Bearing the Yoke of Sacrifice
Note: These scenes skip back and forth in time, so pay close attention or you might get lost!
When faced with a life or death situation, a person is usually offered two options—fight or flight—and depending on his or her personality and the circumstances at hand, only one is utilized.
After undergoing extensive training, Kent's own mind did not recognize the old fight-or-flight mechanism that came with being human; he had only one option, and that was to fight. ("It comes with the job," he had said on more than one occasion to a certain Lyndis, whose well-being had been placed in his hands.)
And really, fighting was his only choice if he wanted to keep his job. It wouldn't do for Lyndis's personal bodyguard to run in the other direction when faced with an issue, whether the problem in question was a physical threat or not.
In the two years he had been assigned to her, no real trouble had reared its ugly head. That didn't mean that he was careless—no, far from it!—but he did, on occasion, allow her some time alone. Only when he was nearby, of course. Only when he was absolutely certain that no harm would befall her.
Because if he was there, he thought, he could protect her.
The story was actually quite a crazy one. Kent personally did not care about where Lyndis had come from or why she was there; he had been assigned to her and that was that. It was all that really mattered.
But Sain had managed to make some sense of the tale, and one evening, a month after Lyndis had come to them, outside, in the bitter cold, he relayed it all.
"So old Hausen Caelin," he began, pulling a lighter out of his pants pocket and a cigarette from the inside pocket of his coat, "the old oil tycoon, you remember? Well, he was the father of the one and only Madelyn Monroe."
"The actress?" he managed to ask after his sluggish brain began to work; he stomped his feet to keep warm. The cold really slowed him down.
Sain grinned and lifted his cigarette to his lips. "You don't watch many movies, do you ol' pal?" He breathed in deep and exhaled as he nodded. "Yeah, the actress. Turns out Monroe was just a stage name, and her real last name was Caelin."
Centuries ago, Caelin had been a place. But, as the history books said, discord was sowed among the people of Lycia, and wars broke out over the pseudo-monarchy system. When it was all over, the big nations of the time had dissolved. Caelin itself became nothing more than an uncommon last name, and it supposedly belonged to direct descendents of the lords and ladies who had once ruled it.
"Anyway," his old friend continued, "Ms. Monroe had a high school sweetheart, a Hassar Plain, though his name probably doesn't ring any bells right off the get-go."
Kent shook his head. It was cold. He wanted to go inside. The story was interesting enough, but Lyndis was sleeping and he would feel better if he could be just a bit closer to her, instead of outside the building.
"Hassar Plain was only famous for a few months. He and Miss Caelin wanted to get hitched right after high school, but Mr. Caelin didn't approve. So of course…"
"Elopement?" It wasn't as if it was hard to guess. People eloped all of the time.
"Nope!" He grinned. "But they did run away together! He wanted to be a songwriter, she wanted to be an actress… Typical Elibean dream, I guess." He dropped his cigarette onto the snow-covered ground and smashed it with his heel. "Be famous, get rich, that type of stuff." His fingers began to reach for another cigarette, but Kent stopped him.
"Don't even think about it." Some day, he would get his friend to quit for good.
Sain frowned. "Fine, fine," he said. "Long story short, Madelyn was successful, Hassar was not. Due to his…lack of talent, Hassar fell into a depression and started doing drugs. He eventually spent a bit of time in the slammer for it, and by then, Madelyn had had enough; she left him for a career in acting."
Kent decided that the story was a horrible one.
"She was famous for a time, as you know—did some good movies, sang a little, danced well—but by then she was getting older, and younger women were being cast in her roles, so…she went off to find her Hassar again."
"Why?" Maybe the cold really was getting to him. His brain felt so…slow.
"Because she still loved him, of course! And her career was failing. I mean, she loved him all along, but when he ended up in the pokey, she couldn't very well let herself be associated with him. The media would have had a field day."
Wasn't it for better or for worse? Well, Kent thought to himself, they hadn't actually gotten married. But still, they had lived together, and didn't living together require a similar (though perhaps unspoken) agreement? Otherwise, what would the point be? Why would you move in with someone you didn't intend to stay with forever, through the good and the bad? He couldn't say he understood it at all.
