It had started to rain, a light mist that had slowly and irrevocably turned into a drizzle, the droplets getting fatter and fatter until it started driving away the crowds. The more dedicated party goers clung the meagre shelter that the edges of the game booths provided, hunkering down in their winter coats and laughing and smiling despite the turn in the weather.
Meggie shivered and stepped back further into the overhang of the branches above her, the wind picking up and stirring her hair around her face where it had slipped out from beneath her scarf. She rubbed her hands inside her mittens, blowing on them until they steamed as she frantically scanned the crowds.
She could still feel the weight of his hands on her shoulders, the warmth of his breath as he'd leaned in and whispered in her ear, his words hushed and directed away from Nate who had come bursting out of the crowd in search for her. The feeling of utter loss as he'd brushed past her, leaving her with nothing but his promise and lingering rush of utter disbelief.
It had taken a lot of excuses and pleading for her to get Nate to leave, to let her wait alone beneath the shade of the tree where he'd told her he'd meet her.
She stomped her feet, the ground underneath damping down and she stared at her footprint in the light cast from the tents erected nearby trying desperately to ignore the suspicious stares of the travelling performers whose camp she loitered by.
Her heart was racing, the only thing that still convinced her that she hadn't dreamt it, hadn't produced some sort of fevered fantasy from the dark recesses of her mind. He was real. He was here. A thrill ran up her spine and her breath shuddered in her lungs, almost close to crying.
All these months spent waiting, watching every stranger that passed the end of their road, listening out on dark and stormy nights for a knock at the door that could be missed in the howling wind. She thought he had gone, thought he was never coming back, had finally, heartbreakingly given up on ever seeing his face again. She would have gone back tonight, her fingers feeling for the scrappy, dog eared photo that she kept beneath her pillow, its edges crumbled and blurred from repeated handling. She would have taken one last look at it, would have studied the lines of his face once more before placing it face down in her drawer, hoping above all else that come tomorrow she could fight the urge to wrench it open again.
The wind surged, carrying the rain beneath the boughs and causing the tent flaps to slap loudly against each other, she ducked her head and watched though slanted eyes as the carnival men raced about, tightening the guy ropes and lacing up the canvas seams. The raised their hands, one by one in a salute, their knuckles touched to their forelock like sailors used to do in the navy, nodding their respect to the figure that Meggie saw appearing through the gloom.
His step faltered when he saw her, straightening despite the onslaught of the rain, his hair soaked and clothes sticking to his skin, how he wasn't shivering she didn't know.
It was as though she'd gone back in time, to the night he'd left, her face numb and cold and stinging from the rain as she stepped out from the shelter of the tree, her hands clutched together as she walked hesitantly towards him. She felt sick, her throat closed and heart thumping as she blinked him into focus, blocking out the rain, ignoring the cold that had sunk into her trembling limbs, making them stiff and awkward as she stood before him, her voice frozen and any semblance of speech left unsaid.
The silence between them was deafening.
Every breath aching and weighted.
Hands twisting the front of her coat as he cast his darkened gaze over those who had stopped to stare.
He motioned for her to follow, his eyes not quite meeting hers as he walked past her into the lee wind provided by the little village that had been erected. Old and weathered faces peered out at them as they passed, some of the younger men still caught out the rain offered up the same salute as they hurried about, ducking into their sheeted homes.
She followed him, feet heavy and unguided as she traipsed behind him, peering up at the heavy slouch of his shoulders, bowed into himself against more than just the wind and the rain. Eventually they came to a stop, his hands blindly reaching for and holding back the entrance of a brightly tapestried tent, the sight of it something that could have leaked from the book he had come from. She waited only a moment before ducking her head and walking inside, stopping just short of the door and listening to the sounds of him securing the entry.
It was much larger than she would have thought, like the travelling camp of some long dead army, ancient possessions stacked up and on display, their edges muted and darkened, flickering shadows cast by the pallid light of the battered old lamp, its wick turned down in deference to the absence of its owner.
The silence seemed deafening now she was out of the wind, her cheeks tingling as she shifted from foot to foot, catching the tight expression on his face as he paced past her, dragging the sodden jumper he wore up and over his head, throwing it into a heap that lay hidden in the corner.
He stood motionless, his hands on his hips and face turned away, there was an air of finality about the way he let his breath out in a sigh, as though preparing to deliver a speech that he had rehearsed a thousand times, the words already formed and ordered in his mind until he finally had the opportunity and courage to voice them.
Maggie waited, breath baited and laboured under the heavy weight of her coat sitting wetly across her shoulders. She thought to speak first, to say anything to break the awkward tense atmosphere between them. She could ask him where he'd been, what he'd been doing.
Why he'd not come back.
And that was the crux of the matter she realised. He was here, back in the town he'd been forced from all those months ago, at an event that had been a long time in the planning. He must have known for a long time that he would be here on this night, had been there since the circus rolled into town. And she had not seen him. No flash of golden hair, no burning glance of blue eyes, no shadowy figure loitering at the end of her path.
She felt the sting of tears prickling at the edges of her eyes, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment as she realised that he had lead her to her fall.
She sniffed loudly, yanking off one soaked mitten so she could hastily shove at her hair, pushing it back behind her ear as she wiped at her face, hoping the tremble of her lips wasn't as noticeable as it felt. A deep breath gave her enough courage to look up, enough to nod her head and accept what he had come to say, but when she raised her eyes she found herself locked fast within his gaze, his face open and bewildered, and before she could ask him why he look at her like that he was there, his hands cradling her face in their glorious warmth, the heat of his lips setting her on fire as he raised her face to meet his.
It was redemption.
It was coming home.
It was every longing filled night, every broken dream, every minute of heartbreak moulded and compressed into one achingly perfect moment as his kiss lingered on the edge of her lips, his breath hot and sweet as he breathed her name, his entreaty pulling her up into his possessive kiss, his claim upon her shaking her down to the very sole of her boots, her hands suddenly upon his chest, off balance and off guard, her one uncovered hand instinctively seeking and finding the familiar beat of his heart beneath the wet shirt and rain chilled skin.
His hands were in her hair, her skin alight and shivering under his practiced touch, just as she had always been.
He hadn't changed.
Everything the same, the way she had to lean into him, pushing herself up onto her toes so as to reach up, demanding more, the way his thumb traced the line of her jaw, turning her face so he pushed against her. He tasted the same, of distant lands and all her hopes and dreams realised and her thirst for him could not be abated, not after so long having gone without.
She shrugged off the heavy weight of her coat, letting it spill and pool around her feet as she slung her arms up around his neck, pulling them close, never breaking their kiss.
She had missed the way his hands held themselves to the small of her back, the way his fingers always edged beneath the hem of her shirt, the minute contact always sending a thrill of pleasure coursing through her veins as he pulled her in tight.
She was on fire, her blood burning within her, hear breath heated where it mixed with his, her heart racing in her chest as the glorious triumph of finally having him within the circle of her arms once more. There existed nothing but them, nothing but the months of hurt and desperation wiped clean with the expert touch of his hands against her skin. She breathed him in, taking in every sense, every touch, every slow and desperate kiss as the fire built between them, hot and frenzied as the wind howled and the skies crashed down around them.