Tian was awoken by a commotion outside of his door. He sprang up in bed, pulling the sheets up against his body. His door swung open and RT stormed in before slamming it shut behind him. His hands were filled with books on the Capital’s history, years of it. He pulled out a chair and sank into it before pressing his hand to his forehead. The books were set on the table absentmindedly alongside the plate one of the maids had left behind. He wasn’t wearing his face mask this time, and Tian could see nasty bruises blooming up the sides of his jaw.
“What happened?” Tian found himself asking, putting both his feet on to the floor. “You’re hurt.”
RT shook his head before looking up at Tian. The boy stood up, letting the sheet slip from his body to pool at his feet. Tian slid his pants on, unaware of just how stiff RT had become. He padded over to the larger man, pulling out a chair before looking at him.
“Come here,” Tian ordered, grabbing the man’s armor before pulling him forward. He grabbed the man’s sharp jaw and pulled it towards him. “Aish, you’re just like Axel. You got decked pretty good, didn’t you?”
“Don’t mention him,” RT growled, but Tian simply shook his head. His eyes were downcast, and Tian was overcome with the feeling of being horrendously exposed. His chest was still bare, and the cold air curled around his sensitive flesh.
“Nothing seems broken, how’d it happen?”
“The men we’re beating on someone again, it’s nothing. I got the books you wanted though,” RT commented, patting the covers he’d set down.
Tian sighed before stepping back. “Just ice the wounds, you’ll be ok. Where’d you get those scars?”
RT didn’t look at him. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Tian nodded. “Fair enough. Was it a maid they were beating on? A pretty maid which happened to catch your eye?”
RT glared at him. “You’re an idiot. It was the old cook again, she’s been here forever and she’s a nice woman. I couldn’t let them beat her up anymore.”
“Out of all the Warriors, you’re the nicest you know. It’s hard to hate you sometimes.”
“I hear that a lot.”
“Anyway,” Tian said, clearing his throat. “Any news on the labs?”
RT sighed, shaking his head no. “They say he should break the pod anytime, but something’s keeping him inside.”
“Hmm,” Tian leaned back in his chair. “What’s really got me curious is why are you helping them keep it a secret? I can understand scientists who want to study the man and recreate the population. The Prince needs him for a cure, but you… why are you so keen on protecting the Kukouk man and me?”
RT crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t have to explain myself. The time isn’t right.”
“Always that same answer. When will the time be right that you explain some of this shit to me? I was practically raised knowing the Kukouk blood that ran in my veins was bad, and you came along and just… wiped all that out of the books. I want to know why my logic is lacking when it comes to you.”
“I can’t tell you Tian, I’m sorry. I really can’t, or I would. I’m sorry,” RT replied, yawning and stretching out his muscles. Tian’s gaze couldn’t help but wander to the man’s silky long hair once more. He felt like a child, getting excited at the thought of wrapping his small fingers around the strands and pulling them once more. It felt like a physical itch, deep inside his chest. However, this time RT’s hair was collected into a neat braid down his back.
“Nevermind,” Tian shrugged. “Eat with me, I heard from someone that you were missing meals and the maid just brought this in earlier.”
RT eyed it skeptically as the boy began to dig in. They certainly sent him quite a lot of food ironically after having starved Tian the whole way here. He eyed the meat hungrily, but the sight of so many vegetables made him sick.
RT reached forward and picked the green beans out, alongside the tiny baby carrots before popping them into his own mouth. “You can’t have either of these. Shouldn’t they know how to feed you? Thought I’d left specific instructions so we could draw your power out.” He asked grumpily. “I should talk to the cook again.”
“How’d you know I didn’t like those?” Tian asked with a raised eyebrow. He took a break from chewing on a chicken leg, slowing down. It definitely wasn’t good manners. “You’re the one that’s been sending me all this meat?”
This time, RT shrugged, barely containing a sweet smile. “You need to heal and gain weight. Kukouk were mainly carnivores. I knew that that’s what you’d be craving.”
