We didn’t speak for a full week after that. At first I was annoyed that he was going to make me come to him to apologize; even if I knew he was sensitive about losing people, I wasn’t the one who had done anything wrong. By the time he and I met up on a mission together, though, my anger had faded.
I was trying to get out more, not because of what Naheal had said, but because I was going to eventually anyway, and he and I ended up on the same team clearing the Blackrock Foundry. We didn’t speak, but we worked smoothly together as a team. In the end, after the mission was finished and the rest of the team had departed, we did speak briefly, and he agreed to come by the garrison.
Once more in my office, I set aside my armaments and started to rummage up some drinks, then noticed the fresh burns up his arms, going under his tabard. They were red and looked painful. “Gods, Naheal,” I said.
He glanced down. “Consequences of using holy weapons when you’re dead,” he said.
I reached for the first aid kit instead. “Come here,” I said.
“Come now, they barely hurt,” he said.
“I can’t look at them without cringing,” I said.
“Then I’ll go put something over them,” he said. I gave him a look. “I’m fine, Jules, really,” he told me, but his tone was flat, like it was whenever he threw himself at his work to avoid thinking about anything.
I sighed and set the first aid kit down. “Okay.”
“So what’s wrong?” he asked.
“I hate it when we fight,” I said, turning to him. He across the table from me, keeping a barrier between us. “You always act like that’s the end, forever. Of everything we…” I gestured helplessly with my lack of words.
“…I didn’t build this, Jules,” he said after a moment.
“Build what?” I said, nonplussed.
“Any of this.” His gaze moved around my office. “Sanctuary’s your group.” He let out a breath. “And it’s not a place I belong in anymore.”
I laid my hand on the table and looked down at it, trying to master the words I wanted to say. I didn’t want to screw this up. “I wasn’t… I’m not asking you to,” I said.
He looked up at me. “I just keep pushing people away, don’t I?” he said presently.
I thought of Kex’ti, and how he thought I didn’t trust him. For once, the words came out like they were supposed to. “We’re a great pair, then, because I don’t know how to let anyone close, apparently.”
Naheal gave me a grim smile, and I smiled back, wryly.
“Can I say something?” I asked. “Assuming the words come out.”
“Sure,” he said.
“I want you – to be my friend,” I said slowly. “Not to be my mentor, or follower, or cheerleader, or taskmaster. I appreciate that you care about me, and want to help me. But I’m going to always follow my own path. My heart. Even if I make mistakes sometimes, I want to make my own choices. You have to respect that.”
Naheal gazed at me with a frown. “Seems like I’ve… gone against one of my core beliefs if that’s what I’ve been doing.”
I nodded a little, not meaning to agree with him per se, but acknowledging his words. His acknowledgment.
“I don’t believe in justice like you do, Jules. I don’t have that kind of faith. Freedom is the ideal that I hold close to my heart. I’m sorry I've been imposing my will on you. That was never my intention.”
I nodded again, losing some of the tension I’d been holding. It was good to hear him apologize.
“But I’m a terrible person to have as a friend,” he said quietly. “Most of the people that have been my friends have been hurt… or killed.”
“I apparently can get killed regardless of your – help,” I said. It wasn’t the best response, but I didn’t know how to deflect his self-reprobation.
He looked away. “She left, Jules.”
“Brey. Our relationship is done. She’s still in Borrowed Time, but…”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
I’d rarely seen them together, but she’d seemed to make him happy, and he her. He put his hand on the table as well. He was shaking. I moved closer and put my hand on his arm.
“Naheal…” I said.
He looked down at my hand, then up to me. “Xara’s captured. Half my company’s being mind-controlled by a psycho, and the woman I love…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
I was acutely aware that I still had Kex’ti in this trying time for me. Naheal had lost the support of the person he cared about. “I’m sorry,” I said again, and put my other hand over his on the table.
“I can’t protect anyone, it seems,” he said.
“We all do the best we can,” I said.
“Doesn’t seem like enough most days.”
I was quiet for a moment, mulling that over. That there was always more to be done was a fact I was well-acquainted with as the leader of Sanctuary. “No, it doesn’t, does it,” I said.
He spoke, almost as though talking to himself. “It’s not hard to see where the Grim’s coming from some days. If there are no enemies left to fight, who do we need to protect our people from? They’re too extreme, but I see the perspective.” I sighed, and he looked at me, realizing I wasn’t interested in hearing these thoughts. “Sorry,” he said.
I waited for a few moments, then moved away from him. “No, it’s fine.” I picked up a decanter and two glasses. It seemed like we could both use the drink.
“Sometimes… I think that neither side wants peace, you know?” he said. “Like they’ve been fighting each other for so many years that the idea of not fighting is foreign…”
I grasped that he spoke of the Horde and Alliance and not Grim and Sanctuary. I handed him the drink and listened.
“You know what I’ve always wanted?” he said. He paused. “Something I’ll never really have now, I guess. A family of my own. Borrowed Time’s like my family, but… it doesn’t quite feel right.”
“It’s not really the time or world for children, now,” I said.
He looked down at his hands. “Wouldn’t matter if it was,” he said.
I winced and bit my tongue. It was hard to remember, sometimes, that Naheal was forever separated from the world of the living. He would never father children. “Sorry,” I said. “I always forget…”
He shook his head. “I’ve accepted what I am. It’s hard, but…”
I moved over and put my hand on his arm again, setting down my drink. “Don’t ever say goodbye to me again,” I said quietly.
He looked at me.
“Ever,” I said.
“I thought… you didn’t want to see me again, either,” he said.
I spoke in a low, emphatic voice, holding his gaze. “That will never be the case. There might be times I can’t stand you, but I’ll never want you gone forever.”
He trembled, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t know how to respond. I remembered when I’d told him I respected him, and how he’d had much the same reaction then. Deep down, I knew the things Naheal feared the most.
“I lost you once, so I know for sure I don’t want that again. Okay?” I said to him.
He moved past me. “I… think I need to sit down. Mind if I borrow your chair?”