Aurora couldn’t bring himself to say another word, barely able to breathe beyond a single gasp that had since faded away. Thirteen years, far too long for him even to remember the night clearly, seemed like a century. He stammered, clearing his throat in an attempt to say something, anything at all, but nothing came out.
Shaking his head quickly, hands going to his hair and knocking the hat from his head, his eyes slammed shut. It couldn’t be real, not after what he had finally come to accept. Silas was dead, shot on the night they made a futile attempt at staying free. Of course, it hadn’t worked and after all, it was only delaying an inevitable that had caught up with him and torn a hole straight through him.
“You know, I’m starting to think you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”
Daniel shifted atop the stairs. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen him speechless. Whoever you are, you should be impressed.”
“No, no,” Aurora cried, sinking to his knees, “no, you’re not...you’re not here. Dead...dead, he’s dead. You’re dead!”
And yet, Silas’ hand felt real on his shoulder. Aurora looked up, tears spilling from his eyes the moment he opened them again. He was shaking but his arms wrapped around Silas’ neck, head buried in the crook of his shoulder.
“You’re dead,” he repeated, voice muffled by the fabric of his jacket.
Aurora clung there, shrinking down against him as Silas pulled him closer. He couldn’t bring himself to believe it, not after so long. In dreams, similar things had happened only to be ripped away from him the moment his eyes opened.
He didn’t want to wake up.
“Hello, little brother. It’s good to see you too.”
Clinging to him, Aurora only sobbed harder.
“Oh, wonderful. There’s two of you,” Daniel sighed from behind them. “As if keeping him in line wasn’t hard enough for me.”
He didn’t know how long it was that he stayed there but the stain on Silas’ jacket when he brought his head away was proof enough. Aurora wiped his eyes, head dropping in disbelief. “No, you’re not-”
“Evander,” Silas whispered, hands going to the sides of his face. “I’m right here.”
His eyes were different, similar to how they had been before, and yet the obvious change was there. They had always been akin to a match in a way. For a while, they had been long since struck out, left as nothing more than a faded pit where light had once been. However, the longer he stared, the longer Aurora realized they had since changed and while they didn’t burn the want they had when they were younger, something had begun to smolder behind an unfamiliar glint.
Aurora’s head shot up suddenly and he went staggering to his feet, turning to Daniel as anger flashed back into his mind. He strode forward quickly, a finger raised accusingly. “How long did you kno-”
He was cut off, yelping when Silas lifted him off the ground and set him quickly down behind him. Hands went back to his shoulders, but Aurora was too focused on the jolt of pain that had lurched through him. He grit his teeth, stumbling backwards.
Silas looked alarmed. “I’m sorry-”
“How long?” Aurora rasped, swallowing the lump in his throat.
“Evander, he didn’t know who I was.”
Calming himself was more difficult than he expected. Part of him still was convinced he was in a dream, trapped in some hell for a short while only to wake up again, while the other half or so of him was far too furious with Daniel to concentrate.
Aurora swallowed, legs wobbling beneath him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Silas frowned, staying silent.
“We should go inside,” Daniel interrupted, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Allikeo-“
“His name is Silas,” Aurora growled, eyes narrowing sharply.
No one said anything and Silas only moved to his side, wrapping an arm carefully around him. Aurora let him, instantly leaning against the support and trying his very hardest not to fall. His head felt heavy, confusion warping with anger and something else he couldn’t even hope to describe. He didn’t want to believe he was afraid, but the quiver in his limbs said otherwise.
And yet, he didn’t feel the familiar sense of dread that had settled over him. The cloud that loomed over his head, the darkness and the demon cloaked terror, wasn’t there. Even if he’d been with Daniel, the feelings of loneliness, something akin to total abandonment, had never gone away.
For the first time in ages, he wasn’t alone.
For the first time in over a decade, he felt safe.
The room had fallen into silence.
He hadn’t said a word beyond the occasional expression of alarm or anger while Silas did his best to explain what he could. Aurora been staring into the hearth, too numb to focus on anything else, for most of the conversation. However, that was a lose description of the one sided rambled that had gone on for far too long.
He looked up, shaking his head from where he sat cross-legged on the floor.
“I abandoned you.”
Silas frowned, sliding down carefully off his chair to sit down in front of him. “When?”
“When we ran away,” Aurora paused, swallowing harshly, “I left you behind. Do you know how much that hurt me?”
