A\N: Just for the record, I meant to put this up yesterday but thought you might not begrudge me the extra day to make sure everything came out all right.
I sat quietly for a while, enjoying the feeling of security that being wrapped up in Aurora's wings gave me. I had run out of tears some time ago, but seemed to lack the motivation to move. My eyes felt over-dry and scratchy and were not doubt red, but my willingness to care had fled with my motivation.
The rumble of Aurora's soothing thrum vibrated through me as I reclined against her, making my muscles relax with the familiarity. Exhaustion clouded my mind the longer I remained still, pushing me closer to sleep than I had been in days.
Although we sat in the pitch dark, it couldn't possibly have been any darker than the black cloud that hovered over my head like a death sentence. I hated that cloud. It hadn't always been there; there had been a time before it and a timed little voice in the back of my mind whispered that there would be a time after it.
I wished I could believe that. With all of my heart, even as it fell apart, I wished that I could know for certain that it wasn't some wild fantasy. That maybe it wasn't something my mind had concocted just to keep me from slipping over the edge.
I was so tired…I just wanted to sleep. My head lolled back on my neck, I no longer had the strength to hold it up. The rest of my bones slowly turned to jelly and I probably would have slid to the floor if Aurora's grip hadn't tightened. I sucked in a breath and it caught in my throat, making me cough. I tried to swallow the bile that rose up and nearly choked.
'What's happening?' I tried to ask, but my tongue wouldn't move. I tried to lift a hand to signal that something was wrong, but my body felt like lead.
I could hear Ripred, yelling at me for being such a pushover in life. Telling me to get back on my feet and push back. Saying that I was pathetic. That I was the lowest of the low if I gave up now.
I couldn't tell if he was really here or if I was imagining it; it wouldn't have been the first time I saw or heard someone that wasn't really there. Either way, his gruff voice was comforting, almost soothing. I grabbed onto it with my mind and concentrated with everything I had on not letting go. The fog that had inhabited my brain for the last couple days thickened, threatening to smother me out of existence. My mental grip on reality was slipping.
My pulse raced, heart pounding away in my chest double –no, quadruple- time like it was going to burst out of my rib cage and into the open air. The temperature seemed to rise of its own accord from the comfortable, almost cool, normalcy of the back passages to that of a raging fire. Sweat rolled down my neck and back in streams and my face felt flushed like I had a fever. I felt like my stomach was tying itself in knots around my back bone.
A strangled noise rang out in the cave, bouncing off the walls, and some part of me realized that it was mine. Much more of this and I was going to- a last painful gasp and my eyes rolled back and I remembered no more.
We hadn't even been on the move long when I could smell Ripred on his way back; but he didn't smell like he'd eaten, or even come into contact with anything he would eat. Instead he was accompanied by another female human, a little younger than myself, smelling strongly of depression and clearly unconscious.
There was another creature there too; its scent reminding me of my grandmother's attic and it wasn't mice …Bat. It must have been huge, though it came across as so close to the human (like it was hitching a ride) that there natural odors seemed mixed at times. What could…? Oh. They had just come running full tilt into the far end of the tunnel connected to ours and that's when it became clear. The thing was carrying her.
How freaky. I wonder what it's like?
At this point, Flintspark, who had stopped after realizing I was no longer following, stood erect. Her nose began to quiver as she sifted through the predominant stink of damp stone and mildew. "Ripred is approaching."
I rolled my eyes at her even though she couldn't see the action. Duh, tell me something I don't know.
As if Flintspark could read my thoughts, she added, surprised, "He has the queen with him."
That made me raise my eyebrows. As in the Queen of Regalia? Isn't she out a bit far?
Something else teased past my nose, effectively catching my attention. Something had shifted if Ripred's scent in the last ten minutes since I had seen (er…smelled?) him. It was subtle, but definitely there. I wriggled my nose in a good imitation of a bunny rabbit's as I tried to figure out what it was.
It was a bit like concern but with a touch of actual worry and a pinch of parental protectiveness. Was he worried because she was unconscious? Or maybe it had to do with whatever caused it? There was another thing, one that seemed so out of place that I couldn't quite put my finger on it until they were nearly on top of us.
Then I had it. Fear. It was a mix of concern, worry, protectiveness and fear.
I blinked and hoped that my face wasn't showing just how much I wished I could cram those words –and the whole conversation that mom and her had apparently already had on the subject- back down her throat.
This was not good.
I slanted my eyes over to meet Lizzie's, wondering if she would stick around to help bail me out of this one. The answer became clear when she gently placed a hand on the small of my back and gave the nurse a winning smile.
"Oh, he's just fine," she said convincingly and bumped her shoulder into my arm.
I held back a wince and stood up straighter in the effort to look 'just fine'. In reality, my back was bruised nearly black where I had contacted with the bleachers and the side that had indented was aching something fierce. This was nothing, though, compared to how it would be later on. Yes, later on, when I had a chance to relax my muscles and the full extent came through, I knew it would hurt like Hell.
Although nurse Marissa nodded her head and smiled like she believed it, I had little hope that mom would. As life as a family started back up after our excursions into the Underland were declared officially over, I found that it was getting harder and harder to con mom into believing our lies.
Maybe it was mothers' intuition, or maybe it was just a product of experience; either way, she didn't look to be buying it right now. It was obvious by the look mom was giving us that she would defiantly be having words with us…right after the guest left.
"Thank you for letting me know about Gregor's little fall and I would love for you to stay and chat for a while, but I really must get back to cleaning." She gestured with one hand towards a blue car I hadn't noticed was parked on the far side of the house and smiled.
Looking from mom to me to Lizzie and back again, she reluctantly took the not so subtle hint and headed for her car. Not even ten seconds after it disappeared from sight, mom turned on us and demanded a sharp, "What happened?"
A\N: Thoughts…anyone? I know you guys are impatient and want Gregor and co. to get to the darn Underland already, but there are still a few things that have to happen before they get there. Please bear with me.