I added a short epilogue to Reunion and Intersection today, but I also wrote a much longer one, full of fluffy comfort, to get through the angst-writing in the first two chapters. It’s unedited, unfinished and ridiculously self-indulgent, and I don’t think it really goes with the story, so I elected to not post it, but I’m attaching it here, under the cut, for those interested. Keep in mind it’s a reject for a reason though; this is what my writing looks like in the explorative phase where I’m looking for the point, and in this case I didn’t really find it XD
~2K under the readmore
Callum got there early. A lot of people eyed him warily, but a letter from Queen Janai was a good smoother-of-grumpy-elf-tempers.
No-one had seen Rayla, so… she was probably not here yet.
He went to the inn, bought a large room, lit a roaring fire in there, activating the Sunfire rock he used to keep warm at night under the covers of the bed, and calling for the tub to be filled. It had the usual Skywing heating arrangement, only needing a good Fulminis to heat the water.
He resisted flying out to find her. He risked missing her again, and her leaving town before he got back.
It was about… hitting the point of intersection.
So, he waited at the city gates. He didn’t have to wait nearly as long as he expected, considering the distance she would have had to traverse. Maybe she had recovered and had travelled faster than he thought.
It was definitely her though. A small, lone figure on the mountainside.
He intended to wait for her until she got to him, but then she stopped to lean against a tree and he realized that she had not recovered and was up there sick in the snow… and that resolve evaporated like it had never been.
Like he would ever let her struggle alone a moment longer than she needed to.
It was a measure of her exhaustion that she didn’t notice him until he was basically right in front of her, and even then, her reaction was so much slower than usual.
It still… it was hard to believe it was real. For her too, surely more so.
He numbly pulled his scarf off, packing it around her neck and head. He grazed her cheek and felt it and she felt it and… she felt it, because the tears that had built up in her eyes spilled over at his touch, slipping down her dirty and flushed cheeks.
She looked ready to drop, and felt it too, when he put his arms around her and her disbelief gave way to relief. Whatever ridiculous level of stubbornness had kept her upright for the last day and night of walking through snow and up mountains when she should have been in bed… fell away and she slumped almost completely in his arms.
She sobbed hoarsely for a bit, and he let her.
And she let him, when his hand cupped the back of her head and her hair tickled his fingers and it hit him too that… it was really real, she was here.
They needed to… get to the inn though, so he pulled away and wiped his face. They could… and probably would… have a longer cry and a longer hug later. But she was sick and cold and there was a roaring fire and a filled bathtub two minutes of flight away.
“Let’s go,” he said. “I knew you were coming this way and that you were sick. And I booked a room for… you.” For them both, he hoped, but-
“What?” she blubbered. “But… aren’t… aren’t you mad?”
“I mean, of course I am, but… that’s not really… that can wait.”
“I’m…” she laughed weakly, more tears spilling over. “I’m so happy to see you and there’s… so many things I would like to say and… and I’m such a mess right now and so tired and I’m just… I’m so tired I cried earlier just because a stupid pine branch hit me in the face and knocked me off my sled and it continued down the mountain without me and I’d have to walk instead and-“
“Hey, hey!” He stroked down her flushed, wet cheeks, along fresh scratches where presumably that branch had hit her. Sledding, huh… she always was extremely resourceful and oh so daring. And that explained how she got here so fast. “Rayla, it’s okay. You can rest first. I’ll take care of things… of you. For as long as you want me to, but… definitely for the next few days.”
“How c-can you… are you… here-”
He leant his head against her forehead, relishing in the feeling of contact, even if her skin was clammy and too-hot. “That’s… complicated,” he said. “And also simple. You called me here. I came.”
“Manis. Pluma. Volantis.”
She staggered, when they set down, steadying herself on his shoulder, and Callum was glad he had elected to land in front of the inn instead of at the city gates.
She definitely wasn’t well yet, her breath rasping in her throat, her forehead beading with sweat, cheeks and ears flushed. The fever had maybe broken, but it hadn’t quite left. And she was exhausted, trembling with the effort of staying upright, her eyes dull and glassy.
People were staring, when they went inside, but the innkeeper came over and recommended the soup of the day, and their house-made herbal tea blend with Sky Yak milk, and assured them it would be brought to their room shortly, with a look of very obvious sympathy at Rayla.
And then the door shut behind them.
“I owe-” she started, but he cut her right off.
“No. You’re owed,” he said tightly.
“Owed what?” She sounded… nervous.
“Soup. Hot tea. A warm bed and a fire someone else made. General fussing. Love. Forgiveness. Kindness. A damn break, for once.”
Her clumsy fingers fumbled at the clasps of her armor. They were still ice cold when he touched them, the skin red and no-doubt sore.
