There was a flash, a blinding light. It pulsed, varying from bright to excruciatingly blinding. At either intensity Nea couldn’t keep her eyes open. Lowering her gaze and then covering her face with her hand, she bent over slightly trying to make herself more comfortable. To try and shield herself from it. It was a constant barrage, pelting her again and again, and yet she felt nothing. No pain, no sensation, just the awareness that she was, in fact, being assaulted. It was terrible really. The light continued to build in strength, in some kind of grand crescendo, peaking with such an intensity that Nea feared it might just engulf her entirely and burn her up. Then it was gone. After a moment it seemed to burst, popping itself out of existence, as though it had exhausted all the energy it possessed. It was gone almost as quickly as it had appeared. Nea took a moment, still holding in, protecting herself, cowering almost. She felt strange. Light headed in a way, almost as though she wasn't fully there. It was like those moments where you see yourself doing something from your own point of view but you can’t figure out how you’re actually moving, one of those bizarre out of body experiences. She hated it. Nea took a moment to rest steady on her feet, getting used to this strange non-corporeal feeling before looking up amazed and shocked at what she saw before her. As someone who had never left Rhisoka ever in her life, she was in complete awe at the endless desert and expanse of rocks before her. It was then that the overbearing, intense heat seemed to hit her all at once. Nea had never been so hot in her life. She staggered almost under the weight of the air and took a few steps back. Well, this was certainly bizarre. Her gaze scanned the horizon, examining, panting and unbuttoning the buttons on the clothes that she was aware of but couldn’t really feel hanging on her body. Deciding resolutely on a plan of action she then turned to take refuge in an outcropping of rock behind her in the shade, although the heat was no less stifling here.
Where was she? What was this place? How had she gotten here? What was this lack of feeling? What had happened? What was going on? It was then that Nea became quite upset, pacing along the grey stone wall beside her, fingers running along it, but not running along it. It was a strange sensation, seeing your fingers physically touch something and yet there was no feeling, no response. The rock felt like nothing. Her hand felt like nothing. She could see, and she knew that she was, that somehow she existed, and yet, in a way, she did not. Very confusing. Extremely. Was this death? Had she died? She couldn’t remember a thing. How she had gotten to where she was or what had come before. In fact, she really couldn’t even remember who she was.
She had a name certainly, it was on the tip of her tongue but she could not seem to spit it out. Nea looked down at her hands and feet, examined what she could of her body, relearning every feature unfamiliar feature, trying to remember what her face looked like. What had happened? What had led to this? This nothingness? Why here? Where even was here?
Nea paced and stared and thought. She tried to draw some conclusion from this entire situation and found nothing. Nothing. How was it that everything here happened to be nothing? Looked like something, but when touched felt like nothing? She began to fear she was going mad. There was no logic to any of this at all. It felt like fake memories, fake thoughts. Strange and unnatural. She fought to keep sanity, trying to keep from getting caught in the loop, from needing an answer.
After what seemed like hours Nea emerged from the rocks and began to wander searching for something, for anything. For anything that wasn’t nothing. Did that make any sense? Was she losing her mind? Where was she? How had she gotten here? She looped again, hunching over, holding her head, trying to stop the thoughts, to calm the panic. What was this torment? Was this hell? Had she died? It seemed that it could be entirely likely, given what little she knew, which in reality was nothing. Nea walked and walked, kicking at the sand, trudging through it, stumbling from time to time, falling onto the burning sand her hands scraped and burned in image alone, balling into fists. She examined the damage that she couldn't feel. On and on she went but no matter where she wandered Nea never got any closer to anything, never came across anyone or any creature. There was absolutely no sign of life anywhere in the arid expanse before her, flora or fauna. Nothing here but her. Her and the unceasing heat.
Am I really here? Do I even really exist?
The distance never seemed to change and neither did the position of the sun. Here there was no night, only day. Blinding, terribly hot day. The sun was always hung high in the sky, baking everything below. Heating the sand, cracking the earth, scorching the rock. No matter how far Nea wandered nothing changed. She was exhausted but could not sleep, the heat saw to that. Nea tried time and time again to lay down and close her eyes but there was nothing but sickening awareness. Closing her eyes did absolutely nothing, just as everything else. She was parched, her mind kept screaming at her to find something to drink, but she could find no water. Not that she was sure drinking water would solve or feel like anything either. Her throat seemed so dry, and she was certain it was raw, but, again, this was only speculation as she could not feel a damn thing. But she had convinced herself it was so. She was hungry but had no food, not unless she suddenly developed an appetite for stone. Nea walked and walked and walked. For years, for days. Staring off into the distance, looking for answers. So many questions without a response. She cried but no one could hear. She tried to scream but she made no sound. Curling up on the ground, nestled into the burning hot sand, she closed her eyes and just laid there wishing for everything to end – and then it did.
