It was chaos on the street outside of the Dancing Dove as Beka walked down the street. It was not the organized chaos Rosto the Piper demanded as the Rogue. She stopped in her tracks, a jolt running through her. She could not tell if it was fear, worry, or something else.
It took her a moment to force her legs to move again. When she did, she crossed the street and headed for the door to the Dove. The door was propped open, hardly unusual for the early fall day.
Beka slipped into the building with surprising ease. She could see nothing from the back with the Rats moving about as they were, but her entry without notice was enough to worry her. She could see a space in the center of the room – where Rosto's heavy wooden throne was situated – that no one was moving in and her heart jumped in her chest.
When she finally tore her eyes from the space absent of people, she pushed her way through the crowd, ignoring the objections from the rushers she passed. Even the ones who recognized her let her pass.
She came to a stop on the edge of the crowd. The body of a challenger lay sprawled several feet from the dais Rosto's throne stood on. One of his most trusted rushers was relieving the body of valuables. There was pair of bloody knives in the pile. One of them had an unfamiliar design worked onto the hilt. The other was Rosto's. Her gaze jerked from the body to the dais.
Rosto sat on the very edge of the dais, a piece of cloth pressed to his side. The hand that held it there was bloody. Very bloody.
He seemed not to notice her gaze, though Aniki, who stood protectively next to him, her hand resting on her sword. Her blue eyes met Beka's gaze. Another jolt of whatever it was ran through her as she looked at the other woman. Aniki's eyes were cold and hard, as if she viewed the woman who had once been her friend as her enemy now.
She looked back at Rosto. The cloth he was using to stem the bleeding was slowly turning bright crimson as she watched. Beka was surprised he was even sitting up with all of the blood he was losing – and all of the blood he had lost by the trail of blood. His already pale skin looked bloodless save for the dark circles under his eyes. She can see the pain in his expression without even trying.
The world stood still when he raised his dark gaze to meet hers. A chill ran through her. His eyes were tired. The moment he met her eyes, Rosto the Piper looked ancient. The look disappeared almost instantaneously behind a wall of cold that told her nothing.
The tension between them broke a moment later. A formidable woman – obviously a healer – marched into the Dove and over to Rosto. She shook her head at him, then went about her business. Beka stood frozen. She felt as though she should leave, but she wanted to stay, to make sure he was alright.
It was not until the healer stood that Beka realized how much time had passed. Rosto pushed himself up, weaving unsteadily on his feet for a moment. Aniki instantly moved to support him. He waved her away, giving her an annoyed look. He moved over and bent to retrieve his bloodied knife. He wiped the blood off on his torn shirt and returned the blade to his belt. Then he looked at her again.
"What are you doing here, Cooper?" he asked. His voice was quiet, but Beka felt distinctly unwelcome when he spoke.
She shrugged. "I don't know," she replied. "I was worried that you might have lost…"
Rosto's eyebrows rose as he looked at her. "It doesn't matter to you whether I lose or not." His voice was steady and almost resigned.
Beka looked at him for a long moment. "I thought we were friends," she said softly.
Rosto regarded her tiredly for a few moments. "I did, too," he told her. "But you stopped coming here six months after you came back from Port Caynn. What else were we supposed to think?"
She was silent for a long moment, trying to formulate a response. "I don't know," she said finally. "I'm sorry."
Rosto nodded. "I am, too. Don't worry your pretty little head about it, Cooper. We were never meant to be friends. We're too different as Rat and Dog." He did not mean that, but he could not say what he meant. We were always meant for more, Beka. We're the same, you and I. We were always meant to burn brightly.
There was a flash of sadness in her eyes as she watched him. Then she nodded. "I suppose you're right." I know. I wish everyone could see it that way. Maybe then we could have faced the world together.
She turned to go, resolve already swirling in her mind. She turned to look back only to see the walls in Rosto's eyes gone for a moment. The way he watched her go made her smile at him. An instant later, the look was gone, hidden behind the mask he put up as the Rogue.
Then he turned to go back to the dais his throne stood on. A faint smile touched Beka's face as she watched him. She was not going to waste any more time.
I'll see you tomorrow.