(Much appreciation to the player behind Aludariel for the following scene)
September 1, 2017
Kruger?s lean on Ali through the Outback had been wholly necessary. The only thing to keep one foot moving in front of the other through the shock of separation. Was it like that for everyone, would it be that way every time he tried? There were too many questions, and no one close that he could ask. The lack of the opal?s presence was like a solid thing in its absence, and the tremble of exertion from the night gave way to a different kind. He slipped from Ali?s grasp, the sudden emptiness of the yellow rock?s snarky manner shifting to something far more dangerous and destructive. It was likely a good thing that the alleyway was abandoned. A rage seared through him like a blistering white light. The first blow shredded through the tape on his knuckles, a low tone like a gong sounding from the object of his frustration. The metal dumpster had no give, and no pity but that wouldn?t stop the smith from unleashing a long series of punches into his broad face or have him caring about the blood left in the wake of the blows.
He hadn?t forgotten that she was there, though he?d never wanted her to see him quite this way. Someone needed to be punished, and it had been he who failed tonight. Better here than at home, where walls were always too thin and the aftermath meant hours of repair. The feeling was the same though, loss felt into his core only this time it was his direct failure. Kruger?s punches slowed, until his forehead was pressed to the cool metal. ?Why do I even bother to try??
Aludariel carried what she could for the smith but with it too came the guilt. The rock was gone and with it the intrusive voice that sought to nudge and prod her at every turn. How it hadn?t driven Kruger absolutely mad in his time with it, she didn?t know. But what she did know was that regardless of how she felt about the ?loss?, his feelings were priority. Their progress was slow going, each step hard won on the way home until at last he broke away from her. Her steps stuttered to a halt and she was left to stare into the dark alley as he pounded out his frustration against the dumpster. Each blow came with a restrained wince from the little elf until his rage turned into exhaustion and he slowed to a stop. It was then that a quiet shuffle of steps carried her into the dark and to his side. Even as he pressed his forehead to the dumpster, she carefully claimed a hold on one wrist and then the second, drawing his hands to better look at them in the dim light. ?The thrill, mayhaps? I cannot claim to know save for the look on your face every time you step into that ring, win or lose. Still, mela, you?ve done something most will never do. Do not forget that.?
Kruger?s fists refused to open, knuckles already flat from fighting torn open on old scars. He kept his eyes closed, knowing that she would be looking at him with adoration woven liberally with sympathy. She was new to the venues, and only beginning to understand the difference between something so controlled versus the life she?d led up until coming here. She was right in her assessment of them, in part at least. There was more to it for him, this city, this entire planet seemed to be full of those who considered themselves forces to be reckoned with. He?d seen many of them try to make it inside the ring and give up the first time someone smaller and weaker bested them. Hell, that had happened to him more times that he could remember. Probably too many blows to the head, honestly. ?I?ve failed, again. I can?t even do what needs doing in there.? He jerked his head back the way they?d been travelling, the meaning clear enough he hoped. ?I couldn?t save you, or Horn? I couldn?t save Nick? I can?t even hold onto a stupid rock with an attitude problem. You came here to be with me, and I?m not even sure if I?m worth the effort right now?? He swallowed hard after the last bit, finally allowing his eyes to open and doing his best to keep from breaking down further.
She was all for giving him his moment to grieve the loss of the title and the rock and everything it supposedly meant. After all, she had been plenty supportive throughout his reign despite the rock?s repeated intrusions. Reaching down, she tore off a strip from the hemline of her sundress, tearing it in two for the sake of wrapping each of his bleeding hands. They were tight without being suffocating, just enough to stymie the flow of blood at least until they could get home and she could dress them properly. However his words pushed too far and regardless of his tears, one dainty palm lifted for a swift smack across his cheek. It lacked venom or the same power she had delivered when she slapped him in front of the inn the night they reunited but it was enough that it should hopefully clear his head. Immediately after, she sought to grab him by the chin to draw his gaze up to meet hers, wheat on emerald. ?Don?t you dare. Don?t you dare say such a thing. We do not control the strings of fate, we can only hope to withstand their severance when the time comes. But we?ve been given a new chance and if you insult that chance because you?re sore you lost, I will kick your ass halfway to Cadentia. Do you understand me??
He could have laughed at the slight irony, one part of her tending to the new injuries, the other less tender and probably more to the point. Kruger wasn?t a big fan of fate, would dig his feet in and push against it with everything he had. It was debatable whether he had any success or simply prolonged it. The slap, was what it was, a gift bestowed by the person he cared most about coupled with heated words that held no real venom, or maybe he was immune to that from her. ?No? maybe we can?t control it. I?d like it to make up its mind though.? One freshly bandaged hand unfolded, the ache it took to do so stifled in the clenching of a jaw. It rose to touch Ali?s cheek lightly, still trembling a bit from the night?s exertions. ?You?re proof that not everything that happens is bad. I?m frustrated, not because I?ve lost so much as all the effort that seems like it was for nothing. There?s a blank space in my head right now, one that I?d gotten used to having filled...even if it was with sarcasm more than not. I feel like I just gave part of myself away? no not gave, like it was forcibly taken from me.?
It was hard to explain, the pairing had been alien at first but had become more comfortable over time. It was gone now, and he had no idea how to fill that space again. ?I know that part of you is relieved about that. I even understand the why of it. Right now, I don?t know what to do about it.?
?It will never make up its mind but that still gives you no right to question what we?ve been given.? She said firmly. One hand lifted to cover over his, mindful of his knuckles. In truth she didn?t understand it. She didn?t understand the heartbreak over the loss. Was what he had not enough for him that he had to seek something additional in the rings? A frown settled on her lips but the words didn?t form. ?Such things cannot be taken from us unless we hand them over. You chose to forge a relationship with? whatever being is within that stone. Mourn as you may over its loss, you cannot let it rule you. Take tonight, take tomorrow, take the entire month if you must, but you are more than this, mela. And if you find you still mourn, then you do what you must to remedy it; you get it back. Now can we go home or do you wish to abuse this poor dumpster some more??
?I?m not sure what I?ll want in a month. Maybe nothing. Tonight, I know what I need and it isn?t to feel the hard shell of the dumpster. Something...someone more pliant? if only slightly.? Kruger looked at her with the smallest of grins. The bruising was setting into place deeply, but there was intent in his gaze anyway. ?Let?s go home, mela, there?s still many things that I need to do.? He left off the last part, she?d know what he meant. If not now then before the night was over. A large arm went around her slender waist, his steps were heavier than they had been in several months. He?d get used to that too, no doubt. ?I know I?ve said it before, but I?m happy that you are here.? He wasn?t sure that was fate, or something else. He knew he?d needed her for a very long time.