Morning-After Aches

((From => Fighting Spirits))

Rogan sprinted through the dark, indistinct points of light in far off places casting barely enough light to see where he was going. He was out of time; too late, too slow, but he had to get there. Figures merged out from the shadows, lunging towards him; he heard the whisper of steel, caught the glitter of light off metal. Too many distractions.

He ducked past the first dark shape, spinning on to dodge around the next, but there were more. In his ear, he could hear a distant sobbing; a young voice crying. Another shape lunged out of the dark at him, and Rogan twisted with it, grabbing its arm and hurling the figure over his shoulder at another. He skidded, half turning as more rose from the dark and struck out at the next one. His body flowed without thought into efficient, practiced close-quarters forms.

The heel of his palm connected with something that felt like bloody fabric, and the black figure in front of him slumped, but a moment later a terrible scream ripped through his senses, strangled, broken and dying. He looked away from the figures, towards the light, but the brightest point eluded him – he couldn't tell which way was forward. The sobbing had stopped with the scream.

He turned in place, searching desperately for the way to go, but the ground beneath his feet had become rocky white chalk, at the edge of a craggy cliff; there wasn't any way forward at all; just the ocean and roiling grey storm clouds. His breath was short and his body ached; each scar stung like livid markers across him. To his right, Eric looked out across the ocean with a resigned expression, sitting with one foot propped up on the protruding stone. Rogan ran across to him, but the other man only raised an eyebrow as he looked back.

“It's about choice, brother of mine. It's always been about choice... you can't be free unless you can make your own choices, and you can't do that unless you've got choices to make.” He gestured with one hand to the rock beside him and Rogan sat. Beside him, Eric looked back out to the ocean. “This is where your choices have brought you; were they good ones?” Lightning cracked through the storm clouds, striking down at the ocean below the cliffs, and thunder rumbled overhead.

“Rogan!” A tearful, fraught voice made him whip around. Lyntael stumbled towards him, bare shreds of clothing still clinging and her naked, exposed form defiled by cuts, bruises and deeper rent wounds in her flesh; blood dripped onto the grass as she called out again, but as her faltering steps drew closer, the girl looked at him with accusation in her achingly green eyes. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she gasped and cried out at him.

“All you had to do was admit that you cared! That's all I ever wanted!! Just that! Just for you to say it and mean it, just once!! Rogan... I just wanted you to see me... really see me... see what I felt, and maybe... maybe...” She staggered again, stumbling to her knees and gasping, but as he moved to rush to her, the girl's head lifted, her gaze freezing him in place.

“Where were you, Rogan!? Why didn't I matter? Why didn't you come? I thought... if I just held on, if I did my best... If I could just stay with you, be useful, help you... maybe one day you might see me!” Her eyes bored into him and Rogan fought the ache in his own chest, but before he could find words to answer, another figure appeared beside the girl as lighting flashed again.

“Yeah, well... He didn't.” Another Lyntael, this one hale and confident, stood beside her, looking down with disdain and pity. “Guess you made a bad choice.” She raised a hand towards the kneeling girl's head and a glow of light formed around her wrist. Rogan heard himself cry out a wordless denial, moving too late and too slow, as the bolt of light released with a flare and engulfed the pair and flung him backwards.

He could taste blood in his mouth. His ribs hurt and his left arm didn't want to move or support his weight. His vision was bleary as it opened, but he could still make out the intricate twisting knot designs worked through the familiar floor. The hall felt cold, even though it was lit by multiple fire places. The centre of the room was dim, despite them, too. It was traditional. He tried to push himself up again, but a spasm from his chest made him cough a thin spray of bloody saliva across polished stone designs. His hand slipped, gave out, and he fell again. He could feel his cheek rubbing against the slimy fluid he'd just coughed up.

