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Sakura God

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I suppose I should begin with who I am. My name is Nikki, well technically speaking my God given name is Alexandria but after the Six went into hiding I needed a new name. So Nikki is the one I decided upon. I am not human, but a God. One of seven in my universe. We were shaped into a potential ruler from the moment of our creation. The previous God by the name of Kaine needed an heir and created the seven of us from pieces of himself. We all had different personalities and traits that made us as different as humans. Each strong in our own way, and once we were all dissolved into one only then could the ultimate God be born.
Kaine remained as a weak being with little power to oversee who would rule after him. Understand Gods are not immortal as you may believe, but it does take a lot to kill us. Also, it takes longer for us to die “naturally” because one ages so slowly. Kaine developed a school, as you humans might say, to find who would take control over his position. Years upon years of training, teaching and modification, he decided upon a successor. Me.
I was chosen to be the new God of Gods. After I was chosen, the other six started to be absorbed into me along with their powers. However, before Kaine could completely dissolve the other six giving me their life force and power, he was mysteriously killed and one of the Six absorbed his being. The Six promised me dead; one way or another. Kaine’s death destroyed the realm we were occupying and sent us scattered throughout the universe.

Kaine fearful of his own demise had a feeling the six that were not chosen would retaliate. Before he proclaimed me as his heir, Kaine came to speak with me. He told me about a particular “back-up plan”, The Saints, if something were to go wrong. That night Kaine also gave me my Sakura. Which would contain knowledge about the realms I would create and information regarding few people among them. It would inform me of their attitudes, history and relationships.
As God one of my powers is the ability to create different realms and let people live among them. I only have a hand in correcting a handful of particular people from each realm. However, this is a power that the Six do not have. It does come at a cost. For every world I create I give up a piece of my life force to sustain that world. When Kaine died, just like when I do, the realms disappear. I sustain four realms each beautiful and special in their own way: Okinawa, Red Capital, Cross Academy, and Magnolia.
With the Six still out there somewhere, I knew I wasn’t strong enough to fight them on my own. I needed allies, so I began to look for The Saints within my worlds. The Saints would become the strongest group of fighters in existence to help me in my pursuit not only to protect my life but their own perspective worlds as well. If one of The Six were to accomplish their mission to kill me not only would I cease to exist but the four realms and everyone who lives among them would too.
This is my story of my journey after Kaine’s murder. How I had to find my own path as God; containing heartbreak, murder, love, betrayal, friendship and most importantly redemption. As I fight to keep my place on the throne and protect the worlds and people in them that I hold dear. I have six enemies now that want to take my powers away and rule for their selves. However, I am God and I don’t plan on going down easily.

Chapter Text

One cannot become God when one has no realms to rule. When Kaine chose me, I created my four realms then. He told me it was not wise to make more than one rather quickly, but that was one of the reasons he chose me. I wanted to take care of as many people as I could. I wanted to give them somewhere to prosper. So Kaine taught me how, and even he was stunned with the amount of energy I put into creating each one.
One benefit from creating such beautiful realms is the complexity that comes with them wasn’t all me. I create a platform for life. They don’t even know I exist. The few people I do have a hand in creating have their own lives, thoughts and feelings that don’t concern me. The balance to such power is that I cannot control them or their feelings. However, that doesn’t stop me from being deeply intrigued about the lives of my “main characters”. Just like the world you know, my realms are not perfect. It is necessary for each to have balance. All of my realms struggle in their own battle of good and evil.
The first realm I created was Okinawa. I visited Okinawa in my search of the first Saint, I knew who I wanted to fight beside me. I had read his information from my Sakura. His name is Haji. A strong and talented warrior who recently almost lost the love of his life and was still recovering from a war that took place in this realm just a few months ago. All of my realms flow through time differently. I had to make sure to stay accurate with what would happen in each at its correct pace.
Haji is a Chiropteran, something like what you might consider a “vampire”. Simply put, he needs blood to live and is much stronger than an average human. However, he was wounded pretty badly in that previous battle but I knew I could help him. I could make him stronger. His beloved, Saya, I read has a medical condition that causes her to sleep for decades on end. All of those years he tends to spend alone, but during her sleep this time I wish to offer him company and strength in return for his help. I don’t believe he would deny me after I explain how his precious Saya depends on me.
I found him exactly where I thought I would: sitting outside her tomb playing his cello. It was the first encounter with someone other than the Six or Kaine since my existence. I decided to let him finish the verse before I approached him. It was beautiful, I had never heard music before. I read that’s what it is called. I wanted to learn more.
I had learned from my Sakura that Haji has a rather detached demeanor and can be oblivious to most things when regarding feelings and thoughts. Also, he was very good at hiding his emotions that was until Saya.
“Haji.” I said, barely above a whisper. I knew he would hear me; his hearing was exceptional.
It sounded like my Saya, but it couldn’t be. It had only been a few months since she had gone to sleep.
He turned his head and looked up at me with pale blue eyes that were nearly hidden under his dark black bangs. A hint of disappointment in his eyes. Then it was gone.
It isn’t my Saya, I haven’t seen this woman before. She has black hair just like Saya. Saya’s wasn’t as long. This woman isn’t as tall, but she gives off such a feeling of strengthen and determination. One that would make a normal person shake with fear.
“Who are you? How, may I ask, do you know my name?” Haji asked skeptically.
I should have known he would react with distrust. He doesn’t know who I am or what I want. He has been taught to always be on guard, ready to serve and protect Saya. However, I wished no harm upon this man. Only requested his help.
“My name is Nikki, Haji. I have come in need of your assistance.”
“Assistance in what, Miss Nikki?” He asked as he rose from his seat. His eyes narrowed slightly, as he put away his cello. His stance became rather tense as if ready for an attack that would never come.
“Saving your dear Saya, and the Okinawa you have come to know.”
I saw his eyes grow just slightly in size and a wave of surprise cross his face before he could hide it. I knew his weakness and wasted no time to use it. I need his help, desperately. However, little did I know how important Haji would become to me and not just as a Saint. At that point in time, I didn’t know I had just made my first true friend.

Chapter Text

It has been about half a year since that fateful day. Haji followed me with slight hesitation, but wanted to believe every word I said. I explained, as best I could, who I was and who I was up against. Also, I told him what would happen if my enemies succeeded. I wanted him to trust me but I had to give him time, it was a lot of information to receive at once. I would let my powers regenerate then prove myself to him. He said his goodbye to Saya, and I told him he could visit her as much as he’d like. Haji gave me a small nod and we were on our way.
In the past 6 or so months, Haji and I were able to dissolve one of the Six. Fortunately, we found her in Okinawa. It wasn’t hard to find her. As she was walking on Main Street where Haji and I were gathering supplies. I could feel her presence, and was able to track her down with little trouble. Her name was Emily, she was the only one of the Six who understood I was rightfully chosen and laid down her life-force freely. She respected Kaine and believed he had made the right decision.
Before I dissolved her, Emily told me she only wanted to see into the realms I had created. Emily spoke of her dream of being human. How incredible it would have been to feel happiness and love as humans do instead of surviving without such emotion as Gods do. A thought occurred to me then. Could Gods love? Could we feel happiness? I wish to feel those things, but Kaine told me emotions could cause my downfall. So I shrugged my thoughts off and continued with the situation at hand.
Emily didn’t know who killed Kaine, but warned me to be careful. The Six were strong and a group to be feared. She had reason to believe Damien, one of the Six, was gathering the others one-by-one to work together to destroy me. Damien had always been the one obsessed with power. It made sense he wanted my throne.
Damien had never particularly liked me, I suppose even though the seven of us rarely interacted like humans do. He didn’t understand how I wasn’t obsessed with the throne or the power. He only saw people as pawns and tools to be used to make him feel powerful. One of the reasons Kaine didn’t choose him. I don’t know all of Damien’s powers nor the powers the Six possess. I found Emily’s main power, what became one of mine, was her fighting skills. One of them is the ability to predict an enemy’s attack before they strike.
Emily was absorbed, and I felt a small surge in my power. She also dissolved into the shape of my first weapon, a sword. I knew I was still too weak to use it, but I want to be able to fight with it soon. Kaine had been killed before he could teach me in the ways of fighting and controlling my powers. However, I knew Haji would be a great fighting teacher. After watching Emily be absorbed, Haji no longer carried any doubts about my story.
I used so much of my power to travel to Okinawa and gather Haji that it would take some time for my power to be fully restored. Even after dissolving Emily, I was so weak and the Six, now five, are still out there. It was time I went into hiding; I needed time to rest and get stronger. I decided it was time to show Haji our home realm. A small realm I had created for myself and The Saints. Somewhere the Six had no knowledge of and could be used as a base during our mission. Somewhere that was safe.
It was a simple house that had many rooms and was situated in the middle of a cherry blossom forest. I had come to appreciate how beautiful it truly was. It included a library, amour, garden, and my favorite: a kitchen. I wanted to educate myself on different culinary practices from each of my realms. I need nourishment similar to what the Saints will need. I will not to be a burden to my team. Or have them do simple tasks that I could accomplish myself.
I used whatever power I had left to transport us. I would have to wait before I could begin to gather my next Saint.

In the past half year, I have been able to compose a potential strategy to gather the rest of my Saints. Also, I was able to compose some back-up plans if it became necessary. I will make sure to protect my Saints at all costs. I will have to disclose them with Haji in the near future. We rarely had contact, and spent most of our time apart. I think it helped me ease into socializing without it becoming over whelming for me. I was destined to be alone, as Gods should be. However, I can’t say I don’t appreciate the company.
Although, we didn’t spend the time apart intentionally. I suppose Haji was accustomed to spending his days alone. Like me, but I wanted to change that. Thankfully as the year progressed we both became more sociable. Haji as sociable as one could expect of a Chiropteran. He really didn’t enjoy talking I came to understand. I am sure he misses Saya’s company. I read that they have been in each other’s lives for many years. I understand it must be hard to be apart from her.
It is still on my mind when I wake up one morning, I decide I want to do something to get his mind off it. I looked at my sword, leaning against my bed, and decided it was still too soon. I could find other ways to build up my strength. I throw off my covers, put on some clothes I won’t mind getting dirty. My blue tank top and some black pants that cut off right past my knees. On my way out, I stop in front of the mirror. I haven’t grown in height but I hold my head higher than before. I still look like a normal female human in her 20s, but a little frail. That would have to change. I give a small smile, gather my long black hair into a ponytail and go in search of my Saint. I wander through the halls of the house. No such luck. The house is deafening quiet. Where could he be?
At the very moment the question crosses my mind, I begin to hear the soft melody of his cello. I follow the sweet music outside, down the steps and deeper into the forest. It doesn’t take long to stumble upon him. His back turned to me; he is sitting on a rock near the small waterfall I created in honor of Kaine’s memory. I don’t wait for Haji to stop, instead I quietly go and sit on the rock in front of him. Not too close because he seems like the type to appreciate personal space.
I am rarely given an opportunity to stare upon him at such a close range. So I take the chance to study him. His head is tilted slightly to the right, his eyes are peacefully closed. No lines of stress or strain on his face. He seems to find such peace in playing. His hands move effortlessly. His bandaged hand just as impressive in staying in tune with the other. His sleeves cover his long arms but I could see the strain of taunt muscle underneath. I am certain he has seen his share of battle. His long black hair is pulled into what I would consider the classic Haji ponytail and some is draped perfectly over his shoulder.
I am so caught up in studying Haji, I don’t realize he stopped playing and was staring intently back at me with those pale blue eyes. The ones that look like he was staring into your soul. He lays his cello back in his case but not without taking his eyes off me.
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to make you stop.” I feel like I might have intruded on a special moment for him. I don’t wish to upset him.
“No, it is fine Miss Nikki.” It sounds rather forced, but Haji doesn’t look upset.
I really wish he would stop calling me, “Miss”. I wonder if he believes it’s mandatory. I will have to speak about that with him later.
“Where you looking for me, Miss? What may I do for you?” He rises, and bows slightly to me.
“Haji, you are not my servant. Please, I wish….” I pinch my nose and take a deep breath. Kaine’s words sounding in my head. “Your people will only use you if you give them the chance, don’t let your need to be accepted make you forget that.” That’s right, Haji isn’t my friend. He sees me as an employer. He doesn’t truly care for me. “…Never mind, Haji would you like to train with me?”
“Train?” Is she capable of handling training? She shouldn’t push herself. He looks me with uncertainty in his eyes.
Does he perceive me as weak? I can’t be seen as a weak God. I rise from my seat on the rock, and smile. Time to prove myself.
“I could really go for a fight.” I begin to walk towards the training field. I am about 50 feet away from him.
“Well, you coming?” I yell over my shoulder and I swear I could feel a small smile tug at the corner of his lips.
Must have been my imagination.

Chapter Text

I am sitting on the fence overlooking the training field; lost in my own thoughts.
“Are you ready, Miss?”

I look over to my right and there he is. Haji removes his suit jacket and lays it on the fence. He is in his white button up. I can’t even hear the steps he takes, directly in front of me. Haji unwraps his bandaged hand, and I am given my first up close look at his Chiropteran claw.

I smirk, “Are you sure you don’t mind getting the rest of your pristine suit dirty?”
His eyes fill with, what look like, determination and a hint of a challenge. “I don’t believe it will be getting dirty, Miss.”
Sounds like a challenge to me. I hop down from the fence. I brush past him and begin to walk towards the middle of the grounds.
I turn back towards him with my fists raised, “Come and get me.” I see a flash of hesitation cross his face.
I have to make sure to hold back as not to hurt her.
Then Haji moved towards me at such a rapid speed. A speed I have never encountered before. The eyesight of a normal human would have only seen a blur. He flies towards me. Not needing to use his wings to gain such speed. I feel myself take an impulsive step back, but never take my eyes off him. I cross my arms in front of my chest and brace for potential impact. Still not confident in my own abilities. Somehow, I manage to move to my right at the last possible second with speed I didn’t know I had.
She moved at the exact perfect time. If she had moved sooner I would have countered her movement. If she had waited, I could have pummeled her.
Haji flies past me, grazing my left arm with his claw. The two barely touch but I can already feel the sting of a fresh cut appear.
She is faster than I believed. I want to see what she can do.
I don’t waste a second. I turn sharply on my heels and kick off the ground barreling towards him, his back is still to me. Now is my chance, my fists are pulled back ready for a fight. Quick as lightning, he turns around, and raises his hands clasped together over his head preparing to make a counterattack. I am able to stop my advance and use all my momentum to jump backwards as his fists come down. Barely missing my face. I slide backwards along the dirt and dig my fist and knee in to stop my backward movement.
I look up at him, wipe the grit off my chin with the back of my hand. I give him a small smile then rise to my feet, “You are just as talented, as I have read.”
“Don’t tell me you’re finished already, Miss.” His eyes are on his hands as he dusts them off. He looks almost disappointed.
“Not a chance.” I charge towards him and he does the same. He is the first to make a move. I can see the slight twitch in his left wrist as he barrels toward me. I realize he plans to punch me above my stomach with his left fist. Not a second later, I am able to block his high punch with my forearm and ram my right fist hard into his gut. He grunts, but doesn’t lose any of his speed.
He brings his right leg up to kick my hip with such force. It stings, but I can handle it. Before I can respond his fists start to come at me with unbelievable speed. Right, left, right, left. So quick, they almost blur into one. I am able to dodge most of them but he gets one good punch in. I feel his iron fist connect with my right cheek and I can already tell it’s swelling.
Before he can do any more, I quickly drop down, balancing myself on my hands and sweep my legs under his. I can tell he didn’t expect that, because he loses his balance and falls backwards on the dirt. He may be quick but I was quicker. Before he register what happened and move, I am over him crouched. My knee is his chest pinning him down and my fist has his collar in a vise.
“Looks like you got your nice suit dirty, after all.” I smile, stand up and lend him my hand. He takes it and stands up. He dusts off his pants and looks at me. I don’t see anger in his eyes.
I should give her more credit.
“I have to say I am impressed, Miss.” Haji says. He sounds sincere.
“Um. Thank you, Haji.” I feel the tinging from the cut on my arm. I try not to let him see my discomfort. He does.
“Let me bandage your arm up for you, Miss.” Haji offers.
“No, it’s fine. It will heal on its own. Thank you though.” He gives an understanding nod, and goes to retrieve his suit jacket on the fence. Then we begin to head back towards the house.
I must say I even surprised myself. I hope there will be more days I’ll be able to fight with Haji. I already seem stronger.

I come out of the kitchen with a fresh bandage on my bicep. Luckily, my cheek has almost completely healed and only has a faint discolor to it. However, the cut on my arm isn’t healed. Haji doesn’t have to know about my slowed healing process.
I walk into the open living room with two glasses of water. Haji is sitting in one of the chairs in the middle of the room, freshly clean. I hand him his glass of water and he gives me a small nod of thanks. I sit in one of the chairs in front of him and take a much needed drink.
Her bandage.
Haji is looking at my arm, “It’s a precaution. That’s all.” I reassure him. I can count on one hand the number of times, in the last six months, Haji has carried a conversation with me.
“Has it healed, Miss Nikki?”
I am deciding whether or not I should be honest with him…I don’t him to view me as delicate. Before I can answer, “I see…” He sets down his glass on the coffee table between us. “Even with almost half a year of rest you are not able to sustain a moderate level of power to even heal yourself. Could it be without the Six you are only allowed so much power to use until you eliminate them?”
I stand up quickly from my chair. Nearly spilling the glass of water in my hand because I am immediately ready to defend myself.

Yet again, he stops me, “Miss Nikki, I am not criticizing you nor should you feel the need to defend yourself. I am simply making sure I understand all of your strengths and weaknesses to do better in my ability to protect you.” I wish to see you rule as our rightful God, because it is your birthright. I won’t let anyone take that away from you.

I am in shock. He wants to protect me? What seems like hours of silence drag by, I just stare at him. Trying to understand the words that fell from his mouth. No one has ever wanted to protect me.
I compose myself. He only wants to protect me because he believes it’s his duty.
However, I decide it is for the best to make him fully aware of the situation. I will need his unquestionable devotion as my second-in-command. I sit down with the glass still in my hand and stare at the water in the container. I don’t believe I can look him in the eyes when telling him the truth.
“It is true Haji, the further I am from my true powers I grow somewhat weaker. Quite slowly but enough to eventually make a difference. My healing powers are the first I have noticed. They still exist, just the rate of restorative has diminished. Using my powers at my state, they need time to be replenished, but I am not weak. I do not wish to be look upon as such. I plan on fighting beside my Saints, not behind them. I will be able to protect them.”
She cares for people she hasn’t met yet.
I finally look up at him and his eyes meet mine. “Haji, I don’t want the other Saints to know about my weakness or what plans I discuss with you. If they need to be made aware of something, I’ll be the one to tell them. Will you promise that you will keep the other information to yourself?”
“Certainly, Miss Nikki.”
I could address the Miss thing another time, right now I want to enjoy the comfortable silence of a sort of new comradery I have with my first Saint.
I gaze off towards the windows on the far wall in the living room. Looking at the beautiful cherry blossoms; I begin to wonder where my journey will take us next. I feel, for the first time, that maybe I am not truly alone in this fight.

Chapter Text

“Good morning Haji.” I say as I pass by him in the dining room. I am wearing my favorite cherry blossom robe and a simple black tank with pink shorts. It is too early to have the energy to change. He is reading some of the notes I gave him the night before. Does he ever take a break? I smile at the thought. He stands up quickly and begins to move towards the tea. I eye him and he sits back down obediently. I am perfectly capable of pouring my own.
“Good morning, Miss. Did you rest well?” He looks up at me as I pour myself some tea.
“Yes, thank you. Would you like some tea, Haji?” I ask without looking back at him, and pour him a cup as well. Before he has a chance to respond, I sit the tea down in front of him and take my seat across the table.
He nods his thanks and I take a drink. It’s great, honey and lemon. My favorite.
While I am drinking, Haji asks, “Miss. I have been reading over the summaries you have given me for the next potential Saint. Have you made a decision?”
I look at him over the rim of my glass. I sit it down in front of me, “I believe so, but I think we will need to spend some time in his realm. I can’t be certain he will readily come with us. It might take some time for him to warm up to the proposal. Are you alright with that, Haji?”
“Of course, Miss.” I raise my eyebrow. He apologizes, “…Nikki.” It looks like it truly pains him to address me in such a manner. I can’t help the small smile that forms on my lips.
I sigh dramatically, “Fine, Haji if you wish you can continue calling me ‘Miss’. I’m content with that.” He gives me a small nod. A sigh of relief comes from him, I chuckle.
She appears to be in a high spirits.
I look at him with determination in my eyes and my hands clasped tightly together on the table between us. “I am not prepared to travel to his realm just yet, and I feel like you should be made aware of my fallback plans before we leave. That way if the time comes you’ll be equipped in how to use them.”
He looks back at me with the same level of intensity. “Yes, Miss Nikki.” I’ll protect you. There will be no need for them, but I’ll do as you wish.
“Good, I will be right back.” I say as I get up from my seat and walk back towards my bedroom.
I come out a few minutes later and set two small black pins in front of him. They are about the size of quarter and are shaped like stars. He stares down at them with question in his eyes. “This is something I designed. They contain some of my magical energy.” What I say doesn’t take away his confusion. I sit down in the chair beside him, rotating it so I am facing towards him.
“You see, when it is necessary you will press one of them. It will glow yellow, and it is programmed to take you, and whoever you are near, home immediately. No one can follow you; you will be able escape. It will transport you here.” I stop, and pick up the stars. I grab his unbandage hand, and turn it so his palm is up. I drop the stars in his opened hand and close his fingers around them.
I don’t take my hands off his and look up at him. “That way if something were to happen to me and I couldn’t get you to safety… You can keep yourself out of harm.”
“Miss, I won’t…”
“Shhhh.” I cut him off, “Promise me, you’ll use this if I tell you to. You wouldn’t dare go against a direct order, would you?”
“No.” He is so disgruntled he doesn’t say “Miss”, but I need to make sure he understands. I take my hands away from his and sit back in my chair.
He continues to look at the stars in his hand then pulls back the left side of his jacket and drops the stars into a little hidden pocket. He lets the jacket swing back to its natural position and bows his head to me.
I smile, and stand up to return back to my original seat.
“Do I have permission to learn more about the next Saint before we retrieve him, Miss?” Haji asks. Can I trust him with your life?
“I would like to keep most of his information to myself, but would like to voice my concerns about him if you’d like to hear them.” I don’t need Haji to form his own opinions about a Saint he hasn’t met yet. It will make things harder for them to get along. However, I need Haji to know why I am hesitant about this particular Saint.
“Certainly, Miss.”
I take another sip of my tea before I begin, “Haji, the man I am after is very strong. One of the strongest from his realm. However, his line of good and evil can sometimes become blurred. I see great potential in him, and know if he were to join us he would have no more trouble in deciding between the two.”
She is putting herself at great risk to bet on a “maybe”. I will have to keep my eye on this man.
“You believe in him, Miss?” His eyebrow raises slightly, waiting for my answer.
I sit down my tea and glance at him. “Yes.” Then I am confident you are making the right choice.
“When do we leave, Miss Nikki?” He takes a sip of his tea and I smile at his reassurance in my decision. I respond, “Very soon, I’d suggest you get some rest. I have a feeling this is going to be a long trip, my dear Haji.”

Haji and I arrive in my realm of Magnolia early one the morning. This realm has magic over flowing the rim. It revolves around different types of magic users and the guilds they are devoted to. Truly a rare realm that magic is a norm and so are the people that use it.
I am wearing a simple light blue dress, not wanting to stand out too badly. Haji is in his signature suit and carrying his cello on his back and my bag in his hand. I don’t know how long we will spend here, so I packed a few things.
I feel a strange wave of fear when we arrive. Like a chill running up my spine, but as suddenly as I noticed it; it was gone. I shake it off and drag Haji downtown to look at a few shops before I get up the courage to go in search of our next Saint.
I read up on my potential Saint again last night. His name is Rogue, a strong head in one of the popular guilds, Sabertooth. He was trained in the ways of Dragon Slayer Magic along with his “twin brother”. He appears to have a similar deposition to Haji, but can’t hide his soft heart as easily. However, his magic can be described similar to Dark Magic. Only recently, he and his brother decided to change the guild they were in. Taking it from an evil dictator, of sorts, who abused his power and his members. It takes great courage to go up against someone so evil. One of the reasons I want him on our team.
As Haji and I are walking down the street, there is a canal on one side and shops are on the other. On the raised steps bordering the canal is a blonde girl balancing and yelling at a man with pink hair. It is hard to make out what she is saying. Haji rubs his forehead in annoyance. We pass them and I can’t help but smile at Haji. Then I notice something blue out of the corner of my eye hovering over the pair and talking with them. WAS THAT A TALKING BLUE FLYING CAT?! I stop and stare back in amazement at the trio walking away from us. It is a talking blue cat and it is flying. I turn back to Haji; shaking my head and smiling. This surely is a weird realm.
We follow the main path until we reach a beautiful park. I grab Haji’s sleeve as I pull him into the entrance. I am headed for the cherry blossom that has to be one of the prettiest I have ever seen. I let go off his sleeve when we are standing in front of the tree. My long hair whips around my form as I stare up at the cherry blossom. I feel a moment of relaxation, then it is rudely interrupted by a huge frog seizing my right leg.
A frog!?! “ARGHHHH!” I scream and jump at the sudden icky attachment but the thing doesn’t let go. It has me in its evil clutches. Staring up at me with its beady black eyes. It is the biggest frog I have ever seen!! The size of a small dog. “EWWWWW!!” That doesn’t help my freaking out. I sling my leg every which way but it is somehow still hanging on. I yelp and call out begging Haji, “GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF NOW! HAJI!?”
He is a few feet behind me but I can see he is trying to cover up a smile that is creeping up on his face because of my reaction. One he has never seen from me. I am jumping around and freaking out and still the thing doesn’t let me go. I want to cry. I don’t stop my screaming until I hear a small cry. It stops me in my tracks, and I look down.
To my amazement it looks like a cat. Wearing a frog costume?
The thing looks up at me with big tears swelling up in its eyes. It is a cat. A green one. In a pink frog suit. What is with this realm?!
I instantly feel a tug on my heart strings for this sobbing creature. I bend down, remove his arms from around my leg and encase it in my arms. Now that I can clearly see the creature, it is fairly cute. I stand back up and with it cradled against my chest, crying. I try to rock the poor thing, but it doesn’t stop the tears from flowing.
I look at Haji for any advice in how to handle the situation. He shrugs, thanks for the help. I shoot daggers at him. Then I go to sit down on a nearby bench to think about how to deal with the creature that is clutching my dress like I’ll disappear if it lets go.
Kaine didn’t train us in how to deal with this one.

Chapter Text

What a peculiar sight this is. A God comforting a green cat in a pink frog costume.
Are all her realms this strange?
Haji came to stand at my side. I can tell he is as lost for words as I am. This is definitely a first. I continue to rock and hush the precious creature in my arms. Finally, after what seems like an entirety the tears start to slow and it looks up with me with its enormous eyes. I give it a sweet smile.
I have reason to believe this creature is someone’s companion. I should return it to its rightful home.
“Did you get lost, you poor thing?” I ask it, rhetorically. Practically voicing my thoughts out loud.
It nods in response and rubs away some of the left over tears on its cheek.
WHAT!
Did this thing just understand me?!
My eyes grow 4x in size and I look up at Haji with my jaw slightly slacked. He simply looks like this is a normal occurrence. I can tell he got his poker face situated once again.
I rub my temple with a free hand; this is just too much weirdness at once. I stand up ready to find the owner, but I have no idea where to even begin.
I don’t bother looking at Haji and make my way towards the entrance we came in just a short time ago. I get to the entrance and look both ways. One path goes back toward the main square. The other goes toward the edge of town.
I figure since the creature can understand what I am asking maybe it can lead us to his home. I pull the tiny frame from my chest, raising it up slightly and ask, “Which way is home?”
It looks right and left.
I begin to doubt this idea, then it points with its little paw towards the main square.
Okay, it’s worth a shot. I bring it back, cradling it once again against my chest and tuck my arms around its little body securing the creature in place.
I start to walk towards the main square. Haji in tow behind us.
It doesn’t take long to get to the square but it has a lot more different routes then I anticipated. Also, there are quite a lot of people and it is rather loud. I am completely out of my element.
I suddenly feel queasy and nervous being surrounded by so many people.
I shake my head and know this isn’t about me and my petty anxieties but about the creature in my arms. I look around at the crowd of people trying to decide on my next move.
I hear a man’s voice calling out a name, but I can’t quite make it out. It is swallowed up by the many voices for my ears.
However, the cat does. Its head perks up looking in the direction the man’s voice came from. I take that as a lead.
I push through the crowd; protecting the cat in my arms from the various shoving elbows. Until I come to an empty space inside the sea of people. I see a man with short black hair; his back is to me. The creature then starts to squirm, trying to get out of my grasp but I’m afraid it will get trampled if I let it down. I keep a firm grip on the wiggling cat and it produces loud whimpers in protest.
The man turns around at the sounds and I instantly recognize him from my Sakura.
He is wearing a simple dark blue shirt that is straining against his chest and a pair of jeans. I can also see the faint mark of a scar across his nose.
“No, it can’t be.” I mouth. My grip on the creature loosens unintentionally and it jumps down.
No way.
The creature runs into the now crouched man’s open arms.
I never read about a cat.
“Rogue.” It escapes my lips before I can stop myself.
He hears his name and looks up at me with the creature in his arms. He stands up; confusion in his eyes.
My, my. She is truly a vision. But how does she know my name?
I take an impulsive step back, and bump into Haji.
I forgot he was here.
He places a hand on my back to steady me. I look up at him, about to apologize when Rogue interrupts me.
“Excuse me, do I know you?” He has closed the space between rather quickly and is directly in front of me.
“I..I..I don’t think so.” What is with the stuttering? Get a grip, Nikki. He is your potential Saint… I just thought I’d have time to prepare before I met him.
Thankfully, before he can question me any further. Haji explains, “She found your cat in the park.”
“Is that so?” Rogue asks, looking down at the cat in his arms. A soft smile appears on his lips as he pets the cat’s head. It leans into his touch.
I nod, not wanting to make myself look worse than I already have.
“Well thank you.” He glances at me then looks back down at the cat and says, “You have got to be more careful, Frosch. I was worried sick little girl.” Frosch? Girl?
Frosch nods her head as she starts to cry. Apparently, the thing is very apologetic.
I decide it is time for Haji and I to leave until I am ready to face Rogue. I nod to Haji and he immediately understands.
Haji comments, “Well, it appears it is time for us to take our leave.” He slightly bows and we turn to be on our way when Rogue calls out, “Wait!”
I can’t let her go just yet.
I turn back to him, my eyebrow raised slightly and waiting for him to continue.
“Let me treat you two to lunch. It is only right, you did find my best friend.” He offers.
I look at Haji for an indication for what we should do; he shrugs unopinionated as usual. I take a deep breath; it would be a good opportunity to learn more about Rogue.
“Sure, that sounds lovely.” Rogue smiles at our acceptance. I give a small smile in return.
“I know just the place.” He declares as he turns around, but before he can make a complete 180 Frosch jumps from his arms. She runs towards me and stops just short of my legs. Frosch looks up at me with her small arms extended.
I pick her up, and she cuddles into my chest. Quickly closing her eyes, and I realize she has fallen asleep. Rogue smiles at the sight and proceeds on the path.
So she has made an impact on Frosch, I see.
I look to my right at Haji and he gives me a reassuring nod.
We follow behind Rogue, it is the first chance I am given to really look at him. His black hair barely grazes his broad and taunt shoulders. He walks with confidence, a little tall but not as tall as Haji. I can tell he has great strength and seems to care deeply. Especially, towards the creature in my arms. Displays more emotion than Haji. However, I feel like I am just barely scratching the surface that is Rogue.
I suddenly become rather nervous at what the rest of the day may hold.

I look up at the gigantic guild hall in front of us. The Sabertooth insignia shines brightly over the enormous wooden doors. I didn’t think he would bring us to his guild hall.
If possible, I begin to shake lightly with anxiety about the large amount of interaction that is fixing to take place. Poor Frosch is woken from her slumber by my movements; Haji lays his hand on my right arm. I glance at him and I realize how silly I am being. I take a deep breath and compose myself as Rogue pushes open the doors.
Thankfully, only a small amount of the guild members are present. Before I am able to fully take in my surroundings, a blonde male comes barreling down and tackles Rogue. “DID YOU FIND FROSCH!?!” He yells and both men are knocked to the ground by the blonde’s momentum. Rogue is yelling from under the other male “YOU’RE BEHAVING LIKE A CHILD!”
I am in shock at what just happened and look stunned at the duo wrestling on the floor. I do not understand this display of emotion.
Frosch jumps down and walks towards the two men jumbled together on the floor. Frosch taps the blonde’s shoulder; the man’s head turns and his eyes grow in surprise at seeing the little cat.
The blonde untangles himself from Rogue and hugs the cat. Both men rise from the floor and dust their selves off. Rogue looks at the blonde with annoyance.
That’s when I realize the blonde is not wearing a shirt, I cover my eyes out of respect and I can see Haji glances away. I chuckle.
Through the gaps between my fingers I see the blonde noticed our presence and starts to walk towards me with a toothy cocky grin plastered on his face.
Rogue blocks his path with his extended arm, and the other man looks at him questioningly.
“No, Sting. Leave them be.” Rogue commands. Sting?
I realize that the blonde male looks familiar. I read about him, Sabertooth’s guild master. One half of the Twin Dragon Slayers.
Rogue’s brother.
I put my hand back down at my side and see that Sting is in swimming shorts. So that explains the bare muscular chest I am staring at.
Rogue puts his hand on Sting’s back and brings him to us. “These two are the ones that found Frosch and out of gratitude I am buying them lunch.” Rogue smiles at me.
Sting then extends his hand towards me, “Nice to meet you. I’m Sting. Thank you for finding my little buddy.” He gives me another toothy smile.
I return the gesture and place my hand is his. “My name is Nikki and this…” with my free hand I gesture to my faithful Saint “… is Haji.”
Sting brings my hand to his lips and places a soft kiss. I see Haji, out of the corner of my eye, stiffen and move to separate the connection. Before he can, Rogue pulls his brother back roughly and commands, “Keep your hands, lips, and every other body part to yourself Sting.”
Sting holds up both of his hands and responds, “Fine bro, whatever you say.”
We watch him turn and leave us to join a light blue haired beauty at a table. If looks could kill, I surely believe I would be dead already by the look I am getting from her.
Thank God, he is innocent or I might actually have to kill my own brother.
I give Haji an encouraging look; he slightly relaxes but I can tell he is annoyed.
Rogue looks back to me and shakes his head. “I must apologize for him; my brother thinks he has a way with the ladies.”
“It’s fine.” I offer. Haji huffs loudly and I give Rogue a small smile.
“Now.” Rogue clasps his hands together. “Let’s get that food I promised you guys.”

Chapter Text

Rogue, Haji and I are led to a table on the outdoor patio of Rogue’s Guild, Sabertooth, overlooking the beautiful city of Magnolia. While the men take their seats, I am leaning over the rail towards the city and the sun is getting low in the sky casting this beautiful pink and orange filter over the city. Unlike anything I have ever seen. I rest my chin on the railing admiring the beautiful sight when the door opens. I turn around to see the light blue headed woman from earlier come out with four plates of food. Three of them have chicken, green beans and potatoes.
It smells delicious. As she sets the plates down, I walk over and Haji pulls out my chair. I notice the last plate is carrying a fish. She sits that particular one down at the far end of the table, and turns to leave.
“One second, ma’am.” I am shocked at my own outburst towards someone who looked like they wanted to kill me just minutes earlier. For reasons I am unsure of, I wish to learn her name so I can properly thank her for the food.
She turns and replies, “Yes?” I can feel she doesn’t practically like me by her tone of voice but I find myself rising from my seat.
“What is your name, if I may ask?” I can feel the two men’s stares boring a hole into my back but I don’t pay them any attention.
“My name’s Yukino.” She bows robotically and turns to leave once more.
I stop her again with my comment, “Well Miss Yukino, thank you for the food. It smells heavenly.” I can tell my thanks catches her off guard and her façade falls as she turns back around. She gives me a genuine smile and extends her hand which I return and she takes her leave.
Yukino usually has trouble with strangers. This woman is intriguing to say the least.
I turn back to my seat and my plate raising my fork. Ready to engage my appetite. I see Rogue raise an eyebrow to my actions but pretend I don’t. However, before my fork reaches my mouth, the table shakes and I lose my grip. The fork tumbles from my hand; crashing loudly on my plate.
Confused, I look towards where the reaction came from to see Frosch has jumped up on the table. She giggles at the attention and my reaction. Then she gives the plate, I presume is hers, a look of betrayal. She stomps over, and grabs the plate with both of her paws. Stalks over towards me, and sets her plate next to mine. She looks up at me, smiling then proceeds to sit down and begin to devour her fish.
I must say I was a little stunned at her actions to provide a reasonable amount of gratitude towards her expression of liking me. This little creature sure would be a calming addition to my “team”. Yet another reason I want Rogue to join me.
I don’t notice the two men expression of confusion, but just smile at Frosch. I pet her adorable eyes and join her in eating, eagerly raising my fork again.
I want to learn more about her.
Rogue asks, “So Nikki, where are you two from? Why are you in Magnolia?”
I finish my bite and take a drink of water. Giving me enough time to think of an adequate answer to his questions. “Haji and I are from a place quite far from here, and I came to Magnolia for a few errands I need to complete.”
“What kind of errands?”
I didn’t think this far ahead. Kaine sure didn’t teach us how to lie, but Haji steps in, “Miss Nikki has important work related errands in your town. Ones she is not at liberty to discuss.” Well he wasn’t particularly dishonest.
Rogue nods his head in understanding.

Once everyone has eaten and carried on more light conversation, Haji stands and extends his bandaged hand to me. I effortlessly take his hand and rise to stand along beside him.
“Rogue, I thank you for the delicious meal.” I bow slightly to him, and Haji does the same.
He quickly stands nearly bumping the table, “Wait, you’re leaving?” Frosch still on the shaking table freaks out for a minute then continues eating. Clearly not paying attention to our conversation but merely focused on the fish in front of her.
Haji responds for me, “Yes, we must be on our way.”
“Isn’t it rude to eat and run?”
I raise an eyebrow at his candor. It is indeed rude but the sun is almost completely gone from the sky. “It is getting late, and we have yet to find a room.”
“Then stay here.” Don’t leave.
I shake my head, mentally freaking at that particular situation. I start to stutter, but no coherent words form. Haji comes to my rescue once again, “Oh no, that wouldn’t be suitable for a lady.” I turn my head to stare blankly at him and he gives me a tiny smirk. He can’t be serious, that was the best he could come up with?
I can tell Rogue is flustered with that comment; I certainly am too.
Rogue regains himself and says, “No, I must insist. It is late and all the good hotels are booked solid for tomorrow’s festival. I couldn’t willingly let a lady stay at some disgusting dump of a motel when there are several perfectly clean rooms right here.”
Frosch now tuned in to our conversation comes racing to the end of the table pulling on my dress to make me look down at her. “Yes, Frosch?” I ask.
Her eyes swell up and begs, “Don’t go.”
Nice job, little buddy.
I can’t bear to face her any longer and look to Haji.
Haji doesn’t respond to Rogue but turns to face me. Our eyes lock. “My lady, what do you prefer to do?”
I let out a defeated sigh, Rogue is right and Frosch is breaking my heart.
I look at Rogue, “We gratefully accept your offer.” Frosch smiles at this answer and jumps down from the table to head inside.
Rogue smiles and reaches for my hand. However, Haji moves in front of me, blocking his movement. I can tell the Sting encounter has him on edge.
Rogue gulps faintly. Haji is pretty intimidating I can’t say I don’t understand Rogue’s reaction.
Haji puts his bandage hand on my lower back. Leading me back into the guild hall. Rogue follows behind. “Let me show you to your rooms.” He offers and Haji nods.
Rogue leads us down a hallway attached to the main room of the guild. He comes to a stop at two doors near the end. Rogue turns back around and motions with his hand to the door on the right, “Nikki, this is your room… Would you prefer your butler to be in the same room as you or do you wish for him to stay in the one across the hall?”
I bust out laughing, bending over and clutching my stomach in pain. The laughter is just too great of a force.
A butler!? What a thought! Such a funny thought. That was until I see the terrifying look that Haji is throwing in Rogue’s direction. Stops my laughter in its tracks. Well at least most of it; I cough to disguise my uncontrollably laughter.
“Miss Nikki, I will be just across the hall. If you need me, I will be on watch later after my shower.” He bows to me and enters his room; closing the door behind him.
On watch? Does he think Sabertooth would try something so low as to go after her?
With Haji gone, Rogue and I are finally alone. I begin to feel slightly anxious and Rogue apparently notices.
“Are you alright?” He asks me, worried.
I nod my head avoiding his gaze, “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Nikki…” I look at him and once again I am reminded this is my Saint. He truly has a calming effect on me; I shouldn’t let myself get so nervous.
“I was wondering if you would like to come with me to the festival tomorrow.” He rubs his neck nervously.
I can’t help but smile at his slight discomfort. It indicates to me I am not the only nervous one. Haji is always so good at hiding his feelings, but Rogue makes me feel comfortable in sharing my inability.
“I would like that, very much.” He relaxes at my acceptance.
“Great, goodnight Nikki.” Rogue walks past me, and I turn and watch him leave. He gets halfway down the hall and turns back around. Giving me a huge smile, and continues on his way.
I enter my room, falling back against the door. Closing it with my weight and let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.
That’s it. Tomorrow I tell Rogue. I tell him everything.

I toss and turn in my bed. Finally giving up on sleep, and look at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It reads 3:05 in bright annoying red letters. I huff in response, clutching a pillow to my face. Then hear a slight noise outside my door. I know instantly it has to be my Saint.
I rise from the bed, grabbing my nearby robe. Wrapping it around myself as I walk towards the door. I brace myself for the light I know is on the other side and open the door with a creak.
Just as I predicted my Saint is propped up against the wall beside my door. Haji’s looks up at me and raises his eyebrow slightly.
“Couldn’t sleep, Miss?”
I shut the door behind me and lower myself to sit beside him. “Don’t you ever get tired of guarding me all night?”
“Never.” He responds promptly. I smile. “Why are you awake, Miss Nikki?” Haji asks concerned.
“I am going to tell Rogue everything tomorrow and ask him to join me… To join us, but I’m afraid of his response.” I pull my knees up and wrap my arms around them.
“Weren’t you afraid to ask me, Miss?”
“Honestly, no. I had no reason to be…” Haji somehow looks sadden by this so I continue, “Kaine always told us whoever was chosen would have great power but could only live a lonely existence. He would always say, ‘Gods do not have friends. Once people know of your power they will only want it for themselves. They won’t think twice of taking it from you.’ I had accepted my quiet excuse of a life, and didn’t mind being alone. I believed humans couldn’t give me anything in return other than pain. That was until I asked you to be my Saint. I didn’t realize until after I asked you how devastated I would have been if you would have denied me…” I gulp at the fact that I am being so honest with him. “I realized I would be lost without you, Haji… I also realized something else that day… I realized I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
A few seconds of silence passed between us. Then Haji spoke up.
“Miss. I am grateful you asked me to accompany you that fateful afternoon. I am honored to be able to serve alongside you…” He raises his gaze to hold mine and continues,
“Miss Nikki, you truly are a great God and I assure you, you will keep your rightful throne.”
My eyes grow wet with tears, but I won’t let them fall. Gods don’t cry, but his words mean so much.
“Thank you, Haji. Thank you for everything.”

Chapter Text

I don’t know what time I came back to bed and finally drifted off to sleep, but I woke up to the most annoying repetitive knock on my door. I don’t bother to straighten my bed hair or put on a robe as I crawl towards the infuriating noise. Mornings are usually my thing, when I go to bed before they come around.
I swing the door up with a little too much force. It slams into the wall behind it. Dry wall crumbles and falls to the floor like snow. Oops.
On the other side of the threshold is my trusted Saint: Haji.
“Haji, come on. It’s too early.” I say with a whine.
He looks down at me with amusement dancing in his eyes.
“Miss. It is noon.”
WHAT!? This news wakes me up instantly, I am supposed to meet Rogue in thirty minutes! “I haven’t even showered!” I didn’t realize I had said that last part out loud until Haji replies, “I know, Miss.” I shoot him a look, and continue with my freak out. I can’t look like a wreck when I ask Rogue to be my Saint! Oh no! I smell funny.
Haji’s rational voice cuts into my erratic thoughts, “Miss, go shower. I will lay out your clothes for today and you will be ready on time.”
I know he is right and if I am to have any chance of being on time I have to go now. I turn around and run towards the bathroom. I yell behind me, “Thanks Haji!”

I come out minutes later freshly clean and wrapped up in a towel. Combing the tangles out of my long wet hair with my fingers, I notice Haji is not in my room but I see an outfit on my freshly made bed. I smile. I walk over towards it and realize I don’t remember buying what is laid out.
It is my simple black spaghetti strap top with my denim shorts but there is also a cherry blossom silk blouse I have never seen before. It’s beautiful. A note is laying on top of the blouse and reads, “It is a cherry blossom festival after all, Miss.”

I open my door this time fully prepared. I decided to braid my hair and it is draped down my shoulder. I have to admit I adore this outfit and I feel rather confident in my ability to convince Rogue to join my team. A God doesn’t get new clothes every day.
Haji is leaning against the adjacent hallway; waiting for me. He looks up at the creak of the door and notices my blouse. A complimentary nod is given and I thank him for the gift.
“Miss, I believe you are ready.”
I smooth down my top and reply, “There is only one way to find out.” I turn on my heels and head down the hall towards the main guild hall. For once, Haji doesn’t follow behind. It feels rather odd. I only get halfway down before I find myself turning around giving him a wave and a smile.

Rogue’s P.O.V.
I notice her before she sees me. To say I am nervous is an understatement but I breathe a sigh of relief when I see her bodyguard is not with her. That guy is freaky. She must be able to hold her own if he doesn’t have to be present. Not like I plan on finding out.
I feel like this woman is simply a mystery to me, but a beautiful mystery. She sees me waving to her outside the Guild Hall and starts to make her way over.
When she is standing in front of me I take a moment to appreciate how beautiful she looks. A feeling of comfort is pouring off her and I feel it like a wave wash over me.
“You look beautiful.” It falls from my relaxed mouth before I can stop myself.
Blush dusts her face in response. “Th … Thank you.” She looks away.
I cough to somehow dilute the awkward situation I caused and decide I have already made a fool of myself; only way to go is up. So I extend my arm out to her, “You ready?”
She looks back at me with a smile, awkwardness gone and takes my arm.
Show Time.

I decide to lead her through the booths that line the main square. Each booth is unique in their own way. She gives every booth an in-depth look through, even creating conversation and laughing with the owners. Nikki only letting go of my arm to bring me something interesting she found.
Watching her was probably the best part of the day. The way she would complement and appreciate the beauty found in Magnolia and all it has to offer. I found myself smiling more than I have in a long time. Magnolia has not had the prettiest past but today I was reminded why so many like myself have risked their lives to preserve it. Not just the beautiful jewelry or masterpieces but for the beauty of the people that seem to make this town even more memorable.
Cheesy, I know but I can’t help but see everything with rose colored glasses. I feel almost like I am being drawn to this woman.
My thoughts are cut off by a sigh of awe coming from the very lady invading my thoughts. I follow her gaze and realize it’s of the Cherry Blossom Forest. I take that as a sign as I start to lead her towards the entrance.
I spot an ice cream vender near the entrance and bought the two of us some. With the desserts in hand I walk back to where I left her. Standing in front of one of the beautiful trees. However, the tree doesn’t stand a chance compared to her.
She turns around at the approaching steps and gives me a smile. I hand her the ice cream and Nikki thanks me. We continue walking side by side through the forest enjoying our decadent dessert.
“Nikki,” she looks up at the sound of her name, “do you have festivals like this where you’re from?”
She shakes her head no and replies, “I wish, it has been just Haji and I for a while now.”
“Oh really? Do you get lonely?” I ask her intrigued.
She is certainly quick to answer, “No, Haji doesn’t let me feel that way.” She sighs and continues, “My lifestyle doesn’t really let me be involved with a lot of people…”
Nikki sounds like she is going to continue so I wait. I feel a gush of wind and look back to make sure she is ok. Only to find her dessert splatted on the ground behind me.
She’s gone.

I am about to tell Rogue of my past and the true reason why I’m in Magnolia when I hear a young girl scream over my right shoulder about a mile away from the road Rogue and I were walking on. Rogue doesn’t appear to hear it but I don’t lose a second it sounds like the girl is in horrible pain. The rest can wait. I turned on my heels and summoned my wings flying toward the call of distress. My powers are fueled by my emotions which are the result of my wings appearing black. The dark color is spawning from my dark emotions. I don’t get too far off the ground because I don’t want to bring attention to my powers. Too many questions I can’t answer. Even in a magical realm, such as Magnolia, wings are something difficult to explain. Haji doesn’t even know of my wings. They draw too much of my powers for me to use regularly.
I come to an opening in the forest and the scene I find is one that instantly gets my blood boiling. About four big monsters of men have their backs to me, and looking through their legs I see a girl no older than the age of 5 crumbled up on the ground in front of them.
She is bruised and appears to be losing a lot of blood. These monsters aren’t finished with her yet and start to make their way towards her. Before they can reach her I am blocking her stopping their advance.
They are stunned by my presence and stop in their tracks. I bellow, “What the hell do you think you are doing?!” My anger getting the best of me. I look like a demon right out of hell with my black wings, black hair whipping around me, and black waves of my power coming off my body. I hoped to scare them off because I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep my powers in check with the amount of anger coursing through my veins.
One of my own people being brutally injured is something I will not tolerate.
My question, however, doesn’t resonate with them and I don’t receive the reaction I was hoping for. The monsters nod to each other and start to reach for me like I’m a collectible for their taking. I normally wouldn’t use my powers as to not draw attention but the trees appear to hide us from the crowd in the forest for the festival. These monsters have just sealed their own fate.
Time to have some fun.

I hear a girlish shriek surface from the forest. I look all around me and Nikki is nowhere to be found. On instinct my shadow powers take over and I drift into the darkness. I soar through the shadows in the direction of the sound. I smell blood, enough to make my stomach curl and I fear the worst: that Nikki is in danger.
I come to a clearing and see four bodies on the grass misshapen and deformed, I can’t tell if any of them are breathing. I pull myself out of the shadows and begin to run towards the gruesome scene silently praying none of the bodies turn out to be Nikki.
As I get closer I see the crumpled bodies are too big to be her, but I see an outline of something else about 30 feet away from the mess. I finally can make it out when I get close enough. It’s the shape of two smaller bodies huddled together.
Nikki is resting on her knees as a young girl clings to her blouse, sobbing. I see there is blood on Nikki’s clothes, hands, and face.
“Nikki! Are you hurt!?” She looks up and is in shock to see me. I collapse on my knees beside her. “You’re bleeding!” I yell and begin to check for wounds to stop the bleeding.
Her bloody hand stills my movements and whispers calmly, “It’s not my blood.”
The feeling in the atmosphere changes instantly. Dread fills my body and I come to a truly horrifying realization.
“You killed them!?” I scream at her. Even if it was to protect herself she went too far! Her eyes open wide at my accusation. She looks past to the bodies lying on the ground behind me. Nikki returns her gaze to me and I am stunned by her cool reply, “They aren’t dead, Rogue. I left them breathing; they will heal with time and maybe they will learn their lesson. Or I might not be so generous next time.”
I am flabbergasted. This cannot be the same women I have spent the day with. Her aura has changed and I can feel power radiating off her.
I finally have time to take inventory and being to understand the situation. I realize now rather stupidly if I had been present when these idiots charged at Nikki I wouldn’t have hesitated to kill them.
Of course her aura has changed. That’s how she protected herself and I would be wise to guess that emotional state during battle hasn’t left her yet. That’s all.
I am just glad she is safe. I take a deep breath, resting back on my ankles and put a hand on her arm. I confess to her, “I’m glad you’re okay.” She smiles sadly at me while stroking the girl’s hair.

