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A Petal Among Thorns

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"Rosa!" The name tumbled from Cecil's mouth. He said it hundreds, if not thousands of times in Warrior's presence, but in Cecil's shock it sounded clumsy, unpracticed, even awkward off his tongue. So this was Rosa. Just as beautiful as Cecil described. Just as . . . womanly as he made her out to be. Elegance floated about every one of her lines, and Warrior was in awe. Her beautiful features were so stunningly eye-catching, he nearly abandoned decency and stared.

With effort he tugged his gaze from her and looked back to Cecil, roving his eyes back and forth between them so he didn't feel so inclined to stare. Poor woman, called to the cycles with no memories. Poor Cecil, missing his wife for so long and then seeing her here, like this. Cecil stood, frozen and dazed. His wide, but glazed over eyes stared at her in disbelief, his forehead and eyebrows creased, and his lips parted. And, Warrior noted, looking closer, his bottom lip quivered gently.

He looked horrified. He looked absolutely stricken.

"Cecil?" Warrior asked, edging closer to him. "Are you-"

"Rosa," he breathed. At the mention of her name Rosa's eyes narrowed. She gave Cecil a once-over, scrutinizing him from the beads in his white hair to the gold plates on his greaves. Too shocked to notice, Cecil's eyes never left her face. His fingers stretched out towards her. "I- I ne-" He shook his head. "I never, u-umm . . . " he uncharacteristically stuttered. One of Rosa's eyebrows lifted. "I never thought I'd see you again," finally crawled from his throat. Relief colored his flushed face. His shoulders relaxed, his face softened, and he smiled at her. "I'm so glad to see you!" He started towards her.

Her eyes widened and she stepped back. Forcing a loose chuckle, she smiled stiffly. "Yes, I am Rosa," she said quickly. She couldn't hide the caution tightening in her tone. "Who are you?" Rosa's eyes flicked towards Cosmos over and over, hoping to catch the goddess's eye. Cosmos missed Rosa's plea for help. She was looking at Cecil - an odd mix of interest and something else, something deep-rooted in her frown that Warrior couldn't place. On her own, Rosa faced him, crossing her arms.

"I'm-" Cecil paused, his smile faltering. "What?" he asked. "You know me."

"I can say with certainty that I do not."

He strode forward again. "Rosa . . . "

"That's close enough, sir!" she bellowed, backpedaling away from him. She grabbed her knife and slid the blade a few inches free of the scabbard on her belt. "Who are you? How do you know me?"

The moment the knife tore free, Cecil's heart shattered, an audible crack in his ears that radiated ice through his whole chest. He drew himself to full height but his shoulders slumped, hand raking slowly through his hair. "You don't know me," he whispered, dropping his gaze to the water. No, no! No, this was all wrong! He pictured their reunion over and over, a thousand times over in his head. Every scenario he could have possibly imagined was joyous, and every variation of joyous. Not this. This wasn't right, some perversion of reality. But, like watching something horrific, he couldn't bring himself to look away. His wife, his beautiful wife. Cycle after cycle after cycle without her, and her without him in Baron. And she was playing at unfamiliarity? She was tormenting him like this, tossing his heart around like a ragdoll?

Of course not. She would never do that to him. She was not that kind of woman, too kind-hearted to intentionally hurt someone this way. Especially him. No! She had to remember. A violent sort of desperation burst through the numbness in his heart, and he tried again. His blue eyes bore pleadingly into her green. "Do you jest? Rosa, you must remember! You - I kn- I know you!-" Without realizing what he did, Cecil took a few steps towards her.

Rosa grew frustrated before him. She bared her teeth with a small growl, her eyes flared in anger, and the knife snicked the rest of the way free. "Stop saying that! Please understand that I do. not. know. you," she insisted, practically snarling the word.

"Rosa . . . " Cosmos began, nodding at the knife. Rosa noted Cosmos with a sidelong glance but did not move.

"Why are you saying this?"

"You try my patience, Cecil!" She said his name like it was a curse off her tongue.

He couldn't comprehend what was happening. He couldn't . . . couldn't think. What was going on- Cosmos. Cosmos would know. "What is this?" he asked, turning to her. Cosmos only smiled, with a sickly-sweet and pathetic sadness. She could only have been searching for pity, and any other time Cecil may have indulged her. But her eyes betrayed her. The emotion in her smile didn't reach her fleeting gaze. They were hard, insincere - she knew something, anything. "Speak!" he yelled at her. "What is this?" Cosmos' face faltered. A pained look crossed her face, and she gathered the shawl around her.

She shook her head. "I'm sorry."

Realization flushed his face again. A cold chill wracked his spine as his throat seized with understanding.

She didn't remember because she was here.

She was here because Cosmos had called her.

"Sh-she is my wife!" he thought, "Why did she have to be called?!"

He may have missed her, missed her so deeply that his heart hurt with longing when he thought of her shining face he was never to see, missed her so desperately that he could barely focus in battle at the mere mention of her name. He may have missed her, but her being here was the last thing he wanted. He would never wish the twisted, methodical logic of this repetitive world upon any other.

Especially Rosa.

Never Rosa.

Cecil's dread of her calling turned to instant fury. His hands clenched at his sides. "Why?" he screamed at Cosmos bitterly. "Why her?!"

Of all the worlds she had to choose from, Cosmos had chosen his. Of all the heroes scattered across their many realms, she chose Rosa. She chose the woman he cared for more than anyone in the worlds to fight in the cycles.

His spear solidified in his grip. Rosa brandished her knife, but Cecil shoved past Warrior and pointed it directly at Cosmos' throat.

"Why?!" he yelled again. Her gaze dropped to her clasped hands in her lap.

"I never meant to hurt you . . . " she said in her voice of silk. He pressed the tip to her skin.

"WHY?! Answer me!" Louder that time.

"Lower your weapon!" Warrior yelled, but Cosmos cut him off with a hand. She raised her chin at the touch of cool metal and stared into his eyes, the sky blue of hers fighting and swirling with the royal blue of his.

"Because I needed her. That is all. I am sorry."

Cecil pulled back to strike the goddess.