The only sensation she had experienced was the warmth, she had forgotten it was even there she had become so used to it. She didn't remember until it was gone. It was cold now, painfully so. She drew within herself, pulling herself up to sit, opening her eyes to unending darkness. There was a sound. A gasping sound, slow, eerie. Just beyond her shoulder. Her hair stood on end. Did she dare and turn? It's fingers were on her shoulder, cold, skeletal. They clutched and she couldn't breathe. She didn't dare turn. She couldn't face whatever it was. She wouldn't. She wouldn't. The thing rattled at her shoulder, cold breath at her ear, "If you are on the wrong road," it whispered, "Turn back."
Her eyes shot open and she could feel her lungs expand. Nea could feel the weight of her body on the bed, it ached. It felt so completely different in contrast to the strange experience of wandering in that desert. She blinked trying to get her bearings, trying to make sure that everything was still functioning properly. Everything felt stiff, rusty, sluggish even. Her head turned slowly, she felt odd, in pain but in a way that she couldn’t readily explain. There weren’t words to explain where she felt the pain. Her eyes closed and then slowly reopened as she turned to face the sleeping form of Bernardt, one that she was sure she had moved away from in her sleep as they were now on opposite sides of the bed. Her breathing slowed as she watched him, tempted for a moment to move closer, to entangle herself and hide in him. Instead she turned away, turned on her side and began to dissect her nightmare - only stopping so she could pretend to be asleep when Bernardt finally did wake to get their day started.
It was a strange day, everything felt off. She was exhausted. She had not slept well and the effort of piecing Silas together still weighted her down. Morning training was excruciating. She did as she was told, followed through with what she was asked, but every fiber of her being wanted to thrown the damn sword and retreat back into bed. Nea passed the day in near silence, resorting to reading, holing herself up in their room. She tried to sleep, but it avoided her. She couldn't get the images out of her head. What did they mean? Why would she have such a nightmare? She was no stranger to them, they reared their ugly heads now and then, but she had not dreamt of anything even remotely like this before. Though she had been sure she was starving in her sleep, now she couldn't even force down an entire slice of bread.
He was far too chipper as he informed her it was time for their evening training session. Though she unrooted herself from the bed, though she dragged herself out to their field, she did not want to be there. She didn't want to do this. She had made a promise however, and she was trying with whatever will she had left to follow through, but her heart simply wasn't in it. Maybe it showed. The sword was so heavy in her hand, her limbs ached, begged her to curse the damn thing and cast it aside. She didn't want to be here. She wanted to be left alone.
Bernardt was out cold in the bed of the inn they were staying at. It was in a better part of town so they could spoil themselves after sleeping on the ground for days on end.
He felt Nea's heat shift away from him and in his sleepy state he rolled over to pull her back to him but only got so far as putting his arm around her middle before dying again. Somehow he didn't wake uo or notice her having nightmares at all.
Several hours later he stirred awake and groggily tried to wake her up. Once he finally managed to convince himself to get up then her he got dressed and finished, prepared to start their training for the day. Just like every other day he led her out to a clearing outside the city where they could train without anyone noticing. Just like every morning he explained to her how the sequence went and what to do before sparring lightly with her. Only this time she was off. She was sluggish, cranky, irritated, not committed. Not at all like the other days. At first he brushed it off as one of those mornings for her. After all, no one could be at their best every single morning. But even after training she was off. She didn't speak which made him worry. She didn't eat breakfast which was odd. He tried to get her to cheer up, tried to get her to read to him about those things she loved si much. He hated it when she read about those things for him but he suffered through it for her. It only occurred now how much he has grown to like it. Regardless, she didn't budge. She tried to sleep and he left her, hoping that she would feel better after a nap. But she didn't. If anythibg it was worse when he returned.
He figured she needed a surprise. That's why he got her some flowers and a small box of some very nice chocolate sweets that he knew she would like. He kept it secret. Planning to have it on the bed for her when she returned from practice.
