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In the Darkness

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    “Julian…?” a young woman asked quietly upon finding the usual dispassionate general kneeling on the ground, his arm wrapped tightly around his ribs as he fought to control his breathing. 

    “Y-Yes Angelique…?” he returned with a grunt, the seventeen-year-old casting her a sullen look as he began to push himself up from the dirt.

    “What happened…?”

    “Although it may surprise you to know, not everyone sees eye to eye with me at all times… Now if you’d please, Quinfio requests your presence…”

    Slowly the blonde watched him get to his feet, a few tries needed after he failed to gain proper footing. Judging by the way he staggered down the hall she could tell he had taken more ‘corrections’ than he had in years, nevermind whatever he’d been through beforehand that night.

    His mallow uniform was disheveled and riddled with rips and tears as far as the eye could see, each hole soaked with the ever familiar shade of crimson that oozed from his wounds. Beneath it his skin too was stained with the substance and wherever it hadn’t crossed yet faint bruises could be seen to be forming, various colors ranging from black to a sickly yellow taking shape as time passed. Hidden by his burnt sienna locks a deep gash - no doubt their master’s doing - graced his right temple, the stray strands plastering themselves to his skin and the wound as it continued to run down his side.

    Seeing the way he held his torso it was almost certain that he had fractured a rib or two, but with what little luck he had maintained throughout the night he’d kept the same from occurring to his limbs. His countenance, on the other hand, had taken the brunt of the discipline as shown by his busted lip and the trickles of blood dribbling down from both it and his nose. In their swollen and blackened state his burgundy eyes avoided hers as best they could as he passed, the orbs dull with defeat and shame as he went. Although his left eye could hardly be seen through the puffed up lids she had seen his current resolve to remain stoic through it all, just as he had been taught from so long ago.

    He - much like most of those under their master’s command - had believed from years of his time as an apprentice that wounds were signs of mistakes; mistakes that weren't to be helped or spoken about with others. Even if it meant death he would keep his pain hidden from those around him, and she didn’t blame him for it after growing up as he had.  As a child he’d been the son of a blueblood in France cast out for being of an impure bloodline, leaving him to fend for himself in the streets until their master had taken him under his wing as his next apprentice alongside her.

    The years on the streets and disconnection from any that may have shown compassion had left him unemotional, which made the task of molding him into a general nearly impossible to fail. It would take merely six years for him to become just as Quinfio had planned him to after many trials set to test both his physical and mental abilities, or break them just as they had those before him.

    In that time he’d been trained in nearly every subject that was thought to be necessary for his role as a general, including everything from swordsmanship to deception by illusion. No matter what it had been, he’d taken in every grain of knowledge presented to him through experience crafted by trial and error. Unfortunately, errors resulted in what their master would call ‘corrections’, errors that he had paid for on countless occasions during his time under their master’s wing.

    On that night, however, it was evident that even now he still had failed to meet his master’s expectations, and she knew all too well what the cause of that dissatisfaction had been. She had even known from the beginning that it would lead him to meet the fate that he had only minutes before, but she had also known better than to allow him to accept it as a mistake this time.

    “And where are you going?” she sternly queried following quickly after him, which proved to be an easy task considering the small limp he’d gained.

    “Wherever I must to keep from Kitrina,” he huskily replied attempting to hasten his pace to avoid speaking of the matter. “She - much like you I’m afraid - has a penchant for wanting to take on the responsibility of my mistakes…”

    “Just as she should, you’re not exactly someone that makes it easy not to worry about. Honestly, how many times have you disappeared instead of going home to keep her from worrying?”

    “It’s none of your concern Angelique, your main objective for the time being should be doing as Quinfio has requested…”

    “My ‘main objective’ is taking care of your sorry behind so you can stop making her suffer too, now stop with the superior talk and let me help.”