Chapter Text

After the incident I used the rest of my powers to heal the little girl as to not cause her guardians any fear. Once she was returned safely I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I hadn’t considered the possibility that I would be forced to use my powers in this realm but thankful no one witnessed it. Or at least no one will believe those monsters.
Rogue led me to a place nearby where I could get the blood off discretely.
But something was bothering me about the conflict. It’s not adding up right.
I fix the few stray hairs that escaped from my braid during the fight and am glad to see that almost all of the evidence of the fight has disappeared. Other than my blood stained clothes. I can’t get the image of Rogue’s face out of my mind when he found me. Like I was a monster or something. I shake my head to clear it of those thoughts and focus on what is truly bothering me.
I could feel the magical energy coming off those monsters but they barely used any of it.
Why?
I came out of the restroom and found Rogue sitting on a nearby bench.
Why could I feel her?
Apparently lost in thought because he didn’t notice my presence until I sat down beside him and touched his arm. He jumped away like I electrocuted him.
I sink back, realization dawning on me. He thinks I’m a monster. I can feel my heart harden as I speak quietly, “I don’t regret hurting those men. If you can even call them men. They are monsters and they deserved what I did to them.”
Rogue doesn’t look at me but rubs his face with his hands. Finally, sighing and responding. “I know.”
I get up from the bench my mind made up to go back to Sabertooth, grab Haji, and get the hell out of this realm. I breeze past Rogue and straighten my blood splattered blouse. The exit in my sights.
I feel a hand grab my wrist and I find myself looking back. My eyes lock with Rogue’s and there is a time halting moment shared between us as I wait for him to explain why he stopped me.
He simply looks down at the ground, his black bangs swinging down to cover his eyes. Without looking up he explains, “When I heard that scream… my instincts took over. I had to reach you immediately, but it was like I could feel your heartbeat beating right beside my own. I could sense your anger and energy during the fight. I somehow knew, deep down, you were alright… I… I don’t know how. I can’t figure it out. It’s crazy and I know you don’t believe me… but…”
I raise an eyebrow and mumble barely audible, “Not as crazy as you think.” “Huh?” Rogue looks up at me and I shake my head, “Nothing.”
He continues on with his train of thought while I am barely listen to him because I’m too busy racking my own brain for answers. Kaine told me The Saints would be able to do such things but only when they were informed who they were and the connection between us is developed to a strong enough point. Haji can’t even experience my presence that well and most certainly not that far apart. This information is essential.
I have to speak with Haji immediately but after a moment of consideration I realize I couldn’t possibly walk around in my blood soaked clothes. My telling Rogue will just have to wait until I can gather some answers.
“Rogue.” His train of though is silenced and his gaze rises to mine. “I need to go back to the guild, I can’t wear clothes that have blood on them with all these people around.” He nods his understand and begins to undress.
I hold up my hands to stop him and shake my head back and forth rapidly, “What! What are you doing?!” I shield my eyes and he chuckles. Why is he laughing?
I drop my hand and see he has removed his black long sleeve. He holds it out to me, “Here. Cover yourself with this.” I understand now he has a white tee underneath. I extend my slightly trembling hand and apologize. He chuckles again.
I could really get use to that sound.
I slip the shirt over my head and it falls loosely around my body. Thankfully, not covering my shorts but the sleeves run long past my hands and I have to push them up.
Not knowing Rogue was watching my every movement. And I thought that blouse looked good on her.
I look up to find him shaking his head and crossing his arms over his chest. “You can wear that until we can get to the Guild Hall. It won’t attract much attention.”
I look up at him and find myself smiling, “Thank you, Rogue.”

Rogue guides me into the Hall and my eyes immediately search for my Saint. Our eyes lock across the hall and instantly he begins to make his way over to me. I turn and thank Rogue but before I can leave Rogue’s hand wraps around my wrist once more. I look to face him and find he is digging in his pocket of his jeans with his free hand. He finally lets go of my hand to bring out red box and extends it towards me. “What is this for?” I ask.
“Open it.” He insists.
I do as he says and open the small box to reveal a breath-taking cherry blossom tree. It looks of glass and connected to it is a silver chain. Truly radiant.
I have never received such a beautiful gift. I pull my eyes from the masterpiece in my hands to meet Rogue’s gaze. Confusion playing on my features.
“It reminded me of you, I hope you like it.” I am completely at loss for words. When did he even have time to buy it?
I close the box and my lips arrange to form one of the most genuine smiles I have ever given. Before I can stop myself my arms are wrapped around his waist in a warm hug. I am in shock at my own actions; I suppose these humans are rubbing off on me. I turn and walk rather quickly to meet up with Haji in the middle of the room. Leaving Rogue to stand amazed.
When Haji is standing directly in front of me I can see the questions lying dormant in his eyes. “I’ll explain later. I need to speak with you.” He nods and follows my lead.
Once we are alone in my room, I shut and lock the door behind us. I walk over to face him, “There was an incident…” I hold my hand up to signal for him to let me continue before he can cut me off, “I handled it discretely, but used the majority of my power. Rogue managed to follow me and witnessed the aftermath. Thankfully, I was finished and my powers were hidden… but Haji, there is something going on and I don’t like the feel of it. We must be on our guard until I am given the opportunity to fully understand the situation we are dealing with.”
He nods his understanding and questions me, “Do you believe it is safe to go to the ball that is being held here tonight, Miss?”
I stare stunned. I had forgotten about the ball in honor of the festival culmination. Speaking more to myself than him “…This could be a chance to gather some information; many people will be in attendance tonight. However, I can’t shake the feeling we are walking right into a trap…” I raise my hand to rub my chin thinking it over.
I finally come to the conclusion, “We shall attend but we must be careful.”
“Miss.”
“Yes, Haji?”
“Black is inevitably not your color.”
Now at that comment I can’t help but giggle.

A knock on my door sounds throughout the room. Thankfully, I am ready perfectly on time for Haji to come escort me to the ball. Once again, I was without something to wear but my devoted Saint came to the rescue yet again.
Earlier today, Haji brought me an off the shoulder silver gown. Quite remarkable if I do say so myself. It fell perfectly around my body to end just short of the floor in my simple black heels. I clasped the necklace around my neck and the tree swung down to rest beautifully on my chest. I gather up the skirt of my dress to slip one of Haji’s knives into the belt around my right thigh.
Can’t be too cautious.
As I looked over myself one last time in the mirror I am quite impressed at how well I clean up. My long black hair is gathered in a messy bun with a few fine black curls falling from the bun to frame my face.
Another knock on the door pulls me from my thoughts and I leave the mirror walking towards the door.

I hang off Haji’s arm as I soak in the atmosphere. The Sabertooth Guild Hall has been decorated prestigiously and could stand up against the most distinguished of ballrooms. There are many people in attendance dressed in suits and beautiful gowns. Also, incorporated in the middle is a dance floor where I can see many couples swinging slowly to the music that is playing through the hall.
I feel many eyes on us but try to ignore the stares.
I look around the room for any sight of Rogue but he is not to be found. Haji leans down to my ear and whispers, “Miss. If we are not to stand out, may I ask you for a dance?” He’s right and secretly I have the greatest fascination with dancing. I can ease up just long enough for one dance. “Please.”
He leads me to the dance floor spinning me out slowly and bringing me back to him. Clasping my left hand with his and I rest my right hand on his shoulder. While his hand finds my waist, respectfully of course. Haji pulls me with every step he takes and before I know it we are dancing quite effortlessly.
“My, my. Haji. You did not tell me you were educated in the ways of dance.”
He chuckles slightly, “I am a man of many secrets, My Lady.”
I laugh in return and our dance continues until the music comes to an end. Someone taps Haji’s shoulder and being as vertical impaired as I am compared to Haji I cannot see who it is until Haji turns us to face them. I can see Rogue’s face and a smile instantly forms on mine.
He is requesting Haji’s permission to steal me away for one dance. Haji looks to me for an answer and my eyes give him it.
His hands leave me only to be replaced by Rogue’s. Haji leaves the floor and I am pulled into Rogue’s body easily. I look up to study him and see his black hair is tied into an elegant short ponytail. A smile playing handsomely on his features.
Absolutely breath-taking.
“I see you’re wearing the necklace I got you.” My hand leaves his shoulder, absent-mindedly, to trace it.
“Yes.” His smile is the only response I receive and it is good enough for me. Our dance is rather silent but peacefully silence. I find myself at a level of relaxation I have never experienced as I sway beside this man.
The music is slowly coming to an end and I find how upset I am because it’s almost over. The musician announces that we are playing a game of “Fate Partners”. Rogue explains to me that it means we are to let go of our current partner. Your next partner is chosen at random and you have to finish the dance with that new partner. “Is that alright?” I nod and think to myself what’s the harm?
I wish I wouldn’t have been given an answer to the question I should have never asked.

Chapter Text

The amount of people now occupying the dancefloor has increased tenfold for “Fate Partners”. I feel Rogue’s grasp loosen on my body tremendously as I am swept into the wave of people. I look around and there are too many people crowding my vision. I can no longer see Rogue or Haji.
I try to relax but I don’t really have a lot of experience in dealing with crowds.
That is when a startling wave crashes through my body as I feel strong hands grip my body and I am pulled harshly against a steel frame of a body.
I can’t do this. I don’t like this. I am about to get out of this man’s hold when I am become frozen with fear as a voice sounds from the steel frame, one I know all too well, “My little Alexandria.” My eyes widen at my true name being spoken. The realization that I am in danger overwhelms any physical movement I might have made.
He has found me.
Fight or Flight.
I have to get away.
Run!
The fear subsides as I try desperately to tear myself from his grip. To no avail, “Tsk. Tsk. I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He scolds me like a child.
I don’t know what he has planned but take heed to his warning. I can feel the great demonic energy coming off of him. Fear being forgotten and anger replaces it. “What do you want from me?” I hiss through clenched teeth.
I feel his body vertebrate against mine with laughter. “What an ignorant question, my dear Alexandria.”
I hate that name especially when it falls from his mouth. A past I wish nothing more than to just forget.
I once again try to break free of his grasp and it tightens painfully around my wrist and waist pulling me firmly back against his body. I yelp in pain. He whispers angrily, “I won’t tell you again. I’ll kill every single person here!” His words still my movements. He notices the change in my demeanor, “That’s my girl.” I feel him turn his face into my neck and inhale deeply. I try my hardest not to flinch away in disgust as to not to anger him. “You smell absolutely ravishing.” I feel him lick his lips and find myself slightly trembling.
My eyes dart around to gain any form of attention to signal for help but all the people surrounding us are too indulged with their partners to notice me.
Haji. Rogue. Please.
“Don’t bother looking for help, my dear. I have concealed us. No one is coming to your rescue.”
No one is coming. It resonates deep in my mind.
I tilt my head up, faking confidence, looking him dead in the eyes. I will not let this man see my fear. Looking upon his face it becomes even more real for me. I am in Damien’s control. He has found me and unless I play this wisely there is a great possibility I could not make it out of his grasp alive.
Becoming aware that he now has my full attention and understanding, he continues, “You will do everything exactly as I say. You will not flee or try to run for help or I will slaughter everyone here. Starting with that young mother and child over there. Would you like to see her child with her head ripped from her very body? Blood pooling on the floor as the mother tries to shake the life back into her child--” “Enough!” I cut his wicked thoughts off. I can’t bear to hear anymore.
He chuckles again, “You are too predictable…” Another wave of chuckling, “Now pay attention, I will let go off you. You will excuse yourself from the ball and return to your room. Bringing me your sword and yourself but if you dare to try anything…. I’ll know and let’s just say I will paint this room a dark shade of red. Understood?”
I nod my understanding knowing I do not have the ability to form words at the moment. He won’t hesitate killing all these people. The image of their lifeless slaughtered bodies cloud my vision and it is the only thing I see.
“Don’t even think about pulling anything, Alexandria. I know you used your powers earlier today and a lot of it to be exact. I won’t hesitate forfeiting this little game and taking your life now.”
I inhale sharply. My suspicions confirmed. He was behind me running into those monsters in the forest.
“I’ll be waiting.”
I feel his death grip subside as he fades away from the dancefloor and I lose him in the crowd. The music is still playing and I find myself looking all around me in a panic trying to locate Damien.
Even if I do as he says my people are still in trouble. I know Damien doesn’t believe in playing fair and he loves to win. I’ll be damned if I let him.
An idea pops in my mind and I immediately conceal my being and aura. Projecting a fake image of myself walking towards my room.
This will give me some time to find Haji and I do. In the corner of the ballroom my Saint is leaning against the wall observing the ball.
Knowing he won’t be able to sense or see me I wait until I am right next to him to speak in a hushed tone. “Haji, shhhhh. Pretend you don’t hear anything and most certainly don’t look towards the sound of my voice. I don’t have time to explain but these people are in danger. Damien is here and unless we get these people out right now they will all parish…” His facial expression doesn’t alter even slightly; I am thankful. Knowing Damien could be keeping a watchful eye on the only Saint he knows exists. “I need you to create a panic. Make sure my people get to safety. I’m trusting you. Help me save them. I will distract Damien.”
I turn to head towards my room, I don’t have much time I have to hurry but before I am out of reach I hear Haji speak barely above a whisper, “Be careful, Miss.”
You too, Haji.

As I enter the enclosed hallway I lower the shield concealing me and hear screams of fear flood the hallway. I steady my heart. It is part of the plan. I know Haji is doing as I asked and helping my people escape even if it is out of fear for him. I don’t have much time left. I am sure any minute now Damien will realize I am behind the chaos and come for me. I have to reach my sword before he does!

More screams trail off. Pieces of ceiling and columns crash loudly around the ballroom and I hear an angry bellow, “WHERE IS SHE?” Thankfully, he can’t sense my presence. Hiding behind a standing column, I peer around it to find fires engulfing the demolished guild hall but it looks practically deserted. Haji is not in my sight, and I don’t even have a plan. I can’t possibly hide forever. That is when I hear a cry of pain and my eyes widen in fear at the recognition of who it belongs to.
Oh no please I beg of you, let me be wrong. I peer around the column once more and my fears are confirmed. Damien is standing in the middle of the chaos and in his clutched hand is Frosch. Wailing in pain. I can’t stand the heart wrenching sound. I cover my ears. “So you’re the ugly creature that was seen with her yesterday, yes? Where is she?!” He shakes her mercilessly, gripping her throat even tighter. Her weak paws clawing at his hand trying desperately to get any oxygen.
I have to do something, before I can think of a plan my body moves on its own accord. Snatching the knife from my concealed belt and hurling it in their direction. It grazes Damien’s cheek leaving a small gash and impaling the wall behind him.
Uh oh.
His eyes find me standing beside the column with my sword drawn. “I am right here. So stop wasting your time with that bothersome animal.” I can’t let him focus on her. He releases his grip and she drops to the floor coughing painfully. Out of the corner of my eye I watch her crawl over to one of the fallen columns and that’s when I can make out a body pinned under it.
Oh my god.
My breath hitches.
It’s Rogue. My body almost moves towards him but I catch myself. If Damien sees my reaction Rogue will be killed… but he isn’t moving!
I have to do something!
I mentally pray for him to still be alive before I have to break our cover and that’s when I hear a ragged breath escape his mouth.
He is alive and now that I know that I bring my gaze back to rest fully on the monster who has caused all this turmoil.
Damien is grinning wickedly. “Exception work, Rogue. Our planned worked perfect.”
Rogue? Our? No.
He is the one that led me into the forest where I fought those monsters. No!
But… it can’t be.
“I trusted you...” Falls from my mouth and I know it was loud enough to be within Rogue’s hearing range. If possible, he flinches away like the very statement cut him.
Rogue coughing slightly and still trapped under the column. Speaking to Damien, “No. We didn’t capture the monster.”
“Oh yes, Rogue. We most certainly did.”
That is when realization dawns on Rogue that the monster Damien is speaking of is in fact me. His jaw goes slack as he stares at me. Nikki? “You didn’t tell me you were after a woman!”
“She is no woman.”
Becoming quite aggravated of being spoken of in such a manner I counter, “You’re the monster! Be quiet!” This brings Damien’s attention back to me where it rightfully belongs.
He smirks arrogantly, “Now, now. Alexandria it is not nice to interrupt two men when they are speaking of business.”
Alexandria? I have heard that name before.
A growl comes from me through my clenched teeth.
“Are you that ready to die, my dear?” He asks me rhetorically.
“Like hell.”
Damien then starts to laugh, “You have the same attitude as those pathetic others. Before I tortured and slaughtered them, that is. You should have heard their screams. Music, pure music.”
“Others?” I question confused.
His laughter only increases, “Don’t tell me you have forgotten about our classmates.”
I inhale sharply, disbelieving his words. “You didn’t! No…You demon!” I scream.
Rogue interjecting his own disbelief, “You said you were after the monster that killed them!”
“Yeah well, he lied!” I angrily counter not even bothering to look at Rogue. The burning feeling of betrayal coursing through my veins.
The laughter only ringing louder in my ears as I am filled to the very rim with anger. Emotions over powering my rational thoughts.
Damien finally coming clean, “You wouldn’t have helped me if I told you otherwise. You believed me so easily and took pity on me. You humans are all the same. Give them a sob story and they come running to provide aid. Fools.”
I was played for a fool and in return he played it out to look like I betrayed Nikki.
I inhale a deep breath to steady my heart before I make a thoughtless mistake in this battle. I am not the only person in this room who also has trouble reigning in their emotions. I will use that to my advantage.
I then start to laugh along with Damien as it hits his ears his laughter starts to slow. “It is just like you to take the cowardly way around. You knew you stood no chance to kill me without murdering the weaker ones first and taking their power.”
“What did you just say!?” He roars back at me.
More of my shrill laughter rips through the air. “I suppose I should take it as a compliment. You could never defeat me on your own. You know what? I bet… I bet you can’t even control all that power you stole.”
Falling right into step, Damien admits a black projectile of magic directly towards me. I quickly brace the sword out in front of me as the energy is spilt by the sword and whips past me. I’ll never get close enough to him to use it but at least it works to provide protection.
If he is emotionally centered eventually he will have to make an error and I will be right there. I fling the sword back over my head and casing it in the sheath on my back. Whipping around and running behind the standing columns bordering the room. Dodging and ducking more black shots of magic as I do so.
I stop behind a wide column where I am completely concealed and I amplify the laughter that is spilling from me.
“Do you have something you’d like to share with the class!?” He screams at me. Not helping my, this time, genuine laughing.
“Just thinking about how funny it will be when I destroy you with heels on.” I retort and that rewards me with another shot of black energy shot directly at the column I am behind. As it shakes and starts to sway, I have to jump out of the way before it tumbles down and crushes me. I slid on my stomach across the floor and I try to snatch my lower body up quickly but before I can manage to do that a large piece of the broken column falls on my extended leg. Shattering the bones instantly. A yelp of pain is muddled as I try to mask it before Damien knows I am hurt.
The pathetic sound doesn’t escape the superior hearing of the Dragon Slayer however. Nikki!
I pull the flimsy leg out from underneath the pillar to be completely hidden before he can throw a new ball of dark magic. Damien will figure out soon that I can’t move.
“You call me a coward but yet you are the one cowering behind a column.” Damien points out. Well he has me there.
Slowly but surely I’m positive that I’m draining him of his powers. Still on the floor leaning into the column I peer around only far enough to admit my own burst of energy. Quite large and fast compared to his, thanks to my power of being true God, but Damien protects himself by sending a new wave to counter mine.
The two energy balls fight for power and I can see Damien is struggling. If I could move this would be my chance…
I settle for sending another ball of energy out and aim right for his face. Direct hit!
His howl of pain is so loud I am sure it will make my ears bleed. I cover them and realize that because of being so drained of power my attack merely pissed Damien off. It wasn’t enough to kill him.
I’m in trouble now.
“NIKKI!” My name echoes throughout the hall but before I am given the chance to find the reason behind Rogue’s yell. A strong hand wraps around my hair and I am dragged up from my hiding place to gaze upon the torn and burnt face of a murderer. Who has the potential of becoming mine.

Chapter Text

The grip on my hair is excruciating but I know there is nothing I can do. I am completely and utterly at his mercy.
Ha.
Like that disadvantage would ever deter me.
I thrash around trying to escape from his hold but he flings me brutally back towards the middle of the dance hall. I land heavily on my shattered leg and my vision is suddenly clouded with black spots. I grunt in agony as I slowly regain my sight and try to muster any strength to lift myself from the hard uncomfortable floor.
My sword and sheath have been thrown from my body and skidded across the floor completely out of my reach. Before I can lift myself too high off the floor a boot is brought down roughly on my back.
The force is too great and I find myself with my face pressed back against the floor.
“I’m going to enjoy this.” Damien removes his foot from my back only to replace it with a swift kick in my side with abundant strength and I am flung against one of the fallen pillars. A whimper escapes me; I can feel some of the fire underneath me begin to devour my dress and skin. It is scorching but I simply do not have the strength to move. I have to tolerate the burns.
Damien then returns his grip on my hair and I am brought up to eye level once again but I can barely keep my eyes open. I don’t have the chance to prepare myself for the excruciating punch that connects with my right jaw. A spurt of blood follows his fist’s path and he releases his grip on my hair. I crumple back to the floor, cruelly, coughing up blood as I receive another swift kick to my stomach. The air leaves from my lungs so harshly and I grip my stomach to relieve some of the pain.
“Is that all you got?” I manage to choke out and that rewards me with a hand enclosing around my wrist and yanking it back over my head. Snapping it mercilessly. I can’t stop the cry and the tears that burn in my eyes.
It’s all too much.
Damien takes a step back to admire his handiwork and I muster what little strength I have left to pull myself upright. Clutching my devastated arm to my body as I stare down him unafraid.
If I am to die here, then I will fight every step of the way.
“Are you too good to beg for your life, Alexandria?” Damien questions me after a few moments of silence.
“Nikki….” Rogue’s hushed broken cry of my name is heard and I look down. Letting my mangled hair cover my eyes and the sad smile that plays on my lips. I know, deep down, he didn’t betray me but… I wish he wasn’t here to watch my ugly demise.
I grant myself a look of him for it could be the last one I ever have and I see his eyes are on me as well. Just as I thought, he had indeed watched the whole thing. I look away ashamed before the image of him makes me cry. I lift my head once more to stare into the eyes of the monster. Fearless, I let the smile come back and I challenge, “If you’re going to kill me just get it over with already because I can’t take another bloody minute of you rambling on.”
Damien reacting angrily and preparing to give another kick to me. I don’t flinch…but then… nothing comes. Strangely, he smiles, “You’re right. I should have killed you a long time ago…” A moment of silence then he continues, “…but I can’t make it that swift for you.” My eyes open wide at his surprising response.
Damien gives me another devious smile as the evil thoughts swirl inside his mind.
He lifts his palm up and moves his finger like strumming an instrument. I watch confused then it hits.
A million knife stabbing me from the inside. Mercilessly. I drop forward on my arms as a scream sounds through the air.
The pain… The pain is like nothing I have ever felt before.
The knives cutting me up from the inside out. I can’t stop the screams.
Damien leans over me, amused, “You seem to be enjoying my little trick, no?”
My only response is another scream of pain. Please stop this. I can’t… I can’t take anymore.
Then in an instant; it’s gone. Damien takes a step back and slowly I regain control over myself once more but the remints of the torture is still lurking around.
It feels like it could happen again at any moment.
“Well now that I have had my fun… I believe it is time for the great finale. Don’t you agree, my dear?” I lift my chin to look up at Damien. For there is no other way I will go out. I will face death head on.
His raises his hand and a black swirl of magical energy starts to build.
It grows bigger and bigger until it is about the size of a small car. I don’t look away; I stare wholeheartedly into the dark abyss that is death. It leaves Damien’s hand and begins to barrel towards me.
Rogue’s scream for mercy is the last thing I hear as my world is engulfed in darkness.

It is so peacefully quiet but for me… it is eerie. The world… My world… is not supposed to be this quiet.
Then I feel as if I’m slammed against a brick wall. It shakes me to the very core even chattering my teeth. This must be what death feels like: excruciating quiet and pain. The quiet begins to fade as I can make out the faint whisper of wind whipping around me and something beating.
What is that? It sounds so close almost as if it is pressed right up against my ear.
It sounds…. It sounds almost like… almost like… a heartbeat. Is it mine? …but that’s impossible… if I’m dead I wouldn’t have a heartbeat… no that can’t be right.
Then why it is so loud? If only I could understand.
The chaos of muddled noises continues to increase in volume. Screams, footsteps, wind, a heartbeat…
That force is still pressed against my body as I crack my eyes open narrowly to find…. A button?
What?
My eyes open wider to bring into focus a… a man’s chest. I follow the trail of buttons up and I am rewarded with a view of something that instantly brings tears to my eyes.
“H…Ha…Haji.” A shattered version of his name is barely formed because I can’t stop the hitching of my breath.
The tears fall and I don’t bother to brush them away. I stare upon his face as he looks down at me. A voice I never thought I’d hear again apologizes, “Sorry I am late, Miss.” I can’t stop the uncontrollable giggle that forms, “Better late than never.” I have never been so thankful…
I realize now that the brick wall I felt was being slammed against Haji’s body as he crashed into me to remove me from the range of Damien’s attack.
I look down from Haji’s arms and notice we are in the rafters about 30 feet up from the dance floor.
My eyes widen as I realize he could have been easily hurt to save me. I ask Haji if he is alright. Another small smirk forms on his lips, “I should be asking you that, Miss.” That means yes.
I reach my only working hand out to him and begin to look for wounds but his arms retract from my body as he sets me down, gently, on one of the rafters. He pulls away and turns his back to me showing me the gaping wound on his left side, “There is another important matter at hand…”
Haji unfolds his wings as he jumps down from the rafting heading straight for Damien. I scream over the rafter, “Haji! NO!” but it falls on deaf ears.

Rogue’s P.O.V
So broken and fragile. It brought tears to my eyes but for her I wouldn’t shed them. As her eyes fell on me I felt my heart shatter even more. Out of respect I held her gaze. Her once elegant dressed had been ripped and torn. One particular slit of fabric exposed a cruel and bloody cut on her side. Soaking the gray fabric dark red. Her face was dusted with black bruises and that is when my gaze locked on the necklace hanging from her neck. It had somehow managed to stay intact but was splattered with red.
The necklace was still there, clinging to her like I wished I could. I wanted to protect her and I sense Damien knew I would try too because he cast this pillar on top of me. No matter how much magic I tried to throw it off me; it was futile. I only could watch defeated as Nikki was beaten right in front of my very eyes.
I was positive that this would be over soon and I would never be able to forgive myself.
I heard Nikki’s challenge and the weight of her words rang in my ears.
I stared in disbelief as the magic energy began to swirl and grow in size readying to take her away from me. As it left Damien’s possession and made its way towards her I felt an explosive roar of her name arise from me and a plea for her life to be spared…
I had failed.
I had failed her.
Her cry never came.
A shade of black clouded my vision and I heard Damien holler and more shots of, what I’d guess to be, his magic ringing loudly throughout the hall. I tried to follow the flash of black as it was flying around the hall but my eyes could not keep up with its speed.
That was until it settled on one of the rafters high above me and I could make out a disfigured Haji… with black wings? He has something in his arms. At closer inspection I felt my heart leap into my throat. He has her!
To confirm my silent prayer, I looked back at the ground Nikki had previously occupied only to find it vacant.
He had saved her life.
She is wounded badly but she would live. That’s all I could ever ask for.
I hear her scream and my thoughts are interrupted as I look up to see Haji fly down from the rafters ready to attack Damien. The two interlock in battle. Damien using his black magic and Haji dodging the blasts until given an opening for his claw to connect with the side of Damien’s head. When it finally does Damien is hurled backwards smashing through the wall.
At that moment the doors of the Guild Hall slam open and the entire Sabertooth guild looks ready for battle. Sting is standing at the head of the mob and roars, “We have come to destroy the two demons that threatened our guild and the lives of our teammates!” Two?
Dammit!
Damien must have established a backup plan if his fell through to make Nikki and Haji out to be the bad guys. I yell attempting to gain Sting’s attention but my voice is washed away by their chants as they start to circle Haji. This is not the time to try and talk rationally when these people are so overcome by their emotions. Seeing their guild in shambles it is too much for them.
I yell over the crowd to Haji, “Haji! You have to get her out of here, NOW!” His eyes look to me only for a second then my words resonate. He flies up to the rafters to retrieve her. Blasts of magical energy crash all around them causing the beams to shake and start to collapse.
The two start to lose their balance and fall from the rafters. “No!” When a blinding light fills the guild and the rafters crash loudly to the floor.
Haji and Nikki are gone without a trace.

I begin to fall in and out of consciousness when I hear Sting’s declaration of attack. Without my powers and strength, I am helpless. I have to do something but before I can my faithful Saint gathered me up in his arms once more. I feel a tremor shake from the rafters as they give and we begin to fall. I cling tighter to Haji as an extraordinary white light clouds my vision.
I feel a change in air and I look down to see Haji has his feet planted firmly on the ground. He used my backup plan. Sensing we are no longer in immediate danger, I ask him to set me down gently. He does so with restraint and takes a few steps back but not leaving my side.
I glance around me and see the house I built. My shelter. That’s when I can’t hold it back any longer. Tears flood my eyes once more and the wave of everything that has happened slams into me.
Frosch almost being killed. The battle. The injuries. Rogue. My own people believing I am a monster. Almost being slaughter by the very people I swore my life to. Being too weak to protect myself and the people I hold dear.
It is all too much for me to contain any longer.
The tears and wails of pain continue to spill over until I’m finally overcome by my own subconscious.

Chapter Text

A white light…

The chirping of birds.

A waterfall somewhere off in the distance.

And footsteps…loud footsteps.

Then… I open my eyes. It is painful adjusting to the light spilling through the windows.

Slowly, I begin to awake stiff in my bed to find my wounds cleaned and bandaged; I try to sit up and it's like I'm swimming through quicksand. A pain shoots through my side in protest. I gasp and clench my eyes shut from the sting and feel the pressure of hands trying to ease me back down. I hear a man commanding, "Don't try to move too much, Miss." It's a wonder you're still alive. "Miss" Haji.

I lift my eyes to look at him, only to see my once prestigious Saint all covered in dried blood and soot.

Our blood is mingled and dried on his clothes. "Oh Haji." A broken cry and he feels the need to look away. "Please don't cry anymore." he pleads. I nod my head and the instinct to make sure he is really there comes to me. I need to know this isn't a dream. I reach out with my working hand to tug on his torn sleeve. I can feel it between my fingers. He's real. I don't wait for him to look down at me before I provide him with an authentic apology. This causes him to turn his head back, staring at me. Now I am the one that has to look away, ashamed.

I not only put my life at risk but Haji's too.

I hear him sigh and feel a weight press into the bed beside me. "You have nothing to apologize for, Miss… Well I suppose other than trying to take down Damien on your own and nearly getting yourself killed in the process…" A long exhale, "That was certainly reckless, Miss."

I keep my head low and whisper, "I know…" I don't want him to be mad at me.

I bring my eyes back to him and ask, "Can I have a peek of your wound?" I see the question in his eyes but he raises the tail end of his dirty white button up shirt, anyway. The once gaping wound is nothing but a simple small scar along his side.

Haji saved me.

Saved me.

I'm the one who is supposed to do the saving.

I feel my body move on its own accord. With my good arm I wrap it around his body and squeeze. His body stills instantly under my touch. I know this is more than likely uncomfortable for him but I need this. Only for a second.

I squeeze him once more and release him from my hold. Falling back against the pillows, I mutter practically to myself, "I'm glad you're not hurt."

He hears me effortlessly, "I can't say the same for you, Miss."

So he is going to pretend that didn't happen. I'm positive that had to be his first hug. I wonder if he even knows that is what it is called. Haha.

I shoot him a look for his comment and he acts as if he does not notice it.

"How long have I been out?" I inquire.

"Three days." A gasp comes from me. I had not thought a whole three days had passed! What has happened in those three days in Magnolia? No. No. I shake my head and tell myself I don't need to think of that yet. I'm not ready.

"And you decided to forgo a shower?" I poke playfully trying to achieve some form of easiness.

"I couldn't leave your side." His honest response makes my eyes widen in surprise. I really worried him, didn't I? I place my hand on his arm to pull his eyes back to me. "Thank you, Haji and I really am sorry."

Haji stands dusting off and adjusting his button up, "Certainly." His stoic mask once again in place and I can't help but smile.

I pull the covers away and can't stop my eyes from wandering over my beaten body. My left arm is in a sling resting against my stomach and most of my body is covered in bandages. I see my shattered right leg is engulfed in a full leg cast and it weighs a bloody ton. I try to lift it again but that isn't going to work in the state I am in.

Thankfully, Haji covered me in a black slip. I turn my back silently asking for him to button it up. When that is done I look to Haji for help once more and I can tell by his eyes he already knows I am going to ask something he won't approve of. I trudge forward anyway, "Will you help me up?" He doesn't give me an immediate answer; I'm sure trying to give himself enough time to come up with an efficient 'no'.

I practically whimper, "Come on Haji, I wanna go outside. Please?" I fake the biggest pout of my lip and I can tell it works.

My near-death experience has swayed my usually law-abiding Saint from his straight and narrow path.

He huffs and turns to kneel beside my bed signaling me to climb on. Another smile becomes plastered on my face as I hook my good arm over his shoulder and lift myself up. His arms come back to wrap under my legs being extra careful with the cast and stands with me comfortably situated on his back walking towards the door.

My body might be in the most devastating state, but I have never felt better. Resting against one of the rocks lining the waterfall I inhale deeply even though it sparks a small pain in my chest. I lay my head back and close my eyes truly enjoying the peace and quiet that I never thought I'd feel again. One truly finds a new appreciation for such trivial things brushing so close to death.

The moment I brought her back here… her cries echoed through land. I believed it would never end, then she collapsed from exhaustion. There was so much blood.

Her dress practically soaked in it.

I must have worked on her beaten and battered body for hours. As I was able to close one wound I would discover another. She lost too much blood and I was certain she wouldn't survive…

I began to notice this world becoming weaker and I feared the worst…

Then one night as I stayed beside her bed observing her sleep, I notice several of the smaller wounds beginning to heal. It was a slow process but surely she began to stir.

She made it out of the woods… Somehow, she managed to survive. A miracle in itself. She has much more to live for and it wasn't her time.

Haji walking outside with a tray of tea, he finds me in a peaceful rest.

For a moment I feared she stopped breathing but the rise and fall of her chest shoos away that irrational thought. She is alive. She made it.

I won't let that close call happen again; I'll protect her.

I hear the crunch of leaves and my eyes spring open to find my freshly cleaned Saint standing before me. In his outreached hand is a cup of tea and by the smell coming off it I know it is my favorite. My lips curl up in a smile and with my good hand I reach to take it from his grasp.

I nod my thanks and he takes a seat on the ground in front of me.

Even after all she has endured… a smile doesn't leave her lips.

"What do you wish to do now, Miss? Stay in hiding for you to have time to heal?"

A laugh rings out from my lips…

Laughter?

I salvage enough composure to speak, "Ha! Not a chance, I'm going to make him pay for what he has done to me…

I'll let my leg have time to heal so I can walk without this bloody cast and we will begin to gather our next Saint… Damien won't be going into hiding; he will be looking for new cowardly ways to destroy me and we can't let him be the only one that is getting stronger! Now can we?" I respond smugly.

I see something flash in Haji's eyes but I can't make it out. He agrees promptly, "No we most certainly cannot, Miss."

I extend my glass out to him and he returns the gesture. The cups of tea clink in acknowledgement of our silent and thankful toast that we are here to have it.

This war is far from over… No, it is only just beginning.

I'm coming after you, Damien.

The mansion I thought would be filled with reassuring noise is deafening quiet. I failed in my mission to retrieve another Saint…not just failing but nearly getting him killed in the process. Gazing out the window, I can't help where my thoughts lead me… I wonder if Rogue and Frosch got out of the collapsing guild hall. I am sure they did and their injuries have healed. Things, I hope, have returned to normal for them. I hope they are out of harm's way now that I am out of their lives.

I shake my head trying to rid these painful thoughts. I must continue on with my journey and looking behind me won't let me do that.

Many weeks have passed since the incident in Magnolia. My leg has healed for the most part; I focused most of my healing energy there since it was hindering me so. Which means the rest of my body is still a little sore but I'll take that over that bloody cast.

Truthfully, I haven't worn much of real clothes because it is too much trouble with my aching body. My tank top, shorts and robe has become quite the staple. Not that important seeing how Haji and I have not left the safe house but that will change in the very near future. It's time to meet the newest addition to our team.

I don't plan on letting this one get away.

This one, I know, will be a challenge. In the realm of Cross Academy there is a young man dealing first hand with his own demons. He has succumbed to a virus that has the potential to destroy him. However, that is only half the problem, this man is quite literally battling the very monsters he is trying not to become. He is a warrior destined to protect his own world and destroy all who stand in his way. Including the very woman, he loves for she is one of the purest of these monsters. Their leader.

It is a heartbreaking tale. Worst of all, his lover resembles myself. This makes it difficult to even get close to him. I will have to take an alternative approach in dealing with him.

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to establish some sort of game plan so I am not walking right into harm's way. Zero is impulsive and his desire to destroy her will take over his ability to think clearly… He would kill me without a second thought if I cannot make who I am clear and quickly.

I stand up from the window sill I have been occupying thinking I'll feel better if I talk with Haji about this.

I find my Saint sitting in the dining room with our notes scattered on the table and a cup of tea in his hand. The man doesn't know the definition of, "break". Without looking up from his work he greets me. A grin pulling on my lips at my dedicated Saint.

I don't bother to take a seat instead I walk up to look over his shoulder at one note in particular that it in his hand. It's the description of Zero's relationship with that woman. The one who resembles me; attached is a photo of the two. I can't help but smile seeing the pair so young and care-free. Zero, of course, only slightly smiling but the smile is still there. Looking at the girl the resemblance is uncanny. The only striking difference is her bloody brown eyes. Truly alluring.

I become lost in thought but can hear Haji barely, "This is the woman he has sworn to kill, correct Miss?" I gulp and nod as an answer.

"I have a proposition, Miss." I drag my eyes away from the photo to look over at Haji silently signaling for him to continue. He sets the paper and picture back on the table and continues, "I will go to Cross Academy and speak to Zero. I will offer him a proposition of sorts and where to come if he chooses to accept. I will not tell him anything of you other than he will be meet with someone to hear the proposition in full." After I make myself clear that if he so much as touches you he will suffer a fate worse than death.

That way Zero will have an idea of what I want and not know who to expect. I weigh the pros and cons in my mind and come to the conclusion it is one of the better we have. I will still have to be on my guard.

Zero is unpredictable and even worse he is unbalanced. There is not a deadlier combination.

Chapter Text

I agreed to go along with Haji’s suggestion, and we arrived on the Cross Academy grounds in the late hours of a chilly eerie night. I requested to stay in this realm with Haji because I know his meeting will be over shortly. I nod to my Saint and begin to make way to where I’ll be meeting with Zero after Haji is done.
The Cross Academy dorms are practically empty as summer has arrived and classes have been dismissed for the holiday. Zero has a permanent room in the dorms year-round and that is where Haji finds himself. Looking through the window into the unlit bedroom he does not spot who he is looking for but hearing approaching footsteps, he flies back and conceals himself in the blanket of night like a dark angel.
Waiting for the perfect moment to strike and now with Zero’s back to him; he takes it. Haji crashes through the window shattering the glass and flying inside. He hovers in the moonlight with his wings flapping slightly to keep him in the air, Zero turns and doesn’t seem to be phased by a demon crashing into his bedroom in the middle of the night.
Must be a regular occurrence.
Zero draws his weapon confidently and points it at Haji. However, Haji doesn’t move to attack or flee but simply looks upon Zero with his arms crossed waiting to see if he’ll shoot.
Detecting that is what Haji is waiting for, Zero lowers his gun but does not put it away. He must ask, “Why do you believe I will not shoot you, demon?”
Haji responds robotically, “Because you have no intention of dying tonight.” Zero grunts in reply. Retracting his wings to land gracefully and dusting himself off. Haji begins to close the distance between him and Zero. Zero doesn’t take any steps back and Haji stops directly in front of him; crossing his arms once more.
“I come baring a warning. If you decide to accept, you will meet with my master tonight on the roof of the tallest building on your grounds… They will have an offer for you that you’d be absurd to dismiss, but hear me this boy, if you so much as breathe on them… I’ll rip every limb off your body with my bare hands and watch the blood drain as I use one of your arms as a bent flying disk. Is that clear, vampire?”
Zero growls and the two men glare at the other as Haji’s threat sinks in. Haji turns to leave, but someone has the audacity to correct him, “You mean like a boomerang?” Haji halts and looks back to Zero to glare once again, “I will not hesitate to kill you, pretty boy.”
Zero arrogantly challenges the Saint, “I’d love to see you try, ponytail.”
With speed only Haji maintains, he is back in front of Zero.
Haji leans in closer, baring his fangs and snarling, “Don’t test me.” He doesn’t want for another comeback as he calls out his wings once more and flies from the room.


A dark and chilly night at Cross Academy only strengthens my want of a cloak. It conceals and warms my body. Also, hopefully I’ll be able to speak to Zero easier if he does not know what I look like.
Waiting for him to arrive on the roof; I can’t help but grow impatient as the time ticks by. He is late.
Looking over the grounds I am sure Haji is somewhere nearby even though I requested to let me do this by myself. I sigh loudly then hear the door crack open in front of me. Without thinking I conceal my aura and watch as a man of great stature steps into the moonlight causing his silver hair to reflect beautifully. Zero is leaner than I would have guessed. He’s just as tall as Haji, maybe even a few inches taller. He walks over to the edge of the building slowly but elegantly. Like every move he makes is precise and thoughtful.
I draw my hood up to conceal my face and release my shield as I step into the dim moonlight. His body shows no acknowledgment of me… that is why his voice spooks me so badly.
“So you’re the boss of the goon that came to speak with me earlier?”
Goon?
Big bully. My eyes narrow; I pull the hood closer and softly respond, “I would appreciate if you do not speak in such a manner regarding him.” Zero spins around making a move towards me but his feet meet resistance. Zero looks down at his body not responding with confusion. His blinding lavender eyes then move up to look at me. He sees that my hand is extend towards him and comprehends the resistance is of my doing. “I can’t have you doing something foolish, Zero.” Answering his unspoken question.
He responds quite shockingly, “Hmph, you’re a woman. Which would mean the goon is most likely your lover.” I grasp at the accusation and the very thought. I have never encountered someone so ill-mannered.
I regain my composure; and slow my breathing down, “No and I will not tell you again. Do not speak of him in that manner or you won’t live long enough to repeat your mistake.” She’s got bite. Zero’s eyes turn to slits at my threat and I see his hand twitch. I challenge him, “Zero… You wouldn’t be trying to reach for your Bloody Rose would you? I could kill you before you even got one finger wrapped around the trigger and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?” His stoic face doesn’t falter and somehow I find myself confessing, “It can’t kill me.” His eyes flash back to mine once again and senses I am not lying.
I have no intention of harming Zero but I can’t let him call my bluff.
I hear a huff of annoyance and he demands, “Spit it out. What do you want from me? Speak. So I can refuse and you be on your way.”
The side of my lips twitch up in an almost smile, “Oh I have reason to believe that will not be the case.” Zero rubs a hand down his face clearly irritated and I smile wider. I do not know why I find his aggravation so amusing.
But I decide to stop toying with him and take a gentler, more authentic, approach, “I am sorry to hear of your brot—“ His eyes widen at the mention of his brother and roars, “Shut your mouth!” His body shaking with anger; I quickly recover, “I have seemed to touch a nerve. That was not my intention; I apologize.” Another frustrated huff as he strains to rein in his almost uncontrollable anger.
I knew this would be a challenge, “Zero. Let’s cut to the chase… I know all about you, how your once prominent family of vampire hunters were killed late one night while you were still so young. You were sent to live with the Cross family. The headmaster took you in and over the last decade or so you fell in love with his daughter. Merely to succumb to your own vampire weakness and nearly getting yourself killed only to be saved by the very girl you swore to protect. That was until you discovered the woman of your affection just so happens to be the pureblood of all vampire kind and you swore on your life to destroy her…” As I am speaking his wide lavender eyes never leave me. He speaks after a few minutes of silence, “How do you know all this?”
“Well, because…” Do I lie? No… No more lies. “…because I’m God--” A roar of menacing laughter interrupts me. I exhale loudly and fling back my hood freely my long black hair from its hold. The laughter dissipates instantly, and I hear Zero mumble her name in disbelief, “Yuki…” He starts to reach for me and I panic; hastily stilling the rest of his body and pulling him down to fall on his knees. I correct him, “No! I am not Yuki, Zero.” Thankfully, this somewhat registers with him but he continues to just stare at me as if I am lying. His eyes shine with pain and I drop to my knees in front of him but not close enough so I am within his grasp. With his height difference being so drastic and I find myself still looking up at him. I don’t think he fully comprehends and I continue to point of our differences. Grabbing my hair and showing him, “See my hair is black and look at my eyes.” He does and I find myself looking into never-ending pools of purple once again. “My eyes are not brown… I do not smell like her, Zero. You know I don’t… and most importantly Zero, I am not a vampire.”
There is a long silence between us but it is interrupted by the tattoo on his neck starting to glow bright red. Zero began to gasp painfully and I release my hold on his body. He crashes forward on his arms grunting in pain. I look down at his shaking form and I fill with such sadness. He is losing in this battle with his vampire side and I know he is suffering greatly. Even if he doesn’t accept my offer, he is still my Saint… with that comes my want to protect and help him.
“I come with good intentions.” I whisper softly, fumbling around in my cloak for the item I am looking for. Finally, wrapping my fingers around a small glass jar filled with pink shiny pills. I remove the lid and shake one out to land in my open palm. I lean down to him and hold out my hand, “Take this, Zero.” He looks up slightly with distrust in his blood red eyes and pain all over his face; I try to reassure him but the torture he is in it doesn’t leave Zero with many other options.
His hand trembles as he takes the pills from my hand.
Sure enough the shakes start to slow and his once cringing body starts to relax.
Zero lifts his body back to rest in a sitting position; I wait for an act of gratitude that never comes. I roll my eyes and begin to put the bottle safety back inside my cloak. His comment stalls my movements, “So now I guess, you believe I owe you after helping me.”
I look down at the pills in my hand, “No I don’t…. and to show you I mean you no harm. Here.” I hold out the jar and wait for him to take it. His eyes turn into slits once more because of the distrust so I set the bottle on the ground in front of him. I stand up and gather my hood once more, “Keep the pills but when you grow tired of taking them only for temporary relief… I have the real cure waiting for you. You’ll know where to find me.” I leave Zero; walking over to the edge of the roof and vaulting over the railing with my cloak whipping behind me.
Like Yuki use to do.

I walk through the forest that lines the Cross Academy grounds annoyed at how the meeting went. I stop walking around aimlessly when I accidently reach the meeting place. I know I’m at the right location but looking around me I can’t find Haji. I start to worry until I hear the branches above me rustle.
I glance up and see Haji high above me surveying the grounds on a branch. I leap into the air and grab onto a tree limb to pull myself up. It takes only a short time of climbing to reach his level.
I lean back against the adjacent tree to look across at him. “What? No campfire or a freshly prepared meal?” I mock.
Haji responding in classical Haji fashion, “A fire would draw unwanted attention and I made sure you ate before we left, Miss.”
I chuckle and remind him, “I am only joking, Haji.”
I hear an understanding “Oh” and I chuckle even more. I lean back further into the tree and shut my eyes, “Just get some rest, Haji. We got a big day ahead of us.”

Chapter Text

I am jolted from my sleep shortly after sunrise and lose my balance; I fall what must have been 20 feet out of the tree I had been sleeping in. Even for a God… that hurt. The rough ground is not easy on my already beaten body. Rubbing my sore back, I look around for the reasoning behind the blood curling scream that awoke me. Only to find the nearby town engulfed in flames. The once beautiful town now painted the same color as the morning sun. I almost can't believe what I am seeing.

Haji glides down from the tree with such grace I can't help but feel envy. He is crouched over me of course, concerned about my wellbeing.

My people are in danger.

I don't dwell on my lack of grace or the dull pain from the fall; I push myself off the ground and start sprinting towards the town. My cloak whipping in the wind from my speed. Haji follows close behind but wisely choosing not to use his wings he hopes to avoid creating more fear. Running through the streets, people are fleeing in the opposite direction but feeling this is nothing less than our duty. We head straight in the direction of screams.

Until I hear a high pitch cry above me it stops me dead in my tracks. I frantically look around for who is creating such a heartbreaking noise. My eyes lock on to a small child hanging from the window of a burning three story building across from us. She is about to lose her grip! "Haji!" I nearly scream and before I can completely get his name out of my mouth, my Saint is up in the air grabbing her and carrying her down to safety. His feet hit the ground and he carefully holds her out to me. I wrap my arms around her small fragile body and thoughts, of not long ago, flood my mind of when my arms once held a fragile being also who I had trouble slowing her tears...

I am pulled from my sad thoughts as the little girl calls out for her mother. I turn around and see the woman that the child in my arms is trying so hard to reach. I hold the little girl out to her rightful mother and the older women's tears are my reward. She clings to her baby and cries such happy tears because her daughter is alive.

That was the first time I witnessed no fear because of Haji and his demon wings. Simply, and purely gratitude.

Nikki.

Now is not the time, these two are still at risk. This town is crumbling around us. Haji and I push them along to evacuate immediately and they frantically go.

I turn back on my heels and jog along following the trail of destruction. Searching for anyone else in danger that is in need for our help.

We stumble upon an opening just on the outskirts of the town. Before I can take inventory of what is going on Haji wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me roughly back against him. He soars up to the nearest roof overlooking the opening. He releases me and takes several steps around me and moves to the edge of the roof. I am about to unload my questions on him when I finally take a hard look at the scene in front of us and understand his actions. Occupying the opening is five Level E's and near them are the bodies of what would appear to be a small pile of their victims. Dismantled. Devoured. Destroyed.

We have just stumbled upon a battle. A battle that has caused my people pain.

I feel a gasp build as I recognize who is on the opposing end of the Level E's… I would know that silver hair anywhere.

It's Zero but with his back to us, he hasn't noticed us yet. Even for such a skilled hunter as Zero five of these hungry creatures is going to be almost impossible to defeat at once. They are beastly things with plentiful strength and erratic movement. Not to mention, they can sense Zero is on the verge of becoming one of them. That adds fuel to their desire fire to complete his transformation. Simply one in the right conditions could overpower Zero. Not that he is weak in any sense, simply these creatures are unpredictable and savage beings.

I am contemplating how Haji and I are to approach this situation when on the edge of my line of sight, I see a Level E I didn't take into account, about to attack Zero from behind. He doesn't even see her!

"ZERO!" My instincts take over as I fling myself from the roof and land directly on top of the monster right before she can get her vile fingers on him. My momentum causes us to roll as I struggle against her for the upper hand. We quickly come to a stop and she lands on top pinning me under her. Her crazy bloody eyes and sharp fangs try to pierce my skin. I have to grasp tighter around her neck to keep her from biting me. Even as a God, their undead venom could be detrimental to me. I'd like to not find out the exact repercussions if I can help it.

I take a deep breath, regain my composure, and release an explosion of my magical energy to explode her head. Then the rest of her body turns to ash just as Haji is beside me asking if I'm alright. I take his extended hand and dust myself off but I make sure not to turn my back to the other demons who look like they are on the verge of pouncing. Haji and I back up slowly to stand alongside Zero. His gun still raised and his mouth slightly agape. She risked her life to save mine?

"Don't worry, you don't have to thank me for helping you this time either." Zero scoffs at my comment but doesn't offer a comeback. "Zero, let us help." He doesn't look at me but indifferently responds, "You two better be able to keep up. You will have to take them out at the same time I do or they could gain control of the situation." So… he must believe me at least somewhat. It's a start.

I nod and look to Haji. He signals he is ready, and I turn my gaze back to Zero. "On your count then, oh mighty one." My voice dripping heavily with sarcasm. This man has an immature effect on my behavior.

Zero, ignoring me, takes a breath and instructions, "Now!"

Haji flings his blade to cut off the heads of the furthest two on the left. I send a pulse of energy to blow a gaping hole in the midsection of the one directly in front of me and Zero shoots two bullets into the foreheads of the last two. All bodies fall to the ground; defeated.

I begin to relax…

That is when a chill runs up my spine and I inhale sharply.

I know that stench.

Blood.

And a lot of it.

There are more of them nearby before I can tell the others, I sense the atmosphere around us change. We're in horrible danger.

We are surrounded.

Haji looks in my direction obviously noticing that something is wrong; I yell out so they will understand my panic, "We have to get out of here! Now!" Haji doesn't waste a second, he moves to my side and begins to scan the area surrounding us to identify the threat I speak of.

It's too late. I can feel them.

They are everywhere. On the roofs, covering the sidewalks, inside the buildings, and filling any empty space… They are surrounding us. There must be at least 50 of them.

Those Level E's before were simply stalling us!

We don't stand a chance. With traveling to a different realm and already using my powers in a small fight; I'm almost completely drained. I only have the need to survive: I have to get my team and return home.

Haji is waiting nearby for me to take us to safety but is astonished when I don't make a move to return home. I realize Zero is not within my range to take him to safety along with us.

I can't leave him behind.

But I don't have much time! And I have used up the majority of my power. I'm running out of options.

I must protect them. I must. No matter the cost.

That declaration fills my very being and I suddenly feel foreign magic rushing through my body. It feels so different and something about it is slightly off but as it flows through my body I feel myself growing stronger. Time around me begins to slow… Haji reaching out to me with his extended hand stops in midair. I see everything and everyone around me freeze. I feel my feet leave the ground and my sight begins to fade away.

Darkness.

All I see around me is black… I don't like this.

But the darkness begins to become dotted with red.

I know in my core what they are. My targets. My enemies.

