When last we left our intrepid duo, they'd become entangled in a dream. Now, as they wake, what truths will they speak? Find out now in Chapter 10 of The One That Feels! (joining us late? Catch the story from Chapter 1 - and don't forget to click on the "Read More" link to see the whole chapter)
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Nem shuddered in my arms as he woke. It was nice, comforting to hold someone like that again, but it took only moments before he pulled himself away from my arms, struggling to pull himself upright. His arms pulled tightly against his chest as he backed away from me. His breath was a soft mist that floated across our protected grove.
“You are safe,” I said, wincing as I got to my feet. I pulled my own arms across my chest. The fire had died down in the night and it was brutally cold.
“Y-you. You don’t know—”
“Yes,” I said. “I will keep you safe.” My words were very soft, but I knew that he heard them.
“How long, Nem?” I asked. “How long has he been torturing you?”
“You know that’s not true.” I stepped toward him.
“It only hurts in the dream. It never leaves a sign. It’s a dream!”
I shook my head. “You think it’s not real? Are you so sure?”
“I’m sure. It can’t be real… never leaves marks.” He stumbled backward—away.
“It still hurts,” I said, confident, pressing. Another foot forward. “You still feel it. He still controls you with it.”
“He’s a good man! A good king!”
“He whips you!” I thundered.
“I was punished. I disobeyed him. It was nothing I didn’t des—” He stopped as though realizing what he’d almost put into words. “It isn’t real.”
“Not real?” I said. Then I turned and let him see the blood that stained my shirt, still gruesomely wet and sticking to my flesh where the lash had left its mark. I glanced over my torn shoulder, wincing at the movement, to look him in the eye. “These were meant for you, Nem,” I whispered, the trace of mist from my lips nearly greater than the sound.
“N-no.” He stumbled and fell to his knees. His eyes were wide, their silver depths crying metallic tears that fell clinking against the ground. True emotion leaving pools of silver in the dirt. “N-not you. Please. Please no…” His eyes grew frantic, darting around the grove. “W-we’re n-not s-s-safe!”
I approached him and kneeled, catching his face and cupping it in my hands from both sides. “I will keep you safe.”
“Because I can feel you,” I said, softly caressing his cheek with the back of one hand.
“Shh,” I said, my finger at his lips.
I shook my head and tapped at his lips with my finger.
He gulped and nodded as I stood and pulled him up with me. He stood hunched over, shivering for a moment, his arms again pulled across his chest.
“Nem,” I said quietly, and his gaze turned up to meet mine, oblivious to the silver trail of his tears.
“He hurt you,” Nem said after a long silence.
“What he does to you in those dreams,” I said, making sure my eyes remained locked with his, “is real. It hurts you. Scars you. And maybe no one else can feel those scars, but, Nem. I feel you. And they are there.”
“But he hurt you!” His scream of frustration echoed through the protection of the grove, causing a cloud of frost from the breath to hover in front of him before finally dispersing.
I bit my lower lip and nodded. “Yes. Yes, he did.”
“I—” He started to cry again, sending glittering silver tear drops to clatter against the earth. “I don’t want him to hurt you.”
I stepped up against him and pulled his arms from his chest, using the opening to move even closer. “I’m fine.”
“Whipped me, hoping to hurt you,” I said, leaning my head down to tap lightly against his forehead.
His hand trembled as he touched my face. “You saved me.”
“Does that surprise you?” I asked, my eyes closing even as my hand moved to cover the hand he held against my face.
“I want it not to.”
I held his hand against my face for a time, taking comfort in the heat of his breath.
“I’m cold,” he said softly. “Please, let me hold you.”
“We shouldn’t,” I said. “You’ve—” I gulped. “You’ve just never had anyone be nice to you.”
He wrapped his free arm around me, carefully, avoiding the lash marks, and pulled me close before wrapping his other arm around my neck. “I’m cold,” he said, the warmth of his breath pressing against my neck. “Please.”
“This is not a good idea.” I whispered the words softly against the ridge of his ear.
He turned up so the stubble growing openly upon his cheek—his glamour gone—rubbed against the roughness of my own. “Feel me,” he said softly against my cheek. “Tell me what you feel.”
“I feel that you want it,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
“You don’t want me, do you?” He turned his head from my cheek to bury it in my shoulder. “I… I’m so stupid.”
“No. I get it. I… I’m just damaged and… and worthless. Like he always says.” He shifted to set his hand splayed against my chest, trembling. “I’m sorry,” he said and he pushed me away.
I stumbled backward and caught myself, my face set. There were new trails of silver across his skin and I groaned. “Nem, please.”
“No,” he said. “I understand. For a child of the Real, what am I?”
I shook my head vigorously.
“That you want it is not all I could feel,” I said.
“This isn’t about me!” He cried out the words in something between a plea and a sneer.
“I think it is.”
“Don’t try to… to deflect!” He said the last proudly, as though happy he’d found the words. “I know you don’t want me.” He slashed his hand through the air.