“You are a son of this family, before anything else! You are nothing before you are that! What you want does not matter, before that!” A voice chastised him from across the hall. A second one followed up without missing a beat. “You have a responsibility, a duty to this family, to our clan, first! Before anything else!” They barley sounded out of breath. But of course they didn't. Rogan swallowed and got one hand and a knee under himself again. His left arm still felt like it didn't want to move – something was damaged, but he managed to raise it to his middle.

“Enough of this farce, boy. You will resume your responsibilities in the morning.” The first voice had returned to the imperious tone he had grown to hate. “Clean yourself up before you disgrace this hall further.” The second voice sniffed and condescended at him. Rogan grit his teeth. He was fourteen; old enough to make his own choices about his life. He was not going to let them have the last word like this, again. His left hand gripped the grip of the throwing blade tucked away and hidden in his belt. You weren't meant to bring weapons into this hall, unless you were prepared to kill with them. He raised his eyes as he saw two blurry figures turning away from him. Disregarding him. Fury seared through the pain.


Rogan opened his eyes; the ceiling of a cheap motel room was the only sight accompanying the rapid beat of his heart. He took a long breath, then let it out slowly, before turning his head to glance at the window and gauge the progression of the dawn light. He'd slept for two hours, maybe. It would have to do.

More phantasms to add to his nightmares. More scratches upon the wall. Lyntael had been quiet, since she'd come home; he was almost afraid to speak to her about what had happened, and the girl herself seemed like she wanted some time to herself regardless. He couldn't begin to understand the situation, but a part of him dreaded the feeling that he'd somehow broken things again. The girl he'd failed had been there, in front of him, somehow, but he hadn't done anything, and whatever had played out between the two had left one Lyntael standing. He felt a chilling surety that he didn't know who she was.

He rose from the bed and retrieved his PET from the nightstand. Quietly, he brought up the internal view and found it focused on the girl's bedroom. She'd forgotten to activate the privacy filter again; he could see her curled up under the covers of her bed, nestled amongst multiple pillows and one arm out over the cover showing off her particularly childish choice of pyjamas. She was still asleep; he could see the slow rise and fall of her breathing, calm, and her features were smooth and relaxed. He watched for an extra moment, then left her to sleep and accessed his contacts on his own. She probably needed the rest more than he did.

The device showed a message from one of the sanctuaries they'd contacted: a number of original operators had been found, others were settling in. Some place referred to as the memory fault had been brought into contact regarding assistance to the most critically damaged and endangered navi's they rescued, and was doing its best for their continued stability. It seemed like most of the details were going to sort themselves out from here. Good. He set the device down and paused to get himself a drink of water before heading towards the room's shower. It was a new day, and there was always more work to do.

Lyntael opened her eyes slowly and sat up in her bed; for a few moments her eyes turned from the swirling patterns on the ceiling of her room to the sheets and quilt still snuggled up warmly around her, then to the rest of the room. It was familiar – of course it was, but it also felt almost difficult to truly believe. It was the same bed she'd slept in the night before, and the night before that, but she'd felt like she might never know the comfort again. All of it was so familiar, plain, ordinary and comforting, and so wonderful and yearned for, missed and loved as well. Slowly, she pulled back the covers and stood, then neatly made the bed back again, smoothing it with slow, contemplative motions of her hands that drank in every mote of sensation as she touched the soft bedding.

She stood in the room for an extra few moments, taking in every detail, then slowly unbuttoned and slipped out of her pyjamas and folded them up again and placed them under her pillow. The air was comfortable, neither warm nor cool, and she barely noticed the difference being unclothed. The faintest hint of a smile curled at one corner of her lips. She'd certainly been more... daring, recently. Free of the dark things, more or less, she'd been open, flirtatious even, and surprisingly more open to teasing with her body than before. She wandered through to her en suite bathroom and took her time selecting a towel.

Not that she hadn't been a bit naughty before that, but it had always been with that edge of nervousness and fear, and a bit of discomfort riding along underneath the thrill. How would if feel now, to do the same, she wondered. Her hand stopped short, resting on one towel without picking it up and she looked back at the mirror, then stepped away so that she could see her whole body more clearly.

