It wasn’t until Daniel shifted beside him that he woke up.
He felt groggy, fogged over and confused when he felt someone else beside him. For a moment, he forgot where he was entirely until he blinked up at the familiar green eyes staring down at him. Aurora snorted, sitting upright stiffly and laughing dryly. “I must have dozed off. How long?”
Daniel just shrugged.
“How long?” he repeated impatiently.
“Not long at all.”
Aurora narrowed his eyes. “You’re lying.”
“A few hours.”
Unsurely, Daniel climbed to his feet and Aurora watched him make his way towards the door. Part of him felt something akin to embarrassment, shame perhaps, or something he just didn’t understand entirely. Collapsing was inevitable when he didn’t sleep, he supposed, but Daniel being there to see it only made him anxious.
Aurora frowned when he realized Daniel had stopped in the doorway to the prison, leaving his chains unbound to the wall at his back. He huffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Yes?”
“Come with me.”
“Why?” he scoffed.
“You’re not finished and we both know that-“
“I am finished,” Aurora growled back at him. “I dragged you down when we were with the Dravara, held you back. You resented me for it. I know you did.”
He stopped, pausing for a brief moment and half hoping Daniel would interrupt him. But, there was only silence between the two of them and Aurora swallowed rage.
“I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I’ll leave you and your daughter alone. You won’t hear from me again once I’m gone. But, please, I’m begging you…don’t make me stay.”
Daniel opened his mouth, a stammer and then nothing. Aurora pushed himself to his feet, one arm going protectively around his middle as he staggered forward. He reached down, sweeping his hat off the ground and letting it sit idly in his hand. Standing was difficult but walking was a different story entirely. He felt clumsy, weighed down by something that wasn’t just the discomfort it caused him.
He paused when Daniel stopped him, putting a hand in the center of his chest. “I didn’t make a mistake.”
It wasn’t worth arguing with Daniel about who was wrong. He was tired, exhausted in more ways than one, and the fight had died out of him a long time ago. Part of him wanted to be angry, furious over the fact that Daniel had bothered saving him at all, but he was done being angry.
There wasn’t a point in it.
Aurora smiled bleakly before shrugging him off, hobbling towards the exit while Daniel stood just watching him. He was dizzy, shaking it off and hoping it would disappear but, the feeling only worsened as he reached the second doorway. His eyes stared down as he reached out to brace an arm against the frame. Everything hurt, his legs shook and his head pounded with a persistent and undying agony.
His legs dropped out from under him.
Daniel was shaking his shoulder then and Aurora managed to open his eyes to look up at him in confusion. He shook his head, squinting up at him.
“Are you alright?” Daniel asked, words distorted as if spoken underwater. “Aurora, can you hear me?”
“F-fine,” he replied shakily.
Shoving him away, Aurora rolled over, pushing himself to his knees and then struggling back to his feet again. Daniel frowned in disbelief when Aurora nodded curtly to affirm what he’d said.
“See,” he hummed. “Right as rain.”
“Yes…I see- Aurora!”
He hit the ground, half caught by Daniel, and everything faded a second later.
It wasn’t until the next morning that he woke up to the surface beneath him shifting as something moved off of it. He didn’t open his eyes right away, only feeling heat leave him for a reason he didn’t understand and hearing the soft click of a door closing. It was a few moments before he sat up carefully, rubbing his aching head and reaching down to find his bandages were gone.
He stared down at it, the bruised and healing break in his skin that had been left uncovered. The wound was so small, so insignificant looking aside from the angry red of damaged skin and the speckling of bruises around it. His wrists weren’t as raw as they had been but they too were left open to the air. A groan escaped him as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.
From his best guess, it had been close to a month since he’d had a hole ripped straight through him. It still hurt, more so than he felt it should have, and the sense of dread he got from looking at it only made things worse. He didn’t remember much of that time and anything he could recall was in tatters, shreds of memories rather than anything concrete. Truly, the only thing he had to go off of was what Daniel told him or rather, what he avoided telling.
