I walked along the corridor, barefoot and shivering. It was one of those nights when the darkness was too thick and cloying and it burrowed into my lungs until I couldn't breathe. All I could think of was how to make it stop, stop, stop it Father please…
With shallow gasps, I kept walking.
Winter was being difficult this year. I thought of my bedroom, and the sheet that Riff had turned down early for me and run a pan with hot coals through. It was so toasty. I probably should have at least taken one of the down quilts with me. It was probably bad for a thirteen-year-old boy to stumble around his manor in the dark and cold; I might damage some rather important bits of me.
I tried to wrap the white nightdress closer to my body, but the cloth itself was cold and it took more of my heat away with it.
There was nothing except me and the cold and the dark and my memories. The memories were too painful, so I took the cold into myself and turned away from them and the dark.
My searching hands found a wall, and, five feet to the left, a perpendicular one. Dead end. I turn away from it, but then my back was to the wall and not to the memories and they flooded over me. They were a part of the darkness, and I had to be careful not to cry out because then they would be in my mouth and throat and heart and I wouldn't be able to bear their burden all at once.
If I closed my eyes, I could control the darkness, and push it away. It was my only defense.
I slid down the wall, pressing my forehead into my knees. My body didn't hurt anymore; it was only fuzzy and shading toward warm again. The cold, my only ally, had abandoned me.
It was too much. The darkness, the memories, the warmth spreading up from my fingers…
Something flickered on the outside of my eyelids. I blinked them open, though I was wrapped around myself too tightly to even lift my head.
There was light, defeating the darkness. A silver candleholder was set down, showing off with its dancing flame.
A whisper: "Lord Cain, you look like a ghost!"
I choked, wishing that my neck wasn't so cramped and stuck in its position. I couldn't look up at him. Through the insidious tears, I whimpered, "Riff."
Riff's much larger, adult hands touched mine, and he gasped. "You're freezing!"
"No, the cold left me," I mumbled. "It's too hot."
His very cold hand found my face and he said, "You have a fever, Lord Cain."
I tried to move my body, but it was locked in place and I was pressed so far into the corner that I was sure to be secreting into the cracks by then. I admitted, "I can't move."
His knees dropped to the floor before my feet, and his hips were level with my drawn-up knees, and he leaned his upper body over me as much as he could. His head rested on my shoulder, and we were cheek-to-cheek. I felt the fake warmth fading and being replaced by Riff's very real warmth, and it was so much better…
He said, right next to my ear, "I can't allow you to stay here, Lord Cain. You must not be unhealthy." The words were touching, and it felt like a secret that only I could ever hear. I, the vessel of these words, was now special and unique. It was an honor greater than anything my new earldom had brought to me.
His arms wrapped around my back and he held me close, sliding my weak body away from the wall. His grip shifted and then I was lifted beneath the knees and shoulders, cradled into him.
As he straightened, the candle was left behind on the ground, and I said, "The light…"
"I'm sorry, Lord Cain. I cannot carry you both." Riff bent down again awkwardly and blew out the flame, and then the darkness was back.
I buried my face in his shirt. My only defense, only now it had Riff to ground it and make it stronger.
Riff said, "Lord Cain, you can't keep doing this whenever you remember the past."
"I wasn't thinking." I sighed and rubbed my face against him. "How did you know to come find me?"
"The dark was too oppressive. I tried to think like you would, and I knew to start looking for you. It actually took me quite a while."
"I'm sorry." We entered my room; I knew because Riff began to shift my weight to more easily lay me down on my bed. When I was settled and he started to go, I grabbed his robe blindly. "Riff…"
"I'm here, Lord Cain."
"I don't want to face the darkness."
I knew that he frowned, because Riff always frowns when he's feeling protective of me. "I'll stay here with you." He sat in the chair beside my bed, simple as that.
I knew how cold it was. "It's not an order. You don't have to do it just because you're the head butler."
"It is something that you need, and therefore I must do it as your friend, Lord Cain."
I hesitated. I wouldn't be able to sleep, knowing that he was right there and in the chill. I moved over. "Get under the covers, Riff."
"I-I couldn't!" Riff said immediately.
"This one is an order. I don't care if I catch my death of cold, but the house couldn't function if you did, too."
Riff sighed. "Don't say such ominous things, Lord Cain." But he still climbed into the bed, and made himself comfortable. Once he did, I slid closer and wrapped my arms around his chest, and he curled more securely around me.
The cold, my friend, was gone, but I had someone to replace it now.
"I love you," I muttered, a very long time later.
His arms around me only constricted, shielding me against the world.