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When asked if he was a rebel, Henri never said he wasn’t but did mention that he wasn’t doing it on purpose. The fact is, he was always told off by his father whenever he wanted to go out and play with his other friends, and would always be reprimanded by his mother whenever he sulked. There was no love there, such a thing never roamed the household. No matter how many times Judith would tell her son that it was tough love to ensure his upbringing, Heinrich did not believe a single word of it. His father, however, was the exact opposite of what she claimed him to be. Johann von Ausberg is a very strict man who is always perceived to be cold and straightforward with what he wants and would not shy away from any risks. In a way, he was seen to be quite admirable in little Heinrich's eyes.
Even to the outside world, their family was pretty much avoided by others. Even the family friends were mindful of their own actions and words as to not offend any of them. Henri never knew why, not until he grew older. But compared to a few centuries ago, he is now more mature. He learned plenty of things during his service in the guard; meaningful things that he somehow had carried to the present. He was careful not to forget any of the roots, of course. The last thing the therian wanted to do was to upset himself because he was shedding his old past for new skin to finish his own convictions in the future.
Despite having bad memories tainting his head whenever he wishes to go take a walk down his memory lane, there were still good ones. Memories of his wife and daughters, for instance. Memories that will never leave him and subsequently, made him feel guilty for their untimely deaths. Why? All because he couldn’t be bothered to shed his title. And for what? All to appease his selfish mother too. Nobody in their right mind would trade their beautiful spouse and children for a title. But he did, and he will forever regret that decision for the rest of his life, which he intends to be a very long… long time. Especially with his protectee, Venetus, going off the rails doing god knows what, for the last few weeks.
The Venetus today differs from the Venetus he knew when he set foot on the Isle. But it was understandable why he would behave the way he behaves now, though that doesn’t warrant his mood swings. Henri usually doesn’t bode well with individuals who tends to lash out for no reason in particular, that person seemed to be Ven now. But for the sake of his own consciousness that never faded, he swore to protect the Aspect of Realms and he will do exactly that. His steps felt light against the carpeted floor as he maneuvered the entire manor in search for his Aspect, to which he, thankfully, found in the wine cellar. That wasn’t surprising at all.
Leaning against the entrance with his arms crossed, he raised his eyebrows questioningly as if he was judging the Aspect’s entire existence, because in reality, he actually was. “You were supposed to be the easy Aspect to guard, you know. Your siblings run off a lot and gives their personal guard a run for their money but you never do that. Too responsible, you told me. So what are you doing down here, surrounding yourself with things you only go for occasionally, unless you’re in the mood to get buzzed. Spit it out, Ven. You know I can smell it off of you.”
The downside of being an immortal was the unlimited supply of melancholy in the mind when one had the need for it. It seemed as if the guilt he felt triggered a series of long-hidden, deeply buried memories to surface-scenes of despair, the mistakes of his past all came together to haunt him. A side of him was amused at how much he had started to appreciate the mortals and the freedom they gain with death and another part of him felt the hollow rage of how Vladimir now joined those ranks.
Each time that name crossed his mind, the urge to smash and destroy things around him intensified. A sense of powerlessness that he had never felt before assailed him and there was nothing he could do except try and numb his sense if just for a little while. It was no secret that both the guards and aspects were devastated with the news, but while the others put their grief into planning vengeance and seeking answers, Ven found himself putting a distance from everyone else, erecting emotional walls, disregarding their concern and being an absolute selfish jerk.
And he couldn't muster himself to care.
His held the bottle of alcohol against his lips and took a long drag, emptying the contents in a single sip but before he could smash the glass against the wall, the familiar baritone of his guard resounded across the cellar. The aspect shut his eyes and swore silently. Henri was the last person he wanted to encounter and Vladimir's death was just a part of that reason. He wondered how long the guard would last if he simply ignored his existence.
