Darkness and Beauty

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Chapter 24 - Fauna

I wake with a start when a blanket is thrown over my head. Instantly moving, I toss the blanket off my head and stand, a dagger already in my hand. I didn't even hear anyone walk in. The night chill kisses my legs, arms, and through the ungodly thin nightdress.

I look around for the person who put the blanket over my face but find no one. There's no sign of anyone else being in here. No footprints on the carpet, nothing out of place, two of the dozen are still outside the door. I begin to think that it's Lance pulling a typical prank of his when I notice that the blanket that fell on my head, is from the bed. I look to Darius and find him sprawled out across the huge mattress, his hair tossed like a salad and slicked with the sweat gleaming on his forehead and chest. By the looks of his extremely ruffled sheets and pillows now lying on the floor, I'd say he's a kicker.

He mumbles something, his hand twitching as if trying to shake something off.

He's a talker too. Great.

I roll my eyes and move to lay back down and try to fall back asleep when Darius's breath catches.

Good Gods if he's going to do this every night, I'm never going to sleep.

His breathing becomes wheezy and his head arches back revealing his neck. As I look closer, I realize that he's not dreaming but being choking. I instantly run to the side of the bed, my balaclava pulled down with all the shifting I've been doing in my own sleep. Pulling it back over my nose, I hop onto the bed put my hand over his neck to find the string around his neck, only there isn't one.

I swing my arm in the air over him finding no rope or string of a kind coming from above. I lift his head and feel the sheets, but once again come up empty. Not knowing what else could choke him I open his mouth and try to see if a spider somehow crawled its way into his throat. It's happened to Lance, and let me tell you, it wasn't pretty.

Nothing.

I check his heartbeat, placing a finger to the inside of his neck, my ear to his chest, and find it racing. At least some part of this shit is normal. I go to call for The Dozen, but movement catches my eyes. On the inside of Darius's wrist is some sort of faded symbol shaped like a flame. It's lines move in a snake-like pattern, but doesn't move up his wrist.

I reach to touch it, but before I can, Darius's back arches and he gives out a long wheeze. Not knowing what else to do, I curse the Saints and grab a hold of his face.

"Darius. Darius, wake up." I whisper angrily.

Ignoring the sound of Mal and Winston rushing in, I continue calling his name trying to get him to wake up.

"What that hell is going on?" Mal asks from the side of the bed.

"I don't know."

"Fix it." Winston urges from the other side.

"If I don't know what it is, I can't fix it!"

What sounds like a growl comes from Darius, and then he starts thrashing around. Winston runs out to get the others, and Mal curses beautifully, still standing beside the bed. Darius's fist catches me in the stomach by surprise and I know that if he keeps going, he's going to hurt himself. Out of ideas, I straddle Darius and use my body weight to keep him on his back. I snatch his wrists, and with all my strength, pin them beside his head to keep him from hitting anyone else or himself. He thrashes and pushes against my efforts, but doesn't gain much ground. Aside from his legs which are kicking and kneeing me in the back, I'd say I have it under control.

"Dammit, Mal would you stop praying and pin his legs." I cry.

He instantly moves to the end of the bed, grabbing Darius's shins and pinning them down. Without him trying to throw me off, I start calling his name again.

"Saints what did Thomas give him," Mal says struggling to keep Darius's feet beneath him.

Ignoring the acquisition, I continue calling Darius's name, this time more frantically than the last. His wheezing turns to snarls and growls, and the more he thrashes, the harder it is for me to keep him pinned. Then, like the snap of a finger, Darius goes limp and his breathing returns to normal. Mal lets out a long sigh and I let my chin fall to my chest thanking the Gods that it is over. Still, neither of us let go of him.

Taking a steadying breath, I look at his face and wonder what the hell he was dreaming about to do this.

"Darius?" I whisper not wanting to scream in his ear and risk him jolting awake and hitting his head on mine. I did that once when Lance thought it'd be funny to try and scare me one night. Idiot. We had huge red bumps on our forehead for the entire day.

His eyes flash open and my breath catches. Instead of his sea-green eyes, one is orange and the other is silver. I hear several footsteps enter the room and Garrison's voice already questioning Mal and no doubt me on what happened, but I don't listen. I'm too focused on trying to come up with explanations as to his change of eye color overnight.

"What the hell?" I ask myself.

Not realizing that my grip had loosened on his arms, Darius bursts upright, his arms going right for my exposed neck. I don't even have time to stop him as he flips me onto my back using his weight to keep me pinned, and presses on my neck.

The Dozen move to pull him off, but I put my hand out to them and they stop. Agitating him more isn't going to help our situation. Not with this not being him. This isn't Darius, and if it's not him, then he won't care for their lives. It won't end well for anyone, especially Darius if he ever comes back. I need them all alive, not killed by some murderous bitch who somehow got inside the prince's mind.

I look back into his creepy eyes and hold my hands out in surrender. "Darius." I screech, my windpipe being squeezed under his hands.

"Darius, it's me. It's Clarice. Let go." I hear myself wheeze as I try gasping for breath and automatically hate the sound.

"Darius."

He is really starting to be a careless bitch. I slowly bring my hand towards his wrists, still not sure if he'll actually make me pass out or break my windpipe. I've got seconds before the former shuts my mind off.

