So, you know that feeling when you ship Rowan and Zeel together, and then the author throws Shaaran into the mix? And then you make a Jack Sparrow face and scream:
"STOP BLOWING HOLES IN MY SHIIIIIIIIIP!"
Lol, welcome to my life. :)
I've recently discovered that I really like coming up with prompts from Zeel's point of view, because there are so many little plotholes and time gaps that her perspective could fill beautifully. And I thought to myself, the girl is tough as nails and all about getting stuff done; but she's a 16 year old girl, and she has been known to have her emotional moments. She has her feelings, just like any normal, hormone-filled teenager would.
And I'd like to explore this, because she is waaaaaaay too serious and in control sometimes. Girl needs to chillax and explain her problems to someone who won't laugh at her. Maybe makeout with that someone, while she's at it. In the rain. Cuz at CrazyTwin Productions, spazzy romantic interludes are what we are all about. 8D
This can certainly be considered as one of my drabbles about what happened in the months following Ice Creepers. I imagine that some pretty interesting moments passed between the odd company left in Rin when it was over. This is one such moment I have imagined happening, because it must happen. For my sanity, if nothing else. Have fun with that, y'all. ;D
A summer storm was brewing. The day had begun with hot sunshine and waves of humidity-which was frustrating to Zeel, because it made her already unruly curls impossible to deal with. She didn't understand how some of her friends were able to put up with it, or how they could survive toiling in the fields in such weather as they did year after year.
But swirling gray clouds were gathering in the sky, speeding to cloak the valley at an ominous pace on the wind, as the humidity rose into the air and gathered heavy in the clouds. The breeze had suddenly grown cool, and the sunlight had taken on that slight shade of gray that promised rain. As Zeel sat on the bakery's porch, watching the billowing clouds, she thought back to her childhood and smiled faintly at a memory of of Tor. As a child, he had called that color of sunlight "yeah-right-yellow", as if the light was playing a prank by shining so cheerily when a torrential downpour was clearly only five minutes away. And now, thanks to him, most of the tribe called it so, as well.
She felt a pang of homesickness as the memory. It had been more than four months since she had seen her brothers or her adopted father, or since she had flown on her kite. The length of silk had been damaged beyond repair on her adventure, leaving her stranded in Rin until the Travelers returned. There were worse places to be stranded, and she was with friends who had become like a second family to her. All the same, she missed her home, and the people who had raised her.
"Well, that was fast."
Zeel jumped slightly at the unexpected voice. She had been so lost in thought, she hadn't heared Rowan open the door and walk to stand behind her. All of a sudden, there he was, looking thougtfully out at the sky.
"I hadn't been outside since morning," he explained casually. "I hadn't noticed that the clouds had rolled in; but the windows are open, and I could smell the rain on the breeze."
"It smells like quite a storm," she agreed. "The bukshah will be alright, won't they?"
Rowan smiled at her concern and nodded. "They are suited to it. If the rain is very bad, they will move into the orchard and shelter under the trees."
"It doesn't bother them? They won't get sick?" she asked, curious.
"No, they won't. If they did, we would have better shelter prepared for them. Actually, I think they enjoy the rain; it cools them, and bathes their wool. They would have been shorn by now, but we've all been... Busy. I feel terrible about it. They must be uncomfortable, in the heat."
"I understand the feeling," Zeel grumbled, brushing her hand over her sticky face. She wasn't even sweating; the moisture in the air simply clung undrying to her skin. It was icthy, and felt as though her whole body was covered in honey. Uncomfortable, indeed.
She made a command decision and hopped to her feet. "I think I shall take a walk, before the rain begins," she said firmly.
"You'll not get very far. The sky is going to open up soon, and you'll be caught in the rain."
"I won't mind. All this heat is exhausting, but rain would be refreshing. Do you want to come with me?"
Rowan hesitated for a second, surprised by the sudden invitation. But he nodded once again. "I would like that," he agreed, following her off the porch. "Where had you thought to go?"
"Nowhere in particular," she answered with a shrug. "Wherever my feet decide to take me. I've felt in need of a bit of wandering, lately."
"Being still doesn't suit you; you've always needed action. I suppose this settled life is also uncomfortable for you."
