“May I please open my eyes?”
Aurora sighed, one hand still protectively around his middle as Sarafina dragged him along slowly. After three days of convincing, she had finally gotten him out of the house and off on some mundane adventure outside. Just how and why Daniel had trusted the two to go baffled him. But he was far too tired to spend much energy thinking about it.
He still didn’t sleep much.
The night before he awoke to howling that reminded him of the east even if the moment he opened the door half in a panic, the land was still unfamiliar to him. He’d wandered, unable to sleep and eventually made it to a small clearing before he returned. Of course, he suffered for it and the longer he went without sleep, the worse he felt. However, sleeping meant risking the return of things he’d worked so hard to forget.
He wasn’t sure which was worse.
Her pace quickened and he swore under his breath, tugging back and forcing her to slow again. Even if he was healing, moving much beyond a walk was incredibly uncomfortable.
“Slow down,” he barked.
Their destination wasn’t explained beyond Fina’s quick few words about how important a place it was. He didn’t know just how significant anywhere could be that he’d been dragged out of the house without the chance to argue. However, Aurora had made a deal with her and if he went with her to the important place, she would leave him alone.
Hopefully she’d uphold her end of the bargain.
Aurora felt her stop, nearly stumbling into her. “Now?”
“Yes, open your eyes!”
Aurora did as he was told, blinking quickly against the sudden brightness around them. His nose wrinkled, lips falling into a frown. “This is it?”
“Do you want to play a game? I like games-“
He scoffed. “You brought me to a meadow?”
Sarafina looked offended. “My papa used to bring me here with my mother.”
Swallowing and half cursing himself for saying anything, he looked away. “Oh.”
“He doesn’t like coming here anymore,” Sarafina continued, reaching down to pluck a wildflower from the ground and holding it out for Aurora to take.
Shaking his head, he started towards the shade of the other two trees that stood in the clearing. They were far from any others, directly in the middle of the meadow that was full of grasses that climbed to his knees and flowers like the one Sarafina had picked.
“Aurora?” she called expectantly.
He sat down beneath one of the old oaks, leaning backwards until he fell into the grass with a groan. His hat fell away, landing a few inches away until Sarafina scooped it up from the ground and placed it atop her head. The girl giggled then and he only draped an arm over his eyes, listening to the rustling of leaves in the breeze.
“Can I help you with something?”
A gentle kick at his side made him roll over to see the hat falling into her eyes. “I asked if you wanted to play a game.”
“You did,” he answered simply. “Can I have my hat back?”
Aurora reached out towards her, holding on hand out towards her. Instead, she only skipped away with a laugh. “Take it back if you’re so scary.”
He sighed, trying to keep the laugh from his voice. “Give it back.”
The girl only scuttled further away when he reached for her a second time. Aurora lowered himself onto his back again, watching as she danced around him with the feathered hat bouncing on her head. It was far too large and slid down over her eyes, obscuring her vision every few seconds, but Sarafina just laughed.
“Why do you have this hat?”
“A friend gave it to me,” he answered, rolling his head sideways to look at her.
She smiled, giggling. “It looks like a lady hat. Are you a lady?”
Aurora rolled his eyes. “It’s not a hat for a lady. Don’t you know that stealing is rude? I would hate to tell your father-“
“Papa would laugh because you can’t get it back by yourself.”
He draped an arm over his eyes again, grumbling.
Again, a soft kick at his side.
“Are you a lady? You’re not a very pretty one-“
She squealed when he rolled sideways, reaching out to grab for his hat and nearly crying out when his bandages pulled. Aurora collapsed over onto his belly, mumbling out a slew of curses as he wrapped an arm carefully back around his middle. Sarafina bounded away, laughing just the same. “Almost got me!”
“Alright, that’s enough. Hat,” he commanded, “now. And I’ll have you know I’d make a stunning lady.”
Sarafina only grinned.
Aurora pushed himself to his feet carefully. “I won’t ask again.”
The girl sighed, expression falling as she removed the hat from her head and held it out towards him. Aurora frowned. “Stop that.
The pouting didn’t stop.”
“It’s my hat,” he detailed sternly. “You can’t have it.”