"You don't get it, do you?" Sain shrugged. "Well, you're a bit old-fashioned compared to most people. At any rate, Madelyn found Hassar, apologized for picking her career over him, and was forgiven. They got married, had a baby, and lived happily for a number of years until they died, quite tragically, in a drunk-driving accident."
Kent's head spun. Why was Sain telling him the story to begin with? He would probably think of it at the worst of times. "Another reason I do not tolerate alcohol," he murmured under his breath.
His friend smiled a bit, just one side of his lips tilting upward. "Hassar was the one that was drunk," he said matter-of-factly, but then his expression turned sour. "Well, one of the drunk drivers. It should be pretty obvious that Lyndis Plain is their daughter. Did you ever read the paper, Kent, when that happened?" He pulled another cigarette out of his inside coat pocket, and this time was not deterred. "The other drunk driver was at the wheel of a big-rig. A twenty-seven car pile-up that night on I-85 that left over forty people—including quite a few children—dead."
Once upon a time, Kent had been a staunch newspaper-reader, but with all of the negative information in it on a daily basis, he found himself feeling lower and lower every day, and so he had stopped reading it entirely to avoid hearing of the latest murders.
Of course, his most recent position required that he keep up with the news—for Lyndis's safety—but at the time of the accident… No, he had not read the papers. He shook his head.
"Yeah," Sain said, his voice quiet. "Lyndis was one of only a few survivors. Strange, isn't it? An infant was pulled out of a crumpled car without a scratch…but his mother was unrecognizable. A woman walked away with a broken arm, but her husband was paralyzed. And Lyndis, well, she didn't walk away, but as you can see…she lived, but her parents didn't make it."
Without responding, Kent opened the door and left his friend out in the snow to finish his cigarette.
Lyndis didn't think she needed a bodyguard at all, and certainly not what she deemed a fleet of them.
Kent loved that about her—her independence—but sometimes he found it quite frustrating. The entire first year he had been assigned to her safety, she had continuously tried to outwit and outmaneuver him. Some of the time, she was successful.
"I don't know why I need protecting anyway," she'd said once, her green eyes focused on the distant horizon. "Nobody cares who I am."
He'd tried to explain it to her. Her mother had been a famous actress, her grandfather was a big name in the oil industry and he didn't have an heir. Of course his company would go to her, if he could manage to get his things in order.
"But I don't want his company," she'd sighed.
"Not many people would believe that," he'd muttered solemnly, though he hadn't been sure she'd heard him.
"I don't lie," she had said firmly. "I never lie."
He didn't know how to tell her that not many people would believe that, either.
So he had kept his mouth shut.
She was difficult to "protect". She always had been. Two years and she could still (on occasion) give him the slip. He almost always knew where to find her. As terrible as he felt putting a tracking device in her car, he had been forced to use it a few times when he had not been able to locate her at any of the usual places.
It had been a warm spring day when he'd found her, unharmed, in a coffee shop.
He'd only known her for a few months at the time. He hadn't known she drank coffee.
And for some reason, seeing her sitting there with just a Styrofoam cup to keep her company set his heart to pounding out an irregular beat. He'd been searching for hours, and to see her safe and well… He had breathed a sigh of relief.
"I knew it would only be a matter of time," she sighed when he slid into the chair opposite her.
She wasn't happy to see him, and that…hurt, a little bit. Kent had never concerned himself with whether other people liked him or not—Sain seemed to like him fine enough as he was—and plenty of people had disliked him quite a lot, but…it seemed to matter that Lyndis regarded his presence as something negative.
He hadn't known what to say.
"I don't want any of it, you know." She looked into the depths of her drink instead of at him. "I don't want the oil company, I don't want the fame, I don't want the constant presence of a bodyguard to protect me from harms that don't even exist."
You don't know that, he wanted to say. You don't know that there aren't threats out there.
"What do you want?" he found himself asking instead, genuine curiosity tingeing his voice. He had never asked her such a thing, before. He didn't think anyone had.
