Sleep. Children seemed to be annoyed by it, grasping something important from a very early age. That going to bed meant being unconscious for hours, that you where being robbed of what happened in the world around you. Perhaps that was why they struggled to stay awake, even with their tiny heads bobbing, falling forward as their eyelids grew heavy, begging their parents for just a little more time. Just a little more time to be awake, before they were to be lost in oblivion for hours.
For this very reason, sleep came to Duncan and Red not as an unwelcome blanket, but as a savior. Hours of not needing to think. Not needing to know what was going on outside. What had happened before. Duncan slept in Astrolite's arms, turned into his embrace and snoring softly. Every breath he drew ruffled the bigger wolf's fur. Astrolite himself was looking at the ceiling, holding his best friend close, and listening to the sound of the early evening wind. Duncan had been sleeping for hours. But he let him continue. It was easier like this. Easier to let him sleep and not talk for a while.
Red had slept ever since she had drunk the glass of milk. The Herbs had filled her stomach with a warm hotness that undid all the knots within her, and the relaxation had gone on until now.
Opening in nothing more than slits Red's eyes tried to take in her surroundings. The ceiling was once more the first thing she saw. The logs weren't a surprise this time around, but that did not make them anymore welcome.
No shock this time. No scream ready to throw itself out of her chest, no sharp searing pain that was going to tear her apart from within, much like the bullet that had zoomed past her by the cottage and instead hit her mother.
The slits closed again. But sleep was not going to come to her now. Her body had had its fill, and she may want it, but that would make things far too easy.
This time around Red opened her eyes fully. Beneath her the mattress creaked and moved. Tufts of straw within its rough textile holster moved around as she drew herself into a sitting position.
It would be so good to be empty. It would be so nice to be feeling absolutely nothing. But she did. It was just all black. For someone not feeling it, for someone not knowing it it could perhaps be described as empty. But even that darkness was something. It moved within her, making her organs sting, charring her lungs from within.
The door at the end of the room creaked open. With determination the silver wolf walked out, heading straight for her bed. She was dressed the same way as before, in some sort of white nurses uniform it seemed, with an apron in front with large pockets, some filled, some not.
"Good evening girl. If you have forgotten me, I am Phedora. You are in the sick hut in the Wolf's village."
Red looked up at her. Her pale hands where grasping each other in her lap, as if using herself as an anchor. Phedora looked down at her and sat down next to her bedside, on a chair that had been put there while she slept.
"Are you well?"
The question seemed so strange and irrelevant that Red did nothing but stare at the wolf. Phedora looked at her with a cool expression and seated herself a bit more comfortable on the chair. The hawk eyes peering at her made Red sink a little in the bed.
"Let me rephrase that. Is it as bad as yesterday?"
This could be answered. Nodding and swallowing at the same time, Red grasped her hands tighter together. Because it was as bad as yesterday. Perhaps it was worse. It was just different.
"Alright. You need to eat something. You have been asleep for a long time and your body will need it."
Red's mouth gave a little twitch. Phedora let out a huff of air.
"I understand eating must not sound very… Appealing right now, but it is a necessity and I must insist."
There was something in the voice of the elder wolf that made Red feel as if this woman had never been contradicted in her entire life, and that she would be very sorry to be the first to try it. Sitting up a little, still using the covers to make sure they covered her bruised body right, Red looked around the room. It hadn't changed from the night before. Well, the little she had seen of it before she disappeared into unknowing darkness hadn't changed at least. Returning to the silver furred wolf she searched her. She had talked about her needing food but not put any of it out.
The wolf scoffed a little, and turned around, directing herself towards the door, letting out a bark-like order.
"Clompus! Get in here!"
The door opened. Out of it came the large straw-coloured wolf once more. In the large paws was a tray. Upon it seemed to be a glass filled with the same milk as she had been given before, and a bowl of something steaming. The large blue eyes peered at her over the short but sort of bulky snout, and a hint of a smile twitched in his face. Carrying the tray over he moved slowly, proudly, as if the tray between his hands was the most important item that had ever been put there. As if dropping it would result in horrible calamities.
