AN: Okay, this is just a oneshot that I wrote awhile ago. I realize it has been forever since I updated 'And Tears yet Fall,' but I am having serious writer's block on it. I'm trying to get the next chapter written, but I'm putting this up to help tide you guys over.
Irene did not know why she insisted on doing this to herself every year. Did not know why she risked life and remaining limbs. Did not know why she strapped on her claymore and made the long journey to that place. The place where her world had been turned upside down. The place where her heart had died.
She did not know why she went there, even after all these years, to sit by a meaningless pile of rocks and let the tears slip from her eyes. Once a year, she let herself feel weak, let herself feel at all. The rest of the time she kept the emotions locked away, deep inside her where they could do no harm. She was Quicksword Irene no longer. Now, she was simply a broken woman, whose life no longer had reason or purpose, even though she kept living. She was still afraid of death, though it would bring her the release she so wanted. There had been times over the years where she had stood with her sword pressed against her neck, ready to make that final strike, but she had always been unable to follow through. Something held her back.
So she continued these treks. Three weeks there, three weeks back. She only ever stayed for a day, usually less, and she was never sure if it was worth the trouble. She never felt any better afterward, never felt any sense of closure. Her guilt was never eased. But still she went.
This year marked the tenth year that she had made this journey. The tenth year since she had fled and deserted the Organization. The tenth year since she had lost her arm. The tenth year since Teresa had died. In some ways it felt like an eternity had passed. In others, it could have been just yesterday that Priscilla had awakened. The actual events of the day were a blur in Irene's mind, a haze of clashing swords and a battle within herself as she struggled with her orders, every fiber of her being screaming out to disobey. But she had not. She had not been able to go against the Organization, not even when Teresa's life had been at stake. And she was disgusted with herself, the horror still fresh after all these years.
Most days, she tried to keep thoughts of Teresa to a minimum, knowing that her sanity depended on it. If she did not, then the guilt would overwhelm her, break her. It was her fault that Priscilla had awakened. She should have known that the girl was unstable. It was her fault that Teresa had died. She should have disobeyed her orders, should have refused to follow them, should have, just once, chosen herself and her happiness over her duties. Her yearly journey brought these thoughts to the surface, and she supposed that she must be a glutton for punishment, because she welcomed the pain, for it brought a wanted change from her normal routine.
Irene trudged up the last, rocky hill, topping the crest to show the three swords, still where she had left them. She stopped at the two that rested farther away first, kneeling down briefly, touching each hilt reverently.
"I am sorry, Noel," she said quietly to the first one, her voice raspy from disuse. If she thought about it, she really could not remember the last time she had spoken out-loud, having no one with whom to converse. The life of a Claymore was solitary, but it did not compare to the loneliness of her life now. Slowly, she turned to the next one, it's previous owner having been a good friend of hers. "I am so very sorry, Sophia." She said the same thing to the swords every year, never deviating from the script. What else was there to say? She could never change anything that had happened, no matter how desperately and horribly she wanted to. No matter how many times she apologized, they would still be dead. Sighing, she stood again, slowly and reluctantly turning to walk across the knoll, approaching the grave of Teresa of the Faint Smile. Of her former lover. Of the only woman she had ever loved. Her steps grew heavy as she drew closer to the sword marking the grave. It never got any easier. Thrusting her own, long unused, claymore into the ground, Irene dropped to her knees in front of Teresa's grave-marker, bowing her head.
"Teresa," she began quietly, as she always did. "Another year has passed without you. This one was particularly hard." She felt foolish speaking to the dead like this, but Teresa was the only person who had ever been her confident, and speaking to her grave was the only time Irene ever felt alive, even if it was only to feel the pain of loss. "I believe I was almost discovered this past winter. A young warrior with excellent Yoki sensing abilities passed very close to my home. She paused longer than they normally do, and I think she wanted to investigate. She did not, however, and I have not felt her since." It always went like this. Irene would recount the few things that had happened in her life, while trying to avoid breaking down, yet again. As a warrior, she had never cried, not since she had been brought to the Organization's headquarters when she was barely in her eleventh year. But since losing her arm and her love, she had fractured, no longer able to keep the tears at bay when she knelt before her lover's grave.
When Irene had awoken after Priscilla's attack, surprised to find that she still lived despite her traumatic injuries, she had slowly and painfully buried her fallen comrades. The human girl who had been traveling with Teresa, who been the cause of Teresa's desertion, had not been there, and Irene had assumed that Priscilla had killed her, leaving no trace of the child. But as she had limped over to Teresa's body, she had realized with cold horror that the woman's head was gone, taken, and another thought had entered her mind. She had only entertained it briefly before pushing it from her thoughts, not wanting to think that the child could betray Teresa's wishes in such a way. Perhaps, though, like Irene, the girl was selfish and would choose her own priorities over Teresa's. They had that in common, then, for Irene had put herself and her place in the Organization before her relationship with Teresa and it had cost her everything that had ever been precious to her. And as it was with each year, this thought was what finally overcame her, crumpling her body, forcing her back to curve over her pain as the sobs racked her chest.
So Irene cried. Cried for everything she had done, for everything that she had lost, and for everyone's lives she had ruined.
"I'm so sorry, Teresa," she croaked. "I'm so sorry. This is all my fault." The words were the same every year, but she still felt the need to say them, as if carrying this pain could somehow make up for her actions. "I should have chosen you. I should have refused my orders. I was a fool, Teresa. You were the best thing in my life, and I threw it all away, and for what? I was afraid that if they found out...that they would kill us, send us on suicide missions. But I realize now, that without you in my life, I might as well be dead anyway. We should have left together. Lived our lives how we wanted. My loyalty to the Organization seems so...trivial now. I still love you so much, and it hurts more than I ever thought possible." Back in her prime, she would have been disgusted by the pathetic creature she had become, alone, wallowing in her despair, living for no other reason than the fact that she feared death. She was a Claymore, a warrior, a Silver-Eyed Witch, and she should have feared nothing. She had faced awakened beings on numerous occasions, never flinching in the face of such power. She had led other warriors to their deaths before, and it had never affected her more than pausing for a momentary reflection at the waste of potential. She had been hard and cold, surpassed in her power by only one other warrior. The one in front of whose grave she now wept.
The funny thing was, Teresa's body was not even there anymore. Irene knew that disgusting creature, Dae, collected the bodies of the fallen Number Ones, for some sick experiments, she was sure. It was almost too much to bear to know that he had probably desecrated Teresa's body in some way, after Irene had taken the time and effort to give her a proper burial, made all the more difficult because of her missing limb. But her sword still remained, and Irene chose to keep visiting it. The weapon, as far as she was concerned, had carried more of Teresa's soul than her body ever had. She had often toyed with the idea of taking the sword and keeping it with her, but had always dismissed it, knowing that Teresa deserved to rest for eternity in dignity, as a Claymore should. So she left the sword.
Slowly, her sobs eased and she was able to sit up again, taking deep breaths, letting the tears dry on her skin, not bothering to wipe them away. She looked up at the sky, and started, seeing that the sun was much lower than she had expected. Usually, she was done by this time, but it seemed as though she had wept longer than she normally let herself. Even so, she still felt no urge to move yet, content to stay with the grave a little longer. She would leave before the sun set, and travel through the night, but she knew it would be hard this time. This time, she wanted to stay longer, unready to leave the grave of her dead lover. Perhaps she would. Perhaps ... perhaps just this once, she would stay the night. Few Claymore traveled that way, and she was skilled at masking her aura. She would not be found. Yes, just this once, she would let herself give in to the temptation.