He fetched her in the evening for their lessons and he hoped that being happy about it would bleed through to her and cheer her up, but she seemed ready to kill someone. With training it went worse than the morning. He went very gently and slowly with her but she was disastrous, her form was terrible, she wasn't in it. He could only hope the sweets and flowers on her night stand that he placed before meeting up at the stables would be enough.
After probably half an hour of trying to get somewhere he stood up with a sigh, stabbing the blade into the dirt. "Nea, what's wrong?" he asked her as he looked at her. "I thought the nap would have cheered you up a bit." he said with a concerned voice. He approached her and held his arms open for her. "Come on, what's wrong? You're all over except here." he said as he stood in front of her.
Bernardt stabbed the blade of his sword into the dirt and she stared at it, half ignoring him as he asked her what was wrong.
"I am fine." Short, blunt. Was she trying to convince him or herself?
Eyes snapped up to him and narrowed slightly as he made his comment about her cheering up, how he had hoped a nap would have done the trick. She bristled, feeling somewhat embarrassed, but mostly just angry. Why was she angry? He moved closer to her, opened his arms for her. Nea stared at him a moment, adjusting the blade slightly in her hand, if only to give her hand something to do. A part of her wanted to go to him, to rest comfortably against his chest and just let whatever worry and fear and doubt she harbored melt away with his warmth - but all it did was make her more upset. She looked away from him, took a step back. She didn't want to be comforted, she didn't need to be. She could figure this out on her own. She needed to.
That was the problem, wasn't it? Or part of it? She was so dependent. Too dependent. But was that everything? Of course not. But she was hardy being honest with herself.
"You cannot just - fix - everything."
Nea took another step back, kept her eyes glued to his sword stuck in the ground. Why was she so angry with him? Was she angry with him? She couldn't tell. Biting her lip she finally looked back up to him but could hardly stand it and then cast her gaze away again. "Pick up your sword. I know we are not done. Let's finish this."
She didn't want to, but she had a stubborn streak and his cutting the lesson short because of her behavior had called her out in a way that had embarrassed her. It wasn't his fault, somewhere deep down, she knew that. But right now she wasn't being reasonable. She didn't feel like being reasonable.
She snapped at Bernardt, who raised an eyebrow at her response. She looked angry as she eyed him. He really wasn't sure about what was going on with her today. She really wasn't having a good day today...was it maybe that time of the month? She took another step back and made a somewhat odd comment. Of course he couldn't fix everything, but he could at least try to make her feel better. "Nea...talk to me" he said gently, hoping she would work with him, but all she did was tell him to pick up his sword.
He dropped his arms as he looked at her for a second. This was a predicament. If he refused she would be angry. If he fought and let her win, she would be angry. If he fought and won, she would be angry. Either way he had a feeling he might need to sleep in another bed tonight. "...Alright." he said simply and took a step back to retrieve his sword.
He gave it a few twirls and took hold of the hilt with both hands. This was not going to end well. "Attack." he instructed her, figuring getting a few blows out of her system might help her cool down. He stood ready to defend against her, though he would hold back a little to make it a challenge for her.
Nea wasn't sure how she had expected him respond, but she was genuinely surprised when he relented, agreed to do as she had demanded. Perhaps she had expected a fight, maybe she wanted one. Either way, she had asked for one. Bernardt took up his sword again, twirling it in a way that she was sure she couldn't - at least not without hurting herself. He stood, readied himself. Gave the word.
Everything ached. Her arms, her legs, her head, her chest. She regretted every move she made. But she had made her choice and she would do anything to follow through. Swords met once, twice - and then it was over almost as quickly as it had begun. She didn't know what she was doing. She knew it, she knew he did too. And that made it so much worse. Her sword landed in the dirt, how he had done it she wasn't sure. Perhaps it was all her fault, that she hadn't been holding the damn thing correctly. It wouldn't be the first time.
There was a brief flicker of something, though it surely wasn't shock. No, she wasn't surprised that he had bested her. How could she be? Maybe it was grim acceptance, maybe it was sorrow. She didn't know, she didn't want to know. There may not have been a sword in her hand, but that didn't stop her as she continued toward him, reached up and shoved him as hard as she could against his chest. And then again. The fact that he barely moved only added to her fury.
"You...," Again. But what was the rest of that sentence?