I must destroy them. I must destroy them all. It is a desire like no other I have ever experienced. The desire to kill. The need to kill.

A colossal wave of power rips from me and around the three of us. All the Level E's are thrown back harshly from the wave of colorless power. Along with it came a rush of excitement and I loved every minute of it!

As quickly as it began: it's over. I feel the extraordinary power leave me and I have never felt so alone… never felt so weak. My vision returns to normal and my feet are placed firmly on the ground once again.

Time picks back up.

No one knows what happened… other than me.

But I don't have time to study it… This is an opportunity like no other and I don't have time to waste the gift I was given.

I run as quickly as I can towards Zero stopping right behind him. Close even to grab and drag him with us if I have to. I scream, "Zero, we have to leave now! Something bought us some time but we don't have long! Come with us!"

Silence. He is looking towards the Level E's that are beginning to regain their balance and race towards us.

Time is running out. My head is screaming to turn back and leave right now but my heart is even louder. I can't leave him. I won't.

I plead wholeheartedly, "Zero! We have to get out of here!"

Nothing.

Fear overwhelms my body. He'll die if he stays here. I'll take him by force if I have to!

I try one more time "Zero, Please! Please let me save you!" My cracked voice stirs him to turn and glance back at me. He notices the tears that are beginning to build in my eyes and for a minute I don't believe he will come with us… but to my surprise he pockets his gun and turns completely around.

Why would she cry for someone like me?

Zero spins me around by my shoulders and pushes me back to Haji; I'm afraid Zero will turn and leave once I am near Haji so I grab on tightly to his sleeve.

Shockingly, Zero makes no move to leave. To reassure myself further I also grab ahold of Haji as we are engulfed in a blinding light and the Level E's spring to attack us.

A second later and…

But I feel the air change around us first, then the distinctive smells fill my nose and I relax. We are back home.

I have officially collected my second Saint and everyone is home safe. Even with all the close calls, we managed to pull it off!

I quickly realize I still have a grasp on Zero's jacket sleeve and instantly release. Wanting to put some distance between us, I take a step back and look around at my home in disbelief.

I actually accomplished a mission. An important one at that!

I can't stop the laughter that erupts from my body. The two men glance at me but I ignore them. I unclasp my hood and fold it over my arm. Spinning around with my hands waving about similar to that of a child but I don't care! I skip towards the house truly appreciating that I was able to return home with another member of our team! Which means I am one step closer to taking back my throne! Who wouldn't be overcome with emotion?

For once, my mind is clear and free.

I have the craving for some tea! Letting my mind focus on trivial things is such a relief.

Temporarily forgetting about the unknown power that provided us with the opportunity to escape.

Chapter Text

Zero spins around gradually taking in a world he has never seen. “That’s one way to travel...” Zero mumbled exasperated under his breath. His gaze falls on the black haired woman walking away from him, “Hey! Do you get frequent flyer miles?” He calls out sarcasm dripping from his mouth.
I decide it is in my good mood’s best interest to pretend as if I don’t hear Zero. Quite frankly, I haven’t the slightest idea what he is referring to.
As I close in on the mansion, I feel a weight latch on to my wrist and I glance back to see it enclosed in Zero’s hand. I raise an eyebrow and Zero instantly lets my wrist go. He ahems and complains, “You never told me what you wanted with me. You never even told me your name.”
“I see. You are right… Here, let’s remedy that… Follow me inside.” I turn my back to him and continue; anticipating him to follow.
Inside the house I signal, “Haji.” He doesn’t wait for me to indulge and heads into the kitchen. Detecting Zero is still behind me, “We can talk in the den.” I say over my shoulder.
We make our way through the house and I let Zero take in his potential new home. We reach the den and I gesture with my hand for him to take a seat. He declines to sit and I go to my chair. I throw my cloak over the back of my chair and pull my skirts to the side so I can sit more comfortably. I try to steady my heartbeat and give Zero time to collect his thoughts. I pick up the sword that was resting against my chair and lay it in my lap. I suddenly feel more relaxed with it in my grasp.
I really need to take it with me for now on. I will never learn to use it if I don’t even carry it with me.
Realizing I have become lost in my own train of thoughts and apparently have upset Zero in the process with my being distracted. I place the sword beside the chair once more, and begin what will probably be an exhausting conversation, “What would you like to know, Zero?”
Another huff of frustration.
He sure does that a lot.
However, this time, he provides me with an answer, “Start with your name.”
I intertwine my hands to keep me from fidgeting and let them rest against my thighs, “My name is Nikki. Nice to meet you. What else?”
“Who are you?”
I chuckle I rarely get asked that question, “Well I have already answered that, Zero. I am God.”
Zero’s loud roar rings throughout the den right as Haji opens the door, “Cut the crap!”
My eyes spring wide open and I’m really shocked this man has the gall to yell at me. I can tell Haji is struggling to maintain his composure as he shakenly sets the tray of tea down on the table. I hold up my hand comforting him and silently signaling him I will take care of it.
“Zero,” He is still noticeably aggravated and I try again with more force, “Zero.” His eyes lock onto mine and I take that as a good sign. “I assure you, I am telling you nothing but the truth. I have provided you safety and shelter. I have also given you the opportunity to ask me all your questions to your heart’s desire and I will not insult you by being dishonest…” I pick up my cup and take a drink to let the weight of my words settle in. His eyes continue to watch me. I can see Zero doesn’t believe me. Setting the cup down, I continue, “I am God but I am one at a disadvantage. A very wicked man murdered my mentor. He has taken what should be my power for himself. That is why I have called upon you…” Gesturing to Haji, “That is why I have called upon Haji, I am in need of a team, of Saints if you will, that can help me in my battle. I plan to take back my throne and I need your help to do that.”
She’s crazy.
My words leave him speechless and I give him a chance to take it all in. “I know this kind of information can be overwhelming, Zero but I am nothing if not serious.” The silence lingers, and Haji takes a seat on the couch next to my chair picking up his own glass.
An idea strikes me and I vocalize it, “Zero. I can show you if you’d like.” This halts his pacing around the room and he looks to me with confusion. I raise my hands to touch together out in front of me and slowly separate them leaving a cloud of gray between them. Once it has reached its appropriate size I let my hands fall back to my sides. The cloud then hovers slowly in Zero’s direction, coming to a stop right in front of him. Zero looks back to me and raises an eyebrow. I silently reassure him and his eyes go back to rest on the cloud as the colors start to change and an image comes into focus.
Haji and I cannot make out what he sees through that lens. It is personalized for every person that looks through the Cloud of Past Skies. I hope whatever Zero sees will convince him to stay but I will not force him. I pride myself in being a God of freewill and I will honor that when it comes to my people even if it pains me to see him go.
I remember how much Haji has been exerting himself lately, and I check to see how he is doing.
He seems surprised at my concern. I have got to put in more effort so Haji will understand what our relationship entails. He is not simply a butler or a tool… “Very well, Miss. You don’t have any reason for distress. I am at the ready if you call upon me.”
My head slumps into my palm at his answer, “Oh Haji. It is not always about the battle… Remember to take care of yourself. You need time to heal and recover. You are not my shield, understood?”
This causes Zero to look away from the vision for a spilt second to Haji and I deep in conversation. I didn’t know Zero was listening…
Zero looks back to the cloud and more heart-wrenching moments of silence pass and I wait for his any inclination to what his answer will be.
Finally, the cloud dissipates.
The vision is over and Zero takes a seat on the opposing end of the couch. Putting his head in hands, I feel a ping of panic as I wait for him to speak.
To my relief, Zero takes a deep breath and does, “I don’t know why you need me of all people…but I can’t leave the fate of my world in your hands. If helping you means my world has a better chance of being saved… Fine. I’ll join your ridiculous team.”
Ouch.
I noticed he has failed to bring up the cure. Maybe there’s more to this one than Zero’s façade of heartlessness.
Furthermore…The cloud told him what would happen if I am to fail. Might not have been the gracious acceptance I had wanted but it will do.
I stand up from my chair, “Great... If you will follow me to your room, I will let you get cleaned up.” Zero only slightly hesitates as he stands to follow me with Haji behind him.
I stop outside of Zero’s room, “You will have your own private bedroom and bath. You will find appropriate clothes in your wardrobe and if you are in need of anything else just let me know.” I turn on my heels as Haji follows me into the dining room.
I flop down into a seat rubbing my temples to ease some of the pain. Haji looks to me concerned, “Are you alright, Miss?” I encourage him that I’m fine, but I can’t help but feel troubled. I voice my concerns to my Saint, “But I didn’t think we would run into any Level E’s… and most certainly not that many. It was almost like they were targeting Zero…” Oh my.
That’s when it clicks, “They were after Zero.” Haji takes in this information and seems to believe I might be correct but points out a small problem with my theory, “Miss, why would they feel the need to target him?” Not them... Damien. It was a trap! If not to get me… he was after Zero.
I fake thinking Haji’s question over, but quietly contemplating my own theory when I hear footsteps.
Zero enters the dining room and our conversation is instantly stilled. I signal to Haji with my eyes to keep this quiet until I have all the answers. He nods and I try to keep Zero occupied so he won’t feel inclined to ask questions about our conversation, “Your room to your liking?”
He mutters, “It will have to do.” I grunt in response as I watch him inspecting his new clothes closely. “Is there a problem?” I inquire.
“Only curiosity, how did you get your grabby hands on my Cross Academy uniform?”
Grabby?
I chuckle trying to conceal my aggravation and not upset Haji, “Suspicious thing aren’t you? I didn’t break into your room and steal your clothes if that’s what you’re asking… I took inventory of what you wore before because I wanted to make you comfortable here. I can manifest about anything so I did that with your uniform.”
Arrogantly he ignores my attempt at compassion and snaps back, “What? No mandated team uniforms?” I huff loudly and begin to stand so I can leave the room I stop when I hear Haji intervening, “I tried to inform you, Miss. He would make a poor addition to the team.”
Zero then turns his attention to Haji, “You got a problem with me, ponytail?”
With Haji’s speed he was up from the table and across the room in front of Zero before I could even blink. “And if I do?” Haji’s claw is unwrapped and looks ready for the chance to wrap around Zero’s neck.
I don’t believe force will be necessary… These are my Saints, surely not. I softly request, “The two of you take a seat right this second…”
Zero edges Haji on by pulling out his gun and tapping the end of the barrel against Haji’s heart, “You are in need of a little girl to come to your rescue, demon?”
“Little girl?!” I bite out. Only to be ignored by the both of them.
Haji snarling, “She won’t be coming to yours, child.”
I am in no mood to feed these two’s egos. “ENOUGH!” I bellow. My voice rang throughout the room shaking most of the décor off the walls and appearing to be loud enough to grab the attention of my Saints. Their eyes lock on me and both can easily make out how upset I am.
No more formalities, “Sit. Down. Now.” I bite out.
There is a split second of debating but they both do, reluctantly, as I command.
I struggle to regain some sense of calm that is quickly slipping away, but only as much as I need to finish the ass chewing I am about to hand out. I sternly continue, “What the hell do you two think you are doing!? You think I will stand for two of my Saints fighting one another? Does no one remember that there are people out there that want nothing more than to kill us! Let’s just make this so much easier for them! We can do the work for them and turn against our own comrades. Yeah, while we are at it… Let’s just go lay down at Damien’s feet…Roll over on our backs and let him stab each one of us through the heart! Why the hell not!? Hey! Let’s just do it right now for him.” I snatch my knife from the strap on my thigh and slam it down on the table.
Both men look down at the knife under my shaky hand. I take an unsteady breath and try to dispel my rant. Keep some reason, Nikki. I take my hand off the weapon and lean back.
“This cannot go on for another minute, we are walking into a battle and I have to know that we will walk into hell protecting the other’s back. I need to know that we will be able to think clearly and efficiently not become overcome with petty distrust and hate. Do you understand me? Haji!” My eyes snap to his and I speak directly to him, “You saw firsthand what happened when I dropped my guard even for a second! I will not let my team repeat my near fatal mistake. Damien is smart and malicious… he will not hesitate to overpower one of us in our moment of weakness. And Zero…” My gaze leaves Haji and locks on to purple eyes. “I saved your life on more than one occasion already and now I am going to provide you with a cure to your “deadly disease”. I feel at the very least I command your respect. You don’t have to like me but you will respect me. This isn’t up for discussion.” I finish by giving my ultimatum, “If both of you do not stop such nonsense… then I simply can’t see either you fit to be Saints and I will be forced to send you back to your respective realms. I’ll do this by myself before I watch my Saints turn on one another. Understood?”
Haji is the first to speak, “My apologies, Miss. It will not happen again.” I nod my forgiveness and wait for Zero to speak. I continue to keep my eyes on him until I hear a mumble, “Fine, sorry.”
Now that is handled, “Haji. I believe it is time you tell Zero what you truly are. Maybe it will become easier to get along when the two of you realize how similar you men are. I need a breath of fresh air after dealing with you two.” I don’t wait for a reply of any kind.
I storm out, slamming the door behind me and head directly for the forest. Voicing my frustrations to deaf ears.
Men!
Ugh!

Outside, I am finally able to gather a breath… but only for a moment before a sharp pain invades my temples. I rub fingers over them to try and relieve the pressure. It doesn’t help any.
Then an image overcomes my vision.
It is blurry at first then slowly begins to clear; it looks like… Magnolia. The main square from what I can tell. There is a huge gathering of people…yelling and they look angry.
They look like a mob ready to attack… but I can’t quite make out what is the focal point of their anger…
I see a man standing at the head of the mob, he is turned towards them and doesn’t look happy. Black smoke-like magic comes off him as he begins to attack the closest members of the mob. I try to look closer at the man but the image begins to distort. Before it completely dissipates I can make out enough for me to understand.
That insignia.
The mob was surrounding the Sabertooth Guild Hall and they didn’t look like they were members. I need to get back to Magnolia and find out what is going on immediately.

Chapter Text

I should not be here.
Leave now, Nikki!
Turn around and go home.
It’s not too late.
I try my hardest to ignore the voices of reason yelling in my head as I turn the knob to his office.
I push the door open, with a slight creak, and peer in only to find the room vacant: he’s not here.
Of course he’s not. This is your chance. Get out of here before he returns.
No! Rogue won’t stop looking for me if I don’t do this. He won’t give up… this thought brings a sad smile to my lips.
Throwing my hood back I comb my fingers through my wild hair trying to steady my heart.
In a moment of weakness, I turn to leave, my cloak whipping behind me and my hand on the knob when papers fluttering captures my attention. I glance behind me to see that my cloak managed to knock off several papers from Rogue’s desk and onto the floor. I can’t leave them like this; Rogue will notice that someone was in his office.
I detach the sword, in my state of mind I somehow managed to bring along with me, it was resting on my hip and I lean it against the wall adjacent to his desk.
I turn back towards his desk and begin to gather up the papers when I notice a picture clinging to one of them.
It’s me.
It had to be taken in Magnolia. I begin to flip through the other papers in my hand. They are all about me! There are eyewitness reports, photos and clips from various articles. Not all are particularly nice but that doesn’t bother me. I put them back in their rightful place on his desk and I notice numerous books opened up. They have got to be ancient from the look of it.
I move closer so I can spin one around and make it face me. This is a book I have seen before. Kaine had the same book in his library. It’s the record of past Gods and their legacy… but Kaine said our people only thought of these types of book as fables. Folk lores. Myths.
This book contains information about our rituals, ideals and even about our Saints if a God were forced to call upon them.
Does Rogue know?
Who am I kidding? It’s Rogue. Of course he knows what I am. I fall back against the wall in deep thought as the door begins to open and on instinct I conceal my aura. “Idiots!” He harshly whispers as he enters the room and rubbing his bruised jaw.
Rogue.
He walks right past me grazing my cloak but doesn’t take notice. He smells of hickory and…cherry blossoms. It makes me smile thinking how easily I recognized that smell.
He yanks back the chair to his desk and drops down, noticeably exhausted. Rogue puts his weary face in his hands and exhales loudly.
Another lead turns into another dead end.
My heart aches for the man in front of me clearly in distress.
I am about to reveal myself when I hear the door open beside me once more: it’s Sting. He doesn’t look happy, slamming the door behind him and grabbing Rogue’s attention, “You have got to stop this, Rogue!”
His booming voice hurts my ears, but Rogue’s whisper is barely audible in contrast. He doesn’t even bother looking up. “Stop what?”
“You know what! You can’t keep searching for her. You’re getting the townspeople all riled up. They don’t like you searching for the monster that put their lives in danger. You have got to let her go! She is gone, Rogue. Gone. And she’s not coming back!” Monster? No…They’re talking about me?
Rogue slams his hands down on the desk startling me, “She’s not a monster! And she wouldn’t be gone if you and your followers didn’t run her out of here!”
Sting sighs loudly and tries to calmly continue, “Rogue… We didn’t know… We were played like you. You can’t blame us… You can’t blame yourself either, brother. She’s in a better place now; you have to accept that and move on.” Sting gives his brother a look of sympathy and takes his leave. Closing the door gently behind him.
“She’s not dead. She can’t be dead.” I hear his voice crack and my heart along with it.
He lived these last couple of months in agony because me. Rogue thought I died that night…
I had no idea. I let him live like this…
But…would it be better if he kept on believing that? It would mean he could live a life free of the duties that come along with being a Saint…free of the risks and free from the pain. Rogue could live a normal and happy life if I simply walk out that door right now.
Nikki, do you think he would want that life at the cost of never seeing you again?
I don’t know…
Does he look happy to you right now? Are those tears of joy?
No. Those tears are because he believes I’m gone.
But if Damien believes Rogue can locate me… that means Rogue is at risk and Rogue… he won’t stop this self-torture unless he finds me.
Okay. Ok. I got it, once I show him I’m alive; I’ll make sure he gets the chance to live the life he deserves… One without me constantly putting him at risk. Then when Damien realizes Rogue is of no use to him, Damien will have to find an alternative to get to me. Rogue will be out of harm’s way once and for all.
…first end his suffering, Nikki.
“Rogue…”
His head shoots up at the sound of my voice only to find an empty room. I forgot to release my shield. I let it collapse down around me and I find his eyes locked on to mine.
Time slows as he simply stares at me. I don’t risk taking a step towards him, no matter how much I want to… it could spook him. He has been searching for me for so long. I have to wait for him to make the first move.
He doesn’t so I try again, “Rogue…”
“Is my mind playing another trick on me?”
“No…” I take a step towards him, “I’m really here, Rogue. I’m here.” My voice cracks from the weight of my own words.
It seems to click inside his mind as he is up from his chair, vaulting over the desk and in front of me in a matter of seconds. His black hair swishing over his eyes as I am enveloped in his arms. Like that night so many months ago.
Rogue’s arms tighten around me as the reassurance of my body truly being here rings throughout him. I find my face pressed against his shoulder and running my hands up his back trying to calm his shaky breaths.
“It’s me, Rogue.” I whisper against his ear, “I am so sorry.” His only reply is his arms wrapping tighter around me. I decide now is not the time for words. I’ll let my actions speak for me. I grip the back of his shirt tightly and dig my face deeper into his shoulder. Holding him close.
After what seems like a peaceful eternity. Rogue pulls back, but does not remove his hands. They run up and down my arms and he stares deep into my eyes. I find myself looking into the beautiful eyes of sunrise I have come to know. His calloused hands come up to rest on both sides of my neck as he absent-mindedly rubs his thumbs against my cheeks.
Oh how I wish we could stay like this forever…
“You’re really here, aren’t you?” I can only nod as an answer, but I place my hands on top of his. My heart beginning to crack at what I know is to come. Now that he knows I’m alive I must make sure he will never come looking for me again.
this is not our fate…
Rogue notices the change in my demeanor and worriedly asks if I’m alright. I give a slight smile and remove his hands from my body before they make me lose my confidence. I take a step back, walk around him towards his desk and sit on the edge, “I see you’ve been busy.”
He straightens up and turns to follow me with his eyes. Rogue crosses his arms over his chest and answers truthfully, “I had to find you.”
“So it would be wise of me to presume you know then.” I don’t have to be specific, he understands exactly what I am speaking of.
“Unhuh.”
“Are you scared of me, Rogue?”
“Not a chance.”
“You should be.”
He huffs in response at my attempt to scare him off, “Why would I be? You won’t hurt me.”
“Don’t be too sure of that.” Rogue’s determined eyes challenge mine. This route won’t work on him…
“Fine, you’re right to think I won’t hurt you but I need you to stop searching for me.”
This comes as a surprise to him and I can sense he is taken aback. Rogue recovers quickly, “I don’t have to search for you now. You’re here.”
“But I can’t stay here!” I snap. Frustrated, I grab the book of my history from his desk and toss it to him. He catches it with ease. “You read that,” I point to the book in his opened hands, “which means you know I am no mere human. I am the God of your realm. After encountering Damien, you know he has stolen my power and I intend to get it back.”
Ignoring my earlier outburst, “Which is where the Saints that are mentioned come into play, right?”
“Do you believe you’re one of them?”
He rubs the back of his neck. His own version of a nervous tick. “Well… I don’t know. Maybe… Don’t you know who your Saints are?”
Brave face, Nikki. “Yes… And you’re… You’re not one of them.”
I can tell by the look on his face this comes as a disappointment but he continues to bounce back without fail. “That’s alright. I can still protect you. I will protect you. Take me with you--”
“No.” I feel my heart crack slightly, “I can’t take you with me.”
Rogue slams the book down, “Why the hell not?”
I look away but he is relentless. “I might not be a Saint but I can fight. I will fight. I might not have been created for the sole purpose of protecting you but in my heart I know… I know I could spend the rest of my life doing just that.”
“I know…” I rub a hand down my face.
“Then what the hell is it?! Am I not good enough for you!?”
I stand up, whipping my cloak behind me and face him once again, yelling back, “That’s not it!”
He steps closer to me, “Then what is it!?” Roaring as loud as me.
I snap, the words are leaving my mouth before I can stop them. “You’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, reckless and…”
“And what!! Nikki! Spit it out. Tell me what you really think of me!”
“YOU’RE A LIABILTY!”
The air rushes out of his lungs and he, instinctually, takes several steps back. “A… liability?”
The look on his face nearly sends me to my knees to beg for his forgiveness but this is my only chance. Dig that blade in just a little bit deeper and Rogue will never forgive me. He will never search for me. Rogue can be happy. He can be safe; just hold it together a little longer Nikki.
I put on my best façade and continued breaking his heart, “Yes. You’re a liability for myself and my team. I can’t put them at risk by having you around.” It’s for the best if he sees me as the bad guy. That I’m not worthy of him missing me.
“I am not a liability, Nikki.” His broken voice whispers but he gathers what appears to be some kind of strength at least to use aggression, “Or should I call you Alexandria? That is your God given name, isn’t it?”
I am appalled at his words but manage to keep my face free of the hurt I am feeling. I disguise it with true anger. “Don’t you ever call me that again!” I scream back almost completely losing control of my emotions, Rogue’s eyes opening wide at my shrill voice. “Alexandria was murdered along with everyone she had ever known that day… but this isn’t about me! No, I don’t need your pity! I’m a God, dammit!” I find my hand trying to rub out the pressure in my temples. With all this yelling, my head feels like it’s about to split open… but I have to make sure Rogue gets the point, I trudge on, “Don’t try to change the subject! I saw what you did to that group of people earlier. Was that the real you or the demonic power you are struggling to control? The power that feeds off the erratic emotions that you can’t seem to keep in check. Tell me, Rogue how long until you seriously hurt someone or worse kill someone? You think I need someone that unstable around my team? I have to do what’s best for them and what gives them the best chance of safety!” I’m okay being the bad guy if it means you’re alive to hate me.
His silence echoed throughout the room.
“Precisely as I thought. Now, I’ll be on my way.” I brush past him, snatching my sword up and bolting for the door before my heart can completely break. My free hand finds the knob…
“Wait.” You can’t leave like this.
I don’t let go of the knob but glance back over my shoulder because I respect him enough to hear him out, “You can at least tell Frosch goodbye. She deserves that at the very least… She was very upset after you… left.”
I gulp; he’s right. I owe her that, “Bring Frosch back here. I think it’s for the best if the least amount of people know I am here.”
“Agreed.” I step back and Rogue exits the room. I can’t hold back the few overflowing tears that stream down my face. I quickly wipe them away before he returns with her.
I hear Rogue’s voice in the hallway and I take the last few seconds I have alone to turn my back to the door and gather myself.
I hear the door open behind me and Frosch asking why he needs to see her in his office. I hear her gasp and I turn back to her. Her little eyes fill with tears and her sweet face watches me so intently… as if I’ll simply turn to dust right in front of her eyes.
My sword clanks against the ground when I drop to my knees in front of her holding out my arms. Silently praying she will come to me.
My prayers are answered as Frosch runs into my awaiting arms sobbing. I pull her tight against me and lower my head to rest on top of hers. “I am so sorry, Frosch.” I take in this precious moment between us and for a second I forget that I’ll never see either of them again.
Don’t you see what you’re doing to us?
I rub her back trying to soothe her sobs. After some time, the cries start to slow and she looks up at me. I pick her small body up and bring her up to my chest holding her close as I begin to rock her. Little did I know the rocking was also for my own sake.
I take a deep breath and set her gently on my lap without taking my hands off her. I tilt her little chin up gently with my fingers. “I have to go away now, Frosch.” Her jaw begins to tremble again as more tears fill her eyes. “Hey, now. No more tears, my dear.” A hiccup is her only response as Frosch tries to fight back those tears. That’s my strong girl.
I stroke her head, “I am going to miss you so much…” Secretly speaking to both her and the very man leaning against his desk watching this whole exchange. “I can’t thank you enough for all the kindness you have shown me…” Finally, looking to Rogue to make sure he knows I mean him too. I take another deep breath letting myself take the sight of him in for the last time.
His black hair has grown longer, forcing him to tie the unruly hair back into a ponytail. His bangs however manage to escape its grace and have come to rest, shading his eyes.
Finally, I let my eyes fall back on Frosch. “I want to make sure you’ll do something for me, Frosch. Can you make sure to do what I’m about to ask?”
Her sweet little head bobs up and down as she rubs her eyes.
“Promise me… Promise me, you’ll take care of him. Okay, Frosch?”
She stops rubbing her eyes and holds my gaze. I’m sure she sees I am also fighting back my own tears, “Frosch promises.”
I place a gentle kiss on her forehead and stand up to set her down on Rogue’s desk. I don’t test my strength with another hug as I turn away from her. I brush past Rogue without a second glance that I know I’m not strong enough to take and I can finally see the end in sight as my hand has the knob in my grasp.
Rogue’s voice stops me once again as he softly calls out, “If you walk out that door right now… I won’t come after you, Nikki.”
I think of all the possibilities that I could choose to take at this very second. The one I want so desperately to happen where I run back into his arms…and I swear to protect him with every fiber of my being…and maybe just maybe a God could have a happy ending…
but Gods don’t have happy endings. Rogue deserves a happy ending and I vow to save his realm along with my others so I can watch over him from my rightful throne. And maybe one day… become the God he would be proud to have.
My throne is where I’ll watch him live out his long happy life.
“Good.”
As simply as that my soul had been broken when the scent of honey and cherry blossoms trailed after her…
The door clicks behind me and I make my way towards the rear exit of Sabertooth wiping the back of my hand across my tear-stained cheek. My other hand absent-mindedly wrapping around the hilt of my sword as the cherry blossom pendant continues to sway gently against the sword’s blade.

Chapter Text

“Where the hell did she run off to?” An extremely annoyed Zero asks himself stepping over some of the broken branches in his path. The forest lining the grounds is filled with trees back to back and the two gentlemen find themselves following a small path deeper into my cherry blossom forest in search of myself.
“If I knew that, child, we wouldn’t be out here searching for her.” Haji calls over his shoulder as he ducks under a pulled-back hanging branch and letting it swing back. It would have continued on its path directly to smack into Zero’s face but he manages to catch it in time.
“She told you to stop calling me names, demon.”
“You are in fact a demon, also are you not? Furthermore, no, I remember my lady asked me to not fight with you in front of her.”
Becoming even more frustrated by the minute, Zero snaps back, “You know damn well that wasn’t what she meant.”
No response is given as Haji stops his advance deeper into the forest. Zero is about to question why he stopped when Haji’s head whips back in the direction they came from earlier. Similar to that of a dog hearing food being poured into his bowl, “I can sense the Miss.” Haji doesn’t wait for a comment as he trudges on fast towards the house. Zero is left confused, “Sense her?” Zero shakes his head and trots after Haji.
Zero catches up with Haji with ease at the edge of the forest beside the house. Both watch me groggily walk up, completely unaware of them until Haji calls my title. Only then do I even take notice in their presence.
My mind solely focused on the emotions I am trying to sort out after my meeting with Rogue.
“Oh hello gentlemen.” I don’t want to look at their faces so I try to fake severe enthusiasm in my words… I fall short and hope they will not notice.
Haji speaks first, “Miss. We have been looking for you everywhere. Where did you run off to?”
“I had a few errands to run.”
“Errands?” Zero intervenes in our conversation. When does a God have errands? Haji concerned with being left behind, “Why didn’t you take us, Miss? Or at the very least me?”
“Because I didn’t need you.” It falls from my mouth and I instantly wish to take it back.
Zero’s eyes grow wide and his eyebrows rise at my unexpected display of emotion.
Guess today is the day I hurt as many people as I can. I’m so frustrated with myself, “I…I… Never mind, I’ll see you two at dinner…” I turn on my heels and sprint in the direction of the house contemplating my recent actions.
Haji tries, but fails, to not overthink about what just happened as he straightens his suit jacket, “I’ll go prepare dinner, then.” He says to no one in particular and slumps off behind Nikki. So, even the demon must have feelings.

Finally, in the sanctuary that is my bedroom I collapse on my bed from the emotional exhaustion. I cover my face with my arms and scream into them.
What is wrong with me? Why did I say that to Haji?
Because, I am a horrible. Horrible. Person. I don’t deserve to be around people. A knock on my door pulls me from my self-hating thoughts and I don’t even bother getting up. “Go away.” I call out.
Another knock and I hear the handle turn; Haji wouldn’t dare defy a direct order. I shoot up from my bed and see Zero standing in my doorway. I try again, maybe he didn’t hear me, “I could have sworn I said go away.”
He steps into the room and shuts the door behind him, “Oh you did. I simply decided to ignore you.” “Hmph.”
I fall back on my bed and try to ignore his presence since I can tell he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon… but it bothers me. Zero doesn’t make a move to ask what is wrong or even speak for that matter. The room fills with such tension my small knife in my thigh strap could cut through it. After several minutes of aggravating silence pass, “What do you want, Zero! I’m fine! Gods’ don’t have the luxury of being overwhelmed by feeling such petty emotions like you humans do. Now get out!”
He takes my anger with stride ignoring me once again and not providing me with a witty retort. More frustrating minutes’ trickle by, “What are you deaf? I can fix that for you later but first: LEAVE.”
More silence. I am quickly losing my patience, “There is nothing to talk about…” Silence. A long exhale, “I don’t want to talk about it, Zero.”
How can one person not utter a single word and completely get under my skin? Only Zero. I sit back up and see Zero is leaning against the wall watching me intently. I sigh loudly through my clenched teeth, throwing my legs over the mattress and put my face in my hands. I really think I can handle to look at him, “FINE. Since it appears you won’t be leaving anytime soon! I won’t go into specifics but today I had to make some serious decisions in regards to our team. I guess, it was more difficult for me than I’d care to admit, Zero.”
“Are you done complaining?” His response is most certainly not what I expected, I raise my head and realize he is being absolutely serious.
“Complaining?” I must have heard him wrong. No one can possibly be that insensitive.
“Yeah, you done yet?” I was wrong. I actually tell him of my problems and he dares to insult me!
“Zero… I really don’t have the patience—“ “Patience? Gods are not entitled to patience or feelings or bitching for that matter. Get over yourself.”
I find my self-control quickly obliterated. I am up from my bed, storming over in his direction, the ground shakes with every step I take. I shake my finger at him, and roar out as loud as I can, “Listen here you overgrown Q-Tip, I am God. I make the rules, got it? Which means if I want to feel sad and flood this whole earth, I can. If I want to laugh until I bust an organ, I can. If I want to give in to my anger and rip off a half-wit’s head because he chooses to pick a fight with me on a bad day, guess what? I can!”
Zero smiles. He actually smiles at my threat as if I just gave him the biggest compliment. He’s a nut job.
“Great. Now that you finally see that Gods can feel sadness, happiness and even pleasure. And as much as you would like to be, Gods are not immune to such “petty” emotions. You got it just as bad as us “humans”. So deal with it; don’t punish those around you because you don’t know how to deal with them. Now can we go eat? Haji’s food smells magnificent.” Zero turns away from me and moves in direction of the door as I stand there stunned with my finger frozen mid-rant.
Oh my.
I hate to say it: he’s right. I am perfectly able, and right, to feel a variety of emotions like my people. I am no different from them on this account and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it is wrong feeling someway and taking it out on those who don’t deserve it.
Even Gods aren’t perfect…
“Zero.” He turns back at the call of his name before he can manage to completely exit my room, “Thank you.” No response is given as I hear the door click quietly behind him.

Taking precise and quiet steps toward the dining room, I can hear their hushed voices and I can tell they are arguing about some irrelevant detail. I find myself smiling at the two then begin to fill with the fear of my closest acquaintances judging me for my earlier actions. I remind myself that I have to make this right. Haji deserves that at the very least. I raise my chin high and step into the room. It instantly grows quiet. I don’t pause for the fear of losing my newly found confidence as I round the table and come to a stop at the side of Haji’s chair.
I throw my upper body into a bow, my hair swishing over my shoulders and framing my hidden face. “Please forgive my blatant disrespect.” I stay in my current position; I hear him attempting to speak to me in astonishment at what I can presume to be by my actions. I only raise my head when he calls me.
“My lady. Do not apologize for such trivial matters. I am yours to command and treat as you see fit.” Foolish Haji.
I kneel down, and grab one of his hands that is closest to me. “Haji. You foolish man. You are deserving of my utmost respect and it was horrible of me to deviate from that even for a second. Haji, you are my friend and that isn’t how one treats their friends. Please forgive me.”
Zero couldn’t help the pull of the corners of his lips watching my approach of asking for forgiveness. Brought a sly smirk to the white-headed male.
“…Friend?” Haji repeated as if he had never encountered the word before.
I stand up straight, letting his hand fall back to its rightful place on his lap and quickly wrap my arms around him in a tight, quick, hug. My head resting briefly on his shoulder, “Of course, you’re my friend. My first friend.”
I retract my arms and smile brightly down at his unusually astonished-stone face.

After a relaxing dinner with some light and lively conversation, the men and I adjourn to the living room for discussion. Both takes their seats and I stand before them, “I think it is time for us to train.”
“Train?” Zero appears to be confused, so I try to illiterate. “Yes, train. Together. All of us. We need to learn to work together as a team before we are thrown into our next battle.”
Haji calmly agrees, “I see, Miss.”
I feel as if we have all come to a mutual agreement without any confrontation but it never fails. I hear Zero speak up with sarcasm dripping off his words, “How are we going to train? Are we supposed to do trust falls? Oh! I got it. We all sit and braid each other’s hair and spill all of our secrets.” While speaking he reaches around the couch, picks up Haji’s long black ponytail and twirls it around. As if to solidify his point, Haji snatches his wrist and firmly holds it away from him and his hair. Zero pulls back his hand, crosses his arms and huffs.
“Zero!” My reprimand does not have the effect on him that I wish for but I trudge on, “We will pack up for a few days and head to the mountains on the far end of these plains. There we will engage in battle with one another until we learn each other’s fighting style in and out.” Zero continues to look away from me, and I realize I know a more effective way to get him onboard that also requires less effort on my part.
“What is it, Billy the kid, are you afraid your wittle gun might get damaged? Isn’t strong enough to take the likes of us?” Billy the kid? Did she just…
A wicked grin forms on my face as Zero’s head turns toward me and his eyes grow a bright red. Worked like a charm: Zero can never resist a challenge. He stands up and flies off towards his room yelling out, “Be ready in 15!”
I watch as he leaves and turn back to Haji to see his eyebrow hooked, ‘What? It was in a book I read. The description was simply too accurate.” I confess with a soft giggle.

With the mansion empty no one hears the alarm that sounds from my Sakura…

I take a deep breath of the early morning fresh air from the top of the mountain. It was a relative easy trip and we managed to quickly find flat ground. Ground that is big enough to support our sparing. No time to waste, I remind myself. “Let’s get started.” I declare, turning away from the breath-taking view and towards my men. I will make all of us stronger, men. I declare with a silent vow.
Haji doesn’t wait for me to say any more, unwrapping his claw and flying towards me simply within the time it took me to turn fully around.
Too slow.
I am up in the air and over him as he flies past underneath me before he even realizes I am no longer in his path. I turn, draw my sword from its sheath and brace it in front of me as his claw wraps its blade. I can see the indention of my blade in his demonic palm but it can only draw a small line of blood. I can’t move it; he is too strong. I might not always be a match for Haji’s speed but when it comes to endurance: we are somewhat equals. Neither can make another strike because they are too busy making sure the other doesn’t get the upper hand. Looking beyond my blade I search Haji’s face, “I can’t believe you missed me, Haji.”
“I simply gave you time to draw your weapon, Miss.” “Ha!” I throw him back and don’t doddle. I sprint towards him with my sword held high, over my head, and ready to strike. I bring down the blade swiftly only to graze the last bit of his coat tail. He steps far out of reach of my sword’s path.
He swings his cello case to knock my sword out of my grasp. It goes flying back and utterly out of my immediate reach, ‘Don’t simply rely on your sword, Miss.” He scolds me.
Haji barrels toward me and I know in a matter of seconds his claw will connect with me. I smile, and quickly change my strategy. I send a bolt of power directly into his chest; I hesitated giving him the time to turn letting my attack brush past him. “Aim to kill or don’t aim at all, Miss!”
Oh no. His speed only increases, he is right on top of me in a few milliseconds. I don’t have any time left; my instincts take over. I push off the ground to flip back and closer to my sword. His ungodly nails slice through the bottom of my dress when I flipped away from him, but I managed to dodge the majority of his blow.
Everyone needs some time to recover after they strike, now is my chance!
I jump forth, quickly closing the distance between us and draw my hidden knife while in the air. “Don’t underestimate me and my weapons!” I call out and the tables have turned in my favor once more. I have him on the defense. My knife forcing him back to avoid my cuts.
Just for a second he loses his concertation and I manage to slice the length of his chest. I hear Zero gasp, I cease my attacks, stand back and brush the hair out of my eyes with a smile on my face. “I hope you brought a change of clothes, Haji.”
My cuts were, intentionally, not deep enough to cause him to bleed or even leave a scar for that matter. I simply cut his perfect suit to make my point.
Haji looks pleased, I glance to Zero signaling that it is his turn. “I let you watch and by doing that I have given you the advantage now I want to see what you can do with it, Q-Tip.”
Haji steps back and Zero drops the bag off his shoulder. There is a great deal of space between us and I wonder if Zero will be the first to attack. Twirling my knife between my fingers, I am surprised Zero does not make an attempt to strike. He’s afraid to fight me? No, he is afraid to hurt me. Going to have to correct that.
“Zero, draw your gun.” I command, he moves hesitantly but follows my orders, before he can aim it fully at me I chunk my knife to knock it out of his hand. “Fight me!” my battle cry sounds as I sprint towards him.
I use my powers to enhance my speed and try to strike his face with my closed fist. He avoids it with ease and I keep trying. He never makes an effort to fight back, “Coward! I give you great power and you won’t even show it to me!” I begin to feel true anger and believe it is time for me to stop holding back.
I slow my advance and give my power time to build in my hands. The black flames lick my forearms and I pull my fist back to strike once more. “If you fear to engage in battle with me you surely will die, Zero! You are of no use to me then!” If he doesn’t stop me, he will die. Please, let him fight back. No use to you? Well, I can’t that now can I?
I feel Zero’s wrist wrap around my arm above him stopping me from connecting with his body. His eyes that were once covered by his bangs now shine brightly red and I almost begin to fear him. Almost.
He pulls my arm up harshly and I see a flash of light. I twist up and out of his grasp and away from him.
My sword. When did he manage to get that? My flames fade away with my lack of concentration.
Fearfully, I whip back to glance at the gravel I know my sword occupied only moments before… It’s gone, I hear movement and I flip backwards on my hands. Thankfully, I am away from him without giving him the chance to strike me. Kneeling on the ground, I am almost out of breath from this major development in our battle. “How dare you try to cut me with my own sword!”
“Try?” He mocks, “but I did cut you.”
I look down to see a slight line of red on my dress. I’m bleeding? I touch the wound and my fingertips come back stained with red. I glance up and see he has my blade resting on his shoulder. It too is lightly stained with my blood.
His speed.
I look from my red fingertips and back to him trying to piece together what exactly happened.
“My lady!” Haji’s voice rings out as I hear his steps draw closer towards me. I hold my palm out and reassure him I’m ok. His footsteps grow silent; I glance up at Zero grinning widely. “Well done, Zero. It is a mighty feat to simply catch me. Yet you managed to cut me and with my own blade. Impressive.”
I cut you and you compliment me?
Is this the true power of my demons?
I glance at my men and focus on Zero with my blade still laying on his shoulder.
I can’t wait to watch you grow as a warrior by my side, Zero.

After a long and quite trying day of training we are all exhausted. At least there is a great view, I know I should be asleep but I can’t help myself. Looking out at the landscape late at night is completely mesmerizing. The stars shine brightly even in this artificial home.
I don’t hear Haji until he is right behind me, “I thought I asked you to stop sneaking up on me, Haji?”
“My apologizes, Miss.” I smile at my Saint, “Come join me.” I pat the patch of dirt beside me and he graciously obliges.
We sit peacefully in silence until I break it, “Haji…” I wait for him to look at me before I continue, “Your mind is occupied, isn’t it? I can tell in the way you fought today.” I shouldn’t have been able to cut him. I don’t give him the chance to speak. I have made up my mind, “You are thinking of her… I think it’s time for you to go and visit Okinawa. Zero and I will be fine on our own for a couple days.”
For once, he doesn’t immediately respond. So I push further, “This is not a recommendation. It’s an order, Haji.”
I need you 100 percent at the ready and you can’t be that until you do this. I understand Haji, just come back to me quickly. I think to myself, hoping miraculously he will hear me without me voicing my fears to the beautiful night air.
“Certainly, my lady.”

Chapter Text

Haji traveling back to Okinawa certainly guarantees a quiet early morning for me. I know Zero tries to act like our constant training isn’t exhausting for him but I think he could use some extra rest so I decide not to wake him.
Now that I think of it, I haven’t been on this side of my home realm in a while and I would really enjoy looking around. What’s the harm? I make sure not to get out of hearing range in case he awakes and he can’t find me. I can still look back over my shoulder and see the outlines of our tents.
Thinking back to the last few days of training and team build… I am introduced to a new level of optimism. For the first time in a long while, on a beautiful morning I am hopeful of my chances to reclaim my throne… I hear rocks crunch under the pressure of a boot but I don’t bother turning around, “Good morning Zero, I couldn’t remember how you like your coffee but feel free to pour yourself some.”
Hands grab me from behind and something pinches the nerve in my neck, “I’m not your bloody demon, my dear.” My yell is muffled by the hand over my mouth and I start to lose feeling as I dragged up roughly against someone.

Rustling the flaps of the tent, Zero peeks his head out only to discover an empty campground. “I thought we talked about taking off!” Clearly irritated at being left behind once more. He starts to fumble through the campsite looking for any clue where I ran off to when movement out of the corner of his eye catches his attention and he whips back, drawing his gun.
Zero spins around to see me with my arms bound behind my back and slumped slightly against a dark-headed male. “Who the hell are you?” He asks steadying his gun. Fear is not evident on his face but Zero has no clue who exactly he is speaking to right now.
My mouth being covered muddles my attempt to call out his name. I desperately try to signal with my wide and frantic eyes for him to run but it doesn’t look like Zero is paying any attention to me. Damien finally speaks with that false sense of superiority I despise so much, “I am your God. Now bow before me, demon.”
“Like hell I will.” Zero is foolish to challenge him. I feel magical pressure start to build behind me. I shake my head rapidly back and forth to make the gag fall down around my neck. “Zero! RUN!” I cry out and Damien throws me to the ground for trying to warn my Saint. Without the use of my hands I can’t catch myself and the side of my head slams against the jagged rocks underneath me. A shot crackles throughout the air. I see the slug hit Damien directly in the chest, forcing him to step back from the force of the bullet but it causes him no real harm. Only serves to aggravate him.
I feel a warm liquid start to make its way down my face and it burns my eye.
That doesn’t matter right now! Zero doesn’t stand a chance against him. Damien’s aggravation is heavily present and I struggle not to roll my eyes in this dangerous situation, “You don’t bow peasant; you die.” Another shot to the chest. Damien’s swirling black vortex starts to increase in size in his out stretched palm. I know he has grown tired of Zero and his antics.
I fumble for my knife hidden against my thigh. Where is that damn thing!? My fingertips graze it and I drag the knife across the bonds on my hands.
“Zero get down!”
I throw myself at Damien hoping to stop his deadly blow from coming in contact with Zero. Damien’s lack of concentration causes his powers to disappear mid-strike as we both fall back against the rocks. Thankfully nonetheless, Zero took heed to my warning and dropped to the ground. I struggle to cut Damien with the small blade but he slaps it from my hand. He is no mere human; a physical altercation won’t be enough to stop him. I shouldn’t have underestimated him. I call upon my powers while I still have the upper hand but nothing happens. Oh no. I have only managed to make him impossibly angrier.
His fist wrapped by his magic connects with my cheekbone and the force throws me off his body. His punch alone would have hurt me but that pain is magnified greatly by the magic behind it. I feel the right side of my face immediately start to swell and I am frozen by shock from the hit.
He’ll kill her! I’ll never hear the end of it from that damn bat.
Damien wraps his hand around my neck, picking me up again and slamming me back against the sharp rocks. I feel them digging into my back and I gasp painfully. Damien is over me sweaty and growling through his teeth. He did not like me making him out to be a fool. I am sure he is about to strike me once more.
Zero aims again and his bullet connects with Damien’s shoulder. Thankfully for Zero, Damien is reminded I am not alone. We will fight him every step of the way. Together.
Damien lets go of my neck then I feel his hard grip on my arm. He slings me away from him. I barrel towards Zero. Luckily he is able to drop his gun and brace what could have been me flying off this cliff.
I look back to Damien and I can tell something is different by his tactic to not physically hurt me anymore, “Let’s see you play the part of the hero without any powers, bitch.” My powers.
“What did you do to me!” I scream at him and it ends with an ugly wicked laugh coming from him.
“I don’t have the luxury to waste time on torturing you. Even though, you sure look beautiful with that bruised face. Last time taking my time with you might have increased my pleasure but it also increased your chance to be rescued. I think, this time, I will go more of the indirect route. You see, I have a certain Saint to take care of. He should be walking into my trap at any moment now and I certainly can’t keep him waiting.” Haji. “Ta-ta.”
And just like that Damien disappears without a trace once again… and he is after one of my saints! Haji! He is in danger and it’s all my fault. I’m the one that told him to go! I sent him directly into that trap…
I am not given any real time to establish a plan to rescue Haji before the cliff begins to shake under Zero and I.
I look to him out of fear and confusion then I feel the ground completely give way. We are suddenly falling and tumbling down this now collapsing mountain. Damien did this! How could I have been so careless?
I reach out for anything to grab on to before we slide to our deaths. My hands find nothing but sand running through my fingers as I slip down and closer to the edge.
I fail to summon my wings, whatever Damien did to me, I can’t use any of my magic. I look frantically to Zero and see him attempting to stop his own momentum. Like me, he can’t.
Dammit! Find something to grab you useless…
Zero and I will die because of it. Haji will die.
I am a failure.
I am so sorry.
“The cliff!” Zero’s warning awakens the most serious reality of our impending deaths.
I watch him go over the edge just before me… Please let this be quick. Don’t let anyone suffer.
Open air encompasses me; it’s like flying. I stretch out my hand to Zero and he trusts me enough to take it as we fall. I struggle to find the strength to reach up with my free hand. I pray to find something…anything to grasp.
I feel thorns scrape along the inside of my palm. I tighten my grip, endure the pain and hold on with all my might.
The halting of momentum is felt especially in my shoulder as it immediately dislocates. I cry out in pain but attempt to hide it from Zero as I clinch my jaw shut. Fight through it, Nikki.
For a moment and for only a single moment we are alive. I am holding onto a thorny root that managed to stay connected with some of the mountain that didn’t fall to pieces. Zero’s hand is locked around my forearm and mine his.
The echoes of the broken rumble hitting the bottom is all my ears can stand to hear… then it grows torturing silent. My right eye is sealed shut from the swelling and the other stings from the blood coming from my head wound. My arm feels like it could rip off at any moment but looking down to Zero I can only feel so thankful that he managed to keep a hold of me.
We might get out of this, yet. I glance up to see how far up solid ground is: it’s far. Too far. We are too far out from the side of the cliff to reach over that way too. I could climb up… No, we will get out of this together or not at all.
“Don’t worry, Zero. I’ll find us a way out of here, alright?” He doesn’t speak and I grow concerned that he was wounded in our fall. I look back down and he starts to chuckle. It sounds almost mechanical, “Zero?”
Zero doesn’t bother to meet my frightened gaze, “Can’t believe it… I’m gonna go out without giving that creep what he deserves.”
I am horribly confused, “Zero what are you talking about?” I feel his grip start to loosen on my forearm and I panic, “Zero!” my scream echoes through the canyon, “Haji will be back soon! He will save us, give him time!”
I finally catch his shining purple eyes looking up at me, “No he won’t, Nikki. He doesn’t even know something is wrong.” That’s the first time Zero has ever addressed me by name…and I’m afraid he’s right. Haji isn’t coming. We should be saving him…
“Well don’t give up on me! I’ll save us, I’ll think of something.” I say whatever I can to somehow get through his thick head before he does something completely reckless. His grip loosens even more and I grow utterly frantic, “Zero! If you thought, I was angry the other day then you really don’t want to test me right now! You hear me!? I’ll be so angry… SO angry and I’ll never forgive you, Zero! Never.” He smiles at me as I feel tears building, “Zero don’t you dare!”
I try desperately to keep my grip on him but I can feel his arm sliding against my fingers. “Zero, please!” His gaze locks onto mine and a single tear caresses my cheek. It falls from my downcast chin and lands on Zero’s cheekbone.
I made her cry again.
His fingers brush mine, “Make him pay, Nikki.” … and I watch Zero fall away… entirely out of my reach. “ZERO!!!” I failed him.
A million thoughts and feelings rush through my being but the one most powerful one is the feeling of loss… I could do absolutely nothing as I watched teary-eyed as Zero fell to his death… deeper into the darkness until there was nothing left of him for it to swallow up. My hand reaches out but there is nothing to grasp. It happens so slowly and I’ve lost yet another Saint. This time it’s permeant. It’s all my fault; I almost consider following after him but I know he sacrificed his life to save mine.
I struggle to find strength to begin to climb up but I can’t look away from the darkness Zero fell into… My tears fall and I feel my heart crack even more…
Out of the corner of my eye I notice an enormous black smoke appear from my fingertips. It changes shapes, but I can’t figure out what it is. I watch it rocket down like a bullet to where Zero disappeared.
It is too dark to make out exactly what the thing is or what it does.
I then see the black thing coming towards me, drawling closer to me and I fear it. It’s blindly white eyes and it’s glistening sharp canines.
I turn away out of fear and I feel teeth grab the back of my torn shirt. Then once again I’m in the air and it’s like I’m soaring.
We fly higher towards sunlight and over solid ground. Whatever has me releases its grip and I drop some way to the ground, rolling to break my fall. Even that small of a jump is a cruel reminder how badly I am wounded.
I hear grunting that I know is not mine. I’m so tired but I manage to lift myself up with my good arm and see someone’s back to me.
I push myself up into a half crawl/limp towards him. “Zero!” The grateful tears fall as he sits up slightly and turns at the call of his name.
A slap echoes through the shambles of this once great mountain. My good hand stings but that’s irrelevant, “What the hell were you thinking!” I shriek with my voice slightly breaking. “How dare you!” You can’t leave me. I can’t… I won’t lose you too.
Zero’s lavender eyes stare a hole into the ground, looking away from me… that’s when I sense another presence near us.
I whip back around, ignoring the cry of my hurt shoulder as I do so and brace myself in front of Zero. I shield him from what I believe to be an enemy.
An enormous, black as the night sky, wolf standing before me is enough to trigger my fighting instincts. I summon my sword, and hold out my hand waiting for it to fly into my grip.
I raise my sword to the creature, stumbling slightly as I stand.
Nikki.
My weapon might be slightly shaking but I am determined to protect both of us no matter the cost.
Then, the creature bows. I hear Zero behind me shift, he peers over my shoulder, “So this bear is what saved me?” The wolf growls at him but I lower my sword. Is that true?
Zero holds up his hands in defense, “wolf. Sorry.” “Ookami” I correct him and he stares stunned. I don’t know how exactly I know the creature’s true name… I simply know.
Realizing we are no longer in danger, I can feel all the adrenaline drain out of me. My legs give way under me and I feel my face getting quite close to the jagged rocks once more.
The pain I wait for never comes… all I can feel beneath me is soft fur. The wolf lowers himself for me to rest more comfortably on him.
The wolf nudges me up easily into a sitting position. Zero’s hands come up to rest firmly on my shoulders to keep me steady. This creature is truly gigantic…and I’m confused as to how it got here.
At that moment, the sunlight begins to shine through the wolf and he begins to transform back into black smoke. The smoke drifts towards me and my body stiffens. It meets my fingertips and vanishes completely. I don’t notice a difference from its absence. Almost like it is still right in front of me. Always with me.
“Nikki…” Zero’s hushed voice was right near my ear and unintentionally I shrink away from it. My bangs covered my dark eyes, “I…I owe you one.”
Ignoring my restless body, I stand up and keep my back to him. I feel brave enough to speak like that, “That’s all you have to say to me?” My good arm comes around to hug my body and I try to stay calm as I wait for him to answer.
“Dammit, look at me.”
Despite my better judgement, I did as he commanded. I could feel my lip quivering but I manage to keep the majority of my emotions in check. I didn’t speak.
“I won’t apologize. I did nothing to make you deserving of one. If the situation arose again, I would repeat my actions over and over again…” I could feel the truth of his words crush my heart some more, “but I admit, I do not like to see you cry. It makes you… uglier, with your runny nose, the wheezing of you trying to catch your breath, and those swollen blood-red eyes. Jeez… I will try not to make that happen again.”
You’re such a… laughter overcame what little angry I felt at his words.
I held out my hand, “Deal.” He seems shocked at how easily the mood around me changes; his eyes rise to look up at me. Waiting for my mood to change once more but I continue to hold my smile trying to reassure him. Slowly, his hand clasps around mine.
This time, Zero, I won’t let go. I promise.

