Red is the Color of You
Through the tall glass window pane was a low lit garden that could be entered once descending another small staircase. The yard’s primary lighting came from fireflies and little magical ethereal spheres, and not too far forward was a fountain which was more simple than one would expect from such an extravagant estate but still large nonetheless.
Past the fountain was a row of towering hedges that created a series of labyrinths, none of which occupied anything of value. Madeline just had a soft spot for the theatrical. Most importantly, between the staircase at the foot was a bench tucked away by vines, bushes of flowers, and miniature trees, allowing it to camouflage with the greenery and nearly fade into the darkness. Yet through this, it still extended itself for those of broken heart and loss of soul.
Plunging into the hidden seat, Izumi heaved a groan and held what was left of himself in his trembling hands. Dahlia, who followed him per Wraith’s request, stood by the top of the staircase out of view and out of mind, giving Izumi the space he craved. Darkness separated itself from the overbearing light excreting from the ballroom, creating a calm, quiet haven.
Crickets chirped. Water dripped. Izumi sobbed. Silent tears streamed down his painfully reddened cheeks, spilling onto his dress, adding stars to the night sky. Confusion and pressure. From the scalding light of the chandeliers, to the probing glares, to Wraith’s expectations. The tranquility of the shadowed garden provided the time and space he needed to breathe. Just..
“Haaa….damn it…” Izumi only caught a glimpse of Wraith before leaving, but that glimpse was still engraved within him: a doleful broken expression that stung his chest. “He probably hates me now…Ugh I’m so pathetic, crying at a party…”
Wiping his eyes, he watched the water flow from the fountain, the moonlight glistening each drop. Albeit unintentionally, he hurt Wraith, but Izumi couldn't bring himself to face him and apologize. In truth, he wasn’t sure what to do. The only thing that he knew was that he wanted distance between him and Wraith for a moment to figure things out.
Why was Wraith being nice to him? Why was he so gentle now? Even everyone around them who allegedly knew him best were confused, so Izumi was even more astray. How did he really feel about Wraith? He thought he liked Wraith, but now, he wasn't so sure. To Izumi, Wraith was an unattainable beacon and he had enjoyed just being able to follow the light, but was that really what he wanted? Things would be much simpler if he could just know what Wraith was thinking with each smile, each touch, each kiss.
Then, it hit him. Dahlia knew Wraith for centuries. If Neio was able to help Izumi once, maybe Dahlia could do the same.
“Dahlia?” Izumi called out.
“Yes?” They were still standing by the top of the staircase to keep watch.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?”
“No, of course not.” Dahlia descended the stairs and sat beside Izumi, looking away to save him the shame of his puffy eyes. “What is it?”
“I know there's no way for you to know for sure, but...how do you think Wraith feels about me? It's just…all so confusing and I just don't know what to think or how to feel…”
A pause. Dahlia ponders deeply how to properly answer, not just as Wraith's friend and general, but as Izumi's as well.
“Your feelings shouldn't be determined by how the other feels about you. If you're concerned about his emotions to discern your own, then, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, you're afraid. Afraid to feel anything towards him because if Wraith doesn't feel the same, then you'd be left alone and heart broken.”
Surprise and shock at Dahlia’s bluntly acute analysis translates into a wide eyed and agape Izumi. “Mm..mhmm…” Fiddling with his dress, Izumi mumbles a response and nods.
“Then, for a second forget about what Wraith thinks, or anyone for that matter. How do you feel towards him? You can take your time.”
How I feel about him?
In his heart, Izumi told himself that he liked Wraith romantically. If there was a way for them to be together in that sense, he would accept it without hesitation. Still, in the last few days his body told a different story. Something stronger than just liking him. Always blushing and getting flustered, his chest and stomach fluttering just by thinking about Wraith, let alone their tender interactions, the rapid beating of his heart when they were alone. The world almost seemed to slow to a halt when he was with Wraith, as if only he mattered.