And yet, the girl continued to pout. Aurora rolled his eyes, moving forward carefully to take it for her. Fina’s hand snatched away and she turned, bare feet skidding over the grass as she bounded away from him.
Sarafina laughed, holding it out for him. “Come on!”
“Give it back, little fawn.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Little fawn?”
Aurora leaned back against the tree, shrugging. “Haven’t you seen a fawn playing before? They’re probably just as ornery as you are, not listening when they should. I’m starting to think you are one.”
“People aren’t deer, silly.”
She came closer then, shoving him off of the tree and backwards in view of both of them. Aurora opened his mouth to protest but she only shushed him, pointing at the two oaks in front of them.
“My papa says that one,” she paused to point at the one on the left, “was dying before he left. The other tree was sad, I think, and it started dying too.”
Aurora frowned, gazing up into the branches. “They seem fine now-“
“They are!” she exclaimed. “Look, they’re growing again. They’re friends and friends take care of each other.”
He snorted. “Plenty of things can make a tree die-“
“They’re friends,” Sarafina insisted, reaching up to take his hand. “They need each other.”
Aurora tried tugging away but she held fast, smiling up at him. He sighed, staring back up through the leaves once more. “You seem to think most things are friends.”
She pulled at his hand again, tugging for him to follow.
“Did you bring me here only to steal my hat-“
“When my mom was here, we used to play a cloud game. She would point at one and I said what it looked like. Do you know that game?”
Sarafina didn’t want for him to respond, dropping down to the ground and motioning for him to do the same. He pulled his hand free, staring upward at the clouds drifting through the blue above them. From there he sat down, laying the opposite way she did and squinting up at the clouds.
The hat rested between them.
“Do you want me to go away, Aurora?”
He frowned, craning his neck to look at her. “Why are you asking me that?”
“You’re by yourself a lot,” she explained, still staring at the clouds. “You shouldn’t have to be when you have people that care about you, I think.”
Aurora was silent.
“Do you want me to go?” she repeated.
Aurora looked back above him again, staring at the shimmering white of the clouds wandering above them. The place, something about how oddly entertained she was by seemingly nothing at all, reminded him of what felt like ages ago. There was a time when he and Silas used to be like her, a short time but a time all the same.
He didn’t think about that often.
In their world, the old world they lived in, there wasn’t evil or pain. There was no sorrow, no guilt and no nightmares that haunted either of them. The sun, warmth and safety, was the only thing that existed there. Aurora knew that world was long gone.
“You seem to think I have many people that care for me.”
“I care about you because…” she trailed off, looking up at him keenly.
Aurora sighed. “I don’t know what you want from me.”
She reached up to tap his head. “Yes, you do.”
“Because we’re friends.”
The girl giggled then and he only scowled at the sky. He expected her to stop as she had done before, but the laughter continued and Aurora was forced to look back at her. “Is something funny about that?”
“You finally get it, Aurora.”
“Papa cares about you too. He doesn’t say it, but he does. He brought you back home and stayed with you for a long, long time.”
Aurora’s face cracked into a smile. “I see.”
“He did! Papa was scared, I think.”
He tucked an arm behind his head, staying silent. It was like that way for a while and Aurora half hoped it would stay that way. However, something about the silence felt odd, too strange after a day of idle chatter.
“Aurora, I don’t think you a bad man at all.”
He swallowed a lump in his throat, smiling again. “Thank you, little fawn.”
The room spun as soon as he sat up, eyes wild and frenzied from whatever shreds of a nightmare still clung to his mind. His hand went to his chest, feeling the familiar racing and fluttering of his heart.
“Are you alright?”
He tore away from the hand on his shoulder, shoving himself back against the wall in terror before he realized it was only Daniel. There was nothing to be afraid of, not once his eyes were open to the real world again. Swallowing harshly, he reached up to rub his eyes and nodded slowly.
The last few nights had been spent in front of the fire on a makeshift cot Daniel had given him. He’d been offered a room, but Aurora saw no point in claiming a room if he was only going to be leaving very soon.
“You’re a pain to wake up,” Daniel sighed, shaking his head.
