She merely glanced down at the plate of food he set beside her before returning to her vigil over the full moon. Letting her legs dangle over the cliff, she sat, a simple silhouette; ever since she had come to the second time – extracting the bullet from her shoulder had been no easy, painless task; it had taken every single one of the men to hold her down as she muffled her screams with the belt they had mercifully put between her teeth as they opened the wound to pick out the bullet, poured alcohol all over, and then cauterized it with red hot metal – she had remained mute. More so upon seeing the covered mound lying not so far from their camp, until the men had begun to discuss the fate of the body, whereupon she had isolated herself from all thoughts of the afternoon.
With a heavy sigh, he sat beside her but she chose to ignore him. What could he possibly say to her to make her feel better? If he was even going to do that. Who knew? She hadn’t really felt him to be as cold and as unfeeling as she had initially presumed him to be – though it was but a vague memory, their walk along the beach dimly glowed amidst the chaos of the day – but the Black Prince was first and foremost an outlaw, and as a outlaw, there was only really one rule: to do whatever necessary to survive. Whether it was by distancing oneself from all, or betrayal, whatever surviving mandated, it was given without argument; surely there was good reason for his avoidance thus far of those who wanted nothing more than for him to hang.
But when he reached behind and pulled away his mask, she couldn’t help but pay attention to him and whatever it was that he had to say. How could she not? Even with her misery and guilt, she understood the magnitude of this one simple act and so was compelled to stare.
“How’s your shoulder?”
It hurt like hell, but she didn’t say so. So what if it was painful? She’d been the one to come out of the disaster with her life, unlike that boy.
Bringing her knees closer to her chest, she tried to hide her face, but he reached for her hands, and she felt the dry warmth and the rough callouses of his palms as he gently cradled her hands and kept her from drawing away.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Swallowing hard, she squinted as tears began to well up in her eyes. Eyes fluttering, she leaned back to look up at the twinkling stars; there was no way this was happening right now. How could she cry in front of him? When she’d been struggling so much these past few months to show him she had a right to be here? Was she really going to throw everything away just because of some contentious, disagreeable ass?
But it did because his whimpers and cries, his sobs and pleas for mercy were still fresh in her mind from the memory of him bleeding out just two feet from her. After all, she had been the one to feel his gasp of pain and disbelief as the bullet ripped through and tore its way through him, and she had been the one to feel his blood warm her body as he marked her with sin and guilt because she had been the one to lead and guide them all to safety. It had been her responsibility to deliver them, and though she had done well with the three others, the one she had lost had been one more than she could handle.
She looked up at him just as the first of the hot tears streamed down her cheeks. Closing her eyes, she felt him gently brush them away before holding her shoulders.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“How can you say that?” Biting her lip, she tried to force back the sob building up in the back of her throat. “I was the one responsible.”
“You owe him nothing.”
Surprised, she could only stare at his furrowed brows and the harsh edge to his voice. How could he say that after constantly nagging her to be more open and accepting of the group? Wasn’t cooperation and support the basis of their survival?
“All you did was try to help him. You tried to save him. You weren’t the one who pointed the gun at him, and you weren’t the one who pulled the trigger. You were the one who, at risk to your own life, did your best to deliver him.”
But while that was true, she could still remember it all, even with the hazy fog of excruciating torture that had been her revival. She could still remember every minute detail, and even if it would be for the best if she just didn’t, there was nothing she could do to stop the infinite loop of memory.
“We can’t change the past, C.C. No one can. But the future has yet to be determined, and the best we can do to honor all those we’ve lost is to make it so that their deaths weren’t in vain.”
“…We were so close…” she said hoarsely. “If I had just… I don’t know, but if I had just done something, changed something, it wouldn’t be this way right now.”
“If you had done something differently, I would have lost you.”
She was struck by the fear she heard in his voice and puzzled over the slightest tremor. If she had done something differently, he would have lost her. He would have lost her. Not the Court, but him. He personally would have been the one to suffer and grieve.
She saw for the first time the lines on his face and his exhaustion, as if he’d been desperately holding in wave after wave of terror and anxiety. Reaching up, he rubbed his face tiredly before heaving a sigh.
“No longer mourn for me when I am dead. Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell give warning to the world that I am fled, from this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell: Nay, if you read this line, remember not the hand that writ it; for I love you so that I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot, if thinking on me then should make you woe.”
Wiping away the last of her tears, she looked out over the canyon with him as beside her, he softly said, “O, if, I say, you look upon this verse, when I perhaps compounded am with clay, do not so much as my poor name rehearse. But let your love even with my life decay, lest the wise world should look into your moan, and mock you with me after I am gone.”
“No longer mourn for me when I am dead.”
And closing her eyes, she did as such.
. . .
Though the other two had fallen asleep, Jeremiah was wide awake. Sitting with his back to a large boulder, he absentmindedly stoked the fire as he watched the two dark outlines on the horizon. He had gone to her a long time ago, before the others had drifted off to sleep, but he could still hear the gentle murmur of their discussion. Whatever it was that he had had to say to her must have been just as much for him as it was for her; if the conversation was going on for that long, it could only be so. Not that that surprised him. No, no, Jeremiah had been observing for a long, long time. Suzaku hadn’t been the only one to notice the strange looks, the odd behavior unbecoming of the Prince ever since the young lady had joined them. He’d seen the soft caress of his eyes that lingered too long on her, the close eye he trained on her to ensure she was treated not only fairly but relatively well for a newcomer – almost as if he was incapable of being objective with her.
No, Jeremiah had known this for a long time. Possibly even longer than Suzaku had. But all he did now was sit and wait, sit and watch, until the perfect time presented itself – as it always did – to further his already deep investigation into the matters of the man behind the mask.