The town of Leopard Hill stands with its gates open and its guards ready to close them if anything happens, which it probably won't. Sesat might be at war but this town is far from Azan. With all that territory in the way it's probably safe to go run errands outside of town. Right?
“I love you, too. Be careful, okay?”
When she’s gone, Maki wraps his arms around Valan and clings.
"I hope someday I can do something nice for you."
“Other than be brilliant and wonderful?”
"Ha. Yeah. Something to make your life better instead of worse."
“I’m better off now than I was before I met you,” he points out.
"...In what way?"
“I was always going to break eventually. You made sure I was still there after I did. I’m not using all my energy to hold myself together now. I’m just here. That’s not what I want forever, but after so long...it’s nice, it’s really nice. I’m not scared all the time anymore.”
"I don't understand."
“I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was just pushing myself farther and farther. You think you took something good away from me, and you did, but you also took away what I was using to destroy myself.”
"That's... are you okay?"
“I am now.”
"I'm glad. I want you to be okay. You're one of my favorite people."
“And you helped me be okay. You’re too hard on yourself.”
"If you say so."
“I do say so. I wouldn’t be here with you if you didn’t make me feel better and safer.”
This calls for more cuddling.
More cuddling is good. Valan is good. Going to Iral is mildly terrifying but if he’s with Valan he’ll be okay.
The negotiations take a while. Azan ends up making a lot of concessions. They agree to send a lot of categories of immigrants back to Iral. They agree that Irali troops found in Azani territory close enough to the border will be assumed lost and escorted out peacefully.
They get a few things in return. Azani troops just over the border will also be escorted home peacefully. Immigrants who've been in Azan long enough can be left alone. Iral will pretend to be making a good-faith effort to keep its troops out of Azan and not complain when its supposedly lost soldiers are helped to find their way back home immediately.
The idea of a mutual defense treaty is tentatively floated but needs more consideration. Azan he can think about it at his leisure. (If he asks Valan, Valan will tell him it's a bad idea. And that's probably not entirely because he personally hates Iral.)
Maki writes everything that’s said down—it’s nice, he hadn’t realized how much he missed doing this kind of scribing. He doesn’t write down how clever and good and professional Valan is, but that’s okay because he can tell Valan that himself.
So nice to know the guy he drove to maim himself in public is happy with him.
Azan wins. They'll hold Sesat for a while, every inch of it, every person left alive there. It's everything Valan wanted it to be and he's glad to be of service.
On the way back he visits the graves of the women who were sheltering in the capital when Sesat was taken. If he ever knew any of them personally he doesn't mention it.