While struggling through writer's block a few months ago, I asked a few friends to challenge me by giving me scenarios to write in. I was challenged to write a moment from the future of this story, so I did. I forgot to put it on this site, but here it is at last! :P
I don't have nightmares often. When I do, I dream of drowning.
First it's falling—a long fall, so long suspended in nothingness with the wind rushing past my ears that I almost begin to relax, to believe that I'm flying and then— oh! It hurts when I hit the water, and I feel like I'm still falling, but my ears ring and I can't breathe and the sluggish cold water is closing over me like a hand smothering me in my sleep.
It's only natural, isn't it? I grew up near the ocean so I know about respecting its strength. And I hate feeling helpless. I know everyone does, but I think perhaps it's worse for me. I have no one to rely on, in fact I have someone who relies almost totally on me. I'm intelligent and quick and strong and brave. The idea of those things ceasing to matter, of being so very out of control, is the most terrifying thing I can think of.
It's that, certainly. But also, I hate feeling as though I can't breathe. Because I feel it when Yuui's breath comes with difficulty, it hurts my chest when the coughing racks his body, and I can feel nothing but terror and dread every time he stirs from his bed with an ache in his lungs. When we both come awake in the dark, struggling for air and drenched in sweat, the only thing I can feel is terror.
Yuui is dying, and I can't seem to stop it. I suppose it feels like drowning.
"You don't need to go," Yuui begged me, but it was so pathetic that even he seemed to realize it, and stopped arguing. He'd been too weak to get out of bed for a few days. I was trying to run the bakery alone, but we were approaching the day when we'd have to face the fact that it wasn't working. Yuui was able to do something that I just couldn't. I suppose we could call it magic.
I used to convince myself that I wasn't fae; my gifts were entirely mundane. I told myself that I relied strictly on an observance of nature. But recently I've been able to accept that it's more than that. I suppose it began when it was proved to me once and for all that magic is real. I think until that day, I clung to a doubt in my heart that it was, because it was all I could do to keep myself from going mad. But then Kurogane came. I don't deny the reality of magic anymore. I feel certain that is why I'm able to believe that I might possess a touch of it, myself. And Yuui. However it manifested in me, it seems to be in his hands when he kneads his bread. It tastes fine when I make it. But it never tastes special.
Even though we're in a large city now, surrounded by other merchants, our bakery is still the most popular one in our area.
I had been thinking for weeks, sick with dread, that we might have to close it. It had started out so well . . . Yuui seemed to get better as soon as we got away from the sea, and there were three years in which the only discordant note was my silent, longing dreams about a dark man and the sea at night. Then over the winter, Yuui developed a cough that just wouldn't go away.
I wouldn't let them bleed him, but we tried every other remedy available in the city. I used up the store of things I'd brought with me. Hopeless. There was something about them that wasn't working. The herbs and plants had been carefully dried and stored away but they felt defective in my hands. Dessicated, almost. But I had to do something. Yuui's cough was constant now, and unspeakably painful. He had a fever that wouldn't stop no matter how I tried to cool him. When he tried to get up and work, he would become dizzy and trembling within a few minutes. I had forced him to stay in bed while I tried to think.
I have magic. I know I do. I can flex my fingers in front of my eyes and almost see something there. I just needed something to work it on. So I was going out of the city, and into the forest. I would find the things I needed to heal him. And if that didn't work, then God help me. I would lose my twin brother, the only family I had and the only person I loved. I was shaking with fear nearly as badly as Yuui shook with fever.
I went to his bed and ran my hand through his hair, and softly pressed my forehead to his. "I'll be back in two days," I whispered, closing my eyes so I couldn't see the bruised pits of exhaustion that his own eyes, so like mine, were framed by. "I asked Tomoyo to stop in to see if you need anything."
Yuui winced. Tomoyo was our landlady, a sweet and gentle young woman with a smile that could light a room and, we discovered on the first laundry day after we moved in, the voice of an angel when she sang. She was generous and kind and would no doubt come to look after my brother. Whether his pride would stand it was another matter. I couldn't worry about that, though. The fear twisting in my belly was trying to convince me that he would die while I was away from him. I needed her to be here while I was gone, or I don't think I could have forced myself out the door.
Finally, I did. I had a woven bag slung over my shoulders, containing my spare shirt and some food. It was covered by my warm cloak, which was overheating me but would come in handy if I ended up sleeping in the forest. I didn't say goodbye when I closed the door. It would have sounded too final.
I don't know anything about magic, was all I could think as I walked away from my home. I wish there were someone . . . No, the only thing you'll get from dwelling on that is disappointment. Don't.
My sleep in the forest was restless at best, but mostly it was nonexistent. I felt comforted by the things I'd found, by the way the growing things felt right and useful under my hands. My pack was full of what I hoped could be a way to save Yuui. But I didn't know how to use them. I hadn't the first idea what I would do when I returned with them. I doubted myself, then. Told myself that it was all a lie, that magic wasn't real. I didn't really have a gift. All I had was a handful of childish wishes slipping through my fingers and the memory of a night that perhaps I'd only dreamed.
