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Accepting Consequences
The hotel stood like a glittering titan on the edge of the Red Square, flanked by immaculate doormen who escorted her entrance into the grand foyer. Morven took in the pale marble tiles, the gild and gilt of a sculptured ceiling, and found it incongruous with the man she had imagined Sören to be.

The receptionist ran curious eyes from the curly mass of her hair to the scuffed leather of her boots, lips tugged down with displeasure. Fresh from travel, her bags dumped at her feet, Morven was hardly in the mood for judgement. She was expected, and the faint rise of the women's brows suggested her assumptions as to for what. Morven collected the keycard from the shiny desk with a roll of her eyes, and forestalled the porter who made to scoop up her bags. From the scandalous look on his face, he considered it the height of rudeness. She was too tired to care.

Sören was ensconced on the very top floor of the hotel, a laborious elevator ride with a crisply uniformed young man who insisted on operating the buttons and stared dubiously at the bag slung over her back. When she finally keyed open the door to Sören's suite, she soon realised the reason for the ostentatious choice. He stood by the magnificent floor to ceiling window, a monolith against the bright stream of sunshine. In the distance rose the Ascendancy's Arch, gleaming black in the afternoon light. Crowds milled like ants at its base.

She hadn't seen him in the flesh for years, but little had changed -- aside from the obvious. He'd not professed his injury over the phone, and she had not known what to expect beyond an assumption that it could not be dire. A rough patch covered one eye, stark against the diamond edge of his cheekbones. He was sparse with his emotions at the best of times, but severity held his features like a pall now. A heavy coat draped his wide shoulders. He looked ragged.

Morven dropped her bag inside the threshold, eyeing the heap of his own luggage in the room's corner, dusty and worn, wound with superstitious tokens and talismans she'd teased him about once. And only once. So he'd been travelling. No reason he couldn't have come to her in London then. A frown stung her expression as he turned his head minimally to regard her.

"I require that you see if there is anything you can do."
He made a weary gesture towards his face. Barely an inflection to his tone. He sounded tired.

"I've been travelling since the early hours, Sören. That--"
she made a flippant gesture to the monument scarring the skyline "--has played havoc with airport security. Not to mention how many tourists are flocking to see the damn thing."
She scooted unselfconsciously onto the plush bed, commandeering the room service menu. "I am exhausted. And you've ruined my summer. The very least you could do is buy me dinner first."

The repeated word barely inflected into a question. In fact it seemed the roots of it thrust far deeper than her playful jab; she had been (mostly) joking about her summer, but the sunken expression on his already gaunt face echoed a far more meaningful loss. His lips tilted down, a gruff sound vibrating from his throat. He turned away from the window, sought one of the luxurious chairs and lowered himself into it.

He sat stiffly, and briefly she wondered when he'd last slept. Shadows hollowed the eye she could see, and his hair flicked haphazardly around the ties keeping the patch in place. The way he sank into the chair was not to seek the comfort of cushions, but a support to keep him upright. As much as the man irritated her - and he really did - she was not heartless. Her glare softened its edges. That, and he'd helped save Lyall; a debt that tied loyalty around her heart and tied it neatly with a bow. Morven sighed. He took it as permission, flipping off the patch with a scowl, awaiting her judgement.

The skin beneath was sore, the furious pink of healing flesh. But of his eye there was only a filmy cloud. Her own eyes widened, and curiosity got the better of her; she shuffled off the bed to get a closer look, gripping his bristled chin to an angle. Even up close she could see precious little of his iris, just a pale blue veneer where once had been a mild brown. Chemical burn? She shifted his chin to meet the gaze of his functioning eye. Her expression softened. "What happened?"

The stone of his expression did not shift, and neither did he answer. Morven frowned. Fine. "Can you see anything at all from it? Is there any pain?"

"Little. It burns to look at light. They cleaned it in New Delhi. Gave me antibiotics."

She waited impatiently for an explanation, knowing full well he would not offer one. For a moment, meeting wills with that deceptively mild stare, she considered withholding until he offered more than cryptic secrecy. For a man who purported to champion the freedom of knowledge, he kept much close to his chest. In the end it was only the stillness with which he regarded her that swayed her. He was not armed with the arrogant demand that had sparked her ire during the phone call. He was just waiting to see what she would do.

She swatted his hand from the arm of the chair, and perched herself there. Her fingers brushed the sides of his temples. "It's cold, I'm told.
" It was the closest to a warning she offered. The power bloomed beneath her fingertips, and began to thread through his skull.
Much had changed since he'd last been in the city. Sören's gaze roamed the view below, following the lines of the impossible arch with intensity. The world changed while he was chasing phantoms in India, and the news called him back to Moscow as surely as the yank of a leash despite his injury. The eye ached beneath the patch, and even the smallest fluctuations in light sharpened that to pain. But he stared anyway.

