The demons disappear from around the blood knight and she stops to stare at Grimory. After a moment of heavy panting, she collapses into the grass.
He goes to her and kneels at her side. He watches to see if she’s breathing. “Ali?”
The woman moans lightly, her breath rattling as her eyes peer around as though having trouble focusing. She coughs a small spurt of blood.
Grimory frowns and bends to pick her up. He finds a small alcove in the cliff side and sets her down. “Are you all right? Can you heal yourself?”
“I just need to gather energy.” She coughs up a little more blood. “Damn rib…punctured my lung.” She sets her palm to her chest and a weak sparkle of gold surrounds her. She coughs up the last of the blood and spits it into the dirt. Her breathing eases. “You should have left me.”
He sighs and shakes his head. “I couldn’t. You don’t deserve death. I-I mean, what you did was pretty…morally questionable, but I know you don’t do it out of hate.” He drops to sit beside her. “Is there anything I can do to convince you to join us instead?”
She purses her lips. “You probably can’t beat my benefits package.” She gives a wry sort of chuckle.
He frowns and leans his head back on the rocky wall. After a long moment a sigh escapes him. “Did you have the baby in your timeline, too?”
She cocks her cropped eyebrow at him and chuckles. “I’m guessing it’s the same timeline up until— Y-you know, then? I’m sorry. I should’ve gotten rid of her when you made it painfully clear you wanted nothing to do with it.”
“No!” Grimory sits back up again. “No, I’m glad you didn’t! And I did want her! And you!” His green eyes find hers and his frown deepens. “I tried everything to find you.”
Alisbeth’s scarred brow furrows, deepening the lines. “I don’t understand. If you tried everything…” She takes a breath and sets her palm to her chest; another weak flash sparkles around her and the bites in her legs stop bleeding, though her other wounds continue to sting and seep into her clothing. “I named her after my mother. The same name I gave you when we met. I just didn’t want to be a Redblade for one damned person.”
“I know,” Grimory responds and pulls another small vial from his satchel. He hands it to her. “If you’d have given me your actual name, none of us would be here.”
She blinks at him. “Why do you say that?”
“Well. I may still be. But you’d be happy with the Grimory from your time. And Diori. Somewhere.” He sighs. “Not that I regret coming here…the first time, that is, but…”
The woman stares at him for a long time. Then she laughs. “From my timeline? My timeline is the same as yours. The world didn’t change just because I apparently was supposed to return to Azeroth to die but chose not to. I’m not nearly as important as you think. Life moved on without me. I’m nobody.” She sneers and looks away from him.
He furrows his brow and shakes his head. “No, the Ali you saw is the Alisbeth from my timeline. And the Grimory you had at the Botanica is me from the past. I’m saying that if we met in your timeline, and you gave that Grim your real name instead, you wouldn’t be here. I’m guessing. I’m actually not certain how badly you wanted to be with me. I mean, you knew where I lived…”
She scoffs and shakes her head. “Did you never hear the stories about the times I tried to run away?” She chews on her lower lip and stares off. “It doesn’t matter anymore. You should go.”
Grimory sighs, then shakes his head. “Not until I’m sure you’re not going to die after I leave.”
She pushes to her feet, biting back a groan of pain. She drops the health potion back into his lap. “What does it matter to you? You’re just another target on my list, anyway.” She bends to take the Redblade and slowly makes her way out of the cave.
Grimory leans back and looks at her. He chews on his lower lip for a second. “Why not just kill me now, then, yeah? If I’m just another hit to you…”
She stops and stares off into the forest, her lips pursed. “Because I’m not ready for that. Not when you were so kind to me…a week ago for me, but a lifetime for you.” She sways and hisses at her remaining injuries, bracing herself on the rocky wall. “Perhaps I’ll find a way to make you hate me. Then it wouldn’t be so difficult.”
Grimory sighs and grabs her by the hand to pull her back to sitting beside him. “You aren’t ready to run off just yet. There’s no hurry. Just relax and heal, yeah?”
She stumbles lightly, catching herself before she falls against him. “Why do you care?” she demands. “I was brought back here to end all of you. He told me he believed in me. He’s my friend. All I’ve done is let him down and fail at every turn because he didn’t tell me it was you. Or Koltira or Taveth. The human man and Kel’ori weren’t supposed to be here at all. Especially not with some abomination of a baby. I knew Kel was a whore, just…” She purses her lips and looks away. “I haven’t had anyone to talk to in a very long time.”