“This isn’t about that.” I tilted my head, looking at him from a different angle. I could see it now. I was certain. Feel it seeping across the protective sphere the trees had woven.
“Yes, it is!”
“Nem.” I stepped closer and it looked from the twisted expression on his face like his tears would start again at any moment. “I love him, Nem.”
The sob that broke out from Nem pulled at my heart.
“And you,” I continued, my hand reaching out to him, “are looking at me as a savior.”
“Is it so bad? To be w-wanted because… y-you saved me.”
I shook my head. “You wanted me before I saved you,” I said, holding a hand up to stave off his denial. “Don’t even try. I could tell.”
Nem gulped, his eyes downcast. “You knew?”
“From the moment you asked to join me. Of course I knew.” At least I’d suspected. It was hard in this place, with my power, not to sense that much. I stepped forward again, closing the gap between me and Nem once more. “I am the One That Feels.”
“And you?” he asked, the question choking out of him in terror.
I was back within reach of him. “Nem?”
He looked up, his eyes wet with silver. “You looked at him. And we could all see it. Magnificent! Such emotion, like we can n-never feel. I know I can’t g-give you—”
“Nem,” I hesitated for a moment and then reached out to catch his chin in my palm and turn it toward me. “Will you listen?”
He pursed his lips and slipped his upper lip into his mouth, nodding nervously.
“I love Brian,” I said quietly, holding tight to his chin as he reflexively tried to look away. “And I am here for him. To find his love. To return Jordan to him. I swore to him. He knew what that would mean for me, what it would do.”
Nem gulped, silver running down his face.
“I can feel your want. There is more there, and I do feel it. I’m not unmoved. I’m not,” I said, making sure to make eye contact. “I feel it. And it means something to me.”
“It does?” Nem’s eyes grew wide, his gaze nervously darting across my face, searching for something.
“Do you feel something?”
I nodded again. “I do,” I said softly. “But it is hard, with the urgency of Brian’s need, and the danger to Jordan, to know just what I’m feeling.”
“You felt something though?” His question ached with the weight of his want.
I smiled gently and let go of his chin, moving my hand up to brush against his cheek with the backs of my fingers. He was staring into my eyes as I did, and in the Realm, I did not need to doubt that he saw it. The flash of my desire. The heat of wanting him. Maybe he saw something else too, I could not be sure.
“You did,” he breathed. “You felt—”
“—something,” I said. “Yes, I did, and I do.”
“But then… why, I mean if you…” he stammered. “Why not?”
I chuckled. “Oh, Nem,” I said, brushing my fingers again along his cheek and then bringing them back to cup hold of him just behind his ear. “We don’t know each other yet. Isn’t that what you wanted? Why you asked to join me on my quest?”
“But you’re my friend!”
“Yes,” I said, and I leaned in and kissed him quickly and chastely on the lips, drawing forth from him a panicked, desperate whimper as I pulled away. “I feel, Nem. I feel you and your want and I have to worry that what I feel is influenced by the need and want I feel from you.” I leaned my forehead against his. “Give me some time, okay?”
Nem stared at me adoringly for a moment as his fingers touched his lips.
“You still need to get warm?” I asked softly.
Numbly, Nem nodded.
“Come here,” I said, pulling him to me and turning him so his back was pulled into my chest. He groaned desperately as my arms wrapped around him. He shivered as I leaned my head into his shoulder. “Is this okay?”
He whimpered softly and then his voice came, very soft. “You give it freely?”
I nodded against his shoulder.
I could hear the sniffle. “Th-then it’s enough,” he said.
“This will get better.” I pressed my lips against his shoulder, dampening silk. “It will.”
“Is it awful of me to want more?”
I chuckled and squeezed him gently in my arms. “There’s nothing wrong in wanting,” I said, kissing his shoulder blade. “Don’t think… it’s not that I don’t want.” I leaned my cheek into the dampness where I’d kissed his shoulder. “I do want. I just… I need time.”
I could see the little flash of his throat out of the corner of my eye as he swallowed. “You saved me,” he whispered.
“You’re worth saving,” I said. “You’re worth taking the time, Nem, taking the time to get to know you. I’ve been alone and mourning a love for a long time. You deserve to have a chance. I need time if I’m going to give you that chance.”
His whole body tensed and stopped breathing. “You really mean it.”
“We still need to talk. I felt a lot of things in that dream. Things that matter.”
Nem nodded. “I know.”
“When you’re ready, we’ll need to talk. You’ll tell me the truth?”
“I have a chance?” he asked in a tiny frightened voice.
I knew that was what he had been waiting for—the Realm to swirl upon those words and bind me to them. He trembled in my arms as I was bound by power, and then released. My words were already true.
“I promise, Nem.”
He swallowed again and nodded. “The truth. I’ll tell you. It could be some time though. Before I’m ready, I mean.”
“Then it will be some time. I know you don’t believe me,” I said, “but you are worth waiting for.”
He sobbed softly, and I held him very tight, and as his body rested against mine I spoke words of comfort, and mixed them with words of power until a fire again burned in the grove, and we grew warm together in its light.