Turning away from him, he shoved the empty bottle aside. His senses were sharp enough to not want to smash things in Henri's presence but for the rest of his behaviour, Ven couldn't really say much. Uncorking a fresh bottle, he put it against his lips and drank deeply, hardly caring about how his actions seemed to appear. He had learnt the hard away that attachment of any form caused nothing but disaster and Ven wanted to push them all away. His siblings, the other guards, Henri- everyone away from his life. The less he felt the better he would be able to function.
"I thought I was clear in my instructions to be left the hell alone. Go away, Aleshire." How he managed to utter those words and retain his composure, Ven did not know but affecting an air of indifference, he walked further inside the cellar in search of something ten times stronger than the bottle he was currently holding. He had no reply to Henri's statement, neither did he have the energy for a sarcastic jab. He felt bone dead exhausted and yet the welcoming state of absolute numbness would not come.
When he came looking for his troublesome Aspect that he was supposed to protect, he didn't expect to find him all buzzed up from alcohol and regrets. He didn't expect to find him wallowing in his sorrows in the manor's basement, where the wine cellar is located at. Henri definitely did not expect to find Venetus leaning against the racks and shelves with a bottle in hand but here he was, the therian leaning against the entrance door to the wine cellar and there the other male was, standing not far from where he stood. Even with the state he was in, even he had to admit that any other person would take a look at the Aspect of Realms and figured he was just bored so he decided to drink a few bottles.
Nothing out of the ordinary. But that's just it, to him, it is out of the ordinary. Especially when Venetus Ailward does not simply drink without precautions and for fun. It's a rare occasion. Now, Erythreus? That, Henri can believe. He's known the male for almost five centuries, it was gonna take a lot more to push him away some adult. Every vents and quirks Ven had, Henri knew. They were pretty much inseparable back then. Now? God knows. "Your instructions were clear, yes. But not very specific either. You told everyone to leave you alone. You never said for how long so there you go, I gave you your portion of being left alone. For a month, actually." Of course, he counted. Henri was anything if not concise.
He didn't like feeling out of bounds with his Aspect, seeing as they've always been glued to the hip for long. Sure, the therian goes on missions more times than counted because he likes doing so, especially if it meant investigating the mysterious causes of supernatural deaths and injuries. But when he's not, you'll be able to find Henri keeping an eye out for the Aspect. "How long are you going to be like this, Ven. It's been months. Hell, we've been in Evermore for a while now. 3 years. Three, Ven. I know it's hard since the fall of the Isle but you can't be like this... " he sighed and made his way to him, taking a seat just across him with his hands clasped, "Talk to me, dude. I'm here. You always talk to me."
When the others had first broached the topic of him having a guard, Ven had plain laughed out loud. It seemed like a prank then, a preposterous idea. Being drunk in his own worth and power, the aspect had been guilty of at times not seeing the bigger picture and analysing all the risks involved. He had considered himself invincible then, even immortal but now...it seemed like a blank void of naive stupidity.
Venetus still remembered his first meeting with Henri, joking with the others of having a really good-looking guard, but as time progressed, he began appreciating all the new facets of personality that was revealed to him. They joked around, traded barbs, had even fought at times- a far cry from the initial civil relationship they had maintained- but in all the years, Venetus had never pushed him away or shut him out completely.
A flicker of a smile crossed his lips at Henri's response. While Cora would have spit fire, the therian dealt with wit and sarcasm, a combination that would have made the aspect laugh any other day. But since Vladimir's death, no day had been any other day.
"I thought you'd have welcomed the vacation." Ven retorted in a bland tone opening a new bottle "Gone out. Snagged a date or two. Were you not the one always telling me what a slave driver I was?" He had been too- confident in his abilities and decisions, often thinking things wouldn't go wrong...and yet here they were.
Henri's words softened a part of him that he didn't recognise needed to hear them, but hours upon hours of anger and guilt and despondency made him cast those reassurances aside. He stood up agitated and began to pace-
"If I can't be like this, then tell me! Tell me how am I supposed to be? Vladimir's death was the worst blow we have suffered and I don't know..I just don't know how to deal with this anymore." He turned towards the Therian, his eyes hard with torment "You aren't the one that can't face Theodore. You don't have to deal with Octavia's grief and confusion. You aren't on the receiving end of Gabriel's anger and hate. So don't ask me to talk. I can't talk! I messed up big time- and I bloody hell still can't understand how this mess happened in the first place."
