As the group left the cabin, Nicolas remained standing by the fireplace, his hands resting at the mantelpiece as he tried to regain his composure. He knew that his tears would alarm Julien even more than the visitors already had, and while Kell and Utha and the others would probably be gone in a matter of seconds, he and Julien were still here.
The door swung open only moments after it had closed and there was Julien, as Nicolas had known he would be. The irritation in Julien's eyes melted away as soon as their gazes met and was immediately replaced by worry, and he crossed the distance between them with a just a few big steps.
"Nicolas?" Julien's voice held both worry and questions.
Nicolas slowly shook his head, even as he felt Julien's fingers reach up to his face to dry away the traces of tears on his cheek. A vain attempt, as new tears welled up, tears that Nicolas could not stop crying, and he leaned in to the other man's surprised but warm embrace as he let the tears flow.
He cried for himself, for knowing that even though he felt alive, this was death, and because this dream would become his reality. He cried for their friends, for their kindness in leaving him here and for all the time they had known each other, travelling and fighting together, and that now that time was over. And he cried for Julien, because Julien no longer knew those friends and Julien did not know, and could never know, that this was just an eternal dream.
After a time, his sobs died out and Nicolas could begin to collect himself. He could hear the soft crackling of the fire and felt the warmth from Julien's strong arms. There was the smell of smoke, of leftover droplets of wine, of salt sweat and warm furs and wooden furniture. There was the steady rhythm of two beating hearts.
What a perfect illusion.
"Nicolas?" Julien said again, his voice almost impossibly soft, more so than one could perhaps imagine coming from such a big man. It was uncertain, afraid perhaps to cause another racket of crying, but Nicolas swallowed and righted himself.
"I'm sorry" he said. "Those people… I knew them long ago."
It was not a lie, not really. But Julien was not about to be calmed with so small an assurance.
"How did they find us?"
"Don't worry, they won't be back."
They would be able to get themselves out of the dream, of that Nicolas was sure. He did not know what dreams they had left behind in order to come and try to get him, but he knew they must have been as alluring as his own, filled of desires deeply longed for. He had wanted to be with Julien again, truly together, just the two of them. And now they were, and he was crying over what he had left behind.
Nicolas raised his hand to the other man's face and stroke his cheek before tenderly resting his fingers in the dark brown hair, searching the dark eyes for the person he had known so long – and he was there. This was Julien. What did it matter if he did not remember the expedition into the Deep Roads, the friends involved in it, when he remembered everything else? Perhaps, in time, Nicolas would not remember either. Perhaps that which he had left, in staying here, would become nothing more than a bad dream, one that would occasionally haunt his sleep but never last once he had woken up. And Julien would ask him in a sleepy murmur what was wrong, hold him close and remind him that this was real and that they were together.
"What was it they said to you?"
"They said good bye. And I think they wished for us to be happy here."
The other man seemed concerned for a moment, then put his hand around Nicolas' wrist and caught his fingers with his own.
"We are, aren't we?"
"Yes, we are."
And as he felt Julien's lips on his own, he knew. What they had wanted, what they had planned, had been a dream. A temporary refuge from a harsh and unwelcome reality. This was better.
This was forever.