"Not as much as I had suspected. With a little time, I could grow quite used to it. The people I came from are settled, after all-enough so to wall their city with 50 feet of solid steel. Perhaps that part of me will catch up with me, someday..."
She had meant to sound positive and hopeful, but she ended up sounding as unsure as she was. And Rowan gave no reply, because it unnerved him when she spoke so plainly of her heritage. It was still hard for him to think of her as Zebak, because she was so different from what he had been taught to expect. It was sometimes hard for her to think of herself that way, for the exact same reason. She wanted to be proud of that heritage, to find at least a few good things to take from it; but her native people had left a lot to be desired.
At the very least, she was no longer filled with shame or self loathing over it. That was improvement enough, for right now.
I'm glad he decided to join me, she thought. I need someone to confide in. Someone I can trust to listen and understand, without teasing or pitying me, or rationalizing anything away, because I haven't the time for any of that. All I want is for someone to listen. Of all my companions, I think Rowan is the only one who can actually do that. He is my best friend, and I trust him completely. And I know he trusts me the same way. We understand each other as no one else ever will. That is a special bond, and it had saved our lives many times in the past. This should be easy.
But she had a suspicion that putting her thoughts and feelings into words would be difficult, anyway. Her thoughts were complicated; and lately, her feelings had been infinitely more so. Hiding her feelings was hard, but it was mostly expected that she do so. She was quite good at pretending, at hiding the truth, even lying outright if the occassion called for it; but she had never been made to do this for such a long time. The few times she had spoken out loud about her feelings, seeking honest advice and explanations, she had been met mostly with stiffness. She had also been met with coldness, and that had been hurtful.
Worse, she was the only member of their company who had never been taught to keep such silence. Most of her companions had no idea how to react to her, let alone how to help her. She was far from alone, but it made her feel isolated and lonely.
All the more reason to confide in Rowan. He knew well what that kind of isolation was like, and how it felt when people couldn't or wouldn't help him.
The two friends walked for a long time in companionable silence. Perhaps he sensed that she was grappling with something inside, because his silence seemed quite patient. He simply matched pace with her as she wandered toward the hills. Being out in that wide open space would be good for her, she decided. She would feel more at home there, with the sky brooding overhead, and the wind whipping through the long grass around her legs. For a while, perhaps she could pretend that she was traveling again.
At last, she came to a stop at the remains of the fence that had surrounded the bukshah field. It had mostly been torn down upon their return from the mountain. As soon as he had rested and gotten his meager stregth back, Rowan had insisted on it and done most of the work himself. The only part of it left stretched off into the orchard, as more of a boundary line, showing where Rin ended and the wilderness began. She climbed up to sit on the fence, prompting her friend to do the same, and they looked out over the land as far as they could. The herd milled in the near distance, far beyond the boundary line, enjoying their new freedom.
"You're sure they'll be alright all the way out there?" she asked, tilting her head to one side as she watched them.
"They survived for hundreds of years, in the sun, snow, and rain, without us to watch them," Rowan answered quietly. "They'll be alright, as long as they have Star to guide them."
"It's not like you to be so unconcerned about them. Are you okay?"
"I suppose I still haven't gotten my head all the way around everything."
Hm. Me neither."
"Zeel, something is troubling you. It's why you led me out here, isn't it? Tell me. I'm listening."
Zeel took a deep breath and leaned back slightly, willing the words out as plainly as she could. "Well, do you know how it feels to be filled with feelings? As if you were feeling all the feelings of the universe all at once, in the space of a second?"
"Oh. Yes, I know that feeling well. There are times when that second can stretch into days, and there's no helping it. I hate those moments."
"I hate them, too. I've had a lot of days like that, recently."
"Of course you have. We went through a life changing adventure. It ended as suddenly as it began. And now life is suddenly back to normal. But you're also stuck here with us, far from your home and family. You miss them, and it pains you. So of course it's been hard for you."
Zeel laughed sharply and hung her head slightly. "And now a Zebak is trapped with the people of Rin. Ah, how the tables have turned on us..."
Rowan took her hand and gripped it tightly, almost urgently. "Don't say such things. That is an awful thing to think, even for a second. You are our friend, and we want you here. I want you here."