Those words increased in tone till the point that Ven was hoarsely yelling them before pulling back and smashing the almost empty bottle of alcohol against the wall. His shoulders bunched up in defeat and he stood there still and shaking and unable to meet Henri's gaze anymore "It was all my fault. And now we are all paying the price"
Henri remembered when he first met the Aspect of Realms, neither of them was delighted to hear the idea of being close to one another. Don’t get him wrong, when Henri first joined the Guard, he kept to himself and only responded when he was needed. He did his job and stayed behind the curtains, and he’s always been good at that. Sometimes, people didn’t even realize he was even in the room. Aside from working in the laboratory as part of the forensics, he was also a good tracker, like any other therians would be. With their enhanced senses and connection to nature, it wasn’t surprising to see him prancing around and tracking the people they were told to track with ease. He was only nearing his 50s when he was promoted to be Venetus’ personal guard. At first, he didn’t mind it despite being a bit nervous since a personal guard is quite possibly the highest honor for all of them in the Guard.
There were only 7 selected people to take up such a duty. To always know where your Aspect would be, to protect them with the best of your ability, to make sure nothing happens to them, yes, even when they’re drunk off their ass, you still need to be sure they’re still fine. That’s what he was doing right now, looking after his Aspect. He respected Ven’s wishes, he gave him space and time away when he requested for him to do so and now after thinking enough was enough, he was back, leaning against the entrance of the wine cellar with his arm crossed while staring at the other male who was still very much off his rack for suffering from the hangover. “I didn’t spend almost five centuries being your confidant for nothing, Ven. It’s easier to get rid of a tiger instead of me, at this point. You know that, so why do you even attempt to try?” That’s also another thing for them, to be close to their Aspect, making sure they’re their most trusted confidant aside from their own siblings.
Henri stayed as his personal guard for almost 500 years which was something, he was glad that he still managed to stay alive amidst every mission given. “Oh the vacation was good, but it doesn’t mean anything” he rolled his eyes at the elder male, “You know very well that I don’t nearly have the time to snag a date. Don’t rub it in, old man” He grimaced internally at the sudden outburst from the Aspect but didn’t show it in front of him. Vladimir’s death affected all of them, mostly the Aspects. “Yeah well, while you’ve been sitting here getting drunk high off your horse every single day, others were in confusion and chaos not knowing what needs to be done. Missions weren’t even given interval anymore, everywhere had a case here and there. We don’t have the numbers we used to have, we’re short-handed. And seeing our Aspects going crazy isn’t exactly giving others the motivation they need. We’ll leave you to do whatever you want behind the curtains, but don’t show your despair too much it makes others feel worthless” he hissed, oh he was pissed too.
He cared deeply for Ven but the Aspect wouldn’t allow him near and he’s tired of always having to reach out. When the bottle was smashed, the therian rushed to the other male’s aid instinctively, fearing he may have cut himself. “Stop! You could’ve hurt yourself, let me see” he grumbled and demanded to see his hand, “Let me see” he reiterated sternly this time.
To say he had gone off his rockers was an understatement. What is even more frustrating was that he had this realization of just what was going on but was still unable to turn off his emotions. People who had known him for centuries, knew him as a chill, often a closed-off guy who dealt with difficulties by either being sarcastic or deadly quiet. He didn't often lose him temper and when he did, it was a cold hard fury that blazed out...not this out-of-control exhibition.
He felt utterly burnt out and exhausted as Henri approached him and with just some muttered curses under his breath, he let the Therian look at his hand. It was definitely cut but the aspect hardly felt the pain- the hard words of his guard echoing in his head.
