After Damien drifted off, Sotiris was able to relax. This was one of those rare moments when no one was watching him like birds watch a hawk circling their nests. He had done nothing toward anyone in the Disciples of Light since he joined them, but everyone could not help but wonder; was this man the one who killed my friend, lover, brother, sister, husband, wife, or any number of relations?
They all looked at him the same way: with distrust. It didn’t matter what the foundation of that distrust was–be it hate, fear, or loathing–it all boiled down to a lack of trust. Constantly being around people who barely trusted you was mentally and physically exhausting. Nothing he could do would convince them otherwise, and destroying the armies of evil might not even do it for some. Like Damien. Sotiris turned his eyes toward the man asleep on the floor, and sighed.
“Something the matter?” a voice whispered from across the cave. Lady Charis was propped up on one elbow, and she held his gaze with eyes that were dark in the flickering firelight.
“Not in particular,” he replied and broke from her gaze. He’d never had problems keeping eye contact when he lied, but he could not do it with her.
Everyone looked at him with distrust, but she didn’t.
It puzzled him, and he wondered why since the moment they’d been introduced by the Head of the Disciples. It’s not that she considered him a friend, the way she did with Gregory or Zoe, but she also did not hold him in the same regard as she did Damien; the polite respectfulness of someone a person has worked closely with. It was entirely something else, but he could not say he disliked it. It was like a breath of fresh air after living where the air was stale with a slight foul aftertaste.
“What is in your hand?” she asked, ignoring the lie, and sat up completely. He looked down at his hand where it gripped the pendant on his necklace. He often held it without thinking about it, while he thought on other matters.
“It was a gift from my mother for my…fourteenth birthday,” he concluded after a moment’s hesitation, and the words came out emotionless. Such comments often conveyed more emotions because of their lack, than if he’d said them with the conviction of how he truly felt.
“Your mother was the human half?” Lady Charis asked gently.
“I am sorry for your loss,” she said, and meant it.
It was common enough for the humans to be killed when the half-demon offspring were collected, so she understood what he implied.
“She knew it was coming, though, which I still do not understand. I wish things had ended differently between us, but such is the nature of my kind, I suppose,” he said, and this time his words were coated in a bitterness that stemmed from self-loathing and shame.
Lady Charis stood and quietly made her way over to him.
“May I see it?” she asked.
He’d had to keep the necklace hidden for so long, that it was difficult to let others see it, since it might have been stolen, taken by a superior, or destroyed to teach him a lesson. It was only after joining the Disciples he dared wear it, but was still hesitant in having it outside his shirt. Damien had never seen it, and Sotiris made sure of that, because the other man might take it from him. Damien was very into not having any worldly possessions, and Sotiris could not risk losing the last piece of his mother he had.
He gave a stiff nod, and released it from his palm. It dropped against his chest, and when she reached for the pendant his heart sped up. Her fingers lightly brushed his chest when she picked it up, and he prayed she could not feel his heart as it tripped along like a nervous schoolboy’s.
When she turned it so it glinted in the firelight, she frowned in puzzlement.
“Something the matter?” he asked, and echoed her question from earlier.
“It is just…it looks familiar,” she said, and glanced toward Damien.
Sotiris raised an eyebrow in question. The pendant was round and a touch smaller than a woman’s palm. It looked like an ornate shield, with a sun emblazoned in the center taking up the majority of it. In the center of the sun was a tiny dagger, point down, and at the end of the point was a tiny red gem—a garnet.
He would have questioned her about the odd comment, but he did not wish to give her reason to move away from him. The flowery smell of her hair floated in the warm air between them, and it was the first time since he’d joined the Disciples he’d been this close to a woman. The women, more than the men, tended to avoid him, as though his mere presence would tarnish their virtue in the eyes of their comrades. At least they usually just ignored him. The men, more often, wanted to fight.
It was difficult to resist moving his arms the few inches between them, and placing his hands on her hips. Sotiris was by no means irrational when it came to the opposite gender, and he chalked up the overwhelming desire to touch her to their circumstance. It was an intimate setting, and their lives were in danger. It tended to add a little zing to such things. She was an amazingly lovely woman, and he wanted to kiss her with a desire that bordered on frenzied. In all, though, it did not add up with how little they’d interacted, in correlation with how much he needed to feel her lips on his. Despite the setting, something else was going on that he couldn’t quite figure out.
