"Do not tell me you are fearful of the fall, mon ami." Francis' voice called easily, and despite Antonio's protests, Gilbert knew he was watching to see what the lion-demon would do.
"You wish." With those two words, Gilbert stepped back and took a running leap over the edge of the water.
As his body twisted around in the fall, getting soaked from the water going down with him, Gilbert wondered if this was what Kiku felt every time he let himself free-fall in the sky. He wondered if the bird-demon felt this freedom, this ability of letting go without actually letting go.
Then his body hit the water, and he transformed to give himself more momentum to reach the surface. The sunlight glittered through the water, and Gilbert found himself thinking of Roderich as he broke the surface. Transforming again, Gilbert took a deep breath and reached up to rub his eyes with pale fingers.
Why, of all times, did his past decide to rear up in his mind now?
He barely heard Francis and Antonio hit the water behind him; he swam to shore and lay on the bank, sighing heavily.
Since his mind was on the topic, he allowed it to run freely through it instead of instantly bottling it up like usual. Gilbert lay on the bank and wondered what Roderich was doing; how his supposed betrothed had grown, what he looked like. He remembered violet eyes, and brown hair, artfully messy with a curl the defied earth's pull. A childish grin that rivaled his own, and a small body stumbling around because of poor vision.
Gilbert smiled regretfully as his eyes shut- - -he really screwed up. The stampede, his father; even him running away. Everything that happened to him was his fault, and Roderich was spared seeing what happened to his best friend. He heaved another sigh and let his tail trace patterns absent-mindedly in the sand beneath him.
Ten years later, and he was still blaming himself for everything that happened.
Seventeen year old Roderich stood at the entrance of what had once been his home. For all appearances and purpose, it was still his "home", but he felt it missing the elements that made it his home when he was younger.
For the moment, though, as the sun rose, Roderich closed his eyes, spread his arms out, and felt a sensation of free-falling through the sky. He breathed in deeply as the sun warmed him, the ragged clothes he wore making him feel freer than he's felt in years. He smiled, the type of smile that made his whole face light up, and felt something close to joy filling his stomach. He took a step forward, a small one, and- - -
"Roderich!" A female voice called out, a curious undertone to the word. "Roderich?" Each call he didn't answer made the owner of the voice more frantic, and finally Roderich couldn't stand it anymore.
"Outside, Katy, I'm outside!" A few seconds later, his 'mother' found herself next to him, smiling weakly at him as she panted lightly.
"There you are, Roderich." She breathed out, smiling through the panic in her eyes. Roderich felt guilty- - -when he was thirteen, he went through a rebellious phase. He had snapped at all of the hyena-demon siblings, fighting with each of them and destroying the place they had been taking shelter in. He'd been a snarling ball of pure anger, his rage fueled by the feelings the death of his mother had invoked in his body.
As a final act of rebellion, he disappeared for three weeks. It was his final act in more ways than he intended it to be. Roderich discovered how much Natalia and Ivan looked out for him when he went out and about. The first couple days weren't so bad; it was the beginning of the second week that Roderich realized the other hyena-demons were giving him odd looks: looks of hunger, of sadistic and twisted predators coming after weak prey. He could barely fend for himself alone, and he found himself regretting his decision to leave the haven the trio gave him; at the same time, though, he couldn't bring himself to go back.
Arthur helped him make the decision to go back.
"Don't think of that awful man now." Katyusha murmured in her thick accent. Roderich turned to her in surprise and she smiled. "You've got that look on your face, Roderich. You only ever get that look if you're thinking about Arthur."
"Sorry." Katyusha smiled slightly. Uncertainly, she reached up, only to stop an inch or so from Roderich's head. He smiled wryly- - -ten years later and Katyusha is still so unsure of herself- - -and leaned down, placing his head on her chest and his arms around her waist. He felt her tense slightly in surprise before threading her hand through his hair and touching his back gently.
"Ten years, huh?" She said softly, looking out at the sun with him. "So much has changed..." Roderich couldn't help but agree with her. The lands that had once been so green, so brimming with life, were now destroyed. Hardly any animal demons were seen anywhere, and the hyena-demons ran wild and free, a tornado of destruction.
"Since it's today..." Roderich said quietly. "Do you think Adrianna is going to speak with him? I know she's been planning on it..."
"Possibly." Katyusha murmured back. She tilted his head back to look him in the eye and, crooning softly in the strange language Roderich never learned, she kissed his forehead. "Now go dress for the day." She ordered. "We need to bring something down to honor your friend. I'll get Elizabeta."
Gilbert stretched, joints cracking as he watched Antonio float idly on the water.
"You're thinking of someone." He called out, making Antonio glance at him out of the corner of his eye. "Who?"
"No one." The twenty-three year old called back, turning his attention to the sky. Gilbert raised an eyebrow, falling back onto the sand. There was silence, but then Antonio spoke again. "You seem to have someone on your mind as well, amigo. I'll tell you if you tell me, si?"
"All right." Gilbert sat up again and looked out at the animal demon he grew up with. "I guess...I've just..." He stopped and stared at his hands, glancing up in surprise when Antonio sat next to him, water dripping off of him slowly.
