A/N: I changed the name of Niap to Nykeras and the name of Atra to Atraya.
Jerica woke feeling emotionally muted. The tumultuous emotions had settled, but they seemed to leave behind a void that Jerica didn't know how to fill. She wasn't happy, or sad, or worried, or even angry. She just was.
She pushed her blankets back and sat up, taking a few moments to orient herself. Her room was still a wreck, the debris of her tantrum littering the floor, and she was still wearing the thin, sleeveless undershirt without anything covering it.
Aerik had stayed with her a long while before he left her. He'd offered a few more encouraging words, but she hadn't had much to say in return, and eventually they fell into a comfortable silence. At some point -- it might have been an hour or three, she really couldn't tell -- he had convinced her to give sleeping another try, and sat with her until she drifted off again.
It was fully daylight now.
She looked down at her hand, grimacing as she tried to flex it. Her knuckles were still bloodied and now the bruise had spread almost to her wrist. She figured she should eventually wrap it. And yet, as she looked at it now, she could feel the pain -- but no other emotions to pair with it. No worry, no remorse -- just pain.
She got out of bed and slowly set to work on restoring her room to order. The fire poker was still lying where it'd landed after she bounced it off the wall. The shards of the pitcher were scattered about. The remnants of the table needed cleaned up.
Jerica started with the fire poker. She picked it up with her undamaged hand and walked it back to the fire place, setting it on the low-set hearth. She squatted by the broken pottery and raked up the bigger pieces into a pile, then picked up each piece individually and set it in the palm of her right hand, being careful not to move her fingers any more than she had to.
She stiffly walked across the room and tried the door. This time it swung open easily. Jerica hesitated a moment then strode outside, blinking in the bright sunlight, then looking both directions, suddenly unsure of what to do with the garbage in her hands. She edged forward to look over the cliff directly in front of her, then turned her hand and watched as the broken pottery free-fell through the air. They turned to dark flecks and disappeared before they reached the bottom, evidence of just how tall the cliff was.
Jerica took a deep breath. She let the breath out slowly and walked back into her room, grabbing a piece of the table and then bringing it back outside to hurdle over the side of the cliff. She made several trips back and forth between her room and the cliff, carrying only what she could with her undamaged hand, keeping her right hand tucked close to her chest.
She leaned against the doorframe and looked around her room, strangely exhausted by the minimal exertion. A few deep breaths later and she found her mind wandering back to her conversation with Aerik last night.
It was odd to hear someone say positive things about her. She'd been called fierce before, but it was always exclusively in relation to her fighting ability. But intelligent? Incredible potential? Clearly Aerik didn't know who she was. What she was. The only potential she had in life was to be her uncle's pawn -- a killer sent on whatever witch hunt struck his fancy.
Jerica pushed off the doorframe and slowly started up the incline that led to the training cave. She didn't have any idea what flavor of Aerik she was going to be met with today -- the fatherly figure who would stay up half the night to comfort her, or the harsh dragon keeper that lacked all traces of humanity. She also didn't have any idea what she planned to say to him.
There wasn't much from the past twenty-four hours that she wanted to think about, much less talk about. The rape, the murders, her recapture and fight with Aerik, her temper tantrum and then meltdown -- those certainly weren't events she would count among her finer moments. And yet, she couldn't very well expect Aerik to be satisfied with small talk after all that had happened.
She strode forward until she could see clearly into the cave, but lingered next to the wall. Aerik was standing at the table next to the wall, cleaning the weapons they'd used in the rescue the previous day. He ran his rag along the length of the sword several times and then inspected blade and replaced it on its place on the wall. He turned around and his eyes instantly landed on her.
He looked at her for a moment, then turned back to the table and began cleaning one of the daggers.
Jerica bit her lip. That was as much of an invitation as she was going to get, it seemed. And yet as awkward as she felt, it was nearly guaranteed that choosing not to enter the cave was going to be worse, now that he'd already seen her. She steeled her will and strode down the steps and across the short distance that separated them.
Aerik finished cleaning the dagger and placed back in its place on the wall, then threw the rag on the table and turned to face her fully. She crossed her arms over her abdomen protectively but forced herself to maintain his unreadable gaze.
"How are you feeling?"
Jerica hesitated a moment. That was even more of a loaded question than usual. The hollowness that filled her chest when she woke was still predominant, crowding out any other emotion that might want to creep in. "I'm not."
Aerik regarded her for a long moment then nodded. "I suppose that's reasonable, given your... distress... last night."
Jerica narrowed her eyes, daring him to make a comment on her pitiful display the night before, but he had gone back to cleaning the weapons. She pulled her arms even more tightly around herself, wishing she didn't feel so vulnerable.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I would prefer we never mentioned it again," she answered stiffly.
