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The Long Road

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i.

No!”

Vanora shouts the word to the heavens, loud enough to wake her up from the terrible nightmare. She jolts upright, still halfway in the nightmare and unaware of her surroundings. Her heart races, thumping so loudly against her ribcage it feels as though it might burst from her chest. Though her eyes are open wide, she cannot focus, staring into the darkness without processing it.

All at once the nightmare comes back, slamming into her like a ton of bricks and making her stomach churn. She rubs her hands together as though trying to wipe them clean, desperately wiping them against her clothes when something grabs her arm. Yanking her arm free she draws back, another scream ready on her lips when a familiar voice cuts through the darkness.

“Calm down, calm down. It was just a dream. It’s over now.”

Although her heart does not slow down, relief washes over her, “Maretus?” she asks hoarsely, finally seeing the outline of his body in the darkness, his features twisted into a look of concern visible in the moonlight. Blinking, trying to clear away the remainder of the nightmare, Vanora turns towards him. He opens his mouth, about to speak again, but before he can say a word she’s reaching for him. Closing the distance between them she wraps her arms around him, pressing her face against his chest.

“You were dead,” she whispers, gripping him tighter. For a moment he stiffens, surprised by the sudden contact, but she doesn’t let go, worried that perhaps this is still part of the nightmare.

It only takes a moment for Maretus to relax, wrapping his arms around her.

“I’m right here, I’m fine. It was just a dream. It’s over now.”

Vanora doesn’t let go, even as the nightmare fades and her heart rate evens out. Maretus makes no move to let go either, one hand rubbing her back as her breathing slows and returns to normal. Gradually the rest of the world creeps back in, the hard earth beneath her, as cold as Maretus is warm.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he murmurs, pulling back just far enough to look down at her. Vanora isn’t entirely sure she wants to talk about it, not particularly keen on reliving it. Although she doesn’t respond right away Maretus doesn’t prod.

“Remember those bandits we ran into a week ago?”

He nods, waiting for her to continue.

“We were back there… but they overpowered us. I couldn’t get to you in time and they stabbed you. There was so much blood, it was all over, and I couldn’t get it to stop,” she whispers, her heart rate speeding up again.

“I tried to make it stop, but no matter what I did you wouldn’t stop bleeding. And then…you were just gone. Just like that.”

Maretus doesn’t reply right away, his hand faltering on her back for a split second. She feels him take a breath, slowly releasing it as he moves his hand to stroke the back of her head.

“I’m right here, Vanora. I’m completely fine, we’re both fine. It was just a dream.”

“It was terrible.”

“I know.”

They sit in silence as Vanora composes herself.

“I’m sorry for waking you up,” she whispers, feeling Maretus shaking his head, “I know, I know. Just let me apologize.”

“Alright,” he concedes, ”Do you feel like going back to sleep? There’s still a while before sunup.”

Although Vanora isn’t convinced that she’ll actually be able to get back to sleep, she knows that Maretus is right. There’s still plenty of time to try and sleep. Nodding, she leans back, eyeing Maretus as he looks down at her.

“You’re staying, right?”

He’d been there the entire time, no more than a foot away, but she isn’t keen on him being farther than he needs to be. Just in case. Maretus understands without her having to explain and nods.

“Of course.”

Nodding, she lets go of him, straightening up to readjust the blankets below her that she’s tangled up in. Maretus shifts away, reaching for his own blankets and waiting for her to settle down. When she does finally lay down again, she turns to face Maretus. If he’s uncertain about the situation in any way she can’t tell. He lays down next to her, adjusting so that she can rest her head against his chest.

“Good night,” she whispers, closing her eyes.

“Good night.”