He can’t help but feel a small pang of anger over the word abomination but decides to keep it to himself. “You can talk to me. I don’t mind. And I care because, poor choices or not, you’re still the mother of my daughter. And what kind of father would I be if I let you die? Or treated you poorly?”
“I’m no one’s mother,” she shouts. “Stop saying that. Stop telling me I’m someone I’m not! After I left the Black Temple I became someone that you don’t know. Stop trying to take care of me or domesticate me or whatever shit it is that you keep doing. I’m not the woman you love.”
Grimory gives her a solemn look. He says nothing for a long while, then looks away again. “I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just making sure you’re safe. Nothing else.”
“To what end?’ she demands.
“Why do you care?” he responds mockingly.
She narrows her eyes and turns away. “If you insist on staying, maybe just don’t talk. You make no sense and now you’re just being childish.”
He smirks at her from the corner of his eye. “Y’know, once you get past the trying to kill my friends part, you really haven’t changed all that much.”
Alisbeth’s eyelids lower. “How fun.” She leans her head back, deciding to stop getting to know a man she’ll probably have to kill.
“Fun is not the word I’d use.” He looks away again, into the distant forest. “What made you choose this life instead?”
“Which life?” she asks. “The one where I decided not to go back to Azeroth because I was told Koltira would kill me? The one where I was the only one left alive after the slaughter of my comrades? Or the one where I’m here with you for the soul purpose of taking your life?”
He blinks at her. “The latter, I suppose.”
“Because I was offered…a purpose. He said he would protect me from any changes in the timeline and to settle down anywhere I want with a nice sum of gold. He upped the reward to give me anything I want.” She stares intently at him for a long, silent moment.
He grins at her, amused. “Oh, and you chose me?”
She glares at the floor between her boots. “I think I’ll just take the gold and the house.”
He laughs. “Probably a better idea, to be honest. I’m not really a prize. Not anymore, anyway.”
“I’ve just no interest in keeping a prisoner.”
He chuckles. “Thought I was keeping you here?”
“I’m talking about my prize. Which is obviously not going to be given to me until I finish my mission.” She keeps her gaze anywhere but on the man beside her. “I’d rather just…write you off the list or kill you, than keep you around, knowing you’ll spend every moment hating me and trying to escape. Where’s the joy in that?”
He shrugs. “I recall feeling pretty welcome and…intimidated at the same time. Granted a rotting Botanica isn’t a great vacation, yeah?”
“That’s my home you’re speaking of,” Alisbeth says curtly. “And in my time there was no one there. I dragged everyone from the Keep and the Botanica… By the time I got to the Mechanar the smell made me wretch… I had taken so long getting to the Arcatraz that…” Her chin quivers at the memory, and she clears her throat. “I was taking my friends out…one piece at a time…” She turns away from him as a tear escapes her hardened demeanor. “I wanted to welcome you into my home…”
He frowns, genuine sympathy in his eyes, then sets a hand on her knee. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. And for what it was worth, you did a well enough job that I didn’t want to leave. Not right then anyway.”
She brushes his hand away and angles her knee away from him. “You didn’t want to be there, you just had no choice. I told you not to go near the foyer and you did. You were trying to find a way out. The only reason I’m not still laying in the forest… No, the only reason you defied an order to kill me…is because I look like someone you used to know. You’re only here now because you’re clinging to some idea that she and I are the same. But your eyes give you away. You don’t want to be here.”
The Illidari sighs heavily and lifts his hands. “Y’know what? Fine.” He stands. “Clearly you’d rather be with a Grim that tries to get away from you rather than one that actually likes you.”
She throws a rock at his back. “You don’t like me. You like her. Don’t you see? That’s why I’d rather you just leave. I’m not her!” she shouts. “But apparently you don’t like that version of me, either. Why else would she go out of her way to get away from you? Then again, she seems to be batshit crazy. Run while you can.”
He flinches, then turns to glare down at her. “You are her!” He narrows his eyes and straightens. “Y’know, actually no. You aren’t. The Diori I met was strong and independent but at the same time didn’t wallow in self-pity despite what had happened. She didn’t tell me to fuck off because you don’t really care about me when I offered to fix her horseshoe.”