    “Mind your place Cadiss, do as you’re told…”

    As if by instinct she latched onto his arm as gently as she could to keep him from continuing down the corridor, her expression stern as he glowered at her in return for disobeying his orders. They both knew how the confrontation would end, just as it had for years beforehand.

    He may have been the star pupil when it came to the proper matters of war, but she excelled at what others would call the nasty part of it due to her abilities of dealing with emotions. 

    “You’re going home,” she growled slightly refusing to release him despite his wincing. “She’s already been through enough as it is and you’re not going to repay her by abandoning her for days at a time.”

    “Do you truly think I wish to treat her as such?” he hissed struggling to maintain his dispassionate composure, his hidden emotions nearly overcoming him as they spoke of the object of his apparent downfall. “She refuses to allow me to leave at night in fear that I may not return, and I don’t blame her considering all that she has is now me, lest you forget that her life is now what it is for that reason. I would give anything to see her safe and happy after all that she’s lost in order to stay with me, even my own life if that’s what it would take to keep her from any more harm at my hands.”

    “And what would happen if you did die, huh? Do you really think she’d be happy that you left her without any way to help you out of it or even see you one last time before it happened? Julian, Kit deserves to have you come home and be given the chance to take care of you, that’s what she wants .”

    He had opened his mouth to fire back another argument but couldn’t force himself to continue, the truth of the matter too much for him to deny despite how much he wished to dismiss it. She - in her typical fashion - had struck the intended heartstring, and she had known well before doing so what its effect would have even if his facade remained.

    From the time they’d been children she had been able to see past the many masks he fabricated to guard himself, masks that had taken on countless appearances throughout their apprenticeship. In truth, it had been natural for her to see beyond such acts after having to put on her own before she’d been taken in by their master, her life in its entirety a masquerade created by her mother to save face.  She - more than any of their ranks - had been the easiest to mold seeing as she hadn’t a true foundation to build upon, making her ability to read others and manipulate them with what they expected impossible to be matched. It had been those advancements that had lead her to become the pseudo-guardian of the group, the mother that sought to keep them safe from the consequences of their intentions by looking beyond their false justifications.

    Having been questioned on his present intentions, Angel - as she had been known to do - had exposed to him what he had previously ignored out of righteousness. He had allowed himself to be blinded by the need to keep Kitrina happy presently, but what truly mattered was what would happen should she be left waiting for him .

    “She wants you to come home…” Angel whispered softly with concern hoping he had understood the goodwill of her own intentions. “Don’t make her wait any more than you did…”

    “...Okay…” he reluctantly murmured giving into her hold on him for support before she began to lead him away, a shallow sigh given as he allowed his head to rest on her shoulder and they disappeared into the darkness.

    Slowly the pair hobbled through the night for what felt as though it had been hours on her part before the mansion he had come to call home loomed in the distance, a single light on the third floor distinct against the bejeweled sky. Following his mother’s untimely passing he had inherited it - with the help of Angel investigations - to use as a place of solitude, which it indeed had become for both him and the young woman now residing with him. It was certain that the lone light belonged to her as she waited for his return, just as she had done countless night prior. 

    Once they had reached the front gate he was carefully lead down the pathway and up the steps before being adjusted to allow the ringing of the doorbell, a small grunt of pain given as his arm was tugged in the wrong direction. After a few moments of waiting the sound of someone flying down the stairs could be heard from inside, a quick turning of locks heard before the door was yanked open by the disheveled sixteen-year-old. 

    Her expression reflected that of a woman ready to take care of whatever she would be presented with, but upon catching a glimpse of her eyes Angel could see the panic running rampant within her.

    “Oh thank God…” Kitrina whispered before rushing forward to hold him with relief, the surprising embrace lasting only moments before she began to lead them inside.

    Gently her arms held him as she pulled the pair through the door and to the living room where they set him on the couch, the brunette taking off without another word to find the first-aid kit as Angel helped prepare him for treatment. Judging by the way he grimaced she could tell his pain had begun to come in waves, his consciousness tested with each pulse as adrenaline faded from his system with each passing minute. 