Izumi always doubted himself when it came to Wraith on the other hand. Never thinking he’s good enough, or that Wraith could do better. A specter like Lavina or even Rosalind of Envy would be leagues better than him. But...that sentiment was rooted in his aforementioned fear, making any excuse why he shouldn’t or couldn’t be with Wraith before even trying in order to avoid a tragedy. Without his fears and self-doubt, without the pressure of the masses, without the consideration of Wraith, how did he feel about Wraith? Izumi’s chest stiffened when he told himself that he liked Wraith. Something didn’t fit. It was more than that. More than a light crush. More than a small desire to be a close friend or even boyfriend. He…
“I…” Shaking off his hesitation and doubt, Izumi tried again. With confidence regained he faced Dahlia and held the bloodstone around his neck firmly. “I love him. If I could be someone important in his life, that would be more than I could ever ask for. I wish that I was different, not some helpless brat that he has to worry about all the time. Someone like Lavina, who can handle themselves. Honestly, I’m jealous of her for that. No one looked at her weird when she was with Wraith, at least it didn’t seem like it judging by everyone’s accounts. It didn’t matter even if they did. She’s confident, assertive, and well respected. They like to say that they’re like oil and water, but really, in my eyes they were more like peas in a pod. I wish…..” Izumi shakes his head to diminish his envy. “Even with that, I love him. I promised Wraith that I would accept every part of him and I mean it. I don’t care about what he’s done in the past or however he looked before. I’ll love him regardless of it all, the past, present, and future.”
A deep, relieved sigh leaves him along with any tension in his body.
It felt...surprisingly good to admit all that…
Dahlia pat Izumi on the back, and even though they lacked a face, Izumi could tell they were smiling, if their reassuring words weren't already a sign. “I know it took a lot to tell me that, but I know it helped relieve some of your stress at least. Then, whatever I think about how Wraith feels, don’t let it sway you. Hold onto how you feel and take steps in that direction, and don’t take everything I say as full fact. Still, about Wraith… Don’t be jealous of Lavina, and don’t try to be like her. She’s her, and you’re you. In straight terms, I’m confident that he cares about you even more than Lavina. So, you should just continue to be yourself.”
M-me? Over Lavina? But-
“How? Like...how are you so sure he prefers me over her..?”
“This.” Dahlia taps Izumi’s hand which held the shimmering scarlet stone. “Wraith didn’t tell you the full meaning of it. Maybe he didn’t want to scare you, or maybe he was pressed for time and spared you the full explanation, or maybe he gave it to you for his own reason, knowing him. Regardless, Wraith said it was a custom to give such to people that a ghost cherishes, which is true, but that’s an oversimplification. In truth, they’re given to a ghost’s significant other whom they believe is their soulmate, that they would live and die for the other without hesitation. Some give them to incredibly close friends, however those cases are rare. Typically they’re exchanged, but there hasn’t been a case with a human so. Especially since they’re usually made with the blood of the other, hence their name, but there’s been cases where ghosts put a fraction of their heart or soul, depending on their love. Because of this, if for whatever reason they’re destroyed, they could weaken the host. And...a ghost either gifts one during their lifetime, or not at all. Which means, Lavina never received one from Wraith, and she never gave one to him either.”
Dahlia was right about one thing, Izumi was scared–terrified. Not of Wraith’s sudden show of possible affection, but because of how priceless the artifact is. And it was in his possession. The most susceptible person to lose it, or even worse, someone else gets ahold of it. What if he did lose it? Could Wraith die if it was broken? Like a hawk, Dahlia’s perception reads Izumi’s anxious visage and eases his heart.
“Don’t worry, it’s Wraith. I know he accounted for everything, and he said it himself: it was made of magic. His magic no less. I’m sure if you were to lose it, or if someone stole it from you, that it would find its way back to you.”
“Spot on again…” Izumi mumbled to himself, getting startled when Dahlia hears him.
“You learn how to read faces well when you don’t have one yourself.” They joke in a still neutral tone. “The bloodstone was just a solidifier to me. Even before that, he treated you differently than the rest of us.”
“Neio said that to me before too. I didn’t really notice though. The only thing I did notice was that he started to be nicer and I don’t know...less confident? In a weird way.”
“I would give him some time, which Neio said too.” A chill rolls down Dahlia’s nonexistent spine at the thought of agreeing with Neio, but he was right for once. “Wraith is...not the best, to say the least, at expressing himself. He’s known the same people and the same lifestyle for centuries, so for someone like you to show up and start shifting gears, it takes getting used to. On his end that is. But, no matter how Wraith feels, know that we’re supporting you. You’re like family to us now.”
A twinkle in his eyes brighter than the moonlight itself. From strangers, to friends, to family. And from people that normal people would consider monsters.
