Chapter 9A Chapter by Kate P. Lamb
“Erika?” They stared at one another in complete confusion. Adel moved first, and before Erika had a chance to move, he pulled her tight against his chest, holding her in a one-armed bear hug. “Oh God, Erika…” He murmured into her hair. Erika in turn wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him back. She turned her head to one side, and started in shock, pushing back from him to better examine what she’d seen.
He stood there, watching her, though a single, teal eye, the other covered by a simple eye patch. But what Erika stared at, was his shoulder. One arm tapered down, stained a deep purple against the tan skin, as if tattooed, and the other… The other was missing completely. Erika put her hand over his cleanly severed shoulder, frowning. Adel looked down, and then pulled her into a hug again.
“What happened to you?” He asked her, his voice softer than she’d ever heard before.
“I could ask the same of you, Adel.” She said softly in reply, as if speaking louder would make him disappear. He gently caught her hand, taking it away and holding it tight in his.
“Come, tell me everything.” He told her, leading her down the street toward a coffee shop. He seemed so different, much calmer, but she could still see the fire in him. He sat her down at a table in the shop, and she let him order for the both of them. He sat down across from her then, and watched her through his good eye. “So what happened?”
“I got… Pulled back.” Erika murmured, looking down into her coffee and sighed. “I could feel myself disappearing… I called out to you.” She looked up, gaze searching.
“I know you did.” Adel replied gently, reaching forward to squeeze her hand. “I tried to grab you.”
They fell into silence, each staring down at their drinks, casting surreptitious glances at one another when the other wasn’t looking. They stayed like that for several minutes, until Erika took a deep, steadying breath and mustered up the courage to look at him, her eyes unwavering.
“Adel, what happened?” She asked. He glanced up at her then down again. She reached forward, taking his hand in hers. “You can tell me…” He smiled, and squeezed her hand in reply.
“I know.” He said softly. He closed his eyes, sighing, and his hand twitched like he wanted to ruffle his hair. “We… The enemy wasn’t who we thought it was… We were betrayed, and I… I was wounded…” No kidding Erika thought sadly. She gently put her hand on the stub of his shoulder.
“Did you need it amputated, or…” She bit her lip. Adel glanced at her and shook his head.
“No… It was removed cleanly…” His gaze was darkened by memories.
“Who?” The rogue stayed silent for a while, his gaze distant. She knew that he was seeing the event that caused the injury, and not the swirling foam floating on the surface of his coffee. Eventually, he looked back up at her, his teal eye saddened.
“It was my brother.” He replied, his voice barely above a whisper. Erika’s eyes widened and she dropped the spoon she’d been using with a clatter onto the tabletop.
“Cyrus? But… What? How…?” She didn’t understand. Her mind spun, looking for signs of impending betrayal in the memory of the man she knew as her friend, and found none. She looked up at Adel, hoping beyond hope that he was wrong, but his single eye held such profound sadness that she could feel her heart breaking for him.
“I don’t know, Erika. Something in him snapped and it changed him, he wasn’t Cyrus anymore… And then when we saw him next, I fought him… I felt I had to bring him into check… But… He was insane, beyond my reach… And he took my eye and my arm to prove it.” Adel moved to put his hand over the patch on his bad eye, but Erika caught it in both of hers first and held his stained fingers to her lips, shaking. He didn’t move, just watched her, gripping her hand back so as to offer her the only comfort he could. “It was a long time ago, Erika.” She squeezed his hand convulsively.
Sighing, Adel slipped around his side of the table and moved over to hug her, cradling her head against the crook of his good shoulder. Erika continued to shake, her mind reeling from the new information, but slowly, as she began to process it, she started to calm, and the shaking stopped. Even still, she leaned against him, her eyes closed. Adel stayed as still as a statue, one arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders, as if to shield her from the demons of his past.
“I never thought I’d do this…” Erika whispered finally, after several minutes of motionlessness. “Lean against you again, talk to you again. I thought I’d lost all of you...” Adel squeezed her shoulder and sat down on the chair next to her, pulling her into his lap with surprising ease. He ran his hand down along her hair, and she nestled her head into the crook of his neck. It was easier to be like this with the modern Adel, she reflected. He seemed to be alright with it. Memories of the last few times she’d relaxed against him like this sprang up in her mind. The time when they rode double on Romaro and she fell asleep against him… When she’d twisted her ankle and he carried her…
“I was a fool before, Erika.” Adel murmured softly into her ear. She shivered at the way he said her name, with a lilt in his voice that she’d never thought she’d hear again. “When we were travelling together, I was such a fool.” He bowed his head onto her shoulder, and his arm tightened around her. It’s like he’s trying to apologize… She though. She lifted her arms around his neck and hugged herself against him, stroking his hair to comfort him.
“It’s alright.” She murmured softly, her chin resting lightly on his shoulder. “Everything’s alright now.” She pulled back slightly, just enough to see him properly. He looked completely worn out, she thought. She smiled tremulously at him, and turned against him, fitting herself with her back against his chest, like she had so many times before. “We’re both here now.”
They spent the rest of the day with one another, and the day after as well. It was as if neither could get enough of simply being in the other’s presence. They spoke in soft voices, reaching for one another every few minutes, scared that one of them would disappear. They walked hand-in-hand down the pathway in the local park, not looking directly at one another. They glanced furtively at one another, and when one or the other was caught, they’d smile. Neither of them noticed the looks that others were giving them, nor the whispers.
“Look,” Erika said finally, pointing to the pond in the middle of the park. “Ducks!” She smiled at Adel and pulled him over to the water’s edge, kneeling in front of the swarm of ducklings that crowded around the bank by her feet. Apparently they were fed often. She looked around, and went over to a small container, putting in a quarter for some breadcrumbs. She came back and scattered the crumbs on the water’s surface, laughing when all the ducklings tried going after them at once.