“You know me so well, and yet I don’t even know your full name. How odd is that?” Tian commented, handing over one of the bread wrapped beef tips to RT. “Eat it. I don’t always share my meat, but eat it.”
“Not even your friend Axel?” RT asked innocently, reaching out to grab it but his fingers stopped a few inches away.
“My meat, I don’t share with anyone,” Tian replied and RT finally took it with a heart stopping smile. It wasn’t the first time Tian had ever seen the smile, but it was the first time he felt entirely floored. It was such a sweet smile, to. It didn’t fit RT’s cold personality at all, and it was the only evidence Tian had against RT. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was further solifying that RT was not who he thought he was.
In fact, Tian was starting to second guess himself on what RT’s role in the warriors even was. Tian was the only one he smiled at, but it was such a soft-hearted smile, Tian couldn’t even imagine the same man he’d gotten to know in the past couple of days being a killer. Much less a commanding officer. RT’s entire personality didn’t add up.
“Here,” RT said, shocking him out of his thoughts. He sat a small hand-made bowl on the table. The bowl looked a hundred times different then the fancy plates he’d received from the kitchens earlier. RT couldn’t even look him in the face as he pushed it across the table. The bowl was still steaming hot with a lid over the top.
Tian opened it nervously, only to feel tears choke his throat at what lay inside. The mash was completely colorless, like it always had been, but the smell was familiarly sweet. Tian looked up at RT, unable to meet his gaze. The dull ache that Tian had ignored started to grow and consume any other emotion Tian had. It felt like the rug had been ripped out from beneath his shaky feet.
“How did you know the recipe? How did you know any of this? Maria was the only one who…” Tian choked, scooping it up with his hands. The use of utensils had disappeared from his brain, and he ate it like he used to. Back in the safety of Maria’s home. The taste was only a little off, but there was no way RT knew… how?
“I saw you eat it,” RT commented quietly, barely audible like he’d read Tian’s mind. “I remembered and made it. That’s why I was there when the warriors started beating up the old cook. She helped me make it.”
Tian wiped the tears from his face as he scooped the remains out. A sense of calm warmth settled over his limbs, like it had once a long time ago. “She always made this for me when I was in pain. Or sad, it was always so bland that everyone made fun of me for it.”
“I didn’t mean to make you sad,” RT replied, he made moves to leave but a sense of panic erupted in the depths of Tian’s heart.
“Don’t go… don’t…it’s just. Maria taught me so much when I was growing up. But I was always wild as a child. I didn’t ever do what she asked me to, but she never really got mad. She let me be who I was, and it was the first time I ever got any freedom. And when I got hurt, she’d welcome me back home with open hands and mash already on the stove waiting,” Tian sobbed, the tears rolled down his cheeks freely. “I thought we had more time together.”
“Your birth mother never did that for you?”
Tian shook his head. “She wasn’t there for me when I needed her. She taught me my heritage and languages, but other than that… she was always gone. Her body stayed in that room, but she wasn’t there. Maria was the first to love me and showed me how to break free from the caves I grew up in… now she’s gone and…”
RT got up from his chair and wrapped his massive arms around Tian’s shoulders. He bent down to rest his head against the top of Tian’s head. The smaller boy found his face pressed to the large man’s stomach, crushing him inwards. The hug sent a sense of warmth through Tian’s grief-wracked body. “I’m so sorry.”
“I want my mom,” Tian sobbed, soaking RT’s armor with his tears. He clutched the bowl in his shaking fists, curling the other into the soft fabric of RT’s clothes. “I never even gotta tell her I loved her RT. I never even got to thank her for being the mother I had always wanted. If she wouldn’t have taken me in that night, I wouldn’t have lasted much longer.”
“I’ll make the mash for you every day, so you won’t ever forget her love for you,” RT whispered, pulling Tian even closer. “She loved you so much. So much.”
“You have to. Every day,” Tian cried, nodding slowly. “Every day you have to make it. Please”
Tian finally wiggled out from beneath RT’s massive frame to wipe the tears away. RT squatted down in front of him, pulling out a piece of cloth from his pocket to carefully dry Tian’s face. Being this close to the man sent Tian’s heart into panic mode, beating painfully against his chest. Tian could clearly see RT’s dark eyes and the tiny mole near the base of his eye. He pressed the cloth into Tian’s hands before getting up and retreating to his seat. RT’s pale skin was ablaze with ruby tints, all the way up to his large ears.