“I never meant to hurt you. Do you at least understand why I told you to run?”
Aurora stared at the ground, face scrunching. “It doesn’t matter now, does it? Whatever chance you gave me at getting away was for nothing. You wasted it on me.”
He nearly yelped when Silas grabbed for the front of his shirt, wincing and preparing to be struck, but Silas only pulled him forward roughly. “I spent my life trying to protect you. Do you understand that? They caught me, threw me in prison, but I didn’t care. In fact, I was glad to be there if it meant you had gotten away from the suffering I went through.”
The moment Silas released, Aurora scrambled backwards away from him. A scowl, eyes narrowing and teeth baring, flashed across his face. “I didn’t mean-“
“Do you think you’re the only one who suffered?” Silas demanded. “I watched my little brother get shot down by the leader of the Dravara. I couldn’t do anything about it, nothing. Don’t you dare tell me I wasted my life on you.”
They were silent then, both bristling and staring back into the anger burning in the eyes facing them. Aurora swallowed, stepping back slowly and bowing his head. “I’m sorry.”
“I wasn’t finished,” he growled. “She hurt you, didn’t she?”
Aurora was struck by the question, once again retreating back but Silas followed his every step until he was backed against the wall. He was stuck, caught in the middle of a conversation he never wanted to have. The two had only just been reunited and a few mere hours ago, Aurora was sobbing against his shoulder. And yet, only a short while later, things had already shattered.
“I don’t think-“
“Quiet,” Silas called warningly the moment Daniel moved towards them.
The hat slipped forward, obscuring his vision until it was ripped away by Silas, landing without a sound nearby.
“I know the answer, Evander,” his brother hissed.
“Aurora,” he argued weakly.
Silas’ hand went to his collar, tearing it open with a jerk of his hand to reveal the slender scars that slithered their way across his chest. Even before the scar tissue had formed where angry red slashes had been, he’d known about them. Aurora swallowed, unable to glance down at them for more than a few seconds before his attention moved back to Silas’ eyes. However, anger was something he didn’t see anymore.
“It’s what she does,” he continued brokenly, “but there comes a point where you can’t let the hurting continue. You’re out of that place…and that’s so much more than some can say.”
His expression fell, dropping whatever false rage had been there. Truly, he’d never been angry at Silas. There was nothing that granted him that, an anger at something that he didn’t even fully understand.
“I know,” he replied softly.
For a long while, not a soul spoke. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything against him, to argue or spit some venom back that both of them knew he didn’t mean. It wasn’t until Daniel cleared his throat from across the room that Aurora looked up again.
“You two obviously need to handle this on your own,” he cut in. “If you need anything, I’ll be in the other room.”
He left without another word, quietly moving off to some other part of the house Aurora didn’t bother to pay attention to.
“You’re not the only one she hurt. There are plenty of us, enough to end it once and for all. This isn’t about revenge anymore, not for her. She’s mad,” Silas said gently, voice lowering suddenly. “I’m sorry for not coming back right away. I was afraid of putting you in more danger than you needed to be faced with. You had enough to deal with without me being there.”
“I understand,” Aurora grumbled, relief washing over him when Silas backed away.
There was a pause, however brief, before Aurora looked up with a snort. “Allikeo, hmm?”
Silas smiled. “I didn’t chose it. Would you like to explain Aurora to me?”
His shoulders hunched forward, one heel scuffing on the ground. “It came from a friend, that’s all.”
“A friend,” his older sibling echoed. “As in, a lover?”
Aurora’s nose wrinkled and he scoffed. “You say that like I would have had the time for that. But no, she wasn’t a lover,” he paused, trying to steady his voice, “just a friend.”
“Oh, a woman, of course not then,” Silas agreed. “Who was she?”
He was silent.
Silas cleared his throat. “Evander?”
“You’re going to have to forgive me when I tell you not to ask.”
There was a lump growing in his throat again and his fingers pressed into his bandaged palms harshly, nails digging into the cloth. He swallowed, stammering out something of an apology before he made his way towards the door.
“I-I need to go out for-“
The door was slammed in front of him, a heavy arm leaning against it as Silas slid in front of him. “Evander, it’s late. You should sleep.”
“Aurora,” he corrected warningly. “For the last time, I’m not Evander anymore.”
A sigh. “Why won’t you talk to me?”
