Rosalie collapsed on a sofa in the common room. It was late so very few people were milling about. But she wasn’t ready to go to bed. Her mind was wheeling and, like every night since Jeremy came to her door with word of what occurred in her absence, she couldn’t sleep. But unlike those other nights, she was nursing a warm mug of non alcoholic apple cider. She carried a book with her. It was full of stories from the Federation. She kept it in case Sinder came looking for something to read while she was busy, but sometimes found the children’s stories comforting, or at the very least, mind numbing. The commander contemplated at what point did she turn into the to type to own children’s books.but that brought on a train of thought that she was trying to avoid and hopped right off it, opening the book to a random page and begun deciphering the sylvan.
Just as he had done every night Astral left his room, still sore from that nights mission and long overdue for some rest. However, night was still the best time to get things done while coming into contact with as little people as possible. His left paw, now bandaged up, rested against his side as he made way toward the common room. It was mid yawn that he entered the room and did not see that Rosalie was inside, not until it was too late. The Lupus perked up, bringing his damaged paw behind his back before addressing her.
“Evening Rosalie…Apologies for intruding.”
Rosalie heard the door and heard the familiar tread, and did her best to keep her eyes on the book, though her eyes glazed over the words and could vaguely tell the difference in color of the illustrations. She wasn’t reading, but hoped she would be convincing. She couldn’t look up, because then he’d have a direct line of sight straight through her and see everything that is on her mind. It was once the most useful connection, but the most frightening now.
Upon being addressed, she stiffened.
“It’s the common room — anyone can come in here,” She said, standoffish, mindlessly flipping the next page. She allowed herself a quick glance and noticed the bandages. A flash of him jumping in the way of a blow intended for her, and collapsing as a result, rushed through her mind. So she closed her eyes and softened a little. “It’s all right. Don’t apologize.”
They’d gone almost the entire mission without talking, they’d gone almost two weeks without making contact with one another. The Lupus knew how she must have felt, after everything they’d been through. His decision had done more damage than he realized, causing a rift between them both. As she spoke his tail tucked between his legs, ears laying against his skull. He could sense the hurt in her voice, and it bothered him, bothered him beyond belief. Although his body wanted to run Astral stood firm and walked forwards, seating himself on a couch adjacent his long time friend.
“I see you’ve got a book….In Sylvan as well. Plan on reading it to your fennec?”
He tried to relax, desperate for any interaction they could produce together.
Rosalie flipped another page, trying to keep the aloofness about her. But Tiniri hiccuped a breathy laugh and leaped from the couch. He turned around and cocked his head at the girl and seemed to have a smile on his face, mocking her. Then he shook his head as if to say, ‘this is on you, babe.’ and patted away almost silently on his tiny little paws.
Damn coward, she thought as she watched the fox depart.
Her eyes flickered from the door to Astral and then back to her book.
“No,” She said. “Apparently Tiniri hates stories. But the book’s for Sinder, anyway.”
Astral’s ears perked up a bit at the mention of his kitten, Sinder. The odd Lupus and Felis duo had bonded recently and the wolf decided to adopt the child. He had known Rosalie a long time, and he’d heard stories from Sinder, but he never pegged her to be fond of children.
“For Sinder? Oh, he’ll love that…He talks about you alot, I’m sorry whenever he intrudes, once he makes his mind up the kids like an arrow haha”
Astral eased up, smiling genuinely for the first time in awhile. However, the Lupus’ paw began to act up, shooting pain up the length of his arm and causing him to wince. “Ugh, damn thing…”
A gentle laugh passed through her lips. It was common knowledge that the girl hated children. At one point, the Crusaders had dealt with a witch taking care of hoards of orphans. Every time a snot-nosed brat grabbed onto her sleeve, she tugged away in disgust. She felt bad, but she had work to do.
And she still had work to do. But somehow the calico inched his way into her heart. Maybe it was because she knew what i was like to be alone in the world. Maybe it was after hearing him whimper and scamper off, afraid, those first few days. Maybe it was because he always was bright-eyed and happy to see her, especially after she went out and got a big bag of things for him so he would feel more at home with the Crusaders.
Maybe it was because he was his and that’s all it took.