"I see," Aerik answered thoughtfully, carefully keeping his gaze on the work in front of him. "And is that because you've worked through those emotions, or because you want to pretend that they don't exist?"
Jerica felt a prickly sourness bubbling up inside of her, annoyed at his prying. "None of the above. It's because they are none of your business."
"Ah, I see," he said again, still avoiding eye contact. "So you'd rather let your own mind tear you to pieces, rather than trust me with something that is clearly bothering you?"
"You had no business being in my room last night, to know that in the first place," Jerica snapped.
Aerik finally looked up from his work, his kind, thoughtful eyes calm as he looked at her for a long moment. She set her jaw, unwilling to back down. "You know as well as I do that that is an irrational comeback."
He turned away from her to put the dagger back on the rack. She pulled her arms even tighter around herself, cringing as she forgot to favor the broken hand. She shifted her posture until her damaged hand was safe from her anxious habits. "And you know as well as I do that I don't talk about these things."
"Not quite as well, I don't think," Aerik argued gently, turning back towards her. "I know that you live in an vacuum, pulling your negative emotions deeper and deeper into yourself until you're convinced they've disappeared. And I have my theories about why I think it is that you've learned such unhealthy methods of dealing with trauma. But can't honestly say that I understand why it is that you insist so vehemently that you're okay, when last night clearly demonstrated otherwise."
Jerica shifted uncomfortably, flicking her gaze over his shoulder to avoid his eyes. She shivered slightly, the cool air from the cave reminding her of the lost clothing. "Do you have a spare tunic?"
"I do," Aerik answered, walking past her to access the chest sitting next to the table. He rifled through it for a second and then held up a clean shirt. "Since yours was lost to a noble purpose, I'll even let you have it. I would suggest a bath first, though."
Jerica glanced down at herself and then nodded. It was undeniable that she needed to bathe. Her trousers were ripped and dirty from her scuffle with Kaidren in the forest, and her forearms were splattered with blood from the battles -- both her own from various knicks, and from her enemies.
She reached out to take the tunic he offered with her left hand. His gaze traveled towards her right hand, cradled protectively against her chest, then up towards her eyes. He lifted an eyebrow.
"Broken," he supplied. "I'm not going to offer you the healing of the Vim, since this was a self-inflicted wound. But I will help you wrap it."
Aerik turned back towards the trunk and pulled several more bags from it. He set them on the table and then gestured for her to come closer. Jerica hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure that she appreciated his tone a few moments before, but finally sighed and walked forward. There was no point in fighting the help he chose to offer.
Aerik held his hand out. Jerica hesitated again, then reluctantly placed her hand in his. He examined it for a moment then let out a low whistle. "Really busted it up this time, didn't you?"
Could have been your face, she thought sourly. She clenched her jaw. Aerik looked at her for a long moment and then smirked, as if he could hear her very thoughts. She glared harder, annoyed at his glib demeanor.
"All this, and still looking for a fight?" he mused. "That's good. You need to have an unbreakable spirit to survive in the world you've been thrown into."
Jerica was silent, unsure how to respond to that even if she'd wanted to. She took a deep breath and forced her face to remain expressionless, even as he wrapped and prodded her hand in ways that made pain shoot up her forearm.
"How does the Vim work?"
Aerik hesitated in his wrapping, seeming startled at the sudden question. He considered her for a long moment, then went back to his task for several long moments before he answered. "It is an ancient method of harnessing the energy of the universe and using it to accomplish things that you want it to do."
Jerica was silent for a moment, trying to process what he'd said. She didn't have anything to compare the information to, and felt like she was trying to carve out a new box in her mind to start collecting the facts she knew about this Vim that Aerik controlled. "And immobilizing me?"
Aerik smirked again. "Yes."
Jerica was silent for another moment, trying to think through the implications of what he'd said. It was hard to imagine the same force that could mend bones could also be used in a fight. "Can you teach me how to use it?"
Aerik tied her bandage off and then moved his gaze towards her face. "Why should I?"
"Why shouldn't you?"
"Well, considering the fact that you have attacked me," he rubbed his shoulder pointedly. "Or tried to escape every single opportunity you saw, I don't quite know why you think I would choose to equip your bad behavior with truly dangerous skills."
Jerica hesitated. She couldn't argue with his logic, and yet she felt desire to know how to use the Vim crowding out both the hollowness and the frustration that she felt at her core. "But it wouldn't be dangerous to you, because you'll know more."
"I suppose that's true."
There was a brief silence between them. "So... does that mean you'll teach me?"
"Perhaps," Aerik answered. "But it isn't going to come before your mental health."