For a while, he’d been sitting in silence.
He didn’t know why he was there beyond what cryptic words he’d gotten out of Daniel in the days he’d actually been conscious. It was difficult to even fathom why he was alive, spared for some reason that was all but a mystery to him.
Sleeping was an impossibility even since he’d woken up from the initial dream state he’d found himself in. Ever since he’d been with the Dravara, nightmares had made things difficult the moment his eyes were closed. They left him shaking, awaking in a cold sweat that rendered him unable to even consider trying to sleep again. For years, he’d deal with things well enough. He began to realize that exhaustion was a better option than attempting to ford through the trouble sleeping caused him.
And yet, as impossible as it seemed, it had only gotten worse.
The door clanged open, a sound that no longer made him look up anymore. Light washed across his face, chasing the shadows from the dirt smeared canvas of his cheeks. The change hurt in a way he didn’t understand, causing him to wince after spending a while in the absence of light. The darkness, after all, was a welcome friend.
Quite honestly, he almost preferred it.
He could actually think, focus on something other than whatever few words were spoken between him and his one visitor. However Daniel never did have anything useful to say after all. The sounds of his boots, the still annoying clipped gait he traveled in, was almost more interesting to listen to.
Daniel stopped in front of the bars.
“So,” Aurora croaked, reaching a hand over to press against the bandages across his middle, “will I be meeting this captor of mine? My true, captor, I mean. I’m not sure you count, my friend.”
Aurora heard him sigh, boots clicking nervously on the stone.
“I don’t know. That…depends?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “Telling you. It depends-“
“On what?” he laughed bitterly. “Does this savior of mine not understand that they’ve chosen the wrong person? I’m done, Daniel.”
It was amusing how surprised he sounded.
“Open the door, Daniel. I won’t cause trouble,” he mumbled. “I swear on whatever remains of my life.”
“Where do you plan on going?”
Daniel snorted, setting his lantern down on the ground. “What have you done with him?”
Aurora hadn’t even noticed the lantern before but, his eyes were drawn to it. He barely even heard the question enough to comprehend what was asked.
“I’m done fighting, Daniel.”
“Who are you?”
He squinted, shaking his head. “You’ll have to forgive me but, I’m confused.”
“What have you done with Aurora?” Daniel asked, almost breathless.
Truly, he tried to laugh but the sound came out strangled.
“I’m,” he paused, swallowing, “done.”
“You and I both know that’s a lie. She tried ending you because she knew what you were capable of. The Dravara were afraid of you because you were impossible to control-“
“I was,” Aurora interjected firmly.
Even if the smile was fake, forced, it was the first time one had dared to creep across his face in some time. He shook his head slowly, hand moving to his side again as he shimmied up the wall and to his feet. It still hurt, the wound itself, he found and even after the days of doing nothing but staring into the silence around him, his body still ached.
“I was,” he repeated, tone wavering, “not anymore, Daniel. I fought for ten years and the only place that got me was,” he paused, motioning to the room with one hand, “here.”
Aurora swallowed a grunt, tipping his hat with a bleak smile.
“You’re scaring me-“
“Why do you care?” Aurora snapped suddenly, louder than he meant to. “Why do you give a damn about me? You could have left me to die but you didn’t! You were far too vexing good natured for that, weren’t you?”
Daniel was silent.
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re afraid now, my friend. You, far too kind to let someone like me die but you could sit back and watch an entire-“
“We aren’t talking about the…faeloren right now. We’re talking about you,” Daniel replied coldly. “Don’t think I’m not above reminding you-“
“Of what?” Aurora choked out in a laugh. “I could say for myself anything you could possibly dredge up. I dragged you down, ruined your life. I killed our best friend-“
“I did!” Aurora shouted back. “You know I did.”
He staggered forward, stumbling towards the bars with one hand wrapped firmly around his middle. However, while he was determined to reach them, his legs buckled beneath him the moment he was standing without help from the wall. Aurora fell, knees striking the stone painfully as he braced one arm in front of himself to keep his face from bashing into the floor. He curled in on himself, cursing and trying as best he could to avoid collapsing the rest of the way to the ground.
“What happened to…her was an accident.”
Aurora’s fist clenched. “Say her name, Daniel.”
“Elizabeth,” he hissed through gritted teeth, “what happened to Elizabeth was an accident.”