I hear fabric ripping behind me and I turn to see Zero holding out a piece of white cloth, “Here.”
I take it gently from his outstretched hand and look down at it confused. Zero grunts and before I know it he has moved right beside me. Snatching the fabric back, I wonder if I’m managed to anger him. I watch his hand come up to my head and I fight back the urge to flinch, “Stay still.” His command instantly halts my movements.
I can feel his fingers brush against my hair but he doesn’t ever apply any pressure. I never knew Zero could be this gentle, “This might sting.” He doesn’t provide me with the chance to prepare myself as he tightens the bandage around my wound.
I cry out softly, and he sits back admiring his handiwork. That’s when I notice his torn shirt sleeve.
My hand absentmindedly reaches up to touch the cloth; it’s stopped the bleeding, “Thank you.” Zero doesn’t reply as he tears off his other sleeve. He holds this one out just like the other but instructs me, “Blood. Face.” Oh.
I grasp the cloth and wipe all I can over my face. Instantly, my eyes feel relieved. While I was preoccupied and couldn’t see, Zero took the opportunity to move closer to me once more. His fingers skid around my foreman that is connected to my wounded shoulder, “Zero…” I plead through a broken whisper.
“This will hurt… don’t fight me.”
I throw my head to the side and away from him. I struggle not to tense as I feel his hands move up my arm. One locks around the part of my arm just under the shoulder, the other grips above my shoulder…
I hear a snap and white flashes behind my eyes. Air rushes out of my lungs and I grit my teeth. Slowly the pain drains from my arm and I can even begin to make a fist with my fingers. It takes everything I have not to cuss Zero’s name though. Through my teeth I thank him and with the majority of the pain now turned dull, my mind begins to clear.
HAJI. “Zero, we have to get to Okinawa immediately!” Before I could finish Zero managed to get up and stand before me with his hand out.
We are coming, Haji.

“The shrine is this way!” The steps leading up to Saya’s tomb are more than I thought I could originally handle with my injuries. I find myself quickly out of breath and horribly dizzy. My head is pounding. It sounds like it is really far away but I can make out a sigh.
Zero throws my good arm around his neck and his arm around my back supporting most of my weight. It helps me catch my breath as we ease up the steps. With the drastic height difference, Zero ends up practically carrying me and I am once again reminded that maybe he isn’t a completely horrible guy as I might have originally believed.
I can see we are approaching the familiar temple that floods me of the memories of first encounter with Haji… I can make out that the door is open. It’s not supposed to be open… I can’t hear his cello or anything for that matter. Only silence. I fear the worst and jump down out of Zero’s grasp as he calls out for me to wait. I sprint to the shrine, throw the stone door back even further, and call out for Haji.
The tomb is deserted. I was too late.
I fall to my knees out of desperation and I hear Zero approaching with quiet steps.
The past day has been such a torturous roller coaster of emotions with the battle, losing a saint, getting rescued, only to lose the one that usually does the saving.
I was my turn to be the one had to do the saving…. and I failed.
It’s all my fault.
Please, forgive me.
I throw my head into my hands and scream out in agony.
“My lady?”
I whip back around and my eyes grow wide. There in all his glory standing in the light of day and concerned for me as always is Haji. Perfectly and utterly unharmed.
I don’t take any time to process anything, I bolt up off the floor and throw myself at Haji. My momentum causes him to sway back slightly but he manages to steady us. My arms are locked around his neck and my face is pressed into his shoulder. I try to calm my heart and hold back the tears as I tighten my grip. He’s really here.
Haji in utter disbelief and with a shaky voice, “Is something the matter, Miss?” You have no earthly idea, my friend.
“Not anymore, Haji. Not anymore.”

Chapter Text

There was a reason Haji was unharmed when the team reunited in Okinawa… It was because he wasn’t the Saint I was supposed to be saving that day… There was another Saint out there that needed my protection and help more than ever.

Someone’s P.O.V
Blood had flooded the streets, screams had broken the silence, lives had been lost and they could never be brought back… Towards the end of this war, I started to wonder if becoming an Assassin was what I was truly meant to do with my life.
Not that after all this time, I could take it back anyhow, but after losing too many people along the way in this seeming unending war against this corrupt empire. It seemed to have shaken my ability to believe in anything bigger than myself or any hope for humanity... There would always be bad people in this world, no matter how many you got rid of. There was always someone who would take their place and crave power.
I began to question my life decisions and without realizing it back then, I had sold a huge portion of my soul in a contract with the devil himself to protect people I didn’t even know.
Looking back, I realize how foolish and naïve I had been before all this… Life has no happy ending, certainly not in the Red Capital. Especially, not in my future. I chuckled dryly to myself, rather fitting name “Red Capital”, the city that was painted red with the spilled blood of the innocent. Those I have failed to save.
Did I really do all I could? Is this where it ends for me? Why do I feel like I have much still left to do?
I only could hope death would provide me with the happiness that this world couldn’t give me. I knew the time to find out what death had to offer was fast approaching in what I understood to be my last battle with the very one sitting on the throne over this collapsing city.
I could not change the arrogant boy’s mind but I could protect the ones that would fall victim to his stupidity. He was just a child, sworn in as king, that had bad people leading him astray from the beginning.
I had put my all into destroying his contraption, and I would have made it too… I could have lived to see another sunrise. A new sunrise.
I couldn’t let that mechanical beast fall and kill those people. I spent power and life I did not have to shift its trajectory even slightly, but it would not fall on them… I was satisfied with my decision even if it meant I had broken my promise to my last remaining friends... Those left alive, before this they had grown to become like family.
Akame. I wonder if she’ll forgive me; I did what she would have done without a second thought.
She’ll be mad, and even hurt, but because of my choices more people would get the chance to experience a different tomorrow…
Because of me.
I did the right thing, and I understood it was my time to go, even if I wasn’t satisfied. I would go into the bright and warm light readily but curious to what I feel like I’m leaving behind. I would leave this dark and depressing life without looking back knowing I did my part to help save this world.
The darkness. The darkness is all this world can give someone like me. I have committed sins, ones that could never to be forgiven.
But I don’t want to die!
I want to live!

I could feel his life begin to fade away. I could sense his apprehension towards death. I could hear his silent cries of pain as death began to take him. He called out for someone but no one could hear him. No one could save him… except me.
I’m here. I will always be here.

Someone’s P.O.V.
I could no longer feel the pain from my wounds and I awaited to be taken away yet nothing came.
I opened my eyes and saw Akame cradling my bloody and empty body. My body! I glanced down to my hands and the light shimmered through them. I was immediately overcome by fear.
No! Will my luck ever end? After everything, was this nothing more than what I deserved? I feared I would be stuck, forever, in this purgatory. Not living but not quite dead either. A fate worse than hell.
I could never escape.
Then I felt such heat above me and all I could see was a blinding light. It almost hurt. Is this what I really want? Isn’t it too late now to ask myself that?
“Tatsumi?”
I jumped at the voice but turned away from the light nonetheless. A woman stood before me, surrounded also by the same but different blinding light as what was above me. Somehow both lights dimmed in comparison to her. Neither couldn’t compete with her intensity. Her hand was extended and a soft smile played on her lips. She was lovely, “Come with me,” she whispered and her voice slowly lured me away from the light’s tug; with every word she sung I stepped closer, “You still have so much to offer this world. I need someone like you by my side, what do you say? Will you join me? It’s not your time to go yet Tatsumi, do the world a favor and continue to let your bright light glow even for a little while longer.”
Who could be led astray by such a radiating glow? She shinned even brighter than the light of heaven.

I was almost too late, Tatsumi’s life had already started to ascend and even I wouldn’t have been able to save his soul in the very next few moments. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it in time.
I did not know Damien had been feeding to this war, that he had only been making things worse and raising the body count. I didn’t know he would go after Tatsumi and try to kill him even before I technically met him. Damien had in fact kill many including some of Tatsumi’s closest friends and nearly killing the young Saint himself, but Damien couldn’t have predicted how strong our bond was. Or how Tatsumi would call out to the heavens for this injustice and how hard he would fight for not being able to fulfill his true purpose.
Tatsumi wouldn’t have ascended successfully because of Damien and I didn’t want to think of what might have become of him if I hadn’t gotten there in time. Purgatory. It sent a chill up my spine.
The people who witnessed his heroic sacrifice called out for him. They had rushed to help, but for that world he was long gone… I drowned out their voices for his and my sake.
Seeing his body… It was a truly gruesome sight and it nearly destroyed me. It was one of my worst fears coming true. I had to rip my eyes away before they stayed too long.
It was not my fear to lose my life, but one of theirs’s.
Seeing the body was almost incomparable looking at the bright eyed and lively Tatsumi standing in front of me.
However, I know that scene will haunt me for nights to come.

He hadn’t spoken a word to me yet; he took my hand but had simply chosen to suffer in silence. I’m sure he was only trying to wrap his mind around everything that happened today. It had to be a lot for him to digest but just being near him was comforting and… empowering.
Is that his gift?
I took Tatsumi to our home as soon as I gathered him from the Red Capital. Keeping him in his home realm might become rather painful for him when I have the chance to explain what exactly happened. I showed him to the fountain on my grounds and asked kindly him to take a seat.
“Tatsumi, what I am about to tell you is very serious and I have to go about it delicately. It’s alright if you wish to take your anger out on me and I—“ “—I’m dead, aren’t I?”
A painful gulp is the best response I could managed. “I knew it.” He said matter-of-factly.
His calloused hands shot to his head as he tugged on the strands of hair roughly.
I had to get it together before he changed his mind, “Yes. Technically speaking you died in the Red Capital but you are not dead here. You are standing right here in front of me… but if I am to be honest, you are not technically alive either. You are an Angel.”
A confused “huh” sounded.
I tried to remind myself how delicate this situation was but I couldn’t stop a small giggle. He seemed so innocent, “You see… Your physical being is gone, but before your soul left my worlds I managed to grab it, if you will, and place it into a vessel. Of course, I duplicated your worldly body to be identical to the vessel. I understand this can be difficult for you to comprehend: yes, you died, but I was able to establish life for you in another realm. Where here, you are alive as one can be. You still can possess Incursio and even grow stronger than ever before—“
“—I won’t be a soldier anymore! I can’t! I won’t!”
I could see the tears rolling down his cheeks, they were almost hidden by his overhanging brown tuffs of hair. His body was shaking terribly. I was nearly frozen by his outburst but without thinking of my next move for once, I was up and near him.
“Whoa, it’s ok…. I’m right here.” I kneeled in front of him, my exposed knee sinking slightly into the wet grass, and his hands came up to scrub away any evidence of the tears. He reminded me of a child in this moment.
My throat grew indescribably dry seeing him so broken.
I wrapped my hands around his and brought them to a halt. It forced him to look at me through his blurry green eyes. They were beautiful, not in the same sense as Rogue’s sunset-colored ones but looking into Tatsumi’s… It was like he was letting me truly see what laid underneath. No one ever lets me truly see them. “It’s alright Tatsumi, you’re safe here. Let it all out.” I pulled him into my arms and gave an encouraging squeeze.
His emerald eyes held so much: hope, fear, strength, and pain…
He had been through so much. I must remind myself, even the strongest have their moments of fragility.
I could feel the wet tears soak hit my shoulder and his sniffles were close to my ear.
After some time, he regained his composure and I eased back slightly. I kept my voice filled with as much compassion as I could muster, “My child, I know you have dealt with so much grief and heartache in your short amount of time. I know you have lost many close to you and at times I know it must have felt like you were fighting a losing battle… but, you are not a pawn here. I care about your health and won’t force you into another war. If you don’t wish to fight, then I won’t ask you to. I simply ask you to not leave. Not with a magnificent blinding light like yours… you have to let me show you its full potential. I have lost people I cared for, in the way as you. I have always been underestimated and looked down upon, but so much like you I will give my very life for complete strangers. I know having you by my side I will gain so much confidence as a God simply because you are a god in your own right. You know instinctually how to lead the masses, the line between good and evil… You know what loss truly means and you will stop at nothing to keep someone from feeling the same pain you’ve endured… Tatsumi, I couldn’t imagine any greater beacon of hope for my people than the very boy in front of me. Please, accompany in my journey to rid the evil from this world once and for all.”
Tatsumi was younger than the others, inexperienced even compared to them, but clean: untouched, unchanged, untamed. Like a breath of fresh air after a storm you thought would never end. His first instinct isn’t to fight, it’s to save.

I knew I couldn’t hide our presence much longer from my other Saints and I understood it was time to introduce yet another member to our team.
Seeing how well the last meeting went, I couldn’t wait. I glanced behind to make sure he was near and I shoved open the front doors. I knew they would hear the wood scrape against the tile floor. We had only a matter of seconds… The air in the house had grown stale in my absence but they had managed to keep it clean nonetheless.
I grabbed his wrist and pulled him behind me. Nearly dragging him across the living room floor. I didn’t even make it halfway…
Tatsumi slammed against my back and winced. I failed to shield him entirely from the peering eyes.
“My lady, welcome back.” “Where did you run off to this time? More errands?”
I plastered a fake smile and greeted them as robotically as I could. I sensed Tatsumi stiffen against my back as he looked towards the voices. What are they? Giants?
Something else had peaked their interest. Their attention was off me, and they moved around me to see what I was attempting to hide. Tatsumi was pulled from my grasp and I spun around to watch them inspect him thoroughly.
These guys look like they could eat me for dinner.
“You’ll just accept any applications, won’t you?” I expected as much from Zero, but not Haji, “He certainly is petite… feeble even, Miss. Wouldn’t you agree, demon?”
Demon? The newest addition’s eyes grew twice in size and I heard his sharp intake of breath.
“Batman, you could use him as one of those… Oh, what did you call it? A ‘bent flying disk’?” Zero snickered. “I did not think of such a thing… He is indeed of the optimal weight.”
“ENOUGH!” The older men jumped back… it took a moment but they grew to look ashamed not because of their actions but because of my response. My foot tapped excessively against the tile as I struggled to use my words. I didn’t want to make yelling at them a regular thing.
Even though a small part of me, and I do mean small part, was glad Haji and Zero were finally returning to their normal antics.
“Tatsumi,” He perked up slightly and locked onto me, “Please forgive their blatant rudeness. They are usually better at concealing it. Haji and Zero, it is my pleasure to introduce the newest addition to our little team: Tatsumi. An assassin from the Red Capital and the wielder of the almighty Incursio armor. Don’t let his appearance confuse you, he is a strong warrior. A truly empowering addition to our team.”
Tatsumi did not bow, did not smile, did not say a word… only looked at me in awe. I speak of all my men in high regards, I wonder if it was something he was not accustom to.
She lied. She thinks I’ll fight anyway… That’s all anyone can see me as: a tool. I won’t fight for her; I won’t fight for anyone! Not anymore!!
He spun on his heels and ran at top speed out the front door.
I was too stunned to stop him, same went for my men. I could only watch, astonished, as he ran from my sight. What just happened?

“Tatsumi! Tatsumi! Where are you?” Zero left Haji and I to search for him separately. Something about it being “more effective”; I just wanted to find him. It felt like we have been out here searching for hours and I couldn’t find a trace of him.
He couldn’t leave this realm… not without my help.
Will he still try?
Please, let me be wrong.

That damn woman and her need for greenery. Zero marched through the prickly shrubs, irritated beyond belief being out at this time of night looking for a child.
What was she thinking bringing on a liability like that?
He didn’t mention it to the others but he had picked up Tatsumi’s trail a little way back right before he suggested they split up. Something told him those two could only make this worse.
That’s when he spotted an opening just ahead; the moonlight was at its full potential shimmering down free of all hindering branches.
Zero tried to ignore the fact that the kid might mirror a young version of himself.
So young; so lost.
Damn it. Focus so you can get the hell out of this rainforest before sunrise.
Coming out of the trees, he could finally make out a small figure in the clearing, “Kid.”
The younger male in question jumped slightly from the gravelly voice coming from behind him; Tatsumi didn’t bother to face the demon head on.
Zero stepped out from the shrubbery and brushed off all traces of it from his jacket, “I don’t have the time nor the patience to find out why you ran away. I am smart enough to get the jest, kid…” Tatsumi’s eyes were now on him as Zero spoke, “I didn’t want to fight either. At first, the very thought pissed me off to no end… I was damned if I was just going to become someone’s tool for their own personal gain. Nothing more than a pawn in their game of chess, but you can feel it too. You don’t know what it is, but you want to protect her don’t you? Maybe it’s only our “birthright”, as she says, of being Saints, but I question it.”
Tatsumi couldn’t physically voice an appropriate response to his question but gave a forced nod, “Don’t get mushy on me, and don’t get it wrong: I don’t give a damn about you. Or her for that matter… She’s clumsy, moody, irrational, and arrogant. She’s a horrible cook, awful confidante, and completely and utterly helpless… She’s useless, how she was ever selected to be our God is mind blowing to me and it is a wonder she is even alive today, but I degrease… I simply know without me, or you I guess for that matter, she is nothing more than a hopeless cause. She doesn’t stand a chance and I won’t let someone like her decide the fate of my world. We are the ones that have everything to lose, she doesn’t.”
“But I– “
“--Be quiet, child. We have everything to lose, not her. There are people you want to save, right? Ones you have to protect? They won’t make it if we don’t work with her. Now, I don’t want to hear any more of it, get your shit together because we have no time to waste. Every single second we aren’t focus she takes another step to becoming an even more utter and inevitable mistake.” He had said his peace and the kid would do with it what he wanted. Zero turned to leave and didn’t bother looking to see if Tatsumi was following because he was stopped dead in his tracks… There almost completely hidden in the shadows, on the very edge of the trees, was the very subject of their conversation.
How much did she hear?
Zero searched my wide blue eyes for any trace of tears and found none. I did not dare to speak. He moved towards me, with his hand raised, wanting to mend at least some damage he might have just caused but I didn’t give him the chance. I simply turned back and faded as one with the night.
We are not friends and after overhearing that… we never will be.
Did I mean it all? Part of it, or none of it? I didn’t think about the possibility of her hearing my unexpressed thoughts before I voiced them.
Zero now preoccupied with thoughts of how this night turned out even worse than he could ever imagine… Distractedly, headed back towards the bright lights of his for-now place of residence.
I don’t even know how much weight my own words carry anymore…

I didn’t purposely try and not speak to Zero, I simply hadn’t. Before I realized it, days had passed and I still didn’t find myself even wanting to look at him. Maybe this was the best, I was only his employer after all. We had a deal and I’d adhere to that.
He hadn’t attempted to speak with me either for that matter.
It could only mean he meant every hurtful word that left his lips. I knew I didn’t hold the highest definition of a God but did it matter that I’m trying?
Apparently not. It could only serve as motivation to grow and I guessed that was enough for me. However, I couldn’t explain some sense of betrayal buried deep within my bones. I was sure it would only pass with time but until then, I wouldn’t burden him with my presence any further.
I will prove my worth or give my life trying. That is all that matters.

I entered the dining room in the early glow of morning, Haji greeted me as usual but I could feel other eyes on me.
Zero watched for any acknowledgment of his presence and received none. He examined my every move around the table and into the kitchen. No expression or feeling was evident for him to study.
I wouldn’t give him anything.
I was too engrossed in avoiding Zero that I didn’t realize Tatsumi was in the kitchen. He flinched when he heard my steps coming towards him, similar to that of a child hearing the angry stomps of a guardian.
So that makes two that have turned against me. How long until Haji? It was too painful to think about how I could be left all alone again.
I quietly moved to pour myself a cup of coffee, I could hear his feet shuffling but it didn’t sound like they were growing distant. I didn’t want to bother him with my existence either but out of respect I had to, “When would you like me to take you back?” My eyes stay concentrated on the cup in my hands as I waited for his answer.
“What are you talking about? I’m not leaving.” At that I turned and the mug fell. I couldn’t keep my fingers around it, I had to know if I heard him right. My face must have shown great confusion.
“I said I’m not going… unless you want me to. Then I guess I should, but I hope you’ll let me stay here.” “…you want to stay? Here?”
His gaze did not wavier and he actually smiled at me, “Can I?”
I couldn’t find any words that seem right, so I held out my hand waiting for our contract to be sealed.
Tatsumi looked at the gesture intrigued, and hesitated to return the favor. He finally took my hand but having a grip on me he pulled me to him in a tight hug.
He felt warm, and safe.
No one had ever hugged me before… It was different than when you are the one to initiate it, you expect it. This was nothing like that. This was not planned.
This was so much… better.

Chapter Text

It was hot and muggy with the sun beating directly down upon us. My own training from hell, but what does that tell you about my stoic Saint willing partaking in this with me. Masochist.
Training under these harsh conditions brought it to another level, though. Easier to get stronger. Easier to become who they all need me to be.
After a long day, Haji and I had only just finished on the pale red dirt field when Tatsumi strolled up, untouched, asking if it was possible for a team meeting; my tanned body was beaten and sore, bruised from Haji ruthless punches, and all I wanted at that moment was a shower. Tatsumi didn’t ask a lot from me, so I nodded in confirmation to Haji dejectedly and we headed back toward the house. Haji went inside and retrieved Zero without a word uttered from me.
Words were so redundant when it came to him and it made me smile at our wordless conversations. How many nights had we shared stories without uttering some much as a word.
I thought we spent plenty of time inside when it came to assembling and I opted for using the porch as our meeting grounds for once. Furthermore, if I was going inside it would be to wash off… not to hold a “team meeting”. Close quarters with Zero after a long day was the last thing I wanted to experience. In this state, I’d find him unbelievably more annoying.
I leaned, relaxed, against the post, happy to catch my breath. Haji really put up a fight that day, and was testing my ability. Days of this would do wonders for my future battles. I owe Haji his own world after all this mess was over.
I signaled to Tatsumi to begin with a wave of the back of my hand. He seemed to have a thicker layer of confidence when he spoke up today, I was pleased, “I would like if we could be all on the same page, well… seeing how we will all be fighting, in terms, together. I don’t like being the only one who doesn’t know anything. I want to know everything you can tell me, Nikki, about: us, your powers, and in particular who or what we are fighting against.”
I didn't bother myself to look at Zero when he spoke to me, after Tatsumi finished. It had been awhile since I had heard his deep, baritone, voice especially with it being directed at me. I couldn’t say I missed it, it always lacked emotion and that irritated me. I knew he damn well had feeling only had experience to conceal them, “It’s a full team, no more Saints, right? The losers are all present and accounted for?” He sounded like the question was rhetorical and almost sarcastic, but thankfully, my eyes hadn’t been on Zero or he would have seen the flicker of hesitation in them. Good thing I hate to waste my time looking at him.
“They are all accounted for.” I answered, robotically, yet convincing enough for the other Saints. Not convincing enough for Zero however; he saw right through me but us lacking the level of trust needed he chose not to question me aloud and in front of the others. We read each other easily and almost flawlessly. It was maddening. I wasn’t quite lying, they were in fact “accounted for” but I still wasn’t telling the whole truth… Zero knew that.
Tatsumi and Haji rarely, if never, questioned me but that didn’t stop Zero for being skeptical at my every word… certainly after our fight. Correction, his fight aimed at me.
It seemed for the most part go unnoticed, and I flew under the radar with my dishonesty once more, “The man who has taken my powers goes by the name of Damien and he is wicked to the bone. Evil has filled his once human heart, since I am the only true God, I am the only one to possess a God heart. However, he contains similar powers as me and because of some unknown reason they match mine in strength. Damien has chosen to rule with villainous intent. He will kill us without a second thought for trying to take his, stolen, power away. He has already gotten close before, but now more of us exist,” I stated feeling hopeful, “More of us are together. He can’t hold out forever. Not against all of us.”
I had to make myself clear to the youngest Saint most importantly, the one who was the greenest on my team. He had faced the least amount of battles, yes, the boy was indeed “strong” … but he lacked experience in this type of fight. I wouldn’t lose him because of ignorance. I bent over his chair resting my palms on the arms of the wooden rocking chair and leaned in. Our faces were inches apart but neither felt uncomfortable. I made sure his emerald eyes were focused on me and only me, “Fighting humans with magical weapons are incomparable to what it will be like fighting a God, do you understand? If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll die. This isn’t a game, Tatsumi. I don’t have time to bury you, you hear me?” I knew it was harsh, but only the truth. Tough love approach was necessary in his survival.
I saw Tatsumi gulp, but his eyes showed determination. He was teachable and I’d be the teacher.

Surprisingly, I had almost grown tired of training, but as of right then Tatsumi was at a huge disadvantage. For him, I’d trudge through my weary body. I wouldn’t be selfish when it came to resting or his life. There wasn’t even a choice. I will not lose him.
I stared down the young boy in front of me on the dusty training field, in a deep brown shirt, that rivaled the shade of his spiky tuffs of hair. The tattered shirt was barely hidden under a chestnut cardigan and his dark-colored jeans tucked into his boots… He lacked in height what he made up for in heart. He wasn’t always confident… but when it came down to the wire, he’d give his all for a complete stranger, “You won’t fight, so you say, but there might come a time where you want to. Or when you have to. Therefore, one should know how to counter a God’s power to give you the best chance of being victorious and saving your life,” I didn’t know why I held no fear of telling them all a God’s weakness, some would call it trust… others stupidity, “We are magical beings, too, but we do not exist for the sole purpose to fight. We have a cap on our powers, that means even we can use up our spiritual energy if pushed. So, if you cannot get close to make direct contact, avoid them long enough for one to exhaust their self, then strike, and you might stand a chance...but no more talking, let’s see what you got, Tatsumi. I might be trying to kill you, I might not. You make the choice. What happens is not on my head.”
Even before I finished the instructions, I shot a massive ball of spiritual energy right at Tatsumi’s chest, he answered in a very ungrateful manner by flopping down on his stomach, grunting against the rocks. It soared right over his body. Yet, my power did not make contact with him and I smiled.
“You can’t simply stop, drop, and roll your way out of this one, Tatsumi!”
This time, I projected a screen of magic approximately 10 feet in diameter. Tatsumi couldn’t answer as he had before. He attempted to run backwards and away from it, but it maintained a faster speed than him. Tatsumi realized this and flew to his right, the projection could not correct fast enough and collapsed against a rock wall.
I shouldn’t have been giggling, but it was like a low budget film. My two other Saints watching, couldn’t have looked more displeased.
They were right at being embarrassed. This wouldn’t teach Tatsumi anything, Damien wouldn’t be slow or weak with his attacks, like I tried not to be… Damien would use him as target practice and be very effective in doing so… killing the boy before he even raised his head.
A giant hand formed from the dirt and grabbed onto Tatsumi’s leg. He couldn’t escape its death grip, and the wind sped up. It picked up the loose dirt and gravel, swirling in a tornado-like capsule around him. Making it hard for the young Saint to see even half a foot in front of him. I knew he’d also have difficulty breathing, but I had no intention of killing him… But I also wasn’t holding back, I must be ruthless. Just like Damien would be, and this “practice” could save his life in battle.
I called out trying to guide my Saint, “Better call out Incursio, Tatsumi or you’ll choke on your own spit in less than a minute.” I maintained a calm, steady speech pattern hiding the fact I was nervous for him.
Seconds trickled by and I still didn’t see any movement inside the capsule that surrounded him. I grew panicked, but understood this was for his own good. I had to hold out as long as I could; this would keep him alive in a real fight. Tatsumi had to be able to think light on his feet and not be stubborn to use his own weapon for petty reasons.
I couldn’t guarantee that I’d always be there to protect him.
Growing tired after the day I had, I couldn’t stabilize the structure for much longer, and against my better judgement, I dropped the capsule.
In its wake stood a shimmering silver titanium knight of a man, even brighter than Zero’s snowy hair, but I wasn’t given much time to study it because the damn thing flew forward at indescribable speed toward me. One second it was across the field, the next… right in front of me. Less than a breath away; I didn’t even have time to jump at being spooked.
Metal clanked against an impenetrable glass-like barrier. A second later and… I shivered. Rather not think of that. It used its weapon to push against the barrier with the tip of the huge arrow-shaped spear.
The spiritual pressure was immense.
My barrier started to pucker around the compression of the sword, and I fought to keep it up.
“Tatsumi?” I croaked with a suddenly dry throat, that was the only explanation… but I never saw what Incursio took the form of so I was unsure.
A chuckled bounced around from inside the intimidating armor, I’d recognize that laugh in a thunderstorm.
It was Tatsumi alright, but I couldn’t tell if he had actually attempted to hurt me.
“You said to wait them out.” He giggled like a child, very impressed with himself, so was I, “And I did. I’d say I won this time, Nikki.”
That kid was good.

I didn’t know the exact reason why I found myself wide awake so late into the night. I attempted to roll over and fall back asleep… but sleep did not come to me no matter how badly I craved it. My mind was swirling with a million questions and strategies. The loud, boisterous, voices shouted every possibility of failure. The countless voices only stopped when I was in their presence.
I couldn’t take it a second longer!
Suddenly, I found my room annoying to even look at. I could suffocate in here. A God should not be confined… They should have everlasting space… I wonder if now, after them, I’d find that lonely.
I kept as quiet as I could in the halls, trying not to wake the others. My steps barely making a sound against the mahogany. I stepped out onto the porch, mesmerized by the number of twinkling stars in the blanket of night. The night is so vast, ever ending…. And somehow isolated. The stars hushed the voices plaguing my mind.
Escape. Leave this all behind. The only one seemed to whisper.
My mind felt so clear suddenly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of something bad was fast approaching… A door opening from behind brought me back to reality, Tatsumi apologized for interrupting. I explained it was alright, secretly I craved the company and asked him if he would care to join me.
I wanted nothing more than to learn more about the kid, but wouldn’t push my desire for friendship on him. Or it could push him away.
“I have always enjoyed the night more,” Tatsumi said poetically, “during the day it is harder to ignore the evident ugliness in the world.” His words sounded like those of an elder, but his body couldn’t be no older than a teenager. His mind was the only thing aging, not his physical being. I guess that’s what happens after taking part in the numerous battles he was forced into.
“Do you believe my worlds are ugly?”
Tatsumi quickly corrected himself afraid to insult me, when in all reality I appreciated his honesty, “No, but I believe there are ugly people doing ugly things in your worlds.”
“I see. That is a very mature observation,” Trying to compliment him, not sound mocking. I gazed out across the towering trees, he was right. There was great ugliness out there, but in that moment, I had to assure myself there must be beauty too. For where there is dark, there must be light. You cannot have one without the other.
I didn’t think Tatsumi was comfortable enough for me to push the heavy conversation, but he surprised me, “Before… I saw beauty everywhere, now I really must strain to find even a small amount. That makes me sound crazy, right?” Of course, you do… You’ve been faced with so much in your short amount of time on earth… and have suffered at every turn, never rewarded for your valiance. How could my worlds be the reason for his struggles? Indirectly what Tatsumi has faced was because of me… I was the only reason he had suffering.
I felt ashamed, but hid that from him, “Not at all. If no one faced any hardships, the once overwhelming beauty would be treated as nothing more than an annoyance, but one can never stop looking for beauty.” Everything she says always makes complete sense.
The conversation turned on its head after some silence, “So living with two demons, that’s gotta be different.”
I giggled, “It sure is an adjustment.” I said teasing, and Tatsumi laughed in return, it wasn’t boisterous, or nonexistent either, it was perfect. It was the kind of laugh that made you want to do the same, and I needed to hear more of it, “I don’t really remember what ‘quiet’ felt like. They’re loud, and at times down right, obnoxious. They never stop arguing, sometimes it’s “a fight to the death” and other times just picking fun at the other… I don’t get it; how could they be enemies and friends at the same time?” I looked down shaking my head at the thought of the two, with a grin pulling my lips, friends, I loved that word, “but I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I could never go back to what life was like before sound came into my life. Haji and Zero are good people, and good men… I would protect them with my last breath,” Tatsumi smiled so sadly at my words and he appeared to be remembering something powerful. I had to break my concentration on him or I’d lose my words because he looked so moving, but he deserved to know, “I would protect you just the same. I won’t let anyone take you away from me. Not after how much you’ve changed my already changing world.” It was true, he had done so much for me, without him even knowing, I shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly, “Though, it does not appear as if you’ll need my help. Not after what I saw today…you were incredible,” Tatsumi blushed at such compliments, “That speed, that brute strength… that massive aura, took my breath away, quite factually. You easily could be more powerful than Zero or Haji even, what with you being a Saint and an Angel? They don’t stand a chance, but… at least I know if something were to happen to me, you’d be their best bet…”
“Nothing is going to happen to you.” He said strongly, like a solemn oath spoken aloud to me.
“Not with you by my side.” I said truthfully.
I heard the slight catch in his breathing, and he didn’t dare look at me yet, too powerful of a moment, “You’re someone I trust, I can feel it in my bones. It has been a long time since I have felt that way about someone… I couldn’t stand to lose you. I don’t want to go anywhere. So, I will stay here, I will protect you, and I will help you in any way I can, if you’ll let me. Because… you give me hope, and you remind me of what it is to care about someone again… You’re my friend, Nikki and I won’t lose you too. I’ll fight for you, and your crown.”
My hand came up to rest on his soft one that laid passionately clutching the railing, “We’ll fight, Tatsumi; we’ll fight together. We’ll fight for this world.”
We basked in the powerful, moving, silence and the oath we had just sworn.
“What will you do when this is all over, Nikki?” I caught his compelling gaze when I turned slightly toward him. No one had ever asked me that before… We were all too fixated on the war. Every now and again I wondered the same myself, but knew it was only a faraway fantasy. Still, I’d be honest with him, he did care enough to ask.
“I like to think… I’d go and live in my realms. Learn more about my people, their traditions, and their everyday lives. I’ll dance to music I’ve never be given the chance to hear before. I’ll eat foods from all across the plains, and meet people I could only dream about. I’ll be free to breathe and not constantly look over my shoulder. I won’t have to train or lead… I can be the version of me I never thought I’d get to be.” I lose myself in her words and the picture of Nikki I can’t wait to meet.
“What version will that be?”
“Someone who can be thought of as a friend, and a good one at that. Someone people trust and won’t try to take advantage of. Someone who speaks her mind and her heart. Someone people can’t leave behind…”
“Are you afraid of being left behind?” Tatsumi sounded surprised.
“Isn’t everyone scared of something?”
“Are Gods scared of anything?”
“…The good ones are.”

It was the first time in a while, that I was completely contempt with staying up all night. When I did retreat to my room, I was overcome by a horrible coughing fit. Clutching my stomach to relieve the pressure, and trying to stay standing…
A rattling in my chest, and my limbs unresponsive… The room was spinning. I thought surely, I’d die in my own room… all alone, and before all of it was over. I was afraid, truly afraid.
After several minutes, it slowly subsided and I pulled my hands away… only to find the inside of my palms splattered with blood.

Chapter Text

It had been a few weeks since Tatsumi and I had that deep conversation on the balcony. Things were going well. Everyone was training and strategies were being put into place.
“Haji, do you have the reports for the week?” Haji and I, after walking into Damien’s trap, decided it would be in our best interests to place scouts in each of my realms looking for any signs of Damien and what he might be up to. Every week we were left with stacks of paperwork we must go through by hand to get caught up.
Scouts were great and helpful, but I was the only true person to be able to track Damien when his spiritual pressure popped up.
However, I couldn’t be everywhere at once and train the team. Plus, at that moment and time if I did find him there wasn’t a lot I could do in that state.
Haji barely looked up from his own stack, “Yes, I am still going through all of them. Prevalent signs of: random, possible, sightings based from the description you’ve provided, but nothing substantial, Miss.”
“Are the ones of importance laid apart from the rest for me to have a look at them now?”
“They have been placed on your desk, my lady.”
“You’re the best, Haji.” A compliment left again acknowledged, Haji didn’t quite know who to response to praise so he pretended to not hear it. It was rather humbling and at times down right funny.
Anyway, back to the scouts. So far, nothing concrete came from the reports. It seemed like Damien decided to work under the radar. I had no idea what he could be up to, but it couldn’t be good. That was why the scouts were so important, the minute Damien resurfaced we would have a better chance of knowing and planning accordingly instead of being left in the dark.
There was no more room left for surprise meetings.
I was just about to head to my office when Haji called out that there was something I needed to see… from a scout in Magnolia.

“We have to go to Magnolia right now.”
“The hell we do.”
“Zero…”
“Don't you ‘Zero’ me. You’re crazy.” Not like I’ve heard that one before… It had become his catchphrase, really.
I was losing my patience, “Zero.” I warned, he was going to end up pushing me too far.
“Nu uh. Not going.” He said so much like a child throwing a fit.
I looked at the others to back me up but all Haji had to offer was silence.
Letting me fight my own battles, I see.
Here we all were, Zero and me bickering like school children, in the middle of the foyer, only minutes from practically walking out the door for our first mission.
Tatsumi tried to minimize the disagreement, “Maybe she’s right…” but Zero shut him down with a backwards glare.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, Tatsumi stepped back just from Zero’s scowl.
How did Zero become the leader of their little group?
Who would have called that one? I snickered inwardly.
I sure as hell wouldn’t have.
No matter, I’m still the ruler over all.
My voice dropped and my foot was down, “Zero, this isn’t a request. I simply gave you the courtesy of knowing my next move before I made it. Don’t act like we’re in a place where I value your opinion.”
His purple eyes shined in my direction. I felt his anger flood the air, but he bit it back, “Fair enough. But Damien is crazy strong, and you don’t even have any substantial information that he is in Magnolia.”
I shoved the newspaper up and into his massive stone-like chest, “This isn’t evidence enough? Those are my people, dammit Zero.”
Zero didn’t immediately respond, only looked at the article title that nearly had me in an uproar just a few moments ago. “King Damien has declared today: Beheading Day” It read.
Haji received it attached along with a report and had brought it to my attention.
Seeing the evident fury lying semi-dormant in my dark blue eyes, Zero understood I planned to go with or without him.
Sure, my stubborn Saint would go… but not without first saying his peace, “This isn’t because of him, is it?” I shot a look at Haji for telling Zero about such a personal matter, but the older man’s look of slight surprise confirmed he wasn’t the one who told.
But how did Zero know…
It wasn’t important who told, “No.” I snapped shortly, “It’s not, the paper says the one to be executed is a strong, well known and loved person in the community. Probably, the old mayor, or another politician even. Someone who can be used as an ‘example’,”
I clenched my fist into a tight ball, “I can’t let someone my people care about be harmed because of me… This isn’t for them, it’s for me. It’s a warning for me, Zero and I don’t appreciate it. Damien is not a king over anything, especially not over my people. I will not let him rule for a second longer. They need someone’s help and I will go. Now, are you in or out?”

“What is the plan?” Zero inquired as we stood on an edge of a cliff just outside the city limits.
In front of us laid Magnolia, in the aftermath of a beautiful sunrise, it almost looked like a proud and strong city that wasn’t being commanded by a lunatic. Almost.
It had been months since I had visited… Had that much time really slipped through my fingers?
I peeled my eyes away and turned back to face them all.
“The execution is set to take place soon, which means he should be getting into position soon. If I know Damien, he will want a front row seat to watch his plan in motion. Haji, Zero, and I will push ahead. Using the roofs as our cover. Stay high and stay fast. Most importantly, stay near me. No one will see us coming. We strike when we have confirmation of the prisoner and Damien himself.”
“What about me?” Tatsumi looked surprised I hadn’t initially included him in the attack place.
I looked at those big emerald stone eyes and simply smiled.
“You will stay close too, but I won’t make you engage. Per our agreement. Promise me, if something goes wrong you will grab the prisoner and get out of there. We can take care of ourselves, but if we lose this politician we might lose the people. Everyone got it?”

“Peasants! Gather around, the almighty King Damien commands your attention!”
The court yard filled quickly with my people, so many terrified eyes and tear stained cheeks… That wasn’t how it should have been.
Most looked starved and bruised…even the little ones. My heart burned looking at them below us.
I kept an eye out for Damien to appear.
“There he is…” I whispered. I felt Zero start to move up, but I reached over grabbing ahold of his sleeve, “Not yet. We don’t have eyes on the prisoner.”
It was understood we wouldn’t engage with Damien unless needed, only shake his grip over this city.
We were well aware we could be walking right into a trap, and couldn’t risk being caught.
I would simply undermine Damien’s authority. He wouldn’t be able to rule this realm without his established fear. I was taking that away that day.
The people would fight if I gave them something to fight for.
I watched as Damien came to the middle of the raised stage from a gaudy “throne” just off the side. He was wearing a horribly fake crown and instead of a scepter, he held an axe with a curved blade at the top. I noticed it was slightly stained red and my blood boiled.
I could barely stay still.
“My useless and utterly replaceable servants, you are gathered here today to witness my wrath and impenetrable control over each and every one of you. Take what you see here today as a warning of what will come if you try and go against me: you will fail.” He chuckled like he had just told the world’s best joke.
Sickening.
I didn't think it was possible to grow more outraged, until I saw the true and present fear on my people’s faces. They were truly afraid of his threat. What had he done to them?
Why hadn’t I done something sooner? I am just as much to blame as Damien for not doing anything to stop him.
My train of thought was derailed by two guards dragging out someone, the prisoner.
The man in their arms was bloody and had been beaten, from what I could tell, repetitively and ruthlessly. His clothes had torn and were long gone from his weary body. All that remained were a pair of blood soaked pants. His chest had been deeply cut and prodded; you could see muscle peeking out from behind the open flaps on skin.
It was disturbing. I grimaced.
For only a politician, he appeared to muster great pain tolerance to withstand…such horrendous treatment. My people were strong, but Damien shouldn’t have been a test for them to prove themselves.
I already knew their worth.
No one could make out the prisoner’s identity for there being a cloth bag over his head that was also stained red with his own blood.
It didn't matter who this man was or is; he was one of my people. Those who I swore to protect and I had let him down. I let them all down.
Just as much to blame as Damien. It echoed through my mind.
The prisoner was thrown against the wooden block in the center. His hands were tied and he couldn’t stop his momentum as he slammed against the solid wood with a gut wrenching thud.
My plan of attack suddenly changed when the cloth over his head was yanked off.
“Oh my god…”
The black and sticky hair fell from its confides and gathered on the wood. It was then I noticed the dried and crusty blood attempting to cover the guild mark on his left arm.
If it hadn’t been for Haji’s immediate death grip on me, I would have moved up, rushed to his side, and blown our cover.
Somewhere far, far away, I could hear my oldest Saint’s attempt at a comforting voice but I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage.
I did this.
I felt like weeping, and I struggled to stay in control.
Blackness… oh, how badly I wanted to give in.
The small rational side of my mind, warned I would put the others at risk by surrendering to the darkness inside me: they weren’t in position yet.
I removed Haji’s hand without looking back and the executor moved up beside the man.
He elevated the blade high in the air and over his sprawled-out body.
Fragile, and unprotected… he laid like no one would come to his aid.
His body: covered in dried blood and open cuts.
Rage, so much rage, radiated inside my body.
I felt Zero tense when I did not go to make a move. Impatient as always, I thought. There was nothing more that I wanted to do than move up… but if I moved too soon I couldn’t guarantee saving him. The guards would remove him quickly and kill him somewhere else where I couldn’t intervene; I wouldn’t let that happen.
The slanted blade rose higher and higher, I nearly lost sight of it in the bright sun above.
Damien was almost giddy with excitement.
Finally, the executor held his position for a breath, then slammed the axe down.
Until it met my barrier, of course.
I would come to your aid, always. I swore.
I froze the blade midair just above his exposed pale neck.
The executor pulled back and tried again but it stopped in the same spot as before.
Damien was infuriated. Quickly storming across the stage, cursing, snatching the axe away. He ruthlessly shoved the guard back, easily crushing all the guard’s ribs by doing so.
Time to up the ante.
My barrier was still there this time, but I added a thick layer of recoil. When Damien tried to bring that blade down he was thrown back and across the stage like a rag doll.
I was done laying dormant.
I couldn’t hold back my boastful laughter. It came out evil, and that was exactly how I felt, evil, “Just what do you think you’re trying to accomplish, bastard?” I yelled out smugly drawing the attention away from him.
I was standing triumphantly on the roof just across from his “ceremony” with a smile plastered on my lips and my arms crossed over my chest confidently. My nails digging painfully into my arms to keep myself from giving in to my desperate need to run to him.
Rogue, my heart called out.
I let the fury swell, and I let it encase my being.
If I focused too hard on him, I’d surely get all of us killed.
But just as I had wanted all the heads in the crowd turned back and up toward me.
I held my gaze on Damien. The pure anguish in Damien’s eyes was more than enough for me, but that was only just the beginning. I would get up close and personal, then he could see what my eyes held after he made the grave mistake to go after one of mine.
I gave in and glanced over at the man leaning against the block of wood.
Rogue could barely look up from the wooden block when he heard the estranged familiar voice, and found me.
I am so sorry, Rogue, I whispered.
The fury was muddled and attempted to be replaced with nothing but guilt.
You came… I trust you to take care of the rest.
There was no smile or even a slight expression of recognition on his face.
I had to look elsewhere out of shame. I chose back at Damien. This was all because of him.
Wrath came slamming back into me. He’d pay, I’d make sure of that.
At a lower octave speaking to himself, “I should have known you’d make an appearance… you always do come for the pitiful, don’t you?” Damien scoffed and raised his voice, “Why Alexandria, I’m killing a pathetic Saint, what the hell does it look like I’m doing?”
Damien tried to bring that blade back down on Rogue again, like the first time was only but a fluke, and he was thrown back once more.
With the back of my hand I sent him flying backwards on top of the recoil into several stone walls.
My laughter must have been contagious because the crowd began to chuckle like this was a skit Damien and I had rehearsed.
“Guards!” He bellowed, and I took it as my cue. I jumped down from the rooftop and behind Rogue. I held out my arms and used my body to shield him from the incoming backup.
They were not taking him away. I would not let them. No one would touch him ever again.
I’d destroy them all if they tried.
Haji and Zero not a second behind me, touched down in front of me.
Hundreds of civilians ran from the court square afraid of getting swept into the impeding fight.
I projected another field, this time in front of us. It kept the majority of his men, trying to attack, at bay. Zero and Haji took care of the few stranglers.
I should have begun to fight right that second but my heart commanded my body, make sure he is ok it demanded; I took my eyes off my enemy for only just a second.
Sometimes there are things more important than the battle, sometimes there are people who need you to do more than fight…
“Rogue? Can you hear me? Hold on. You’re going to be alright, okay? Just stay with me for a second more.” I cut the binds on his hands, and his arms fell slack by his sunken sides.
He hadn’t been eating, I realized brokenly.
I gently turned him in my direction, and lifted his body off the cruel block. I softly pulled back the blood-encrusted hair from his face. He seemed to lean into my soft fingers tracing his cheekbone.
Up close, I could easily evaluate the swollen eyes, busted lips, and deep bruises. They tortured him… He wouldn’t have made it much longer… It’s a wonder he was still alive.
I wanted to take him and run far away from here… from everything… from anything that could ever hurt him again…
But there was something I had to take care of first: I’d get revenge on those who dare to do this to him… Then, I’d make sure no one would ever get hurt like this again.
No one.
Thank you. I knew you’d come.
Beneath one swollen lump of skin hid a beautiful garnet colored slit of an eye.
How I’ve missed that color. Nothing in the world, not matter how hard it tried, shared the same shade.
I begged, “Rogue, stay with me. Please…” His eyes seemed to sparkle and smile before he lost consciousness.
He slumped against me but I supported his weight, I wouldn’t him fall, “Rogue!” I was frightened and shook him, but he did not respond.
“Tatsumi! Get him out of here!” I yelped panicked, and held Rogue up until Tatsumi showed. I shifted him gently onto Tatsumi’s back. Wearing incursio, I knew he’d had no problems carrying Rogue.
I saw the stern lines on Rogue’s forehead soften… he was no longer in danger: he was safe.
“Take care of him.” Tatsumi nodded and I watched till they were gone from my sight.
With Rogue, out of immediate danger, I let my wrath free. Doing this to one of my people was one thing… but to one of my Saints…
Someone was going to pay and pay with their life.
I turned back to the fight at hand.
I knew Damien’s helpers weren’t human, but something else. Using rational thought, that I certainly lacked at that moment, would have told me: he created these things and had by doing that he was momentarily weakened…
I had not grown any stronger. My emotions for what Rogue went through were the only thing feeding my power.
But right then, I simply did not give a damn.
A few of these artificial men started to leak past the sides and I engaged, enjoying it thoroughly. Some I kicked off the high rise, some I picked up and threw into more of them, and some I completely obliterated.
Their ashes smelled like burnt rubber; I relished in it.
My eyesight became more focused on the thought of Damien, black blurring the sides of my vision.
Only red remained.
The only thing I cared about was revenge and I was going to make sure I got it!
“Stop being a coward, Damien! Face me!”
I was getting closer to his retreating form.
Coward.
I was closing the distance quickly and showing no mercy to anything that stood in my way.
More black flooded my vision, but the red shined brighter.
Most his things had been taken care of and Damien was losing the upper hand, quickly, I might add.
I stood him down, but before I could make contact… Zero wrapped an arm around my waist and yanked me back against him, “We were not to engage, remember? You and I can argue later, but right now you need to stop being stupid!” His rare booming voice right in my ear, and his arm felt like a harness across my chest.
It felt secure, no room for movement… but not safe. I felt trapped, and I did not like it in the least.
Black magic sparked off me as if it was huge bolts of electricity. It cracked like thick leather whips in the air.
I was losing my grip on reality. I wanted blood.
Destruction.
Murder.
I’m sure it must have hurt Zero for keeping such a firm hold on me… but at that time I failed to notice.
“That was before! This is now! Let me go!!” I screamed, thrashing around.
I hadn’t used my magic to rid myself of Zero’s annoying arms holding me back but I was getting close… No one would stand in my way.
If I had been of a stable mind and body, I would have noticed what Zero had: more were coming to Damien’s aid. A lot more, and fast. We would quickly be outnumbered even as strong as the three of us were…
There was no reason to risk it.
The winds picked up around us, and the sky turned an ugly shade of gray. Dark, intimidating clouds and their menacing claps of thunder filled the air; they blocked out the sun’s rays and were moving toward us. The air grew chilly, almost painful to breathe it in, just like a December morning.
But it felt like everything I could have ever wanted. The world was feeding me power.
Zero’s grip only tightened stubbornly around me, but not without noticing the change in the atmosphere. He was growing anxious and had to talk me down soon, “This wasn’t a plan of attack, this was a rescue mission, Nikki! We aren’t ready.”
I felt his large stone chest pressed right against my back, impossibly, it felt colder than the air surrounding us. It reminded me of that night in the forest... His words…
The sky only grew louder and darker; I squirmed in his grip, I wanted to get away from the pain his hands reminded me of, “Get your damn hands off me, Zero!” I shrieked, “He has to pay!”
“Pathetic,” Damien snickered and I stalled not seeing the skies had too, “I will destroy you all, and you’ll be the last Alexandria… After you’ve watched all who you claim to care for slaughtered right before you and there will be nothing you can do about it.” He shrugged, “I do hate you missed Rogue’s torture; you surely would have loved all the wonderful sounds he made. I’ll set up a time in the near future where you can hear it again in all its glory. Truly a sight you can’t miss!”
I was out of Zero’s grasp before either noticed and near Damien when my fist connected with Damien’s jaw. All the power I could muster after using projecting those fields wrapped around the punch.
It was a great deal of power that I didn’t know I still had in me.
It sent him to floor, the wood crackled, just as the air did and rain began to pelt against the ground. The droplets were thick and heavy, beating against my head.
The wood splintered under the force, his body crumpled, and I enjoyed every glorious second, “You EVER touch a single one of them… and I’ll show you what true torture is really all about.”
I should have pummeled him, I should have bashed his head in, I should have killed him when I had the chance.
I might have been captured but not before I took his life and my power back.
I might have been lost in something, that in that moment I couldn’t explain… Who knows I might have been lost forever, giving in to that power…
It would have been all worth it… Damien wouldn’t be able to ever hurt anyone again.
But that was a mistake I would regret forever; I let Zero grab me again and pull me away. Damien bellowed for more guards, but I picked up on how injured he sounded. It gave me such delight.
His stupid men wouldn’t catch us; we were too fast. Haji followed beside us as we ran from Magnolia that day back to our safe house.
For the first time, we were all together. A complete team, I wondered how long that would last.

