The door opened with the same faded groan into the same, wrongly familiar darkness and the same silence from the man across the room. Daniel paused, listening for a moment before closing the door behind him. The lantern he held cast a glow over the room, shrinking the shadows wherever he walked but seeming not to touch the ones around the slumped figure against the wall.
He stalked forward, boots clicking on stone as he made his way to the bars to peer between the bars at the faded eyes staring back at him. Aurora looked up, throwing his hair backwards with a flick of his head. “Something wrong, my friend?”
“You could say that.”
Aurora shifted against the wall. “Have I done something?”
Daniel didn’t know how to answer at first, holding his tongue when he wanted to shout but that would get them nowhere. Even if Aurora was entirely well, physically and otherwise, yelling only made him more openly belligerent.
“The opposite,” he grated, “which is strange for you-“
“She came here, didn’t she?”
The man against the wall was quiet for a moment before he shrugged. “I’m afraid I don’t know just who you’re talking about. Could you be more specific?”
“Fina,” Daniel snapped back. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. She told me about man in the cage.”
Again, there was a pause, a silence that seemed to be almost purposely longer than it needed to be before Aurora nodded. “She did.”
Daniel took a step back, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck and biting back a string of swears he apparently wouldn’t allow himself to speak.
“What did she tell you?” he said finally, fumbling over his words.
Aurora snorted. “Are there secrets between us, my friend? She didn’t say much, nothing detrimental to you or your integrity.”
Relieved, Daniel nodded. “I didn’t mean-“
“Is she yours?”
“No,” he answered, unable to keep his gaze on Aurora’s, “she’s not. It’s a long story and right now, I’m not-“
“We both have the time,” Aurora suggested, chains rustling behind his back.
Daniel sighed, shaking his head. “Why would you want to know anyway?”
“I’m a rather curious person, Daniel.”
He scratched at his neck again, shivering against a cold that wasn’t found in the room. “I left the Dravara soon after…”
Trailing off, he glanced up at Aurora, quickly clearing his throat. “I ran into my cousin, Sarafina’s mother. She was ill, still trying to work at an inn to take care of her daughter. I don’t know who her father is and I didn’t have the heart to ask her. Anna and Fina came to stay with me soon after we met again.”
Daniel paused then, unsure of what to say or how to explain. Aurora seemed to be paying attention, perhaps even just for decency’s sake.
He swallowed. “Anna’s fever worsened and while Fina and I stayed well, Anna didn’t recover.”
Daniel shook his head. “You don’t want to hear about this. I’m sure we could talk about something else. Do you know who’s keeping you here?”
Aurora laughed hoarsely, shaking his head. “I don’t care.”
He was confused to say the least, somewhere between concerned and left utterly lost by Aurora’s reply.
“Are you surprised?” Aurora asked, voice calm. “Why would I? They clearly made quite the blunder in choosing me. But I don’t even understand why they would in the first place. And yet, even if I am a curious person, my friend, I still don’t care.”
Shifting uncomfortably in his boots, Daniel tried to clear his throat firmly. “You really don’t care at all who they are?”
He chuckled. “Not even a little.”
Nothing, not the way he spoke or the replies themselves, made any sense at all. Aurora wasn’t like that, so void of most everything. In fact, he was quite possibly the most flamboyantly obnoxious and quarrelsome people he’d ever known. Daniel wasn’t prepared for a reply and was half glad when Aurora spoke again until what he said fully registered in his mind.
“Why did you save me, Daniel? You may not be the person keeping me in this place, but I know you were the one who saved me.”
Stiffening, Daniel took a step back from the bars out of reflex. He stammered, trying to formulate a reply but only managing an eventual single word, “Oh.”
“Did you remember something that changed your mind about me?” he hummed. “Or, did you finally just reach your own decision instead of trusting that bitch you love so much.”
Daniel flinched at his words, swallowing harshly and rubbing at the back of his neck once more. “I shouldn’t have trusted her. I know that…believe me. I’m sorry.”
“Was it purely just pity? Do you just feel bad for me?” Aurora hissed.
He winced. “No, i-it wasn’t pity, Aurora.”