"Thank you. I needed to hear that. No one else has told me so."
"They assume that you know it."
"But it doesn't hurt for them to say so out loud. I don't know how to say it properly, but... I feel so sad and angry sometimes. It just rises in me from nowhere, for no reason, and I don't know why. It frightens and confuses me. I have no idea where it comes from, or how to stop it. I feel as though I have no control over myself anymore."
"I often feel the same."
"You do? I have never seen it."
"That's because a life lived in Rin has taught me too well. Hiding my feelings is an instinct which part of me wishes I could unlearn. But showing them won't help things, either. We all have feelings, Zeel. It's no sin, and I don't think it's something to be ashamed of."
"What I'd like to know is how to make it go away. I'm perfectly at home with feeling great things, but this... Every day becomes an adventure. I'm never really at peace anymore. I can't stand it."
"Mother has said that such feelings are normal, in people as young as us. She says it is all part of growing up, and that the chaos will subside on its own, with time. Until then, we simply face it in bravery and strength. There is little that can be done about it."
"You could talk about it."
"You know as well as I that that would never do here. There would be no comfort, only scorn. It makes little difference to me, now. I'm used to it."
"You would resign yourself to that fate so easily?"
"The word of one dreamer against such a crowd would be mocked away and brutally punished. Fighting against it would accomplish nothing."
"You ought to come with the Travelers someday, then. We gladly discuss such things with one another. Among them, hiding feelings is seen as foolish and even cowardly, when so much peace can be found in sharing them. Hiding true feelings is thought of as hiding from yourself."
"That is a generous offer; and perhaps one day I will take you up on it, because I have often been curious about what that life is like. But this is my place. I love my home, and have fought hard to keep it safe. It isn't always ideal, but no life is ever perfect."
"Rowan, I am a very special person-and I don't say so in pride, it is merely a fact. I am Zebak born, and only escaped that life by a trick of fate. I've done things that no other person could do, because of that. I've been placed in the times and places I have been placed in so I could do amazing things, and now I am considered a great hero, like you. I've accomplished so much, and I'm only 16 years old. But when you get right down to it, I'm just one person in a big world. When there's nothing amazing happening, I'm just an ordinary girl. I have dreams and hopes and problems of my own, just like any other little girl."
"It can be easy for people to forget this, when they think you are some legend come to life. They forget that we can be hurt, or cry. They forget that we can even bleed."
Zeel turned her head slightly to look at him. His eyes were downcast, and he looked very thoughtful, as he often did. He still held her hand tightly, for his own comfort as much as for hers. The warmth of his hand brought her peace, and... Something else, which she was almost too afraid to believe was real. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, hoping that she was returning the feeling for all it was worth.
"Can I ask you a weird question?"
Rowan looked up and gave her a smile. "Of course."
"Have you ever been... in love?"
She had expected him start stammering in embarrassment, or at least blush and look quickly away. He was such a modest boy; and even if feelings weren't shameful in his mind, being put on the spot flustered him like nothing else. Instead, he made a different kind of thoughtful face as he retraced his memories.
"I think I thought I was, once," he said after a moment. "But it was a few years ago, now, and it wasn't real."
His answer was slightly surprising. He had answered so quickly, and so frankly. Zeel realized that her friend was completely at ease, and unafraid. She had only seen him this way a few times.
"Who was she?"
"Her name is Violet. She is the daughter of Maise, keeper of the books, and we have grown up together. We have this festival every year in Rin, to celebrate the passing of midwinter and the coming of spring; it happened not long after my first adventure, and so I somehow found the courage to ask if she might go with me. I was glad when she agreed. I've always thought that she is very pretty, and very kind. She is the only person my age who has ever been kind to me. I suppose that's why I thought I loved her."
"She sounds like a good match for you, yet it's clear to me that you aren't seeing her now. What happened?"
Rowan shrugged. "Oh, nothing. We are still friendly, and I'm glad of that, too. We simply decided that it was best to remain as we were. I only admired her because of her kindness, and nothing else; and she only agreed to go with me because she wanted to be seen with a hero. We went together that night for the wrong reasons, and learned that we weren't as good a match as we had thought. Oh well. We were barely 13, after all. It hasn't stopped her from being her kind self; and it certainly hasn't stopped me from being who I am. No harm done."