The laugh wasn’t on purpose, something that sounded far more manic than he ever would have meant it. “But what if it wasn’t?”
He struggled to his knees, weight bearing down against freshly forming bruises.
“But,” he repeated, choking on a sob, “what if it wasn’t?”
“It was. Nothing you could ever say would ever convince me you meant to…do that.”
“Do what?” Aurora growled. “Say it.”
Daniel swallowed. “Kill her. You didn’t mean it, Aurora. I know you didn’t.”
“You weren’t the one holding the gun,” he retorted.
Daniel was quiet for a moment, shifting nervously in place where he stood. “No, I wasn’t, but I know you. You were only trying to protect yourself. You didn’t know it was her.”
“My name,” Aurora cried, “she called my name.”
“It was still an accident. We both know you never would have hurt her. You don’t like-“
Aurora pushed himself up further, getting to his feet for yet another brief stumble forward before he ended up in the exact same crumpled heap as before. He groaned, lacking the strength to push himself up again.
The door opened with a creak and Daniel’s arm was under him then, helping him upward as he half dragged him towards the wall again. He was set down on the cot, rolled over onto his side while Daniel knelt down beside him.
“For days, I didn’t wash the blood off myself. I left it there for all to see. I wore it, like a badge of honor, I wore it.”
“No,” Daniel answered firmly.
“I didn’t wash it away now, did I?”
Daniel scoffed. “How does that make what happened any less of an accident?”
Aurora groaned, collapsing onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. “What sane person does something like that?”
“Y-you were in shock,” he stammered. “It was an accident and you…were in shock. We both know that.”
“Are you afraid of me, Daniel?”
He stood slowly, shaking his head. “I’m not going to answer that.”
Aurora smiled just as bleakly as before. “Tell them, my captor, that I’m through.”
His eyes closed as Daniel walked towards the door again.
Some part of him wanted to be relieved by hearing someone finally tell him the opposite of what he’d been convinced of. But, even if he wanted to, he was too exhausted to show it. Sniffling, he rolled over stiffly to face the wall again. Everything hurt too badly for him to focus on what Daniel mumbled as the door closed.
He wasn’t lying when he said he was done fighting.
Rowena had beaten him, quite literally in one sense, but truly she had done it. He only thing he wanted to do was go home finally after years of being away. However, the only probably was that a place like that no longer existed. He didn’t have a place to go, a place to return to, or even a place in the vastness of the world.
He was an outcast, the lowest of the low.
Aurora was the name of a criminal but, the more he thought about it, the more he realized he didn’t even want to be Aurora anymore. The name had brought him nothing but trouble since the night he shot a hole through Evander and any shred of what tied him to that name. He was tired of being known as a murderer but there was no changing that.
“I should change your bandages.”
“Later,” Aurora muttered weakly. “Not now.”
As the door closed again and Aurora was left alone, he reached up for the cold metal of the compass around his neck. The metal was worn, dented in some places, and the needle no longer seemed entirely reliable anymore.
But, he didn’t keep it to be useful and it had become something of a tangible memory. It was the only thing he had left of Silas, of the life he’d left behind. Everything else had been taken from him and as the years droned on, the compass was the one thing that he was able to keep. Normally it offered him some small amount of comfort but, in the darkness and solitude of his cell, it brought him nothing but complete and utter hopelessness.
~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel stalked angrily towards his horse.
Something was terribly wrong with Aurora. Of course, he hadn’t been entirely right to begin with but Daniel had never seen him quite so defeated. Rowena had shot him and though he survived, Daniel swore some part of him was still dying. He may not have known it but Daniel was the only reason she didn’t leave him for dead that day.
He still wondered if he’d done the right thing.
But, even if he demanded Aurora stand for a trial, something that should have resulted in him ending up bleeding in the snow beside Aurora, he did something far worse. Getting him back west was the easy part and the wagon that had been provided for him only made it simpler. However, the actual stopping of his execution was what had been difficult.
Smoke, as simple as it seemed, somehow was stupid enough to have worked.
He didn’t know exactly what it was but Allikeo had sworn it would be enough. Light the fuse and keep away seemed like simple enough instructions but Daniel quickly found that the smoke spread quickly and he’d found himself gagging and choking before long. Luckily, unlike the other Dravara that had been tasked with the execution, he’d been able to avoid enough of it not to be rendered unconscious.
