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19 March 2019 @ 12:34 pm
[Fic] "What Wind Is to Fire" -- Chronicles of Narnia  
[personal profile] alexseanchai said: Narnia, noble gases, some combination of Susan, Lucy, Aravis, and Lasaraleen. Depending on which combination, the scenario could just be getting them in contact or in the same physical location. (1,375 words)

I went fairly AU on this one, because of reasons. :)

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What Wind Is to Fire
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"Excuse me, Dr. Tarakhiana?" said an unfamiliar female voice as Lasaraleen extricated herself from a conversation on gaseous fractional distillation methods that had spilled from the presentation room into the hotel lobby, and prepared to return to the tiny room she was sharing with her so-called assistant for an hour of breathing space before her own research group's presentation.

Lasaraleen held up her free hand in a silent plea for time, swallowed, and lowered her paper cup of too-weak coffee. "Yes, that's me. I'm sorry, your name escapes me."

The other woman -- tall, pale, long black hair done up in a net of intertwined braids that managed to look effortlessly gorgeous despite how long Lasaraleen could tell it must have taken to put in -- smiled. "Susan Pevensie, of Cair Paravel Technical Institute. I hear we have a friend in common."

Only years of practice allowed Lasaraleen to keep her expression cheerful and her posture relaxed, even as her heart pounded in a mix of fear and emotions she refused to name. "Oh! Isn't that just delightful! How is Aravis these days? You must tell me -- it's so difficult to get any sort of personal news when one isn't working just down the hall in the same laboratory."

Dr. Pevensie nodded. "I know exactly what you mean. I sometimes feel I wouldn't see my own sister more than once or twice a year if she weren't attached to the Cair's research hospital." She gestured with her own paper cup, setting the little paper tab of her tea bag swinging. "But I'm sure you have places to be and I don't want to keep you. Perhaps we can talk some time when neither of us is so tightly scheduled. My card."

She pressed a small piece of paper into Lasaraleen's palm.

It was the right visual size and shape for a business card, but far too thick: one or more larger papers folded up small. Lasaraleen tucked it into her purse without commenting on the oddity.

"I don't know if I'll have any free time for the rest of this conference," she said, falsely bright, "but I'll certainly make a point of writing. Or at least I'll try! I'm sure Aravis can tell you all kinds of horror stories about how scattered I can get when it comes to everyday bits of logistics. And international mail does get rather chancy on occasion."

Dr. Pevensie laughed. "As the person generally responsible for managing everyday logistics among my own research team, let me assure you that I've both heard and handled worse. Speaking of which, I should probably go wrangle some of them off to their next sessions, and leave you to your own plans in peace, Dr. Tarakhiana."

"Oh, do call me Lasaraleen! After all, we have a... friend in common."

"Lasaraleen, then," Dr. Pevensie said as she pressed the elevator button. "And you must call me Susan."

"Of course," Lasaraleen said. "Best of luck in your wrangling, Susan, and may your tea never be too bitter or too cold."

"That would be a true miracle," said Susan Pevensie, and stepped aside to allow Lasaraleen to enter the elevator.

Lasaraleen didn't take the folded papers out of her purse then, nor in her hotel room. (She might not have seen her assistant setting up cameras and recording devices, but that meant very little. It was better to err on the side of caution.) Instead she gave her paper, danced lightly through the question-and-answer period, and attended a highly interesting panel on recent advances in applied uses of superconductivity. She went to dinner with her research group and their various assistants, and spun new conversational topics every time an awkward silence reared its head. She accepted two complimentary drinks from a very drunk and persistent professor from Terebinthia and tactfully fobbed him off on hotel staff to be poured into his own bed where he'd hopefully wake up with both a massive hangover and a refreshed sense of shame.

Finally she felt secure enough to excuse herself for "deep thoughts, darlings, you know how it is!" and wave off her assistant's offer of company with a laughing promise not to leave the hotel. She took a glass of indifferent white wine out to the central courtyard and spread both the typed copy of her paper and the several sheets of shorthand notes she'd made about the more intelligent questions raised by audience members before her on the little glass patio table. The strings of fairy-lights woven through the trees weren't quite bright enough for comfortable reading, but she had a pocket flashlight to aid her and long-established preference for working outdoors, so nobody should question her.

She unfolded the papers Susan Pevensie had passed her, and took a swallow of wine in a futile attempt at emotional preparation.

My dearest Lasaraleen, Aravis had written.

Lasaraleen closed her eyes and pressed her hands flat against the creased pages. Dearest! Still! One night of desperate words, two years of nothing, and still, that old word.

Something ached behind her eyes and writhed nebulously through her chest. Lasaraleen took a deep breath, pulled out a pen to further the illusion of work and unconcern. Then she continued reading.

My dearest Lasaraleen,

I am sorry for not writing sooner. I know the censors would never have allowed anything of worth to reach you through normal channels, and so I never tried to send even anything light and empty. That felt to me as though it would have been a lie, and thus worse than silence. It has been made clear to me that this was cruel.

I am beyond grateful that the reflected suspicion of my flight has finally faded and you were allowed to attend an international conference at which one of my new colleagues was also in attendance. Please know that to me you are still the sun in the sky and the breath in my lungs, and I regret every drop of woe I have brought upon you. If I could have stayed in Calormen without losing myself, I would have. You are what kept me true enough to myself to know that I had to leave.

Saying that is probably also cruel. I am sorry for that. It remains true.

If you wish to defect, I will do all I can to help you. If you wish to remain, I hope you will nonetheless forgive me enough to allow communication. Without you, I feel like an atom of some noble gas, perpetually doomed to drift without bonds. You, O my dearest, are my oxygen, my fluorine, overcoming my resistance to bonds and connecting me to the world. Oh, I have my colleagues here in the North, and my fellow refugees -- do you remember Cor Fitzroy and Hwin Conseil, who worked for a time on the cleaning staff at the Mezreel laboratory? -- but the Calormen they knew or imagine is not the same as the face you and I grew up with, however false it has proven.

Someday the Tisroc will die, and while there is no guarantee that General Rabadash will be any better a man, transitions are always periods of chaos. There may then be a small time and place to insert a lever into the wheels of power and push for change. I am pushing in Archenland and Narnia, as are others who either love Calormen as it could be or who abhor the cruelty and waste that trail in the wake of hostilities between nations and believe that an outstretched hand is a stronger inducement to reform than a closed fist.

But all that is gilt and glitter over the steel of my sorrow and my longing to once more hear your voice and feel your arms around me as I embrace you in turn. O my dearest, you are as clear water in the desert and I would drink you dry.

Yours, if you wish it,
Aravis Khereena


In a hotel in a foreign land, under the scrutiny of spies, wreathed by the shifting shadows of fairy lights that danced as wind rustled through the trees, Lasaraleen pressed the heels of her palms to her closed eyes and swallowed against the burning pain of joy.

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End of Story

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I ended up splitting the difference between letters and an actual scene-with-dialogue. *wry*

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