Morven made an inelegant entrance behind him, armed for a war he had no interest in fighting. She had come, as he had bid; his eye closed for a breath, a little relief unfurling in his chest. Then he turned to her wearily, filtering out the moaning already skipping from her tongue. She had grown little beyond the wilful child he had plucked from the wilderness, but her talents were too rare and useful to discard just because she was, at times, abrasive. He understood her brashness to be mostly for show. If she cared so little for him, she would not have come.

The words buzzed past his ears, aside from one. It caught like a hook, slashing at the emotions he stored very carefully within.


The eye was a toll he paid willingly, a trifle annoyance. But Declan's life; that was a price it had taken time and distance to settle on his shoulders, and he did not like the bitterness it left in him. He swallowed the regret in his cavernous chest, and would speak of it to no-one. The man had been foolish - so damn foolish - and the tragedy had happened so fast. Still, when he closed his eyes at night his mind dissected every moment over and over, testing for the weaknesses, examining the variables. The replays tormented him.

If death it must be, could it not have been a hero's death?

Sören lowered himself into a chair, muscles stiff - but expression stiffer. His teeth ground in his jaw, steeling himself to quiet and patience as he flipped the patch from his face. Despite himself, he watched the shift of Morven's features. Not disgust; just the light of morbid curiosity. She might have kept that to herself; for a doctor she had a terrible bedside manner.

When she came closer her grip pinched his chin, and Sören answered her questions mildly, eager for her to simply get on with why she had come; that would tell her more of the injury than he could. But it was easier not to argue. Without fuel for her temper, her attentions turned to the injury, despite the small huffs at his silence. Her fingers touched his temple, and almost immediately ice needled his blood. Sören flinched beneath the touch of her ability, then held himself still until she dropped her hands and leaned back, frowning at him.

She let the power dim and then collected herself. Sören's impatience puckered a frown in response, but she swallowed a retort in favour of something more professional. She wasn't at work now, but the attitude was ingrained. And it was a sensitive subject.

"The eye is a complicated structure, and very delicate. I could try and help, but it'd be like dousing a candle with a bucket of water. And I won't do that, Sören. I won't take risks with patients."

She predicted the way his gaze darkened; the flex of his jaw, the brood of silence while he carefully chose his words. On the arm of the chair opposite, his fist tightened then released in frustration. "I'm asking you to do it."

Despite her own resolve to remain calm, Morven's jaw hardened at the hostility. She forgave his desperation, but it still dug under her skin. The imperious command in his tone; the lack of doubt, the complete belief she would comply because he asked. He never treated her like an equal; still saw her, perhaps, as the child he'd helped all those years ago. Once she'd thought to offer friendship, but he always made it feel like debt. It was a feeling she battled against, even knowing she'd help if she could. That the real frustration was her inability.

"Aye, and I hear you loud and clear. But listen to me. I can heal the flesh at least, make the skin around your eye feel a wee bit more comfortable. Your muscles ache. The joints in your fingers of your left hand especially. You've numerous abrasions and cuts. These are things I can help with. But I can't fix your vision."
She gave a moment to let the words sink in, but spoke over any attempt on his part to respond. "I'm training to be a surgeon. I use the gift to help diagnose problems. To staunch wounds that should be fatal. To aid my work. I encourage the body's own healing pattern. It works with me. But I don't know how to do this; it's far too delicate for me to be sure of the consequences. And I'm not experimenting on you, no matter how many times you ask."

She stood as he pulled his heavy gaze away. His hand was twitching again, silence cloaking what she assumed was disappointment. Morven ignored him, returning to where she'd dumped her bags on entry. She dug around in her luggage, passport clenched between her teeth as she rummaged around in a front zip pocket and the paperwork there. When she plucked free what she sought, she dumped everything back to be reorganised later. The platinum card glinted in the light as she straightened. Sören's gaze was drawn as she turned and walked back, holding it out to him.

"The man who gave me this said we had a common friend. I looked them up. Paragon Group. They're human enhancement specialists."
She watched him read the etchings on the expensive business card; saw the way his brows lowered in contemplation, then suspicion. "Sören, I can't fix it alone, but I could work with someone who knew what they were doing. It's the best I can offer."
Sören brooded over the business card. Ephraim Haart. Inwardly he ticked over the offer, smothering his surprise with a frown. "This Ephraim. He knows what you can do if he gave you this."
Which meant he was network. Sören's expression hardened, a dark possession growing stormy in the glare he angled down at the card. Morven was his discovery and he did not relish the idea of another sniffing around her talents. It had been an inevitable eventuality of course; such was the nature of the network, its very purpose. But it did not mean he had to like it.