Aurora shifted against the wall, shoving himself against the harsh stone to scramble to his feet. “Leave me alone and come back when you’re ready to accept that I’m nothing anymore. I don’t have a place in this world. You should have let me die.”
Horrified, Daniel’s eyes widened. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Aurora roared, voice rising for the first time. “I’m done fighting and I’m done pretending I ever meant anything to you or anyone else. You made a mistake.”
Somehow his tone was level when he spoke, “I saved your life for a reason and it wasn’t just to sit here and watch you sulk.”
“You’re my problem, Daniel. Did you ever consider that?” Aurora snarled.
“How am I the problem here? I saved your life-“
“And what if I didn’t want to be saved?”
Daniel couldn’t bring himself to respond, closing his mouth again the moment it fell open in shock. Something was horribly wrong but he didn’t know how to respond. He reached for the door, turning the key shakily and letting it swing open with a rusty creak.
“I didn’t want to be saved,” Aurora repeated, voice cracking.
It didn’t take more than the first word to break out into the air before Daniel realized he was crying. He didn’t know what to do, what to say and instead only walked forward carefully.
“I-I brought you something to eat.”
“Keep it. I’m not hungry.”
He set the bowl down with the lantern just beside it, nervously running his hand along the strap of the bag he carried over his shoulder. It was beginning to worry him that Aurora’s voice had gotten so quiet, but Daniel quickly told himself he shouldn’t have worried himself with such things.
“I was beginning to think you had given up on me. Shame, it appears I was wrong. Things would be much better for you if you had.”
“I never gave up on you.”
Aurora went silent as Daniel reached into the bag, digging around until he found a roll of bandages and whatever spare supplies he’d found at home. He kneeled then, avoiding any chances of meeting Aurora’s eyes even if he was staring firmly at the ground beneath his boots. The chains behind Aurora’s back rustled, softly and only enough to where the metal clanked dully against the ground before falling still again, and Daniel cleared his throat.
“I’m going to unchain you,” he declared, reaching into his jacket for the key. “Don’t-“
“Try anything funny? Don’t worry, I’m not sure my legs are strong enough for me to stand for long. And, if all else fails, just put a bullet in me. Though, I suppose that didn’t work for someone else we both know,” Aurora replied almost playfully. “Perhaps chaining me is the best option here. Who knows what harm I could do to you?”
Daniel sighed. “Aurora-“
“And here I was beginning to think you were just enjoying keeping me tied up like this,” Aurora huffed, glancing up at him from beneath the tangled mess of dark hair in his eyes.
He didn’t say anything as he reached behind Aurora, hearing him grunt weakly when he had to turn away so Daniel could reach the chains. They fell to the ground and Aurora winced visibly at the sound.
Daniel swallowed harshly.
Aurora brought his arms forward slowly, rubbing at his wrists where the metal had discolored the white bandages that extended up nearly to his elbow. Daniel reached out for one of his arms, going to work carefully unwrapping them without saying a word. He leaned against the wall, pulling his legs out from under him so he sat flat on the ground.
“You’re quiet now,” he said, part of him wanting Aurora to break the silence between them.
It was too foreign to see Aurora the way he was, slumped and staring blankly down at the ground, and Daniel couldn’t help but feel like something was horribly wrong. He was a shell of a person, not the man he knew. Daniel willed the thought away, moving to Aurora’s other arm after he’d cleaned and rewrapped the first.
“Isn’t that what you want?”
Daniel didn’t answer, reaching into his bag again and flinching when he felt the weight of Aurora’s head come to rest against his shoulder. He stopped, staring down at him wordlessly, mouth dropping open but finding no words came out.
“I don’t sleep,” Aurora mumbled softly. “I’m sorry.”
He swallowed again, not saying a word with Aurora’s head pressed up against him, and went back to work on his arm. There was something oddly concerning about how horribly apologetic in Aurora’s voice even before he’d actually muttered out an actual apology. Daniel set his arm down carefully once he’d finished tying off the bandages.
“Y-you’re going to have to sit up. I need to change the other ones,” Daniel said softly.