"Ah. That seems a pity."
"What about you, Zeel? Have you ever been in love?"
"I don't think so. No one I've grown up with has taken my fancy in that way. We are all kind enough; and I've never heard of a Traveler who was unattractive. I don't know... I suppose I've always been a little too busy to notice."
"Surely you've caught someone else's fancy, though. You are very beautiful, after all."
She couldn't believe how her heart fluttered at that comment. It nearly hurt, in the most unexplainably wonderful way. "...You think I'm beautiful?"
Finally, he blushed a bit. "If I said you weren't, I'd be lying. And I do hate to lie,"
She laughed at him. "Says the boy who lied his way up the mountain!"
"I thought I was protecting you all! But really, answer me. Has no one ever approached you before?"
"Well, there was the time Alek asked me to dance with him. But I think that he, too, just wanted to say that he danced with a hero. Anyway, he plays the flute, and it's hard to dance with a boy when he's busy providing the music. And we made clumsy dance partners, in any case. We weren't such a good match, either."
"Girls don't exactly line up to dance with a boy with a nickname like skinny rabbit, you know. Among my people, it's always just assmued that our young people will grow up together and eventually marry one another, but I've always been an exception. I've never been good enough. Now that I'm a marvelous hero, it's more like I'm too good. It's the exact opposite; and it's still unlikely that I will ever have a wife. It's frustrating."
"Boys don't line up to dance with a Zebak girl, either. And our leader is my adopted father. I think boys have always been afraid of me, actually. That's also frustrating. Do you even want to be married?"
"I'd like to be, sure. When I find the right girl, I think I'll know it. I mean, it seems nice. Having that one person you can count on to always be there for you, no matter what; to care so deeply for someone, and know that they care about you just as much. That's special. I'd like to give that kind of care to someone."
"You would be good at that, I think. I guess I've never thought of it for myself. I had always thought that I was... Undesirable, and I would just never be married because of it. And so, I never thought about it. Anyway, I've always thought that boys can be kind of dumb, sometimes."
"Oh. Brilliant. Thank you."
"Don't you look at me like that. You've had your moments."
"So have you, miss I can find the Valley of Gold all by myself."
"Touche. So, then, I suppose that you, like me, have never been kissed, either."
This time, Rowan flinched-not in embarrassment, but in apparent revulsion. He grimaced and shook his head. "I'm not interested. I've heard it involves tongues. It sounds... Slimy."
Again, Zeel laughed at him. "It doesn't have to, you silly boy."
"How do you know that? You said you've never been kissed before."
"I haven't been; but I've seen enough of other couples to know. I don't know if it would agree with me, but... Well, maybe it could. If I knew for sure that the boy loved me back, something so intimate could agree with me quite nicely. A great deal of closeness goes into a kiss, if you think about it. Not just being so physically close together, but also a closeness of hearts. There's trust and care in that. Such a thing is hard to find. Especially when one is..."
"Yes. I don't suppose I will ever find that."
"I think you will. You are far more than just a beautiful girl with a lot of feelings, Zeel. You're also brave, and kind, and smart. You're more full of joy and life than I have ever been. You're also an excellent dancer; and if you and Alek were clumsy partners, it was all his fault. You're a good friend, and a good person. Any man should consider himself lucky to be with you."
"You think so?"
"I know so. I feel lucky, just sitting here talking with you. You're my best friend. I care very much for you. You're a girl worth pursuing, whether you think so or not. Anyone who thinks you're not worth that is a fool."
"...And what of you, Rowan? Are you a fool, then?"
"I would follow you to the ends of the earth. I would follow you back the Zebak lands, and beyond, even into lands that haven't been charted. And I would never give up on you."
"Because you have done the same for me, and I know you would do it again. That's what friends do. That's what people who love each other do."
A long, stunned pause passed between them, as the weight of his words settled on them. They were nothing but honest and true, much like him. But they were nearly the words of a confession that could shatter their easy friendship in an instant. The two suddenly found themselves teetering on the edge of a terriying precipice. They only had two choices now: to backpedal immediately and forget this conversation had happened, or to jump together off the edge and never be the same again.
