"Are you sure about leaving without her?" Jaxom asked as he and Aeric walked their horses out the front gates of Tuallen.|
"I've told you, Jax," Aeric's voice was tight with tension, "we're hunting the dark half of her that was released by the shard. We can't take a chance that she could absorb that darkness again."
"I still think-"
"I don't really care what you think. You can stay if you want, but I'm going."
Jaxom stared at his friend for a few moments, his eyes reflecting his sadness, "You know I wont leave you to do this alone, Aeric. You know I wont."
Aeric glanced at the sorcerer, "I know, Jax. I know."
Aeric was insistent that they be sure they were not being followed so that Veridian wouldn’t be able to find them. They passed into the mountains that separated Gideon from Selledor. Largely covered in forest, the terrain was at points difficult and dangerous to traverse. The two companions were forced to rely on Aeric’s meager skills as a ranger to pass the rough parts, but they were soon able to return to the road, sure that no one had followed them.
As they set up camp for the night, Jaxom spoke again, “She’s going to be royally pissed at you, you know.”
“Nothing new. She’s always pissed at me over something or another.” Aeric flashed his friend a grin.
“Yeah, but this time... this is big Aeric.”
“It’s for the good of the WORLD, Jax. She’ll understand.”
“And if she doesn’t? If she’s too pissed about being left behind?” Jaxom raised an eyebrow, a gesture that Aeric was at the same time annoyed by, and jealous of, since he’d never been able to do it.
“Then she’ll never speak to me again, and the world will still be a here. It‘s a price I may have to pay.”
“That and you’ll need to find a new bed buddy.” Jaxom grinned.
Aeric let his hands fall to his side as he knelt next to a small fire pit he had dug. He clutched the flint and steel he was using to start a fire tightly in his hands. “We’ve never slept together.”
“What?” Jaxom’s eyes grew wide, “I mean... you two have slept in the same room or tent together for the past three YEARS. I just assumed that you were, you know... together.”
“We have a close relationship and a sort of... understanding. Maybe it’s love. I don’t know. I just know that we’ve never had any kind of physical relationship. She’s never even kissed me.”
“She kissed you when you came back from the dead.” Jaxom pointed out.
“On the cheek. And I HAD been dead. It was a very emotional time for all of us.”
“You two are the strangest people I’ve ever meet. And I include Dean in that statement.”
“Shut it, Jax.” Aeric growled as he unclenched his fists. He looked down and found that he had crushed the flint into several smaller chunks. He growled again and and glared at the tinder in the fire pit. If burst into flame a moment latter.
Jaxom stared down at the herb he was slowly crushing for the spell he was preparing to cast. When he spoke it was very softly and very carefully, “Do you love her, Aeric?”
There was a moment of silence and Jaxom looked up to see Aeric staring into the flames. His Elven shaped eyes, the same color as his human eyes had been, glinted in the fire light. He seemed very vulnerable all of a sudden, nothing like the fierce warrior Jaxom knew, or even like the hard boiled commander Aeric was more prone to being lately.
“When I’m away from her for too long, or she’s out doing something dangerous, I feel like my heart is going to clench up and stop. When she’s near me, I feel clam, like nothing could happen that would shatter my confidence and strength. When I think about losing her, and how many times I’ve come so close to it, it hurts me in some primal way... like I’ll never be happy again. She’s the only woman that’s ever made me blush, and she’s the only woman that’s ever made me feel like maybe the next day is worth living too. She’s my soul, Jax. She’s everything to me.”
Jaxom said nothing, and after a few moments he went back to grinding his herbs. Neither one of them spoke another word after that, but they didn’t need to. Something had passed between them that went beyond any words they could use, and they both understood that.
Jaxom had set up wards, so they didn’t feel the need to set watches. Aeric bedded down near the fire pit, and Jaxom set up his tent and crawled inside for a warm nights sleep. They were both soon breathing regularly.
As soon as she was sure they were both out, she dropped down from a nearby tree, inside the wards. They hadn’t seen her at all, the whole day. But then, that was her job, and she was very good at it.
Veridean moved silently until she stood over Aeric, and knelt by his side. His little speech earlier had been pretty and full of emotion, but then, she was never the kind of girl to be prone to strong emotion. Love her did he? Then he shouldn’t have snuck off and not told her that he was going after her other self. Who knew her better than she did?
-He does.- That little voice in the back of her head spoke up.
-Does not. He just thinks he does.-
-He knows you inside and out and you know it.-
-He doesn’t.- She tried to sound authoritative, but it really is hard to argue with these kinds of voices.
-Right. You know the truth. And you know you love him too.-
-Sod off. I don’t love him anymore than I love Gailin’s horse.-
-You keep telling yourself that.-
-You know, you never showed up at times like these until he came along anyway.-
-And what does that tell you?-
-What? What are you trying to say?-
The voice was silent, but she could feel what it was trying to say. Could feel it judging her.
She stared down at his face, so peaceful in sleep, without the lines of worry that marred it during his waking hours. “It’s not really fair is it?” she whispered, “We’ve been through so much, and had so little rest. I think that would be nice... just a little rest. A vacation. We could go someplace where we wouldn’t have to save the world, or fight zombies all day, or risk our lives to help save people. But we don’t, because we can’t. We’re strong, and they aren’t, so we have to stay and help. I learned that from you, Aeric. I learned a lot from you.” she laughed a little and brushed a bit of stray hair off his forehead. She was the only one who could touch him in his sleep and not lose their hand. He still slept with his short sword at his side, always. “You taught me that doing the right thing and the easy thing are different, and that doing the right thing is always the path we should take, because so many others don’t. You taught me to push on, against all odds, to never give up. Even when it looked like I would be consumed and the world destroyed, even after Gailin died, you pushed on, and you wouldn’t let me give up. You were my strength then, and I’m your strength now. Ironic.”
Veridean leaned down a bit and a light smile formed on her face, “You don’t want me to come because I’ll be in danger, and because I could re-gain the shard.” she leaned back and sighed, “The thing that really pissed me off though, is that you’re right. I hate it when you’re right and it means I have to stay behind.” she touched his face again and smiled sadly, “But it’s because you care for me, and I know that.” she leaned in and gently brushed her lips against his, “I’ll be a good girl this time,” she whispered, barely audible, “but don’t expect it to become a regular thing.” she rose quickly and turned to leave, but stopped before she did, “Oh, and....” she looked down at his sleeping form and smiled, “and I love you too, Aeric. Be careful.” And with that, she became part of the night, and was gone.
Several minutes after she left, Aeric opened his eyes and stared at the stars above him through the branches of the trees. His lips still tingled where hers had touched them, and a small smile formed on his face. It was quickly wiped away as the reality of the situation set in again. He was headed North, to fight what very well might be a God, and could very well kill him. Again.
Determination took over, and he silently vowed that he would return to Veridean, and tell her aloud and in person how much he loved her. They would have that life she wanted, and he would never say that he would die trying to get it for her.
It was a promise.