She refused to acknowledge the person she was upset with in all this was herself. That she didn't feel prepared enough, that she wasn't strong enough. That she was sure her best wasn't enough. She didn't acknowledge the doubt or the fear. Her frustrations consumed everything and then aimed themselves at him.
"I can't do this!"
Nea wasn't sure to what she was referring, but the exclamation fell from her lips before she could stop it. She moved to come at him again but stopped herself, balled her hands into fists and then turned aside. Taking a few steps away hands unballed again, raising to find the back of her neck.
As she found her voice again she continued rather harshly, "And you, you just... You just act like you have every answer, like it is all so easy. Life is just a breeze, nothing affects you, nothing puts a dent in that damn armor of yours."
Nea cursed again. She didn't mean what she said. Every word hurt, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. Stopping would mean coming to terms with what she was really feeling, and that seemed so much worse. She couldn't look at him, she didn't want to see whatever look was on his face.
Despite taking it easy he still managed to disarm her without even trying. She didn't have any form at all, she was simply swinging it without any direction and all he did was send her sword flying with a flick of the wrist.
For the briefest of moments he saw something in her eyes, but it was gone just as quickly as she marched up to him and tried to shove him back. In his casual stance it had no effect at all, which only made her angrier. When she tried to shout at him he took a step back with the shove in hopes of cooling her a bit. He dropped the sparring sword and held his hands up which did nothing. She screamed that she couldn't do this...whatever this is. Did she mean the training...or their journey...his brain was now running away with him and he forced those dark thoughts to the back of his mind.
His eyes were filled with confusion and concern as he looked at her, trying to figure out how to make her feel better. He tensed up and got ready for a punch when she approached, but she simply stormed off again. She attacked his attitude. His positive and easy going attitude that kept a smile on his face even during the darkest times. Even now he wanted to crack a joke to try and cheer her up but he bit on his tongue, not wanting to say something he might regret. He didn't know what to say. He held his arms up but let them drop again. "Nea...if I did something wrong then help me understand how to help fix it." he said gently. But in the back of his mind he figured it wasn't about him.
She refused to look at him which made him feel worse. If he could see her face he could figure out what to do. He took a step forward, then another. "Nea, love, please help me understand what's wrong." he pleaded softly. He held his arms out again to pull her into a hug but he didn't think that was the wisest choice.
It was all wrong. Everything. He didn't take the bait. Would it be better if he had? Why didn't he yell back? Couldn't he just be unreasonable with her? Couldn't he just join her? She didn't want to be alone. Why did she feel so alone?
Bernardt's words were gentle, calm and concerned. They attempted to soothe but they only caused more unrest. Anger met guilt and she fought back tears. Nea stayed rooted to the spot, eyes to the ground as his feet came into view. She was conflicted, half of her wanted to give this up, to give into him as he called her 'love' - the rest wanted to bury him.
Making the mistake, she glanced up to him, a brief expression of remorse and panic as she witnessed him with open arms and an expression of his own she would not soon forget. The knee jerk reaction was to run to him and she did - but stopped herself just short, staring eye level at his chest, hands balling at her sides.
"What am I to you?"
She didn't dare look up at him, couldn't bury herself in him. It was too soon to run and yet too late to hide.
"Am I a game? A toy? Entertainment? Have I become your pet?"
She felt like a child, and she was acting like one too.
"Why would you take me away? Why would you bring me out here? What could possibly make you think that I was capable of it?"
She didn't want to know the answer. She regretted moving so close.
"It is not fair. It's not...." Her voice cracked and she took a step back making sure to keep her eyes cast down.
Nea looked up to him, her eyes were filled with pain and he wanted to help her, but he didn't know how. She came to him and he wanted to pull her into a hug but he stopped as a voice in his head told him not to. That would only make things that much worse.
Her question took him by surprise. "Nea...what?" he asked with a perpetually perplexed face. He was now completely lost. But when she continued it felt like a gut shot to him. She thought he viewed her as a plaything, which couldn't be farther from the truth. "Of course I don't. Nea, I love you." he chimed with a more stern voice than before in but she cut him off as she went on to rant. She berated him for taking her away from her home and he could feel a heat starting to rise. She was chewing him out for helping her, now ungrateful for the eye-opening experience he gave her, is still giving her. "I gave you the offer because I saw you needed it." he said harshly, his gentle demeanour falling apart.