She smiled at him, a warm, caring sort of smile. "To leave it all behind," she said, "for a nice, quiet life." Her eyes glistened, but tears did not fall.
"Do you think that I'll ever have that again?" she asked quietly, and he blinked to see her staring at him.
At that moment—when his eyes met hers—he truly began to fall for her.
"Perhaps," he managed to say despite the lump in his throat. If she left her life, left it all behind, she would be leaving him, too.
And he wasn't quite sure how he felt about that.
It was a mansion, Lyndis's house. Her grandfather had given it to her, one of his many estates.
"I'd have been happy with an apartment," she had said rather dryly upon first entering the building. "Or a small house in the country."
There were more rooms than only one person needed, and perhaps Mr. Caelin didn't realize that by giving Lyndis such a place to live in, it meant more bodyguards. The extra thirty rooms had to be checked at least twice a day. How easy it would be for someone to sneak in and do away with her while she slept!
The longer Kent knew her, the more he fretted over it.
He slept in the room right beside hers, but…it didn't take much to silence a voice. If something happened to her while he dozed, he would never forgive himself.
Company meetings were dull. Lyndis hated them, but paid strict attention nonetheless. She didn't know her grandfather well, and she likely wouldn't get the chance to. The man was quite ill, and even though he seemed to have accepted Lyndis back into the family… Well, if the rumors about him were true, he had gone far enough to get his own friend tossed into jail over a petty dispute.
Kent wondered if the man would ever give Lyndis the company, or if he had been spending the last two years stringing her along. Perhaps he was gauging her interest.
It didn't really matter. Kent could have told him that she didn't want the company. Didn't want anything to do with it. He might have known it already had he actually bothered to spend any time with her. But golf with his business partners was higher on his list of priorities, it seemed, something that did not escape Lyndis's notice.
Sprawled out on the couch in the den, Lyndis looked nothing like the business suit-wearing woman that listened attentively at meetings and spoke with authority in her voice. No, she looked rather small, and though he hated to use the word where she was concerned, frail.
"Lyndis," he murmured, touching her cheek. Her hair had half-spilled out of its up-do, and her face was red from sleep. She looked charming that way, he decided.
She sleepily opened her eyes and regarded him with curiosity. "Kent?" she asked. "What is't? Somethin' wrong?"
"You should retire to your bed," he said quietly, pulling his hand back to his side.
"Oh." She settled back down, and let her head rest on a throw pillow. "The car accident," she began, and was interrupted with a yawn, "did a little…damage to my back. It's easier to get up off of the couch than it is the bed."
She hated to complain. She always had been very quiet about any problems, any pain, any negative emotions at all. He hadn't ever asked about the injures she'd sustained in the accident. She hadn't mentioned them.
"I…see," he said, feeling troubled. How often did it bother her? Did she have other injuries? Had she had difficulties in getting out of bed in the morning? Did it bother her when she had to stand to give presentations? When she had to get out of the limousine?
"Don't worry about it," she whispered, and closed her eyes.
He left to fetch a blanket, but when he returned, she had already gone back to sleep.
It was all over the papers, and with a growl of frustration, Kent slammed the Tribune onto the coffee table and glared at his old friend.
Sain merely shrugged, used to it all. He knew that Kent was not angry with him.
"How did it get out?" he asked, his voice dangerously low.
His sandy-haired companion shook his head. "I don't know," he said sincerely. "This mansion houses a staff of at least thirty people, you and I included. It could have been anyone."
"But we need to know who." He was pacing, then, his fingers raking through his reddish hair as he tried to think.
"Just cancel the trip," Sain suggested.
"I can't do that." His jaw ached from clenching it.
Scoffing, Sain stared, "And why not? It's not as if it was anything special, anyway."
Lyndis had been looking forward to it for months with a rare kind of joy. A small retreat in the country. She had been so happy. He didn't think he could tell her that all those months of waiting had been for nothing.
But he had little choice.
Their first meeting had been awkward at best.