“Once upon a time I was!” she shouts back. “You’re so caught up in the past. Gods. You just make no sense. I’m not the Alisbeth you were holding onto earlier. The one that was screaming within your grip. I’m not that Alisbeth. I am someone else entirely. Now. You want that banshee? Go back to her. If she’ll have you. But stop telling me that you care about me. You only care about the name and likeness I share with that woman. You don’t even want to get to know me. You just want me to be…what? A replacement for someone who is clearly broken?” She stands as well, determined to leave. “I should never have opened up to you. And actually, I regret ever meeting you. Maybe that’s what I’ll wish for, huh? Go back and fix my horse’s shoe. No slipped shoe, no farmboy.” She stumbles angrily from the cave.
He strides forward to grab her by the back of her armor and drags her back onto the floor. He points at her and lowers his voice to a hiss. “Let me make one thing clear before I leave you alone like you so desperately want.” He bends to sit on his haunches, glowering. “If you do anything that might even insinuate my daughter being taken from me or not existing, I will chase you to the ends of any plane of existence.” He straightens again. “That goes for that abomination as well.”
“There it is.” She heals herself one last time and stands. “There’s the hatred.” Her fist tightens around the handle of the Redblade. “Keep telling me you’ll kill me. Tell me you hate me.” She keeps her eyes on the back of his head. “I brought that girl into this world and I will remove her from it! I will erase myself from your past! I will erase you from my past.” Her eyes shine with tears, though they don’t fall. “And maybe my next stop will be erasing Koltira. Erase everyone I ever cared about. Then maybe I can erase this moment right here, where you refused me again, proving you’ve only ever been caught up on the girl you knew for one day and the fantasy of what might have been. I could have kept you for months and still you would only see that stupid little girl I was. You don’t see me. You don’t see my pain.” She readies herself, unsure the temper he might possess. “No wonder she wants to disappear.”
He turns, a look of disgust and incredulity in his eyes. “Your pain? Your pain?!” He clenches his fists, fully aware of her readying to strike him. “You know what’s worse than losing your entire squadron? Trying for months to find the woman you’d thought you’d had a connection with, and when you finally find her she’s fucking lost all semblance of who she was—and not only that—she had a baby! Your baby! That no one told you about because they thought you’d be a shit father.” He scoffs. “I’d lose my entire team if it meant getting a taste of the life that was unfairly ripped away from me. And you accuse me of not caring. Clearly it’s you who doesn’t give a fuck, going out of your way to destroy your daughter out of spite alone.”
“I ran away!” she screams back. “I got to the fucking road of your farm when Tirion found me! He dragged me back screaming and crying. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted you to answer me for once! I sent letter after letter and you didn’t care. You never responded to me, not once. I sent a letter the day I found out.” She chews on her lower lip and shakes her head. “And now you preach to me that I’m the one to blame. That I ripped some coveted life from you. If you’d wanted it so bad, you would’ve come to me when I sent for you. I never stopped sending letters until I watched my baby leave and I knew in that moment that at least my uncle would show her how wanted she was. I didn’t leave my bed for weeks. You broke my heart. And yet here I am…dumb enough to try rekindling something that never existed.”
His scowl deepens and a small smirk touches his lips as his anger finally reaches a peak. “That’s not even close. Do you want to know what really happened?” He puffs a laugh through his nose and doesn’t wait for a response. “Your fucking teacher burned every one of them. Every time you tried to send for me, he threw it in the fire.”
She takes a step back as though he’d physically struck her. “You’re lying.”
He slowly shakes his head, eyes still fixed on hers.
She drops the Redblade into the dirt and slowly turns away. She stumbles deeper into the cave before falling to her knees and screaming out in anger.
He furrows his brows and pulls his ears back, a wave of guilt washing over him. He inhales slowly. “I’m sorry.”
“I begged him,” she says, her voice forcibly remaining stead, though her tears have finally broken free. “Why would he do this to me?” She stares into the darkness for a long time, then swallows away the hard knot so she can speak. “If you could have anything you wanted…what would you choose?”
He thinks for a brief moment. “A family.” He cringes at his next thought but the words make it out anyway. “A normal, happy family. But I couldn’t have that, so now I just strive for glory and honor.” He lifts his gaze to look at her. “What about you?”
“What if I could give you that normal, happy family?” She looks over her shoulder to meet his gaze, not caring that he can see her tears.
Grimory purses his lips. The possibilities run through his mind and he frowns. “I can’t leave the Diori or Alisbeth I have in the future. And I don’t think I can bring you with me. But if you have an idea I’m all ears.”
She tests her words carefully. “If…you never had them to begin with…you wouldn’t miss them.” She looks away, half knowing he’ll refuse her and not wanting to look him in the eye when he does. “If I went back and fixed it. Gave you one of the letters or brought you to where I was… None of this would have ever happened. Neither of us would know the difference.”