Red could not help but smile. As the large wolf came closer a whiff of bowl's content reached her nostrils. It was a stew of some sort, she could make out no distinct component, but on the whole it smelled very nice. Her stomach gave out a large rumble.
The shadow of a smile could be seen over the silver-wolf's face, but by the way it vanished so quickly, it might just have been a mirage. Clompus set the tray down in front of her and smiled.
"Good morning. You seem better. Blue and yellow and all that, but better."
The word was softly spoken, almost sweet, but Clompus ears lay slick against his head as if the elderly wolf had snapped at him with her teeth. Getting up she corrected her apron, and looked at Red.
"I will leave you to your breakfast. Let me know if he bothers you too much."
Nodding perplexed, Red looked down at herself and bit into her lower lip. Clothes. Naked. The hunter so close, his face, his hands. She did not like being naked.
"Of course. You'll have to excuse me, clothing is not… Mandatory in our community. I can see how you would be uncomfortable. I will be back in a moment."
Phedora started walking away but turned back and gave Clompus a look that could have cut through lead, the way it seared.
"Clompus you will turn your back to the girl until she tells you she is fit to talk to you, do you understand me young boy?"
Clompus ears once more slicked against his skull and he turned around on the spot, so fast and with such fierce dedication that the large young man started swaying a little on the spot.
Red looked at his large back and felt an odd little smile twitch in the corner of her mouth. He was odd.
Red felt like that was a good thing.
"Come on mate… You have to get up."
Astrolite had finally given up. It was night now, Duncan had slept all day, he couldn't just… Around mid day he had woken up, eaten some honey-dipped bread that Astro had had laying around, and then returned to the bed. Astrolite was used to his mouth running so bad and being so full of bullshit that he wished he could shove a mushroom down his throat or something, just to make him shut up for a little while. He could not handle Duncan being quiet like this. It was odd, it was scary. Astrolite wasn't good with scary, he had never been. Even the dark made him uncomfortable when he didn't know what was in it.
"Duncan.. Duncan… Come one…"
Duncan moved against him, and slowly opened his eyes. The world came crashing down on top of him once more, and he closed his eyes once more, trying to shut it out. Because if darkness filled his vision, that would perhaps sink in inside his brain and hide the image of the girl digging through her mothers entrails.
"No, please. It's almost nice. Look at me."
The pleading of his best friend cut through even the most gruesome of images, and Duncan could not resist. He had never been able to. Opening his eyes finally he got up to one elbow. Astrolite's eyes met him with such sweet worry that he felt his heart skip a couple of beats.
"I've… Been sleeping a lot haven't I?"
Astrolite cocked his head, peering over his friends shoulder, and gave a small barking laughter. The night sky had left it's bright gold, and had started to fade into a pale blue with small pricks of silvery stars. Looking back on him Astrolite leaned in, and gave his ear a friendly bite.
"You know what. People where wrong about you. They keep telling me that you are stupid, but I tell them, yes I do, that my friend Duncan, he is a absolute GENIUS, there is not a stupid bone in his entire body and I have been fairly acquainted with one of his stupidest bones-"
Embarrassment took its toll and Duncan sat up with a trace of laughter in his voice.
"You are the funniest bloke I know, you know that right?"
Astrolite lay in the bed, moving it with his barking laughter now, and nodded fiercly.
"I do know! How you ever get by without me is beyond me!"
Duncan shook his head and got up, stretching his body. A few more bones gave out a small little crack then he would have liked, and he looked at the door. The girl came back to him, and his spirits sank.
"I should go to her… Shouldn't I?"
There it was. Astro tensed up a little bit in the bed. He had been wondering when this would come up. It would, eventually; he had known that for quite some time. Things like this didn't just… Go away. Especially not if you brought them to your village covered in blood and screaming. He had heard her, in the early morning hours he had heard her, screaming as if someone had been gutting her. If he was honest, he wasn't quite sure there was a girl to go to.