"You know I'm not the only one in charge here. Ery or Viri can easily command and so can others. Hell at this point, Mal's tiger could do it way better than me and we all know that animal's penchant for chewing on all the couches like a dog" He slumped against the wall, rubbing his head with his good hand and let out a tired sigh.
"But...yeah. I guess eh..you are right."
The words tasted sour in his mouth, not the fact of Henri being right- hell, the guard was right most of the time, but the crashing realization of his own failures and limits. His tortured eyes fixed upon the therian's face and with a resigned whisper, he let his emotions to the surface.
"I have never felt this worthless myself Hen..it's like..I don't know how to process it or what to do. True that when we sent Octavia and Vladimir on this mission we had not anticipated this. I mean Vladimir was so powerful..but the fact remains-
I. Sent. Them
And now it's been hard living with that guilt" He rubbed his wearied eyes finally sitting up a bit straighter. "What's been happening around Henri ? Give me all the details. Except for Cora, I don't think anyone else was bold enough to venture here. And with good reason. Of course, you are the exception to everything. Are you sure you are not gonna give me a resignation letter tomorrow and this is your strange way of saying goodbye?"
He didn't want to see him in pain anymore. It was hard to sit there at the corner of the room, knowing that your Aspect; the very person you've sworn to protect, was hurting and there was nothing you could do. That's precisely how he's feeling right now. For a while, Henri resented the fact that the Aspect of Realms chose to keep him out of the loop, to remain alone in this squandering mess. He wanted to help too. That's his job, his responsibility. As his personal guard and as his close friend, he wanted to help. The cut in his hand was fortunately, not too deep to leave a scar, it elicited a relieved sigh from the therian at he narrowed his eyes at the elder male, "Stay here... " he murmured and went over the shelf located next to the cabinets and dragged the first aid kit box with him.
The Guard leaned against the wall and poured whatever was left in the bottle of liquor Ven had earlier on the same cut, "Don't remind me your sister has a tiger who could any of us at any given moment if she wants to" he grimaced internally, thankfully he too, was a tiger, so he was able to escape Constance's cute growls, though the same couldn't be said for others. "You don't necessarily need to take up the stick and sit in the middle trying to command everyone, Ven… you're still an Ailward Aspect. It doesn't matter if you're no longer the head or not, the organization has 8 dragons. Eight" he sighed and wrapped his palm using the bandage after placing a gauze on the cut. "Everyone needs each and every single one of you. The sooner you realize that, the better" he wasn't good at sugar-coating either. The therian was better off telling things as it is.
"I know it's hard to cope knowing that you were responsible for sending people into their demise" he stared back at the Aspect and took a seat next to him, "But nobody would've known what would happen… and it doesn't change the fact that we all signed up for this when we first joined the guard, Ven." Seeing him torture himself over this was making the Guard restless just as well. What kind of person would want to witness his own friend beating himself over things he couldn't possibly have control over? "No, I'm not about to resign any time soon so don't bet on it, old man. I'm here to stay" he rolled his eyes playfully and rolled up his sleeves before answering his question, well, at least he's being attentive now. "More anomalies basically… cases are piling up, magical artifacts are being stolen, big case of amnesia running wild… a lot has been happening. And nobody knows why."
Venetus leaned against the wall, his mind strangely going back to his first major act of rebellion against the leader of his pack. It had been ages since then, but he could still remember the confusion and the pain of having someone whom he looked up to behave in that way. It was perhaps why, although the aspects were like his family, he wasn't really open or close to anyone- except maybe Cora. They understood each other better than anyone else could, but still, it wasn't a far stretch to state that Ven was a really private person.
He didn't need a psychologist to tell him that this sort of controlling personality came from the very vulnerable position he had been in his youth. Not desiring to be in that place again, he had a tendency to try and take charge of almost everything, to constantly be in the loop and understand and manipulate things to work in the way he desired...but this entire mission with the death of Vladmir had made him realise that no matter how much he endeavoured some things were just way beyond his control.
And he would have to accept that.