“Silas,” he stopped, shaking his head, “or Allikeo, or whoever you are just…leave me alone. I don’t want to talk.”
Silas put a hand to his chest. “I’m still the same person. No matter what name I go by, it’s still me. I’m still the same, Evander.”
Aurora looked down. “Well, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
With a shaking hand, he reached for the doorknob. “Please, let me-“
“I’ll go if you’d like. You will never see me again,” Silas said suddenly. “You can forget I ever came back. Coming here wasn’t just so I could bother you. I know you have enough to deal with without me being here, but I just want to help you, Ev…Aurora. When I found out you were alive, I swore I wouldn’t stop until I found you again. But if this isn’t what you want, just say the word and,” he paused, sighing, “I’ll be gone. There are people like you, a resistance determined to stop the very thing that happened to you, to us and so many.”
Aurora shoved him aside, throwing the door open. “Why did you come back now?”
“I don’t understand-“
“Why not sooner?” he snapped. “You could have stopped so much suffering. I got people killed. I killed someone. While in prison, I watched a stable boy beaten to death because of my mistakes! Daniel without getting dragged back into this could have been happy, living with Sarafina and forgetting about me.”
“Aurora, you can’t just-“
“Fighting back nearly killed me the first time,” he paused, glancing over his shoulder, “and most days, I wish it would have.”
Horrified, Silas trailed after him down the steps. “You don’t mean that.”
He put a hand to his side, more of a reflex than it was any comfort to him. It wasn’t the wound, rather whatever healing remainder of it, which had been hurting him.
A shriek, that’s what it was, despairing and desperate, feeble and pathetic, and everything in between. Aurora choked, swallowing back another sob that bubbled up in his chest, boiled in his blood and sent needles down to his fingertips. Silas was there, reaching out a cautious hand for his shoulder, but Aurora only tore away, stumbling and half falling before he managed to catch himself.
He stayed there, cursing and rolling sideways to sit.
“You don’t mean that,” Silas repeated, biting at his lip. “You don’t, I know you don’t. Come with me, south where they are-“
“They don’t want broken people, Silas.”
He was hauled to his feet with a grumble of protest.
“That’s exactly who they want. We need people who know what she’s done, witnessed it, and lived it even. There aren’t many of us-“
“We?” he mocked. “Us?”
Silas nodded unsurely. “Yes, we. I’m a part of the resistance. People from all over are a part of them, even south of here, the islands. There aren’t many, not as nearly as many as there should be, but enough to stop this.”
“I don’t care,” he sighed. “Just leave me to deal with this. I’m thrilled you’re alive…truly, I am, but I’m done fighting. That part of me died when I watched a boy beaten to death because of what I did. You can’t fight her, not now. Coming back for me was a waste of time-“
“Evander, I swear I’ll flatten you if you say that again.”
Aurora couldn’t tell if he was joking.
“You may not be able to do it on your own, but you can’t underestimate us. Everyone in the resistance has something to fight for, men and women, anyone who will fight with us. I’m not asking you to join us, but please, come with me. I just want you to see it. Traveling is better with company, you know?”
The hopefulness in his voice was somewhere between off putting and annoying.
“No, it’s not.”
For a few moments, there was only a vacant silence. Stubborn footsteps followed him as he turned, striding down the road at his heel.
“You don’t have to follow me. I’m not as helpless as you remember me to be.”
Silas slid in front of him, boots skidding over hard packed earth. “You’re forgetting that for years, I took care of you. I kept you safe and I can’t just abandon you now. Please, just travel with me. Daniel can come too, he and his daughter will be completely safe. We won’t even be near the east and no one west of there will recognize you. I know a road, an old one but, one that few use. It will only be a few days.”
Once again, Aurora started off. He glanced back, seeing Silas stop in the middle of the road and tipping his hat as he moved down into the darkness, further down the road to where eventually Silas and everything else would be out of sight.
He was finished, beaten finally.
“Evander, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, for everything. I don’t mind if you blame me, it’s alright. If it helps, take it out on me.”
Aurora paused, wincing. “Don’t bother with apologies…and don’t bother coming after me.” He swallowed before adding a shakily spoken, “Please.”
Without another word, Aurora started off again. Silas was the same, that much was true, just as hopelessly devoted as he had been over a decade ago. He didn’t seem to understand much less accept the fact that Aurora didn’t need to be hovered over, not anymore.
He didn’t need anyone.