"Lyndis, this is Kent Morgan. He's to be your personal bodyguard." Sain took such delight in saying those words. Just an hour before, he had declared that she was as close to a wife as he'd ever have at the rate he was going. Kent had taken some offense to the statement—he wasn't as hopeless as Sain made him out to be. At least, he'd like to think that he was more capable than that.
"Bodyguard?" She made a face as she shook his hand.
"Y-Yes," he'd forced himself to reply. He looked her in the eyes. They were a pretty shade of green.
She rolled those eyes and reached forward to let her hand rest on his shoulder. "I'm sure you're a great bodyguard, Kent, but…" She turned away and walked into her room, peering at him from the small crack between her door and the frame around it, "I don't need a bodyguard."
The door had closed with a quiet click, and Sain had howled with laughter.
His hand came away from his shoulder covered with a warm, sticky liquid. He wasn't sure what was going on.
He heard her voice, screaming his name.
He supposed he wouldn't mind dying if that was the last thing he heard.
It was a transformation, a metamorphosis more impressive than that of a cocoon opening to reveal a butterfly.
She had never smiled so much.
She had never looked so content.
The old wooden swing creaked as she sat on it to test her weight, and when she was satisfied, she patted the space beside her, an invitation that he took.
She looked at the large maple trees surrounding the small summer home, and whispered, "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes," he answered, but he wasn't looking at the autumn leaves as they cascaded from the sky and fell all around them; he was looking at her.
When faced with a gun, a person's natural instinct demanded that they get as far away from it as possible.
He felt some pain, but he didn't dare concentrate on it.
Instead, he grappled for the gun.
He would get it. No matter what it took.
"What do you think it feels like to die?" Sain had asked Kent once. They had been nothing but boys, playing a good old-fashioned game of Hide-and-Seek with some of the neighborhood kids.
"Shh," had been Kent's initial response, but when he realized that the others were much too far away to have heard, he thought to answer his friend's question. "Bet it hurts," he said.
"A lot, do you think?"
"Guess it depends."
"What you die of."
"What if you die heroically? You know, like a soldier or a fireman or something?"
"It probably hurts the worst."
Sain spotted Kent's pistol on the kitchen counter and wondered at it for a moment. How careless, he thought, but he didn't really see the harm in it being there.
It was only the three of them, after all.
And they were in the middle of nowhere.
Their trip had made headline news, but…it had never specified a location. They had even changed locations from the original one to a more secluded place that fewer people knew existed. He smiled and poured a bowl of cereal. Lyndis had been so pleased to be able to get away for a while, and when she was happy, well, so was Kent.
A gunshot that came from the side of the house startled him, and he scooped up Kent's pistol and left the milk where it had spilled all across the kitchen table.
The weight of the rifle caused his arms to tremble. He couldn't quite recall how he had gotten it, how he had managed to wrestle it away from his opponent.
Lyndis hovered at his side.
The man spat at her from where he sat on the porch; his hands were in the air, but anger was in his eyes. He had spoken before, something about cars. Kent's hearing had begun to fade, and he had heard little of it.
The screen door slammed open, and then Sain was there, taking the rifle from his hands and giving him some much-needed backup.
Lyndis helped him to sit on the porch swing before she pulled out her cell phone and shakily dialed for an ambulance and for the police.
He tried to watch her, but found it impossible. The image of her face swam before him, and when he blinked, it had faded to white.
"Can I go to the store alone?"
"Can I go to the movie theater alone?"
"Can I go for a walk alone?"
Her voice sounded more frustrated with every question. "Can I eat alone?"
"Can I visit friends alone?"
"Can I bathe alone?"
"Really?" She stared at him with wide eyes and a surprised expression on her face. "Are you going to help me?"
After a moment, he blinked, and his face reddened. "I-I mean, yes. Yes, of course you can." He shook his head and looked back down at his book, his cheeks still pink. Really, what kind of question was that? "Bathe. Alone, I mean."
When he opened his eyes, he knew he wasn't dead. It was both a relief and a disappointment. Despite the fact that heroic deaths always looked the most painful, he had fancied dying that way. At least he wouldn't be forgotten.