Once again, Zeel felt as though the emotional weight of the universe was crashing down on her. An onslaught of feelings surged through her all at the same time, conflicting one another, turning her heart and her stomach into one enormous battleground. Shock, because this was not at all what she had expected. Confusion, because she didn't know what was going on anymore. Anger, over having no control. Joy, because her friend loved her so much. Terror, over having to make a choice. Anxiety, over making the right choice. More confusion, because she still didn't know what was going on. And shadowing all of it like the storm clouds, was an overwhelming feeling of affection that felt foreign and almost unnatural, but which somehow promised that everything would be alright.
She had never felt such a feeling for anyone before. It was startling and nearly painful; it set the anxiety aflame inside her, as if it were burning her alive from the inside out. It was also the most beautiful feeling she had ever felt. She felt her heart colapse with panic and dread, only for it to fill to the brim with excitement and joy, as she realized what the feeling was.
Love, she thought through the haze of emotions. By all the stars... I have fallen in love!
And she could tell by the flash of surprise in her best friend's brown eyes, that he was thinking the exact same thing of her.
Before either of them could act on the revelation, the thick air hummed with a roll of thunder. They turned to look at the sky, and found that the valley was completely shaded by the storm clouds. It had quickly grown as dark as dusk, and the temperature was dropping as the wind began to whip around them. The thunder was shockingly loud, and went on echoing ominously through the open hills. In the far distance they saw a streak of lightening, and another roll of mighty thundered rushed to overtake the echoes of the previous one.
The bukshah had begun lowing nervously at the noise; they seemed unconcerned though, and mostly went about their usual business. But Rowan and Zeel exchanged a glance, silently agreeing that it was time to go home and take shelter with their family. If they didn't hurry, they were sure to be caught in the storm.
They jumped from the fence and began walking quickly back toward the village; and as they did, their hands slid apart for the first time since they had sat down. Zeel ached to take his hand again, and perhaps never let it go again. The fear and anxiety kept her from doing so. The action could ruin everything. What if she had been wrong, and he didn't love her the way she suddenly loved him? What if it frightened him away from her forever? What if these sudden feelings were fleeting, and would cause damage they could never fix? What if her heart was being decived by all this confusion? She had never felt so many doubts about anything before. It suddenly seemed like the biggest problem in the whole world, and the most difficult decision she had ever had to make.
Yet, perhaps, not so sudden at all, she thought as she walked, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground. Perhaps I've loved him like this all along, and I was too stubborn to see it...
She let her eyes slide toward him, shaken from her reverie. Rowan was also walking with his eyes pinned to the ground, avoiding looking at her as much as she was avoiding looking at him. His voice was so hesitant, so full of fear and doubt, as if giving her own feelings a voice. But he continued bravely, in a quiet voice that was almost hard to hear over the thunder.
"A clever friend of ours once told me that love is completely unconditional. It doesn't make excuses or compromises; and when it's true, it has the power to move mountains. And he told me that if I ever thought of marrying someone, he wouldn't allow it unless that love was true. And not if the girl didn't truely love me in return. I always thought that such a girl couldn't possibly exist, because I am also undesirable. Who could possibly love someone like me?"
There were tears of dismay in his eyes, and he was holding them back with a courage the broke her heart all over again. She would have given anything for the nerve to wipe them away. He slowed to a stop, and finally looked her in the eye.
"But... That unconditional love we thought never to find for ourselves... Have we not found it?"
She stared down at him in silent wonder, and wished with all her battered heart that he would put his true thoughts into words. He had always had the courage to carry on, when her own failed. And her courage had failed her now. She felt like she needed him to come through for her more than ever before. He had to.
Please, be the true and honest person I know you are. Be the boy I love so much.
He opened his mouth again, on the verge of fulfilling that wish. But before he could speak, another crack of thunder exploded in the sky above them. And in its wake came the rain. A cold, heavy downpour that fell to the earth as abruptly as if it had been dumped out of a bucket. The world around them dissapeared in a shower so dense and so blinding, it was like nothing else existed. Just the two of them, in a world made of cool, falling water.