Most of what he knew were just guesses, drawn conclusions that had little chance of being entirely true.
He looked down at the floor to a pile of folded clothing, unfamiliar and yet far cleaner than the clothes he’d been wearing before. However, all that remained of that were the torn pair of trousers he’d managed to keep. He reached down painfully, pulling the shirt over his head with some difficulty and slipping into the trousers that were loose around his waist. A belt would have been useful, he thought.
The door opened as he sat down, fiddling with the buttons on his shirt.
“Oh, you’re awake.”
He nodded, not looking up. “Well, it would appear that way.”
“What happened to you? I don’t understand-“
Aurora just laughed unsurely. “It was nothing.”
“Nothing?” Daniel repeated in disbelief. “You collapsed…twice.”
He waved his hand dismissively, standing slowly with a grunt. “It has happened before. You don’t need to worry about me. I’m a man haunted by his own ghost, memories and such I don’t like thinking about. Wouldn’t that be enough to overwhelm anyone occasionally?”
“Memories don’t make a man faint,” Daniel argued.
“You obviously don’t have the same memories as I do, my friend. They can and occasionally, for me anyway, they do,” Aurora answered gruffly.
Daniel rubbed at the back of his neck. “You realize that makes you sound insane, don’t you?”
Aurora just hummed, shrugging.
“How long has it been since you slept?”
“I only woke up a few minutes ago. You should know,” he answered, puzzled.
“No,” Daniel huffed. “Slept, not collapsed, but actually slept. How long has it been?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “I was beginning to think you didn’t care about me at all. Why the sudden change of heart?”
“Aurora, I’m serious. How long has it been?”
Snorting, he walked forward towards him and Daniel stepped back against the door, closing it and cutting off his escape. He sighed, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms in front of his chest. Quite honestly, it was difficult to hide the growing unsettling feeling in his gut. But he only smiled.
Daniel looked concerned despite the scowl that appeared on his face at Aurora’s obviously unsatisfactory reply. It was untrue, in some ways, but Daniel still seemed annoyed by it. However, unlike the usual bit of fun he had in toying with him, Aurora felt nothing.
“I want you to stay with me until you’re better.”
Aurora blinked, taken aback. “What?”
“You said you don’t have any place to go. You can stay here with me and my daughter but, if you ever go anywhere near her with the intention of hurting her, I’ll-“
He scoffed. “Don’t tell me you still think I’m capable of hurting anyone.”
Daniel’s expression fell and he nodded. “I felt obligated to say something.”
He rocked back on his heels. “I appreciate the offer, really, but, me being here is only going to put you in danger. And while you didn’t seem to mind me being in danger, I’d hate to endanger you or your daughter.”
“I’m not asking you to leave. Rowena doesn’t know that I saved you or where you are. I left a note behind telling the men to act like you’d been killed. They won’t-“
“If Rowena wants details of my execution, I doubt they will all tell the same story. She will find out and when she does,” he paused shaking his head with a chuckle, “I may actually consider praying she doesn’t track things back to you.”
Daniel shifted uncomfortably in front of him, rubbing at the back of his neck. “She won’t find out. You’re safe for now.”
Aurora grinned wickedly. “Safe? I’m never safe.”
He sighed then, rubbing his head with a groan and wrapping an arm carefully around his middle. Daniel didn’t say a word but stood firm, hand still on the doorknob.
“Oh, wonderful change of venue. Is this my new prison?” Aurora asked with false interest.
“I wasn’t done talking to you.”
Aurora’s eyes rolled and he walked backwards clumsily to the bed again before sitting down heavily. He leaned back, arms braced behind him. “Carry on then. Though, I can’t guarantee I’ll be listening. You tend to talk far too long and I never was the most attentive person, was I?”
“Stop it,” Daniel snapped suddenly. “Just…stop.”
Confused, he frowned. “Stop what?”
Daniel crossed his arms in front of his chest. “This act.”
“You’re acting like everything is fine-“
Aurora ignored him, smiling as best he could despite the pit growing in his stomach. “Is that concern I hear in your voice, my dear friend?”