She mumbled something about it all not being fair and stepping away from him. He cocked his head to the side as he looked on with a scowl, but that fell away for a good few seconds with her next words. "Don't need me?" he repeated coldly and softly. "What is that supposed to mean?!" he asked her angrily. His last bit of reason told him to try and salvage the situation. "Nea, you're being childish! Get a hold of yourself." he said harshly as he looked at her, but that would never help in any universe.
"So, what?! What we are, what we did...was that just curiosity?" he shouted at her, reason leaving him. If she didn't need him, then was everything they did, everything they shared, simply her being curious? "Did you simply come along on impulse?" he went on. "Okay, fine. If you don't need me, feel free to take a horse and fuck off back to your comfortable gilded rock." he barked with eyes starting to glow yellow. "You don't need me, so find your own way back!" he went on and picked up his sword. He picked hers up as well with shaky hands and mounted up on his horse, leaving her with her horse in the clearing as he trotted back to the city. He needed a drink.
She had finally done it. And with her provocation his voice turned cold. The hurt in those words killed her. But what could she do? This was all her fault. She may have placed the blame on him, but the fault was entirely and solely her own. He called her childish, and she agreed. She knew. She was well aware.
Nea finally looked at him as he shouted at her. She couldn't decide what was worse, his previous sympathy or this. She had hurt him. She had hurt him and she hurt herself in the process. She remained silent, waiting for him to confirm every doubt, every fear that she had. That was what she wanted, wasn't it? To be proved right? She didn't want reassurances. She didn't want him to try and fix everything, to brush it aside as nonsense or unimportant. To explain her worry away. For once she didn't want him to be some pillar of strength. Especially not now as all she was doing was crumbling apart. He didn't understand, never mind the fact she wasn't being clear.
Bernardt was angry, he was frustrated and hurt, his eyes changed to reflect it. He barked his words at her, told her to leave. He washed his hands of her, but he still did not give her what she wanted. He still didn't get it. She watched him in miserable silence as he picked up both of the discarded swords, went to mount his horse. Watched as he began to retreat. There were no words, what could she say? Frustrations grew and she stooped to pick up a small rock, tossing it in his direction for good measure - though her throwing skills were about as finely tuned as her sword play and the thing didn't go far. Hands found her forehead, tears clung to the corners of her eyes. She watched him until he was out of sight, half of her begging him to turn back. He didn't.
Nea continued to stare into the distance for quite some time as she stubbornly refused to do anything but just stand and breathe and stew. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe it was better that she returned to Rhisoka, went home and apologized for what she had done. Maybe it was better that she forgot he ever existed, forgot the way he smiled, the way he laughed, the way his arms pulled her in soft and slow. Yes. Perhaps it was better. She took hold of Salieri's reigns and then began to walk. She didn't feel like riding. She felt better on her own two feet, and the forward motion was cathartic. It was a long walk, and it was quite dark when she arrived back at the inn. Nea took care of her - his - horse, neglected dinner and made her way to the room.
The walk had helped douse what anger remained, though a part of her was still incredibly frustrated. She had made her plans, though how she was going to execute them she hadn't a clue. She fumbled with the key, hands shaking, cursing them and the tears she still held at bay. Finally, she entered into the room, closing the door behind her and leaning against it for a moment. Now that she didn't have a set task before her - getting the horse to the stable, finding her way back to the room - the weight and gravity of what had taken place began to hit her. Tears fell unbidden.
Her forehead rested against the cool grain of the door, almost embracing the sobs that now wracked her small frame. She remained until she could collect herself enough to push away from it, turning moving to sit at a chair and remove her boots. She struggled to unlace them, her hands shaky from lack of food and sleep, the onslaught of emotions didn't help a bit either. Nea kicked them to the side, letting her head fall into her hands for a moment before she did a double take, staring at what had been set upon the bedside table. Flowers, sweets.
When had he done that?
She willed herself to stand, moved over to them, let her finger tips brush the soft petals. The tears came again as she completely broke down. What had she done? Why had she lied? Of course she needed him. She needed him, she needed him, she needed him. The problem and the fact of the matter was, he didn't need her. Coming to sit on the bed she pushed aside the covers, climbed underneath them and surrendered to her sobs, covering herself with the sheets in a vain attempt to erase herself entirely.
