Thanks, Chris, for the heads up!
The first thing I become conscious of is that whatever I’m lying on is not hard. I cautiously reach out, expecting to feel air, but instead touch softness and fabric.
I open my eyes open and lift my head to look around. A bed, my bed. Not a tree branch.
Or maybe it is still a dream, I realize, as I turn and see Nicolas stretched out next to me, leaning on his elbow with his head propped up on his hand.
“Good morning,” he says in a low musical voice, his emerald eyes shining.
As before, words stick in my throat, unable to escape. So this must be a dream after all.
He reaches out and brushes back the hair from my face, then softly strokes my lips.
But that felt pretty real.
He shifts, then leans over and kisses me on the mouth.
Oh, this is definitely real.
I feel my body respond, and then he is crushing me to him. He holds me tight for a long moment, then slowly releases me and leans back. He reaches out again and starts working the tangles from my hair with his fingers.
“I was unable to comb all of these out earlier, as you were sleeping on this side.”
“You carried me off the mountain,” I croak, my voice finally breaking free.
“I did,” he says quietly as he continues to pick at my hair.
“You are here.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Since the night you left. A month ago.” The pain beneath his words is unmistakeable.
“A month? I’ve been gone a month?”
It’s all a blur of mountains and forests, lakes and meadows, blood and more blood.
He purses his lips, but does not answer. His green eyes watch my face as I feel the wilderness sing in my soul. He touches my cheek, jarring me back to the present.
“You waited here,” I whisper. “All that time. For me.”
“Yes. I could do…nothing else.” Again I hear the pain, accompanied by loneliness, and wonder how he survived.
Because the only way I did was to give myself to the blood and to the wild.
Once more it calls, and I shut my eyes and remember the colors and smells that caressed my senses, and the wind that softly brushed my skin. Life is so simple out there. Hunt and run and swim and sleep. No complicated emotions to manage, no one to argue with, or be disappointed in, or be embraced by, or be loved by.
My eyes grow damp as tears begin to well up beneath their closed lids.
“Sunny.” His voice is calm and soothing. Feather-light fingers again touch my face.
Startled, my eyes fly open. Yes, he is still here. This is not a dream.
But I need to move, to stretch, to run. My body’s not used to being so still for so long. Slipping out of the bed, I back across the room, watching him. He gets up as well, and part of me starts to panic. I turn to the closet, take out a pair of jeans and a sweater, and slip them on. I don’t need shoes–quit wearing them weeks ago.
“I need to go,” I whisper to the floor on my way out.
“Will you come back?” he asks, his voice strained.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” I take a long, slow breath. “Yes. I just need…a little more time.”
Turning, I head for the back door. As I open it, I hear him in the doorway behind me.
“I’ll be here,” he says.
I breathe deeply and step outside, inhaling the pine and other scents that make up the forest, and take off up the mountain at a dead run.