But she for once didn’t resist any help he gave, sinking gratefully into the tub he had prepared. A warm bath was possibly not great for her fever, but… it was pros and cons and he needed to warm up her hands and feet.
She was barely conscious when he helped her back out of the tub, so he just put her down on a towel on the bed, drying her hair as best he could. He at least managed to get her awake to pull off her own wet underwear and pull his clean night shirt over her head.
“Callum?” she asked, because… she wanted things, and she could have them. “Stay with me? Please.”
He pressed against her back, warm and real.
His hands engulfed hers, big and soft and familiar.
Full of real little details that her brain hadn’t accurately recreated.
The callus at the side of his right index finger, from his charcoal pencil. The scar from a clumsy sparring accident at the second knuckle.
His voice when he said her name and when he told her it was okay.
His kinda… snuffling non-snoring sleep-sound.
And new things, that she hadn’t known to add.
His arms, still skinny, but stronger than they had been.
His too-long hair flopping over his ears.
And things she had yet to find out.
“Morning-“ she muttered, as she woke, feeling warm. And her throat felt a lot better, too and most of that sticky, gross fever feeling was gone, although there was still some sluggish daze, everything just a bit vaguer and floatier than it should have been.
“Afternoon,” Callum corrected lightly, but there was something not so light underneath. “You slept for… 14 hours. I bet you’re hungry.”
“I bet… you were worried.” That was a long time to worry and not wake her to assuage it but just sit in it, watching her sleep.
She reached out to stroke his furrowed brow. Her hands were bandaged though, so she couldn’t touch him properly. She didn’t remember, but did recall something about Callum saying he had called a doctor, and then she must have conked out pretty hard and slept through it.
She clenched and released her hands experimentally. Seemed alright except for being stiff and sore?
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked, staring down at the thick bandages.
“Except for the illness that nearly killed you because you’re such a massive dummy? Lots of things.” He took her hands, starting to unwind the bandages. “For your hands, hopefully only frostnip. I’m supposed to check that, when you woke, take you back to the doctor if there’s signs of deeper frostbite.”
There was some thick ointment, probably the reason for the bandages. Her hands looked reddened, the fingers a bit swollen, but… not so bad. Nothing was white or black or blistered, so really, nothing to worry about, where frostbite was concerned.
Callum wasn’t satisfied with a visual inspection though, cupping her hands in his, methodically checking she could feel all her fingers and make a full fist.
“I think it’s okay,” he said, breathing out, relieved. He did tend to catastrophize- “No… no risk of amputation this time-” His fingers slid across her left wrist, the faint whitened scars from where the binding had dug into her skin and where the sunforge blade had burnt her.
“It’s definitely okay,” she said. “Barely hurts.” She cupped his face, feeling his skin just fine against her fingertips. “It’s not like back then, okay?”
“How do you feel today?”
“Better. Way better. I’m ready to go, if-”
“What?!” He stared at her in disbelief. “Absolutely not. You didn’t hear what the doctor said. But I did, she got here while you were sleeping. And absolutely not.”
“What-“ Was it not just a regular bug?
He breathed, slowly and deliberately. “You’re okay, it’s a regular winter infection going around. But you did a number on your own immune system with the hypothermia and mountain climbing and… she said you were undernourished, dehydrated, stressed and critically exhausted. And that you would do well to take a week or more to fully recover, during which you should eat and rest plenty, stay warm and keep stress down. Does that sound like your regular travel, to you?”
Well… not so much.
“So, I’ll ask again, how do you feel today?”
“Tired,” she sighed. “My hands are stiff and achy. My throat hurts. My legs are wobbly. My head feels full of snot.” She smiled, despite all that. “My heart is happy to see you. It’s okay if you’re- I know… that it’s complicated.”
“It is. We have… some things to talk about. Promise you won’t leave until we do?”
“Okay. Then, I think we should put the complicated things away for a few days. Until you’re better and it doesn’t hurt your throat to talk. Because… we have a lot of talking to do.”
“You don’t… need to stay. For those few days. If it’s hurting you to-”
He sighed heavily. “It does.” Yeah, he couldn’t say that it didn’t. Being around her with so much… unresolved. She didn’t want that for him. She didn’t… want to have those long and hard conversations right now either, when she was still tired and fevered and liable to burst into tears at the slightest provocation. “But it would hurt me more to leave. Didn’t it hurt you? To leave?”
“Yeah.” So, so much.
He reached out to pack his scarf around her throat more closely, the soft, warm knit a soothing feeling against the raw ache.
“Lie down, okay? Be sick? I’ll read you a story. It has murder and dismemberment in it, I asked the innkeeper specifically.”
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