    “She’ll be up all night now,” he informed Angel through gritted teeth as she propped him up against the arm. “Whereas I’ll soon black out from exhaustion or pain - both of which will alarm her - she’ll be unable to rest until she’s certain I’ll be alright…”

    “She wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyways,” she returned switching on the lamp beside them. “With you gone and not knowing where to she’d have been up worrying until you came back… Now she’ll be able to at least try to get some sleep with you home and taken care of, you just have to stay put.”

    “Believe me, she won’t allow me to move from this place for at least a day or two now, her stubbornness will make certain of that…”

    At this Angel chuckled, the statement all too true knowing how the young woman worked. She’d always been known to their group as the stubborn one in the equation, someone who would remain headstrong even when at the edge of defeat. It had always been a trait that he’d found fascinating about the petite female, even during those times that it had been used in order refuse his affections.

    The truth was he admired such a strong spirit rising up and shaking away the dust from her own checkered past; it reminded him quite often of his mother. Looking back on how she was often spoken of he was certain she would’ve loved Kitrina being apart of his life, possibly more than even Angel did.

    However, much like his mother her penchant for providing care for those who deserved it - even if they hadn’t wanted or needed it - was more overprotective than one could bargain for. Once set upon taking care of another she wouldn’t rest nor ease up on their treatment until they were completely recovered, not even for her own sake.

    Such was the case when she returned a few minutes later with the container bearing the recognizable red cross over the top of its blue and white surface, her hands working quickly to pull out its contents before getting to work. With ease she snipped away the torn pieces of his uniform and gently wiped away the crimson turned brown from his wounds, a gauze pad and medical tape placed over each before moving to the next. Steadily she worked to clear the filth from his battered skin as his faint noises of pain went unheard, the brunette focused solely on completing the task at hand until she reached his face.

    It was at this moment that she paused to take in the extent of his injuries with a shaky deep breath, her lips pursing as she fought to keep the tears welling in her eyes from flowing over out of sympathy. Giving a few moments to calm herself she gently dabbed the blood from his mouth and nose before continuing to the gash on his right temple, her touch soft as she washed and covered it to prevent him any more harm. With her task complete she cautiously wiped his eyes upon seeing his own tears beginning to form, his silent apologies and guilt evident as she watched over him.

    Wishing to ease his pain she leaned over and pressed a kiss to his forehead, a sigh drifting from her lips as she then rested her head against his for support. Carefully he reached to caress her cheek to ensure her everything would be fine, her own hand holding it to her as they sat in silence for a few moments more.

    Upon breaking from their embrace she cast him a faint smile worry as she sat back to look at him, her thoughts focused on maintaining his health and comfort now that he had been returned to her for the time being.

    “Sleep now mon chevalier,” she whispered gently smoothing his hair sensing he was beginning to give way to slumber. “We’ll talk when you’re feeling up for it… Until then I just want you to rest; and I’ll be here if you need me, okay…?”

    “If anything changes feel free to call,” Angel offered standing to leave as she checked her watch. “I’d like to talk to him too after he gets better if you don’t mind…”

    “Of course, thanks for the assist Angel…”

    “Well, he should’ve been coming here anyways Kit… I’m hoping this will make him reconsider that next time.”

    He managed a smile. Somehow despite all that he’d put them through they had taken care of him when he’d needed it, even if he hadn’t wanted to admit he needed it. He could’ve been beaten to a bloody pulp over a wrong decision and they’d still be there to drag him home and wrap him up in bandages, crying over his stupidity and all.

    He had once thought his world to be that of only darkness, and yet, here stood the two stars he had found to guide his way, stars that had found him when he thought himself to be lost.

    Stars in darkness indeed , his thoughts whispered as he, at last, drifted off into unconsciousness. I love you my beautiful star, you and my guardian angel...