He must have made some small movement, because she looked up from the pendant into his eyes. They were gentle, kind, and understanding, but also held a question; as though there was something she wanted to know about him, but did not need to hear the answer from him, per say.
“You should probably go back to sleep. I believe Damien set your shift to be next,” he whispered, the words barely more audible than a sigh. He did not want her to leave, of course, but the suggestion came from the steadily shrinking, logical part of his mind.
Amusement played through her gaze, and yet she still did not move away from him.
“I am finding sleep to be difficult this night. Would you like some company?” she said, and her words were light; no pressure toward either answer he could give.
“Company would be wonderful.”
A few heartbeats later she stepped back, but he cherished how she had lingered near him instead of moving away right as he said the words. She sat down and leaned her back against the wall, so he followed suit at a close, but just outside the too close, range. If Damien woke up he would reprimand Sotiris for sitting, instead of standing, while on watch, but with Charis’ company he would have no trouble staying awake.
He looked toward the mouth of the cave to check on the storm. It had lost just a few fractions of its fury, and would still be unsafe to travel through for hours yet. The two sat in comfortable silence, neither of them feeling the need to fill the air with conversation. When they did start to talk, they kept it quiet out of respect for their companions’ sleep; or, in Damien’s case, out of not wanting to be scowled at.
They spoke of their childhoods, or the better parts at least. Damien noted that right around the time his stories stopped due to the Harvest, her stories did, too. Having come from a dark place such as the Orpheus Society, he could recognize the shadows in her eyes, and respected her avoidance of certain periods of her life–just as she did for him. What struck him as strange was her avoidance of her role in the Disciples of Light.
By her demeanor she was not a soldier. He supposed she could be a cleric, but no matter the occasion they wore their robes indicating what they were.
“What do you do in the Disciples?” he asked, as the topic of conversation ran its course.
Her face froze for only a moment, but he took note of it.
“I teach clerics,” she said, with only the slightest inflection of sorrow.
He could not imagine why such a thing would cause her sadness, but he left it alone. He turned her back toward her younger years, to when she’d visit Gregory on the earthen plane. Though it did not chase all the anguish from her eyes, it lightened the mood again.
As the night wore on to morning, Sotiris’ and Charis’ watches passed their own and into Zoe’s and Gregory’s. Neither of them moved to wake the other two, but continued to talk and let silence stretch pleasantly between their conversation topics. Maybe it was subconscious, but as they spoke they moved closer until they were but a hairsbreadth apart.
The blizzard ended sometime in the early morning just as the sun was casting its light across the world, but wasn’t touching the horizon yet. As the light grew, he looked less at Charis and more toward the mouth of the cave. Though nothing obvious jumped out at Sotiris indicating anything was wrong, he could not shake the sensation that something unpleasant awaited them. Just jangled nerves about finally getting the sword, he reassured himself.
“Our companions are waking,” Charis whispered, and stood up. Not quickly, as though embarrassed about being near him, but that might have been because they were stiff from sitting on the floor all night.
The add-on in his thoughts almost ruined the moment, but even when Damien rolled over and saw the two of them, Charis still held out a hand to help him up. Damien, of course, scowled, but Charis ignored him. Sotiris took the cue and let her help him up.
He had not noticed till then but she had never once taken her gloves off. Yes, it was cold so that should not have caught his attention, but even when the others had taken theirs off as the cave grew warmer, hers remained. Her hand curled weirdly around his, as though she could not completely close it. Sotiris could not say much of the strength in her hand, since he tried to be a gentlemen and only used her to help him balance on the way up, instead of letting her pull him up.
The sadness about her teaching clerics, and the way she kept her hands covered. She lost her ability to use her powers. When the thought drifted through his mind, he looked into her eyes, which waited for some measure of disgust or pity, he was sure.
He would not be the one to give that to her.
“The situation must have been dire indeed, Lady, for you to put yourself through a lifetime of pain and sadness. Both from the scars and loss of your powers. That is something to be admired, not pitied,” he said, and this time held her gaze.
It was she who broke eye contact that time as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Thank you,” she said, voice rough from the short, emotional exchange. She gave his hand a small squeeze, and maybe that was all she could manage, so he cherished that effort as another might treasure gold.
He did not know what awaited him at the monastery, and subsequently his future, but in that moment he cared for nothing but her touch and kindness.