Chapter Text

“You are crazy! You do realize that, don’t you little girl!? What could you have possibly been thinking?” Zero grabbed ahold of my bare arm, and I let him. Not because he was strong, which he was, but underneath that tough exterior I believed me being in his grasp could be what Zero needed, “and WHO is that man pretty much dead on the bed in the next room? Why did I almost get KILLED trying to rescue him?” Zero sounded irate, more than ever before, and I wasn’t in any mood to stroke his ego.
Zero was quite literally breathing fire down my neck, visibly not happy with how things in Magnolia had turned out. His body right near me, loud and menacing just like the tone he was taking with me.
His hand tightening around my arm. The kind gesture of letting it stay in his grip was losing its appeal quickly.
We were, definitely, arguing “later”. I rolled my eyes and groaned.
“Stop your yelling, already.” I requested quietly. I yanked my arm away, and kept my eyes closed because my head felt like a pressure cooker ready to erupt, “We planned a rescue mission regardless who the prisoner turned out to be.” I replied sarcastically just trying to get his focus off Rogue.
I wasn’t in the mood to answer any prying questions either.
Why did Zero have to make things complicated?
“Maybe so, but we NEVER agreed to engage, especially with Damien! Do you have a death wish?”
Something inside me snapped, like a weak twig, fighting with Zero was always taken too far, “Hell I might, because I’m still listening to your god-forsaken yelling!” The air and tension in the room thickened impossibly. We were practically seething; ready to kill each other as if we were animals fighting for dominance.
As soon as we escaped from Magnolia, Haji had carted Rogue off into a private room deep inside the house. I knew Tatsumi and Haji were tending to Rogue… but he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Those wounds… It physically pained my heart. Images of them kept flashing behind my closed eyelids.
I wanted to be by his side… but I was stuck here dealing with Zero because no one else could do it.
Even if I didn’t want to answer Zero’s questions, he still deserved answers but this isn’t how he should have went about getting them.
And I couldn’t possibly have Zero’s yelling disturb Haji when he was doing such important work.
So, reluctantly, I kept us both away.
I felt like all Zero and I ever did was fight and tear down the other.
It was utterly exhausting.
I slipped back into my formal tongue because of the strain to remain calm, “You evidently don’t condone the process by which I operate my team because you don’t share feelings of likeness in regards of me! You don’t carry any conviction when it comes to me! You never have…”
Zero’s cool and silent glare was welcoming compared to his obnoxious bickering, that was until he opened his big fat mouth again: “Who even talks like that anymore?”
I was losing all the strength I had left to argue, “Zero, I swear… Enough. You're nitpicking. I cannot take anymore.” I watched the emotional transition Zero went through in only a matter of seconds.
I wondered what could be going through his mind, then I saw the deep inhale and the pinched bridge of his nose under his fingers… He appeared to be faltering as well.
Did fighting with me put a strain on him as well?
His voice came out so much softer than before, I had never heard it so low. I didn’t know it was even possible to sound so soft, “Who is he, Nikki?”
He was trying to simply have a conversation with me instead of fighting so I answered as truthfully as I could, “A companion…”, but I was still afraid.
His scowl was more than enough of a reason to continue; I could tell he knew I wasn't being completely honest. He could always tell. I hated him for that ability.
“He’s a Saint.” I could lie to the best of them, but not to Zero.
I never thought I’d see a shocked Zero expression, but there it was. Ever so present on his face, and for some reason I kept talking, “One of the first. Even before you.”
“You lied… to everyone.” He sounded stunned and it forced us to lock eyes.
“I know, I was trying to protect his identity.” I wasn’t trying to make up excuses, either, I understood I had lied to the team and that wasn’t right.
I didn’t realize that based on what I said in that moment, Zero believed that it was Rogue’s choice not to join us. That was sure to backfire later.
For the first time, Zero stumbled over his words, he couldn’t wrap his mind around it, not as if I could either, “A Saint, but they t-t-tortured him.”
The words held physical recoil. It hurt to even think about it. My gaze snapped away and focused on the floor “…I know.” The flashes of what Rogue must have gone through wouldn’t leave my mind. I could hear his screams vividly… I’d go crazy.
Speaking to the tile because I couldn’t look up, “That is why I warned you of the risks… That is why I plan on protecting you all.”
“You didn’t protect him.” I jumped back, I know I hadn’t. I thought I could put myself through enough punishment to somehow justify my errors, but someone else acknowledging my failure… It could only mean Rogue would too.
He’d never forgive me…
“I messed up, alright? What I did is unforgivable.” My voice breaking as was I. Crumbling like stone worn down from the unforgiving elements.
“Why did you just leave him behind?”
“I DIDN’T!” Now it was Zero’s turn to jump back because of my unexpected shrill, I was sinking, “I didn’t…” I tried again quieter this time yet still brokenly.
There wasn’t anyone to save me from drowning.
The tears burned my eyes, and I shoved past Zero to escape to my room. I was at my utmost limit.
Zero didn’t come after me.

None of the Saints bothered me, I’m sure Zero’s attitude was more than enough of a reason to keep them away and not attempt to ask either of us what transpired.
I didn't leave my room until rather late that night, long after all the Saints have adjourned to their bedrooms.
Part of me leaving the haven of my room was how I always loathed being locked up… but the other… well, that was more difficult for me to explain.
I knew I had no right, but I wanted to see Rogue with my own eyes. Not hear an update about him from Haji.
Seeing Rogue was the only thing that could put my fears at ease… it was the only thing to stop the nightmares.
It took all I had to not sneak in earlier that day.
I tiptoed lightly down the hall toward the “infirmary”. In all reality, it was just a vacant hallway in our mansion that we designated for healing our injuries. I hated to think about how often it had already been used…
I finally found the room I was looking for at the very end of the hall.
The door was left open, and the lights were off. The only form of light came from the uncovered window beside the bed. The window had been left slightly ajar, and a gentle breeze swept through the room cooling the air inside.
What drew my attention was the young man on the rather large white hospital-like bed and the rising and falling of his chest in a, thankfully, steady rhythm. Without thinking, I moved closer to him for a better look.
Instinctually, it was as if we were drawn to one another.
Even in the few hours he had been in Haji’s care, some of the major cuts were beginning to close and the older bruises starting to fade. Gone was that ugly cast of yellow on his face caused be the infections.
That did not comfort me completely, because I saw how his upper torso was wrapped in bandages along with a thick one going around his forehead. All the bandages were tinted with a light spurt or two of red.
“Oooh, Rogue.” I sobbed so quietly, a single tear slipped down my cheek.
His black bangs were being held back from covering his eyes by the bandage. Yet, I couldn’t see those orbs of sunset that I really wanted to. That I needed to.
Instead, his eyes were peacefully closed and I sighed.
Despite everything, I wondered if even in his unconscious state he knew he was somewhere safe and that gave him the comfort needed to sleep properly.
That should have made me feel better, but it made me feel nothing but guilt.
The swelling under his eyes and cheekbones was dissipating. The once humongous cut on his mouth was almost completely undistinguishable from his pink lips.
He no longer smelled of blood, that smell was replaced by alcohol for sterilization and the fresh aroma of soap from cleaning up the excess dirt and grit off his bruised body.
He did not smell like Rogue, nor did he quite look like Rogue. It was hard to believe… that the man who I had attended the ball with, who I danced with, was the same man laying on this hospital bed before me.
It was all my fault.
It pained my heart, in a way I lacked the words to describe accurately, to see Rogue like this and knowing there was something I could have done to keep this from ever happening.
He hadn’t deserved this.
No matter what I did, or who I tried to protect: I failed!
Something is telling me to wake up.
I collapsed beside his bed, keeping myself back from touching him. At this angle, his wounds appeared even worse. It made more tears surface, I laid my head, gently, on his bandaged arm trembling.
Something is telling me that someone needs me.
Letting weakness come forth, and finally letting my emotions to be freed only for an instant. With no one around, I could cry and wallow as much as I liked. All the guilt hit me like a freight train.
A woman… she’s crying.
Falling deeper into that black water… it was going to swallow me up.
It took some time before I could finally pull myself together. A couple hiccups and stray tears here and there… but the majority of it had passed. I eased back and stared at Rogue sleeping soundly.
Even unconscious, he was so handsome… so strong, and so brave.
So much better than I could ever dream to be.
I reached out a curved finger to run along his still lightly bruised jaw…
So lost in the memories that we had shared, I did not hear someone come up behind me.
“Nikki, what are you doing?” I jumped at Tatsumi’s faint voice. I snatched back my hand before he noticed, and turned my back on Rogue, guiltily.
I really should have been more aware of my surroundings.
“Shh. You’ll wake him,” I whispered and pushed Tatsumi outside Rogue’s door. Thinking I had managed to be quiet enough not to disturb his much-needed rest, “What are you doing up at this hour, Tatsumi?”
Rogue faded in and out of consciousness, but the sound of nearby hushed voices grabbed his attention even more. Pulling him from his deep sleep.
“I went to your room to check on you and you weren’t there.”
“Oh, well I’m fine. See,” I gestured down to myself, “You can go get some rest.” I tried to stop the conversation there, but Tatsumi did not care for my attempt. He noticed my red and puffy eyes…
Warmth… it was just here. I felt it.
“There is something going on here that you’re not telling me, Nikki.” Tatsumi stated, all joking gone from his demeanor. He never played around when it came to my tears.
Nikki? Is she here?
I dropped my hands, and gazed deep into his emerald eyes. They were so untouched, yet strong all while remaining humble. I couldn’t find the right words; his glare was too powerful because it was so… understanding. I didn’t want to lie any longer, not to him.
Where is she? I want to see her.
“You know this man, don’t you? That’s why you made me bring him back here instead of getting him looked at in his own realm.”
Did all my Saints just wake up that morning more observant?
“I—I—“
“Do not lie to me, Nikki.” His tone taking a more motherly sound like the one I had used on him many times before.
I gave up trying to hide the truth any further, I was only pushing off the inevitable, “Yes, I know him, alright? Are you happy now?”
It didn’t dawn on Tatsumi then to ask how Rogue and I did in fact know one another… the whole truth escaped for another day.
“No…” Tatsumi huffed like it was nothing more than a silly question from a child; he wrapped his thin arms around me and squeezed. He cradled my head against his shoulder and kept his hand against the back of my head so I wouldn’t pull away.
“I’m still here for you, you know?” He whispered into my hair, stroking down the flying pieces, “Do you remember what you told me once… that night on the porch? You said, ‘I have lost everything, so have you; we had nothing more to lose, but you have me now. And now, you can never truly be alone.’ Don’t forget that you have me too. Don’t take all this on by yourself, if you need me, you know where to find me. I’ll be waiting.”
His arms left me along with the warmth he provided me for what felt like only just a second. He turned to leave but called out softly, “He’ll need some new clothes, nothing here is his size.”
More thinking aloud but Tatsumi still hearing me, “I have just the thing.” His smirk was hidden from me and vanished.
I trotted to my room quickly, and returned with a black sweater in my hand. I tiptoed into his room once more trying to stay as quiet as possible.
I know that smell… honey, and something floral…
I begged myself not to look at him anymore, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted so desperately for those eyes to be opened… but I knew that as soon as they were: happy things would not follow. It would not be a touching reunion that I craved for.
We had a lot to talk about, and I feared the uncertainty.
That woman… she’s close.
I gently placed the sweater on the back of the chair near his bed and left immediately. Fighting the rest of the night not to return.
I know what that fragrant is: cherry blossoms… my favorite.

Chapter Text

Left alone to rest, no one knew when Rogue awoke. When I left several days before, he was still in rough condition… but thankfully, Haji had managed to patch up most of his injuries. Rogue was finally able to sleep soundly, safely, and have the proper time to recover.

And for that, I was thankful.

I believed it was for the best if I didn’t stay in his room, if he woke up I wouldn’t be his favorite person to see. I forced myself to stay locked away inside my office and try to remain busy as to not wonder into his room again.

But when Haji entered Rogue’s room for a routine check in. Rogue was up and walking, slightly disoriented, around the room.

It must have all come flooding back once he fully regained consciousness… Rogue remembered everything.

I was in trouble.

Rogue’s P.O.V.

I yanked out the damn IV, blood ran down my arm in thick lines, but I didn’t give a damn. I tried to pull on an ill-fitting jacket over my bandaged chest. Even I could tell those bandages desperately needed to be changed. I sensed Haji in the room but didn’t bother looking at him.

“You shouldn’t be moving this soon; you should be resting.” Haji reprimanded in his classic voice, it never failed to piss me off, while he glared a hole into my back.

“Oh, shove it, would you? I’m getting the hell out of here.” I barked rudely, and advanced toward the door but Haji blocked my path. The jacket hurt too much so I dropped it on the floor after failing to put it on.

Trying again but without the conviction of his usual self, Haji could already sense this was only the beginning of a rather long day, “Rogue. Don’t be foolish; you’re in no condition to leave.”

Why did Haji always so sound so condescending!

“I am in a well enough condition to leave even with you in my way.” I bit out a challenging threat, let him try.

Haji must have known I wouldn’t listen to his voice of reason, because, to my surprise he stepped to the side and unwillingly let me exit.

Fighting with Rogue would have been the last thing Nikki wanted and Haji realized that.

However, I could only make it to the very end of the hallway, the damn cusp of the living room, when I was stopped by another hardheaded Saint dropping down from the upstairs above me. Flying over the banister just like Nikki must have had done many times before.

Zero looked determined with his arms crossed over his broad chest and standing taller than me by several inches, not like I shy away from a challenge, “Oh, for the love of…” I hissed out because of yet another hurdle in my damn way.

Zero robotically explained, “For some reason, the Mistress—”

“Mistress?”

“--has prohibited you from leaving and well… I am forced to adhere to that. I guess being a Saint and all,” He shrugged nonchalantly not even hearing I repeated that particular word, “I really don’t want to find out what happens when I don’t do as she asks. She can be quite intimidating… So, turn around and go back to your hospital bed.”

 “What?! Are you sleeping with her!?”

Zero’s eyes almost sprung out of his skull, and his face grew an odd color of green Nikki would have loved to see. Zero found himself becoming rather dizzy; the floor wouldn’t stop shifting under his feet. He took involuntary steps back trying desperately to steady his spinning head and I took the chance to stomp past even ridiculously, impossibly, angrier.

Where did he get a crazy idea like that?

Tatsumi had been watching the entire exchange, from the moment I left his room, above from the upstairs banister. Fearing that this would make Nikki upset, he ran to her office door that happened to be right off the staircase. Tatsumi slammed his fist against the oak door repeatedly and yelled out her name but I barely heard him.

My P.O.V.

I swung the door open, my long sweater swishing from the forced wind, and found my voice being a lot louder than I meant to, “WHAT is with all the commo…tion.” My eyes left Tatsumi to look out over the rail at scene taking place in the downstairs living room: an unusual Zero lacking grace, looking sickly, and… him.

I found my boots moving on their own accord as I subconsciously wanted to close the distance between us. I stopped when I came to the guardrail and rested my head in my palm, watching him intently.

I didn’t even realize my mouth had started moving, “Well Rogue, you’re up and moving around quicker than I would have expected. How do you feel?”

He stood strong, proud even. No shirt on, his chest wrapped in linen bandages, and loose-fitting jeans hung on his hips. Despite all that, he looked determined. Even Damien had not diminished his blinding light. I was so damn grateful.

Haji swept past Zero, and in turn they both trudged deeper into the grand living room, effectively blocking Rogue in.

Rogue glanced up in my direction and his eyes turned to slits at the very sight of me, “Oh, don’t act like you give a damn.” Ouch. He tore his death glare away from me, if looks could kill…

“I’m leaving.” He declared and stormed towards the door. I appeared from a small cloud of black, directly in front of him, and spoiled his escape route.

This caused him to instinctually want to get away from me, and not because I had startled him...

He jerked back so quickly, I spotted the faint red color that appeared on his side underneath the bandages. Rogue took three gigantic steps well outside of my reach. Just like that day I told him he was a liability… It hurt me as much as it did then.

Don’t. Don’t do that!” He screeched, shaking his finger at me, like a child.

“Then don’t make me chase you.” I answered irritated, and crossed my arms over my chest. I forced myself to hold back my hands from doing something I’d regret.

“I am not sleeping with her!” Zero roared out behind Rogue, and I had to push fingers against my temples from Zero’s declaration trying to give me a heart attack.

Where the hell did that even come from?

“What are you even talking about, Zero?” I barked and looked past Rogue to glare at Zero. I tried to figure out what the hell was going on, but no one answered me. “I’m missing something.” I realized aloud.

Rogue spun back toward Haji and Zero, “You called her ‘mistress’!”

I screamed out Zero’s name in a reprimanding tone, but he only smirked. I whined, “I told you not to call me that. It’s not funny.”

Tatsumi gasped beside me, appalled. When did he get down here? “You’re sleeping with him?

I swept my hands through my hair, shrieking out over all the senseless chattering that had erupted from some stupid comment, “NO ONE IS SLEEPING WITH ANYONE!”

“Such a silly notation, as if the Lady would choose you as a reasonable suitor to bear offspring with. Such insolence should be punishable by death.”

“HAJI!” I shrieked, not him too. I was surely to lose my mind.

Zero shrugged, partially enjoying all the turmoil he had caused by one simple remark, “Better than you, ponytail. Least I don’t call her ‘my lady’, what are you? 1,000 years old?”

Haji didn't understand that Zero was trying to pick at the older man, but the mood went hostile, “What I address her as, is none of your concern, demon.”

Zero hated being called that especially by Haji. “I’ll show you a demon, bat.

The two began to argue and I couldn’t believe this was happening right in front of Rogue, “SHUT IT.” My irritation was obvious. Both men’s mouths snapped shut and Rogue tried to push past me while I was preoccupied with the others.

I moved in front of him and held out my arms to block the threshold. My sweater fell to pool around my elbows, “You’re not going anywhere.”

Haji spoke up from across the room, his baritone steady voice of reason returning, “Miss. Maybe it is wise for Rogue to in fact leave the premises.”

I did not drop my arms yet, but glanced over to Haji. I always wanted to hear his input, “What do you mean, Haji? What are your thoughts?”

Rogue surprisingly took a step back and looked back as well wanting to hear what he had to say.

Haji adjusted his suit jacket and stepped forward, “As what was made evident in Magnolia some months ago, Miss, Rogue has betrayed your trust once already. The Shadow Dragon Slayer once was working directly with your very enemy to bring about your downfall. Feeding crucial information regarding our movements and eventually leading us into a trap that you, my lady, nearly did not get out of alive.”

Tatsumi eyes shot open with this latest information and Zero tried to conceal his surprise. This was the first time either of them had heard what happened in Magnolia.

“HAJI. Are you serious right now?” Rogue roared at him, “I did not betray her! Damien played me for a fool yes, but I never directly wanted to cause her any damn harm! Who are you to throw such a thing in my face—"

“SILENCE.” Rogue also took my warning seriously. Glancing at me, and quieting down immediately, “Haji does have a point, Rogue.”

His red eyes softened at my words, hurt on his face fully on display, I’d put it there once again. I kept my gaze trained on Rogue.

But, I saw how desperately you tried to save us. Also, you were used as nothing more than his pawn. If I believed for a second you harvested any true negative feelings towards me or my position, I would have not come back for you when Damien ordered to have you killed… Haji, I trust Rogue and that is more enough of a reason for you to as well. I will keep my eyes on him, and if he is to betray the trust, then I will be the only one to blame. I take full responsibility for him and his future actions. Understood?”

Rogue was obviously frustrated, dragging a hand down his face and flailing his arms all about. More red appeared on his side; the bandages were practically soaked through. “Dammit. This is offensive, downright insulting! I don’t need to speak for my past actions, nor a babysitter for my future ones. What do you want from me, Nikki!? Haven’t you done enough? How about you let me leave since you obviously don’t trust me!”

What has she done?

His response confused me… He was angry because I didn’t trust him? But, I just spoke in his defense?

Somehow a, very small, part of me knew deep down I couldn’t blame him even if I wanted to for his anger. I tried to push aside the small amount of hurt I was feeling, and extract the emotion from my voice that would have given me away, “What I want is for you to go back to your room and rest for now.”

“Not going to happen. I. Am. Not. Staying. Here.

“You don’t have a choice in the matter.” I snapped.

And I thought I could piss her off…

“’Don’t have a choice in the matter’?! Either get the hell out of my way or I’ll make you, Nikki.” He snarled like a rabid dog and leaned in close to my face with defiance shining brightly in his eyes. Black scales began to dust his stoic face, and his fangs dropped.

The living room grew dim, and smoky like a fire was blazing nearby.

“You can try, but you will fail.” I spat.

This is none of my business; I shouldn’t interfere.

Rogue’s shadow magic appeared surrounding his palms like black flames and… for a moment I worried it would really come to a physical altercation. I had to do whatever I could to keep him here and out of harm even if that meant I must inflict some harm myself.

They really won’t fight in the middle of the living room, will they?

Tatsumi was the one who broke our concentration as he braced in front of me, protecting me with his body, clutching his sword between his feeble hands and pointing it at Rogue’s heart.

“What do you think you are doing!? She just stood up to her Saint for your sake. HER SECOND IN COMMAND. She just said she trusted you!” He screeched, “And yet you go and do this not a minute later! How could anyone even raise their weapon to their God especially when that God is Nikki!” Anger laced his breaking voice, “She saved you! Do you not remember that? I won’t lose any more people I care about! Not to you. Not to anyone, do you hear me?! I don’t care if she trusts you, I won’t give you the opportunity to lay a finger on her!” Tatsumi roared, clearly unafraid of knowingly facing a stronger opponent if it was in my defense.

I felt so sadden that more of my Saints were fighting against each other.

Once again, I was at the center of all the turmoil.

All of this was almost too much chaos me to deal with.

I rose my hand, carefully, to rest on Tatsumi’s shoulder, my slightly shaking voice hoped to calm his erratic nerves, “It’s alright Tatsumi. I’m right here; I’m not going anywhere. I do trust him. So, put your sword down. We can all be civil… Rogue won’t hurt me, I promise.”

Tatsumi looked back over his shoulder, and I could see he was struggling to hold back those big swelling globs of tears. He was truly afraid of something happening to me, but I gave him a sweet smile and another pat on his shoulder.  Tatsumi sheathed his sword and stepped to the side back out of the way following my orders once more.

Maybe the kid can do something right after all.

Light came back into the room once more.

I noticed Rogue had called back his shadow magic.

A part of me was thankful for Tatsumi’s assertion… but I knew Rogue and I had not yet come to an agreement, “Rogue…” His red eyes snapped to mine, those piercing eyes, “I cannot let you leave.”

He took an unsteady breath, attempting to control his fury, “Why not?”

“Damien will come after you again… Especially now that I have shown him, first-hand, how important you are by coming to your aid. Damien will do anything possible to break this team…”

“He was right, wasn’t he?”

I, automatically, knew what Rogue was speaking of. I wished I could have avoided this until we were alone, “Yes… You are a Saint.” I sighed in defeat.

He didn’t know?

Tatsumi sounded so confused and hurt, “You lied…” I glanced to the side at his small voice, but forced myself to look back to Rogue. Worst of all, I had lied to him. I had put him at risk.

Deep true, pure, rage flashed in Rouge’s eyes once more. I felt it deep within my bones it was directed at me. The Dragon had managed to intimidate me and I almost had to look away... but I found the confidence to hold his gaze.

“You liar,” He spat, “You lied to me.” I could barely hear the hurt in his voice laying unsteady under his wrath. I wanted to try and fix it, if only he would let me… but Rogue wouldn’t hear it. He wouldn’t have it. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

“And I was nearly killed! Because of you. You left me in the dark to protect yourself and almost got me killed in the process!! You trust me, huh? Have you ever thought about the fact I couldn’t possibly trust YOU?” His roar was enough to blow me back a step or two which it did. Outwardly, he was simply trying to disguise his true feelings of betrayal. I lost his faith in me, and now he would question my every judgement.

Oh, no. I should stop this.

Rogue was in my face once again and I held Tatsumi away from intervening once again.

This had to happen, I knew.

I could feel Rogue’s hot breath on my face, yet he did not touch me. He lowered his voice but not his bite, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Hey! Knock it off!” Zero yelled from across the room but Haji kept him from moving forward. Is your trust in the new comer justified, bat?

Under his breath, Haji stated clearly, “My lady said she trusted him, did she not?”

Rogue did not stop his verbal assault despite Zero, “What gives you the right to decide whose life is worth saving or whose is worth sacrificing? What kind of God has favorites?” He slung out the last word and I lost faith in myself quickly.

Was there any truth in his words?

“You didn’t see how she fought for you!” Zero didn’t stop regardless of Haji trying to hold him back.

Who cares if she trusts him, I don’t.

Haji warned, ready to extract Zero, “This is not your fight, demon.”

But Zero had managed to catch Rogue’s attention. Rogue turned from me, but had not quite hear the secret Zero had almost spilled.

“What did you say?”

“NOTHING.” I pushed past Rogue; Zero and I fought without words this time… I did not need his help, nor Rogue’s sympathy… Zero’s lavender eyes looked unclear and foggy, but if I had wanted his help I would have asked.

This was my battle, my atonement, no one else’s.

Finally, it appeared as if I had won.

I spun around to where I left Tatsumi, and strode up to him. Clasping my hands around his small arms and making him look at me. Those beautiful emerald shinning eyes appeared dimmed, “I know I lied to you, but for good reason, you understand?” He nodded half-heartedly, it was not over, but at least I would be given the chance to make it better later.

I took my eyes off my young Saint and focused back on Rogue. I couldn’t let his words go. Was he right?

Impossible. Not a chance.

I am not Damien. I do not value one life over another. I value all life, and I won’t stand for any opposition. Not in front of my team. Not in my team.

How dare I let Rogue of all people make me question myself?

Remember who you are. What you stand for and who is in charge here.

Even Rogue cannot take that away from you.

I shoved him back and let my power ring strong throughout my words, “And you! I am your God! That’s who the hell I think I am!”

That’s right.

I pushed against his chest again but not giving it my all because I reminded myself that he was still wounded, “I wanted to protect you, you imbecile! I lied to keep you safe! To keep you alive! I see now it wasn’t the best plan but don’t you dare skip over the fact that going back for YOU put all of us in at risk too! Or did you so graciously forget that?”

Deep breath, Nikki. Attacking him won’t solve anything.

However, that is a risk I am willing to take for you and everyone else in this room. And all my people! I will always…” I scrubbed a hand down my face roughly. I didn’t need his pity, I scowled, “Forget it. I don’t owe you an explanation; like it or not, you’re stuck here. Deal with it, and for your sake, I’d suggest you deal with it quickly. Then you can get your ass back in that room right now so we can bandage up the wounds you reopened by picking a petty fight with me! Or I will drag you back to that room myself, Rogue. Unlike everyone else, I am not afraid of you. Don’t you ever forget that.”

For a moment, I saw him deciding on what course of action to take and I thought, wrongfully, that it was over. I thought his words couldn’t cut me any deeper.

“I won’t fight beside you, you hear me? I won’t be your pawn either and I sure as hell will not help you in any way… I don’t trust you anymore. You caused this, you drew this line between us, Nikki... I am simply standing on my side of the fence and I will never forgive you for putting us on opposing sides.”

Another part of me shattered but to my amazement I didn’t crumble outwardly and in front of everyone else under his words. I did not cut him off, he deserved to get it all out and I’d take it all because it was what I deserved. “I will go willingly this time, but you won’t be the one reapplying the bandages. Keep your blood-stained hands the hell away from me.”

Rogue slunk back towards his room and slammed the door. Out of all the things he said I hated to admit that the last bit probably hurt the most.

There was already too much blood on my hands. I could only hope it wouldn’t be any of theirs.

The other three waited for my reaction and I didn’t care to meet their glares. I jerked my head in the direction of the hallway and Haji took his leave following my silent order without hesitation. Zero attempted to appear like he was busy, and wasn’t paying me any attention. I failed to notice that his lavender eyes never faltered from my direction.

Tatsumi was still beside me, waiting. That’s just who he is: too kind for his own good. At least, he wasn’t holding not telling the truth against me. He forgave too easily… I didn’t deserve it.

It made me feel even worse.

My lungs were on fire, my heart was beating crazedly against its cage and I couldn’t catch a deep enough breath. I bore a hole into the floor, “I’m fine. Go see if Haji needs your help.” Out of the corner of my eye, Tatsumi looked like he wanted to say something else but was smart enough not to.

I knew I didn’t have the strength to follow those two into Rogue’s room, let alone stay in that house one second longer. I couldn’t take anymore.

I flew out of the door and toward the mountain without a backwards glance. Too many thoughts and feelings were bouncing around inside of me and I feared I’d be overcome before I could gain control back.

Somehow, someway, I arrived at the top horribly out of breath and dizzy.

I ran the whole way, I wanted to feel it all. I wanted to feel pain.

I deserved to feel pain.

Collapsing on the jagged rock, I wrapped my arms around myself and took my first deep breath in what seems felt like ages…

I cannot say how long I stayed up there or when I fell into a dreamless slumber. All I knew was when I came to Zero was at my feet.

“I wondered if you would every wake up. Oh, how easy my life would be…” He groaned with an almost hidden smirk.

“Ass.” His response was a soft chuckle, but in his eyes, I couldn’t mistake a little worry swimming in them.

“Standing guard, my noble knight?” He didn’t answer, only looked at me… but it didn't appear like he was quite seeing me.

I felt the air between us thicken dramatically but not because we were fighting… it was another emotion I couldn’t quite put a finger on. All I know he made it difficult to breath, “What’s going on, Zero?” Everything was always seemed so intense around him.

Zero turned slightly away when I eased closer. I took that as a signal to maintain some distance and I waited, silently, for him to speak.

“I don’t think you’re doing a bad job as God, you know? I didn’t agree with a lot of the things said earlier. But who am I to talk? I said some horrible things, also. Ha.” For once, he really appeared nervous in front of me. I moved closer by my own instinct and Zero was up quickly, standing out of reach.

I got too close.

He turned his back to me, it was tensed, “Just don’t let what he said earlier get to you.”

I didn’t fully understand Zero and I feared I never would. Too few understood him, and I truly wanted to be one of those lucky few. He feared intimate contact, and wouldn’t let anyone get too close… yet there were times where he would let me grab or pull him delicately this way or that.

For the first time today, I felt a smile curve my lips. Zero and I hadn’t really spoken since that night… not counting to argue.

I didn’t want to dwell on the past, “I needed that, Zero. Thank you.” I tugged on his sleeve and pulled him along gently, “Let’s get back, shall we?”

We spoke a little on the way back but for most of it I enjoyed our peaceful silence. Zero wasn’t much of a talker and I’m sure it took a lot out of him to even come out here and find me.

It spoke a lot to our relationship.

On our way back, out of nowhere, the bottom fell out of the sky. Wet, cold and fat droplets hit us and we ran the rest of the way to get away from the cool rain. Magically, it was like the rain turned us into different people because we both started laughing uncontrollably.

I once hated the rain, but I think, not that night. I had never seen this childish side of Zero and if the rain was the price I had to pay... I could live with that.

He leaned against the big door and let me enter dry sanctuary first. Everyone in the living room looked grim but grew interested at the sound of the front door opening. Tatsumi was just about to ask where I had been until he spotted Zero walking in, smirking, behind me. All eyes were on us but I didn’t care. For once, I felt like I didn’t have to lead. I could follow.

I had followed Zero.

I thanked Zero again with a small laugh and he returned the favor.

Sure, there were times he resembled death himself, but right now… Zero looked… content.

Rogue, if possible, looked bleaker than the other two Saints. His red eyes grew fiery. He was watching us closely.

Haji had not tended to all his reopened wounds yet… Sure enough waiting on my return. Could it be possible they were worried?

“I was about to set out in search for you, Miss.”

Without turning back, so I wouldn’t have to take my eyes of Zero’s, “Well thank you anyway, Haji, but Zero found me.” A miniature lake formed under us from the running through the monsoon. Coming out of the humid air to such a frosty house, I quickly grew cold.

Zero took notice and shrugged off his soaked school jacket. He rung out the excess water and flung it around my shoulders. It did provide some sense of warmth, but Haji came up to escort me back to my room before I caught a cold.

Before getting completely out of the living room, I spun from Haji’s grasp and glanced back to thank Zero one last time. I received another genuine smirk and I was reminded that I also had come to greatly enjoy his smile.

Once we were out of hearing range, Tatsumi unloaded on Zero, “Where the hell have you been? When did you give us the slip? Why didn’t you bring her back sooner? What did you say to her? Is she still mad at you? Is everything ok now?”

Zero shook out some rain droplets from his snowy hair and pushed past the shorter male that barely came up to his chest, “Don’t worry about it, kid. She’s back, isn’t she?” About to head to his respective room and get some rest, but not without catching the glare of their newest addition.

You don’t have to fight, dragon, I will.

 

Chapter Text

“Zero, I need a favor.” I said, not hiding my smile spotting him looking so… quaint. Zero was leaning back, completely untensed, in the great black reclining chair in the den when I strolled in. His breathing was steady, and his lilac eyes were softened… until I entered.

Zero had to resist the urge to literally jump at the chance to help me; no matter how hard he tried to fight it, he wanted to mend more what he had shattered between us. But only by studying his actions, I understood his true intentions and I didn’t need words to be spoken when it came to our relationship. I had long forgiven him, soon enough I hoped he’d realize that.

He frayed indifference and didn’t look up from what he was pretending to read, “Oh really,” Zero sounded bored already, “What do you want now?” I smirked.

“I’m going back to Magnolia.” Zero dropped his jaw along with the thick book. It fell to his lap with a thud.

I tugged Tatsumi’s cloak tighter around me, covering my scent even more, and breathing in the smell. No matter how many times the garment had been washed, it always smelled of fresh rain water… and clean, bright, crisp summer air… Just like my Saint, I smiled.

We were seconds from slipping out the back door without being noticed, but my Tatsumi always sensed when something was going on… especially, when it came to me. He had popped out from behind the door, and had his cloak extended out just for me.

Tatsumi didn’t probe, or even address my departure. He simply stepped to side after making sure I’d take the garment with me and beamed.

I snapped out of the sweet recollection when a loud noise behind us caused me to jump.

Zero and I both did not like being back here, when only just days before, we had encountered Damien. We were on full alert, and most certainly out of our element. It was uncomfortable and I was constantly looking over our shoulders. Zero hadn’t mentioned that he felt like I did, but you could tell by his posture alone.

I didn’t have a bad feeling per se, I sensed Damien no longer occupied this realm, but I could not tell who here in Magnolia still followed him. I’d have to keep my guard up as to not draw unwanted attention.

Zero would never let me forget it if I blew our cover now of all days… with it only just being the two of us.

“This is insane.” Zero groaned, walking steadily beside me with his shoulders uncharacteristically tensed. I knew he was anxious as well. He always tried to hide his discomfort…or feelings in general and he could be quite hard to read if you weren’t accustomed in knowing what to look for.

Zero could not see my face behind the hood, but my annoyance rang through nevertheless, “You sure do say that quite frequently.” If I kept picking at him, he wouldn’t be able to focus on his anxiety and it wouldn’t grow any bigger… same went for me.

I practically heard Zero’s eyes roll back, and aggravation played on his features even more, “What do you owe this guy anyway?”

“That is my business, I only brought you along as a distraction.”

Distraction?”

I smirked, he was simply too predictable. Zero would be too busy trying to anticipate my next move… it’d silence him in the process. “You’ll see,” I persisted, “you’ll see.”

Outside the hall, we stood down quite literally a giant who walked among men. The bully would not let Zero and I pass; something about visitors not welcome at the time.

Zero was tall and lanky, so it was safe to say, based on outward appearance, this titan had no reason to fear Zero… but if it came to him pulling that gun out, well that would certainly be another story.

Me on the other hand, I had always been smaller than the others. I was short and frail compared to them… but faster, and, of course, stronger. I might have just barely come up to the giant’s stomach, and it would take craning my head in an impossible angle to even get a clean look at the man’s face… but if it came to a real fight, none of that would even matter.

It wouldn’t come to a fight that day, though.

Zero quickly got irrationally pissed off, and I was also getting frustrated. I wanted to get this over with.
The giant’s stature didn’t really bother me, I had come face-to-face with a lot scaring than he. I chuckled.

I hadn’t spoken yet; I didn’t want someone to recognize me by my voice or by my face, so I stayed hidden under the linen hood expecting Zero to take care of this minor inconvenience.

Zero’s faltering monotone tone, “Your Master,” He hissed out the title that I told him he had to use, “is expecting us.”

The gigantor in question simply crossed his tree-trunk arms and demanded once again for us to leave or he’d be forced to use remove us himself.

HA!

I had grown tired of this little back and forth, I peered out from underneath the hood. My glowing red eyes and low growl forced the massive man to step back, frightened.

Zero was stunned seeing my face distort so effortlessly.

I didn’t have to utter a word, the damn tree backed up enough to open the main door with his humongous body and I strode past with my cloak swishing across my legs with every confident step.

“I want to see Sting, now!” I roared and it caused the guild members, in the newly rebuilt Sabertooth Guild Hall, to turn around in my direction. There appeared to be 30 of the Sabertooth mages in the main hall that I had been in attendance only months ago. It looked like construction was finally coming to a close.

I was truly happy for them and their home… but I had business to take care of.

The wizards stood up with anger evident on their faces, picked up their weapons and advanced. Spiritual energy flooded the air inside the hall as I was surrounded.

I was nothing more than an intruder in their recently destroyed home and they’d rid of my presence before I could cause any damage.

Zero had come sprinting in after I left him in the dust back outside. He stiffened and reached for his weapon. I held out my hand and he knew better than to make another move, “STING!” I bellowed his name again, “STING!

The members were drawing near, but I had no reason to worry. Not because I was stronger, if it came to a battle, but because there wouldn’t be one.

I hadn’t come to fight those people.

The blonde man in question rounded the corner; the small, almost delicate, crystal swung from his left ear because of his rapid, erratic, movements, “What in the hell is going on in here!?” His eyes fell immediately on me and they widened in shock. He breathlessly whispered my name.

Confusion played on his charming features, and I smirked on instinct… certainly not making things any better.

For even from this distance, I saw the fear enter and blur his dark blue eyes at what my coming here could only mean.

His sharp canines were showcased as they were barred at me, “Where is he? What have you done!?” Sting snarled. Beautiful, blinding, white rays of light shinned off his body and white scales dusted his face along with his toned arms. I almost had to shield my eyes from the burning light, but I kept my eyes focused on him, unafraid.

I unclasped the robe, pretending that his Dragon Slayer magic did not intimidate me either, and let it drop around my shoulders, “Your office. Now. I don’t apperciate being kept waiting.”

“Who do you think you are to show up here?” If only he knew his brother uttered almost the same words to me a few hours before. I wonder if Sting would have found that amusing.

Surely.

Sting’s heavy charcoal boots slammed against the wood as he stomped across the room and right in front of me when I didn’t respond quick enough for his liking. Zero extended his long arm out as if it was a barrier between Sting and I, “Alright. I’m over everyone thinking they can get up in her face like that.” Zero said evenly.

I grinned at Zero’s rare protective movement. Sting looked up to my silver-headed Saint, “Who the hell is this guy? Where is your butler?”

Zero’s stern face collapsed when a smirk appeared, and he attempted to die down a chuckle for understanding the reference to another one of my Saints. I groaned beside Zero, could he not keep it together for a second?

“Rogue is alive, Sting.” I heard Sting’s expelling of a breath he must have been holding. Anger was washed away… only concerned remained.

“I want to see him.” He demanded, borderline begged me. It, of course, pulled once again on my heartstrings.

I turned my back on Sting and glanced around his office, because I didn’t want to see any more hurt on any more faces… I was a coward.

The room looked a lot like Rogue’s but Sting lacked the numerous piles of books… and a particular green cat I shouldn’t have been looking for, “I’m afraid that is not possible.” I said, authoritatively without turning back.

Fury came back full force for the tall blonde man, “I am not playing any games with you, Nikki. You have no right to be anywhere near him,” I knew this, trust me, I knew better than anyone of my unworthiness. Sting drew closer, like the predator closing in on his prey, “We would never let him die, you just beat us to the punch. I saw everything… I was about to step in! I was right there! ARGH. Rogue swore up and down you weren’t dead and I almost wish he would have been wrong.”

Everything? What could Sting possibly mean by that? I wondered.

I swept a delicate hand across Sting’s desk, and slowly turned around. I regained my confidence, when it came to Rogue I wouldn’t bind to anyone, “You can feel however you wish towards me, but I won’t bring him back here. Damien will know in a fortnight, and come for him. He has spies everywhere in the city. Even if you manage to protect Rogue, you’ll lose many lives to do so. I will not risk your guild and neither will you… Rogue will not risk his home either.”

Sting flinched but he knew I was trying to do the only right thing for everyone involved, “How do I know you’ll keep my brother alive?”

Brothers. Huh. That explains a lot actually.”

My immobilizing eyes flashed in Zero’s direction at the interruption and he, metaphorically, took a step back from the conversation just by a look.

“I’d never let any harm come to Rogue, Sting.” I confessed, firmly.

He scoffed, I understood his apprehension when it came to his family. I had already let that happen, “I don’t like this one bit.” Sting groaned with a hand to his throbbing temples.

“Where is Frosch?” I inquired, offhandedly.

I saw Sting’s big blue eyes grow, but as quickly as they had, his untrusting eyes returned, “With Lector, she has been worried sick… Why?

Of course, she has been… with that heart being the size of a galaxy.

She needed Rogue.

Rogue needed her.

Damnit. I should have planned for this.

“I have an idea, Sting.” The very man flinched again, he didn’t like the sound of that, but I trudged forward, “For Rogue… do you trust me enough for me to take Frosch back to him? I think it could make this process a little easier on the two of them.”

Sting was pulled inward, deep in thought and I waited desperately for his response. I wouldn’t dare voice how badly I wanted to see her as well.

“I… Agh.” Sting combed through his spiky blonde tuffs of hair, he was fighting himself, “FINE. If anyone can keep her safe, it’s him and they deserve to be together if you are forcing this tragedy to occur. You’re breaking up a family. How do you live with yourself?” He spun around and left the room, slamming the wooden door to go after her.

I don’t, that’s how. I answered silently.

It was difficult to ignore the blatant hurt in his words.

I sighed and Zero glanced at me, but he didn’t try to pick a fight, for once.

I had no true idea of what that must have been like for Sting to lose his brother or how it felt for Rogue for the matter. I had snatched him away from those he cared about… but to keep him alive.

I didn’t have any idea what that must have felt like though… I didn’t have a family… one I wanted to keep together. I only had a duty to protect my Saints and my people.

I didn’t look at Zero, but waited quietly, inside my own mind, for Sting to return.

The door creaking brought my attention back. Sting stepped inside with a firm finger pressed softly to his lips. In his arms, sleeping, was the precious green feline in her iconic pink frog suit. I gasped happily, but tried to stay quiet enough as not to wake her up.

Zero whispered flabbergasted, realizing all this was for a cat, “What is happening?”

Oh, just wait, she talks, I snickered. I could now smile at what had once surprised me too.

I moved up to Sting and he stiffened, holding on tighter to the creature… so possessively.

I glanced up to his faltering sapphire eyes, and in that moment, I saw just how much the two brothers resembled one another. The scars on their once perfect faces from a life enduring many struggles, together. Their strong, set, jaw lines. The piercing eyes and the thin lips that hide some of the most beautiful smiles… if only, one was lucky enough to get one to peak out.

They were always so quick, if you blinked… you might just miss it.

I reached out my fingers slowly and in his hands, I caressed Frosch. I hadn’t realized how close I had moved to Sting but neither had he. In that moment, we were not exactly enemies… but not quite on the same team either.

I whispered, no longer looking into his powerful oceanic eyes, “For what it’s worth, I am sorry, Sting.”

He might not have liked me but that did not change how deeply we cared for the same people, and because of them… we’d work together in whatever way necessary.

At least in that sense, then, and only then, would we ever on the same side.

My body overflowed with love for the creature in his grasp and for the brother of a man I would protect with my life because… well, because Rogue deserved to come back home someday.

I saw the fight in his storming sea eyes as Sting’s shaking palms handed her over to me, “Please. Protect them.” He pleaded with such pure emotion flooding into his words… I’m sure there was more he wished to say, but he didn’t.

I always wondered what Sting had wanted to tell me that day… Now, it was too late.

I nodded and pulled her against my chest making sure not to wake her. I tightened my grip on her as she snuggled closer in her sleep.

I’ll protect them both with my life.

You will all be a family once more.

I swore the most important oath that day inside of Sting’s office.

Haji was just finishing up reapplying Rogue’s bandages when I entered the room. Haji was standing over him, and it appeared Rogue wasn’t too horribly uncomfortable with Haji so close. Haji seemed laser focused, and I appreciated how seriously he took his job especially when it helped Rogue.

Tatsumi’s cloak was back around my shoulders and concealing the creature underneath.

Rogue had managed to reopen quite a few injuries yesterday and it took some time to properly secure them… seeing how Haji had even started the night before.

Haji had to make sure Rogue got necessary rest too.

Rogue looked at me, furious, then focused back on Haji’s hands moving over his chest. I didn’t let it bother me too much. I simply shrugged it off.

Tatsumi stood beside Haji helping in whatever way he could, and Zero walked past me to lean against the wall with a frown plastered on his face. The air was thick with tension from the fight before.

I absolutely despised how it felt… the room was stuffy, and uncomfortable.

It shouldn’t have been like that.

I waited patiently for Haji to finish. When he finally did and stepped back, everyone looked at each other, skittishly. They could all feel something was about to happen, but no one knew how to act on it.

Feeling like words weren’t necessary, I waited till Rogue once again glanced back in my direction.

With his beady red eyes on me, I pulled back the linen like a curtain concealing a beautiful treasure and that’s exactly how I felt.

Frosch jumped down from my arms and onto the bed, running full speed with her little arms held wide open. She had woken up a little bit before we got back, and before we entered the house, I filled her in a little bit… She just wanted to see Rogue, so I’d leave the rest of the explaining to him.

Rogue gasped, “Frosch!?” His normal baritone voice uncharacteristically rose in anticipation, it was enlightening. The big mighty dark dragon… overcome by a petite feline.

She ran into his protecting arms and he cradled her against his dressed chest. Her big wet tears immediately soaked the bandages. After the initial shock had worn off his body finally responded. Rogue hugged her close, careful not to squeeze her too tight.

“I am so glad you’re safe.”

“Frosch missed you.” She whispered through her tears.

My heart melted at the sight of the two of them. I was glad I could do something to make this situation even slightly better.

I thought it best not to mention his brother… it could only serve to cause Rogue unnecessary pain.

I waved my hand, silently asking everyone to give them some privacy.

Tatsumi asked, jokingly, as we were leaving, “So when do I get a kitten?”

I put a friendly arm around his neck and brought him close to me chuckling, “When your room is clean, mister.” I snickered as we all exited the room. The air around us already feeling considerably lighter.

I let the men pass and I sank down on the wall on one side of the door to rest for a moment. All the traveling had tired me out.

I couldn’t hear nor see anything and I waited till Rogue would come out or I’d go in… after giving them some much needed time together.

About half an hour had passed before I stood back up and softly opened the door. Rogue had a sweater draped loosely around his shoulders and had moved to the floor. Frosch was talking his ear off about all the things he had missed. She was walking around and waving her paws inside the circle his legs created.

All the noise ceased at my entrance, and they both looked up at me. Rogue reached out and snatched Frosch back reminding me of a mother bear protecting her young, “You’re not taking her away.” She struggled fruitlessly against his hold. At least she knew that wasn’t my intention.

I’ll fight… I swear I will if you even try, Nikki.

I helped up my hands in defense, “That was the last thing on my mind…” I confessed while fully entering the room. I closed the door, and took careful steps to them, “I think she belongs here with you, as always.”

Listening to my honest words, Rogue started to relax and loosened his arms. I took that as a cue, stepped even closer, and eased onto the bed before he could ask me to leave.

Frosch dropped from his slack grasp and trotted toward my legs. She held her arms open and I reached down to scoop her up. She was lighter than I remembered.

I tried to ignore how perfectly she fit into my arms, or how incredibly sad I was having to say goodbye to her before… I just wanted to live in the moment, even for a second…

I leaned back onto the bed and held her high above me making little swishing sounds pretending she was flying. She yipped and hollered. Her uncontrollable laughter was so contagious.

I started to chuckle when I brought down my arms and she snuggled into my neck. Frosch laughed just the same.

That perfect giggle.

She was a child, an infant really, that deserved nothing less than to be protected always. Her tailed wrapped around the forearm that held her and squeezed lovingly.

A picture-perfect moment, I almost forgot what brought all of us into this mess.

After a few minutes, all the excitement and traveling began to wear on her as well.

She glanced up, and those lips curled up into a tiny grin, “Frosch isn’t mad at Nikki for leaving.”

I hadn’t expected that; I was astonished, my words caught and I couldn’t speak. I put the back of my hand to my mouth and nodded. I tried wholeheartedly not to shed any tears. Frosch was being lulled back to sleep, resting her heavy head on my lap and I stroked her back with my free hand. Her tail still wrapped, tightly, around my other arm. I didn’t mind, truthfully, I needed it.

I glanced over at Rogue still on the floor, in a hushed tone, “I hoped she’d make it easier for you to be here with us… I, um, I thought—“

“You thought what? That I’d just forgive you like that?” Rogue finished mockingly with a quiet snap of his fingers and an untrusting look in his eyes.

As if I’d forgive you so easily.

My heart hurt at being shut down once more. How could this possibly work if he always saw the worst in my motives?

I looked down at the sweet thing in my lap, and I smiled sadly.

I had not used Frosch to blackmail him into forgiving me!

“No,” I lifted myself up from the bed with Frosch still in my hands and carefully handed her sleeping body to Rogue, letting her tail unravel. It felt nice when his calloused fingers brushed mine. “I thought you’d be willing to work with me if it meant protecting her.” I snapped.

Why do you have that look in your eyes?

I turned with a heavy heart and left the room leaving behind a speechless Rogue.

Like I was the one that hurt you?

The patio had grown to be my favorite spot especially when I got the chance to be alone under a blanket of stars. The air had a cool chill running through the forest and up onto the porch. I was wrapped up in the warmth of moonlight when the glass door behind me opened with a creak.

I glanced over my shoulder and was shocked to see Zero in the entranceway. He rarely left his room, after all.

He waited for my signal and I gestured with my hand for him to come up.

Zero rested his pianist-fingers on the wood of the banister, and looked out over the trees, mimicking myself.

“What you did earlier was pretty cool.”

I smiled sadly at him…

So, he had come to cheer me up once more, “Looks like you’re the only one that thinks so.” I responded negatively.

I didn’t notice someone else listening from the glass door Zero had left open, but I think Zero might have. There was no way he was that oblivious. Zero was always aware… of everything.

Zero turned around and leaned his back against the railing, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, “I bet you’re wrong.”

I raised my eyebrow, “Is there something you’re not telling me, knight?” His lavender eyes shimmered.

I knew he hated that, but I always felt the need to mess with him because he effortlessly got underneath my skin all the time.

It was the only fair trade, after all.

He avoided the question, and shrugged me off, just like everyone else, “The sky seems different tonight.”

My eyes swelled, and I turned away, “I just don’t know what do, Zero.” I couldn’t conceal how broken my words came out. I didn’t want to be brushed off anymore, especially by him then. I folded my arms over the banister, laid my head down, and groaned loudly.

Zero was shocked at my response and lack of positivity. He then spotted the man, attempting to hide in the shadows of the house, trying to listen to us without being noticed… but those red serpent-like eyes gave him away.

Zero tried to use the other’s presence to explain his next move. He turned his body back to me and placed a steady hand on my arm, forcing me to look up and over at him. He seemed taller than before.
The air felt like it dropped 20 degrees, “Zero?” I nervously asked.

Zero never initiated contact.

I couldn’t catch my breath, and the only thing I was cognizant of was his firm hand on me.