Tian sniffled, gritting his teeth to stop the remnants of tears from slipping down his face. His tear ducts were already sore, but more were threatening to fall. He pushed the plate to RT absentmindedly before meeting the other’s eyes.
“There were days when I thought we wouldn’t see spring. People starved to death, and when the raids came, Maria made me hide beneath the house in the underground cellars. I was always so scared of dying there. Of coming up and everything and everyone would be gone. The winters got cold and the summers were so hot. There were days we only had vegetables, and I always got sick from eating them. The older I got, the harder it was for me to eat the same things I used to. But I was half human, so I had to eat vegetables to grow and be healthy. The mash was the only way Maria could get it into my system. The older I got, the harder it was to eat. ”
“I bet it was hard,” RT commented, leaning back in his chair. “I’m sure no one truly understood what was happening to you. Much less be able to help you hone your power and make you stronger than what you were.”
“Power,” Tian grunted in amusement. “I’m Kukouk blood, but i have no control.”
“Of course not, you haven’t matured yet. Every Kukouk hits that mark that they call ‘The Awakening’ and become in tune with their strength and nature.”
Tian nodded, pushing back his own chair. He abandoned his plate completely, making a move to get up. “You know an awful lot about the Kukouk.”
“I consider myself well versed,” RT replied simply. “The Kukouk people were humanity’s saviors at one point. Scientists rushed to uncover their heritages and their pasts to better understand them. While they were doing that, those that wished the Kukouk harm took the same information and used it against them.”
“Who were they? The Kukouk, I mean. The only knowledge I have of them is from my mother, and she didn’t give information easily.”
“They were natives that went below Earth in the early 1300’s due to famine. They were a close brother tribe to the Cherokee. It was said that the eldest chief received an omen from the Great Tiger, a being that had yet to exist on the North American continent.
“A great tiger, Huh?”
“No, the Great Tiger. It gave its ferocious strength and endurance to your people so they could survive underground. It was a mythical being.”
RT reached across the table and pulled out an old book. It’s spine was ripped and fraying, the cover stained dark and spotty. It had an old, peculiar smell to it.
“This book,” he said, patting the cover. “Is from my personal collection. It’s old. It was written when the world was still going to hell and the Kukouk were starting to be massacred. It’ll explain almost everything you want to know. Your heritage, what your coming of age will be like.”
Tian piled it up absentmindedly, flipping through the pages. “It’s old.”
“So am I,” RT answered dryly, before stepping back. “Give it a read through, it’s informational.”
Tian sat back down in his chair, pulling the book towards him. “What’s all in here? The author’s name, Wyatt Taurin, I don’t recognize them.”
RT pulled his shirt up past his pecs, revealing a small ink black tattoo against his pale skin. Wyatt Ragnar Taurin. “My name, I wrote it.”
“You tattooed your name on your chest?” Don’t you think that’s a bit pretentious?”
“Back then we didn’t have the choice. Every child was branded at birth so the government could identify bodies more easily. I was among those that went missing.”
“That I can’t tell you,” Ragnar replied quickly, letting his shirt cover up the tattoos once more.
“I can see where you get RT from now,” Tian admitted before settling in to start reading. “You wrote this? About the Kukouk? Especially when you’re human? Things don’t add up with you, you know?”
RT nodded. “I know. But when it comes to the Kukouk, I know my stuff.”
“I can tell,” Tian replied with a raised eyebrow.
He pulled a small black box out from his pocket and checked it quickly. He sighed before turning back towards Tian. “The boys’ need me to run a point with them., I’ll be back by dawn.”
He walked towards the door before pausing, turning around. He leaned against the door frame. “There’s something I want to take you to in the morning. So sleep early. The boys will come get you.”
Tian nodded with a wave of his hand before returning to the book. RT smiled before he slipped out the door.