Allowing Henri to take care of his wound, he nodded quietly to his pronouncement of taking help from others and how each one had an important role to play. "A pain in the ass you might be, but you are a smart pain. Yeah...it is not easy but eh..I'm kinda realising that" He quipped with a small smile dragging his hands over his face and letting out a long sigh. Leave it to his guard to state facts and rip open things. It was perhaps why he had not complained much after Henri had been commissioned to protect him. He needed his guard's honesty if they were to work as a team.
"I know. Hell, if anyone of us had even the slightest inkling to it, we would have never sent them there. It doesn't make it easy but I'll get there...eventually" He flexed his fingers slightly as Henri finished up bandaging him and gave a light slap on his back "You are a good friend. I'd probably be still slumping here without your quiet presence and sweet words to me so..thank you" Ven wasn't an emotional person and though he was being ironic about the sweet words, his tone in stating them was rather sincere.
He let out another deep sigh of exhaustion and listened to his description of the happenings around. "I think I am going to eat some real food now, take a bath perhaps and then join the others and see what's been happening. But food first! I hope the others haven't finished things off in the kitchen or they'd have to bear the brunt of this dragon's fury. Wanna join me? I promise to behave for a while"
He remembered that prior to becoming an Ailward Aspect, Venetus had also been a therian, he knew where he’s been at and perhaps, that was why the older male chose to personally help Henri go through his transitions. When he joined the Guard, he had only been in his first year after losing everything, he didn’t have as much control over his shifting ability, especially when he was always overridden by anger. He didn’t even know the guy who helped him was one of the Ailward Aspects seeing as he wasn’t much of an attention, until he was sworn into the Guard. Even though he spent a lot of time with the Aspect of Realms, he wasn’t promoted as his personal guard until a century later, which by then he had shown plenty of what he could do. Like any other organization, there is a certain hierarchy to keep everyone on their toes to do their respective works, and know who to report things to.
Personal guards were generally the highest of the rank after the Commander themselves, mostly because they were personally affiliated with the Aspects. They knew them better than anyone outside the family, enough to know that things weren’t easy for the eight . Most of them are those who've been close to the Aspects for long, but some are the new ones but developed a bond together. He didn’t know who Ven’s personal guard was before him, but he was told that he served that position the longest, which was over half a millennium. It was a big honor, Henri doesn’t speak as much as he works. Ever the silent guy. “Of course I’m a smart pain, I’m literally in the forensics department, Ven” he rolled his eyes at the elder male, other times he wasn’t in the lab, he would be out in the field tracking. Though, if asked personally, Henri prefers to stay indoors where he could study the magnitude of their problems and strategize from there better.
“I wonder if it took you centuries to realize things” he huffed, but it was clearly not intended seriously as his tone would imply. Ven knew that. “Sometimes things get a lot more dangerous and even then, we wouldn’t have said no if we could bring a change to it. Our job description is literally stamped with a big red neon sign that says dangerous, and unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier.” It was harder for them to pull the decisions, though. They were their hands on but the Aspects had to make a lot of tough choices that even most leaders wouldn’t be able to carry out. “I know it’s hard to send us to danger, but I hope you wouldn’t blame yourself too much over it. We’ll find out who did this… I promise.” Their numbers weren’t as many as before, leaving them at a more crucial part of the journey.
“You know I’ll always be here for you, dude” he chuckled and kept the things in the kit away. A grin spread over his features when the dragon said he was famished, “There will be food left, don’t worry. Not many of us live in the manor anymore, remember? Most found their significant other and moved out, it’s gone quieter” They only ever came to report back or to attend meetings, a part of Henri envied them for that. It must be fun. “Come on, get up old man, you can walk right” he teased.
Living as long as he had, it had felt strange to connect to other people and their idea of time. Time had a different meaning to him, memory itself took on a different definition and it was no longer measured in days or months or years, but centuries. He hadn't thought he would be capable of remembering so much, but he did and while some were wonderful interesting memories, others were not so much.
But what he did remember was never having a family as close as the Ailwards were. There were times when he didn't know how to express himself, grew temperamental and short, or just plain withdrew, as he had been doing for days now, and a part of him expected them to leave or simply give up on him, but they didn't and that had certainly surprised him.