“You’re not fine, Aurora.” Daniel’s foot stamped against the ground harshly, heel clicking on the floor and Aurora found himself wincing at the sound.
It was a reflex, nothing more, he told himself. He stepped back then, eyes flashing to the ground. Swallowing, he tried holding back the panic bubbling back up into his chest again, racing his heart and forcing the tremble to return to his hands.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Aurora answered, voice hollow.
“I’m trying to help you-“
Aurora shoved himself to his feet, head spinning as he stalked forward. “You never cared to before.”
“I said it once and I’ll say it again, I never gave up on you. And I’m not the only one who wants you to survive. I didn’t do it alone,” Daniel replied sharply.
“Do what alone?”
“I wasn’t the only one who saved you. A man came to my door not long ago. It was important, he said, you were important. I listened and just yesterday a-“
Aurora snorted. “I don’t care-“
“Yes, you do. Seven thousand eldune was left at my door along with a note instructing me to take care of him. That was all is said. People care about you, Aurora. You have to understand that,” Daniel hissed.
For a moment, he was silent. He stepped back again, wincing at the tugging of newly healing skin when he went to fold his hands behind his back. “You’re wrong. Whoever he was made the same mistake you did in saving my life.”
“Did you ever consider it could be a taunt from her?” Aurora growled, cutting him off.
“Aurora, this isn’t a joke. Do you know who Allikeo is?”
Scoffing, he only retreated further backwards. “A traitor,” he snapped. “A dead traitor.”
“He’s not dead,” Daniel answered with a shake of his head. “He came to my door and he’s the reason…I went back for you initially. You have people who want you to live and I’m one of those people.”
Aurora shook his head, trying to formulate some sort of reply but instead only took to pacing back and forth where he could. His heart was fluttering, skipping in his chest and the more he thought about it, the more panic swelled.
“You’re making me nervous just watching you,” Daniel called cautiously a few moments later.
“You say that like I’m not nervous,” Aurora barked. “Y-you need to step aside. I need air, please, I need to go.”
“Why would anyone take interest in me?” he demanded.
Daniel swallowed. “Some are just as much against the Dravara are you are. Your name may have traveled for all we know. I’ve heard about a resistance-“
“I don’t want anything to do with a resistance. I’m done fighting.”
There was no reply from Daniel as he watched him, eyes glued to the way Aurora paced in the very same path. He couldn’t think clearly, barely able to breathe the more he considered things. Whatever remained of his composure was cracking, crumbling away until terror bubbled over and his knees nearly buckled beneath him again.
He stopped then, feeling Daniel’s hands on his shoulders and staring down at the red slipping through the spaces between his shaking fingers. Peeling his nails back from his palms, he swallowed at the sight of the bleeding indents left in his palm.
“Aurora, listen to me.”
“I am,” he replied shakily. “I…I need to go.”
To his surprised, Daniel actually stepped aside and let him out the door. He made his way to the front of the house, furniture blurring as he shoved aside a chair and clambered for the door to the house. His hands slipped, staining the brass knob until finally he wrenched it open.
Daniel was just behind him.
“Where are you going?”
Aurora stopped, wincing. “I-I don’t know.”
“Are you coming back?”
He reached up to the top of his head, swiping at empty air to find his hat wasn’t there. Sighing, he nodded his head. “Yes.”
Aurora didn’t give him the chance to reply before he was gone, down the path and into the trees.
~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel felt a tug at his shirt, small hands stretching up to pull at the loose wrinkles that weren’t tucked into his belt. He looked down, reaching to bring an arm around her tiny shoulders.
“He looks scared.”
He smiled bleakly. “Aurora isn’t scared of anything.”
“No, everyone is afraid of something. Aurora just isn’t…well.”
Sarafina looked startled, stepping back in alarm. “He’s sick?”
Shaking his head, he lifted her from the ground and closed the door behind the two of them. Aurora would come back, he told himself. However, the state he’d seen him leave in made him incredibly concerned. He didn’t trust Aurora on his own, not in a place he wasn’t familiar with and not after seeing him like that.
