the strength to fight them off anymore, bringing the cold with them. She tried to focus on breathing instead, deep and ragged. Center.

Present. You’re here in your body. Feel your heart, your lungs. 

 

I’m so cold. 

 

She wished she had the Doctor’s warm hands again, briefly and so intensely she almost laughed at her own idiocy. 

 

…I believe I may be a bit shocky. 

 

That had Flower pulling a vial out of her kit and bringing it over. It was an oil, smelling very strangely of mint, eucalyptus, rosemary, and tea tree- so very strongly in fact that a whiff of it was enough to make Larch shiver spasmodically. The distant feeling faded some as her sinuses burned. 

 

Need to get up. We still have a fight to win, and a debt of honor to pay. Fei Long is waiting. 

 

Inhale. Exhale. She took out her shawl -packed away more often than not these days since it was warmer- and put it on. The rabbit fur was soft and warm, and she felt the pieces of her falling back into place as she did. 

 

He was warmer, though. 

 

The feeling of his skin on hers stayed with her, grounding her, the entire time they were at Rookwarden. 




“Friends don’t keep favors,” he said casually, face inscrutable as always due to that damn mask, and proceeded to knock the wind right out of her. “Mallory told me this. Took a while to learn though.” 

 

He thought they were… friends. 

 

Hope planted painful roots into her heart and squeezed at random all throughout the next week. It came back to her suddenly, without warning, throwing her off her careful measurements as she made tinctures, making her stumble midstep on the way to their fledgling library. 

 

This is growing increasingly untenable, she thought to herself one night. They were sailing on the river, the sounds of the boat and the water and the night covering her like a weighted blanket. Larch was not a water person, but she was used to the boat now, thanks to Miri. Above her the stars lay scattered across the heavens, distant and brilliant and full of promise. 

 

If we are friends… it may not be impossible. And that is, as I told Mallory, the most terrible of hopes. I showed him my research, my plans for the tree- my arm. I cannot believe I showed him my arm. I can’t believe what he said after: that he… might can fix it. Or help it at least. Pain doesn’t scare me. But the idea of him, and me, and… his hands on me-… 

 

I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what would be more embarrassing: if I cannot abide his touch, or if I can. 

 

She inhaled, exhaled, let the damp cool air of a spring night fill her lungs. 

 

There were two choices here, before her. Neither was easy. But one was definitely safer and smarter than the other. The second risked…. Well. 

 

Everything. 

 

If I am wrong… can I live with it? I cannot stand on the fence anymore. I am not… well, sometimes, but this is growing entirely out of control. 

 

I was so happy when he said we were friends. 

 

And yet- he is what he is. How can I feel this way about such a man? This twisted guilt was an old friend- but she found herself less sorry than before. Instead she remembered the shift in his shoulders, almost earnest but for the monotone, as he made the offer to help her regain the use of her crippled arm. She ought to be appalled at herself. Instead, she found she was tired of fighting how she felt.

 

He was not the Master. He was their Doctor. And while she struggled… it was less than before. 

 

Hope.

 

Larch counted stars, like she had when she was a child, and for the first time let herself consider it. 




The library of Absolom was a bastion of knowledge the likes of which she had never seen before. If there was any book that could help her, surely, surely it would be here. 

 

She spent half her time “reading” actually staring at the pages and working up the courage to ask the question. It wasn’t hard to let Glaz pull ahead as they exited. It was harder to pause by the desk and ask, red in the ears, if they had a book on… relationship advice.

 

It was covered in plain brown leather. She took it before she could chicken out and bolted for the exit so Glaz wouldn’t notice her absence. 

 

The Doctor told her they were friends. If nothing else, this book would further solidify that friendship. And… 

 

….Maybe, friends aside, he wasn’t capable of love. And Larch knew she wasn’t exactly lovable. 

 

But would she ever know if she didn’t try? 

 

No. And of course, as with all questions, Larch knew she could not stand to let the answer lie instead of knowing, one way or another. If all they were was friends, that was a good and worthy thing to be, and she would defend both it and him with all she had. 

 

But. 

 

Hope. 

 

I used to think anger was the most dangerous emotion. I was mistaken. Here I am, thinking of risking everything. 

 

It is, without a doubt, hope. 

 

Larch walked out of the library and buried the book in the bottom of her bag for later. 



 

Oh. When you love it. 

-Caitlyn Seihl

Author Cael
Published
Game: Pathfinder
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