They were both immediately drenched by the rain, shrieking and gasping in pure surprise as they were suddenly soaked to the skin. Zeel felt her hair dissolve in cascades over her face and shoulders as her swollen curls melted away, weighed down by the rain. She hurriedly brushed her wet hair from her face, amused to see that Rowan was doing the same. His own hair had grown much longer than she had realized; now that it was wet, it fell nearly to his shoulders.
For a long moment, all they could do was continue gaping at each other in surprise. She had expected the rain to be a blessed change from the heat. And it was more of a blessing than she had guessed. The pelting cool of the water extinguished the flame of anxiety. It seemed to wash away every feeling of apprehension or fear that had plagued her. The situation no longer felt awkward or painful or pressing. As the rain went on pouring down on them, it left only one feeling behind; and that feeling was joy.
Joy in knowing that her friend loved her. Joy in knowing that here, alone in this world of torrential rain that erased everything else, there was nothing stopping them from being who they really were. It was beyond helping-she began to laugh real laughter for the first time in weeks, and she simply couldn't stop herself. She felt so free.
Rowan's face broke into a broad grin, and he began to laugh, too. For a minute or two, all they could do was stand in the street and laugh at themselves. The situation was hilariously unexpected, and the doubts and fears they had felt only seconds before seemed absolutely ridiculous now.
She couldn't control herself, as her hand shot forward to grab hold of his, and she hauled him after her through the flooding streets. They ran aimlessly together through the destered town, dancing through puddles, laughing loud over the thunder and the sound of rain smacking against the cobbled ground. They had flown together in the past, and knew what the feeling of effortless flight was like-a bit frightening at first, but intoxicating. This feeling of liberation and deep, special friendship was very like that. They had no kite today; but both of them felt like they were soaring.
They spun together in the street, dancing and playing like carefree children, as they had never been able to when they had been small. Their spinning slowed slightly. She found her hand on his shoulder, and his hand resting cautiously on her waist. The spinning eased into a gentle slowdance, and they drew closer together. There was nothing left between them. The rain had washed it all away.
She was still half a head taller than he was, but it had no effect on their dancing; in fact, she let her head rest against his, and he didn't push her away. There were more important things than height, after all. Heads were more important. Hearts were more important. Souls were more important.
"You know," she murmured, "when you come right down it to, all I've ever wanted was to be loved, exactly as I am. It's not much for a little girl to ask for.
"That is good," he murmured back. "Because there isn't one thing about you that I would change."
"There isn't one thing I would change about you, either."
He sighed softly, and his warm breath chilled her wet skin. "All is well, then," he whispered. She could tell that he was smiling, just by the way he spoke. He was really happy, and so at peace with the world. Just like she was.
She didn't stop to rationalize or even try to help herself, as her hand moved from his shoulder to his face. She brushed his hair out of his eyes so that she could just look into them. Appreciate them closely for the first time. They were deep brown, but bright and more full of life than he gave himself credit for. They were soft, kind, intelligent eyes, filled with the hopes and fears of a dreamer. They were so like him. So like the soul she admired behind them.
She wondered what he was seeing, as he stared back into her own pale eyes. Eyes as pale and clear as the wide open sky. Full of promise and possibility, and a hope of their own. Eyes that had once looked down on him in coldness and anger, but were now warm, wonderous, and loving. They sparkled with a fire that could burn, but also protect and give life. She had always assumed that people must find her eyes beautiful, because she thought they were, herself. It was nice to finally know that someone agreed with his whole heart. She had never expected anyone to do so. But she knew that he did.
She didn't bother thinking, and let her overflowing heart take full control. It was pounding too hard to ignore now, and she obeyed its command. She drew his face to hers, and let her lips rest softly against his.
The action took brief seconds, but it left her completely breathless. Her heart was racing as she withdrew slightly and looked at him again. She could never take that kiss back. It had either strengthened their friendship or ruined it entirely, and now she was terrified. What was he going to do? What was he going to say?