A young woman looked back, skin unblemished and unscarred, pale skin and a slight figure only just beginning to develop. She felt a lot older than she looked. Was that the curse of all navigators, eventually? In the mirror, the girl's hands reached up to rub softly over her shoulders, holding herself, then roved across her skin, lingering over her heart and each of the other places where the deep wounds she could remember no longer existed. Her breath shook, and she watched in the mirror as the girl's bright green eyes welled with tears that began to track silently down her cheeks. The memories were dark and terrible, and they would never go away. She closed her eyes and let the sensation rise through her, feeling it as the tears flowed. It was okay. Long, deep breaths, calm and quiet, were the only sound until she opened her eyes again and looked at herself. It was okay... because she was here, and whoever she was now, that was a part of her too. Softly, she smiled and let the sensations of sadness and pain fade away into the background again. After another moment she picked up the towel and draped it over the rail by the shower, then reaching in to turn the water on.

Steam filled the shower room as Lyntael ran her fingers through her hair and enjoyed the heavy driving force of the droplets against her body. The anger had dissolved as well, mostly. The seed of it had always been not understanding, knowing that something was wrong and not knowing what, and a feeling like she wasn't right or didn't belong, but now everything was clear, and there was no one left to resent – just her. A seed of it remained, burning in the core of her heart, but it was pure and directed now; her eyes were open, clear, and that fury was reserved for the ones truly deserving – no more lashing out at the people she cared about. She wondered how long it might be before she'd have anther chance to meet up with Aurora and Eternalis; there was so much she wanted to say in person, that an email wasn't right for. Lyntael turned in the shower, putting her back to the torrent, and turned the setting up another notch. It rose to a hammering pressure and she let the water bear down on her hard, rolling her neck and shoulders with a luxuriant moan.

Later, Lyntael emerged from her bedroom towelling at her hair. Sparks still flickered occasionally between the short strands and her skin was pink and flushed, but she was dressed properly for the day at least and she smiled as she filled the kettle and set it on, leaning against the counter in the kitchen and panting softly while she waited for it to boil. She should probably check on Rogan, come to think of it. His sleeping habits hadn't improved, even though he seemed to have moved past the borderline break-down state he'd been in before. Her smile grew towards something more sombre as the through crossed her mind. That was something else they'd need to talk about at some point. She knew, now, what had broken Rogan so badly – understood it, keenly – and it created a very complicated feeling in her chest to think about. It hadn't just been the row with Eric; her death had been the deeper cause of his pain and despair, and the realisation that he cared so much would have filled her with more joy than she could fathom, if only it wasn't delivered with such terrible suffering. If only it hadn't taken that, for him to truly see her.

The kettle clicked and Lyntael started to make the tea. What mattered was that they had a fresh chance. It wasn't going to be easy, not right away. She wasn't who she had been... in truth she didn't rally know who she was now, not entirely, not exactly. She was Lyntael, herself... but who exactly was that, after everything? Her eyes rested on her favourite mug, with its curling wind patterns and fluffy clouds. All she could be was who she was, in the end, and hope that that was still someone that Rogan could love. Her thoughts drifted to quiet contemplation as she let the tea draw, then poured and sipped slowly from her mug.

“Lyntael,” Rogan's voice brought her head up, alert and attentive.
“Here, sir.”
“The rescued navis are safely taken care of and should be untraceable now, at least as far as I can see to it. It's about time we called on our employer and made sure she pays us. I'll be leaving shortly.”
“Okay, I'm just getting breakfast – have you eaten something, Rogan?” There was a pause.
“I'll get something on the way.”
“Good. I'll be out in a few minutes.” Lyntael smiled and shook her head as she set her mug down and went to her pantry. Maybe she shouldn't worry, if falling back into their regular motions came as naturally as it did.

((To -> The Next Mission))