“He’s not sick in the way you think. Aurora isn’t sick like…”
“Aurora isn’t sick like Anna was.”
Sarafina pushed herself away to look up at him. “Does he need someone to make him better again? We can help him I think. That’s what friends do. Help each other.”
A smile crept across Daniel’s lips. “Are you two friends?”
She nodded quickly. “I made a promise to be his friend. He doesn’t have any. Even if he has a funny hat and isn’t…well, he needs friends too.”
Daniel flinched. “Did he mention me?”
Sarafina shrugged her small shoulders. “Aurora doesn’t think you trust him, I think. He’s scared of you.”
He laughed, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt. “Of me?”
“I think. He’s scared…I can tell,” she answered simply.
Daniel walked across the room to one of the chairs, sitting down heavily with Sarafina on one knee. She leaned against him. “Why is he sick?”
“Aurora hasn’t been treated nicely. People have done very bad things to him,” he answered, unable to look down at the blue eyes staring back at him.
“Did they hurt him?” she asked, appalled.
They were quiet then and for a very long while the two sat in a shared silence. Daniel could only think about what Aurora had said, the dejectedness in his tone rather than the actual words. Part of him still was conflicted, unsure if he should have cared in the first place. Surely, he was betraying some part of himself or, even worse, the land itself.
Aurora was, in every sense of the word, a fugitive.
The door opened behind them and Daniel sat up quickly, setting Sarafina down on the ground as he reached for the pistol at his side, a reflex. Somehow, despite the state he’d already seem him in, Aurora looked worse. He swept in, bringing the breeze in with him, and a spray of rain swirled in at his feet. The door closed, softly.
That was the and only way to describe the expression he held on a face that seemed oddly familiar. His eyes were lifeless, dull beneath the curtain of wet hair they peered through. His voice was like gravel, just as dismal as the smile he tried to force upon his lips.
“I’m touched, you waited for me.”
“Where did you go?”
The airiness disappeared from his tone. “Away.”
Sarafina trotted over to him, walking up on her toes as she reached for one of his still fingernail damaged hands. She led him to the center of the room and Daniel met them there, moving to rummage in the cabinets for a crude box of medical supplies. “Did anyone see you?”
Aurora was silent.
He cleared his throat. “Aurora?”
“I won’t be staying. Thank you for your offer but, I want you and your daughter to forget I was ever here.”
Daniel blinked. “That’s it? You told me you didn’t have a place to go-“
“Why would we want to forget you?”
Aurora tore his hand away from her then, crouching low on the ground and grabbing for the table to support himself. “I hurt people, innocent people. Believe me, Fina, when I say you don’t want someone like me around. I’ve had enough chances and still, I’ve only hurt…not helped. I’m not someone you want as your friend.”
Surprisingly, the girl stood her ground. “People do bad things. You get more chances now. Maybe this time you can get it right.”
Aurora stood, groaning as his arm went back to his middle. “I’ve had far too many chances,” he grumbled, eyes rising to Daniel. “They were wasted on me in the first place.”
Daniel flinched as Aurora turned, stalking off back into the bedroom he’d woken up in before. The door slammed behind him.
“Is he really leaving?”
He looked down at her, swallowing harshly. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t think he’s bad. Did he really hurt people?” she asked more quietly.
Daniel shook his head, rubbing at the back of his neck again. “Yes, he did. But, it wasn’t his fault. Aurora…”
Even if he was given a millennium, an infinite amount of time to think, Daniel doubted he ever would have been able to finish his sentence. Instead he only looked down at the kit in his hand. “I should take this to him.”
“Is he hurt now?” Sarafina asked, peering cautiously towards the door.
She bit her lip. “I’ll make him better again. We both can, okay?”
Daniel smiled. “I wish you luck in that, my dear. I can’t do it all on my own but, maybe you can.”
“I can,” she said, nodding to confirm her statement. “I know I can.”