His brow knits again, at first offended. He looks away and folds his arms. My friends. All the adventures we’ve been on. Illie. Bae. He runs a hand over his mouth. “Help us. And I’ll consider it.”
She stands and turns to implore him. “Grimory, if I change everything, then none of this happens. None of us will be brought back here. No one will have to die.”
He shakes his head and turns to look at her. “The dragon. He could stop us. He could reverse all we do…unless we kill him.”
Alisbeth steps to him. “The one who brought you here. You need to get rid of him. You can get closer than I can.”
He shakes his head. “He needs to bring my friends back. I can’t abandon them here.”
She holds out her hands for him. “But they won’t be here if we change it all. They’ll be fine and safe somewhere else.”
He glances from her hands to her face, then takes one of them in his own. “I don’t think that’s how it works. Ven said changes won’t take place until we go back.” He sighs and runs a thumb along her fingers, avoiding her gaze. “What a mess.”
“We could make a deal. His life in exchange for the others? I could take you to my employer.” She takes a nervous step closer. “If that’s the life you truly want…”
He opens his mouth to respond, then closes it again and observes her. His brow knits slightly. “What is it that you want?”
“I want what has been robbed from me my entire life… A family. My family.” She sets the leather of her glove to his cheek. “We can fix everything.”
Grimory sighs through his nose as he looks into her face. Say what you have to to get what you need. “If we can find a way to get my friends back to their time while still completing the mission, I’ll stay here with you.”
She nods insistently. “If those are your terms, I suppose I’ll have to accept.”
A small smile plays at his lips and he nods. “All right. So you’ll give me at least an inkling of information?”
She smiles cautiously. “Information? What kind of information?”
He pauses. “I don’t know what that dragon has been telling you, but he’s here to make sure Sargeras succeeds. If my friends are going back to their time and I’m staying here, I want their time to remain safe, yeah?”
Her smile slowly falls. “You said you’d give anything for our family.”
He nods. “Yes, but your end if the bargain is my friends get home safe, yeah?”
The woman frowns. “Then send them home. Tell them you killed me, and that the dragon has withdrawn. I’ll figure out a plan…”
His face pinches slightly in a frown. “I can try…” Vendormu will know it’s bullshit. But if I can just get her to the outpost…
“Do you have a better idea?” She takes his hand and sets it to her own cheek, closing her eyes at the warmth. “Why do you care so much about a future we’ll be erasing?”
He sets the tip of his thumb just below her lip and gives her a pensive look. “We aren’t sure their futures will be erased. Just ours.”
Alisbeth tips her head to rest her lips on the tip of his thumb but doesn’t kiss it. She closes her eyes. “I’m not sorry to say that it’s a risk I’d be willing to take. I believe the future you know will change. They wouldn’t even remember us. Possibly each other, if we’re what brought them together.”
He frowns, again reflecting on all their adventures and the times he himself has spent with them. “I’m sorry but it’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”
She turns away from him. “I see.”
Grimory tsks in frustration. “Do you want me to stay with you or not? Surely you understand where I’m coming from, yeah?”
Alisbeth shakes her head as though trying to clear it. “I want…” She inches closer, until she’s nearly pressed against him and tilts her head to meet his gaze. “Us. Why is there no compromise within you?”
He furrows his brow upward, unmoving. “I know I seem heartless, but they’re my friends, Ali. I can’t let them suffer because we want to be together.”
She furrows her brow upward. “It’s not heartless. I just… I think about my cousin here—both of them—and I realized they are probably only here because I—because that…me is here. They don’t belong in this environment.” She steps away and purses her lips at his reaction to her closeness. She goes quiet in thought.
“Maybe not. But Ana and the rest have done a good enough job protecting them.” He steps forward to again grab her hand. “Maybe you could talk to…whoever you answer to.”
She nods, fixing her gaze on his hand around hers. “I should. He might have ideas.” She lets out a heavy breath. “I’ll meet you right here in this cave, noon tomorrow. If you don’t show up, I’ll… Have my answer.”
He smiles endearingly. “Okay. Noon it is.” He gives her hand a tug, pulling her lips into his.
She presses into him, savoring every second of their kiss. She breathes in his scent and greedily holds him for more.
He pulls away after he’s satisfied and gives her a gentle gaze. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Don’t stand me up,” she says, a soft smile on her lips.