Adel watched her with a smile on his lips, his gaze softening on her form. He thought he’d lost her that day; when she’d vanished right before his eyes as if she’d never been a part of his world at all. As if to reassure himself that she was still there, he reached forward and brushed his fingers through her coppery hair, causing her to look up and smile at him again. God he’d missed her.
Erika rose, carefully brushing the rest of the crumbs from her lap. She went over to Adel and took his hand, tugging him back toward the pathway. A soft smile played on the man’s lips that caused her to look down and blush slightly. She’d never seen him smile at her like that before. Hell, she thought, I barely ever saw him smile at me. This Adel was so different from the one she remembered, much gentler, less hot-headed. She watched him quietly, comparing and contrasting between them. It was only then that she realized that her memories of Adel, of the fiery, whole boy who she’d travelled with, and the new memories created by being with this calm and broken Adel, had merged.
It was silly to think of them as two different people. They were the same, the Adel of now and of then. Life had simply changed the one she remembered, into the one she now knew. And suddenly in knowing both of them, it was as if the change hadn’t ever happened. They were both simply Adel. This realization brought a sense of relief that she hadn’t quite realized she’d not been feeling. They were the same man. Everything was alright.
Erika smiled at him, causing him to falter slightly before returning it. The look on his face made her laugh softly. In response, Adel lifted her up over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, earning a squeal of outrage. He carried her like that a while, ignoring her as she smacked his back and called him everything she could think of. People stared, but neither of them noticed.
Finally, Adel let her down at the base of a large twisting oak tree, setting her carefully on one of the gnarled roots. Her face was flushed purple from being held upside down, which clashed magnificently with her hair, and she was laughing breathlessly. She reached up and pulled him down to sit beside her, leaning against him as she gasped, her sides aching. It was only after she calmed down that she realized she’d been leaning against his bad side. He was watching her with a strange look in his eyes. She sat up, looking down at her hands in her lap, suddenly sedate.
“Does it bother you?” He asked softly, bringing his hand up to rest on the curve of his severed shoulder. “To see it, knowing that there used to be a functional limb there?” Erika looked up at him, and then lowered her gaze to his shoulder. She looked at it a long while, until Adel looked away, uncomfortable. “Forget it,” He said gruffly, shrugging, his shoulders slumping as he turned away slightly. “It doesn’t matter.” Erika frowned at his reaction. But then, slowly, her frown erased and her eyes softened.
“You always did that, I forgot.” She murmured softly. She reached out and lightly put her hand on his bad shoulder, turning him back toward her. “You’d ask me something that made you vulnerable, and then before I could answer, you’d get defensive and turn away.” She looked up at him, a smile playing on her lips. “So you are still in there.” She murmured.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adel muttered, shrugging out of her grip and leaning against the tree. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, frowning.
“It means that somewhere underneath all the change and pain, there’s still the distrustful pickpocket that I fought a water nymph for all that time ago.” She said, bringing her hand up to cup his jaw, on the side of his face that bore his eye patch. Adel’s single eye widened slightly, and then glossed over with memory.
“I couldn’t figure out why you came after me that night.” He murmured after a minute or two. He hadn’t realized that he’d leaned into her hand absentmindedly, nor did she realize she was gently running her thumb along his cheekbone.
“I was worried,” She replied, her gaze distant, not seeing the world around her, but the world she’d left behind, recalling the moonlit scene easily. “And scared.”
“Why were you scared? You were amazing.” Adel said, before blushing at his own compliment. “I mean…”
“I was scared that I wouldn’t get through to you.” Erika’s eyes met his at that moment, and he saw it there. Of course, he thought, berating himself for not realizing. It wasn’t as long ago for her as it is for me.
“But you did.” He whispered, reaching forward and brushing her hair back from her face. “All I heard was that nymph’s singing, and then… Then I heard you. And it was like fog clearing.” He smiled, and Erika felt her heart skip a beat. That’s a new look. She thought.
“And you came back to me.” She whispered softly, reaching up to put her hand over his against her cheek. It was so warm. She closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. The calloused roughness tickled her cheek slightly.
“I came back to you.” Adel agreed softly, and Erika opened her eyes. He’d moved closer, his single eye holding an emotion in it that she’d never seen before. His hand left her cheek, leaving a phantom presence in its wake. He tilted her chin up, and her lips parted slightly. She was nervous. So was he. Adel thought about saying something, asking if she’d let him. But then again, he had always been a man who took what he wanted. His lips came down on hers gently nevertheless, and his hand moved around to cup her jaw again. Erika jumped, gasping softly, but made no move to pull out of the embrace. Adel waited, allowing her time to understand, to process, time to decide.
And then she was kissing him back, tentatively at first, but then with more boldness. She moved to wrap her arms around his neck, and his hand dropped to her waist, pulling her nearer. Their eyes closed, and to Adel, it was as if he were whole again. They stayed like that for a few stolen moments, before finally pulling apart, looking at each other.
“Oh.” Erika said softly. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips parted, slightly to help her get her breath back. Adel was watching her carefully, as if she might bolt or swoon. She merely smiled. “So that’s how it is.” She murmured, causing him to grin sheepishly.
“That’s how it always was.” He replied, pulling her against him again, this time to cradle her against his chest, so that her head was against his shoulder, close enough to hear his heart’s steady beat.
© 2011 Kate P. Lamb
Added on November 4, 2011
Last Updated on November 4, 2011
Kate P. Lamb
Calgary, AB, Canada
AboutEnjoy reading and spending time with Nature. Studying for my BA as of Fall 2012, then hopefully onto graduate school to become a Naturopathic Doctor. Published poet, working on a fiction novel and ano.. more..