She woke to him dressing, his movements listless, automatic, his gaze fixed on the floor, desolation emanating from him. She regarded him, her heart aching at the dark hollows encircling his eyes, the tautness of his jaw, the bleakness of his expression. He fastened the ties of his collar, turning to look at her, empty, defeated.
She sat up. He went to her and bent to kiss the top of her head, perfunctory. She caught his hand and brought it to her lips, drinking in the scent of him, almost forgotten, and looked up at him, savouring the sight of him, alive, safe, hers.
‘Last night,’ he said, tight, ‘you arrived in the library, three days after Idira was lost to me. I take it this means her soul has now been subsumed into the Nether.’
‘No,’ Idira answered, soft, watching him. ‘I am here. With you.’
He blinked. ‘I don't underst—Hold on. You can speak? Last night you couldn't.’ He caught his breath. ‘Your eyes. They're blue.’ He touched her jaw, tentative. ‘They were violet when I fell asleep, I am sure of it.’ Silence fell as he considered her, looking her over, turning her face from side to side, examining her, working out the possibilities, the reasons why.
She couldn't bear it, to see his hopes flicker, brief, only to be stamped out by him, hostile, ruthless. ‘My love,’ she said, touching her fingers to his. ‘Azeroth has given me a second chance. I returned while you were sleeping.’
Hope flared anew in his eyes, bright, lighting up his face. The light dwindled, suppressed once more. ‘No,’ he said, harsh. ‘I know enough of the mechanics of echoes to know that even for Azeroth there must be another, a soul extinguished so a new one can be brought to life. Azeroth would have needed a volunteer. No one would make such a sacrifice.’
‘One did,’ Idira whispered, tears pricking her eyes as she recalled Unambi's final words. ‘My protector, Unambi. When he fell in Westfall, Azeroth offered him the chance to wait, held by her Light so I could return. To you.’
Khadgar's fingers slipped from her face. He backed away, staring at her, expressionless. ‘But how can I be certain?’ he asked, anguished. ‘I want to believe you. Light! With all my heart I want to believe what you say is true, but it's so unlikely, so impossible. Outside of the font, nothing like this has ever happened before.’
‘I wrote you a letter,’ she answered, desperation clawing at her. After all she had suffered, to think she could still lose him, believing she was nothing more than her own echo. No. It was unbearable. ‘I left it under your pillow. The echo would not know of its existence, or what I wrote, since I wrote it after my echo was made.’
‘What letter?’ he asked, abrupt, moving to reach under the cushion. He rummaged, frantic. His hand came to a stop, he slid it out, holding her folded letter, still sealed with the infinity symbol. Breaking it open he read, his eyes moving over the page, quick, drinking in her words, his chest rising and falling, tears glinting hard in his eyes. He finished and looked back at her.
‘Tell me what it says,’ he said, ragged. ‘All of it.’
Keeping her eyes on his, willing him to believe her, she began: ‘My love,
Forgive me. I could not tell you the truth, could not risk you trying to stop me from doing what I must, what I was born to do. What is inevitable.
I go to my end burdened with terrible regrets, grieving the time we will never have, the life we can never live, and crippled by guilt for the pain I know my demise will cause you. All I can do is leave you my gift, the echo of the woman who loved you. I hope she will comfort you as much as your echo comforted me, though I admit, it is not the same, and can never be. I pray it will be enough.
I am so grateful to have loved you, even if only for such a brief time. Every touch, every kiss, every moment with you has been engraved on my heart, to sustain me throughout the eternities I will spend searching for you.
Wait for me. I will find you. I promise, I will love you again.
He stood completely still for several heartbeats, staring at her, indecisive. He lifted the letter, looking over it, reading it again, his brow furrowed. His gaze fell to the floor as he descended into his thoughts. He rubbed his jaw, the stubble rasping against his fingers, loud in the dense quiet. ‘And yet, I am still unconvinced,’ he murmured. He looked up at her, sharp, a glimmer of hope igniting, remaining, glowing. ‘When I kissed the echo last night, it felt different to how it felt to kiss Idira. Something was missing.’
She pushed herself from the bed. A tremor of weakness juddered through her, the forgotten heaviness of her existence still new to her. She swayed. Khadgar caught her elbow, and steadied her.
‘I was missing,’ she whispered, her heart pounding as he stepped closer, still holding her letter in his hand. He caught her chin and tilted her face up to his, his eyes moving over her, enigmatic, searching. He hesitated just for a heartbeat, then brushed his lips against hers. A jolt juddered through her, sizzling, urgent, awakening her. He pulled back, his eyes widening, incredulous, feeling it too.
‘No,’ he breathed, ‘it cannot be.’ He bent to kiss her again, longer this time, deeper. She sighed, returning his kiss. He pulled back, his breathing shallow. ‘And yet,’ he continued, ‘this—’ he kissed her again, hard, ‘—this I know, like I know my own heartbeat.’ A tear slipped free, tracking its way down his face as he regarded her. ‘Idira,’ he said, stifling a sob, ‘you have broken my heart.’ He slid his hand around her head, holding her still as he bent to kiss her again, harsh, rough, possessive. She answered him, clinging to him as he ravished her; as he cried out her name, still disbelieving; as he undressed himself, dropping his clothes into a heap; as he tore her nightdress away, worshipping her, running his hands over her, marvelling at Azeroth's miracle; as he lowered her onto the bed, his hands tangling in her hair, his mouth bruising hers, fierce, hungry, angry, punishing. His arms surrounded her as he entered her, reclaiming her, making her his, over and over again.
Idira woke to her hair being stroked from her face, a kiss, tender, against her brow.
‘Never leave me again,’ Khadgar murmured, ragged, against her hair. ‘You almost killed me. From now on I will be your protector, not the other way around.’
Idira turned in his arms, letting him kiss her, taking his time, lingering over her. ‘On one condition,’ she said when he finally drew back.
His eyebrow lifted, intrigued.
‘You will be the one to teach me how to use this new path of magic.’ She lifted her hands from under the blanket, the tips of her fingers lit with arcane runes.
‘By the Light,’ he breathed, sitting up, taking her hands in his, examining them. ‘These are powerful runes. Azeroth has granted you a wonderful gift. At least you won't be cold anymore.’ He glanced at her. His eyes widened.
‘What?’ she asked, suddenly self-conscious.
He conjured a mirror and handed it to her, smiling, the skin around his eyes crinkling, distracting her. She sat up and looked into the mirror. Her eyes glowed. A beautiful, brilliant shade of blue.
‘Not again,’ she sighed.
‘Yes again,’ Khadgar smiled, taking the mirror from her and collecting her in his arms, carrying her back down onto the bed, his mouth against her ear. ‘Now, let's make this room light up in blue, shall we?’