Moonrose

Chapter 19: Darin

He had known all along not to push too fast with Rose. He'd known from the start to let things move slowly, no matter how much he wanted to do just the opposite. And he'd been doing so well too! Then that damned kiss had come along and ruined everything.

The worst part was that he couldn't even blame Rose for it; the blame rested squarely on his own shoulders. She hadn't meant to, he knows that. He'd known she didn't mean to in that fateful moment, yet he'd chosen to silence her apologies with a kiss instead of reassuring words. Part of that could certainly be that he didn't think she would listen to words of comfort, no matter how sincere they were. But most of that awful decision was because he had the ridiculous notion that it might be okay, and he'd wanted to kiss her so much that he'd believed that idea for just one moment too long. Now she wasn't speaking to him, he wasn't speaking to her, and he was sure they wouldn't speak again for a while, not with the embarrassment so palpably in the air.

He'd tried so hard not to mess things up with her, and yet he'd managed to do just that.

Darin tries to act normal during training that day, but it's hard. Rose only looks at him if it's absolutely necessary, and even then it's not longer than a full second. He wonders for just a half-second if trying to talk to her about it would perhaps help the situation. Amazingly, he even works up the nerve to start to ask if she'd like to just talk it over, so it's not hanging over their heads. But the moment he says her name, she looks away and murmurs that they should get back to training.

And so they train. Darin trains Rose and the faeries in shifts, trains until he thinks if he even hears the word again he'll throw something at whoever says it. Rose gradually stops looking away whenever he tries to meet her eye, though she never does anything more to reassure him. In truth, he'd like to reassure her, but she won't let him.

That night, at dinner, he tries one last time to smooth the waters. Rose visibly stiffens when he first addresses her, but to her credit she doesn't cut him off like she was doing all morning and afternoon.

"What happened, out at the forest?" Darin says, hoping that the subject will be enough to placate her. Even if they never speak of what happened between them again, as long as they're speaking Darin thinks he won't mind all that much.

"Something burned it to ashes. This is the second time it's happened." Rose replies almost easily, as if talking of Tanssi Kuun's troubles is infinitely less troubling to talk about than their mistake the other night.

"And we know nothing of who did such a thing?"

Rose shakes her head, and looks at him for the first time in two days of her own accord.

"I fought off two creatures there two nights ago, but I'm not sure what they were. King Caspian said they seemed similar to goblins."

The casual mention of King Caspian makes Darin squirm a little inside. He respects the King of Narnia, but at the moment he envies him almost too much to bear. He wishes Rose was that comfortable with him right now, rather than the king.

"But not goblins entirely?" Darin wonders if he sounds more like an interrogator than a friend, but the conversation, the first real one in two days, is going so well that he's not about to change his strategy.

"No."

Rose falls silent again, and Darin feels just as uncomfortable as before he struck up the conversation. Should he ask her something else, or simply let the admittedly awkward silence pervade the night as before?

"I think I'll go and find them tonight," Rose says quietly.

At first, Darin's so shocked she actually spoke freely that he doesn't process what she said until he's in the middle of nodding his agreement.

"You weren't planning on going alone?" Darin asks. From her tone it sounds like she was, but surely she knows better.

"What's wrong with that?" she returns, eyes flashing in what he guesses to be annoyance.

"It's not safe. None of us know what's out there or what those things are." Darin wants to stop talking altogether, but he can't in good conscience let her go venturing out to find the attackers on her own. Just because she'd done so before did not mean she should do so again.

"That's my point, someone has to find out what we're up against." Rose is still staring him down, and her voice suggests that she's only just barely holding onto her patience.

"Rose, I'm not saying no one should go," Darin begins. He's hoping to placate her enough that she'll listen to his alternate proposal. "But at least let me go with you."

She's shaking her head before he's even finished.

"Someone has to stay here and look after the faeries."

"Then wait until King Caspian arrives, and then we can go wherever you like." Darin's trying his very best to keep from angering her, but for all his efforts her eyes still flash that emotion.

"I don't need a babysitter, Darin. I can take care of myself well enough."

"I know!" He winces; he hadn't meant to raise his voice. "I know you can, but that doesn't mean no one will worry."

Rose quiets for a moment, and Darin thanks the heavens she's at least considering what he's said.

"I'll wait until the king gets back, unless something else happens. Alright?"

She sounds nothing short of exasperated, but for the moment he doesn't much care. If she'll be just a little safer, he's fine with her being a bit put out with him for a little while.

"Alright." Even if it's technically a compromise with Rose's caveat, Darin is relieved enough that he won't push the issue.

Rose falls silent again, and it's as prickly a silence as before. She's clearly displeased at having to wait, but King Caspian is supposed to arrive tonight or tomorrow so perhaps she'll be less annoyed as time goes on.

"You haven't gone back to Narnia for days," Rose says quietly. It almost sounds like a question, with how her voice dips at the end.

"Would you have me go?" Darin's holding his breath, hoping against all hope that she isn't trying to send him away.

"It's not that," she explains with a tiny shake of her head. "I just wondered if you'd be missed."