Daniel wasn’t even supposed to be there. He wasn’t given the orders to attend the execution but no one seemed to notice the swapping of two guards. Honestly, if he was in Rowena’s place, he would have been embarrassed with how easy it was. All that matter was that to the rest of the world, Aurora had been executed. And, with luck, no one would bother them knowing that fact was true.
He climbed into the saddle, digging his heels into the horse’s sides as they took off at a gallop down the road away from the abandoned building. It wasn’t a prison, not exactly, but instead had once been owned by the city watch of a nearby town. They had since relocated and the building was left to rot. But, for Daniel, it was the safest place to keep Aurora.
It wasn’t a far ride back to the small cottage that he and Sarafina lived in. Daniel didn’t trust Aurora enough simply to bring him to the house, not with his daughter, or so he’d come to call her, around. He hated leaving her alone, even for short visits up to make sure Aurora was still alive and well. She’d been left, abandoned, enough already.
Aurora’s words still bothered him as he rode, spurring his horse onward around the bend and slowing once the cottage came into sight. Some part of him, a larger one than he’d like to admit, wished he hadn’t gotten himself into the mess to begin with. But, as much as he hated to admit it, Aurora needed him and he couldn’t, not after having already done it once, leave him.
“Easy,” he called to the horse, slowing the creature as they reached the barn.
Dismounting, he hurried into the stables and quickly removed the tack from the animal’s back. He was tired, exhausted after having not slept for most of the night, and sleep was only seeming more alluring the longer he remained reluctantly awake.
The barn door closed heavily but he heard the familiar groan of a different door opening the moment he was outside.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
Sarafina rubbed a tired eye, hair falling messily over her shoulders as she yawned. “I was sleeping, papa.”
He moved forward, trudging up the few steps and scooping her up as he walked inside, closing the darkness out with the soft click of the door. Her small arms wrapped around him as she fidgeted her way up to tuck her head beneath his chin.
“Why aren’t you sleeping now?” he asked softly.
“Where did you go, papa?”
Sighing, he moved to sit down heavily on in one of the chairs. “I was just checking on the horses. You know how much trouble Silver likes to cause-“
“Silver was sleeping. I checked. Are you leaving again?” she asked, leaning her head up off of him.
Daniel craned his neck to look down at her. “Of course not. I’m right here, always and forever.”
“You left one time,” Sarafina reminded, rubbing at her eye again.
He nodded. “It was part of my duty to the Dravara. I couldn’t abandon my…friends when they needed me. Don’t worry though, I won’t have to leave again. There was some trouble I had to-“
“Did you do a bad thing?”
There was a pause.
“No, why would you ask that?”
She didn’t answer, shuffling back down again and curling up against his chest. Daniel leaned down to kiss the top of her head, wrapping one arm firmly around her. “You don’t need to worry-“
“You leave sometimes. Can I come with you, papa? I’ll be good,” she said, turning her face to hide it in the folds of his jacket, “I promise.”
He sighed, shaking his head. “We’ll talk about it in the morning. Go to sleep, Fina. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
“Try to get some sleep-“
She looked up again then, bracing one arm against his chest. “Are you sad?”
“No,” he answered with a frown, “I’m not sad.”
“If you didn’t do anything bad then-“
“Fina,” he said more firmly, “I’m not sad.”
Sliding back down again, she fell silent. Daniel reached up to rub at the back of his neck with his free hand, staring towards the fire burning in the hearth. Worried more accurately described how he felt or even less specifically just upset. Sad wasn’t how he’d describe himself at all. At least, not exactly.
Daniel looked down at the head of the girl curled up against him, leaning his head back against the chair gently. If she knew about him sneaking off, he would have to be more careful. She couldn’t know about Aurora or why he was there, chained up in a building eerie enough that hopefully deter her if she found it.
Aurora was dangerous, he reminded himself.
He listened to the sound of the fire burning in the hearth, eyes slipping closed. Sarafina didn’t stir beside him, sleeping soundly as she always did when the two slept in front of the fire. He found it was easier, often times for both of them, when they weren’t apart. She often woke up to nightmares and for him, sleeping was often robbed from him by feelings of what he refused to be guilt.
But, unlike Aurora, sleep did come for him eventually.