DinahLOO: Yes. I know. You don't have to tell me, I've an extremely long time to get this done. So, I apologize. It was problem after problem. But you probably don't want to hear anything about excuses so I won't bug you with them.
Again, I apologize.
But let us continue.
"O-oh." He says simply. I'm completely still. But I don't pay attention to his observing stare, because I spot his lit fireplace behind him. And absentmindedly, I spin past him and land in front of the lit fire. As soon as it hits me, I gasp in relief and hold out my paws. This would seem to be the only thing I care about right now.
Because it is.
My eyes flicker back in his direction. And I see him coming to sit by my side. But not before reaching over a chair to pull out a thin but heavy quilt. I sigh as he drops the blanket over my shoulders.
"Thank you." I say monotonously. But I can tell something was on his mind.
"Your fur." He states. "It's… not orange."
"Really now." I say and pull my knees to my chest, and rest my arms across them. "I don't think a northern tigress is… orange." He nods, understanding.
"So you plan to stick around?" He adds.
Even sitting inches away, I could tell he felt me shift uncomfortably. I don't know how to answer right away.
"I think you do." He says after a short while. I scoff but keep quiet. "You think too much." I say with a muffled tone against the fabric on my arms. I see a smirk pull at the corner of his lips and it almost makes me snarl.
As I slowly thaw out, we remain in silence. One less deafening than the others. If anything, comfortable. Because we both stared at the same fire, breathing in the same slow tempo and everything is just… peaceful. And I didn't realize just how much my bones ached until now. And I could almost feel myself drift and drift...
"Are you… staying here?" Zhàn asks, not looking away from the burning wood. I snap my attention to him, noticing I was on the edge of unconsciousness and curse the action. It must have been a good thirty minutes before either one of us has uttered a word. And I feel warm enough to take off the blanket from my arms and drape it somewhat over my legs.
"I can find somewhere to sleep. I won't trouble you." I point, though I'm falling into that slumber again.
"No, I… you should stay. Stay here. You have no money, and no inn around here is going to let you stay with nothing to pay them with. And you're not sleeping outside. A southern tigress like yourself isn't used to the weather in the north. I would find your dead body by morning." He says with sincerity and seriousness. And still avoids looking at me.
"Please, I don't want to put a burden over anyone. I'd rather die before I do that."
"Well you're not, so you won't." He says forwardly. Though, I'm grateful for his generosity anyways.
"I appreciate this… I promise to stay out of your way-"
"Don't. I have an extra room, no worries. It's no inconvenience, I swear." I croaks. I look back at him to find him falling for that same slumber that I was.
"Is there any way I can repay you?" I say. He's silent but his eyes open a little more, becoming a little more alert.
"I uh… yeah. There is." He says. I wait patiently for him to explain further. All was still again for a few moments.
"You still fight, right?" He says gently. Oh, I want to know where this is going. "What's it to you?"
But I don't know if I'm prepared for his answer anymore.
"Fight. With me. For all of China.
"You're insane." I say, standing up and backing up. "Zhàn, do you not know why I ran away from the Jade Palace? To hide. Not to throw myself in the enemies' open field. You are insane." I rub the fur on the back of my paw, it's completely dry and a part of me now.
"You still want to keep that fighter in you and I can help you keep it. It'll be easy. A two man job."
"I-I'm sorry a man and woman job." He adds. But something hits me and I jerk my head his way, my ears flattening against my skull.
"Wait, how do you even know how to fight?" I spit. He bites his lip and fumbles with his paws. "I just… do…"
He sighs, I was getting to him somehow.
"Wha- Is it that hard to believe?" He asks. By the looks of him, I would have naturally said something like, well, no.
"Yes. How the hell did you learn to fight?" My fists ball and my sharp teeth clench together. If he had secrets like this, he was going to tell me. And he was going to tell me now.
"Would you believe me if I said it came… naturally?"
"No." I hiss.
His eyes roll and land back on me, rubbing his paws on his slacks.
"How about if I told you it came with the name? In a way…"
"What the hell are you talking about?" I'm gradually getting impatient.
He paces around sloppily for a second before he throws up his arms in surrender.
"My name… is Zhànshi. Meaning… well… warrior." He mutters. My eyes narrow at him. And I could tell he expected this reaction.
"You're a warrior?" I manage.
He shrugs, giving me an unsatisfying answer. "Yeah…"
"How long have you trained?" I say eyeing him suspiciously. "I don't…" He replies and it makes me want to grab him by the throat just a little.
"Tigress… will you just believe me to get this over with? It's not something I'm truly comfortable to talk about."
A warrior who isn't fond of what he is.
"Fine. I'll leave it alone. For now." I say. He nods hesitantly and his eyes gleam with gratitude, no matter how much he hides it.
There goes that painful silence again.
"Well… what about your past?" I say almost regrettably. But I keep asking anyways. "Did you learn to fight when you were little or something?" I ask. But he shakes his head. "I'm not comfortable talking about that… either."
A warrior who isn't fond of his past.
"Tigress we can… we can discuss your choice later. But I think we should sleep."
With a million and one things racing through my mind, I have nothing to do but nod as he leads me to my bedroom.
Something. Something's off and he doesn't know what it is. The last few days was subtle and quiet around the village, so he gave the five a break. But one of the five was gone.
That's it! He shouts mentally. But given they were off enjoying their small vacation, he had no clue just which was gone.
Then, while pacing a little faster than usual, he came to a complete stop in front of a door that's cracked open. When he opened it, he could only gasp in horror.
With claw marks that only a certain tiger would have, thrashed into the floorboards and into her bed. Into every belonging she left behind or simply did not care about.
Tigress is gone.