Darin shakes his head as he silently marvels that she spoke first for the second time tonight.

"I think not."

"It's best if people do not have cause to ask questions. Are you certain?"

Now he's not sure if she wants him to go or if she's simply concerned about being discovered. He can't say, and that makes him shift a little in his seat.

"I'm certain," he says. If she wants him to go, she'll say something to that effect soon. He waits for the inevitable, waits and waits until the silence is louder than any words they've said.

The inevitable never comes.

"Alright."

That one word is her only reply, but somehow Darin finds that more reassuring than anything else she could have said.

As the night wears on and the time for first watch comes around, Rose seems to soften. She still doesn't speak much, but her demeanor seems less cold than before. And when he tells her he can take the first watch, she doesn't protest. Yes, she's slowly forgiving him. Though if Darin had to guess, he'd say that the taller order is for her to forgive herself. He doesn't blame her for it, it was an accident after all, but she probably blames herself if she's anything like him. He suspects she is.

The watch begins peacefully; he's joined by one of the faeries a few minutes in, a faerie that introduces itself as Bashar.

"We haven't yet met," Bashar tells him with a gentle, glowing smile that he can barely see through the ribbons swirling around.

"Darin," he says simply, smiling and accepting the offered hand.

"Yes, I know. Rose spoke of you."

Darin hopes that Rose said good things.

"Is everything alright? You've both been distant recently," the faerie continues, looking at him knowingly.

"It was just a simple mistake." Darin knows Bashar means well, but he's not accustomed to speaking of his troubles, and especially not to people he's just officially met moments ago.

"Do you think Rose sees it as such?"

"I expect so. Why else would she not speak to me for almost two days?" Darin didn't mean for that to come out so sarcastic, and he feels a little sorry for it. He opens his mouth to apologize, but the faerie stops him.

"You are frustrated. Frustrated and forgiven," Bashar finishes with a grin on its face.

Darin sits quietly for a few moments, trying to think of what to say.

"Do you think she will forgive me?"

That was not supposed to slip out. Darin almost takes it back, but a tickling, glowing warmth on his hand keeps him from doing so.

"As you suspect, the challenge is to forgive herself." Bashar pauses, as if to allow this information to sink in, before continuing. "She is much like you; she is guarded, and she is not used to affection. But given time, I think you will grow closer to each other, not farther."

"Thank you." Darin means that. Even if the faerie didn't necessarily tell him anything he hadn't already guessed, the reassurance calmed his thoughts quicker than he'd expected.

"The night watch can be lonely. Would you like some company?"

Darin is unused to company, and he often would rather not have it. But tonight, he thinks sitting silently with one of the faeries sounds nice, and so he nods and pats the mossy space next to him.

They sit together on the watching rock in a comfortable silence. Sometimes, one of them will say something, and the other will respond. But mostly, it's a still and quiet evening spent in exceedingly pleasant company.

The hours until midnight slip easily past, and soon Rose wakes and starts off toward the entry tree to see if King Caspian is there. A small, unpleasant piece of Darin hopes the king isn't there, and a larger piece hopes he is. But Darin didn't miss how the king looked at Rose; he didn't miss how much the king admired the cautious young woman.

But the sooner King Caspian arrives, the sooner Rose and himself can go searching for the goblin-like creatures, and the sooner Rose will know what Tanssi Kuun is up against.

Darin waits for tense minutes to see if Rose comes back alone or accompanied by the King of Narnia. He waits as patiently as he is able, but Bashar still wraps a ribbon around his hand in an obvious effort to distract him.

At length, Rose returns – with King Caspian at her side. Darin isn't sure whether to feel relieved or tense.

Rose approaches steadily, and Darin can see how relaxed she is talking to King Caspian. Darin doesn't want to envy him, but a little piece of him can't quite help it. When the duo reaches him, Darin quickly stands and gives a polite greeting. Pleasantries are exchanged, but Rose quickly starts to move out, as agreed.

"I'm going back to the ashes. I need to know what's really out there," she tells King Caspian as she checks the dagger strapped around her waist.

Darin thinks to himself how well it looks on her, and misses King Caspian's reply.

"Not you too." Rose tries to sound playful, but Darin can hear the strain in her voice that betrays her frustration. King Caspian must have said something about her going alone.

"I know you can handle two of them, but you may well find two hundred," King Caspian replies.

"I was going to accompany her," Darin interjects quietly.

King Caspian nods, as if he was expecting this.

"I'll watch over the faeries."

"You assume we need watching over," Bashar replies with a twinkle in her eye. Darin hadn't even noticed that she'd joined the little group, but he quickly finds that her presence puts him instantly more at ease.

The faerie sends a ribbon over to King Caspian, prompting a grin as she does. The king plays with it for a few moments before giving it back, but Darin is nothing but confused. Was that some sort of game, perhaps?

It doesn't matter; Rose is turning to go now, and he all but promised she would not go alone. So Darin checks the sword at his hip and follows Rose away from the faeries and toward the ashes.

She never told him much of that, did she?