Bernardt was furious, his mind a hurricane of emotions. He was angry at Nea for wasting his time, for giving him these lies of emotions...and he was angry at himself. He was angry at himself for believing her, for believing that something too good to be true was indeed just that. He was a fool falling for a pretty face out of a fairytale, and he was angry at both of them for it.
He took the horse -Mozart- and handed it over to the stable boy, almost giving him a backhand when the boy dropped his saddle. He needed to get this out of his system. He stormed off to a nearby bar and ordered a pint of ale. It was clear to just about the entire building he was furious as he downed 3 ales like they were nothing. Some of the guys in the bar slid in beside him and naturally he started to rant. He explained the mess to them and naturally it followed with a bunch of grumbles and knowing hums from the lot of them. Some said that he should simply pack up and leave her, others said to get another round(which he did) but some had some genuinely good advice. One guy had his wife chew him out and threatened for divorce for simply getting a dog, another guy was just hit by his girl because she had a bad day...bottom line is it all boiled down to "she's in a bad mood just steer clear and let her cool off in her own time, don't take it seriously.", some advice which made him feel even worse.
Finally after 10 or so ales he scraped up the courage to admit he overreacted and with a cheer of the boys he stumbled off to go make right his wrongs.
He walked into the night, stumbling through the streets towards the inn...only when he passed a dark alley he was yanked into it. He was pinned to the wall and several blows hit his face and gut before forcing him down onto his knees. Too drunk to think about protecting himself or to turn he looked up with a bloody face and paining gut. "Wh-what's the meaning of this?" he said weakly but received another blow to the face. "Shut up, will you." the figure in front of him. "Now listen up. You not only kidnapped a very important person's daughter and dragged her all over the countryside, you also jeopardised his entire family business. Now listen up. You will bring Dulcinea back to Rhisoka and return to your pathetic little backwater province. You got that?" he said coldly to Bernardt, holding his head up and choking him.
He shoved his head back and stood up again. "And just in case you wonder what will happen if you don't..." he said with a smirk and nodded to his men.
They threw Bernardt to the ground and proceeded beat him into a pulp.
Probably half an hour later Bernardt heaved and struggled to get to his feet. His right arm felt out of place and every inch of his body was screaming at him. His ribs also felt like there was something not right as well. With all his might he limped back to the inn, getting some very concerned looks from the patrons as they watched him struggle up the stairs.
He finally reached their room and tried to open the door. Finally getting it open he stumbled in all bloody and bruised...and looking at the figure of Nea in bed. "...Nea..." he muttered weakly.
Someone was at their door. Well, her door now, she wasn't sure she could expect Bernardt back so soon, or ever really. It jiggled and she heard a thud like someone had leant against it. She peeked from under the covers. It wouldn't be the first time that some drunk patron had unwittingly chosen the wrong room as his own and spent a small chunk of time attempting to open the locked door before giving up and moving on. But this wasn't that, something slid into the lock. There were two options, either Bernardt had indeed returned or someone was trying to get into their room. She sat up and stared at the door, unsure what to do as the door finally pushed open. The sight she was met with was certainly not what she had expected.
It was Bernardt, or rather, what was left of him. She wasn't sure what force removed her from the bed but she was on her feet before she commanded it, crossing the room. Nea caught him at the arm that wasn't hanging at the worst possible angle, almost falling with him as he stumbled. Though her tears still clung to her cheeks, everything that had come before fell away as she struggled to help him to the bed. She pushed back the covers, creating a space for him as he sat. Helped one leg and then the other, assisted him with his dislocated shoulder as he moved to lay down.
Nea couldn't find the words, though a million questions ran circles in her mind. She couldn't look him in the eye, if she did the guilt might just kill her - she would certainly be no help to him then. Still, how had this happened? What had he done? Who did this? She bit back the apologies that she wanted to say, they could wait, as well as the tears. Of course she felt like crying again, even though she had only just collected herself enough to stop. But she couldn't beat herself up now, she had more pressing things to attend to.
Pulling a chair she sat at his side, began to look him over, sight peering within, stemming internal bleeding as she went. Broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, all manner of contusion and laceration. Hands skimmed over him, moving from place to place, pushing back this and that, joining what had been severed. She pulled back ribs, pieced together the fragments, examined the damage done. Tears rolled from misty, distant eyes - down the plane of her cheek as she worked. Fingers twitched and tutted over his shoulder, coaxing the thing back, gently as she could possibly manage. She healed every cut, mended every scrape, working slowly, diligently, carefully.