"Perhaps… But why? I mean… It's not like you owe her anything."
Silence filled the little hut. Silence, more quiet than it had been during Duncan's sleep and Astrolite felt his insides churn freakishly. It was if he was hungry, yet so full he could burst at the same time, in that sickly way when you are sure you are going to lose your dinner.
"Is that the only reason I should go? Because I might… Owe her something? She lost her family last night Astro! Every last shred of it, her Grandmother, her mother, she was bloody assaulted by one of the hunters, and you think-"
"I don't think anything!"
Hotly Astrolite flew up from the bed. The feeling was getting worse, all the time worse. This wasn't right. Nothing was right!
Duncan's cold response made him think that this was it. He was actually going to be sick. Looking away, for Duncan's gaze was almost as bad as his words, he let out a slow breath and swallowed.
"You where just so… Strange. Yesterday. It frightened me a little, okay? I thought that maybe it would get worse for you, if you went there. I don't want that to happen. I can't take care of you. I can't, it isn't what I do, and you know that. We laugh and we shag and we laugh again but I can't be caring. It isn't in my nature, and if I can't do that maybe you'll… Stop… Being with me."
Duncan looked at him. Really looked at him. Saw Astrolite in a way that he had not seen him before, not before this. And it was frightening how much his insecurities made his heart soften.
"I won't. I'll.. I'll stay for tonight, maybe talk to her tomorrow. Alright? I don't need to go now anyway. You must be well tired, how about you sleep and I hold you for once?"
"Nah, I slept a lot too. But we can play a game?"
"You mean you can play the shit out of my ass, laugh about it and then do it again?"
"Yes. And then we can play a game."
"… You disgust me."
The young wolf's started picking a game from one of Astrolite's shelfs.
He no longer felt like throwing up.
"You can turn around now."
The large wolf once more turned back, but not in the way he had turned away. Instead he sort of rolled back on one heel, as if he was ready to find her half dressed and having misspoken. But Red was dressed. A simple brown dress made out of cotton shielded her from the gaze of the world now. Her hair was tied up being her ears with a ribbon and she felt a little more like herself. Sitting up completely now she looked up at the large wolf, and gave him a small smile.
"Do you look alright now?"
Clompus shook his head. Red looked down on herself, and felt her heart sink. Was it really that bad? Brown wasn't her colour maybe...
"I thought you looked alright before. And why does it matter how you look?"
Clompus looked at her. He wasn't excusing himself, just asking, his eyes peering at her over his large snout. Red's hand lay still in her lap and she didn't know. She actually had no idea why it mattered how she looked. There were more important things in the world, were there not?
"You should eat. Dora said so and she usually knows."
As if it was made of glass and spun sugar he put the tray down in front of her. Actually, with his big paws, it might as well be. With the way he slowly let go and then sat back down on the chair next to her bed, she guessed that he had broken a lot of things with those large paws.
The milk was the same one with the herbs from before. The stew was something different. It smelled amazing.
"Dora said the milk will help you sleep. You slept for an awfully long time before. She said that too. But you should eat the food first. It's not good to sleep and not eat anything. Then you might sleep forever."
Red looked down at the stew in the bowl. Sleep forever. Looking back up on Clompus she found him smiling at her. Perhaps Phedora hadn't told him what had happened to her. Perhaps she had not felt the need. But he didn't seemed ashamed for talking about death around her. It hurt. And yet it was nice. It was normal.
Red turned her eyes toward the bowl and nodded slowly. Picking up her spoon she started eating slowly. The glass of milk beckoned her beside it, promised sleep, promised the sweet darkness of forgetting. But Clompus was right. Even though she wanted to sleep, perhaps for a very long time, she did want to wake up again.
At first there was only silence, and the scraping of her spoon against the bowl, the slow chewing of her jaw. Then the bowl was empty and Red directed her gaze at Clompus, who smiled slightly, well, as slightly as a wolf can smile.
Red cleared her throat, and then spoke softly.
"So. What can you tell me about this place?"