[Flash Fiction Friday] Antonia Aquilante Returns!

FFF_Antonia_Aquilante_Walled_Garden

Hello Internet! Welcome back Antonia Aquilante as she presents her newest flash fic. Now this one? Damn. It’ll get you going for sure! Meet Ailill, a man satisfied with his destiny who has one final message for his bereaved best friend.


Untitled by Antonia Aquilante


Every century for as long as records were kept, and probably quite a bit longer than that, the ritual was performed. The magic of it sustained their land, protected it and them. But the person who performed the ritual had never survived it.

Ailill found himself content, proud even, to be chosen. His best friend was less sanguine about Ailill’s impending task, and his impending death.

“I don’t understand you! I don’t understand how you can be so calm.” Lorcan paced the secluded corner of the College’s walled garden, hands alternately waving and pulling at his thick red hair. The sun blazed off it, fiery like Lorcan’s temperament. “Why are you just sitting there?”

“What should I be doing instead?”

Lorcan stopped in front of Ailill. His mouth worked for a moment, but no sound came out. And then a rush of words. “You should be angry. You should be fighting or running or something. You shouldn’t just accept that in a few days you’re going to die.”

Overwhelming, almost heartbreaking affection for Lorcan welled up inside him as Lorcan whirled away in a swirl of green robes to begin pacing again. They were born within hours of each other and had been inseparable practically since then. Together through childhood and schooling at the College once their aptitude for magic was discovered. Together for every big and small moment, through joys and sorrows. They’d been each other’s first kiss. He knew Lorcan had hoped, perhaps, for more than that at one time, but romantic love was never to be between them. He’d always thought of Lorcan as a part of him, his other half.

His far more emotional half.

“Why are you smiling like that? What could you possibly have to smile about right now?” Lorcan asked, snapping him out of his thoughts.

“You.”

“Me?” Lorcan sputtered. “What I’m feeling? I’m funny?”

“You’re my best friend, and I know you. That’s why I’m smiling.”

“I just–I don’t understand you right now.” Bafflement clouded Lorcan’s eyes, but it couldn’t overshadow the anger, the grief. The fear. “I can’t understand how you can sit there calmly and tell me you’re going to die, and not do anything to stop it.”

“There’s nothing to do.” He grabbed Lorcan’s hand from where he waved it in the air. “We always knew this was a possibility.”

They’d known the time would fall during their lifetimes. It was taught as part of their history, something children learned, and when he and Lorcan were found to have magical aptitude, they’d learned more. The College allowed them to explore and hone their skills, to discover the aspect of magic they were most skilled with, and then taught them how to use it. The College always educated, but in the time leading up to when a ritual would be performed, it served another purpose as well: it prepared them all for the ritual. The College taught them more of its importance than the rest of the population ever knew, because whoever performed the ritual had to have power. The one performing the ritual was chosen from the College.

Lorcan drooped before his eyes. “I know, but…it didn’t seem real until now. I never thought one of us would be chosen.”

“I know.” He wasn’t sure he could say the same; it felt as if some part of him had known, or at least known there was a good chance he would be chosen. How that was possible, he didn’t know, but it didn’t much matter at the moment. He tugged on Lorcan’s hand, pulling him down beside Ailill and into his arms, and held him tight.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Lorcan whispered into Ailill’s shoulder. Ailill could feel Lorcan’s tears, hot on his neck.

“I know,” he repeated. “I’m sorry, but it’s all right.”

Lorcan ripped himself from Ailill’s arms. “It’s not all right! It’s not going to be all right ever again.”

“It will be. You will be. I’m happy it’s me and not you.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because this is for me to do. I think it’s always been for me.” He was happy it was him and not Lorcan, but then he doubted it would ever have been Lorcan. Now that he’d been chosen, he somehow knew Lorcan was too emotional, too volatile to ever be the one. “I’m content with that. I have no regrets. I’ve had the best friend a person could ask for. I’ve loved Finella. I’ve learned and lived, and now I’ll do this. I’ll keep you and everyone safe by doing this.”

“And what about me?” The question was barely a whisper.

“You’re going to live.” Ailill only wanted Lorcan happy, if he had one wish for what he was leaving behind.

“How can I do that without you?” Lorcan’s voice broke on the question.

“I’ll always be with you. Always in your heart. We’re part of each other, remember? You have great things ahead for you, I know it. And love too.”

Lorcan shook his head.

“Yes.” Ailill took hold of Lorcan’s shoulders, forcing him to look at him. “I want love and happiness for you. We weren’t meant to be together that way. But there’s someone for you. I think you even know who it is.” He let his lips curve into a knowing grin. Perhaps he did have one regret; he’d like to see Lorcan stumbling his way into admitting his feelings.

But Lorcan would live and he’d love, and that was the important part.

***

Lorcan strode through the halls as fast as he could. He’d left Ailill at the entrance to the garden with a tight hug and a kiss when someone had come for his friend. It might be the last time he saw Ailill, and that didn’t bear thinking about.

The tears he’d tried–mostly unsuccessfully–to hide from Ailill began to leak from his eyes as he ran. The yawning emptiness of loss opened up within him, and Ailill wasn’t even gone yet. Only he was, because Lorcan wouldn’t see him ever again.

Lorcan couldn’t be here anymore.

By the time he reached the doors, he was running, heedless of whoever might be watching. His tears came hot and fast, and he stumbled down the lane to the gates. He had to get away; he didn’t know where he’d go–he always went to Ailill. A small sob escaped at the thought.

“Lorcan.”

His name brought him to a halt, and he blinked back tears to see Dallan standing in the lane. Tall and strong and looking so worried for him. Lorcan stared at him. Dallan shifted from foot to foot, then stood straight.

“I heard, and I thought you might need someone after you spoke with Ailill. I thought you might not want to be alone right now.”

He couldn’t find words for a moment, didn’t know what to say. Ailill’s words echoed in his head, wanting him to live and love and be happy. He wasn’t sure he could manage happy for a while, but now that Dallan stood in front of him, he knew immediately where he wanted to go.

“Lorcan?”

Dallan sounded uncertain, but Lorcan had no words to reassure him. He just walked forward until he was right up against Dallan and buried his face in his chest, wrapping his arm’s around Dallan’s waist. A heartbeat later Dallan’s arms came up around him and held tight. Lorcan let out a shuddering breath and leaned into him.

Nothing was all right, but someday it would be.


 

Bio:

Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent – they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats which she shares with friends and family, and of course reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to ebooks, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, she is living there again after years in Washington, DC, and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Rainbow Romance Writers.

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