Nea wasn't sure how long it took, she never was, but she was certain that he had taken a good deal of time to right everything that had been wrong. She looked him over again, meticulous, looking for anything that might have missed. Finally, she found nothing. She came back to, gently hovering a hand over his chest. She didn't dare touch him. She didn't deserve to. Pulling her hand back she finally let her gaze tentatively wander up to his face. It was no longer black and blue, though the dried blood still lingered, it was no longer swollen, but she could still see the state it had been in her mind's eye and she brought her hands up to cover the lower half of her face as she let out a sob.
Though she hesitated, Nea moved herself from the chair, lowering herself to kneel at his bedside, drawing in closer. She reached, slow and unsure, to brush back his hair gently from his face. She searched him, green eyes trying to apologize before her lips and tongue could even attempt to. Leaning closer she pressed a kiss to his forehead, his cheek. She broke down again, resting her forehead against the side of his.
Bernardt didn't think she'd help. He didn't think she'd be here in the first place. But in his state all he wanted was to see her face again. And when she rushed from the bed to help him he felt overjoyed, but couldn't say a word. Hell, simply breathing was almost too much.
She laid him down onto the bed with a groan and grunt from him. He tried to speak but he didn't have the strength. Without a word she pulled up a chair and started to look him over. He felt his body moving and twitching. She was fixing him. And despite being gentle, it still hurt like something else. He groaned and whimpered and growled as his body was being fixed. The pain of bones snapping back in place, muscles stretching and even organs moving about was excruciating. But she fixed him up. He was heaving from the pain subsiding, his body and face still bloody but all the open wounds were gone. All the bruising was gone...he was completely fixed.
He was still weak but he could turn his head with a bit of effort to look at her. Her eyes were blood red and her cheeks were shimmering in the candle light. She looked like a wreck...and once again he wanted to help her. He wanted to see that smile again. Even if she didn't want him back anymore, he wanted to see her smile one last time.
But she wasn't done. She knelt beside him and looked at him with eyes that screamed in apology. She then kissed his forehead and cheek then pressed her head against his. She started to apologise but he cut her off by gathering his strength and pulling her into a weak hug. He kissed her on the cheek and held that kiss before giving one on the lips and burying his face in her shoulder. "Nea...don't. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you." he said softly. "Thank you...for helping me." he continued and placed another kiss on her cheek.
But there was still the elephant in the room. He let go slightly so he could look her in the eyes. "If you want to go back...just say so. Whether you love me or not, I will still help you get back." he said softly. The words of the strangers sat in his memory, but right now that wasn't important. Nea's happiness was far more important to him than their threats.
Bernardt pulled her toward him into a weak hug, left a lingering kiss on her cheek before gently placing one on her lips and then retreating to her shoulder. She heaved a pained sigh as he apologized, as he thanked her. His lips were against her cheek again. It was too much. She didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve his forgiveness, if that is what this was.
He let her go, pulling himself back gently so he could meet her gaze. She blinked and pursed her lips slightly as she tried to keep herself from reducing to tears again. Another sigh, hand coming to rest on his cheek as he looked at her, a gentle caress of her thumb as she held it there. "We really are terrible at this, aren't we?"
It was a pitiful joke, echoing what she had said not all too long ago. She attempted and failed at a smile. "You shouldn't apologize to me. I - you did exactly what I was trying to get you to do... I don't - I don't know why I...."
She sighed again, adjusted her hand, let it run through his hair, pushing it out of the way again. "I do not want to return to Rhisoka."
Nea ran her hand through again, watching the motion before returning her guilty and apologetic eyes to meet his, quietly and sincerely imparting to him, "And of course I love you - though I have done a lousy job of showing it, haven't I? -- Just rest for a moment."
She continued to watch him briefly before pulling away, she stood and went over to their things, rummaging through for one of the water skins. Once that was collected she searched for a spare bit of cloth, anything she could use to clean him up a little bit. Keeping herself busy bought her time, but she knew it was only going to be a matter of time before she would have to explain herself. But what did she say? Words failed her. She ripped a strip off of one of her skirts - it wasn't much of a loss, she wasn't even sure it would be noticeable. Nea returned, sitting on the edge of the bed. She wet down the fabric and began to dab at the blood on his face.