He stared back for a moment, blinking up at her through the rain, his eyes wide with a amazement. And his reaction was so swift that it startled her. He wrapped his arm around her, pulled her close, and kissed her right back. She gasped in astonishment, then sighed in overwhelming relief and kissed him again. It was nothing like the blaze of passion she had always expected a first kiss would be like. It was just sweet, and innocent. Their hands slid apart and they embraced, kissing each other again and again, as the rain beat down and washed the last barrier between them away.
It was the purest and most beautiful moment she had ever experienced.
The moment stretched into long minutes she hoped would never end. When they finally parted, they found themselves blinking in bright sunlight. The rain had slowed to a stop without their noticing, leaving remarkable brightness behind it, as such downpours often do. Their world had returned, soaked and gleaming in the light around them.
Filled with joy and understanding, they embraced once again. For all their struggles and adventures together, they had never once been closer than this. Nothing really needed to be said; but Zeel found herself speaking, the words pouring right from her heart.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
The sunlight was only a fleeting break, for another wave of clouds loomed on the horizon. But the storm had passed, and now they were safe, and together, on the other side.
And so it was that Rowan and Zeel walked back to the bakery, soaked through and dripping wet, with their fingers intertwined, their silence more companionable than it had been when they had left less than an hour before. Neither one of them could seem to stop smiling, and there was absolutely no reason for them to. Suddenly, Rowan broke the silence by laughing to himself.
"The adults will be wondering where we've been all this time," he commented. "And Lan will scold us for coming back looking like this. I can hear her voice now, fussing about us catching a cold, and tracking water through the house."
"Oh, and to say nothing of this," Zeel added, tugging lightly on his hand for emphasis. "What do you think they'll say? Will they even allow this?"
"They're going to have to. This is our choice to make, and it seems that we've made it."
"I'm happy with the choice we've made."
"Me, too. I'm glad we did this."
She smiled back at him, and they spent the rest of their walk in pleasant conversation. They laughed over how long Zeel's hair really was, now that the curls had washed out; it was nearly longer than her back, and now very heavy with water. They wondered what supper would be, and which of their few supplies would be cleverly and creatively added to it. They pointed out obvious damage done to the houses around them, from snow and heat and general misuse, and made mental notes to see to repairs later. They wondered if the bukshah had returned the field yet, and how they were doing in the rain. Rowan made a solid decision to shear them in the days to come; he was tired of knownig that they were uncomfortable in the heat, and was now determined to fix it.
It was as if their easy friendship hadn't changed at all. It simply had another layer to it, now. Innocent romance wasn't going to stop them from talking, laughing, or experiencing their world together, as they had always done. Such a thing could never ruin their friendship-only make it stronger, deeper, and more beautiful. That was an enormous relief for both of them.
They rounded a corner, and the bakery, at last, lay before them. The first thing they noticed was that Allun was standing on the porch, warrily scanning the streets with concern on his normally cheerful face. They saw him turn his head slightly and see them, and his expression changed from worry to exasperation.
"Where on earth have you two been?" he demanded when they approached the porch. "We've been worried sick about you! I was on the verge of taking off to look for you, see what monster had whisked you off into what adventure this time. And to help you, of course, as I always do, but..."
His joking voice trailed off as his eyes wandered over their joined hands. He made a strange, unreadable face, as his eyes flicked back and forth between the two of them, and back to their hands again. The picture they made seemed to speak for itself. The both gave him a cautious, sheepish smile, but his face didn't change at all. After an awkward moment, Allun took a deep breath and rested his hands on the back of his head. Then he clicked his tongue and turned on his heel, sidling in what looked like accomplishment back through the door.
"John!" he called as he disappeared into the house. "You owe me a fiver!"
"What? Why?" came the confused reply from somewhere inside.
Rowan and Zeel shared a laugh over their friend. Of course Allun would have hoped for this, maybe even expected it. However he felt about it, they were sure to cause a scene as soon as they walked inside. So many things were going to change.
"We will never be the same after this moment," she said quietly.
"That's alright," he answered, leading her up the steps to the porch. "We'll never be the same together. Just like always. If I can never be the same, I'm glad I can do it with you."
She smiled. She had never felt so content with so much change before.
"Sounds to me like we're on another adventure, then. I look forward to it."