He came to her, as he always did, to their chosen secret place, and she smiled as he appeared, breathing heavily from the long walk uphill.
“You’re too happy”, he grumbled, even before she’d managed to greet him.
He sighed, “Don’t be like that.”
Damian frowned, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything further. After all, she had returned to see him again, just as she had said she would. He knew it must not be easy. The tired lines around her eyes as she turned to smile at him made him feel a twinge of guilt. But he shivered at the thought of that empty, aching loneliness which was just waiting to envelop him once she was gone for good, and he cast aside those feelings of guilt. Now was not the time.
Cerid was watching him closely, a strange expression on her face as she watched Damian’s distracted frown go through a series of minor transformations, until he suddenly snapped his icy gray eyes on to her warmer brown ones, and even though she smiled comfortingly at him, the haunted look in his tired eyes made her want to cry.
But, Cerid had not cried since the war had ended. Not once. Not even when she had spent two weeks watching Damian destroy everything around him, until the cursing and swearing and whiskey and screaming was all done with, and all that remained in its place was his pale gaunt frame, surrounded only by endless destruction and stony silence. Her heart had ached as she’d watched, but she hadn’t shed a single tear.
Damian liked to believe that it was because she had run out of tears, and not because other people’s agony and pain affected her more than his. Cerid thought it had something to do with the last battle she’d been part of. Because she had had plenty of tears to shed that day. An all of a sudden, the picture of little Remo, lying in a pool of his blood, flashed through her mind.
He had been a day away from his fifth birthday. She had promised to gift him a real kite. He had been counting down the days. The day of the last air-strike… it was Roberto who had found out first. Damian had been in the middle of his own dilemma. Straddling both sides of the war, he had a difficult decision to make. Even though, technically, he would always be of the Shadow Tribe first. Ceridwyn had been at the forefront of the battle. And she had watched Remo die.
She opened her eyes to find Damian kneeling over her, eyes full of worry, “Are you alright?”
She laughed, then, suddenly aware of the bizarreness of the situation. “We have to stop doing this”, she whispered, leaning up into the familiar frame of his body. He swallowed, once, twice. “I understand”, he said, “But what am I supposed to do?”
She shook her head at him, despondent and unsettled, “I love you.”
He looked down at her cautiously, then swallowed again, “I have always loved you.”
“And that’s why you can’t stay”, she whispered, smiling up at him gently, even as her eyes sparkled with waylaid tears.
The baby wouldn’t stop wailing. She knew that it was Arianna’s son. Arianna, who had trusted her and helped them escape when the entire kingdom was against them. Arianna, who now lay buried not far from here, shot in the heart with a poisoned arrow, even as her husband fought on in the Outer Circle with the other Marine Corps. Arianna’s son was trapped inside the burning building, and his mother was injured, and there was no one around to help him. Cerid had already lost a lot of blood. But she could hear the shouts in the distance, and it was clear that victory was imminent. She was just steps away from the designated Tower. She’d get medical attention there, and probably be able to send someone for the baby.
But it would be too late.
And as she turned away from the tower and towards Arianna’s home, for some strange reason, she thought of Damian and the last thing he’d said to her.
Dead to me.
He stared at her for a moment, memorizing every detail of her face as she smiled at him encouragingly. “It’s going to be alright. I’m always going to be here, with you.”
“So,” he began, in a shaky voice, stopping to take a deep breath and continue, “What you’re saying is I’ll never be walking alone.”
She beamed at him then, and for just one tiny moment, Damian forgot all about the last night of the Quarter Century War, when he had returned to the village only to find her overwhelmed and outnumbered against Assassins intending to eliminate all the noble-born children.
He had joined in the battle, and afterwards held her blood soaked body in his arms, as the cheer of celebration and jubilation rang out all around them, and the last of her life ebbed away from her. “Forgive me” he had cried, but it had been too late, and the only answer he had was the silence of the blankness in her empty eyes, just as she had promised him.
Sudden darkness. The hill was empty now. A cold wind rustled past the nearby trees, and a whisper trembled at his ear.
“You’ll never walk alone.”
Damian fell to his knees.
The night had begun.