"Back where I came from," He said, "there was this little boy who liked to follow me around, si? And though he was so little, he had such a foul mouth, and he was so violent!" Gilbert laughed, but stopped short at the slightly dreamy look on his friend's face. "Still, he was so adorable, and he would blush so much- - -like a tomate!" Gilbert smiled at the adoration in his friend's eyes.
"Why haven't you gone to find him again?" He asked softly. Antonio looked at him in surprise.
"Ah?" He laughed. "Ah, probably the same reasons you have not gone back to who you were thinking of, amigo." Gilbert smiled wryly- - -a stampede, Father coming for him, running into a rock, Father dying, all his fault- - -and shrugged half-heartedly.
"I doubt it." There was a few seconds of silence before Gilbert spoke again. "When I was younger, I had this kid I was always with. We were best friends, me and him, and we were rarely apart." Gilbert pulled his knees up, even as Antonio stared at him in awe- - -he made a habit of artfully dodging their questions about his past. "A while before you guys found me...I ended up kissing him." He smiled and tilted his head back. "Wonder what he's doing now."
"Amigo- - -"
"Let's find Francis." Gilbert said suddenly, standing so abruptly Antonio nearly fell over. "I haven't heard him say much of anything for a while, and that worries me slightly." Antonio smiled and helped himself up.
"Knowing our good friend, he's probably found a stray Meerkat-demon and is hard at work." Gilbert snorted.
"Work my ass." He muttered. "But yea, that wouldn't surprise me at all."
"Adrianna isn't feeling well." Elizabeta worried, pushing back matted hair and frowning at the female before her. "I've never seen her so bad."
"What do you mean?" A blonde boy asked. He was tall, with messy blonde hair and clear blue eyes, but he stared at Adrianna with worry clear in his eyes.
"She's starting to go crazy." Elizabeta said, standing up. "I don't understand- - -Adrianna's been strong all this time. What could have possibly started this?" She looked around, emerald eyes searching the ruined room for something. "How are you guys on food, Ludwig?" Ludwig shrugged helplessly.
"Same as everyone else." He sighed. "Mama hasn't been feeling well lately. She goes out to hunt with the rest of the group early; she comes back late, usually with something small for me. I'm trying to keep our room clean, and trying to do some secret hunting on the side, but there isn't much I can do- - -those hyena-demons are out of control."
"I know." Elizabeta rubbed the bridge of her nose tiredly, but offered Ludwig a smile as she hugged him. "You're such a brave boy, Ludwig. You do so much, and you're so little..."
"I'm ten," Ludwig said shortly as he accepted her hug. "Old enough to be helping around the house."
"Ok, ok." Elizabeta laughed and ruffled his already messy hair as she pulled away; the sight of Adrianna laying curled on the bed, whining and whimpering, sobered her up quickly. "I suppose I'll have to go speak to Scar in Adrianna's place, won't I?"
"I could go for you." Ludwig offered. Elizabeta smiled at him again.
"You're still too young, dear." She told him affectionately, grinning when a purr came from his throat as she rubbed his ears. He batted her hand away, blushing furiously. "I'll come check up on you and your mama later, ok, Ludwig?"
"All right." Ludwig waved at her as she walked out, following her out the door. Once outside, Elizabeta ran into Natalia.
"Natalia." She said evenly, dipping her head slightly in greeting.
"Elizabeta." Natalia responded in return, looking the brunette over. As the years passed by, a sort of neutral relationship formed between the two. Elizabeta had helped bring Katyusha back, and in return Natalia made sure nothing happened to the lion-demon healer, even going so far as to join the twenty-one year old on her assignments when she was younger. "I thought Katy and Roderich had found you already."
"Found me for what?" Elizabeta asked, brows furrowing. Natalia shrugged.
"Something to do with Gilbert, I think." She said carelessly. "Some kind of offering or something." Elizabeta's face fell, and Natalia looked away with a grimace; she hadn't told anyone she had let Gilbert go alive, least word somehow get to Scar, so each year she had to deal with both young lion-demons moping around.
In the state the young prince had been in, there hadn't been much chance of him surviving anyway.
"Anyway," Natalia cleared her throat. "Katy and Roderich are looking for you."
"All right." Elizabeta hugged Ludwig again, kissing his cheek softly as she turned to leave. "After we take the offering to Gilbert, I'll bring Roderich with me to talk to Scar."
"I thought Adrianna was doing that." Natalia said, startled. Elizabeta shrugged helplessly, but it was enough of an answer for the hyena-demon. "Elizabeta, you can't be serious! Scar could kill you!"
"He won't." Elizabeta said assuredly. "I'm still the only healer here. He can't do anything to me."
"What about Roderich?" Natalia hissed angrily. "Roderich has nothing but our protection to go on, and Ivan and I won't be able to protect him inside that man's room." Elizabeta took a breath and shook her head.
"I'll keep him safe, promise." Natalia watched the lion-demon walk away, and covered her eyes. Pushing a stray strand of silvery blonde hair behind her ear, Natalia went to find Ivan and warn him about Elizabeta's plan.
She had a horrible feeling that they were going to have to leave as soon as possible after Elizabeta talks to Scar.
Awkward transition chapter is awkward... XD haha I don't think I like this chapter much...but I liked the scene between Roderich and Katyusha...