A/N: Kind of ambivalent about this one. Semi-twisted response to 30nights Theme #6, "Stolen heart." Dark, mostly one-sided Cass/Raph with the strongest attempt I've ever made to keep Raph strictly in-character. Big on angst, light on romance when compared to some of my other works. If that's not to your liking, feel free to skip it. Otherwise, enjoy. :)
Evening. The brilliant vermilion of a hunter's moon rising along the distant horizon, all burnt shades of red-orange stark against the cold, barren Romanian countryside as the first of many a hard frost settles in. A thin coating of freshly-fallen snow lies draped along fallen oaks and twisting briars, painted sanguine by autumn moonlight, and she thinks of him, wonders where he is, wonders how many will fall before him tonight, bleeding thickly into reddened snow.
It's become a habit now, watching the moon rise over a barren landscape, wrapped in soft furs while standing along cracked marble and fieldstone on his private balcony. He's never liked the hunter's moon, doesn't care for the extra light, indeed nearly takes it as a personal affront that a natural phenomenon would dare interfere with his wishes, taint his darkness. But still he journeys to the village, out and away, to feed, to partake, to continue to strike fear into the hearts of the simple peasants who might think to foolishly stand against him.
So you don't think what you're doing is wrong?
She remembers the time she said that to him, remembers standing before a beautiful nobleman with utterly hideous ideals enforced at the point of a finely-honed sword. Remembers fighting, fighting with everything she had, fighting for her life in the end. She'd been battered and bruised, weary and battle-scarred; he hadn't cared to hide his amusement. Foolish girl. You have no idea who you are dealing with. But she'd fought bravely on, against his sneering taunts and derisive laughter, until finally, hands blistered and raw, she'd caught him, swinging her sword in a wide arc that slashed against his exposed side, icy-hot and burning as the holy ore brushed against his cursed flesh. Pure, light, like the Holy Stone, and he deigned to look at her then, truly look, for the first time, and took note. So, woman, you too can purify. Intriguing—I'll allow you to live for now.
He'd vanished then, even as she gripped her sword and called after him, exhausted by pain and fury, tired, so tired now and with so much farther still to go… Sophitia came first, always. She would continue on with the last remnants of her strength for her sister, always for her. But this, this was not finished, and she committed him to memory, for within his eyes, burning-red and deeply soulless, had lain the promise of retribution, and she knew, somehow, that he would never stop.
Tracked him to Romania, then, months later as the seasons turned and Sophitia, weary and forever scarred yet grateful, so grateful, tended to her beautiful children, taking Pyrrha by the hand and fighting back joyful tears as she stared into her daughter's wide blue eyes. Please don't go, Cassie, she'd pleaded, desperate to preserve this delicate peace, so hard-won. But she'd gone nonetheless, taken up her worn weapons, wrapped her traveling cloak around her shoulders and headed out into the darkness.
She'd never returned. Not even months later when, panicked and distraught, Sophitia had kissed her children, her beautiful children, and her loving husband goodbye, then slung her reforged sword and shield across her slender back and followed her sister's path, sick dread coiled low and tight in the pit of her stomach. She'd returned a few short weeks later to Athens, face ashen and eyes wide, haunted, ignoring the worried, fearful cries of her children, her parents, her neighbors as she wept uncontrollably in Rothion's arms, forever recalling the sight of her sister, pale and drawn, bloodied wounds along her throat.
I can't, Cassandra had said when Sophitia had begged her to come home, and began to cry as the man by her side pulled her away from her sister's desperate grasp, lovingly handing her over to a young girl, all haunted eyes and detached arrogance, and told her to be careful with their new toy, love.
She remembers—remembers the pain, the confusion, the abject horror in her elder sister's eyes, wicked possession and anger in his as he raised his rapier and drove Hephaestus' sacred warrior from unholiest ground. He'd visited her later, an hour before the break of dawn, stars dark and silent through the frosted windowpanes of her small room. She'd wanted to say so many things, wanted to scream, condemn him, curse him to the depths of hell for everything he'd done to her…for being able to hold her captive with little more than a pointed look and a fleeting caress, for mocking her, hating her, for seeing the spark of begrudging admiration in her eyes, for twisting it, exploiting it, until she knew him as much as one ever could, learned his eccentricities and mannerisms, his cool detachment, the smile he granted his daughter, the faintly amused smirk he granted her, until she ached for his attentions and lay as surely, helplessly under his control as the meekest minion.
So many words lying flat against her tongue, desperate to be heard. I want to go home, she said finally, words heavy with exhaustion, fatigue, and for a brief, fleeting moment she hopes he's grown bored with her now, that he'll dismiss her…
No, he replied, simply, lightly. Not while she still amused him, intrigued him. Not while he still watched darkness seep into her gaze, felt and heard the stirrings of anger and hatred beneath her quickening pulse and watched her slow transformation with interested eyes.
I never wanted this. I never wanted to love you. And even though she was tired, so tired from hurting so much, a razor-thin edge of fury and scorn lay along her words, and she set her red-rimmed eyes into a pained glare.
Such a pity. He laughed then, dark and malevolent; even now, he still likes that spark within her, the last remnants of a fallen warrior, finds it continues to hold his interest long after it would likely otherwise have waned. He drew her close, bent his head to nip at her milk-pale throat, felt her tense sharply before, finally, finally, going limp in his arms. Later, he drank of her tears as he moved above her in the shadows, deeply entwined within the cold, distant light of a December moon.
She wonders how many she's seen since then. Feels as if she should know, should innately know—she now measures her life in the turnings of the moon.
So you don't think what you're doing is wrong?
The hunter's moon before her continues to climb steadily into the sky, brilliant fire slowly fading as night grows deeper. She knows he'll kill tonight, once, a hundred times, however long it takes to sate his needs, the blood upon his hands a mere annoyance, identities of the fallen of no concern. She questioned him once (how long ago, she wonders), stood against him with righteous fury, strong in her convictions, her unwavering morality.
She moves her fingers now over the side of her neck, over a multitude of scars, some faint and pale, some still reddened and sore. Yes, she knows what he is, knows it keenly. Winter brings long, dark hours, panicked screams from the village below, angry, terrified villagers with torches and knives. Her sword lies next to his rapier in the grand entryway, both blades darkly stained with innocent blood.
She hasn't questioned him in some time. Knows, with a trace of regret that time will never truly erase, that she no longer can.
Once again invading my private quarters, I see.
She doesn't have to turn to see him, feels his presence so strongly even before he curves one hand around the back of her neck. He presses his lips, cold, so cold, to her nape, and she shivers inwardly.
How many? she asks.
Perhaps ten. Does the number truly concern you so, pet?
Ten. Ten villagers, ten people, ten lives, ten families torn asunder, ten mothers, fathers, sons, daughters cruelly stolen.
It should concern her. It should sicken her, would have, long ago, when she had lived by the warm light of day, by pure, golden sunlight. Now she raises her eyes to a silent, blood-red moon and wonders, faintly, what it says about her that she no longer cares. No.
His arms settle around her waist, tight, bruising, possessive. She can feel the barest hint of a dark smile upon his lips as he moves to press them against her smooth throat. That's my girl.