He couldn't help but snort and smile at her little joke. The snort turned into a chuckle as he looked at her with that smile of his. She tried to smile but it fell apart. She told him that he shouldn't apologise, that it was all her fault. Her hand shifted from his cheek to his hair. He like it when she did that, it made him feel at peace.
She said she didn't want to go back. Relief washed over him with those words. She went on to say she loved him, then moved to go get some water and cloth. He chuckled as she tore a piece from her dress then returned to him to wipe him down. He hummed with content as she cleaned his face, already feeling better. After a bit he took her hand away and put the waterskin down beside the bed. Then he took her and pulled her onto the bed. He moved up to make room for her then wrapped his arms around her as he held her close to him.
He was sleepy, it was plain in his eyes. But he wanted her close. He thought he lost her, but she returned to him. "If you don't want to talk about what got you so worked up, I won't force you." he whispered to her. He kissed her on the lips. "I just want to help you, Nea. See that smile of yours instead of a frown." he explained gently.
He simply stared into her emerald eyes for a few moments. He was at peace in this moment. "Nea...I'm tired." he whispered. "please...don't leave." he went on in case she wanted to leave him to sleep. "Help me with my clothes, please?" he asked her. He couldn't sleep with these dirty rags. With her help he would take off his boots, trousers and shirt, leaving only him in his underwear. He beckoned her over again and curled into her.
It didn't take long for his eyelids to close and for him to fall asleep. They had a lot to talk about. Who attacked him, what worked her up, but for now they will rest.
Nea had scarcely finished cleaning his face when his hand reached to take the things from her and set them aside. He took hold, shifted, brought her down to him. She moved into place, coming to lay beside him. He engulfed her in his arms, held her as tightly as he could. She closed her eyes a moment, relaxing and relishing in the comfort. When she opened them again, she found him watching her sleepily.
Bernardt had been through some kind of ordeal. She wanted to ask what had happened, wanted to know who had done this to him. He smelled like ale, so perhaps he had gotten into a bar fight, or a brawl. But would that have really put him into such a sorry state as he had been?
Nea didn't have long to dwell, his whispers demanding her full attention. He offered her a brief stay of execution, letting her know that he had no intention of forcing an explanation out of her. That he merely wanted to fix it, make sure she never frowned. How could she ever explain that was part of the problem? She cast it aside for now. They could figure it out later. Now she just wanted to rest in his arms, know that he was safe.
He informed her of what she already knew, asked her not to go. She gave a gentle shake of her head to indicate that she wouldn't leave. He asked for her help with his clothes. She was released from his grasp and she moved to help him, gently unlacing boots, nimbly undoing buttons, gently tugging on fabric until it gave way, sliding off to be cast aside into a pile on the floor. She followed suit, she removed her own trousers, stripping down to chemise and socks.
Bernardt beckoned her from the bed and she went to him, reaching to pull the blankets over the both before retreating into his arms. He curled into her and she clung to him. It did not take long to lose him to sleep, his chest rising and falling in tell tale waves. She laid and watched his sleeping face, observed the peaceful expression, calm and serene as it was handsome. Everything about him in complete contrast to her own. She didn't blow the candle out, she wanted to see him. And she did until her own eyes finally closed, dropping her into a fitful sleep.
It was dark and cold here. Just as it had been before. Desolate, empty. A vast expanse of black nothing. Nothing but the ropes around her hands and ankles. With each step she took they tightened their grip, cut just a little bit farther into her skin. The pain she felt was acute and sharp, but located someplace distant. She couldn't explain it, she didn't know how.
But the sound.
The sound dragged her forward. What was it? Something off in the distance. Shouts and something low. The clink of something metallic. Where was it coming from? Why couldn't she see? Why were these things so damn tight?
Men. She could hear men. They were shouting, taunting, jeering. And the low sound - were those growls?
She ran, her wrists and ankles ached, leaving a trail of crimson dots upon the black floor. Where were they? Where? She turned, glancing to look behind and finally she saw. The men and the wolf they had in chains. They sneered and prodded, yanked the chains that bound him in varying directions. He whimpered and growled and cried. The chains clanked heavily, deafeningly. They didn't care.
Stop! You're hurting him!
They didn't hear, wouldn't let her through. They didn't notice her bleeding, they did not acknowledge her at all. They began to chant, the words were foreign to her but she understood all to well their intent.
'Kill the beast.'
Nea shifted on the bed, whimpering as she turned again. Wrestling herself clumsily from his arms in her sleep.