He appeared to be in a trance or something, looking at me through glossy lenses… but then it vanished. Zero pulled back his hand, and even through the fabric I felt goosebumps where it had been. It was like my mind hadn’t even registered the cold until he removed his hand.

Zero didn’t have the confidence to continue.

But I did.

I was overwhelmed by everything we had been through and everything we would go through. I let my body make its own choices.

I leapt in Zero’s slightly ajar arms, hugging his neck and pulling my arms securely around him.

Oh, how badly I wanted to protect him as well. Would he let me?

Zero could have passed out from the shock, and did not immediately respond to the contact.

I didn’t dwell on that because it could only hurt if I focused too closely… I was already walking on cracking glass.

“I have a lot to lose, Zero and that includes you.” I whispered into his ear, and that claim caused him reach up his hands. They came around my back but he hadn’t wrapped them completely around yet…

The dragon slayer behind the glass panes quietly backed up, astonished.

Before Zero could touch me, and before I realized he had even tried. I stepped back and rushed inside without glancing back and without a single tear in my eyes.

I was tired of crying.

It was time to make Damien cry.

Chapter Text

Morning came early but I felt like I could handle it more effectively this time… or so I thought. How oblivious and naïve of me. Nothing would ever come that easy for me… I had centuries to pay for my mistakes, when would I learn that?

However, my team was whole… maybe not in every sense of the word, but I couldn’t dwell on the fact that one of my members didn’t even want to be there.

He was.

I hoped, with the arrival of a new day, I would be given the chance to repair some bridges. Especially now, that I believed everyone had calmed down. Again, stupid me.

I wrapped my robe around my body, but didn’t bother to tie it. My soft cherry blossom, tinted red, robe hung loosely around me. I could care less about how I looked. I was just excited to see everyone! I practically bounced down the hall, once again: you naïve child.

I found three out of the four Saints in the dining room, Rogue was absent, and I sighed on instinct. I wouldn’t deny I had wanted to see him.

Would this become the norm?

He made it clear the other day that he wasn’t a part of this team, did that mean he didn’t plan on ever leaving his room? That forced my newly hopeful attitude to buckle.

I must admit; however, the dining room did feel somewhat lighter and less awkward in his absence. That also made me feel sad… as if, Rogue wasn’t really a part of our lives hidden away in his room.

Looking around the warmly lit room, I smiled, somewhat dishonestly… but the windows were up and let in the natural aroma of the nearby forest. It was hard to frown with such a beautiful view.

Big pine trees, and the touch of a nearby water fall… and an even lighter mountain smell accompanied the others.

Haji was already holding out my hot cup of tea, with a whiff of lemon coming off the purple mug, when I entered the room. Always two steps ahead, I grinned, and took ahold of it.

I greeted Tatsumi, his response was almost forced, but I moved around, toward Zero to speak with him. I liked that things were, finally, getting back to normal between us. The tension between us had dissipated, and I was thankful… seeing how things had turned out with Rogue, I could only handle one at a time.

Zero smirked at me as I was speaking about some insignificant strategy I had come up with, I hadn’t figured out all the kinks yet. I just wanted to interact with him to begin my day…

If I could mend things with Zero, then…

Still standing comfortably beside Zero with an extra hand placed on the back of his chair, I was about to ask one of the others to take some breakfast to Rogue’s room when I heard feet shuffling. I glanced back and there was the very Dragon Slayer leaning against the doorframe.

Yikes, he didn’t look very pleased.

They look like a couple. Her in that morning robe and him topping off her coffee…

Tension flooded the air, so thick it almost hurt to breath it in.

Rogue had such an odd expression on his usually pleasant face, I didn’t understand why. I hadn’t done anything to him recently… Was he still angered by the confrontation the other day?

Surely, he couldn’t think I’d attack him in the dining room and in front of the others?

I looked between all my team members, avoiding his fiery eyes, just as everyone else had but Zero confidently stared him down. A glare off? I leaned over Zero, nonchalantly, to grab a slice of bacon off Tatsumi’s place and breaking Zero’s concertation.

Zero gaped at me… the close contact had managed to freak him out, and focus on me, I chuckled uncomfortably in Rogue’s presence. It came out a tad robotic, but otherwise went under the radar, unnoticed.

Innocent Tatsumi trying to only be cordial toward the newest addition, yet something wasn’t right with him either, “Can I fix you a plate?” He asked over his shoulder, not looking into Rogue’s piercing eyes.

I didn’t dare offer in his place.

“No, I can handle it.” He didn’t sound rude, surprisingly. Rogue swept past me and I was left looking at the door to the kitchen swinging shut behind him. Clearly not thinking, I set my mug down and trailed after him. I sensed Zero wanting to stop me but didn’t give him enough time to react.

He’d have to be quicker than that, to keep up with me, I mean. Zero always struggled to stay at my pace.

How many times would I end up leaving them all in the dust?

Rogue hadn’t even finished making himself a plate when he turned at the noise of my entry. He went to stride past me, long forgetting eating, but I blocked the door with a single, casual, arm, “Rogue… Look—"

“I don’t want to hear it, Nikki!” His yell startled me, I couldn’t get any words out, that yell was different; it was powerful, it was fiery… like those damn eyes. This yell left no room to argue and everyone else had heard it behind the door, each stiffened for different, some protective, reason.

Rogue reduced me to a withering mess in a spilt second… he was the only one that held such a power over me.

“Please. I can’t.” He begged, and my eyes began to water from the sound of his voice, “Just let me go about this prison without you constantly interfering and I’ll do the same. Once this is over, I never want to hear from you again.” He shoved past me, I fell against the door, and my shoulder wasn’t the only thing that stung.

It was the kind of heartbreak that caused physical pain throughout the body, you couldn’t eat or drink… let alone take in a breath. Your insides ached, and burned. It was the kind that made your heart clench up in fear of being shrilled up and blowing away in the wind.

I didn’t know why I continued to put myself through this… purposely punishing myself.

I couldn’t help but feel crushed that was the end for us. I didn’t believe I could ever fix what I had broken.

Bringing Frosch back here hadn’t even been a start.

There was just no winning with this guy! I screamed internally. I try so hard damnit! Why couldn’t Rogue see I WAS TRYING!

But last night… it seemed, like maybe… maybe.

ARGH.

He was so back and forth! I was surely to get whiplash.  It was infuriating! I couldn’t gain anything from this heartbreak, but… I could gain with fury.

I could grow despite my anger. If I gave in to my pain, then I wouldn’t get out of the corner Rogue backed me in.

Fine. Even Rogue wouldn’t be the end of me. I slammed open the door, ripping it off its hinges. It cracked and crumbled on the floor. I stomped past all of them, clearly done.

I screamed out for Zero on my way out the front door, “ZERO! Training! NOW!

For once, Zero pushed back his place, got up from his seat and followed after me without so much as smart-ass remark.

However, that scowl was more present than ever on his face as well… how quickly would we all unravel?

I tore off my robe and threw it away. It disappeared in the wind, like my patience. I wasn’t even concerned with the fact that it was my favorite.

It was just Zero and I out on the practice field and we sparred.

No holding punches or treating it as a game. It was exactly what I needed to burn off the excess anger. Had Zero know that, I wonder.

Fighting gave me the opportunity to take my mind off Rogue and simply not have to think: just fight.

It felt so damn good.

Zero hadn’t gotten any faster but he had become more precise with each attack. I had learned to read him in battle and predict his next move more efficiently. Yet not entirely. Zero was still full of surprises, I sneered. I couldn’t quite be mad at that, only at how no matter how hard I tried getting closer to him too… I wasn’t moving an inch toward either of them, it was frustrating.

Unlike Haji, I didn’t pick up any true hesitation when Zero fought me… but I knew that didn’t quite mean Zero truly wanted to inflict pain upon me. Only fight me fairly, without feeling the need to hold back because it was me.

That one thing was for sure, Zero never saw me as lesser.

I grew annoyed by the use of his gun and disposed of it by knocking it from his hold and across the field. I could tell that served to piss him off effectively, but didn’t discourage our now close combat training.

I barely took into account Zero had already appeared bothered even before I threw his weapon away… even before the sparring began.

If I would have taken just a second to look at him… If I had been paying attention to anyone other than myself. I would have noticed his flushed face, tensed jaw, and most of all… those deep purple, furious, eyes would have given him away.

I was so damn selfish.

“You know I hate when you do that.” He groaned, pulling his top lip back to show the points of his teeth.

I chuckled mischievously, as I moved up, taking my fury on him as well, “I know. That’s exactly why I do it.”

Fist after fist. One would connect with my forearm, others my wrists and even some higher up on my biceps, but he couldn’t do better than that. Although, Zero tried.

Fighting in just a tank top and cotton shorts I could feel the wind coming off his fast punches, but he had yet to make true contact. Not like I had either; he had grown tremendously as an opponent.

I was quite proud, but I’d never tell him. Couldn’t have it all going to his big head.

Fighting Zero required every ounce of my attention and I failed to realize that the others had moved outside to watch us. Even Rogue.

They are so fast.

It was not long before neither of us could get the upper hand; we were locked in a stall mate and were at the point where I couldn’t grow as a warrior. It simply became a test of endurance and that wasn’t what I wanted! I wanted a fight!! I needed a fight.

Haji realized and attempted to sprint up behind me for a surprise attack. He failed but at least it served to up the ante.

I flipped over him, dragging my nails down his clothed back in a mocking movement, “Oh come on, Haji, I know you’re faster than that.” I sneered from behind him now, completely bathing in my wrath.

She didn’t even have to look back to see him coming.

Both men turned to me, but they wouldn’t even think about work together to come at me at the same time… and that was their weakness.

They were strong, sure, but so extremely boneheaded. No matter how strong, individually, they might grow, it wouldn’t change the fact they’d lose in a battle because they’d fail to work together when it counted.

They had to learn to rely on each other!

I jetted between them, brought my fists forward and aimed right for their chests… They were both able to block the attack, but I had dragged them back across the dirt with my abundant strength… thanks to the morning I was having.

Zero dug in his heels into the gravel to try and stop the movement, but Haji chose to duck away instead. Haji drew far enough back to prepare for his next move, I already knew what Haji was planning.

I shoved Zero away and whipped around to face Haji as he shot towards me like a bullet leaving the barrel.

Haji had always been the fastest, there was no doubt about that

I dropped down, but Haji had anticipated that very move. It had always been my go-to with him.

He brought a long leg up. I crossed my forearms, locking them, out in front of me to block the majority of his kick but I was thrown back by the force. The gravel dug into my knees painfully, and ripped the skin covering the joint.

I didn’t have to look down to know that the small rocks under me had been sprayed red.

Zero had the opportunity to strike with my back wide open, hurt, and close to him, but because it could have been construed as working with Haji, he didn’t.

Now I was getting pissed.

Well, more pissed off.

This has got to end.

Haji’s attack put me right next to Zero and I sprung up. Disappearing from their human eyesight’s ability to keep up with me. Simply vanishing into thin air.

Where did she go? Had she always been that fast?

I appeared over Zero’s left shoulder, jerking his arm up, and throwing him back over my shoulder. He braced the fall, landing with an open palm, but it managed to grab his attention completely.

I wasn’t playing around anymore, “Stop being such an ass!” I screeched, standing tall between them.

Zero’s dark purple eyes flashed to me and fury tightened his already set jaw, “What did you just call me, you brat?” He was now furious at my ability to sneak up behind him… and the gall to throw him around like a sack of potatoes… but to call him names on top of all that. I was trying to cause a serious fight.

Haji, I suppose, thinking this was a golden chance, and not seeing it as working together, sprinted up and tried to strike with my back turned.

Behind you!

I locked my arm out to the side and blocked his every move. Hit after hit I countered, twisting my arm left and right, and not skipping a beat with Zero. I didn’t even have to turn my head in Haji’s direction, “I SAID STOP BEING AN ASS!” I screamed again at Zero.

Zero had enough, his fist flew attempting to connect with my face, but I slammed my free forearm down on his, completely breaking off the attack.

Like a spoiled child getting popped with a wooden spoon.

Still blocking Haji’s faltering attacks, I did a high kick right into Zero’s side and brought him back to his knees before me. I felt bones against the kick, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I had managed to break a few of his ribs.

“You either learn how to work TOGETHER, or I’ll make you regret it.” I sounded deadly, but not without cause. I was fuming, and I might have been taking out my frustration out on them a little… they did deserve it, however, I reassured myself. They were risking their very lives because they didn’t like each other!

A bunch of school-aged females!

They were going to get themselves killed!!

“We can never win on our own: we need each other! Everyone better get that through their thick heads! Before I start KNOCKING HEADS!” I roared, power radiating out of my skin around us. It came off in bright strips rippling toward the Sun, blinding the two closest to me.

I was speaking directly to Haji and Zero, but I had the feeling I might have been beginning to get through to someone else watching as well.

The fight was nearing the end, and Haji was going weary. His constant strikes were slowing down, and he was beginning to pant… Zero hadn’t even managed to stand back up yet.

I propelled Haji away with a single hit to the gut in a moment he used to catch his breath, something I’d never be able to do if he hadn’t already exhausted himself.

I turned, disgusted, away from Zero, “Such a disappointing duo. I expected better.” I was wiping the sweat on my brow with the back of my hand, when Zero called out my name so I turned back… but I didn’t make it all the way.

Nikki!

A shot cracked through the air, like lightning, something so earthshattering to my overly sensitive ears… Somehow the dusty red gravel from the drill field was now pressed against my cheek. It felt like I was laying on cement…

My head felt so heavy, and I couldn’t feel my body.

Nothing was responding.

Oh Gods… Get up damnit!

Tatsumi’s shriek of my name sounded as if it was coming through cotton jammed deep into my ear canal even as he raced in my direction.

I reached up, with such slow hands, to check for blood… but I only found it boiling. It clicked, I understood exactly what had just taken place.

Ooooh, I’d kill him.

I soared up and across the field, yanking Zero up by his dingy shirt collar. I dragged him up to my level, several feet off the ground. No wings were needed; my wrath kept me afloat.

“YOU SHOT ME!” I bellowed shaking the very earth under us just from my scream. Loose rock bounced around for what looked like the result of an earthquake.

Even though Zero’s feet were no longer touching the floor, he had the audacity to sneer and respond so coolly, “Technically speaking, I did not. The bullet did not pierce your skin. Correction: I shot at you.”

Just when I thought I had Zero all figured out, just when I had just started to trust him…

I was such a fool, and last night to show him that side of me! How could I ever possibly care about this asshole?

I shook Zero unforgivably, enough to break the spine of a normal human, “YOU SHOT ME!” I repeated almost in shock because I could not believe he would do such a thing. How dare he! It didn’t change the fact that: he did. I was so enraged, “YOU ACTUALLY TRIED TO SHOOT ME, YOU BASTARD!”

“We were sparring.” He shrugged, he actually shrugged, like what else had I expected, “You did effectively block it with your barrier.” Zero frayed a sense of proudness, but sounded almost dissatisfied at the same time.

Had he meant to kill me with that shot?

I had managed to fling my barrier up at the last second. I had felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up and my instincts reacted, but using it with me so out of practice resulted in a horrible recoil in order to protect myself from an otherwise deadly shot from Zero’s gun.

I clenched the cotton collar tighter, and wanted nothing more than to wrap my hands around his thick, stupid, neck. I would put enough pressure to make the air leave his lungs, make his purple eyes bulge out his skull and strangle my silver-haired Saint with my bare hands.

I settled with an uppercut with my free hand while keeping Zero high above me as if he weighed no more than a sack of feathers. My knuckles, and his jaw, bruised instantly from the power of the punch, but it was so worth it.

I wanted more, though, after such disrespect.

“You despicable piece of shit.” I cursed through tight lips, and shrouded eyes.

I was drowning in my triggered darkness… I don’t really know what I would have done to Zero.

Then, long, lanky and sturdy arms yanked me back. Zero dropped semi-gracefully back to the ground, landing on his feet with a slight bounce and wobbly footing after taking that brutal of a hit.

I felt, like at that moment. I could melt the very atmosphere around me. Which in all reality, I easily could have.

I was furious, and I whipped back to see who dared to intervene… Haji’s cold, robot, and reprimanding eyes were on me.

“You have got to be kidding me! You’re on his side now?” I sounded displeased, betrayed, but still more pissed off at Zero. Damn him for that blatant act of disrespect!

“No.” Haji responded formally, like I should haven’t to ask such a senseless question, “but you are a leader, my lady. You should choose your actions accordingly.”

Damn, why was he always right?

It would look horrible to kill one of my Saints… It was still Zero after all, I had to remind myself that… but my betrayal was another story.

Haji glared in Zero’s direction, “And you… Do not forget who you serve.” Haji sneered out the last word, and for once, he seemed lethal because of Zero.

HA! I crossed my arms, smugly, and was thankful for not being the only one who disapproved of Zero’s choice of action.

Zero scoffed, and was just about to argue more, when Tatsumi came barreling into him with Incursio pulled out and at the ready.

I gasped.

Zero had effectively countered the attack at the last possible moment, but now my youngest Saint looked ready for war. I’m afraid it was only the beginning for Zero.

I had to admit I was confused at why Tatsumi attacked so suddenly. He hated training, but Tatsumi answered my unspoken question without looking back, “It’s my turn. Let me take care of him for using such a dirty trick.” He spoke from inside the armor, and spat out the word like it disgusted him, and I saw a fire in that boy I hadn’t seen before.

Because of me?

Standing up for me? I had profound respect for that boy.

An added bonus was that it would be good for both to spar against someone other than me… still, I wanted to be the one to give Zero a taste of his own medicine.

Haji and I pulled back, resting along the fence not too terribly far from Rogue.

I must admit it was enjoyable to watch the two, both so strong in their own way… I couldn’t ignore my fury.

I was still so furious at Zero, and it took all I had not to intervene just to beat up his pretty boy face.

But when I heard little pitter patter of feet near me, and glanced down to see Frosch trotting up to me… I lost the nerve. There was an icepack in her little paws, and a grin on her perfect face.

I dropped, somewhat lacking grace, down, tucking my legs under me, as she drew closer. I overlooked the shooting pain in my knee from doing it.

Rogue evaluated my every move, but I disregarded him. I wasn’t in the mood to place nice with him either. Not after Zero.

Frosch sounded out of breath from running, but happy, “Frosch brought you, this.” She exclaimed.

A huge smile pulled my lips, and I thanked her with a tight hug. She was such a sweetheart with such pure intentions. I pressed the cold pack into my hurt hand, and Frosch moved to my lap to inspect my wounds. My little nurse.

I shifted so she wouldn’t spot my knee… no sense in making her worry with a bloody mess.

Her presence felt so soothing, I felt all the tension melting away.

I shouldn’t have relished in the fact that she was practically pretending Rogue didn’t exist, but at least someone from Magnolia liked me…

Was she upset with him? I looked from her to Rogue and found his sunset eyes were in my direction.

I didn’t know why I felt the need to make it worse between us… I rubbed her ear without removing my eyes from his. She relaxed, practically purring, under my fingers.

I sneered, and Rogue turned menacing.

My fight with Zero had really messed up my head…

I was acting like a delinquent… Rogue was not my enemy, I dropped my eyes and hated myself even over a small attack like that directed at him.

If Frosch was indeed upset with Rogue, adding fuel to that fire was simply wrong… She was his only friend here, what could he have possibly done?

Maybe… she’d tell me if we were away from all the others.

I stood up, announcing, “I’m going to clean up,” I peeked down at her, “Would you like to come with me, Frosch?”

She beamed that big goofy grin in response and held out her stubby arms. I swiped her up with a chuckle and brought her to rest in my arms. I knew Rogue was staring but Haji gave me a nod telling me he had heard. Both let me leave without a word.

With Frosch sitting comfortably on my high bed, I hated to admit she looked like she was exactly where she was supposed to be. I looked into her big puppy-like eyes, “Dear, are you liking it here? Do you need anything?” I asked with a surprising gentle tone.

She barely skipped a beat, without it seeming like it took a lot of thought, she blurted out, “Frosch likes it here.” Her eyes crinkling by her warm smile.

“Really?” I asked a little surprised by how genuine she sounded, “Tell me, Frosch, sweetie what did Rogue tell you about being here?”

Frosch pondered it adorably by putting her paw to her mouth and hummed, “Just that we came for a visit! Frosch is happy because she missed Nikki!” She cheered, and my heart warmed.

I let the serious conversation go for a second, and pulled her into my arms, speaking softly over her tucked head, “Nikki missed you too.”

I leaned back, and took in the sight of her precious face, “But… Frosch, don’t you miss your friends back home?”

“Of course, Frosch misses them too.” She said it like that information was common knowledge, which in a way, I should have realized it was… She missed her family. Frosch wasn’t sad because she thought she’d see them as early as tomorrow… because this was just a “visit”.

“Well, dear, I’m sure Rogue misses them too.” This caused her eyes to swell and the happiness, I craved for, to leave her face.

“Frosch knows… but Rogue was being a meanie to Nikki.”

What? Oh no. Had she been listening this morning?

“Frosch,” I kneeled down to be the same eye level with her resting on the bed, carefully with my injured knee, “Did you overhear something you weren’t supposed to?” I tried not to sound too motherly.

She looked ashamed and I felt that way for putting that sad look on her face. Frosch looked down, and nervously shifted her paws back and forth.

“Frosch didn’t mean to… Really. She heard Rogue yelling… and only wanted to help. But Rogue was being a meanie yelling at Nikki! And that made Frosch mad at Rogue.”

I exhaled deeply, and felt like this too was all my fault. I softened my tone, “It’s ok, dear. You’re not in any trouble, but Frosch, Nikki is the meanie.

“No. Rogue is the meanie.” She responded stubbornly, just a naïve child… Why did she have to like me? I didn’t deserve to even know her…

Yes,” I said firmly, and she threw her head up, those big eyes focusing back on me, “Nikki is the meanie, because she makes Rogue well…sad. Really, really sad in fact.”

“How does Nikki make Rogue sad?” She asked confused, and I wished there would have been an easy answer. But I didn’t want to cross that boundary, it was Rogue’s duty to tell her… not mine. I had to use my words carefully.

“Because Rogue misses his friends, just like Frosch, and that makes him sad… And Nikki didn’t take Rogue’s feelings seriously.” Frosch looked solemnly up at me, her huge eyes trained on my every word, “Rogue needs Frosch now more than ever,” I gently placed my hands on her small shoulders, “Rogue needs Frosch because he is sad… and when Frosch is mad at him he is, well, sadder…”

It seemed like she understood, and smiled so sweetly at me. I adored that smile, more than anything. Nothing was more beautiful than Frosch smiling, expect when Rogue did.

She looked so brave when she pulled back from my touch and jumped down from that tall bed… trotting out the door, like a warrior on a mission.

I followed soundlessly, but made sure to hang back as not to intrude upon their moment.

Frosch, my strong girl, found Rogue resting, uneasily, on the chair in the living room. Obviously waiting for her to come in.

He glanced up at the sound of her tiny feet hitting the wood, but looked away guiltily.

She didn’t waste any time, pouncing on his chest with an “oof” and a surprised glance from Rogue.

Frosch wrapped her short arms around his neck and pressed her face against his, whispering to apologize. Rogue’s eyes showcased more astonishment. Those are the eyes that were the most beautiful too… when there is no trace of sadness, or anger in them trying to blur their beauty.

I peered around the corner to hear, “Frosch is sorry. Frosch misses her friends too… but Frosch is glad to be with Rogue.”

Amazingly, Rogue's red eyes grew and tears pricked the edges. He grabbed onto her and whispered his own apology into her furry ear.

He was such a great dad… clearly, because Frosch absolutely worshipped him.

I pushed off the wall and headed back to my respective room… but not without catching the unwanted attention of a Dragon Slayer.

Chapter Text

 

 

Only a little while later, after the unavoidable Zero fiasco and leaving Frosch to her own devices with Rogue… I had just scrubbed off all the dirt from my body, treated my knee as well as I could with no powers, and changed, when a thundering fist slammed against my wooden bedroom door. I hadn’t even responded when it swung open. Damn, I thought for sure, I was done for the day.

To my amazement, Rogue was the one behind that loud knock. He strolled into my room as if he owned the place and looked rather pissed off.

Uh oh.

“What the hell was that? What gives you the right to intervene?”

“I’m sorry…?” I questioned aloud, clearly confused, I usually knew when I did something wrong, but this time I was at a loss… but Rogue believed the argument had ended there. He spun around to leave, “Good!” He triumphantly declared over his shoulder.

I’M NOT FINISHED!” Even more intimidating than Rogue could ever be. I admit he had guts to come in there like that… but he must have been stupid to test me that day.

After the morning I had? Oh hell no.

He twisted around, shocked, at my thunderous voice. Rogue had yet been on the receiving end of me like that. The paintings in my room fell off the wall, and the stone walls trembled by my outburst.

I tried to reign it in some… I didn’t want to fight with everyone that morning. Surely, it wasn’t my goal I promise.

I threw the dirty rag, from cleaning my face, down into the sink and the porcelain cracked, “I’m sorry… that you feel that yelling at people is the only way you know how to convey gratification!”

I had swept the rug out from under him, but I kept going. I stepped toward his frozen and rightfully frightened body. I told you, you should fear me, Rogue.

I did not like being cut off or spoken to in that tone, especially after that morning, “Next time, you should watch your tone when giving your thanks or people might really get the wrong idea, Rogue.”

His surprised expression was wiped away, and those pinched, angered, eyes returned. Rogue never feared me, and he wouldn’t start now, “Frosch is fragile!” He screamed at me and that was that. I was over it. I was done “playing nice”.

“You don’t think I know that! And yet here you are doing the very thing that had her upset with you to begin with: yelling at me!”

His stoic face fell, and I watched Rogue’s whirlwind of emotions take stage on his face, it only angered me more, “She told you that?” He sounded so injured… and guilty. So, Rogue wasn’t aware of her reason? Who was I to make him aware?! Why was it my job?

Then fury had come bolting back, like a crazy burst of wind across the storm-ridden fields, he was rejuvenated, “Of course, I’m yelling at you! I’m furious with you!”

“I never said you weren’t allowed to be! But, for God’s sake, stop doing it in front of her!” I roared rationally out and I had won this fight. He had no argument to stand on. I could see it in Rogue’s eyes, but his next words undermined me when our fight began to take a turn for the absolute worst.

“It makes complete sense that you can scream and stomp your feet at me when I’m wrong! Someone who was once on your side! Someone who once tried to protect you! Yet you keep a nobody like that bastard outside who tried to SHOOT YOU on your team without you so much as batting an eyelash!!”

This fight was quickly getting out of hand, but I didn’t attempt to stop it. I wanted to scream at Rogue some more, “What I do with MY team is NONE of your bloody concern!”

“YOUR team? From what I recall, I am a SAINT too! At least when I’m pissed off, I don’t resort to trying to blow your damn head off!!”

We had subconsciously moved closer to each other from across the room, sizing the other up, or maybe… hoped by getting closer to the other, we would lose our will to fight…

It didn’t work.

“But he didn’t, now did he? I dodged it!”

“SO, you’re just going to ignore the fact that HE DID TRY TO SHOOT YOU!”

I slung a hand through my wild hair trying to yank it away from my face, and take a much-needed breath… it did not help.

“ROGUE! I hate what happened between us, truly I do, and I know it cannot be taken back. But please do not walk in here like you hold any stake in my decisions!”

“You expect me to sit back while a member on your little ‘team’ tries to kill you!? I will not serve Damien if you lose! But you give me no choice when you keep a true LIABILITY like that fool near you!”

That word… oh, how crushing it was for him to throw that back in my face. I regretted the day it ever fell from my lips in a moment of pure rage.

Truth was, I didn’t really believe whole-heartedly that Zero knew I’d be able to dodge his bullet… My heart told me I was missing something, but the small, scared, part believed Zero was not to be trusted.

But.

It would be my decision which of the two sides I leaned towards. No one else’s.

The energy to fight with Rogue was depleted… My voice came out soft and borderline defeated, “Zero would never hurt me…”

But Rogue didn’t feel the same, he had no reason to trust Zero, “He tried to, Nikki! Dammit, open your eyes!” I felt strong hands on my shoulders, shoving me to emphasize his point, and I scrambled back, truly terrified of his touch.

I had to keep my mind clear and Rogue’s hands would not do that for me.

I could not question someone on my team. Someone that despite everything chose to stand by me and protect me!

NO!” I shrieked, the truth causing me to fight in Zero’s stead, not knowing the very man was standing just on the other side of my door listening to my every word, “Yes. He did try to shoot me, and he will pay for that! I will handle that myself, and it is none of your bloody business.”

I straightened my spine, and stood up, stood tall, despite my true size in comparison to Rogue or any of them for that matter, “BUT I must believe with my heart that somewhere deep, deep, deep inside that cold man, beats a warm heart only scared to let people in! He only knows to act out when he feels like someone is getting too close to him!”

Yeah, that’s right. I can’t forget that I do know Zero. Better than most!

“I scare Zero, because I care about him for some ungodly reason DESPITE every single one of his countless faults! Zero is not allowed to be dismissed from this team, do you hear me, Rogue? You can decide to be a part of this team or not, but you absolutely do not have any authority to cut someone else! You don’t know a damn thing about him, or what we have gone through while you weren’t here…”

Remind yourself of the man Zero is, my mind screamed, he willingly laid down his life, at the slight possibility that mine would be sparred. That’s the type of man Zero tries to hide he is.

I smiled at those scary times we faced together, because we survived.

“Zero challenges me… he down right defies me. He is a constant threat to my position, because he expects more. Zero expects me to lose; he anticipates it. He truly believes I will be defeated, that there will come a time when I’ll simply roll over… but he also knows that I desire nothing greater than to prove him wrong, and be the one to slap that smug look clear off his stupid face when all this is over…”

I tucked my arms across my chest, the case was closed, “and that is why Zero is a valuable element to this team and to me. I simply couldn’t succeed without him… That’s the end of that. Now get the hell out of here, if you’re going to do nothing more than tear down the men who have chosen to stand beside me when you have chosen otherwise!”

I want to protect you….” It was my turn to lose my footing, had I just heard him right? It’s impossible. My hand shot to my gaping mouth, and it felt like time slowed…

Rogue saw I was stunned beyond reason. He took a gentle step to me, just within arm’s reach. My swinging hair could have brushed right against him.

Yet, he didn’t touch me… the air had changed, dipping down to where it was almost frosty inside the mansion, “Forget it. Get yourself killed, not like I give a damn anymore.”

Now that I had heard clearly… So much heavy truth weighed down his words. I could feel it.

Rogue didn’t care about me anymore… I should have seen it coming, but there was no way I could ever prepare myself for that shot to my heart.

Rogue turned on his heels, and bolted from the room before I could even begin to gather my thoughts.

I collapsed, quivering in a ball on the floor, like my world have suddenly been crushed.

Half a day later, I needed resolution more than ever and if I couldn’t get that from Rogue… I knew exactly where I could get what I needed.

I had to hold my confidence high, and keep my heart close for I would need both dearly.

Everyone was back inside, clearly not pleased with each other. Discord was prevalent and distrust evident.

Against Damien… this would be our ultimate cripple.

I had no choice but to fix it.

Stepping into the main hall, I flew past all the others who I had no interest in at the moment, and headed straight for Zero.

Not stopping, I snatched him by the collar once again, “Let’s go for a walk, shall we?” I didn’t ask, but rather commanded with a smug tone.

I practically dragged him outside before he slapped my hand away, “Get your damn hands off me.”

Yet, he obviously let me bring him out here.

Hmmm, was it Zero knew he was in the wrong?

I swung around and let myself invade his personal space, “What the hell is your problem? And I want an answer now, Zero. Before I let my irrational thoughts knock your damn head off.” Sounding so much like my silver-headed Saint himself.

Zero still dirty and dingy from the reckless training and beating from Tatsumi. His outward appearance reflected the intolerable inward one as well, “If you want a fight, I’m afraid we are all out of stock ma’am. Check again at the first of the week.” He snapped, sarcastically.

I huffed, and shielded my eyes underneath my bangs, raw emotion came forth, “Zero… you pulled your weapon on me… with the intent to kill me.” I missed seeing him flinch away because of my downcast eyes, “I deserve to know why… If you don’t want to stay here any longer all you had to do was tell me.”

“That’s not—"

I spun around, protecting myself and taking the chance to finish before Zero could interrupt me. Before I lost my confidence, “I would have done what I could to protect you, then do as you asked. I won’t keep you here against your will if you truly wish to go.”

Rogue was my responsibility, since I had been the one to almost take his life twice now. I owed him my protection, even if he didn’t want it… but I couldn’t even think about insulting Zero like that.

I had to be strong enough to let Zero go, even if it killed me…

My nosy Saints, even Haji, quietly inspecting, were huddled near the window. Just close enough to hear our, supposedly, private conversation without either of us being able to spot one of them.

I knew it. She doesn’t care about me; she forced that damn dragon to stay… but not me.

Zero scoffed, but sounded pleased, “Good. Take me back.” He demanded.

I twisted around, eyes wide and my heart crushed by the time it took for him to finish that sentence.

Zero had chosen to leave… he had given up on me. I couldn’t believe it.

My sadness stirred the darkness in me, and for a moment I had no control over my actions. I slapped him hard across the face, “How dare you.” I spat. The slap echoed in the tall oak trees around us, bouncing off their massive trunks and heading deeper into the forest.

The betrayal tasted like poison, and I had to get it out, “I trusted you…” My hand was tinted red on the inside from the slap. I clenched it into a tight ball until it brought blood to the surface. I freed it with my nails cutting into the flesh.

It helped to diminish my pain… but only resolving this could completely wipe my pain away.

These could be the last words I would ever say to him and I deserved to make it clear what he meant to me, before it was too late.

At least then I could say I gave it my all, “If you want to leave, fine. I wouldn’t stop you,”

Zero stilled at this information surprised, hurt, I had chosen to let him go so easily. Destroying any chance of us being able to talk this out… he had closed up because of my choice of words.

Finally, she has seen me for what I’m worth. It’s finally over.

“But first let me apologize… All of this is becoming a little difficult for you, hasn’t it? Another new member to deal with,” the conversation turning on its head, I groaned, “our one-sided conversation last night, and of course the constant reminder of our impending battle with Damien.”

I paused, and locked onto his lavender eyes, they’re beautiful, “It puts a lot of stress on you, and I’m sorry Zero. But, you think I’ll turn my back on you now, is that it? Because someone new, and less trouble, walked in, or because things between us are becoming hard to deal with? That our friendship would be rendered obsolete? I may care for other people, Zero, but it isn’t one or the other kind of thing. I care about you a lot, and that won’t change no matter how much our circumstances might.”

My tone changed from soft and vulnerable to strong and reprimanding. It was time to play hard ball, and Zero better get prepared, “BUT YOUNG MAN, I’ll be damned if you get to walk into my life, cause as much havoc as you like, make me give a damn about you, then you just get to walk out without so much as a second glance. Even if you can’t admit it, I know how you truly feel towards me. And I care about you, but if you really gave a damn about me then you wouldn’t do this! Because this isn’t what friends do…” I lost my train of thought, overcome by hurt, and I didn’t know where I wanted to go next… when Zero silenced me.

Let’s get this shit over with. Make sure she gets it. I’m almost free.

“We were never friends. There is no such thing, you fool. It’s everyone for themselves and the sooner you realize that, the better.” He stated in such a nonchalant manner. Like he knew he had just demolished me but didn’t care. What a cold world you live in, Zero.

“LIAR!” My heart and voice roared. I was over it, over all this pain and being hurt. Over feeling inferior and over being treated like a child, “We are friends and no amount of denying it can change that, Zero. No amount of inflicting pain on me, spitting out cursed words, or fragile emotional growth can change that! There is no horrible act or thought that you could possibly conceive that would make me turn my back on you! You scared child! OH BOOWHO! Look at me, I’m Zero!” I distorted my face and stature to reflect his, “Afraid to let anyone near me because OOOH I’m scary and can hurt others without batting an eye. I have no soul.”

I dropped the façade and moved inconceivably closer, “Bullshit. WELL big whoop! You can act as big and bad as you’d like, but I can see you for what you really are.”

I shoved a sharp fingernail into his expansive chest. That dirty supposedly pressed white button-up, “You’re. Just. Like. Me. Zero.” I emphasized every word with a jab of my finger.

I brought my hand up to his cold cheek and pressed my warm palm against the soft skin there. It was amazing he let me do such a thing, the atmosphere flipping completely around once again, “But that’s ok. Because I care about you. I want the best for you and selfishly… I want you right beside me. Always.”

It felt freeing to speak such with honesty, and because of my words… It was one of the first times I allowed myself to be honest. Oh how it would come back to bite me.

I believed Zero would finally learn his lesson. I thought I had managed to, finally, show him my true intentions and left him no room for doubt.

I felt empowered… then Zero’s hand latched onto the one resting against his cheek. He immediately crushed the bones, making them turn in disgusting directions, and I yanked my hand back, yelping.

“You pitiful girl.”

I shielded my broken hand by bringing it to my chest and stepping away, stunned.

“You think you got me all figured out, you think you’re just so great. Little Miss Perfect.” Zero’s flashing, sickly-looking, lavender eyes narrowed, and hatred poured out of him in colossal waves, I had never seen this darkest side of Zero, “A broken toy, you can fix with loveeee.” He dragged out the word, as if it was nothing more than a sham, and to him it was… “I don’t want your feelings. I don’t want you.”

He moved up, and stroked down my cheek in a smug gesture, like I had just done, but maliciously, “You’re the broken one, Alexandria.”

That name!

It had always been my trigger, and I had no doubt Zero didn’t know that.

Zero’s darkest side couldn’t block out my brightest.

My right hook caught Zero completely by surprise, he flew back to the ground with a grunt. Now both of my hands were pretty banged up, but I couldn’t care less. “Shut your damn mouth Zero.” I snapped the bones back into place in my hand, gruesomely, but I remained unfazed, even tested it out by clenching it a few times with a smile.

He looked up at me from the hard ground while rubbing his aching jaw, his eyes couldn’t fake evil any longer. I would show him how truly evil I could be if he kept this façade up another second.

“That makes two times today I’ve been forced to knock you on your ass, Zero. Don’t go for a third.”

Zero never thought I’d be able to see past that act of his.

Zero always underestimated me… that was his problem, not mine.

He could never be the end of me, I had let Zero continue this game for too long, “I might be broken, but your pathetic attempt to break me further won’t fix you either! You love this game you play, don’t you Zero? Play it all off like you’re just the asshole. That you’re just someone to blame. Someone incapable of love, who pretends to enjoy being blamed because that’s all you’ve ever been taught to deal with. Well screw you! I will hold you accountable, and I will not play this little game just so you can shut out another person. You can’t shut me out! You want me and damnit for some stupid ass reason: I want you too!”

Oh, how quickly my world shifted when Zero was around. There was never a way to predict which emotion would flood the air next.

The Nikki that wanted friends, and wanted him was back.

I fell forward and wrapped my arms around his neck tightly, so he couldn’t yank me off him, “You’re my friend and I won’t let you take yourself away from me…. You stupid asshole, stop doing this to me. I need you. Why can’t you see that?” I wept into his ear, so he couldn’t deny hearing such a declaration. I clung to him with everything I had left, if he pushed me away now...

I’d surely die trying to hold on to him.

No matter how much I push her away, she’ll just keep holding on. All I’m doing is chipping away at her. She’ll end up losing herself to keep me around…

I can’t keep doing this to her.

I can’t stand that stupid sad look on her face.

A humongous ripping sound kept me from completely resolving this. I turned around and glanced up, “Damn it. What now?”

I couldn’t believe my eyes: the sky was being torn open!

Where blue and white should have been, only black and red could be seen. Big, long talons were pulling apart the seams of the sky as if it was ripping up cheap fabric. I couldn’t see the creature behind the claws but I was sure it wouldn’t be long till I could!

My other Saints ran outside, obviously noticing the same threat.

I jumped up, forgetting our irrelevant quarrel, “Something is trying to get through the barrier!” Shit, we didn’t have long.

Zero was still on the ground, and Tatsumi stood at my side, neither knew how to proceed. The others hung back. I knew Haji was trying to devise a plan, but if we waited any longer… that thing would have the time it needed to get inside.

I couldn’t wait for them to volunteer, and I couldn’t ask it of them…

I’d fix this on my own.

I sprinted directly under the ripple of clouds and now dark stormy skies, shoving my magic into the air to use it as a sealant. Anything to act like a bandage to protect this realm… to protect them.

I had promised them this land as a safe place.

I’d do anything to keep it that way, pouring out more energy than I had but understanding it had to be done.

Tatsumi moved up, nervously. I heard him over my shoulder and the roar of the chaotic wind. “Nikki?”

“I’m fine, stay back!” I called out but Tatsumi was determined. He moved even closer. I wouldn’t admit that I was struggling. There was no reason for them to worry.

What seemed like a lifetime later, Tatsumi came jogging up and threw off his coat, “How can I help?”

Haji had also come near, the look on his face was asking the same thing without his mouth having to move.

It would be easier with more people, not to mention, faster. I could protect them, but they didn’t think of it as something I must do alone.

I bit down my pride, “Haji! Tatsumi! I’m going to show you how to put your spiritual energy into a single strand of power. We are going to need it to seal the thing up!”

Both swiftly came to my side, and I instructed them by using myself as an example, “I’ll help you, it might hurt… but I’ll heal you later, just focus on closing that hole.” I reassured them, keeping their minds focused on the task at hand.

It was going to take all three of us to close that damn thing.

Haji’s energy came off in thick gray bolts, Tatsumi’s in red rays and mine in dark black sheets. At first, they were strong waves of energy but it started to flicker. It was going to be more difficult than I first believed.

We struggled together, but couldn’t get the gash to close all the way. We weren’t enough, and the demon was fighting back. We couldn’t close the rip, only hold it back from opening any further.

A huge demonic roar spilt the tear back open, and threw Tatsumi and I back. I slid across the gravel and Tatsumi bounced some feet back. I was horribly sore already and I was just getting more pissed off at that point.

There it is. A ghastly figure, black as black could get; so black your eyes almost couldn’t register its true color. Teeth, smeared red from god knows what, long and jagged hanging from that horrid shape of a mouth. One bloodshot, humongous, eyeball smack dab in the middle of its hideous face and its pupil the shape of an inferno, like the damn eye was ready to eat you up without the help of its jaw.

But before the monster could move through: A burst, curving, of black power sprung up.

Rogue’s spiritual energy helped Haji’s to repair the tears that the roar had created.

The gash was back to a couple of feet wide, and Tatsumi and I ran back to them after the initial shock wore off. Regaining the flow of my power and getting stabilized, I glanced over to Rogue on my right, “Thank you for your help.”

“Well Frosch is in that house too.”

Finally, with four of us now surely we could get the thing to close.

The disaster was almost averted.

I knew the others, after today of all days, were nearing exhaustion. We needed to get the tear sealed now. We stood no chance if that creature got through. I couldn’t let that happen, and poured even more energy out.

The talons had to retract or be cut off; the thing started to retreat.

It was finally over. The hole was nearly closed… I breathed a sigh of relief but it was too early to relax…

Before it could close completely, a slimy tongue came slithering out.

It all happened so quickly. I thought I could get out of the way.

Maybe, I could have but there was no guarantee.

It came at me so quickly and I froze… I was too weak… I was too slow. Damnit!!

Oh no you don’t! You don’t get to take her away!

I was shoved with a rough hand, on the square of my back, out of the way and fell to the ground. The gravel dug into my palms, instantly turning them to shreds. I shot my head up to see Zero struggle in the thing’s grip.

It tightened around him and he grunted from the pressure. He was going be squeezed to death!

I screamed his name, and scrambled toward him, ignoring my pain… but I was not able to get up quick enough before he was dragged into the dark mass residing inside the tear.

ZERO!

My mind immediately went into fighting mood. I had to prove myself. I wouldn’t let that damn thing have him! I leapt up and tore off any loose articles of clothing on my body with my bloody hands, anything that could be used against me.

I couldn’t give into my fear… I couldn’t become frantic. I had to keep my head clear. I had to stay focused. It was my only chance at getting Zero back alive.

“Stop closing the damn thing now!” My shrill voice got their attention immediately, all looked back at me, almost alarmed that I could scream like that at them, “Focus on keeping it stable, don’t let it expand but don’t you even think about letting that thing close! YOU HEAR ME?

Tatsumi looked frightened and shaken after watching one of his own being taken away, even if it was Zero… they all saw that he had saved me by sacrificing himself. “What are you going to do, Nikki?” Tatsumi looked even more afraid to hear my answer.

I spun out of my jacket and dropped the clump of black fabric by my feet, “I’m going after Zero, of course.” There was no give in my response, but he argued nonetheless.

Tatsumi gasped and wanted nothing more than to talk me out of it, “Don’t!” I could hear the plea in his tone, but I couldn’t give in… not about this.

Rogue remained silent, but he too looked nervous. Rogue avoided my eyes.

I wanted to comfort them, I wanted to promise them I’d come back alive… but I didn’t have the time; I didn’t have the confidence, “Just don’t let me get trapped in there, ok?” Every second I wasted was a second Zero’s life could be taken away from me forever.

I pushed off the ground and guide myself with my spirit energy into the vortex.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I kept a brave face. I’d do anything for all of them, but after our fight… I had never been so desperate to get one of them back. I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow without Zero in that house, if I had to drag him back myself, I would.

Once inside the rip, I found it was darker than I originally thought. I couldn’t see even the tip of my nose; my sight obviously wouldn’t be of any help to me.

I clenched my eyes closed and tried to breathe; they could only mess with my mind. I tried to focus on what surrounded me. Reminding myself that I didn’t need my eyes to see.

Without my eyes, my other senses heightened. It smelled horrible in there, like rotten corpses and disease.

I could hear sloshing, with a few heavy clunks sprinkling throughout. It sounded, faintly, like they were hitting the wall of something close. Too big to be another person… not Zero.

It felt like I was swimming in dense mud that came all the way up to my neck, not as thick as quicksand so I wouldn’t be consumed, but about as loose as wet sand. I could move but only with purpose. If I moved too much I’d be drained of my energy too quickly and surely be taken over.

I hadn’t brought my sword and I was too afraid to use my powers to slice this thing into a million pieces… I could hurt Zero in the process and I wouldn’t risk that.

There was no sound of life around me, it was like the mud was absorbing the few sound waves and dulling them.

Out of habit, I called out Zero’s name… My breath and heart stopped in anticipation, but nothing came…

Maybe there was another why I could find him. I raked my brain thoroughly.

Saints could sense me; did that mean could I sense them? Was Zero and I’s relationship even at such a level?

It was worth a shot. I had to find him.

I took several deep breaths, cleared my mind, and focused entirely on trying to locate Zero’s presence.

With closed eyes, I could see the soft white light around me from my own essence. In faint lines, I could see my hands reaching out to grab ahold of anything. I could see the pale mark of the waves resembling dirt moving around me… but nothing else.

I was just about to give up and move forward without knowing a general direction…

When, far off, a small purple light above all the waves of heavy mud flickered. Making me think of a light tower standing guard over the edge of an intimidating ocean.

My lighthouse.

ZERO!

I trudged forward, easily wasting energy to get closer to his body sooner. He wasn’t answering and it feed to my worry.

My mind chanted like a mantra, “You found him. You found him. You found him.” It provided me the energy to continue forward even when my body begged me to stop.

My fingers brushed against dingy cotton. I latched on and pulled myself closer, “Zero!” I cried.

Darkness kept the true sight of him from me, but that purple light of his energy told me I had my Saint in my hands.

“What are you doing here, you idiot?” His raspy voice asked annoyed, it was also gravely from being inside this disgusting place for too long. It was hard to breathe in there and I’m sure it wasn’t quality air.

You’re going to get yourself killed.

“Coming for you, of course. You idiot.” I repeated. We could talk later, being in here couldn’t be good for either of us.

I tried to tug him back to where I had come from, but it wasn’t the mud that fought me, “Why would you do SUCH A STUPID THING? Are you crazy?” He reprimanded me, and I stalled. Zero coughed in pain and almost dipped his face in the mud.

I did this to keep you safe!

I was here risking my life to save his and he still didn’t get it! I groaned, why was he so damn stubborn! “Because we are friends damnit! That means I’ll always come after you. Even if you get eaten by some revolting monster trying to rip open the sky! Now please, for the love of God, SHUT THE HELL UP. So I can get us out of here alive!”

I had managed to silence any further argument, but trying to move out of the thick mud proved to be more difficult than moving deeper into it. It was as if, it knew we were attempting to escape.

I carefully pulled Zero to stand in front of me. Lacing my arms under his and hooking them. I made sure to lock my arms, and leaned forward to whisper, “Do you trust me, Zero?”

Damnit. You fool, I always have.

No smart comments, or ugly retorts… “Yes.” He sounded defeated and I had to get him out of here now. There was no way this was Zero agreeing with me!!

I had a plan, a stupid one but a plan at least. I would send a powerful blast of my energy in a wave in front of us and before the mud could move back in its original position I’d fling out my wings and fly us the hell out of here.

I’d have to be fast or my wings would get stuck… or worst… both of us.

I only had one shot of this; my magic almost completely depleted.

It was a very small widow, but we were out of options.

For my own reassurance, I clung a little tighter to Zero and started a countdown in my head.

At the last second, I told myself that Zero trusted me. He had faith in me to be able to get us out of this.

Without a second thought, I shot ahead of us and pushed off.

The hold around us loosened but we still struggled at first. It was slow, but we were able to shoot forward. The mud tried to keep ahold of us. My hair was brutally pulled. My jeans were ripped, and even some of my feathers were plucked.

It hurt so much being poked and prodded.

I had to ignore the pain and focused solely on saving Zero. What happened to me meant nothing if he was safe. If all of them were together… and alive.

I saw the foggy light ahead of us and I pushed ahead with the last wave of energy I had left.

Zero was dragged down on the way out, the mud trying to yank him away from me, but I pulled him tighter against me. I wouldn’t let it have him.

We were almost home, I reassured myself, just needed to hold out a little longer.

Zero and I broke through with thick stands of mud trying to cling to us. I flapped my wings a little harder to keep the extra weight afloat and to sling the disgusting mud off us with the back of my wings.

I looked down at Zero with a huge grin asking if he was alright, rather proud of myself for coming through when it mattered greatly.

With my sight back, I saw the clumps of brown sticking to his dull silver hair. His face even more pale from not getting the proper oxygen and his clothes were stained and torn.

But he was alive, I was told through his lavender eyes as I waited for sign of thanks from his pursed lips.

The men noting our return finally sealed the gaping hole once and for all. Using all their remaining power to close it with just the three of them. I would have to coat it with an extra barrier to make sure nothing could ever get back in.

Nowhere was safe for us anymore.

Zero made me refocus on him and not the seal, when he finally spoke up, “Wings, huh? Seems like those would have come in handy when… you know when we were HANGING OFF THE SIDE OF A CLIFF!” Zero screamed at me from down in my arms.

“Oh, will you ever let that go? You act as if I hadn’t wanted to use them, idiot! I swear I’ll drop you, Zero.” I threated. Unbelievable, stupid Zero.

Rogue from below called out, moving closer to hear us, and his tone came off sounding like a mother, “What is this about a cliff?”

I ignored him because Zero was pissing me off, “I swear! I save your life and all you can do is fight with me!”

Stubborn Zero called my bluff, “You won’t drop me.”

I thought about messing with him further, “Oh really?”, but like a switch I felt my powers completely leave me.

I cursed as we tumbled toward the ground, I looked down but there was no way to stop our fall.

I flinched, waiting to hit the unforgiving gravel road to rough me up some more. 

Tatsumi ran forward, and tripped trying to get under me right as I gasped with a bounce, “Well that didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would.” I confessed through a giggle.

Underneath me a voice ruffled, “Glad I could help” he said with a chuckle. I looked down and realized I had landed on Tatsumi, having tripped… I was cushioned by his backside.

I swiveled around right as Zero complained more, “You… dropped me!” Haji had flung out one of his great black bat-like wings to help stop Zero’s fall at least a little… as to not let him get killed after I spent all that effort rescuing him.

“Thank you, Haji!!!” I screamed cheerfully.

A smile came forward and a giggle emerged seeing his bright lavender eyes…right where they belong, here with me, “I told you I would.” I smirked and rustled Tatsumi’s hair showing my appreciation. 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“I didn’t let the monster in here, Zero! It wasn’t like I rolled out a damn red carpet for Damien and his stupid toys!!”

Zero and I hadn’t done much other than arguing. I thought it was safe to say: if he hadn’t made me take him home right that second after sealing off the tear, he wasn’t going anywhere just yet. We still had a lot to mend… but a fight always put other things on the backburner.

“Well you might as well have!” Zero huffed, his face was on the very edge of turning red from our screaming match, “Where is that O MIGHTY SWORD of yours, huh!?” None of us had accomplished any sleep or even taken showers. We were going on almost 24 hours now, and not a bite of food either… but that didn’t stop Zero and I from fighting in the dining room.

Oh crap, I had no idea, but I had to save face. So, I lied, “In my room!” I faked the confidence necessary to fool the best of them… but that didn’t matter to Zero.