“...Thank you...for everything…helping and supporting me, it’s more than I can ask from you, and the others too. Wraith included. So...Thank you.” Standing from the bench, Izumi stoutly embraced Dahlia, as strange as it was to hug an empty suit of armor, but he didn’t care.
“You can always lean back on us. If Wraith did ever break your heart, it would start a war in the house.”
The image of the childish arguments that Wraith gets into lights a chuckle within.
“...Can you do me a favor though? I...want to talk to Wraith, to apologize for storming out like that. I just want to clarify some things. Don’t worry I won’t confess or anything.”
“I was about to suggest that you don’t. I’ll go get him then. Do you think you’ll be fine on your own for a second?”
Izumi nodded, affirming Dahlia to retrieve the man himself.
Meanwhile, when Izumi had left, Wraith stood baffled and depressed in the center of the dance hall before finally collecting the scraps of himself and making his way to Neio, who saw the whole thing. Neio shooed the women that were sitting with him, leaving the two alone in the secluded lounge.
“What happened?!!!” Immediately Neio poured a drink for Wraith and offered it to him as he flopped onto the sofa beside him. Now, Wraith was the one running his paranoia in circles.
“I don’t even know.” He tossed the alcohol to the back of his throat and Neio filled the glass again. “We were dancing and he looked happy then I don’t know what happened. Got pissed and walked out. Even cussed. Can you believe that? Izumi? Cussing?” Wraith scoffs, but Neio knew him all too well to know it was just a cover up. The walls around Wraith began to crumble and disintegrate, his true feelings becoming vulnerable and exposed. “Ughh….fuck…”
The once unphased and arrogant specter of despair was now heaving deep breaths in an attempt to push his heart out of his throat and back in its proper place. Wraith rubbed his nose bridge and shut his eyes, the scene reluctantly repeating.
“...He told me that he wanted to be alone. When I said he couldn’t, he yelled at me. ‘Anyone but you’.” Another shot flew past his heart and failed to drown his screams. The empty glass was slammed against the table and Wraith hung his head back into the couch, his hand over his eyes. “What did I do? What did I-” In the last syllable, a faint break in his voice could be heard. Harsh inhales burned his lungs on the way in and mollified them on the way out. Only on a handful of occasions did Neio see this side of Wraith, and he never learned how to properly provide support, though at the least, he knew that providing an ear was enough for Wraith. “Neio, my eyes are burning.”
Neio’s already uneasy nerves shot to an all time high and he fumbled trying to figure out what to do and what to say.
It’s not fine!!!! Neio shouted internally, still struggling to articulate any form of advice or consolation.
“Did he um...say anything else? Or was there anything else that happened? I saw you talk to Rosalind earlier, something with her?”
A deafening silence filled the space between them, while the roar of laughter and banter danced around them.
“.....” Wraith sat up, and despite his previous statement, his eyes were still white rather than the red of a sob. “She was just being her. It didn’t seem to get to him at the time. I don’t know.” Fidgeting seemed to be his way to cope, as he shifted in his seat again, this time crossing his legs and leaning on his arm. “I shouldn’t have brought him here. What if it is that? What if he feels pressured to be perfect or something? Ugh…”
“But you said he looked happy, so I don’t think it’s that.”
“Then what!! What the hell did I do?!!” Again he moved, leaning forward and downing another shot before sitting with his arms on his knees. “....I feel like I could cry, but it won’t come out. You know, I wanted to go after him but I didn’t. With all the shit I’ve done in my life, who am I to try and chase after someone? Why am I even trying to chase after him? Neio- look at me.”
Neio hadn’t shifted his gaze from Wraith for even a moment since he sat down, so he just made more firm eye contact.
“You tell me. What am I doing? I feel like a mouse in a maze but the cheese is in another fucking room.”
The instant Neio opens his mouth to speak, Dahlia approaches the two who whip their heads around, Wraith in trepidation and Neio in relief that he didn’t have to answer him.
“Izumi asked if he could talk to you, Wrai-”
Before their sentence could even be finished, Wraith teleports across the ballroom to the garden.
“You look like you gained a few extra white hairs.” Dahlia takes Wraith’s place beside Neio and jests, pouring a drink and handing it to him.
“Yea….” Neio sighs, nearly in tears himself from the major stress he just experienced.
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