Morven tilted her head, blessedly silent. He was aware that she walked away, heard her shuffling about in the room, vaguely aware as she picked up the phone, the cadence of her voice. A moment later she loomed close again, lips pursed in that permanent aggravation she wore. "I've ordered room service. If you still want that healing, you'll be glad of the fuel."

It seemed a paltry compromise, but he assented more from curiosity than need. Her hands braced his head, and his skin prickled a second before the runes slid into his skin. She'd said she would not douse a candle with a bucket of ice water, but it was exactly what it felt like. He flinched, and her fingers gripped tighter to his scalp. When she let go her shoulders sagged, and she retreated to flop on the bed without a word.

Once the tingling faded, Sören was aware of a marked difference. Aches so ingrained he'd barely acknowledged their existence vanished. In reponse, tense muscles eased into the comfort of the chair beneath him. Such a shame he could see nothing of what she did, nor how she did it. Little use asking, probably.

"There's something else,"
he said, but quietened when he saw the weary exasperation of her expression. Thanks did not quite pass his lips, but acknowledgement at least of her service and the lengths she had gone to accommodate him. "It can wait, I suppose, until after we've eaten."
Morven dozed for a while, lolling on the edges of sleep until the knock at the door jolted her back awake. She yawned, pushing back the curls from her face, and watched blearily as Sören accepted the laden trays and deposited them on a table. He seemed more sprightly, and even his mood faded into its normal amiable cast - which at least made him better company.

She scooted from the bed and scraped back a chair at the table as he did the same. They ate in silence for several minutes, until the depth of hunger eased and pleasant lethargy rolled in to replace it. Morven relaxed back, legs crossed at the ankle, and stared out at the skyline. The beginnings of sunset burned a brilliant red, the city's lights already beginning to twinkle in the fading afternoon. London had its fair share of opulence, but she'd never have been able to afford a place like this there let alone here. She doubted the network had funded the extravagance either.

"Have you been to see it yet?"
She nodded in the direction of the arch through the wide window, quietly contemplating its significance. The little plastic replicas in London barely did justice to its hulking monstrosity, even at this distance. Inwardly she wondered who the message was for; the world who already half knelt to the CCD's might, or the other Ascendants now revealed to that world.

"Not yet. Other things on my mind."
The ghost of a smile accompanied the words. He looked at her wryly.

Morven smirked. "I take it you haven't registered then."
Though neither had she - and nor would she until she was sure what the implications would be. The world was too unsettled at present to take such a risk. She paused, and though she didn't meant it to, her gaze lingered on his milky pale eye, fighting the urge to frown. "You're really not going to tell me what happened?"

"I think you would not believe me. But I shall show you why."
Sören pushed back his chair and stood to clear the dishes into a pile. Contemplation cast his expression serious; she could almost hear the whirring of gears in his brain as he completed the mindless task, then walked around her to rummage in his own luggage. When he returned it was with an object held reverently in his open palms. She waited silently as he unwrapped the item from its bindings, and placed it on the table, still nestled in the fabric. A shard, jagged at one end.

Sören collected oddities, she knew that. He bought and sold such things; antiques, artefacts, and art. It was partly what funded his expeditions. But there seemed little... grand in this one. Frankly, it looked broken. Morven gingerly placed her hands on the table beside it, expecting protest, but Sören only looked interested in her appraisal. Instead she rose a brow.

"What is it supposed to be?"

"You can touch it. Do you feel anything?"

She didn't particularly want to. Something about it reminded her of barnacles, like a thing dredged up from the depths of the ocean. Certainly it did not look very appealing, as though it would benefit from a good clean. The lower edges were barbed. Like a tooth ripped from the maw of some giant beast. To humour him, she ran the tip of her finger along the least offensive length. Retracted it quickly. She felt nothing. "Should I?"

"I don't know. It was the question, I suppose."
He frowned thoughtfully as he swaddled the shard back up. The man was a thousand miles away when he looked like that, so she swallowed the bite of incredulity that that was the reward of his injury.

Wrapped shard still in hand, Sören hefted his bag onto his shoulder, looked at the bed - mussed where she had lain - and indicated the door to an adjacent room. "I'm going to take a shower. I will sleep through there."

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