Zero called my bluff, “Oh yeah?” His face looked smug; he was waiting for me to dig myself a deeper hole. That smirk told me I lost. Zero reached around behind him and slammed down my blade on the table. He appeared mighty proud.

But I just had to get the attention off me, “Who gave you permission to go in my room?! HUH!”

Purple eyes expanded, and a once rock-solid jaw dropped, “But—”

“How do I know you didn’t go snooping in my drawers?”

“I wouldn’t—” Clear and blatant shock on his usually stoic and harsh face. I bit back laughter.

“How do I know you didn’t go digging through my knickers or something!!”

Zero couldn’t stop get his thoughts or words together and a horrible blush appeared on his face from the accusation. Guess, I did get the heat off me because he was no longer wondering why the sword hadn’t been in my possession when we all could have needed it.

Haji cleared his throat from the door. Zero and I froze. We turned only our heads in his direction, guilty expressions on our faces. Tatsumi and Rogue were standing behind my second-in-command. Tatsumi was giggling uncontrollably. Rogue didn’t dare look at us but pretending to glance over his shoulder.

“The scouts found something, Miss.”

***

I received a tip from some of the scouts that there happened to be a warehouse inside of my Cross Academy realm that might have been overlooked. The massive building was overflowing with misplaced magical energy. I knew in my gut it was somehow connected to Damien, so we left the safe house immediately.

It didn’t matter how exhausted, starving, bruised we all were… we had a job to do.

We all stood in dark shadow of the four-story building, as I tried to decide on our plan of attack and each member of the team voiced their opinions on what they believed to be the best course of action.

“Miss, it would be wise for me to take the lead and search the grounds first.”

“No way, batman. Who said you were the best one for the undercover work? You’d stand out like a demon in church.”

“Nikki should really make the call; she always knows what to do.”

“I am perplexed. What is this ‘batman’ you speak of? Is he a bat dressed as a man? Or a man who shares characteristics of a bat?”

“For someone who has lived for several hundreds of years… How could you be so mentally challenged?”

Their teasing and making light of such a serious situation immediately infuriated me. Especially since I was at a lost on how to handle this threat. Their persistent chatter continued unwavering until, “ENOUGH.” I hissed.

Rogue stood directly in front of me, the only one who never managed to utter a word, looked at me intently. I couldn’t hold his gaze, I had to remain focused. Instead I turned to the other three I had only just screamed at. Tatsumi moved eagerly to my side and leaned in, “What’s the plan?” The rest leaned in close as well to hear the most anticipated answer that I didn’t have.

Uhh.” I really had no clue what our next step would be. My lack of a response sent the men into a damn uproar. Most of their comments became muddled and very hard to distinguish who exactly said what.

“How pathetic.”

My down casted eyes shot up to lock on to Rogue’s ember eyes. I had heard him loud and clear. Apparently, so had the others. Silence was thrown over them like an uncomfortable blanket and they turned back toward Rogue as well. I could sense he wasn’t done. Oh no, he was only getting started, “A sorry excuse for a God.” My heart shattered, was that how he truly felt? Zero shifted dangerously but remained quiet.

Instinctually, Tatsumi sprang to speak up for me but my whisper of a voice stopped him in his tracks, “No. He’s right.” I didn’t continue any further for the fear of my voice breaking. It hurt deeply for Rogue to see me in such a light even after all my attempts to right my wrongs.

I’d never be good enough, and I’d have to wrap my heart around that.

I whipped around and kicked the chained backdoors to the warehouse wide open. “Might as well make it known I’m here.” I mumbled to myself; I didn’t wait nor anticipate anyone to follow as I stormed inside.

I wasn’t in the best state of mind and for my own sake I grabbed onto angry emotions swirling inside, instead of the wounded ones.

I didn’t know what transpired between the Saints after I walked into the warehouse but after a short amount of time I sensed all four behind me. Tatsumi, as always, trotted up to walk steadily beside me with his hands worriedly tangled in his pockets. Anxiety evident on his young face, “Nikki. Slow down; you’ll figure something out, you always do.”

I didn’t turn to look at him, “Hush, Tatsumi. Enemies could be nearby.”

I could tell I had managed to shake his newly rebuilt confidence, “yes. right.” His lips locked tight, but the truth was I really didn’t sense anyone else in the building. I simply couldn’t handle his pity right now.

What was I to do? I had no plan or direction.

I instantly stopped my steps and shoved Tatsumi behind me. I kept an arm around him and shielded him with the rest of my body. Something didn’t feel right. The air felt… different.

Rogue subconsciously took small, careful, steps to stand closer to us. Could he sense it also?

I couldn’t put a finger on it and then…

I projected a barrier between me and my men, throwing the closest two back the roughest. Not enough to really hurt them, thankfully, but it wasn’t like landing on a pile of pillows, if you know what I mean. Rogue bellowed from the concrete floor as he rubbed his sore back, “What the hell was that for!” None of them had noticed the protective barrier still dividing me from them yet.

I saw blurry movement across the floor all around me. I spun all around me as they drew near. I could only make out flashes of small beings, because they possessed great speed. I couldn’t follow the path of one, let alone all of them before I knew it, they completely circled me. There was no getting out of the circle. One moved to strike, and I brought my boot down on its head as a reflex. I also shot it with a bolt just to put my unsteadiness at ease.

I glance down and saw from its mangled body the creature was something resembling a snake.

All of my Saints ran up and tried to help me only to be confusedly held back by the invisible barrier. Each one knew instantly it was of my doing. And boy, they didn’t look pleased.

While I was occupied with killing one snake another took the opportunity to strike with my back turned. It latched onto my calf and I turned to yank it off. A regular snake would not have affected me… but this was not a normal reptile.

It had not been born in my worlds.

I cried out as I felt its venom flood into my veins, freezing the once flowing and warm blood. I began, instantaneously, to feel like I was being drained of my power and strength.

By one bite? This isn’t good.

I attempted to stay standing but more began to latch on after the first strike. I couldn’t stop them from piercing my skin. My limbs were fighting against me, I couldn’t move. It was like I was drowning in quicksand.

I did not fall though, no matter how much I wanted to. I wanted to lay out on the floor and pass out, but I wouldn’t. I still stood tall even if it hurt more to do so. I focused, blatantly ignoring the pain.

My men behind the barrier were watching this ordeal and tried to break through. They stilled when a large shadow shifted in front of me. All eyes flashed to the middle of the corridor… the immergence of an outsider. I followed their line of sight, but didn’t see anyone yet.

“My. My. What a truly breath-taking sight.”

My head shot up and I was greeted with the disgusting sight of Damien smirking, smugly, directly in front of me. I should have known!

Zero’s fist slammed against the impenetrable glass-like barrier and he growled like the animal I know he could become, “Damien.” My spine straightened with the power in that one name, if Zero could stare him down, unafraid, with all that energy then I could as well.

My poor Tatsumi was shaken by finally encountering the enemy. He had only heard stories, skirting around the only time they had both been in the same realm, but the fact of never actually meeting Damien kept much of his fear at bay. He was just a kid… Damien was the thing of nightmares, with the power to make them a reality. I couldn’t blame him for being fearful.

Rogue’s blood turned cold; I’m sure he sensed Damien’s abundant magical energy as well, although unnoticed by the others. It was lightyears above the level from the last time we encountered him…back in Magnolia, I cursed, “Shit.

This would not end well for any of us.

Rogue turned back, borderline frantic but faking confidence, which is what we all needed, “Haji, can you get over this damn thing?”

Haji flung open his wings and shot up into the sky breaking through the roof with ease without Rogue so much as having to finish his question.

Damien turned his attention to my team from all the noise, “Three out of the four have been wounded by me before, correct, Alexandria? I hate I didn’t kill them when I had the chance… OH,” His interest peaked, my blood unbelievably froze even more, I knew who he had locked eyes with, “but who do we have here? I am unfamiliar with this little runt hiding among them. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of torturing him yet. Oh giddy! I always relish in obtaining new toys.

Fear gripped my heart and I wheezed through the burning sensation in my lungs, I pulled the power out of the very depths of my soul, and swung my sword out and around. Stopping right at the nick of Damien’s throat, “Leave him alone!” Hoping to draw Damien’s attention back to me before he attempted to get through my barrier to Tatsumi; Damien was still so interested in him and not me or even my sword at his throat. I didn’t know how much power I really had left, but I had to make sure Damien didn’t go near any of my team. The damn blade was already shaking.

I noticed a snake slithering near me, moving slower than the others, out of the corner of my eye, and it moved to pounce. Somehow, I caught it in midair, crushed its skull, and chunked it at Damien. It bounced off his fat forehead, if I hadn’t been so weak at the time I might have laughed…

but at least, I had successfully managed to upset him. He wasn’t worried about my team anymore.

“Still have the energy to fight, Alexandria? I’m surprised for even a magical being,” He sneered hating to remind himself how alike we were, I winked at him smugly, “you are still standing. You should have died by now. Or at the very minimum: lost consciousness. Aren’t you so bothersome. As always.” I hated when he had the gull to talk to me like I was a child… or a bug that wouldn’t be squashed by his boot.

“Your weak attempts to kill me are comical.” I bit out, my balance wavering, my head swimming but I kept the sword even. My reply caused him more irritation and for a moment I felt some pride.

However, I quickly lost the ability to stand as more fangs pierced my flesh. I fell to my knees like a bow in Damien’s honor. That was exactly how he also saw it, “I did tell you, one day you would in fact bow down to me, Alexandria.” His disgusting laughter ripped through the hall. My sword clanked against the concrete and bounced out of my grasp. I was instantly overcome by my own anger and pain.

Haji dropped down behind the barrier once again, “There is no entrance, she has strategically placed the two of them in an impermeable box.” Rogue was evidently infuriated by this information. I heard his fist slam against the barrier once more, almost powerful enough to crack it, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Quit trying to play the hero and let us through!”

Not a chance.

Hopefully, I’d get out of this alive and he could be mad at me later… but I knew that was a long shot.

You see, I do not recall when I began to focus more on healing them and keeping them alive, rather than me… I began to worry less about my personal safety or overthrowing Damien and worry more about only going against Damien when he endangered them, but that was the nail in my coffin, without my focus solely on Damien, it gave him the upper hand against me on any day and in any battle.

I chose to ignore Rogue; not like he couldn’t hear my reply anyway. That barrier wouldn’t let any sound escape; I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me.

I wouldn’t dare let them listen to my pathetic cries… I still had too much to lose, before I lost their respect, I hoped.

I felt strong enough not to take a greedy glance back at my men until Tatsumi’s shaking voice undercut my strength, “Nikki… Let me help you, you promised you’d let me help… You promised.” A sniffle that I’m sure was accompanied by his tears, then snap, “No. You can’t die! I won’t let you! Rogue do something! Please. I’ll do anything!! Get me through this damn wall!!” I heard his sword crash against the glass… again… and again.

My heart overflowed with such powerful emotions that were stirred by his words. I didn’t dare turn around. The clanking stopped abruptly, and I heard his forehead hit the barrier in defeat, “You can’t…Please.”

Rogue’s cold and robotic command pulled at my heart strings by the absolute opposite response, “She’s not going to die. She’s too damn stubborn to die! Tatsumi, you’re a soldier, right? Think like one. Call out your armor, use your sword to its full extent, and don’t stop until you bring this barrier down. Zero, help him.”

“Got nothing better to do.” Zero sounded… almost afraid, but faked strength. That’s my Saint.

Rogue commanded my team like it was his own, “Haji.”

“I’ll search again for an entrance or a weak spot.” And he was up and out of the building once more. I sensed Rogue’s shadow magic near me and I knew all my men were trying desperately to get to me. I couldn’t help but feel so thankful… but I’d never put them in danger. I poured even more energy out of me and reinforced the wall.

I grinned, sadly at the ground.

“Sad creatures, aren’t they? Humans… completely useless, weak beings. Ripe for the taking.” Instantly, more fury poured into me…. I wouldn’t stand for him speak of my men like that but I didn’t respond for the fear of losing control over my emotions and losing my focus in that fight.

I knew the snakes were still latched onto me, piercing my skin with their damn fangs, and until now I had tried to ignore whatever venom they had been pouring into me… but I was starting to lose my sight and my arms could barely hold even my torso upright.

The hall appeared darker than before…

Damien’s fingers snatched up my chin and he dragged me across the floor to him with ease, as if I weighed no more than the combined weight of a few feathers. His grip dug painfully into my jaw, “Why don’t you just give up, Alexandria?”

I barely had any energy from reinforcing the barrier and those damn snakes… I was running on E.

He was so close; his disgusting breath brushed against my cheeks. It was hot and reeked. I hated it and he knew it. Damien appeared to be enjoying my displeasure.

“I’ll never give up.” I countered with ease.

I saw something flicker in his eyes and a wicked grin appeared on his face. I don’t know how he got ahold of one of my knives, but he thrusted it into my gut and dragged it down. It felt like my damn organs were spilling out, and I screamed, trying to press a hand to the mess. I gathered the skin and tried to pinch it shut all while Damien watched with a smile on his face, and my men wouldn’t stop yelling for me.

Damien brought me even closer, smearing the blood pool under me all over the floor, and in a spilt second, I could do nothing but watch as his lips descended on mine…

ARGH. You bitch!

My eyesight was cloudy, too cloudy to see anything, but I heard a cry of agony and my finger nails grazed something. They came back coated with a sticky and wet substance.

Then with beady, red washed, eyes, I saw Damien staggered back, clutching his face. I noticed the deep gashes along his cheek and his blatant rage. He dropped his bloody hand and moved to strike me.

However, as he focused back on me, he noticed the demonic eyes shrouded in darkness, my long black claws ready to slice him up into tiny pieces and dropped, sharp, fangs to rip his head clean off his shoulders. Damien was overcome by disbelief and couldn’t move.

If I could have had control over my body, it would have all been over.

It took a moment, but he shook the fear off him as if he were a dog shaking off rain water, recovering from his fear, “I see. You truly have grown weak. Tell me, Alexandria, do your mindless followers know their beloved master is slowly transitioning into… a fallen angel? A demon. The absolute Devil.”

My eyes grew wide and the strength I once possessed to inflict pain on him immediately dissipated. They could never know. What would they think of me? I’d lose them. I was not worthy…

His menacing laughter sounded and echoed throughout the box we were occupying.

Silence!” His laughter was cut off and he looked back down at me, insulted by not being able to savor such a development, “So what? I might not be purest God anymore…” My lack of concentration accidently dropped the sound part of my barrier, stupidly, my men could hear everything now, “but I will never stop coming after you. You got that? I will defeat you and then… everything will be ok again. After I make you pay that is… I’ll kill you, you know? I’ll kill you and I’ll even enjoy it, fool.”

His sucker punch connected, brutally, with my jaw and I lost the last bit of strength to hold my upper half up anymore. My face slammed against the ground and big black spots smeared my vision once more.

“That was for speaking to me like you have any right to breathe in my presence, demon.”

I shakenly lifted myself up. Hardly getting my torso off the hard ground, and whipping away the small amount of blood dripping over my lips, “Is that the best you got?”

I heard my men gasp watching this gruesome scene. Zero upholstered his gun and shot bullets into the barrier, but they bounced back and fell to the floor with a clink. Oh, if only I had the energy to feel humiliated… Rogue roared out my name and cursed Damien’s.

She would have been saved already if that possessed bat was here. Haji? Well you’re not going to save her… what about the other two? You just going to wait for them to save her? Tatsumi and Zero? they have never looked darker watching that woman being hurt… but you… what about me? You’re the darkest of them all… and you have me. Let me help you… You can save her if you use me… She will die if you don’t do something. No. NO! I won’t give in to you again. I guess really you don’t care about her then… Let’s watch her die, shall we?

I didn’t think I could sustain another hit from his plentiful power, but I had managed to keep my head up off the floor until his fist connected with the top of my head. My head bounced cruelly off the floor and back again.

“And that was for forgetting your place.” My world fell into darkness as I lost consciousness. Oh please, let him kill me then leave them alone…

Rogue’s P.O.V.

I don’t know how I got through, one second it was there and then the next… for me, it was gone.

That’s enough. If you want to fight someone, then fight me. Only a coward hits a woman.”

I’m gonna protect you this time.

I stood possessively over her unresponsive body… A leg on either side, but I couldn’t treat her yet… I couldn’t get her the attention she needed. It hurt my very soul. However, I was somewhat comforted by hearing her shallow breathing.  Hold on a little longer, Nikki.

It was weak but it was still there.

She was alive, despite it all.

Atta girl.

Seeing how, stupidly, you tried to protect us… even after fighting with us… after all the things

We—I—said to purposely hurt you. It reminded me how pure of a person you are. I shouldn’t have forgotten.

It was like that time before, I could feel her heartbeat as if it sat right beside mine cradled, safe, in my chest. I knew she was going to make it, because she always put up one hell of a fight. Her heart fluttered, dropping down till barely beating at all, but was fighting to stabilize.

If Damien wants you, he will have to go through me.

I admit, it gave me such great pride glancing at that disgusting cut on his ugly face that she inflicted when he foolishly got too close… once again Damien underestimated her and paid the price, I chuckled. “I like the fresh look. That’s Nikki for you, and that’s what you get for doubting her once again, Damien.”

Nikki might have been unresponsive, but she was somehow able to keep that damn barrier up. The quicker that barrier came down, the quicker her body could focus only on healing.

I knew what I had to do.

Blackness radiated off me. The shadows encircled us; the once well lighten room now became dark as night. It covered and concealed her under me.

We were on my turf now.

My shadows filled the half of my side of the barrier and was ready to attack Damien at any moment.

Scary but that won’t be necessary, my ignorant Rogue. I have already retrieved what I came for.” Damien lifted his hand with a small vile encased in his fingers.

I glanced down to her body on the floor and saw no snakes were attached, “What did you—”  

“—Rogue, you should really convince her to give up. She may be pathetic, weak, disgraceful… but I’d let her live if she gets out of this, that is. Hahaha. What short life she must have left, to waste it trying to chase after me? She is not worthy of my time or effort anymore. She has nothing left to offer me… but if she insists on challenging me, I will dispose of her. Once and for all. And it would not be a pretty picture. I would enjoy destroying that woman and I don’t think your puny human heart could take it. Heed my warning or I will eliminate her without a second thought. We wouldn’t want that, now would we, Rogue?”

“DAMN YOU !” I spat when he vanished without a trace.

Damien’s warning rang loudly in my mind as the barrier behind us finally fell. The threat was gone, for now.

Tatsumi, reequipping back into his normal attire, ran to her side, screamed her name and tears fell in globs down his face. He was too irrational and emotional driven that he couldn’t even feel her faint heartbeat. He began to panic even impossibly more.

I couldn’t really blame him for his fear especially when it came to her.

I moved to pick up her fragile body… she didn’t belong on the floor, when Zero cut me off with a firm hand on my chest. He still didn’t trust me… None of them did. I’m sure it was on their minds as well. Would she have felt the need to prove herself if it hadn’t been for my earlier words?

Haji stalked up beside her stoically and asked Tatsumi to stand back so he could tend to her. Tatsumi did so but reluctantly. He didn’t move too far away from her… only giving Haji enough room to work without being directly in the way.

Haji crouched down to carefully turn her over… now that her face had been exposed, I saw just how much damaged Damien had inflicted.

The busted lips… the huge black bruise covering the entire right side of her face, hiding her usually pink tinted cheeks… it was already swelling tremendously.

I was furious, ready to destroy the world if it meant I could get to him for doing this shit.

Nikki’s body started to tremor and subconsciously I stepped closer toward her with Zero pushing me back again, more forcefully this time. He looked like he could pull that gun on me at any moment.

Thick beads of sweat were building up on her injured face. She grew a sicker shade of white. Her face appeared sunken yet swollen at the same time. Tatsumi’s fear came back in full force and I felt my own growing.

I called out past Zero, “Haji. What’s wrong with her?”

If possible, his stone face was more grim than usual, looking down at her, “Her body is failing to fight off the venom in her system…” Dread filled the air; you could taste it in every breath you tried to take, like lead in your lungs.

Everyone lost their last bit of resolve and I tried whole-heartedly, without my powers, to push past Zero. He shoved me back and commanded me, “Don’t you go near her!”

“This isn’t the time to mess with me!” Zero wouldn’t let me by, and I was the first to voice our fears, “Haji! What do you mean ‘failing’! She’s not…” Dammit! I was too late!

Haji tried to remain the calm and steady one we could all use at that moment but I sensed even he was panicked.

He slid his arms under her small body and cradled her to his wide chest. Nikki appeared, in her unconscious… hurting state, to curl into him. She trusts him wholeheartedly. She looked so vulnerable in his hold and I realized I was slightly agitated by that level of fragility laying in his arms.

Haji ordered us to all get her back to the mansion as soon as possible. We didn’t hesitate, if it meant he would have a better chance at helping her.

Of course, Haji would get Zero to stand guard. No one was allowed in until Haji said so. Not being able to see her only fed to our worry. I smelled her blood in the air and it sickened me.

The mansion should have been loud with her constant yelling and comforting with her laughter following soon after…but the silence was deafening. I would give anything for her to even be screaming at me right now. Anything.

I wondered if she felt like this before we all came into the picture. Was she alone? Did the silence bother her too?

Why didn’t she let me keep her company?

If she doesn’t get out of this… No, I couldn’t think like that. She was a fighter and a skilled one at that… I halfheartedly chuckled.

Tatsumi’s hiccupping attempt at breathing pulled me from my thoughts and I looked over at him crouched on her windowsill. I hadn’t been here too terribly long but even I knew that was her spot. Is. IS her spot, I silently screamed.

His head was pressed against his knees and I could see he was trembling as he cried softly. I wouldn’t be of any help to him right now. Only she could provide him with comfort—just as she was the only one that could comfort me.

I heard light foot steps behind me. Turning back, I saw Haji whipping clean his bloody hands and fear encompassed me. Tatsumi noticed them enter the room also and moved up to hear Haji’s update.

“My lady appears to be on the track of recovery…” I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath, “However, I am not knowing of when she might awaken. I’ll continue to tend to her wounds and provide her with fluids to keep her in good health when she does.”

I pushed past Haji and Zero and this time neither moved to stop me. Rounding the door frame, I was not prepared for what my eyes saw or what my heart felt. Seeing her cold and distant in this dark hospital-like room. The room stunk of blood and chemicals. Her body was hooked up to those ungodly machines and a breathing tube was taped to her mouth. Hearing that damn beep of the heart monitor…

I nearly fell to my knees, but somehow, I kept myself on my feet and even had strength to move up beside her.

Hovering over at her almost hollow body… The whelp of a bruise along her precious jaw line, and those sunken, dark, eyes that should have been wide eyed and opened… and blue, crinkling slightly with humbling laughter.

I could only be reminded of our last conversation before all this happened. I was so cruel to her; she didn’t deserve that. Damien’s words rang out loudly in the back of my mind also.

It was close… too close.

It was nothing short of a miracle she was even alive right now. The nightmare of waking up and her not in this realm anymore shook me to the core.

I dropped down to one knee beside her bed. I let my fingertips brush her unusually cold hand and I encased it between my hands hoping to pour some of my abundant heat into her.

“You are going to wake up; you hear me and I am going to plead for your forgiveness for being so callous. Then beg for you to give this all up…”

Rogue had passed out, still clutching my hand tightly when Frosch tiptoed in. True to her namesake of “feline”.

Careful not to make a sound, she glanced from Rogue to me with puckered lips. She pounced onto the bed, barely creating an indention on the mattress. She crept up and looked intently at our joined fingers.

Frosch worried greatly for me, but was able to find comfort resting her weary head on top of our hands, relishing in the warmth coming from both and snuggling up for the night.

Chapter Text

Rogue’s P.O.V.

I entered the dining room late one night… well, rather, it was well into the morning. I apologize, it was all such a damn blur. I can’t remember the last time I slept. I thrashed a jittery hand through my hair to get it the hell out of my face.

I hadn’t anticipated running into all the other Saints sitting in there like the pissed-off, sulking, Knights of the stupid Round Table. Each had their own grim expression on their faces… guess even they couldn’t stand to be alone at such a dark hour.

The only “sleep” I got was dreamless, and short, when I finally collapsed in exhaustion beside Nikki’s hospital bed. Every couple days or so: my body would give out no matter how much I fought it.

I wanted a damn cup of coffee, not any small talk. Yet, I didn’t get as I wanted. I never did.

I sighed as soon as I enter, I knew what to expect after realizing who was in the room. I was greeted with words dipped in sarcasm and abundant blatant attitude right off the bat, “And he makes his grand entrance.”

Not going to lie, understandably, I already held such a short fuse, and Zero was not the one to keep that explosive match unlit. Boy, he had no idea what I was capable of. I wasn’t as terrifying as Nikki, but I got damn close.

My body operated own its own; it slammed my closed fist against the wooden table, “You got something you want to say to me?” I shouldn’t have let it come out so arrogant. I should have left that to Zero.

Zero rose, literally, to the challenge. “Yeah, I do actually. You’re the reason she’s practically on her death bed right now!”

Tatsumi was quickly overwhelmed by us, the more intimidating and deadly looking individuals of the loser island group. Poor kid sat far back in his chair, as far as the scrawny boy could go; Haji slide past to exit the room.

Haji did not have to play peacekeeper with Nikki not present, “Go at it; do not wreck her residence in the aftermath of your pointless bickering,” he warned, but it wasn’t as powerful as Haji could be.

Tatsumi was appalled. “Haji! Stop them.” His voice came out squeaky but I stayed focus on Zero.

His plea fell on death ears, but nonetheless Tatsumi tried relentlessly, “She would be hurt to find out you did nothing…” This caused the eldest Saint to pause his departure and glance back thoughtfully.

Tatsumi, not waiting for Haji to decide whether to act or not, slide on his knees across the table, between Zero and I, “She doesn’t deserve this crap!” Tatsumi screamed. It felt like nails on a chalkboard to my headache. He pushed against my chest, but nothing came from it, I didn’t even look down. It was like a touch of a butterfly. Zero and I leaned over him and ignored his attempt at interfering. It felt damn good to fight. It was bound to all come out anyway.

I hate to say, my yelling only rose, “I didn’t tell her to put up that damn barrier!”

“You didn’t tell her anything other than how useless she is!!”

“Oh, now that’s rich! I heard we shared the same train of thought, Zero!” It came out so calculating and cruel, but I knew what Zero had done to Nikki in that forest. I had dreamed for the chance to call him out on it.

Zero stumbled back against the chair, as if I had punched him, and attempted to steady himself. I saw in the expression, he hadn’t anticipated me throwing that in his face. Zero stuttered, “Maybe, I did...  but that doesn’t mean I wanted her dead!” I had him right where I wanted him.

“Oh really? I didn’t see you getting through that barrier.”

“I’ll kill you! I don’t care how she might feel about you.”

“Let’s see if you can try!” We were so immature, and childish. Nikki would have knocked our heads together if she had been around and felt up to it. But, she wasn’t and that was the most difficult part for us.

Zero and I collided across the table, over poor Tatsumi, and things grew indescribably earth-shattering loud. We had our fingers wrapped around the other’s throat and were squeezing relentlessly… but it was as if we couldn’t process the pain.

Haji and Tatsumi, for Nikki’s sake, tried to stop us, but it only added to the chaos… We relished in the chaos…

Please.” A voice croaked from the hallway, I didn’t release Zero, but spun in the direction it resonated from.

Nikki was leaning against the doorframe to keep herself standing, “Please stop.” Oh, shit.

Her hands pressed firmly against the bleeding abdomen, that she must have reopened chasing after our booming voices, but the blood managed to slip through her delicate fingers. Fat droplets splashed against the tile. She looked ghostly white, the greenish deep bites on her once perfect body were nearly impossible to miss in comparison to the pale, marble, skin. Same went for the two ghastly bruises on her face. I felt the fury flair up again, but at the same time my heart tumbled. Her crystal eyes hazed over, and cloudy, and her sad attempt at breathing sounded wet… her lungs had to be filling up with water once more.

I’ve fucked up now.

She was, practically, laying at Death’s front door.

But to her, it must hadn’t mattered. I knew she wanted us to stop blaming each other. She had gotten herself into this mess.

Everyone else swiveled in her direction, but Tatsumi was the first to get to her. “You shouldn’t be up and walking around, Nikki.” His words coated with worry, and she started to weep at the way he said her name... defeatedly.

We all spotted the blood puddle building at her feet. Tatsumi swallowed deeply, cautiously, but she was losing a lot of it and quickly.

Please stop fighting.” Nikki started to fall but Tatsumi caught her. His arms went around her then he shifted her onto his back. Nikki rested her head on his shoulder, slowly drifting back to sleep, but kept mumbling, “Please… don’t fight. I can’t… can’t …take it…”

Tatsumi’s glare held murderous intent, but went full circle when he glanced back at her over his shoulder worriedly.

He turned around and headed for the hospital wing even if he meant he would be reapplying the bandages himself. Tatsumi no longer cared to even bother with asking for help.

Haji dropped his hands and followed after us to treat Nikki's reopened wounds.

I backed up, slapped a hand against the table, and drew out a long breath, “Guess we are both to blame now.”

Zero looked solemn at me then to the empty door, wishing he could follow too, “Yeah.”

That was several days ago, and Nikki had yet to wake up yet.

***

Rogue succumbing to his exhaustion, after days of fighting it, fell asleep once again in the chair beside my temporary bed. The other three Saints had all come around to check on me periodically but noticing Rogue was still in my company left the two of us alone.

Haji came in early one morning to awake the emotionally-drained man so he could get some proper rest in his own room and Haji could complete the routine.

I finally started to wake up in the early light of morning but the room was dark and empty. The damn curtains had to be closed. Didn’t they know I enjoyed the sun?

How long had I been out? I should have been grateful for even waking up, but I wasn’t in the best mood. My head felt like murky, cloudy swamp water and I was floating somewhere out there. No matter which way I went, I couldn’t get back to shore. It was as if everything was passing by me in slow motion. I eased myself up surprised that none of my body argued with that movement. My back being stiff hinted at how long I’d been in that bed.

The lack of lighting in the room made it rather difficult to see anything but something tugged on my arm. I yanked it out and wanted to get up when shooting pain ripped through my head and I fell back against the pillows, clutching my head.

I tried to think of another way to slid myself off the bed when I heard a grunt from the doorway.

I forgot the now small, dull, pain inside my head and turned my slightly bruised cheek toward the entrance. Always right on cue, my very first and oldest Saint carrying what appeared to be washcloths soaking in a bowl of warm water.

Haji!!” I called out through a smile, and chuckled at the very rare sight of an astonished Haji, I followed up with a, “Good to see you too!”

Oh, it felt like it had been ages. Seeing Haji washed away any pain I might have been enduring.

The metal bowl dropped to the floor with a loud crash and water went scattering across the wood panels, “Haji?” I asked, concerned, ignoring the ringing in my eardrums.

If that wasn’t strange enough, Haji began to stutter about cleaning up the mess when Zero rounded the corner into my room curious about the loud crash. I greeted him too and I got the same response as Haji.

Zero froze on contact and both stared at me when I spoke again as if it had been a fluke.

Was there something on my face? I rubbed my cheek trying to find the imaginary spot.

I was terrified by Zero then busting into a fit of gaudy laughter. It was so loud I had to cover my sensitive ears; the appalling laughter managed to snap Haji out of whatever trance he was in. He strode up to me and placed his big hands over my ears too. I was really back! It wasn’t some dream.

Zero was uncharacteristically bent over clutching his stomach and his laughter was quite literally shaking the walls. Had I ever seen Zero even crack a smile?

Finally, it started to subside and Zero tried to explain the joke I had missed, “You! You had managed to scare everyone… Everyone was SO worried and you! You wake up… like you just got back from vacation or something! You look perfectly healthy! What the hell!?! HAHAHA…”

Apparently, explaining why he was finding this all so funny caused a whole new wave of laughter to rip through him. I am surprised to admit, Zero’s laughter did not make me feel uncomfortable, rather, confused.

Thankfully, not he wasn’t as loud as before so I could pull back Haji’s hands.

I was completely mesmerized with this side of Zero that I had never seen before. He really wasn’t great at dealing with his emotions properly, was he?

I forgot about Zero’s emotional immaturity when my short, and young, Saint stalked into the room concerned about all the noise and not looking at all like his normal stress-free self. His face looked so pained and he had ugly black bags under his eyes. I tried to let the warmth of my excitement in getting to see him lace my voice tenderly, “Tatsumi.” Oh, how I’ve missed you…

His eyes grew twice in size and I had never been so relieved. Tatsumi flew over in my direction and I held my arms out for a much-awaited hug…

I heard a faint grunt from Haji’s direction and Zero’s laughter die away instantly.

Tatsumi’s eyes were black as the stormy night and his hand had a death grip on my collar. He dragged me up to his face almost roughly, “How dare you. How dare you!” he screamed and shook me. It most certainly did not help my head, “You planned on leaving us behind like that! Leaving ME! Why the hell didn’t you…” His furious facade started to dissolve and his voice began to crack as tears fell down his puffy cheeks.

I never wanted to make you cry, Tatsumi…

I brought up my hand slowly to run my long fingers through his hair and pat the back of his head. It seemed to completely undermine Tatsumi’s anger as he released my collar and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me flush against his tear-stained face. That sweet boy was pressed against my stomach, only trying to get closer, and I could feel his body quaking like a leaf.

This was the first time one of my Saints have showed any true fragility in my presence and I admit I was initially flabbergasted. I tried to compose myself, somewhat at least, enough to resume brushing through his soft hair hoping to calm his nerves. I heard a broken voice vibrate against my abdomen, “I was so scared.”

“I... I’m sorry.”

I didn’t know when Rogue entered the room but I looked over Tatsumi to see him leaning against the door frame with a soft smile on his lips. Had I worried him too?

I returned the smile and tightened my arms around Tatsumi thankful to soak in the peace and comfort radiating between us.

I felt some weight on the bed and my eyes flashed to the edge… Frosch. She had jumped up and came sprinting to me. I freed one hand to reach over and stroke her perfect little head. Tears slipped past her closed eyes and some dropped on my hand.

I missed you too, dear.

I pulled her close against me and beside Tatsumi. I would hold them both until their cries died away and their smiles returned.

I didn’t care how long it took.

“Nikki, can we go for a walk?” Immediately, the room grew noisy by the rambunctious men believing it was right for them to voice their own opinions of that not being a promising idea… but I could speak and think for myself.

“Sure.”

Haji ceased his attempt to keep me in that bed and extended out his arm for me to stand up. Tatsumi came around to help ease on my robe and I took my first steps, in what must have been a long time, toward Rogue and leaving behind the other three in the room with their eyes on us.

“Are you disappointed in me?” My question, I could tell, caught Rogue completely off guard.

He wasn’t expecting that but tried to save face, “No…. Not disappointed. Angered, yes.”

“I see, because I tried to take Damien on by myself or because I didn’t ask for your help?” That’s a good question.

I continued to knock Rogue off his game with my blatant honesty… I didn’t know why I always ignored how much it appeared to displease him.

Leaning over the railing overlooking the gardens I awaited his response in silence… “Don’t play your mind games with me.” His drastic change in demeanor and tone pulled me out of my thoughts, and I turned in his direction with a curved eyebrow.

“Sorry. I… You just ugh… you always seem to have a way of reading my thoughts. It drives me insane; you know just what to say that makes it where I can never be prepared with a response…” Rogue took a deep breath and I spun back around to provide some privacy so he wouldn’t feel pressured to continue.

But to my surprise, Rogue did, “I… was angered by both. I don’t know why you think you should do everything by yourself. It’s like you don’t even see me standing right beside you. Or any of us for that matter! Dammit! You are so unbelievably frustrating…” Rogue dropped his heavy head into his hands and groaned.

Out of the blue, Rogue’s volume rose tremendously when his head flung back up, “Why don’t you trust us—NO! Why don’t you trust me enough to be there for you? Am I no longer worthy of your trust?!” He blew out the fencing around the porch without even raising a finger. Wood scattered everywhere like confetti.

The mighty roar of a Dragon…

It seemed he was losing in some internal struggle and I worried greatly for him, “Rogue?” I asked, calmly, despite his freak out… I wanted nothing more than to touch him, but I kept my hands back. Not because I was scared, but because I didn’t deserve to touch him…

That’s the first time she has called me in a very long time… Why does my name sound so different when it is her who beckons?

Focus. Her eyes are filled concerned… no, they are filled with fear: she’s scared of me.

I’m scared for him.

“Yeah?”

I lost all my nerve, “Uh, nothing.” I didn’t want to push him any further away by prying. I raised my hand to mend the physical damage because I couldn’t repair his emotional damage.

Once again, my patio was wrapped around by beautiful oak, but to my eyes it seemed dull… because Rogue was hurting, my world appeared dimmed. Lackluster.

If Rogue wanted me to know about something, he’d discuss it with me… but Rogue didn’t see me as a person he could confide in… I was keeping him as a prisoner after all.

If she wished to know, she’d ask.

That’s the price I must pay after the choices I have made.

She’s too busy to waste time being focused on my problems. She couldn’t care less.

I care too damn much.

“Nikki, I think…” I glanced back but his eyes on mine must have frightened him, “Never mind.”

A dragon and a God? Come on.

He looked up towards the starry sky. I couldn’t look anywhere but at him; Rogue was always so strong, so well put together… I envied that about him. How badly, I wished I shared that ability of his.

She deserves to know…

I was taken aback that Rogue even bothered to finish his thought. I believed the conversation was over, and I couldn’t make it better. “No, I am going to spit it out. When this is all over I have some things, I need to take care of and I would like—"

“Ma’am.” We spun around to Haji standing in the entrance way. “It’s time for your treatment.”

I regretted leaving Rogue, but I had to ensure I got fully recovered and fast. “Ah, yes. If you’ll excuse me.”

“Wait!” Rogue gasped out and wrapped a strong hand around my arm forcing me to look back to him. Rogue looked panic stricken, and as if he had something he needed to get out before it absolutely killed him.

I didn’t have to turn back to the doorway to request Haji to give us another minute. He vanished into the mansion without a word.

I let my arm stay in Rogue’s grip. A life raft thrown out to a drowning man. I was the ship and he was the man overboard.

It’s not in the stars, this isn’t some novel where everything just works out. Happy Endings are hard to come by, and right now she needs you to fight. Nothing less, nothing more.

“I’ll fight with you, you know.” he said.

I remember that his hand felt… warm. I never felt unsecure, or fearful when Rogue touched me. I felt nervous for the wrong reasons… the inappropriate reasons.

I was too busy thinking that I hadn’t responded in a timely manner, but I had nothing to say. Rogue appeared confused by my lack of surprise in his vow, but his words did provide me a reason to smile. Rogue deserved to know that much, “I know… You’d never stand back and let someone get hurt, Rogue. It’s not the kind of man you are, and I’m glad you’re on our side. My side.”

But…

I was just about to turn back when he whispered my name… I had never heard my name spoken in such a manner: like a prayer.

My eyes widened and any air was difficult to get in. The atmosphere thickened and grew dramatic.

“Promise me…” A catch in his throat, and he couldn’t finish. I’d never seen Rogue in this light.

I can’t ask that of her.

I coaxed him, breathlessly, anxious to hear the rest. “Promise you what, Rogue?

Rogue locked onto my eyes and I got the opportunity to really take his handsome face in.

“Promise me, you won’t lose.”

“I won’t lose,” I instantly repeated, intoxicated but strong.

His grip tightened. “Promise me,” Rogue urged.

“I promise I won’t lose, Rogue.”

I gently pulled my arm away and turned back toward the house following my eldest Saint.

What I really wanted to hear… was your promise to always come back to me.

as simple as that… when she walked away, she was walking out of my life by taking the same steps.

The soft rasping of knuckles against the door kept my eyes from fully closing, I softly told whoever it was to come on in. I had been resting long enough.

I pushed myself up to lean against the wall behind the bed as the door creaked open with a bashful Tatsumi almost completely concealed by the massive wooden frame.

“Oh, you were sleeping. I’ll come back another time—"

“No, please. Come in, Tatsumi.”

He gulped and gently closed the door back… but didn’t come to me. His posture was slouched and timid. Something was up.

I patted the mattress beside my legs. He followed a silent order and sat down. However, Tatsumi didn’t turn his body in my direction but it didn’t keep him out of my reach. I grabbed onto his nearby hand, fearlessly, it was surprisingly cold, and I squeezed.

“What’s going on, hun?” I asked, concerned for him as always. Tatsumi was the one I worried for the most; he was still so young.

“You know I’ll listen.”

The others could fend for themselves, but Tatsumi… I didn’t mind if he needed me sometimes. I wished the others did every now and again. To me, it was a honor.

Tatsumi responded with a broken gasp and a hiccup. I spotted the tears on his pale cheeks.

Oh, Tatsumi. What’s wrong? You know I hate when you cry.” I confessed while pulling him into my chest and running my hands tenderly across his conditioned scalp. How strong did he have to be when I wasn’t around? It was a complicated thing to wrap my mind around. I never experienced being needed before.

The water droplets soaked through my cotton top, the IV protested my movements, and his words came out muffled because of my skin, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“Yew still n dis rom.”

I laughed aloud, inappropriately, but then apologized for my lack of control when he flinched away. He was wound up tighter than a jack-in-the-box.

“Of course, I’m still in this hospital room, Tatsumi. I got to be on an IV for a couple days. Plus, Haji tells me I am too reckless. He says I reopen my wounds too often, wonder where he got a crazy idea like that?” I laughed again quieter this time, “It’s no big deal, really, and with you in here… well it feels nicer than the finest hotel.”

I needed Tatsumi, if not more, as much as he needed me. I felt like I was approaching my breaking point, but couldn’t ever tell any of them.

His big emerald eyes, blurry from the addition of water, appeared in my line of sight, “Really?”

I smiled, a big one. “Silly.” I coaxed him back to rest against my heart so he could be comforted by it beating strong inside my chest and I spoke over his head, “What is really going on? I know it has little to do with this room, Tatsumi.”

Feeling brave and not looking me directly in the eyes. Tatsumi could be reassured by my physical body under his hands, and he finally admitted that he was deathly afraid I wouldn’t wake up. Tatsumi voiced his fears of being alone again.

I tightened my arms around him and kissed the top of his head carefully. I was growing tired of not being able to respond to any of my Saints with the appropriate emotion. “The nightmares are back, aren’t they?” Tatsumi had been truly fearful of the likelihood of being left behind by me. He had to know, I felt the same way, even if I couldn’t quite say it with my words as he had. He was worlds braver than I and I was still too stubborn to involve them any further.

His head rubbed up and down. I knew it.

I took a deep breath, and came up with the only solution likely to help both of us, “Would you like to sleep in here with me? This hospital wing always gave me the creeps.”

Tatsumi shot up from my arms, and looked at me, astonished, but I could see how that was exactly what he had wanted, “Is that ok?” He started to stammer.

“Yes.” I scooted over to the edge and grab ahold of his shoulder with a firm hand to let him come around and rest in my lap so his body could lay comfortably across the rest of the unoccupied king bed. Tatsumi looked up at me while I absent mindedly played with his hair and I knew it would be wise to distract him to avoid an increase in his anxiety or fear.

For the first time, I openly brought up my past.

“Did you know I used to partake in a sort of verbal worship attached to a usually slow tempo on a musical instrument?”

“Do you mean music, Nikki?” Tatsumi asked, deadpanned, but with a little amusement.

I paused, thought about it, and chuckled. “I forgot that is what you humans call it.”

Tatsumi rolled over in laughter. The child-like sound went on for several minutes until it withered away, and he turned rather serious, “Singing, huh. I’m sure you have a lovely voice… maybe one day, you’ll let me hear it.” He sighed, dreamily, as if our conversation reminded him of something else. “I’d really like that.”

It had been quite a long time since I had been overcome by enough emotion to want to sing, I wondered if I would ever feel that again, but I didn’t want to tell him that. I didn’t want to take his smile away.

“Maybe one day.”

We stayed up for some time after that but most of the time was spent in silence.

I could only sleep on my side because the IV but it was nice because Tatsumi curled into my chest like a kitten. It felt comfortable and I thought nothing of it.

Until, the middle of the night, I was roughly shaken awake. A constriction around my neck and a pull on my chest.

Tatsumi had a hold of my shirt with pale fists. He was trembling and whimpering.

“Tatsumi? What is it?” I shook him with a hand on either shoulder but he didn’t wake up.

I was just about to wake him up by any means necessary but he started to sleep-talk, “Please. Don’t take her away from me.”

More nightmares, I sighed. Even with my presence, the boy couldn’t catch a break. Vast amounts of tears fell from his sealed eyelids.

I tugged Tatsumi closer and wrapped him up in my arms, pulling him flush against me, hoping to rid him of the night terrors. I stayed up most of the night to make sure the nightmares left him. I didn’t mind.

That night, Tatsumi and I slept side by side. There was nothing indecent, no hidden agenda, or unresolved feelings… just two lonely souls that could use the company and the full night’s rest.

But since that night, Tatsumi barely showed any more emotion to anyone… including me.

It was if he was shutting out the world… shutting out the future.

Preparing for a pain he would never begin to describe.

Chapter Text

“Alright, let’s get started,” I said and only slightly stumbled on the lip of the door as I entered the dining room. The Sakura was in my hand and it would the first time I showed it to the others and use it for establishing a plan of attack. It was time to play hard ball.

I moved toward the front of the room, brushing past the table all saints occupied excluding Zero. I made sure to watch my feet, careful not to bump anything and draw attention. I projected a photo from my Sakura against the wall with minimal magic, and ran my long nails over it.

“This was taken three days ago in the town outside Cross Academy,” I said.

Haji sitting near the head of the table took inventory of how tightly clasped my collar was and how unsteady I seemed on my feet. He did not bring it to attention of the others but watched me silently and thoughtfully. I didn’t pick up on his cold eyes.

The photo behind me was blurry to say the least from the distance it was taken, but it had a filter cast over it. That was the important part. The building captured was another warehouse type structure. The filter helped the Saints see only what I could, a lining of gold surrounding the otherwise ordinary place. To any bystander it would look like an abandoned factory. Nothing more, nothing less. But to me, it was a beacon.

“The ring of gold is remnants left behind by a person of my caliber, which in this case, could be no one other than Damien,” I said.

Zero chose not to take a seat like the others had. Instead, Zero, pouty as always, leaned against the wall and glanced, from time to time, out the window. He couldn’t be bothered to pull his eyes away from the more interesting outside world. When Zero spoke, it came out annoyed over his shoulder. My feathers immediately ruffled. “So. What does that mean, Nikki? Get to the point.”

I huffed and crossed my arms. He couldn’t even hold my gaze? “It means, Damien would have to be coming and going a lot to leave behind that level of residue.” I tapped the picture again, “He could be there right now; this could hold the key we need to get ahead of him.”

Tatsumi had his chin resting on the back of his hands that were propped on the wooden table. “So, Damien’s there, huh? Why?

I glanced over at him, and found his amazing emerald eyes shining back at me and I grinned. Someone, at least, was paying me attention. “I don’t know, but I think it is worth snooping around, don’t you?” His wiggle of eyebrows made me want to laugh because I knew he had my back.

 “No,” Zero snapped. He demanded my focus and I peeled my eyes off Tatsumi reluctantly. “It’s not.”

“What the hell is your problem, Zero?” I questioned as I leaned over the table to get in his face.

At closer inspection, Haji spotted the thick red lines running up my neck and the pinching of my skin from under the tight collar. I was putting him in an awkward position involuntarily.

“It’s not worth it, Nikki.” Zero moved up and rested his palms on the same table. Clearly, upset by something but I was at a loss as to what. It annoyed me the way he had to say my name, like I was a child.

“And why not?”

I thought his answer would be immediate. I thought we’d fight some but get past it. However, I was never given the chance to find that out. Before I heard his answer, my eyes hazed over. It was only a dizzy spell, but for a moment I lost control over my body. I believed my body would stay upright, not give out. I hoped to let it pass with no one the wiser, but the damn thing wouldn’t respond. It was all a blur.

One minute I was about to pick a fight with Zero and the next… my world turned sideways. My eyes rolled back and my knees buckled.

I couldn’t stay on my feet, I tried. I really did.

I slanted back and was just about to slam my head against the hard-oak floor… but Zero took the brunt of my fall. He collided against the brick wall under the projection, but kept me from taking any force of it with the protection of his wide shoulders.

Zero whipped around the table, fast as lightning, seeing my eyes fall out of focus. As fast as I knew he could be. Zero let me collapse in his long arms just in time before I had done something nasty to the back of my head meeting that wall.

“Nikki? Nikki!

Tatsumi’s and Rogue’s chairs screeched back across the wood.

Haji urgently came to our side and said, calmly, to Zero, “Her airways are constricted.”

Zero took no time to think, he simply reacted hearing I couldn’t breathe. He ripped open the front of my shirt. I still had bandages underneath, although prickled red. Buttons scattered… and sure enough, concealed behind the cotton, gruesome green bites were still there on my torso and going up around my neck in heavy patches.

They were irritated and bruised. The bites looked worse than before.

I had secured the collar extra tight to hide the bites that had not healed completely. On top of that, the venom was still present in my blood stream and I wasn’t getting enough oxygen to the rest of my body because I was straining myself.

What Damien did to me hadn’t been a simple injury I could get over with bedrest. Damien knew precisely what he was doing when he injected me with that venom… it would affect me for months to come.

But there was no time to be locked up in a room somewhere like a dog licking their wounds!

Zero grunted, and ran his hand across my faint collar bone inspecting the bites closely. “That idiot!” he hissed as his fingers ghosted over one bite. “I knew she hadn’t healed yet!”

Rogue growled aloud watching Zero’s movements, but Zero didn’t provide a response.

Instead, with one hand, Zero leaned around me to hold my shirt back together carefully not to agitate the bites any further and with the other, shifted me into his arms so he could have a hand under the bend of my knees and carry me back to my room.

I foggily remembered what happened when I came to. It wasn’t even an hour later. I could recall everything if I tried hard enough but Zero’s grimace told me I didn’t have to because he’d gladly remind me.

The tensed shoulders, tucked arms, and locked legs that tried to look laxed against the wall. When would I see him like that one too many times? “I told you, it wasn’t worth it. I was right!” Zero didn’t have to raise his voice, I could tell he was unbelievably livid. “Why do you insist on not listening?”

I shouldn’t have responded so immaturely, but it was automatic, natural. Zero always had that effect on me no matter the circumstances. “Because you don’t ever say anything of worth for me to listen!”

Zero slapped his foot against the wood, and I knew he wanted to get back in my face but controlled himself to stop at my bedside. “What, are you a child?” His voice increasing in volume. Lavender eyes dazzling and bright.

“Nu uh! What would that make you then?”

“Why you—” Zero’s hands twitched around my neck without them ever meeting my skin.

Haji and Rogue entering the room at that moment was the most inopportune time. Zero standing evilly over me and me sticking a tongue up, daring him. Rogue’s voice was heavenly compared to Zero’s. “Well, glad to see you’re doing just fine, Nikki.”

Rogue had such a lovely grin pulling on his lips as he looked at me and only me. I lit up like a Christmas tree. “Yeah.

Zero huffed melodramatically, backed up, and my smile widened. Rogue brushed past Zero and Haji. Rogue sat on the mattress beside my legs with a bounce and put a warm hand over the blanket. Zero went back to lean against the wall on the other side of the room and continue his eye roll.

Haji standing idly in the middle of the room looked like he wanted to say something so I raised an eyebrow. Haji had a paper copy of the building I showed them earlier in his hands. I noticed Tatsumi wasn’t in the room and I felt it wasn’t without reason. I could tell I wouldn’t care for where the conversation could only be headed. For some reason, I got defensive.

“Spit it out already, the lot of you,” I said and Rogue pat my legs softly.

Zero and Rogue avoided my eyes all together, however. I teased the window beside the bed to open and let in a breeze without so much as a wave of my hand. I directed the gust toward Haji, it snatched the piece of paper, and brought it to me on a current of air.

“I suppose what you three are afraid to say has something to do with this, yes? Would I be correct?”

Rogue turned even more away from me and cleared his throat. Zero’s palm slapped against the wall, but at least he answered me, “Yes! While little miss princess was getting her beauty rest, which by the way I think you need more of—”

The paper sliced through the air from my outstretched hand to the right of Zero’s defenseless neck with the power to get stuck in the wall behind him perfectly straight. Zero pretended to be unafraid, but I saw the sweat on his forehead appear. It got the insults to pause and the real conversation to move forward.

“Haji, Rogue, and myself are going to scout out the building,” Zero said.

“No! I don’t—” I started.

Rogue put a warm hand over my knee, squeezed, and I paused to glance over at him. Rogue was serious, more serious than I’d ever seen him. “Nikki. We already decided. You can’t exert yourself. We are going without you.”

***

“Tatsumi, they should have been back already. I don’t like it,” I said from my place in the chair. I had been left with strict orders to rest from three of my men, but Tatsumi was as uneasy as myself. Rogue asked me to stay in my room, sleep, and they’d be back before I knew it.

But that was this morning and it was almost midnight.

