A/N: Many thanks to those of you who reviewed "Interlude"—I'm certainly glad you enjoyed it. In a potentially ill-advised move, I've signed up for the 30nights prompt challenge over at Livejournal, which entails (as the name likely implies) writing thirty night-themed fics about a character/pairing of one's choice. I'm taking on Raph/Cass, since such a theme, I feel, suits them perfectly.
This is my take on the third theme, "Find me in the dark." It's also a continuation-of-sorts of "Interlude," so it'd be wise to read that piece first. Enjoy!
There was a certain kind of cold that tore through these age-old mountains on a night like this—fierce, cruel, unyielding.
Unsurprisingly, it served only to underscore his abject loneliness.
Raphael stood silently at the high-arched windows flanking the French doors of his private balcony; the roughly-hewn flagstones of the castle floor were bitterly cold against his bare feet. A half-emptied glass of wine teetered precariously on top of the discarded ottoman by the darkened fireplace, the long-empty bottle dashed into it some time ago.
The journey from the lost cathedral had been a painful one, long and arduous; his curse-weakened body, so far past its breaking point, protested with each step. And yet he had endured, willing himself further, step by step, fighting the nearly unbearable pain and overwhelming exhaustion in his desperation to return to Wallachia…all for Amy.
There were several moments he knew he would remember to his dying day—his first victorious duel, the look in his uncle's eyes as he ran his rapier clean-through the wretched noble's torso…those stolen moments with a nubile female classmate of questionable virtue in the cathedral while he was supposed to be taking communion. Memorable occasions, all of them.
As was the cold weight settling in his chest as he returned to the fortress after his grueling journey, only to find it silent and deserted. A carefully-written note in a familiar child's scrawl lay upon an overturned volume of Molinet in the library. The recent memory of a young woman's hopeful words rang faintly in his mind as he quickly scanned the letter. I know you can be cured… I've heard of it happening before…
He had dismissed the thought at the time, regarding it merely as an attempt to distract him from the task at hand. But now…
The handwriting unmistakably belonged to Amy. And she had written that she was now safe. And free from the curse that had befallen them.
Still reeling from the shock of the revelation (not to mention the exhaustion from several days' journey), Raphael sat down dazedly in one of the library's plush armchairs, poring over Amy's message. She was safe, that much was certain. A young man and woman, most certainly foreign, for they had great difficulty communicating with her singularly French tongue, had appeared and purified her with the same stone he had been so desperate to destroy. She had so wanted to remain within the fortress walls and await Raphael's return, but her saviors had insisted upon quarantining her for the time being for fear of re-infection. But shewas safe, and perhaps more importantly, she had written that she was happy, and she would return.
It had taken half a bottle of wine before those two thoughts had brought him comfort, but they did indeed. Until now, at least… Now, held so firmly within the cold, iron grasp of this darkly silent night, his carefully-bandaged wounds still aching terribly, Raphael felt far too keenly the solitude of this, his former sanctuary.
Former… He thought then in a slight alcoholic haze of Cassandra…that painfully foolish, stubborn, naïve, yet oddly intriguing girl. To think that such a small, slight thing could penetrate his carefully-guarded defenses and rush into the fortress armed with sword, shield, and rash determination would have been utterly laughable an uncomfortably short time ago. And yet there she had stood, narrowed eyes blazing, sword raised in defiance, a tenacious creature bringing down upon him the wrath of a long-forgotten god.
Raphael idly wondered what she had returned to after their fight. After he had proven victorious in the cold marble halls of the cathedral, he had graciously left her alive, if unconscious; such a girl was far too interesting to permanently remove from this life. Such a headstrong girl…she had fought him to the last, all the while maintaining that she could help him, she could cure him, he was stillgood inside…
He'd scoffed. There was no cure, no balm in Gilead for one such as he.
(But somehow, in some way, Amy had been cured…)
He brushed the thought aside, unwilling to think of Amy's absence for the time being; he'd long since run out of wine (he supposed that the servants had a store of ale and rum carefully hidden away in the kitchen cupboards, but never would he be so desperate as to imbibe such godawful substances unless he were dying of abject thirst in the desolation of the Gobi Desert…and even then only under very careful consideration).
Unlike Raphael, Cassandra no doubt had a family waiting when she returned—one she had likely worried to no end during her mad and ill-advised journeys. Yes, of course, she'd awaken and make her way home to Athens, to her loving sister, other siblings, parents… He supposed she might even have a husband, or at least be affianced, but although she was entirely of age and rather pleasing to even as experienced an eye as his, Raphael had difficulty imagining that any man could be so forgiving of Cassandra's more…eccentric pursuits.
With her family, then, most likely. She'd be reposed beside a warm fire, her weapons carefully stored and polished, awaiting the next time they'd be wielded by some mad young thing on a mission of indeterminate purpose. Perhaps there was a dog within Cassandra's domestic life—some hideous, yapping ball of bunched fur with an eternally running nose who curled up at her feet and chewed mindlessly on some peasant's discarded soup bones. He could almost see her then, golden hair radiant in the warm firelight, eyes peaceful and distant, a faint smile upon her lips as her loved ones—
The discarded wineglass, so dangerously unstable upon the ottoman, fell against the hearth, ragged shards arcing through the air. Raphael brought his attention back to his surroundings, watching dispassionately as the deep red wine slithered over broken glass.
A harsh, sudden breeze tore through the mountains then, rattling the thin windowpanes and twisting through the ancient masonry of his quarters. Raphael failed to suppress a slight scowl from forming at the sharp cold that shot through the room.
The night grew darker still, blackened storm clouds rolling in low across the pale half-moon.
Foolish Cassandra,he thought, a tight, humorless, and not entirely sober laugh sounding in the back of his mind. To call such a creature foolish, when he himself had been lost in golden daydreams of a night by the fireside! Raphael had certainly never been given to wishful thinking in the cold light of day; no, reality was the harsh mistress he had always willingly obeyed…
I'll help you… I swear it to the gods I will…
He tried and failed to picture that voice, those words, within this night. He belonged here—the thirst for evil, for tainted darkness, raced through his veins, sense heightened, condemned now to a life of shadows. Helphim…that Cassandra, that lovely, maddeningly stubborn yet pure-hearted creature, all fire and light, could ever think to survive within the darkness of this world was absurd, and served only to demonstrate how utterly naïve the girl could be.
Raphael turned his head a fraction to observe the ruined wineglass by his cold, darkened fireside…tried to ignore the thought, unbidden, of Cassandra bathed in a warm glow…
The night settled, eerily still, utterly desolate. Raphael's features were carefully schooled into a familiarly emotionless expression as he turned from the window. Logic and reality had been his playmates from an early age. Fantasies were mere fodder for romantic fools, not such high-born and intelligent men such as he…
…and yet the thoughts continued to come, swift and fleeting, of that golden light, shifting into a now familiar form, eyes soft and teasing, pleading, reaching, reaching through the icy darkness and taking him by the hand.