22 - Tomorrow Will Be Kinder

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"Catherine?" a voice called, and she figured it was Ghita by the feminine sound.

"I'm decent," she replied, and had a feeling she would need the woman's help. However, she was completely surprised to see Claudia appear in the reflection of her mirror when the door opened. She turned, eyes wide, and soon the young Auditore's expression matched, but with a touch of horror. She even gasped, a hand going to her mouth, but then she was frowning with both concern and anger as she stormed over. She reached up as if to grasp her roughly, but then touched Catherine's face so gently she almost didn't feel Claudia's fingertips.

"My God, Catherine... I had heard something had happened, but this? Is it true? Did that man—that Emilio—did he do this to you?" she spoke softly, but in such a way one knew it was a demand.

"Claudia, don't—don't worry yourself with these things," Catherine replied as she pushed her hand aside and looked away before turning back around. She made to pull her vest off, forcing herself through the strain, but she struggled. Claudia saw it, too, and while the redhead was thankful, she hated having to rely on the young woman to take her vest off and set it on the bed. The young woman did not say anything as she motioned for Catherine to unbutton her shirt. The redhead silently did as told and it, too, was removed with her help. The redhead was surprised, to say the least, that Claudia was willing to do something that seemed to lack in propriety, but she was grateful for it the help.

"Here, you will need proper attire. Dea and I might mend your old ones, but perhaps something new might be better," the young woman explained as she retrieved a shirt and vest from the redhead's drawers. She helped her get them on before she looked long and hard at Catherine's face. The redhead briefly met her dark eyes, finding quite the opposite of Emilio the night before. It didn't take long for the questions lingering there to come forth. "Catherine, you said I have a choice here. I did not think so at first, but I believe you now, and I choose to be worried with these things. Perhaps it is not what you meant when you said so, but I have chosen it all the same. So tell me if it is true—did this Emilio man hurt you? Do not lie or try to avoid it. I have grown tired of it from my brother and from Mario and those who wish to keep me safe, so I will not suffer it from you."

Catherine let out a deep breath of air as she adjusted her sleeve, finding the ground far more interesting than Claudia's face. A quick glance up, though, told her the young woman would not let her be. No, Claudia would have her answers, and the redhead supposed she owed her them. She had made the choice hadn't she? Or was she just so weak she couldn't refuse?

"He did. He cornered me last night."

"Monster!" Claudia snarled. "Now I am glad Ezio gave him what he deserved."

Catherine's gaze shot up, "Wait—what?"

"We both saw you go by last night when you left for your room. I thought nothing of it, but when Ezio left in such a fury after checking on you and then returned with Mario yelling at him—confining him to his room... I asked him later and he told me, but I could not believe it, yet now I have seen you and you say it is so..."

"What did Ezio do?" the redhead frowned, causing Claudia to pause.

"He fought with Emilio. He was bruised in kind, but the other man did not come off unscathed. Mario was furious, though, and Ezio was stewing until early this morning when the men were called to the Barracks. The town is beginning to speak already."

"Wait, wait, wait—Claudia, what's all going on? What's been happening? Ezio fought Emilio? Mario yelled? The men were called? Why wasn't I woken up?" the redhead pressed, only to find a hand held in front of her face.

"Ghita said there was to be a trial, which means Mario will speak to those involved personally—away from the others. Furthermore, you were hurt badly, Catherine. You needed your rest. Just look at you!" the young woman exclaimed, motioning to the redhead's face upon which a stubborn frown appeared. Claudia sighed deeply, hands set on her hips for a moment as she watched her companion carefully. "Catherine... why? Why do you do this? Why do you push yourself so hard? Why do you get yourself into such circumstances?"

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