How could anyone sleep like this? What if Damien had chosen today of all days to go back to the warehouse? What if one of them got wounded? What if—

“ARGH. I can’t take it!” I jumped up and Tatsumi about flipped over his chair in fear. I shook my head, threw down the twisted blanket, and sprinted to my room. I threw on some regular clothes and pulled on a jacket. I twirled my hair into a braid but in the chaos, I left my sword. I waltzed back into the living room and looked over at my friend. The look on my face asked the question, and he faked a sigh. I saw Tatsumi’s smile emerging.

He stood up and grabbed ahold of my hand with a beautiful squeeze. “Let’s bring them home.”

***

From the outside, the warehouse didn’t seem any different from the photo. Knowing my men, they would have taken care to enter under the radar. That was why I saw no trace of Haji, Zero, or Rogue from the gate.

I glanced over at Tatsumi and asked, “You good to go?” My gut knew that there was a possibility that what my heart feared had come to fruition. The boys were in danger, I could feel it. There was a warning vibration in the air.

Tatsumi nodded and I reached over, tucked an arm around him, and flung open my wings. I kept their fluttering to a minimum, it could only serve to give us away if there were tangos inside.

We dropped down on the roof with a soft clink, but no one the wiser.

I tried to stay focused. I tried to stay anchored, but I kept reliving yesterday. Oh, how I wish I could turn back time.

~

The tension in the stale air could have been cut with a dull screwdriver. I couldn’t look at anyone in the eyes, but spoke directly to the table instead. It was just too awkward. “Now that the team is whole, I should inform you all of what our connection entails…” I glanced to Tatsumi for reassurance, his eyes sparkled and my heart lightened.

Tatsumi was surely the least intimidating out of all of them, to say the least.

“We have a means of non-verbal communication, if you will…”

The silence became excruciating, but I didn’t know how to go on. So, I endured it.

Zero was the first to understand what I was trying to get, surprisingly, “YOU CAN READ MY MIND!” His screaming was enough for me to sit far back in my chair, and it being Zero, I felt the need to slam my hands down on the table, “STOP YELLING!”

“Is that right, Nikki?” Tatsumi’s soft voice sounded from the chair beside Zero.

“Well, technically speaking: yes.”

Rogue looked like he could pass out and Zero’s face flushed. I tried to fix it, before it was seen as an invasion of privacy. “It’s only a soft whisper though! I can barely tell whose thoughts are whose. It’s only when you let down your guard; you don’t even know I’m in there with you.”

Tatsumi face-palmed, and Zero’s eyes looked out of focus; Haji was the only one, yet again, un-phased. I made the mistake of continuing. “You can also project to each other, if you try hard enough.”

“WHAT,” the majority yelled in unison.

I slammed my hands down once more against the wooden table, and stood up. “STOP YELLING!”

~

I wanted to chuckle, but it was too serious of a moment to get back in the light-hearted mood. I had to hope one, anyone, was close enough to pick me up.

“Rogue? Zero! Can anyone hear me? Haji?”

Several minutes passed on that roof, and I had never wanted to barge right in than I did with no answer. The waiting was the worst, but the building was three full stories. I couldn’t guarantee finding them in time before Tatsumi and I’s presence was known.

I knelt and pressed an ear against the tin roof, hoping for any noise. The wind had died down and there were no nearby footsteps of people. The place felt deserted, but not quite.

“Somebody answer me, damnit!!” Irrationally, I slammed a fist against the tin and Tatsumi put pressure on my hand to keep me from doing it again. Like knocking on a rattling screen door. Somebody would hear the second knock for sure.

I turned my head and rested my forehead on the roof. It was emotionally draining, and I just needed to know they were ok. My heart was shivering but it was a humid night. Tatsumi still had both hands on my fist when I jumped back.

It sounded far away, like a tin can string phone full of static.

But I heard it.

“…Nikki…”

I crawled to the edge of the rooftop, and hung over the edge. I had one hand keeping me from falling. I pressed up against the window that showed me the hallway. All the doors were closed, except one on the other side of the building. There was even a little light peeking under the frame.

I didn’t want to take time that they may not have. I used a fingernail to cut out a circle, big enough for Tatsumi and I, to slip through. I caught the glass piece before it fell on my way in and set it on the floor carefully. I turned back and helped Tatsumi inside quietly. I put my pointer finger to my lips to signal to him and moved down the carpet hall.

It was outside the door that I realized I didn’t manage to grab my weapon. Idiot! I rolled my eyes, and Tatsumi, lacking the ability to read minds, read mine with a silent groan.

He mouthed, “One too many times, Nikki.”

I smiled anyhow and put a hand to the door. So, it would be a magic fight, not hand-to-hand combat. I could deal with that. I jerked my head to the side and Tatsumi took a few steps back. I closed my eyes and inhaled, then blew the wooden door right off the hinges. It crashed into the wall on the far side of the room and I walked into the room with a ready hand dosed in black flames. It reminded me of Rogue.

No one else was in the room. The men were slumped and bound against the wall in a cage. “Oh, shit!”

I sprinted to the cage door and pulled on it.  Rogue had heard us outside but hadn’t expected me to make such an entrance. He didn’t look too banged up, but Zero on the other hand… A few scrapes and bruises to his perfectly annoying face, but nothing too drastic. I wish he had a rope over his fat mouth. Haji looked pristine as ever even if the magical binds wrinkled his suit. I thought I could use my power to open the door, but the cage had a seal on it.

The door wouldn’t budge, yet I kept yanking on it.

“That won’t work, you idiot!”

I slapped my hands against the metal bars. “Shut the hell up, Zero! I told you guys not to go without me!! And look where it got you all,” I said. Rogue looked down guiltily, but Zero tried to flip me off. The ropes wouldn’t budge, and I wanted to laugh at him. I then moved to try and pick the lock seeing how magic wouldn’t be of use. I asked Rogue what happened while fidgeting with it.

“It was a trap. They knew we were coming and we got ambushed. Nikki, we killed a lot of his drones, but there were too many…” Rogue trailed off as if expected to be reprimanded.

“I am just glad you three are ok,” I said and Rogue looked shocked. I chuckled because I felt the threat dissipating. The building was empty and the boys were safe. I just had to get them out of this damn thing and we’d all be on our way, unharmed.

The hair on my neck stood up suddenly, and electricity danced across my fingertips. I didn’t turn back when I heard the click of the gun. Not yet. My eyes shot up at Rogue and the look on his face confirmed what I believed. Rogue was afraid by whatever stood behind me. His eyes, even though not directed at me, told me to run.

I put both hands on the bars of the cage, sealed it, and covered it in a layer of my own protective power. I hadn’t seen the weapon yet, but there was no mistaking that sound. Not only would I be severely injured, but them as well left unprotected. The three of them couldn’t be more at risk.

I hadn’t thought of Tatsumi since I entered the room. Freeing the other three took precedent and Damien wasn’t a fool. He planned it perfectly and I had played into his hand again. Damnit!

I pushed up off the floor slowly, raised my hands up, palms out, and turned around.

I wasn’t surrendering, I just had to give myself sometime by not appearing as a threat, but all that flew out the window when I saw Tatsumi was the one holding the gun.

Tatsumi was shaking, but oddly enough, the weapon was balanced outright, pointed at my heart. He was terrified, but I didn’t move. I couldn’t, not with Damien over his shoulder. Tatsumi’s eyes were swollen and red in the anticipation of being reduced to tears.

“Don’t be scared, Tatsumi. I’m here, I promise. I’m not going anywhere.” He gulped and barely nodded.

Damien chuckled. “Don’t pretend you care for him, Alexandria.”

“Shut up!” Tatsumi and I yelled together, but the gun didn’t lower. It was the same weapon from Tatsumi’s world. The gun that held potential to wipe out entire nations with one pull of the trigger. The same weapon that feeds off the user’s emotions to increase its power. The gun that belonged to Tatsumi’s friend. Had he realized? Of course, he did…

“Did you know, Tatsumi, that Alexandria here was in your city during the Great War?”

I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see the look on Tatsumi’s face. I sighed, but Damien didn’t stop.

“Remember? When all your little friends died?”

Tatsumi gritted his teeth and the sound was horrendous.

“Ignore him, Tatsumi,” I said but Damien got closer and put a disgusting hand on him.

“Did you know, Tatsumi, that you were supposed to die alongside them?” Tatsumi gasped, but I couldn’t speak. I had no more excuses. I, certainly, had no time to explain and when those big green eyes looked at me… I felt so much indescribable guilt.

“Enough, Damien!!” I yelled, but the ball had already dropped.

“Is it true, Nikki?” Tatsumi asked. It was so soft, I barely heard him.

Why did he have to sound like a child who found out his favorite hero was nothing more than a myth? I was the fable in Tatsumi’s story. He finally realized I wasn’t any good for him, even though I desperately wanted to be. Now, I felt like the one who wanted to cry. I couldn’t lie to those eyes. They would know as soon as I did and no answer wasn’t any better.

My silence had managed to make things worse. I had no earthly idea how to even begin salvaging this. The tears poured from his lost eyes, but anger grappled his words. Tatsumi no longer shook, if anything he held that gun straighter.

“TELL THE TRUTH! I was meant to die a long time ago! I was supposed to die along with all of my friends that day, wasn’t I!?” Tatsumi was erratic. He was simply unraveling and I couldn’t keep his precious fabric together. I didn’t know if I’d be able to reign him back in, but I still had the chance to protect the others. I made sure to block them from Tatsumi’s frightening line of sight with my body as I answered. In a twisted way, I wanted that gun directed only at me.

Y-yes.”

“Then why would you pick me, huh!? WHY SAVE ME?! You felt sorry for me? Thought we could be “friends”? You thought I could be manipulated to do whatever you wanted? You thought you could wipe out everyone I cared about and I’d do anything you ask! Is that it!?!”

Tatsumi was losing all mental capability, all rationing ability. He was completely losing it, unfolding right in front of my eyes… and I was the cause of it. I wanted to yank my hair out by the roots if it meant keeping him together.

“No! That is not what happened. That wasn’t why!”

STOP LYING! Why me? Was I the best-looking toy? I was just the newest model for you to play with!” Tatsumi started laughing. It was the kind of laugh when you almost completely give up to the world caving in around you.

NO- I thought you’d UNDERSTAND!” I screeched but it was as if I wasn’t standing in front of Tatsumi. Like I was invisible, like I wasn’t real. It was the most terrified I had ever been. I had been honest but it had been too late.

My heart screamed for me to run, but I couldn’t. Not after Damien moved closer and leaned over Tatsumi’s shoulder. I stepped back in the attempt to protect my men. I felt Rogue nudged my leg with his foot and I knew he was begging to untie him. But if I took my eyes off either of Damien or Tatsumi with that weapon even for a moment, it would have cost us our lives. My heart hardened like stone with a massive crack running up the middle.

The line between Tatsumi or them was growing wider.

“Damien.” I raised a hand, ready to fire any and all power into his ugly face. “Get away from him. Right this second.”

But Damien didn’t even glance in my direction, he stayed trained on Tatsumi. Damien could see the cracks in Tatsumi, he teased to open wider and make Tatsumi pour out right through them. He whispered into Tatsumi’s ear the exact thing needed to push him over the edge.

“She is the reason all your friends are dead, Tatsumi. She killed them all to have you all to herself. She is the murderer. Make her pay, do it. Do it for your friends. Do it for Mine. Do it for the woman you loved, the woman you lost, the woman she killed!”

I couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. Not when I saw that gun lift in Tatsumi’s hands and aim for my head. I couldn’t move when Rogue yelled my name. I couldn’t move when my heart stopped beating.

I couldn’t even move when our lives flashed before our eyes. Not even when Tatsumi, my Tatsumi, raised that weapon of mass destruction at us. At me. I had to protect Haji, Zero… I had to protect Rogue even if it cost me my life.

I hate to say how the gun produced a magnificent beam of light when Tatsumi finally pulled that trigger. It reminded me of my home. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever witnessed.

I was worthless in that moment. I hadn’t accepted my fate but I should have because I didn’t deserve to live through it. I deserved to die, I knew that.

As the brilliant light tried to engulf me and only me, Rogue knocked my legs right out from under me.

The beam went right over me and into the barricaded gate door. I caught myself and my mind snapped into high gear. I had to take the chance to protect those I could.

I shoved off the ground and flung my body through the only way out: a stain glass window to my right. I was a rocket, a rocket with a mission. I dashed across the brick, knocking a few out and they crashed to the ground three stories below. I jumped from roof to roof, but didn’t have to glance back. I’d knew Tatsumi and Damien would be hot on my trail.

And, hopefully, soon enough the Saints.

Until then, I had to get that weapon as far away from my men as I could.

Chapter Text

I was getting closer to the lake outside of Cross Academy with every passing second. My knees were aching with every bounce and every jump. I couldn’t help but notice where Zero was raised was quite beautiful, even running for my life. I’d like to see it under normal circumstances. There were no city lights to fight with the sparkling moonlight, no footsteps to brawl with the sweet chirping of birds, but I could hear Tatsumi’s heavy breathing behind me. It drew closer with each heavy step. My lungs burning, feet swelling, and eyes heavy. Soon, I would be out of rooftops to scurry across. Soon, I’d get to the end of my road. I wouldn’t be allowed to run much longer.

I heard the barrel of the gun click again, but it was too late. The thin hair on the back of my neck was charred before I twisted all the way around. I was licked by a magnificent flame and I was lucky it hadn’t been any worse than that.

I had never been so thankful for Tatsumi’s blatant lack of aiming. He’d never been a great shot, and I could almost laugh at Tatsumi’s misfortune because he had missed the mark. The shot hit behind my boots, and buried deep into the shingles. The blast threw me off the roof and I went barreling toward the lakeside, bouncing one or twice on the way down. I could protect myself from the explosion of rubble, but not from the fall.

I remember thinking how beautiful the night looked over the ripples of water as I fell. For a moment, my mind was free. I wasn’t in Cross Academy; I wasn’t being hunted. I wasn’t God.

I was someone, something being blow away in the gust of warm summer air. I was flying, soaring far above the birds.

The ground came quicker than I expected and my legs shattered on impact. I cried out unashamed and had to wait for the shock to wear off before I could think about adjusting.

I wish I could say I didn’t feel much pain, but I’d be lying. It hurt as much as it did the first time I demolished a leg running from Damien. It was odd: the parallels. The bones twisted and turned in impossible ways underneath my skin.

I took a breath and pulled my torso up on a small rock bed to get out of the knee-deep water. But not being able to stand, the cold water came up to splash around my waist. I looked around and thought how I could almost picture the sand covered with families spending the day in the sun. Some had towels, some waded in the water with goofy grins, some just took in the view in a silent awe.

At night, that night, it was nothing more than a battlefield.

I saw Tatsumi use a hand to slide down the shingles and jump off the roof. He dropped down in front of me but I couldn’t get confirmation on Damien. He had to be close, the same way you knew a storm was on the horizon.

Tatsumi still had that damn thing in his hands, but it was lowered at my feet instead of at my heart. I suppose that was a start, but not one I was proud of. Some of Tatsumi’s brown hair was stuck to his forehead with sweat. He kept huffing as if the air around him wasn’t enough to appease his burning lungs. His khakis had been torn in the chase and his tan vest left untucked was spotted with dark wet spots. Tatsumi yanked on the constricting collar and glanced at me vacantly. His emerald eyes, the same as those on mannequins, didn’t register me for who I was anymore, only for my betrayal. I was looking at the face of a stranger.

He looked saner than a few minutes before.

“It’s all true, isn’t it? Everything Damien said,” he said with a twirl of the gun like a baton. I grimaced at how weightless the massive weapon swung around his hand.

I gasped and put some pressure on one of my legs when I tried to foolishly stand up. I wanted… no, needed to touch him before it was too late, but I couldn’t with the things that use to resemble legs. There was no way they’d support my weight in their condition. Tatsumi didn’t move up to offer help and it spoke volumes. I grunted and fell back against the rock, but didn’t look away from Tatsumi.

The time had come to show the skeletons in my closet and there was a damn pile a mile high.

“Yes, Tatsumi… I stood by when your friends died. I could have done something, but I didn’t. Go ahead, blame me.” I meant it sincerely. I slapped a tightly coiled fist on the water and said, “Release me from this hell, Tatsumi.”

I felt the wet streaks on my cheeks and under my nose before I realized I had started crying. The rush of fleeing had deserted, and my heart was exhausted. The adrenalin was leaving my body.

“I couldn’t interfere without forfeiting your life too. You were too good and I was greedy. I didn’t deserve you, but I wanted you,” I said. I tried to blink away the tears but they blurred Tatsumi’s figure anyway. “Kill me, Tatsumi. It is the only way to make things right!”

Tatsumi raised the gun with only one hand this time and bright colors swirled around the tip as it built up its power. “I should, you know?”

I nodded because my tongue was thick in my mouth. I was in a pool of my own cold sweat, but I didn’t expect anything less. Tatsumi couldn’t be put in the wrong even if I tried.

“Speak!” Tatsumi screamed. “Repent! Why shouldn’t I kill you right now?”

I swallowed, and leaned up, using one arm locked to keep me from falling back on the rock behind me. “You should, and I am sorry, Tatsumi. I told you, I needed your light. I needed someone to believe in me…” A sob rattled inside my chest and I pierced my lip with a sharp tooth to hold back the tears.

“You don’t get to run away from me now… or ever,” he said.

I was surprised that Tatsumi tried to drop the gun on the shore line, but I instantly realized he wasn’t the one keeping it in his hands. Damien. Tatsumi looked up at me, flabbergasted, and tried to explain. Although, I already understood. Tatsumi slung his arm out toward the deeper water but the weapon stayed put. His pale fingers still wrapped around the hilt of the gun, but confusion on his face when the appendages didn’t respond to his commands.

A scream clawed at the back of my throat. I saw flashes of Damien around us: standing on the shore, chest deep in the water, beside me, behind Tatsumi. Damien was smiling, a madman whose plan had played out perfectly.

I tried to push up again, but I was growing unnaturally sleepy. My body swayed, but my mind was only foggy at best. I’d grab the weapon myself if I had to. I’d pull the trigger myself if I had to, but I couldn’t even gather enough strength to crawl toward him. The water was too heavy and my body was sinking deeper. Sleep luring me to close my eyes and rest my head for it all would be over soon.

“Do it, Tatsumi! Pull the trigger. Please!!” I said before I lost my voice, or my words, while I could still speak. I still could fix this.

“No! I won’t. I can’t, Nikki and don’t make me,” Tatsumi begged, but the gun rose higher despite his forceful attempts to keep it down. The barrel of the gun rested perfectly between my eyebrows.

“Tatsumi! He is going to kill you, if you don’t!” I screamed.

I don’t care!

I yanked out the tie in my hair. The thick strands came forward and curled around my face. I hoped to conceal me even slightly from Damien’s line of sight. I sunk my hands into water and pressed both palms on the chilly soil under the water’s bed. The earth wasn’t firm, it was almost pillow-like. I was running out of options and quickly. The seconds ticking by with loud clicks of its metal clock hands in my ears.

“TATSUMI! Pull the damn trigger, that’s an order!”

“Fuck your orders! I won’t kill you!”

Tatsumi tried to turn the gun toward his own unprotected chest, and Damien didn’t stop him. He’d gladly let Tatsumi kill himself, but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let someone else take the fall for my mistakes ever again. I used my magic to run a current through the earth and keep the gun straight. I kept it aimed at the true target: me. Tatsumi wouldn’t suffer for my sins any longer.

More teardrops ran down my cheeks, under my chin, along my neck, and into the water with a soft splash. I didn’t fear death, not if it kept one of them alive, how could I? But I was terrified, downright scared of the unknown future and what it meant for them. What it meant for Tatsumi, Rogue, Haji and Zero. What it meant for the ones I would leave behind.

“It’s ok, love. I would do anything to protect you, Tatsumi. I always have, but I couldn’t protect you from the worst of it. I couldn’t protect you from myself. I am so—”

BANG!

If you could imagine the sound of Zeus clapping his hands together to announce war… that’s what it sounded like. As if the tallest mountain caved in on itself in the dead of winter and the snow didn’t muffle the noise. Like the thunder clouds were having a knock-down, all-dragged out brawl in front of the jammed-packed stadium of the Gods.

It hurt as much as I imagined it would, to have a part of your body blown clean off. Although, it was annoying how hot and itchy it felt. Like a thousand bug-eyed creatures crawling over your skin. I wish I only had enough energy to make a joke. It was the perfect opportunity, but I couldn’t think of one fitting enough! You could see the water bed swirling beneath me through the massive hole in my chest. I’m my own personal magnifying glass. The size of a bowling ball where my body should have been! It was oddly perfect, round, and polished the whole way through.

The entire thing started from under my breasts and curved around until right above my belly button with the fabric of my shirt burnt into the skin at the edge of the circle. Gross, I chuckled.

I coughed and blood flew out, a sick fountain, past my lips. I put a hand over the hole, but it was out of nothing more than habit. It would do no good. I didn’t dare look at the wound for too long or I’d pass out. I wanted to stay awake and aware for my last moments. I threw my head back and grit my teeth to keep from screaming out when the pain finally registered.

“Nikki!” Tatsumi yelled. He runs toward me, kicking up the sand, and charging into the water with no fear. His eyes as green as the freshly cut grass and his checks painted red like a porcelain doll’s.

My words were muffled from the pool of blood swimming around my mouth. I clinked my teeth and tried to get my mind together. “Stay back, Tatsumi!” Run as far as you can; get away from me, please.

Tatsumi froze, but carefully waited for instruction… He was closer than before, in the water now, not even ten feet in front of me. His beautiful eyes returned, wide and alive, and the colors nearly fully back into his cheeks and lips. Tatsumi was in control once again, Damien could no longer taint his light. My boy had returned and I would have scream with joy if I had the ability.

It was then I saw Damien reappear behind him.

Oh, how quickly the world can spin on its head. I screamed his name but it wasn’t fast enough. Tatsumi’s eye widened, but that was as far as the boy got. The gun vanished from the ground where Tatsumi dropped it in the sand and right into Damien’s hands.

Ah ha, no cheating, Alexandria!”

NO!!!!

But, Damien still pulled that trigger and I was bathed in Tatsumi’s blood like splatter paint across my entire body. It stung my eyes, soaked into my clothes, and invaded my nostrils. I didn’t turn away or close my eyes in the hope they would register it as blip of the mind. This wasn’t my reality, this wasn’t our fate, Tatsumi wasn’t going to die. I was back in my room, experiencing nothing more than illusion created by my twisted imagination.

But my eyes never corrected; my mind never recognized it as fiction. It wasn’t a nightmare, although, I couldn’t describe a better one. I let out a bloody curdling shriek, but it didn’t stop Tatsumi’s body from falling, lifelessly, into the water at my feet. Those big and fearful eyes staring up at me, but a sad grin curling his lips. He looked like that helpless child again, the same one I thought I rescued.

I didn’t care about the pain; I pulled myself to him with handfuls of sand. I dug my claws into the earth to grapple and drag myself. I didn’t care how my blood and his mixed to soak the sand around us and dripped into the usually blue water. Or how I ripped more of my tangled hair out as I crawled toward him. Or how I hadn’t taken a breath since the second shot sounded.

I didn’t care about anything… nothing but him.

I turned Tatsumi over in my arms, and shoved the wet brown hair out of his face. The green eyes were still open, and the tiniest bit of life was still present. His cheeks were flushed. His breathing was so quiet… so weak.

“Tatsumi. Oh God.

I never hated tears so much in my life than I did the ones that blurred him below my chin. It was as if clouds were in my line of sight and I couldn’t see past them. I pressed my forehead to his, and wept when my eyes failed. My chest, or rather what was left, rattled like a busted pipe undergoing pressure and I couldn’t stop the overwhelming misery that plagued my soul.

I felt a soft hand brush through my hair and I gasped. I leaned up but kept him close with one hand spread over his cheek. Tatsumi twirled a single strand of hair around his long, pale, finger.

Tatsumi smiled at me and said, “I didn’t pull the—”

I shushed him and begged Tatsumi not to waste any energy with more tears. I ran a hand over his head and lifted his weight so he wouldn’t have to struggle with a surprising strong arm under his back. From the shoulders up, my Tatsumi looked perfect, but if my eyes dropped further down… his heart, his ability to live, had vanished. He looked so damn young in my arms. Too young.

I put a careful hand over the hole where his heart should have been. The wound spread from the tips of my fingers to the palm of my hand. I kept him aware by keeping some form of conversation. Anything to keep his mind off the pain.

“I know you didn’t, honey. Shh, I did.”

His smile widened, his teeth smeared with blood, and his eyelids started to droop. “That’s good. I would never...”

“I know you wouldn’t,” I said through the flood of tears. I look back at my hand, and underneath my fingertips were small bursts of electrical-looking energy, but nothing amounted from them. I pressed harder and focused closer on projecting my magical energy onto his wound…

But the magic zipped and zapped, nothing of meaning. It had no effect on his body.

“Tatsumi, it isn’t closing up!” I screamed in a panic.

He hummed along like to unheard song in the air and I tilted my chin to the sky as more tears spilled from my eyes. I hiccupped and glanced down. Tatsumi’s sweet cheeks were littered with my careless wet spots. I wiped away any that dropped onto his perfect face and twirled the hair behind his ear. Tatsumi smile softened, but didn’t lose any humility.

“I can’t do anything right,” I said.

With his eyes now closed like the ones at funerals, the pain too great for him to bear. My sweet Tatsumi was straining. I hugged him closer. I tried to absorb his hurt with my arms wrapped around him.

“Tell me… tell me you forgive me for letting you down, Nikki.”

Tatsumi coughed more and I dragged the end of my jacket along his thin and white lips to relieve him of the dirty blood, but it didn’t seem to put him at ease. I wanted to see his eyes! I needed those mesmerizing emeralds to be lit and well. I pressed a warm hand to his cheek.

“Let me down? You couldn’t, Tatsumi, not in a thousand lifetimes; you fought… courageously. A true Saint, Tatsumi. Someone that people should honor… forever.”

Another catch in my throat forced me to pause, but I knew it was only a matter of seconds. His eyes were fully closed and his hand dropped from my hair, returning to the water. I hurried along while he could still hear me. I pressed my forehead to his again but the warmth was fading. Running away as the setting sun over the horizon. Without the rays of the sun, the night had full reign and it was terrifyingly chilling the air.

“Please don’t die on me. Don’t leave me, Tatsumi… I still need you. Please, stay by my side. You promised…”

I heard them coming. The rocks crunched underneath the weight of their boots. There were dozens, if not hundreds. I didn’t glance up. My heart didn’t start beating uncontrollably. The breath in my lungs didn’t twitch, or change in regularity. I was out of salt water in my tear ducts.

I tucked a strand of hair behind his ear and kissed the top of his cold forehead again. I tucked his head under my chin and pretended we had simply fallen asleep together like that night… the one that seemed too many lifetimes ago. I formed an impenetrable bubble around my kneeling form with him still in my arms. Damien’s drones banged on the barrier, and it sounded annoying hollow. I still had my eyes shut as I held his body close and rocked back and forth.

My fury mounting; my patience nonexistent. The things had come to ensure Tatsumi was dead, but I could tell them so. Look at my arms! Look what you’ve done! I wanted to scream… Damien ordered my head on a stake, but I’d have his on one first. I couldn’t leave him to those disgusting monsters. Damien wasn’t good enough to ever gaze at him ever again.

There was no rise and fall of his chest from where he laid, still, in my arms. There was no reassuring look when I gazed at him for the comfort I craved from him.  There was no innocent light chuckle when he felt my fingers dance around the sensitive part of skin behind his left ear. There was no light at the end of this tunnel. The horrible truth is: life sucks. It can knock you flat on your ass and has no problem kicking you again and again when you’re down with no chance of standing back up. Hearts get broken, the good guys lose… and worst of all, the greatest always die young.

You don’t get to save everyone; not even those you love the most.

“I won’t let you or anyone have him. HE IS MINE!”

***

Rogue’s P.O.V.

“Rogue! The lake is that way!” Zero yelled from behind me with his hand extended to show the direction as Haji flew on ahead over us to scout. He’d be quicker than Zero or I could ever be; he’d find her before us.

I bounced from rooftop to rooftop following the broken brick or the footprints left behind with soot. The trail stopped when I came upon an obvious man-made hole in the structure. The building was missing half of its roofing. The blast was fresh and I glanced around trying to find where she went next… when I noticed the shoreline.

Bodies upon bodies floating on the top of rainbow water, buried in the charred sand. Some missing limbs, some soaking the dark earth with their crazy amount of blood, some only remnants of a deadly explosion where they once stood. It was as if a nuclear bomb had gone off on the beach.

“No!” I screamed and Zero’s head popped up and turned. My fear electrifying the air around us. Zero ran to me but I was already halfway down the roof. My heart encased in my throat.

There was blood, so much blood. Nikki was face down in the middle of the lake with the twisted colors pouring out of her body. Colors I’d never experienced. I didn’t know how long she been like that, but I scrambled down. I ran along the shoreline and dove into the water. It didn’t take long to get out to her.

I flipped her over and she wasn’t breathing. Her shredded jacket was floating near her… so was another body. I snatched her frail body out of the freezing water and into my arms, carefully avoiding the wounds. Her muscles weren’t contracting and her chest wasn’t expanding. Her eyes sealed shut with beautiful lashes curling around the lids. She was burning up, though. Almost too hot to the touch, but I gritted my teeth and bared with it. Nikki hung from my arms, fragile and empty. Her lips hanging slightly open and with the tinniest bit of color in them. The horrid gash on her torso… I could see right through her once perfect body. The unfathomable amount of blood under her.

It was a bloody nightmare.

Nikki’s long beautiful jet-black hair nearly brushed the top of the water as she hung from my arms. Beads of lake water dripped off her, and splashed back into the pool with small thuds underneath. It caused ripples in the rainbow swirls, the bright colors expanded and blended into each other. Under different circumstances, I might have considered it beautiful, but I was too terrified for the woman in my arms. What if Nikki didn’t wake up? What would we all do then? What would I do then?

I pulled her close, kissed her forehead, and tucked her under my chin as I trotted back to dry land surrounding the lake, carefully not to jar her too much.

I saw Tatsumi in the water, near her, and I had to look away. I left… retrieving the body to Zero. He did without so much as a word, for that I was thankful. It was an order I certainly wasn’t prepared to give. There was still time to save Nikki, and I felt the pang in my heart that it was too late for the boy.

It was a matter for another day.

I put two curled fingers to my dry lips and whistled for Haji’s attention. He came soaring by, a fighter jet, but nearly shot out of the sky like a bird when he noticed Nikki in my arms. I already knew he’d ask for me to put her down so I laid her in the sand, away from the littering and disturbing bodies of creatures she’d obliterated. I kept my forearm under her neck as Haji touched down beside us. I didn’t step back, and Haji couldn’t make me.

I wouldn’t leave her side; I should have done more… anything to keep this hell from happening. I glared at him to try when I finally peeled my eyes off her, but Haji was the least of my worries. I had no healing abilities, and I had to entrust her to him as much as I despised the thought.

“I’ve never witnessed her such as this,” Haji said.

I gulped, and swept my other hand across her temples as I waited for him to begin, but Haji froze. It was as if Haji was in an out-of-body experience. His dress shoes hidden under the rainbow lake and up to his knees painted darker with its water, but his eyes were dead. I’m sure his brain wouldn’t have registered my hand waving in front of him.

Zero’s legs swished against the water’s current as he got closer. I glanced back for a moment and the look on his face was a sucker punch to my already weak gut. I clenched my eyes and turned back, focusing in on Nikki. And tried to forget how his wide eyes looked polluted.

Zero laid the body near us but not too close. That was when I saw his body again out of the corner of my eye, and I lost it. I couldn’t stand seeing her end up like the boy. I still had time to make things right. We were doomed without her. I regretfully snaked my arm out from under her, stood up, and grabbed ahold of Haji’s button up as I shook him. Slowly his eyes came back into focus, but not enough to make a difference. Like talking to someone in an insane asylum.

“Get your head on straight! She will die if you don’t pull it together!” I screamed into Haji’s face. Tears of sweat stung my eyes, my fists turned paper white, and I snarled at Haji.

“My lady is too far gone, Rogue,” he said, staring off into space near her unconscious body.

“Bullshit!” I said and threw Haji aside. He slumped against the sand, looked up at me, but didn’t try to get up. I was almost too far gone myself. I could feel the darkness tug on my soul, begging me to give in. I envisioned there would be nothing greater than killing Haji, the one who could, but wouldn’t do anything to save her. My mind reasoned it couldn’t possibly help Nikki, but it didn’t soothe my uneasy soul.

I put a slick hand on my forehead, pulling the rough hair back. I stared at the beach out of focus and out of breath. I felt the sudden urge to weep at her feet, when I heard Zero shuffling again. I turned to the side as he walked up to her with water dripping off his suit.

Zero grabbed the front of her shirt and pulled her off the sand as he dug around in the pocket of his pants with an absent-minded look on his pale face. I saw the light bounce of the syringe that emerged. In its casing, a gold liquid swirled inside the glass.

I felt the power flood the air. My bones vibrated and my feet moved before my mind could even register their existence. I was leaning across Nikki’s body as I slapped a hand on his right shoulder.

“Why do you have that?” I screamed, my fingers digging into the muscle, pinching hard enough so Zero couldn’t use the appendage.

Zero looked over his shoulder with a stoic face, not a trace of insecurity, just pure confidence but it didn’t flow into his words. They stammered and I only noticed his uncertainty then. Zero was flat out lying to my face.

“For emergencies… like this one,” he said.

“Bullshit!”

I snatched the vile and stepped back, holding it up in the moonlight to get a better look. It fit perfectly between my thumb and forefinger without the needle attached. Although, I had no reason to study it. I already knew its purpose. I felt emotionally drawn to the liquid. It was my master and I, its willing servant. I had to pull my eyes away because it was almost too intoxicating. I could have easily been swept away in its beauty.

“This is Nikki, isn’t it? This is full of her power! Why do you have this, Zero!?” Zero went to open his mouth but I cut him off before I crushed the vile under my hand. “NO lies!”

His jaw slapped shut again, and grit his teeth. Zero pushed off his knees and stood up. He turned around to face me. One hand twitching toward his weapon, but with the other Zero plucked the vile from my fingertips.

“If you want to argue about this, we can, but she will die, Rogue.”

Chapter Text

“She still pouting?”

I grunted and shifted again to lean more comfortably against the wall near his cell. My head was throbbing, and my back was aching like an old person’s knee before a storm. I volunteered for watch with the purpose… not to be forced into everyday situations with her. I doubted any heart, even mine, or lacking one, could handle it. I sighed and ran a clammy hand along my chin. I didn’t know what to say yet. I mean, what do you even begin to say?

Nothing good enough would ever come out of your mouth… nothing you could say would turn back time or take her pain away.

Bright annoying days and dark sleepless nights passed, spent in the basement with horrid company, but you would know him better as: Zero. Too many moments spent lost inside my mind. She was alive, but was she really? Days I couldn’t get back, but would I really have wanted them... with her as she were now?

Zero groaned quite obnoxiously and I looked back over. He was still in the same clothes from when we were captured. He had the rope burns around his wrists to prove it. I didn’t even give him the chance to shower, but how could I feel bad about it? I had many other things to indulge my guilt. That’s why I couldn’t look at myself. Thankfully, there were no mirrors in the cellar.

How could I have been so wrong? I didn’t do anything, but I could now, I had to reduce the threat. A threat to myself, the mission, and the God herself.

Zero had been dragged from one cage to another. Although, there was no need to tie him up this time. The metal in the shape of a cube was laced with magic to keep him suspended within its walls until I decided otherwise. Zero shredded off his jacket and yanked off his tie within the first few minutes down in the basement. His gun was also confiscated.

That went over like a lead balloon, I rolled my eyes remembering, but a tiny grin emerged. At least, it gave me the perfect opportunity to finally get a hit in. He still had the bruise on his face to remind me of my small victory. It was a shiner, all right. Not such a pretty boy anymore, I thought.

“She still singing to that… thing?

“Jesus, Zero…” I sighed and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I rarely got any of that nowadays. At night, if Zero shut up for longer than he could use to catch his breath, you could hear her from down here… It was, at times, creepy as a siren at sea, and others… as alluring to me as the lost fisherman who were compelled to cross her waters.

“I don’t know, Zero, maybe his body gives her comfort but… what if it’s something worse. Haji recalls an old tale of someone with enormous power calling out for a soul’s return… You and I both know firsthand, it doesn’t work like that. When you’re dead, you’re dead.”

“Some God,” Zero scoffed. “Why can’t she wave her wand around and bring him back?”

I slapped a palm against the brick behind my leg, and Zero’s head shot up. It sounded as a rubber band would and not scary enough like I wanted. Although, I felt he would fear me if he could see the things, I dreamed of doing.

“Zero, speak about her like that again and I’ll kick your damn teeth out.” I froze when my right foot stepped closer, my pride wavering. I sighed again, yanking back the demon inside that never failed to appear when her name was whispered. “Come off it, Zero. She lost one of us, and not just anyone of us… and, there is good reason to believe another Saint is at fault for his death.”

Zero didn’t comment. I groaned and put a pressured hand to my throbbing temple. Beating like a damn drum against my skull. Why did I even bother? I’d be content watching over him in silence, but maybe deep down, I hoped it was all some massive misunderstanding. I hoped I’d be proved wrong. I sure be satisfied with watching over him in silence, but maybe deep down, with every word I spoke… I prayed, that even if it all came out to be true, Zero was worth redemption, but I didn’t know anything for sure. It also wasn’t my call to make.

“You might not care about the other Saints, hell I’d say it’s pretty evident,” I said with a shrug and a half-ass glance at him. “But there is no doubt that she does.”

Zero rolled his eyes from his place on the concrete floor behind the bars, just like every time I got “too serious” for his liking. He had one bent knee pulled tight against his torso and an elbow rested on top of it. He ruffled his dingy white hair and looked back up at me, but I didn’t like the look in his eyes.

“Then why hasn’t she visited me yet?” he asked with a smirk and I pushed my anger back down. I was getting closer to strangling him with every passing minute.

As I was about to give a snappy comment, I heard the basement door creak on its struggling hinges. I didn’t have to glance back because her power flooded the air immediately. The salty air terrified of the incoming hurricane. I did well to keep my chin tucked and in the direction of Zero’s cell. I felt unrestricted power prick my skin and dance under my feet as I straightened my spine to greet her as a coward. One with his back turned and the hope of not looking into those eyes.

She swept passed me without so much as a backwards glance or a ‘how do you do’ with Haji not far behind. I had such respect for him in his inability to leave her side…

I let my eyes greedily take her in. Her hair perfectly tailored into a long braid running down her back, not a single strand escaped, and a dark cape over her shoulders with the perfect bow going around the front of her neck. Her dress recently had transitioned into more formal, less expressive as before, but I knew the bandages were still wound tightly around her torso under the fabric. Where they still soaked in blood? Did she still grit her teeth adjusting her sore muscles? How often was she forced to change them now? Were her slender fingers the only one that danced across the damp tissue?

Color was no longer welcomed on her face. Her cheeks were pure ivory that never crinkled for a smile and the palest pink on her lips that were constantly drawn in a thin line. Like a doll fresh out of the plastic packaging… she looked so sad.

She rarely uttered a word, nor any outward emotion of any kind. It was as if she was detached from this world, from my world. But worst of it all, was the almost incapability to live. She was present, but simply trying to exist. We were all passing clouds, and she… the moon.

She had always been beautiful, but now she was artificially beautiful. No one that detached should ever be that damn stunning… make any man do some stupid things.

Make this man do some stupid ass things.

How could someone with such a lovely smile hide that from the world?

Gods, I missed her… yet she was standing within arm's reach, just in front of me.

She nothing more than a stranger in Nikki’s body. She didn’t recognize me, nor I, her. Those eyes were the only link to our past. No matter how hard she tried, the warm blue as the night sky would never completely fade, but there was such sorrow in their pools. They frightened me the most.

Haji stopped beside me but didn’t meet my eyes. Instead, his were trained on her feet and his hands rested, unmoving, at his sides. Other than Zero, Haji was the one I could talk to, but only if Nikki wasn’t nearby. He was as worried as I, but his lips would seal at her entrance, no matter what the conversation might have been. I could tell that was coming to an end as the days slowly passed. Haji was losing his strength to keep silent.

Nikki walked up to the cage as Zero smiled from on the concrete. Zero didn’t go to move. I’d had been monitoring not only his calorie intake but also his magical energy. My regiment left him overwhelming weak, but you couldn’t tell that by the jaw-jacking. On his death bed, his lips would be smacking.

Nikki’s hands were clasped behind her back under the fabric of the cape. She looked down on Zero, but not passing judgement, only trying to grasp what had become of her life. A few hairs framed her forehead and drew attention back to those eyes.

Gods, I only needed a few tears. Something to tell me she was still in there… It’d make my legs move. It would stir my will to fight. I was too afraid.

I wanted to hug it out of her; I wanted to make the pain go away, but it wasn’t within my power. That was something I struggled with. Why couldn’t I be good enough? Nikki would have to change things for herself if that’s what she decided to do. Until then, I would have to buckle in for the crazy ride. I wouldn’t leave… I simply couldn’t get too close yet.

“Zero still won’t disclose exactly when he began working with Damien,” I said from some distance behind her. No emotion in my voice; two could play at that game. I didn’t like being around her because I knew it would only take time for her to completely lose it. I didn’t want to be caught within detonation range. I had to stay alive to pick up the pieces after…

She hummed and that was the prime example of the extent of our conversations. I couldn’t recall the last time we spoke, or she uttered a word to anyone. She had died alongside Tatsumi, that’s how it felt. In a weird way, I think a big part, if not all, had died with the boy.

I hadn’t known Tatsumi long, but you wouldn’t have to. He was a kind soul… gentle and I had no misgiving that he loved Nikki at least as much as she had loved him… I had been jealous of how easily he lit up her eyes and brought that beautiful smile out when I struggled to even catch her gaze. He was the one she couldn’t risk losing, but in the end, she was powerless to put an end to it.

“He said he only wants to speak with you,” I said, though my mind was somewhere else again. The kid’s smiling face wouldn’t leave me alone.

Another hum and I rolled my eyes annoyingly, almost not realizing I even had. Zero noticed and the damn smirk of his reappeared. That brought me back. My stomach dropped. I could feel the volatile tension building even before Zero opened his mouth. I hadn’t expected Haji to lose his control today of all days, or with all of us piled up in the same room.

“I believe the time has come to eliminate the threat,” Haji said.

Nikki didn’t hum, but there wasn’t any possibility she hadn’t heard. You could hear the droplet of water hit the floor from the leaking pipe on the other side of the basement. You could hear anyone adjusting their clothing or their lungs taking in air. She didn’t response in the slightest. It wasn’t like Haji had muttered either. I pushed off the wall and stood straight. There was no time to play games. A life for a life? How would that help things?

“Haji,” I said, “he isn’t a bomb, gods! Zero is a Saint.”

“A Saint whose actions resulted in another death,” Haji said as he glanced over his shoulder to look at me. He was serious.

She didn’t flinch away as I would have thought speaking of those who passed. Nikki stared down at Zero, with no outward emotion on her face. Her fingers never wrapped around the bars; her feet never shifted; her eyes never glanced away from him in that cage. Zero stretched a lanky leg out and tapped his shoe against the bar near her.

“What? You going to cry now, Nikki? Little miss perfect shedding some more tears?” Zero said with a sick laugh. My heart flipped from the rising tension. “Or are you going to get down on your knees? Are you going to beg so I will say it wasn’t my fault? But then who the hell would you have left to blame? Yourself!

Zero spat at the floor near her boots but she didn’t flinch then either. I pictured nothing short of a swift kick to the face, but that would have been the other Nikki’s reaction. This Nikki remained sinisterly quiet.

“Zero, don’t provoke her!” I screamed, stupidly pleading the man’s case.

Haji had been silenced by Zero’s unthinkable response. No one dared to speak that way to her. Anyone else would have already had their throats slit. It wasn’t out of fear toward her power, there was no doubt how strong she was, but it was out of respect. I had bounds of respect for Nikki, and it seemed like Zero had lost every ounce. And, Nikki wasn’t demanding it.

Remarkably, Zero pushed up and limped toward the bars where she stood just on the opposite side of the metal. Zero had a careful hand sliding along the wall to keep from collapsing. He got to the tip of her nose but didn’t reach out and touch her. I’d be forced to bend his damn fingers back until they cracked if he had.

“And what if I did have something to do with it? Nikki, what if it is my fault?” Zero asked with a sadistic smile on his face but even I could tell he was faking it. Zero’s hands were trembling. He was down-right terrified, but stubbornly guaranteeing he would have the last say in a situation he couldn’t dream of controlling.

I couldn’t describe a more uncomfortable pause. It didn’t even feel right to breath or shift your body in any way. Don’t draw any form of attention to yourself. Don’t make those cold eyes wash over you. I didn’t know who to look at. Haji and I both glanced up at her mannequin face, awaiting a response. The long pause felt like a rip in time, something that would stop nothing short of disturbing the clock of man. The silence went on for a damn eternity. Until, her lips curled.

“Then I’d have to kill you.”

It was if the bullet had already left the chamber, headed straight for the spot in between Zero’s purple eyes and had already come out the other side. It was as if Zero was already dead by our feet. The shock emerged on all our faces, but especially Zero’s. I disregarded my place for a moment, but long enough to move up behind Nikki. I forgot to bow down. I forgot to never cross that line as her servant.

“Ok, enough. Easy does it.” I wrapped a strong arm around the cape and over the lower part of her stomach. Carefully with the bandages in mind but firm enough to make a difference. She didn’t struggle.

“Up you go,” I said as I pulled her up, flat against my chest, and turned us both around. I put myself between her and Zero’s cage, but she didn’t even acknowledge the movement nor my presence. Not even when I was right before her dead eyes, she kept looking past me and at Zero.

“Drag him out,” she said.

“Nikki!” I put my hands on her shoulders first, then felt brave enough to have them run up her neck and not stop until my fingers were spread out on her cool as marble cheeks. I gently pulled up to get her looking at me, ignoring Zero’s growl that sounded like an old dog that didn’t have the energy to pick its head off the floor. A growl no one else acknowledged. I reassuringly rubbed my thumbs against the perfect skin.

“Calm down,” I begged.

Finally, those bright as the stars at night regained some of their starlight when they connected with mine, but her face didn’t change. Oh, how I wished those lips would curl into a smile as they had a hundred times before with me so close.

I said, drag him out,” she said.

I glanced over at Haji because he was already moving toward the barred door to follow her order. I pressed my forehead to hers with my palms still on her cheeks and I was shocked she didn’t fight me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had touched her.

It had been too long.

“Please, don’t do this, Nikki.”

I heard the cage door screech, and the ruffled of clothing on bodies. I kept both hands on her but turned to look back once more. Haji had one hand under Zero’s arm as he yanked him out. Haji shoved Zero square in the back, right along his spine, hard, and didn’t brace his fall. Zero’s knees clanked against the cement. He collapsed on the floor at our feet as a muffled cry came out. It was as if Zero had aged 100 years. I hadn’t noticed it before. I grimaced, turned back toward her, and pressed harder to keep Nikki in place. It was the only way I knew how to keep this train from derailing.

She is going to kill him.

Nikki didn’t even look over at Zero, for once she focused on me but in an offhanded way that tried to make me feel threatened. When she spoke, it was loud enough for everyone, but only for me was the breath sweet and warm against my face.

“Zero shall return to Damien’s side and Damien will not be pleased with his failure. We are all aware Damien doesn’t care for underlings that don’t pull their weight. Damien will kill Zero and I will not be forced to get my hands dirty. However, if Zero, imprudently, chooses to try and stay here, then I won’t be afraid to kill him myself. The decision is his. Whose blade he shall die by.”

“Do you hear yourself? Zero is a Saint! Can’t you have mercy?” I asked.

“Gods don’t show mercy that’s why they’re Gods.”

She pulled her head from my hands and slapped them away. My arms swung back to my sides. She squared her feet and knelt, balancing her weight on one leg. Nikki grabbed Zero by the neck and forced him to stare up into her evil eyes. I was reminded in that moment she could have crushed his neck with one perfectly manicured hand. I think Zero remembered that as well, as he let her do whatever she wished with no hesitation.

“If I find out you did have a hand in his death… I’ll hunt you down, Zero like the monster you are, and I’ll torture you in ways Damien can’t even begin to fathom. I will destroy you, tenfold. I will make you beg for the sweet release of death.”

She leaned back, but not all the way, and dropped one hand. Her knuckles scraped the ground, but the other released the skin on his neck and ran up into his white as snow hair, stopping behind his ear. Then she tilted her chin up, and as quick as the lightning appears, Nikki pressed a firm kiss to Zero’s forehead. It was over the thin hair covering the skin, but I’m sure just as powerful.

I think all our knees buckled, but as soon as the true Nikki appeared, she vanished. She dusted off her dress absently and walked out of the dungeon with the returned composition of a doll as the cellar door slammed behind her.

“Watch Zero! I’ll be right back.” I squeezed between them, trotted up the stairs, and swung open the metal door. I raced down the hall as I caught a glimpse of her sweeping through the living room.  I pressed a pulsing palm to the doorway and said, “I need to speak with you.”

With her back to me once again, her retreating footsteps stopped. Nikki waved a hand over her shoulder, like I was nothing more than a fly being a nuisance. “Take it up with Haji.”

“Screw that.” I stepped fully into the room and squared my shoulders. “I want to speak to you.”

At that, Nikki turned, but not completely. Only enough to stand eye level with me. The smile on her lips wasn’t genuine nor a sign of progress. “Odd. That hasn’t been the case here lately.”

I scoffed and said, “Are you mad because I haven’t spoken to you?”

She laughed with chilly resolve and spun out in a circle, facing me directly. “Of course not. Why would I care what you do or don’t do, Rogue?”

“But that’s your thing, isn’t it? You care too much.”

“I used to... Ironic how things change,” she said with the fakest shrug, and I saw the cracks in her porcelain skin. I only had to push a little further, but there was no going back no matter the outcome.

“Bullshit. If only you were as talented of a liar as you think you are.” My confidence was returning or at least... building. The foundation was nothing less than shaky, but at least it was more than nothing. I didn’t ease beside her as I should have. I stormed in, the same way she would, commanding her presence. I didn’t pull back until I was in her face. Toe to toe. “Enough is enough, Nikki.”

Her eyes sharpened, and more genuine aspects bled into her smile. She was beginning to enjoy this back and forth, this bickering with me. It used to make her sick: the thought of fighting with me. Where had that woman gone? The tips of her teeth sparkled from under the red lips.

Oh? Aren’t we only just getting started?” She did a little dance, suggesting a playing attitude, but she was the feline and I nothing more than her pathetic rodent prey.

“I mean it! ENOUGH!” I hollered as my shadows emerged from the very pores on my skin and flared out. I thought nothing of their appearance, because with emotions running high it was enviable. I was still in control, or so I believed, until I saw the small split of skin on Nikki’s right cheek. It was thin, paper thin, then it turned red. The little bit of blood pooled and dribbled down her face. Her eyes suddenly as wide as my own. Nikki didn’t blink as she reached a steady hand up. She then stared down at the blood on the pads of her fingers.

“Well, what would you know? I suppose that makes two,” she said coolly. Nikki rubbed bloody fingers across the pad of her thumb, interestedly; she stared as if she were only finger-painting.

“I am--”

“Don’t!” She stepped back with one hand on the hilt of that blade on her hip. Nikki didn’t draw her weapon; however, I could sense she almost wanted to. She danced on the balls of her feet, but never moved to strike me. Although, I couldn’t blame her.

Instead of recalling my powers, I slid one boot across the wooden floorboards and the shadows followed. I held her questioning and untrusting gaze as I carefully reached my hand out toward her. Unrolling my fingers, slowly and in front of her eyes, I wiped away the blood on her cheek. It was warm, but the skin was cold to the touch at first. Then warmth came from under the skin like a blaze of fire in the middle of summer.

“I am so sorry, Nikki. Not only for cutting you, but for everything. You’re not alone, I promised you that the first time we met. I’m right here, can’t you see that?”

Nikki blinked several times to scare away the tears that threatened to give her away. I silently prayed for her to not pull away from me and by the angel, she did not. I pressed my other palm against her neck before she could. The vein under the skin thumped recklessly, and I glanced up slyly.

As always, those diamond blues told me the truth when her lips failed to.

“Let me stay here, Nikki.”

Nikki was shivering under my touch, but it wasn’t for the lack of heat. There was plenty between us, especially with my hands on her. Nikki bit into her quivering bottom lip, almost to the point of drawing her own blood.

“And what if I don’t want you?”

“You’d be lying.” I held my breath, a moment dragged like a lifetime. Her eyes told me she was still contemplating, but I had no reason to believe I hadn’t won this fight. I was due for a damn victory.

But it wasn’t my time yet. Nikki shoved me back with a firm hand; I did well to stay on my feet. My hands jumped back as I took a second to steady myself and Nikki sprinted out of the living room by the time I had managed to glance around.

“Damnit.”