Aurora didn’t move right away, sitting still for a moment before he brought his head slowly off of Daniel’s shoulder, eyes still glued to the ground. Daniel reached his hands carefully forward, hand brushing over Aurora’s side in order to find where the bandages had been tied off before.
“Does it hurt?”
“Strange sort of luck that she decided not to kill me right then. I had to suffer, but I’m not dead…somehow still alive,” Aurora replied softly.
“Does it hurt, Aurora?” Daniel repeated.
Daniel nodded, not saying another word. They were silent when Daniel continued to unwrap the bandages around his middle, running a bit of the fabric soaked in what he hoped would continue to keep the wound cleaned. He felt Aurora tense every time, biting his lip to back any sort of sound that he so obviously refused to escape him.
“Do you need me to stop?”
Aurora didn’t answer beyond shaking his head.
It was odd how cold his skin felt against Daniel’s hands, somehow feeling no warmer than the stone beneath the two of them. He was pale, sickly, and his ribs were still visible as soon as the old bandages were pulled away.
Daniel’s eyes followed the smooth line of his stomach, down beyond the bruises, the painful imperfections. He reached out, sliding a hand down his side to sweep away the dark stains of dirt, pressing over still healing skin and feeling Aurora wince beneath him.
Wrapping him was more difficult and Aurora had to shrug his shirt off his shoulders to keep it out of the way. Daniel refused to look up at him until he was finished, brushing his hands off on his pants.
“Thank you,” Aurora called softly when Daniel was beginning to pack his things away again.
He looked over at him and Daniel finally caught sight of the impossible colored eyes beneath the curtain of his hair. Daniel brought a hand forward slowly, reaching out carefully to catch his jaw and titling Aurora’s face up to where he could see it clearly. “Did you have this bruise before?”
A sad sort of smile flickered across the other man’s lips before it disappeared into the blankness once again.
“If you hate me, Daniel, you don’t have to be so kind about all of this. They were never kind about it-“
“I’m not them,” he replied, cutting him off.
“Beginning to take back what you said earlier, are you?”
“You don’t…?” Aurora mimicked.
“I don’t hate you, Aurora.”
“You’re the first then-“
“I don’t hate you,” he repeated more firmly.
“I deserve it,” Aurora added softly.
“No, you don’t.”
There was silence then for a moment and Daniel dared to look up only to find that a similar smile had crept across Aurora’s face but his eyes, even more red rimmed than usual, betrayed the attempted happiness of his expression. He sniffled, glancing away from Daniel and moved to wipe his face on his sleeve.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to see this.”
A horrible sort of sorrow clung to the single word, hanging in the air before it came crashing down along with whatever remained of Aurora’s composure.
“I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “You could be happy without me. You could have something, a life, without me.”
“Daniel, I’m sorry-“
A hand went over Aurora’s mouth before he could stop it, cutting him off.
Aurora peeled his fingers back gently. “You don’t trust me. You know what I did,” he cried, his voice a mix between sorrow and a fleeting anger. “You can’t trust me.”
Daniel was quiet for a moment and Aurora wiped his eyes again, the same sad smile returning to his face.
“You know it’s true-“
For once, Aurora didn’t argue with him. Instead his eyes only went to the ground to flicker away from the sternness in Daniel’s gaze. For a moment, Daniel stayed crouched, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. He moved back against the wall then, sitting beside him silently and feeling Aurora lean his head down against his shoulder again.
“Will you stay?”
“I can’t. I need to go back to Fina.”
Aurora was silent.
“I’ll stay for a little while,” Daniel said when Aurora didn’t speak again.
He sat there, only hearing Aurora sigh half contently, in utter silence for a while. Aurora didn’t move off his shoulder, somehow pressing himself closer. It was beyond odd to think about anything either one had said but, he couldn’t focus on anything else.
Truthfully, he forgot why he even came in the first place. Aurora’s obviously harmless meeting with Sarafina clearly hadn’t been any harm to her. He wasn’t a danger to her or anyone else other than himself.
Daniel looked down at him, reaching up to brush some of the hair out of Aurora’s face, and quickly found that his eyes were closed. “Aurora?”
He didn’t answer.
I don’t sleep, Aurora had said earlier.
Daniel didn’t have the heart to move.