The forest was not a silent and peaceful landscape. The wind whistled in the treetops, a wolf called for a companion, an owl screeched and its prey screamed . . . I could still feel Yuui's pain, even from so far away. I fretted. I pressed my back to the trunk of a tree and blinked my sandy eyes, willing myself to sleep before the long walk back to the city.
My woozy head had just begun to nod forward, too tired to care anymore, when I heard a twig snapping beneath a heavy footfall. I jerked back into wakefulness, scrambling to my feet, biting my tongue to hold back a cry of alarm.
A dark shape loomed in the murky moon-lit bank of trees. It hung back a few yards. It was a tall shape, a man's shape. I took a deep, quivering breath.
"Hello? Who's there?"
"It is you," the shape responded.
I was so stunned that I crashed to my knees in the mulch of the forest floor, missing the edge of my cloak entirely. There was no mistaking that voice. It was deep and rumbling, like a wave crashing on rocks. He was striding toward me, and the briny scent of salt air filled up my nose even though I knew we were far from the sea . . .
He was down on a knee, looming over me and frowning, before I could even wrap my mind around it.
"Are you hurt?"
"N-no. But. You."
I have never claimed to be good with shock.
"Me," he said agreeably.
"The last time we spoke, you were considerably more intelligent," he muttered, but his hand was moving through my hair and over my neck, as if checking to be sure I wasn't lying about being injured.
"Sorry. I'm just very surprised, Kurogane. What are you doing, so far from the sea?"
"Looking for you," he answered, frowning down at me. "What else would I be doing here?"
"I hardly know," I said faintly. "Might I ask . . . Why?"
He huffed impatiently. "You called me."
"You called me. I heard you calling me. And I came."
"You came so far," I said in disbelief. "Don't you need to be near the sea?"
"Yes. But I . . ." There is just enough moonlight to see his cheeks stain red. "I need you more. The sea is my nourishment, it's food. But I— you are air. Air is more important. You see?"
I have to close my eyes, because I would have wept if I hadn't. He is still so very direct and so very unashamed to speak the things that should not be spoken. To take my whole world and tilt it sideways.
My fingers trembled when I reached up and found the warm smooth skin of his face. "Kurogane . . ."
"Why did you call me?"
"I didn't mean to."
"Can you think of no reason?" he persisted gruffly, although those warm and hard hands are gentle enough as they take hold of me.
"I— my brother is very sick. I have been desperate to find a way to heal him. I was looking for the proper herbs to treat him . . . I don't know anything about magic."
He took hold of my hand, which was still slowly stroking his cheek, and looked at it. "You're awakening. You got too old for it, I didn't think you would."
"I . . . then I am . . .?"
"Of course you are, fool. You don't think I would have come to shore and then come all this way on land for any stupid human, do you?"
Oh, his words could still shoot straight into my heart and sting me with how badly I needed to hear them. Did he do it on purpose? How could he know?
"And you came away from your city to meet me here, alone," he said, and his deep voice sounded pensive. His eyebrows lifted. "You would like to make love here?"
"I. What? No," I protested, even though that question shot past my heart and straight into somewhere less comfortable. My skin tingled with the memory of his touch, but I fiercely ignored it. Of course we weren't going to make love. We were sitting in the dirt of the forest floor, and I still couldn't quite get my mind to understand that he was here, that the selkie had abandoned his skin and walked hundreds of miles to find poor pathetic and broken me.
"Why not? You are just as beautiful as I remembered, and we are alone. Do you no longer desire me?"
I firmly told myself that I did not hear petulance in his voice. He was a magical being of unearthly beauty. Such creatures would never pout.
"Of course I do, you are—" I had to stop, because I didn't know what he was. "You're everything, to me," I sighed, after a moment in which he simply stared at me and waited.
"Then why not?" he asked gruffly, already tugging at my shirt. "We will talk about your magic tomorrow. We can heal your brother then. Tonight, I will have you. I've waited long enough."
And so had I. Indeed, why not? The devotion he had shown in coming to me was enough to melt away any inhibition I might have felt. He undressed me with quick hands. The ground was uneven and dirty and I did not want to lay in it. So I knelt down on my cloak and put my hands on the rough bark of the tree in front of me. He understood my intentions, and was soon nudging himself in between my legs, his arms wrapping around me and warming me while his hands roamed down my chest and stomach, lighting trails of fire underneath their touch.
"I like the way you smell. You smell clean. Like the earth," he whispered in my ear, and then bit it so sharply I was afraid he would draw blood. Not that it mattered, not then. I was gasping and turning my head back to find his lips with mine. "I will be glad to see what you look like in the light of day," he growled, happy to move his sharp nipping to my lower lip.
"Yes," I whispered. It was the only word that would come to me for several minutes.
Yuui is dying, but tomorrow we will save him. Tonight, there is just him and me and a rekindling of a spark in myself that I had started to believe had died or maybe had never existed. I can feel it. He thrums with it. My fingers are alive with it while they clutch desperately into the bark of a tree.
His sweating body covers me, my breath comes short, and darkness envelops us and swallows our sharp cries. I feel as though I'm falling. Falling into him, into love and desire that is nearly as fathomless as the sea from which he has come so far.
Perhaps to dream of drowning is not such a bad thing.