"Like this," Safiyah tells him, and she makes a loop of yarn around his index finger. He holds the needles too tightly, and she gently places a hand over his knuckles until she feels him relax his grip.
They sit together outside her hospital. Safiyah teaches him to knit under the late spring sun.
"This is complicated," he says.
"Only when you aren't paying attention," she tells him. Their eyes briefly meet. She looks away, smiling, at the afternoon sky.
"Look," she says in a tight breath. Smoke plumes on the horizon. They both jolt upright, Zavala awkwardly untangling his fingers from the yarn.
The smoke muddies the sky. Fallen, or Warlords. They have found new victims. Safiyah looks at the growing grim resolve on Zavala's face, then makes for the hospital tent to gather her kit.
A siren blares over the encampment as Safiyah emerges. She makes for the gates as the Iron Lords ready themselves; Zavala takes her by the arm.
"You can't be serious," he says. His expression hardens when he sees that she is.
"People are in danger," she says.
"It's not safe."
"That is why I have to go."
"At least wait until we've secured the area."
Safiyah pulls her arm from his grip. She leaves through the gates before he can argue.
The Fallen have ambushed a caravan. Safiyah races through black smoke belching from an overturned sledge, the wreckage crushing the spring flowers. Safiyah rushes to a woman cowering behind a wagon, blood seeping from a wound at her temple. A man lies on the ground behind her, clutching at his stomach, his spilled entrails. A Dreg lunges for them; Safiyah drives a knife into its neck.
Zavala leads the main charge to the caravan. The Fallen, screeching at each other, turn their attention to their attackers as bursts of Solar energy roar through the air.
Zavala rushes to Safiyah's side, putting himself between her and a charging Captain, its Arc spear raised, and it pierces Zavala through the chest. He coughs blood, falls to the ground, goes still. Safiyah screams, horrified at the sight. But she scrambles for Zavala's weapon and raises it just as the Captain bears down on her.
She fires three rounds through its chest and throat. She sputters as the Ether tears from its body. The corpse lands heavily on her; she pushes it away.
Targe sweeps his fallen Guardian, and with a hard breath, Zavala rises again. The sight of him startles her—a man come back to life. He gets his bearings, sees the Captain dead on the ground.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes," she says, her voice trembling. Safiyah turns back to the unlucky man who will not rise again, and the woman who weeps at his side.
It's in the quiet of the aftermath that Safiyah hears an infant's cry. She jumps to her feet, searching for it in the wreckage, and finds a dead man curled around a squirming bundle. She turns him by his shoulder; the corpse holds the infant so tenderly and tightly that Safiyah has to break his fingers to take the boy from his embrace. She brings the child to her chest, holding his head delicately, and the boy's cries turn into whispered gurgles.
Safiyah begins to cry. For the child in her arms, the dead man who held him, the scent of blood and Ether. For those whom she could not save. Her tears are soft, and she shivers. She feels Zavala's palm touch her shoulder and move down her back in silent comfort. She heaves a sigh, then straightens and looks to him.
"We'll keep him safe," Zavala says, and she nods.
They return with the child. Safiyah feeds him, bathes him. Zavala smiles, holding the child in his arms. The boy reaches for him with tiny hands and looks up at him with wide, brown eyes.
"The boy needs a name," she says. She thinks for a moment, remembers her father with fondness.
"Hakim," she declares, and it is so.
Hakim grows. Months pass until summer comes and the cicadas sing. Zavala visits Safiyah between his duties, and Safiyah soothes Hakim's cries when Zavala is absent. Resources are thin. They do their best.
In the evenings, Safiyah holds Hakim's warmth to her chest. She feels the rise and fall of his breath. Bowing, she presses her lips to the curls on the crown of his head. Zavala is beside her, a hand at the small of her back.
The cicadas sing—she gestures for Zavala to listen. The cicadas sing.
"The ancient Greeks thought that these insects lived forever," she says. "Reborn each time they came from the earth."
Zavala puts his arms around them both.
"They spend 17 years underground. They almost went extinct. Then the Collapse… and now they thrive again."
She coos at Hakim for a moment.
"I will take him to my sister's village," she says. Zavala's features soften.
"We will take him," he answers, and she smiles. This is how he tells her.
Zavala speaks to Saladin the following morning. When Zavala finds her again, he has left behind the pendant with the Iron Lords' sigil.
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