"Darius. Let go." I bring the palm of my hand to the outside of his wrist, and carefully wrap my fingers around it. I don't want to hurt him, but the less dangerous and easiest way for me to get out of this is to squeeze the pulse at his wrist, causing him to faint. Hopefully.

As my fingers begin to slowly press into the thumping artery, he blinks a few times and shakes his head once. When he opens his eyes again, I nearly cry at the sight of the beautiful quartz color. Eyes restored and now fully awake, Darius looks down at me and his hand around my neck, and his eyes go wide.

"Shit." His hands fly from my neck and I swallow a gust of air. Coughing, I feel my throat checking for any possible injuries. Thankful to only find searing pain and a tight throat, I look back to Darius and find him horrified.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I don't know what happened."

"That was one hell of a nightmare," Mal says sitting on the edge of the bed. He at least came out of this okay. I on the other hand will need to find a way to explain the bruises I'll likely have in the morning.

"I...I don't know what happened." He rubs the sides of his head as if he's got a headache. At least I'm not the only one.

Realizing that Darius is settled between my very bare and very open legs, I sit up pulling my legs away from him and letting them hang off the side of the bed.

Not a word I glare at Mal who's giving me a sheepish grin.

"I don't know what happened," Darius says again for the hundredth time.

"Look," I say finding my voice hoarse and absolutely agonizing to use. "What happened was not your fault and none of us can try and explain what did happen even if we tried."

"But..." He drifts off, a shadow passing over his face. Whatever it is he's remembering from his nightmare isn't something of priority right now.

"Let's get some rest. We can talk about it tomorrow." Garrison looks at me like he wants to argue, but one look to Darius and he nods at everyone to leave.

Mal gives Darius an encouraging tap on his shoulder, but by the look on his face, he knows it's not what Darius needs. Garrison doesn't even make it outside of the room before starts stationing The Dozen out in the halls and inside the front room. He's the biggest mother hen I've ever met.

I follow Mal to the door, smacking him and Alister in the back of the head when they try and look down. Alister walks to where Garrison points him, but Mal stops just outside the door.

"Do you think he'll be okay?" He whispers.

I look back at Darius who's still rubbing at his head. "Would you be?"

Good Gods, I forgot how much choking is a bitch afterward.

With one more glance to Darius, Mal closes the door leaving me with the psycho. Gods, it's been a while since I've been choked. And not in this way.

Ha, ha. Just kidding.

You're welcome for that.

Sighing, - or more like wheezing - I walk back over to Darius and sit back down on the bed. I wait to see if he tells me what he remembered in his dream, but he doesn't. We sit there for a good five minutes, letting the events of the night sink in. This is the weirdest shit assignment I've ever done. I haven't even been here a week and let me tell you, these bad guys like to keep you on your toes.

"I'm sorry," Darius whispers. "I'd never try and hurt you."

"Oh please, we both know that's not true." He doesn't smile at my joke, doesn't even blink at it. Alright. "You should sleep."

"Not tired."

"No. You just don't want to go to sleep because you're afraid that if you do, you'll end up right back here."

"With me suffocating you." The weariness in his voice has me biting my lip in concern. It's obvious this has never happened before, and everything's always worst the first time around.

Sighing, I pick up the pillows off the ground tossing them back at the head of the bed. Darius doesn't move, barely blinks as I move around the room restoring it to order. Gently, I place my hand on his shoulder so as not to startle him.

"Go to sleep. I'll keep an eye on you to make sure it doesn't happen again."

"And if it does?" The fear in his eyes isn't like the fear you see when they're about to die, but that of a five-year-old scared to pet a dog for the first time.

"Then I'll pull you out before it goes any further."

His eyes move side to side looking for any sign that I don't believe I can't do what I've promised. After finding nothing there, he sighs and settles himself between the pillows and under the blanket he earlier blinded me with. Prick.

Knowing that if I lay down I'll fall right into sleep, I turn to sit in the most uncomfortable looking chair in the corner of the room when Darius speaks.

"Clarice?"

"Hm?" I say turning back to him.

The look he gives me reminds me of an assignment I once had that involved saving a kidnapped child. He was six and had been missing for a month. No message, no note to his family saying he hated them and left. I tracked him all the way to the eastern coast and to a man who was looking to get a coin in exchange for a kid slave. I trailed the man, tortured him, scarred him, and then sent him on his way with nothing but his shirt to cover him. The boy was kept in a tavern's storage below ground, left to drink the old ale, and pee in a corner. Our first night heading back home, I gave him the bed to sleep in and promised to watch over him while he slept. I had been sitting in the chair for only a few seconds when he asked me if I could sit in the bed with him. One look into his eyes and I saw the fear that the dam coward of a man had instilled in a child. I wish I had done the kid one better and gotten rid of the problem altogether, but the parents were Saint worshipers and frowned upon killing. They didn't like the idea of me cutting into him either, but they didn't need to know the details of that fact. For all they know, I just gave him some strong words and took their kid back.

I trudged over to the bed and sat atop the blanket, waiting for him to fall asleep. He shifted closer to me so that he could rest his head on my thigh, and he fell asleep to the sound of my voice singing a lullaby, and my hand brushed over his head.

Looking at Darius, I know that there's no way I'm allowing him to sleep in my lap so I can sing him to sleep and rub his head. Especially dressed in so little. But I know the comfort of having someone simply nearby to call on or just knowing they're there. So I walk back to the bed, lazily sit with my back against the headrest, and listen as Darius once again, drifts off to sleep.

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