"You never told me much of the ashes," he quietly tells her when they've left the clearing for the woods.

She shrugs, clearly trying to keep from showing how it affected her, but he knows the very mention of it upsets her by how her shoulders round forward just a little bit.

"There was never much to tell," she replies. "Large pieces of the forest were burned to nothing but a carpet of ash."

"I'm sorry, Rose." Whether he's apologizing for bringing up the sore subject or for what happened, he's not quite sure. He supposes it's both.

Rose nods briefly, though he suspects it's for no other reason than to tell him she heard what he said. They continue on through the woods and Darin keeps his silence rather than asking for a more detailed explanation of what happened. He's upset her enough already as it is; no need to worsen the situation.

Hours pass, but at last they arrive. Darin's never seen so much ash in his life.

When Rose said a carpet, he thought she meant an inch or two. Now he understands; no, this is nothing like that. The ashes come up to his knees easily, even halfway up his thighs in places.

"Was it like this the last time?" he asks quietly, more from the shock then anything.

Rose shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

"It was less…" her voice suddenly chokes up, and if Darin looks close enough he can see the tears in her eyes. He puts one hand on her shoulder, but it doesn't seem to help much.

"Were there any flashes on the horizon tonight?" Rose sounds a little stronger this time, but her voice still wavers from the weight of her grief.

"No," Darin says. "There was nothing." He wants to say he's sorry again, but the words don't seem like they'd be enough.

"It must have been during training…" Rose talks quietly, as if for her ears alone. Darin doesn't interrupt, but he gives her shoulder a gentle squeeze. She leans toward him for the smallest half-second before she moves back away, but the simple motion is enough to help soothe his worries.

Rose stands and stares in disbelief for a few moments longer, and then she's striding forward and his hand is slipping from her shoulder. He lets it.

If the ash weren't so dry, he could almost imagine that the little flakes clinging to Rose's dress were snow. Before he can think any more on that, he hears a low and ugly murmuring.

Rose whips around, and he doesn't even have to ask if she heard it too.

"That's them," she whispers, pain and anger turning her voice rough. Face pinched and hard, Rose shifts around and walks this way and that before finally settling on one place. He comes to stand beside her, and when he hears how clear and close the murmuring is, he understands.

"We have to dig," she breathes into his ear.

"Not here," he answers. If they dig here, they'll quickly find themselves in the midst of their enemy.

Rose looks like she's about to argue, crouching there with her eyebrows drawn and her jaw set, but when he moves to a spot further away but still close enough to hear, she nods.

By silent agreement, they brush aside as many ashes as they can and start the digging.

Several times, Rose stops and just stares at the piles of ash in her hands and Darin has to touch her arm to bring her back to the present. Every time this happens, she grits her teeth and continues with the task at hand, though her eyes can't quite hide how much she yearns to fix this.

Once they finally hit ground, Darin takes out a dagger of his own and together he and Rose work away the earth. Darin's not hoping for much, but he thinks that they have to try, if only to distract Rose.

When the dirt suddenly gives way and collapses under their hands, he's surprised enough that he almost tips forward into the new hole. It's only because Rose grabs his shoulder that he manages to keep his balance.

They back up and widen the hole enough that they'll be able to slip through, and then they jump into the unknown.

At once, the ugly voices are clear as day. And so are their words.

Rose's eyes widen, and Darin's do too. Vaguely, Darin wonders if he should put his arm around her, but the thought never comes to fruition.

"She'll be unhappy I say, very unhappy at this slow progress," one of the voices says. "It's not good, not good at all."

"But now that the lights are being trained, it's not really in my interest to-"

Whatever the whiny voice was going to say is cut off by a loud crash and a string of curses.

"You know how the good lady gets when things don't go her way. I'd like to keep my neck," the gruffer voice answers, almost growling in its apparent anger.

"I like my neck too," gripes the second. "Now-"

A squawk of pain interrupts the whiny one again.

Rose inches closer, and Darin has to grab her arm to stop her. They have no way of knowing how close those things are, and fighting in a tunnel is never a good idea.

"Cut down the numbers I say, that's all I'm asking you to do. Take out as many as you can so when we do sweep through it's easy."

"But then, it's the same thing all over again with that awful place next door that worships that lion." This is the first time the whiny one has finished a full sentence.

Darin looks over at Rose, but her face is blank. She stares at the wall and at the bend that leads on toward the voices talking about destroying her world. Darin wants to do something, anything, but he can't, not right now.

The voices continue talking about how best to take down the world above, and Rose stands stiff as a board the entire time, listening like a hawk with hard eyes that promise revenge.

He desperately wishes there was something he could do to take away what these creatures are saying, if only to spare Rose the heartache. But there's nothing to do now but wait for them to move away.

The conversation lasts a while, long enough that Darin considers the ramifications of trying to take them on, tunnel be damned.

At last, they move off, and Rose is the first to climb out of the hole in the tunnel roof. Darin follows close behind her, his heart heavy just at seeing how rattled she is. Even more so, how hard she tries to hide it.

He only wishes he could help.


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