“I always try to keep some at hand when I’m busy doing reading. Granted, this is a lot more fun than tomes about politics.” She leaned over and handed him the book. It had an intricate, beautifully painted cover of Federation children’s stories. “I know he lives in Keimin now, but he should probably hear the stories he would’ve been told if…” She shook her head. “It’s not a problem. If I’m ever busy, he finds something to do. I might need to built him a bigger chest.”
“Have you seen Pomaday? You really, uh, took a hit…”
She looked down. It was much more than a hit, or a couple hits, she knew.
Astral’s tail gently thumped behind him, he’d missed their conversations, the witty banter and lighthearted tones. They could drop their facades and act natural, be who they were and be at ease with it. The Lupus looked at the book in his paws, running a finger along the Sylvan, unable to conceal his smile.
“Even I know some of these…the one about the Rainbow Bird that flew every few years, the one about the Sea Beast who controlled the winds, and even the one about the Lupus who could run on water. Oh yes, he’ll have me reading three of these a night, ATLEAST!”
He chuckled. When was the last time he laughed? Perhaps a week? How slow time moves when your world is grey. The wolf lowered his paw into his lap.
“I did…but they were over run, as usual. That last mission left alot damaged…or fearful, not everyday you battle a Fae Dragon. I patched myself up for now and can go in the morning…what about you? How’re you feeling?”
Rosalie watched him flip through the pages and felt herself smile despite how she willed it to falter. And it failed to, despite the desperate efforts. It was so difficult to stay pissed around him. And boy, she was still pissed. And hurt. And disappointed. But for now, that had to wait. This was the first time she felt semblance of normalcy in what felt like years but was in reality just a mere few days.
“That’s why I was brushing up on my Sylvan — I’m still pretty new with it, but I wanted to make sure I knew what was going on if he ever wanted me to. We do that, sometimes. We sit on the floor and go through books.” Rosalie paused, remember, laughing a little. “If he ever goes to you talking about King Manfred or Breean history, I’m sorry. I ran out of picture books and used old newspapers.”
A shadow darkened in her eyes. “I’ve seen more in the past few years with the Crusaders than I had ever thought possible in my lifetime. Things were so simple before this. Hoth and I ate, we drank, and we hunted, killing only when necessary. Hell, even during that off period, things were simple. I mean, I was still looking for Edgar, but when I ran into you? Everything was simple again.”
She took a long drink from her cider, again wishing it was alcoholic. But if Hoth taught her anything, it was that even the most professional alcoholics should take a break day. She unconsciously reached under her shirt and thumbed the necklace he carved her for her birthday one year, the only thing she had left of him outside her memories.
It was then that Rosalie decided that she never wanted to only have memories of someone she loved ever again. it wasn’t enough, and it would never be enough.
She glanced back at Astral, only for a moment, for if they locked eyes, he would know instantaneously what was on her mind, as he always did, as he did from the start.
Astral rubbed his head, chuckling slightly after piecing a few things together.
“No wonder he asked me when the next holiday was last week. He was so disappointed when I told him we don’t have them daily.”
The wolf placed the book beside him, knowing that this run around would have to come to an end. It had been two weeks since they spoke and things were going well, but they were avoiding the issue. He slowed his tail, took a deep breath and stared at the woman he had come to recognize as family. It pained him to see her so quiet, to see her so shaken. And he had caused this. Astral spoke calmly, but with concern.
“Rosalie…we both know what has happened. We also both know we need to talk about it. I quit command, I did it because…because I didn’t believe I was worth the position, I didn’t have the confidence to stay as your General…I understand how selfish the decision was, after all we’ve been through, even before the Crusaders…I just…”
He choked up, trying desperately to get something out, his tail curling anxiously
“Personally, I never want to deal with the crazy old man ever again, but he’s harmless. I think I would like him if he didn’t talk over me so gods-damned much.” Rosalie smiled a bit, absentmindedly rubbing her knuckles. She nearly punched a wall a few times during the last mission, or she wanted to, she was so frustrated. She couldn’t have let the Crusaders see her that way, especially since Prophet seemed ready to overtake her position at any time. The power wasn’t something she cared for, but she was unsure just how well the Crusaders would do under such a militant leader…
At the mention of her name, Rosalie perked up a bit. She knew where this was going.