Ven acknowledged that he wasn't the easiest person to deal with at times, but the simple fact that everyone around him, despite not being family from blood had stuck around, completely warmed his heart. Even the man in front of him, tasked of protecting and guarding him, now stood before chastising and giving him a much-needed reality check.
"Remind me to give you a bloody raise," he stated in his usual gruff and teasing manner and got up. He had never really gotten drunk, having a pretty high tolerance for alcohol, but the fact that his head now felt heavy was enough to let him know that he had drunk way more than he usually consumed.
He had to acknowledge the truth of Henri's words. They had risked a lot in the past, and they would always thread that thin line between life and death. It didn't make it any easier for him, but he also felt like he could breathe better and not be weighed down by sorrow and guilt. "Yeah we will find out and when we do..." His eyes turned hard and fierce for a moment, promising to destroy anyone and everyone who had dared to mess with their family.
"Don't remind me. I'm glad many moved out. You'd be surprised at the times I've accidentally stumbled upon a make-out session." It felt almost nostalgic though, seeing the teenage expression of love and the stars in their eyes and excitement in their voices. "Speaking of significant others, what of yours? Don't tell me you haven't yet found a single soul to pique your interest" He observed regarding his guard, wondering when and if he got the time out of his duties to look at other things. "Do you need time off or something? I'd hate for anyone to miss out on life-experiences simply because they had gotten old guarding my ass." He didn't know exactly how they'd arrange for another guard for him, but he rather Henri live his life to the fullest. Vladimir's death had almost driven home the point of the vulnerability of their own immortality and it was time Ven himself took heed to it. He walked towards the cellar door, moving to wretch it open, almost stumbling at the fresh alcohol-free smell of the air outside. Damn, he probably needed a bath too along with some food.
He knew things weren't going to be easy for them. Especially the Aspects. There were only so much a person can do after hit by bad news one after another. Even the therian himself had to go through a period of isolation for a while whenever he's bothered by something. For Ven, he didn't have that kind of luxury. It was unfortunate but Henri knew he had to be there for him, even if that meant he had to be the babysitter of a grown man and chastise him what he should be doing at the given time. Whatever it required of him, he would do. That's his duty as his personal guard after all. "Oh yeah you do need to give me a raise alright" he scoffed and shook his head and watched as the male before him get up from his own slump. "With what I deal with, I should be getting one" there was a stark contrast in his tone, one that indicated he was teasing the Aspect of Realms.
He wouldn't give it up no matter how hard it got though. That's why he's stayed as his personal guard for centuries, which is also almost all of his life for the therian. "Okay now you sound scary, get sober first and then we can get down to outlining the problems and whatever you need me to do to track whoever did this to us, I'll do it." It was a big deal considering Henri was usually one who preferred to stay back and stay in the lab to study the debris or any remains of a site instead of being the one engaging in the field. Despite being a therian, a leopard at that, he was only sent out for tracking purposes when they needed another. He scoffed and scrunched his nose up at the way he talked about stumbling across plenty of makeout sessions in the manor, "People have needs, my dear Aspect" he exclaimed sarcastically, all of them there were old enough to make their own decisions anyway. He wasn't surprised things like that happened, what he was surprised was that some of them brought back people who had no knowledge about their faction, which is an ancient organisation.
"Don't worry about it Ven, I know my needs and I am still… somewhat fine with them. My sexual and personal life will be kept far from my professional one so don't fret. Besides, it's fun to see you make a fool out of yourself sometimes… it's the best perk of this job." He was nowhere near being deprived, that's for sure. He just knew how to keep his other aspects of life under low profile. "I'm also 500 years old so don't worry about me not living my life to the fullest." He did appreciate Ven trying to look out for him of course. He followed the Aspect of Realms, trailing just a few steps behind him as they exited the wine cellar, "You want me to fix you up some food and hear what I have found while you go and get yourself a shower?"