But the beeping of strange equipment and an IV in his arm shattered all thoughts of being dead. No, he was very much alive. And, as he looked to each side of his bed, he found that he was glad he was.
Sain was snoozing rather loudly in the chair on his left, and Lyndis was watching him carefully from the chair on his right side. She smiled at him when he looked at her, but it was sad, and that hurt him almost as much as his injury.
"I'm sorry," she said, reaching over to brush his bangs from his forehead. "I shouldn't have insisted."
On the trip, she meant.
Slowly, he shook his head. "It's not your fault."
"No," she began, but he cut her off by squeezing her hand with his good one.
"He might have found you anywhere." And, he thought, but didn't say, he might have shot her instead. Could he live with himself if he had allowed that to happen? He didn't think that he could.
There was a leaf in her hair. It was a brilliant orange that faded into red on one side. It sat there, pretty-as-you-please, and he watched it for a long moment before he leaned forward to brush it away.
As he pulled it from its resting place, she turned to smile at him. Before the leaf left his fingers, he heard the unmistakable click of a gun's safety being released.
Human beings were wired for selfishness.
Fight or flight, fight or flight.
Survival of the fittest.
He had been trained for a moment like this, he realized.
He leapt to his feet to face his armed opponent and only made it a few feet before the man stepped out from behind the beautiful maple tree. He rushed forward, but it was too late.
He felt the force slam into him, but he didn't feel any pain, nor did he see any blood.
He ignored it. He had to.
He knew who the man's next target would be, and he could not allow that to happen.
All of those classes, he thought wryly, about not playing with guns.
He lunged forward and wrapped one hand around the barrel.
"It's funny," Sain said while Lyndis was getting some rest. "All this time we expected a move from that no-good Lundgren, or even from one of the high-up executives in the company who wanted to own it… But in the end, it was a guy who was bitter about his wife dying in that pileup."
"As if Lyndis had something to do with it," Kent sighed.
"Well, her father did, I suppose…" Sain reached for his shirt pocket, but stopped at Kent's glare. "I know, I know, this is a hospital. Say, Kent?"
"I know the accident wasn't her fault, and…nothing she could have done would have changed it, but…do you suppose she sometimes feels a bit guilty about it, regardless?"
"We all feel bad about things out of our control, sometimes," Kent answered, and shook his head slowly as he stared up at the ceiling.
Kent was not, by nature, a self-sacrificing man.
And so it took him by surprise to realize that he wanted nothing more than to go beyond the call of duty for Lyndis.
If she wanted coffee at strange hours of the day or night, he would gladly drive her. If she wanted someone to talk to, he would listen attentively.
She had been resting upside-down in a recliner, with her feet propped up over the back of the chair, when he walked into the living room on a hot summer day.
"Hi, Kent," she'd murmured lazily, and she hadn't hesitated to flash him a smile.
She'd never looked more beautiful, he'd thought, then. Her t-shirt had rolled up a bit at the waist, and her capris were horribly wrinkled, but…it was that moment, when her words reached his ears, when he knew he would take a bullet for her.
And not, he knew, because it was a part of his job.
How strange, he thought, that it was so hard to tell her this one little thing. No, he wasn't going to confess his undying love, though the thought had crossed his mind on more than one occasion. Rather, he had something else to confess.
She sat beside him on the couch in her den, looking confused. Guilt gnawed at him. He knew she didn't know what he was going to say; she had been wondering for hours, until they could both find the time to sit down together.
It was hard to say, but he said it, words spilling from his mouth, leaving him rambling rather uncharacteristically in his attempt to explain everything.
He didn't want her to feel as if anything was her fault.
But he saw the tears falling and knew—he knew—that she had already shouldered some of the blame and was carrying it, carrying it for him.
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping away her tears on the sleeve of her hooded sweatshirt. He knew she wasn't talking about her tears.
"No," he said. "No." But what could he say to her to make her believe? He hadn't had to comfort a tearful woman in…well, ever. His hands shook slightly as he touched her shoulder. "Lyndis, it's not your fault."
Please, he wanted to say, don't blame yourself.
"It was meant for me," she said resolutely despite her quaking voice.