She hated every minute of it.
Can’t they just keep on pretending? It was nice while it lasted.
Her hands folded into fists and her nails dug into the flesh of her palms. She tried to quell her shaking, but failed, and decided she didn’t care if he saw her fall apart, because at least they were in private. For now.
The commander rose from her spot on the couch, jaw clenched.
“Astral. You gave up once and we spoke extensively. I asked you and pleaded with you to figure out if it was something you wanted, something you would fight for. I fought Zook for you on this when you told me you were ready and it was something you could handle. Something you wanted. It doesn’t matter how fucking confident you are.”
Her voice was raising with each and every sentence and she shook more and more violently. She needed to keep a level volume or they needed to relocate.
So she decided on the latter and led him to her office, which was close by. She locked the door behind them.
“You made a promise. A commitment. You should have upheld that. And you went and betrayed it. You betrayed me. Because you’re a coward. You know how fucked that is?!”
Astral watched her anger begin to boil over, he had only once ever been on the receiving end of her wrath and that was when they met. The Lupus braced himself, taking his scolding and putting up no fight, ears laid flat against his skull. As he listened he took her words to heart, remembering back to the choice words used on their previous mission. Before he could realize what was happening the two rocketed into her office, leaving them to themselves. Astral raised his hands, ready to grasp his head before lowering them to his sides. He stood there as if he were petrified, however close inspection showed he was trembling, shaking subtly.
“I know. I know, I know, I KNOW ITS FUCKED ROSALIE!” He raised his voice, not out of anger, but from his own inner turmoil.
“I did….I didddd….”
He took a deep breath, watering filling the sides of his eyes
“I DIDN’T WANNA KEEP DISAPPOINTING YOU!!! I WAS WEAK, I WAS INADEQUATE, I FUCKING LET EVERYTHING GET TO ME AND I STOPPED PAYING ATTENTION TO THE END GOAL. I FUCKED UP, I’M SORRY I….I’m sorry I, wasn’t….good enough…”
Rosalie collapsed in her desk chair, rubbing her eyes.
Relationships are complicated. This is why she always kept to herself and made as little connections as she can. It makes everything simpler. But since she joined the Crusaders, she had to throw that away. And meeting Astral, she found the closest friend she’s ever had, even closer than Hoth. She never thought that was possible. But here she was. And she had no idea how to handle this.
But she knew that this was broken, and hearing how much it ate him up killed her. At this point, he was as much a part of her as she was a part of him.
And so the commander unlocked her liquor drawer and popped open a new bottle of wine. She took a drink and looked him squarely.
“You have never once disappointed me until you lied to me. It’s okay to not be strong all the time. But the difference is picking up and carrying on or letting it consume you. I thought you were different. I thought I could depend on you for anything. I was wrong.”
She let out a breath.
“But that doesn’t change anything. You’re still my best friend, Astral. And I should learn not to throw all of my burdens on your shoulders. For that, I’m sorry.”
Astral watched Rosalie sit down and pop open a bottle, pressing it to her lips and using the liquid to calm herself. The Lupus didn’t have something like that, he didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t have anyone he coud vent to…except her.
“Rosalie…before the Crusaders you were the only person I had, I left the federation and almost got killed by some muggers. You saved me, you protected me, sure I bandaged you up here and there along the way but, I couldn’t have left you, I would’ve died on my own…I stayed out of necessity, and then you tried to leave…Heh, I thought I could do it, but I couldn’t. I…we, grew too close in that time. I decided to say fuck it, where she goes, I goes and thats why I became a Crusader. I lied…I lied because I wanted to believe I could do it, that I could fake it until I made it…But I broke under pressure and came undone in the process.”
He looked at his paws, squeezing them both in an attempt to steady his shaking.
“I’m sorry for betraying you…It might just be my word, and it may not mean much, but I’m still devoted to you. To our friendship…remember, the little cottage in the Federation? You were drunk one night, and I heard you say it…how you wanted to live out your days peacefully…I want nothing more than that, and I’ll do whatever it takes to defend that future…So, please, is there any chance we can make up?”
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