Aurora climbed to his feet, bracing one arm against the wall as he tried to slow the frantic beats of his heart. He wasn’t in any danger, nothing immediate, and there was no reason for him to be as terrified as he was. However, no matter how many times he tried telling himself that, it didn’t work.
It was the things that he’d done, the destruction and death he’d caused that haunted him the most. Those things never left, not for a second. They were always with, drifting into his thoughts even when all else was calm. With those things, those dreaded memories, nothing was every truly calm.
“What was it this time?”
“Nothing,” Aurora breathed, hands quivering as he dared to look down at them.
Daniel cleared his throat. “Elizabeth?”
He wanted to be angry, but he didn’t have the energy to snap at him. Instead, Aurora only nodded his head slowly.
“That wasn’t your fault,” Daniel reminded, stepping cautiously forward.
Aurora closed his eyes, laughing bitterly. “I’m still trying to convince myself.”
With shaking hands, he reached down for the hat that had come to rest just beside where his head had been. He glanced to the door, his exit, and quickly shoved Daniel aside to move towards it.
However, he wasn’t the first person to reach the door.
“No, you’re not going anywhere.”
“You can’t stop me,” Aurora growled. “I’m fine.”
Daniel’s hand closed over the doorknob. “Says the man who wakes up every night on the verge of insanity.”
“Vex it all, Daniel. Get out of my way!”
He saw him flinch and Aurora realized his hands curled into firsts, raising before he could stop them. Recoiling, Aurora stumbled backwards a few paces before he could do anything. Daniel collected himself, eyes narrowing sharply. “You can’t keep running from this. Things happen, Aurora, and sometimes you need to…move on. You’re getting worse and you can’t run away from that.”
Aurora swallowed, cringing at the sorrow in Daniel’s eyes. He hadn’t considered that perhaps, he wasn’t the only one suffering.
“Please, I’m just trying to help you-“
“You don’t need to help me,” Aurora pleaded. “I’m leaving and then you can forget about me and any worry I’ve caused you.”
Daniel’s hands went to his hair in desperation. “Don’t you understand? I want to help you. I owe it to you to see that you’ll be alright again. This is my fault…you’re like this because of what I did. I left you behind, Aurora. Why can’t you see that I care about you? But as soon as I try to get close to you….you’re already gone.”
Aurora shifted nervously. “Daniel, believe me when I say I can handle myself.”
His grip on the doorknob dropped and Aurora watched as Daniel stepped aside. For a moment, he stood there quietly before he moved to throw the door open. However, the second the door was out of the way, Aurora leaped backwards in surprise.
“Good evening, gentlemen. Apologies for the scare.”
He scowled at the hooded man, staring back into the grey eyes staring down at him. Aurora took a cautious step back, off put by the appearance of the tall shadowy figure in the doorway. It was far too late for visitors and anyone coming to the door at all only made him nervous. No one, aside from Daniel that was, even knew he was alive.
“Surprise,” Aurora corrected.
“Ah, apologies for the surprise then.”
Daniel cleared his throat, stepping in front of Aurora. “Why are you here?”
“Don’t you recognize me, Officer Norton?”
Nodding, Daniel frowned. “Yes, I know who you are-“
“I don’t,” Aurora cut in, “but I don’t care to. If you would be so kind to step aside, I was just leaving.”
Shockingly, the man did step aside and Aurora only spared a passing glare as he went. Aurora jumped down the steps, stalking away from the two of them and only stopping when the man spoke again.
“You mentioned he was bitter, but you never said he was a vexing bastard.”
Aurora turned sharply on his heel. “How do you know who I am?”
“Well,” the man replied, “I should. Do you remember me?”
He could practically hear the frown in the man’s voice. “Oh, I suppose you wouldn’t. You only woke up for a short while. It was just after Rowena shot you-“
“Are you Dravara?” Aurora barked, bristling.
The man shook his head.
“Who are you?” he snapped.
He was followed down the steps, cautiously, by the hooded man. Aurora had half a mind to lash out when he got closer, stopping a very short distance away from him. The man reached up very slowly, shoving the hood back from his head to let it fall around his shoulders.
“Hello, Evander. Though, you go by Aurora now, don’t you?”
His heart nearly stilled in his chest.