He thought for a moment, and gave her a small smile. "It comes with the job."
"Why do you always say that?" she asked, poking her finger hard into his chest. "Is that the only reason you do anything?"
He could answer her question with a million different answers.
He had always known he could be injured or even killed—he knew that before he had accepted the position! She knew that, too. So why her question? Did she want to know if there was another reason? A more important reason?
She was waiting for an answer.
Emotion clogged his throat.
"I would do it again," he said. "In a heartbeat. Even if it rendered my other shoulder useless, too."
He took her hand in his good one and squeezed.
Her tears were falling again. Did she still blame herself? He couldn't stand for it. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her too him, careful of his bad arm. "I would do anything for you," he whispered. "Anything at all."
"Let's go for a walk," she'd said, months ago. It had been early in the summertime, and the air had smelled fresh.
He'd agreed without a second thought. It was Lyndis, after all, and it was such a simple request. She took pleasure in that little bit of almost-freedom, and it hadn't taken him too long to figure out that…anything that made her happy made him happy as well.
The walk had been pleasant, and at one point—though he could not recall at the end of the walk when it had happened, exactly—she had grabbed hold of his hand to point something out to him…and she hadn't let go.
He remembered wondering if it was right to keep holding her hand. Was she standing there wondering the same thing?
He tore his eyes away from their joined hands to look at her face, and she gave him a brilliant smile before she tugged him over to the pond to watch the children feed the ducks.
She seemed perfectly content to hold his hand, and he was happy to let her.
"A pair of swans," she said as she noticed them swimming together in the water.
He squeezed her hand in response, having found no words worthy of being uttered.
"How much do you think it hurts, though? This much," Sain's tiny arms stretched outward a foot, and then three feet, "or this much?"
"I don't know," Kent replied. "Prolly more than it hurt when Fiora's basketball fell on your head. Or when Serra clobbered you with her doll."
"Both those hurt a lot." Sain rubbed his head as if he could still feel it.
"You remember when I said that I didn't need you?"
"When we first met?"
"Yes." She looked back at him with guilty eyes. "I was wrong."
The funeral home was packed with hundreds of people that Kent didn't recognize. Lyndis had wanted a private service, but she hadn't gotten her wish.
She hadn't gotten the company, either. It had gone to a very grateful, capable Mr. Reissmann, who had seemed all too happy to get the position.
"I wish I'd had the chance to know him better."
She looked at the body in the casket as if seeing her grandfather for the first time. She let her hand rest against his cheek for a long moment before she turned away and went to look at a lifetime of photography.
"He looked so happy in this one," she said, squeezing his hand as she pointed at a picture of him at his wedding standing beside his new bride. "I'll bet he missed her all these years."
He closed the trunk of the car for her and hurried to catch up. In front of the house, he took a bag of heavy groceries from her. She couldn't do it all. Not for him. It wasn't fair.
"Please don't feel guilty," he said almost desperately. "It wasn't your fault."
She tried to take the bag of groceries back, but his fingers caught hers and he wouldn't let go.
"Let's carry it together," he said, and after a long pause, she nodded, knowing he didn't mean just the groceries.
"But who's going to get the door?" she asked tearfully.
"We'll get it together."
And he lifted both their hands to turn the knob.
"Someone else could come after me, you know," she told him, two months after he had been hurt.
"I still have one good arm," was his absent reply
"You already gave me one arm." She tossed some bread to the ducks. "And even though you have two good legs, too, I don't want to see you sacrificing those, either."
She laughed. "I don't want your brain. It's too squishy."
There was silence between them for a few minutes, and they both listened to the quacking of the ducks as Lyndis fed them.
Gently, he let the hand of his good arm rest on her shoulder.
When she turned toward him, he asked her, softly, "My heart?"
Five years as a police officer. Three years working as head of security at Hausen Caelin's oil company. Two years as a personal bodyguard to Mr. Caelin's only grandchild.
He hadn't died a hero.
"For better or worse…"
"For better or worse…"
"'Til death do us part."
"'Til death do us part."
Instead, he had been given the chance to live as one.
Feedback would be fantastic.