The stars, the moon, they have all been blown outYou left me in the dark No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight In the shadow of your heart
In the dark, I can hear your heartbeat I tried to find the sound But then it stopped and I was in the darkness So darkness I became.
--"Cosmic Love" by Florence + The Machine
She was sitting in the grass only a few feet from the pond’s concrete edge, cross-legged with a textbook before her and a notebook in her lap. In the center of the pond, the intricate sculpture of the Wind God, Ramarut stood. Depicted upon a boulder, the Wolf’s back was straight, head thrown back in a mighty howl, eyes closed with the effort. His fur held the ripples of a fierce breeze, the very element over which He had control, and the artist had somehow managed autumn oak leaves that had gotten caught up in the air flow to surround the God. The water of the fount spewed only from the Wolf’s mouth, the soft tinkling sound as it joined what was in the pond surrounding it soothing. She couldn’t help staring at the piece when the words of her textbook began to blend together.
Propping her elbow against her thigh, Celeste rested her head in her hand and massaged her forehead. The required reading for class was beginning to get the better of her; regardless of how she tried, she simply couldn’t focus enough to comprehend the material. Had she the time to do so, she would have simply meditated for a few hours to clear her head, but unfortunately for her, she’d spent much of her precious time at Foxx’s bedside while he’d been recovering. Now, she played catch-up.
When grass crunched softly beneath irregular steps, Celeste immediately perked up from her previous melancholy. The person was already too close for her to make any sort of defense, but when he came to a stop beside her, she spied the cane from the corner of her eye and knew there was nothing to fear.
“I didn’t anticipate finding you here.” His voice was quiet, but she’d grown so accustomed to focusing on the sound, it easily ensnared her attention.
“You were looking for me?” She didn’t look up to him, wouldn’t look up to him. She was still too raw, still too worked up and worried about him. Instead, she simply turned her gaze back to the notebook in her lap and began quoting the words of her textbook. Whether they had any academic value or not wasn’t important. It was simply something for her hands to do.
“It’s been a few days since your last visit.” A quiet groan escaped him as he eased himself onto the ground beside her. He leaned back on his hands, extending his recovering leg while the other was bent, and watched her with veiled concern. She could sense it in his proximity, in the level of his voice, in his very tone, but she couldn’t bear to see it. “Is everything alright?”
Nodding silently, she reached forward and turned the page of her textbook, but froze when he suddenly grasped her wrist. His grip was firm, but hardly confining. She considered snatching her hand away, but instead, she simply turned to him with a raised eyebrow.
“Celeste.” He’d leaned forward, mere inches from her, and the intensity swirling within his storm-gray eyes caused her heart to skip a beat, her pulse to quicken. She felt her cheeks warm despite herself. “What’s going on?”
“N-Nothing,” she stammered. “Nothing’s going on. Just fell behind in some of my classes. I’ve been trying to catch up.”
The frown that pulled at his lips told her he was unconvinced, but he, thankfully, didn’t push the issue. He glanced to her hand, where he still held her by the wrist, then back to her flushed face. Resignation etched itself into his brow as he released his hold on her and pulled away, returning once more to his reclined position. The strain in his jaw, however, told her he was far from comfortable; his leg must have been killing him. How long had he searched the campus for her? “How’s your research with Instructor Marks coming along?”
“Nothing new to report.”
“Getting along with your classmates, now?”
“Sophia couldn’t find her way out of a wet paper bag, and Ryu’s only use is his familiarity with Instructors Marks and Lawson’s lab.” Her tone was biting, cold, but it was all she could do to prevent herself from throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his shoulder. Yes, she’d been by his side almost through the entirety of his recovery, but it did little to quell the horror that still haunted the corners of her mind. Of the blood, of his screams, of how he’d nearly died. And if she could nearly lose him once, she can nearly lose him again. Or worse…lose him for good.
It couldn’t happen again. It wouldn’t happen again. Without him, she’d be alone. She couldn’t lose him. Not after…
…everything he meant to her.
He chuckled, and a rare smile pulled at his normally severe features. When was the last time she’d seen him so amused? Certainly not since Corbin’s death. “Tell me how you really feel, why don’t you?”
“I hate being stuck in the lab,” she grumbled. Frustrated tears stung her eyes, but she forced herself to look to him anyway. “Foxx, I just…I miss…”
His expression softened, his smile changing from a grin of amusement to a quirk of understanding, of reassurance. “I know.” And the drop in his voice told her that he missed it too. Their time together, the quiet moments of each other’s company. He shifted to free one of his hands and tentatively brushed back a strand of auburn from her face. “You still have the key I gave you, right?”
Of course she did. In fact, she’d put it on a chain around her neck just to be sure she never lost it. At the mention of it, however, the metal seemed to burn her skin, its weight hundreds of times heavier than it should have been. She didn’t want him to know how much it meant to her, though…if he hadn’t figured out how much he meant to her…well, she doubted he hadn’t. Regardless, she fought the urge to grab it through the material of her shirt, and simply nodded in response to his question.
“Don’t hesitate to use it.”
For the first time since his arrival, she smiled.
She knew she must have lost herself again when a heavy hand upon her shoulder gave her a slight squeeze. She’s wasn’t startled from her thoughts so much as she was embarrassed; it had been happening more and more as the weeks passed, getting lost in memories she wished she could cling to just a little while longer. All the things she should have said, all the things she should have done; regret haunted her every step. It was dangerous and careless of her, but much of the fear she’d once harbored had been lost over the course of the last year. It had been replaced with longing, with loneliness, and with a shroud of sadness that she just couldn’t shake. She wasn’t proud of her weakness, but she wasn’t exactly ashamed, either. She’d simply stopped caring.
Her cheeks were warm as she lowered her head, but watched from the corner of her eye as the man who’d touched her sat beside her on the stone bench.
“You alright, kiddo?” The worry in Colonel Warrick’s voice was unmistakable, and the lengths to which he went to make sure she was doing well was endearing. He truly was like a brother to her, and it was comforting to know she still had someone to rely on, even after Foxx was gone.
She nodded, and met his gaze with a small smile, lying as thoroughly as she ever had. “Yeah, Colonel. I’m alright.”
“You sure?” His eyebrows were raised, a small frown pulling at his lips. Good-natured doubt, something that crossed his features often when he spoke with her, and she felt something akin to guilt as she continued to deceive him. It was no secret that she hadn’t been the same since Foxx’s death, and it was only through the Colonel’s persistence that she’d ever begun eating again.
He had been there after the Tower had collapsed. He’d been the one that had pried her away from his lifeless body, had prevented her from pouring her magic, her very life force, into the bottomless chasm of his corpse. He’d seen her unravel, and had held her in strong arms while she fell apart. When he cupped her cheek and studied her expression, her smile grew a little wider, if a little sadder.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m sure.”
She would continue to lie because she didn’t want him to worry.
Part of her died with Foxx that day at the Tower, a part of her she hadn’t even realized he’d possessed. Without it, she felt like half a person. Without him, there was nothing left.