Copyright © 2003 by Kara Senecal
Sliding rapidly down the side of the hill, her boots cutting through the thick dark mud, Vanessa braced herself, her eyes narrowing as the stream began to rapidly approach.
Holding her breath, Vanessa launched herself off the bank, grunting as she landed hard on the first slick stone that jutted out of the water. She started to slip, the mud coating her boots causing her feet to slide out from under her. Swinging an arm for balance, Vanessa leaped forward, easily springing over the last four stones and landing neatly on the opposite bank.
Huffing a bit, Vanessa smiled and turned to watch Lonan uneasily descend after her. “Easy, Lonan!”
“Hang on, Vanessa!” Lonan called, his eyes widening in fright as he slipped a little too quickly towards the chill stream waters. “I’m almost---Whoooaaa!”
Moving way too fast, Lonan jumped too soon. His heavy, mud-caked boots hit the first of the stepping-stones and instantly skidded out from under him, pitching him headlong into a patch of reeds, scaring the life out of three pink-headed ducks that had been dozing there.
“Oh!” Her strange eyes flying open in horror, Vanessa charged back into the water, not noticing its frigidness. “Lonan?!”
“Hack--ugh!!” Struggling to sit up though his waterlogged robes weighted him down, Lonan thrashed chaotically in the water. “I’m--oop!--I’m okay!”
“You sure?” Reaching his side, Vanessa lashed both of her hands out, catching one of Lonan’s flailing arms. Gritting her teeth, she flung her weight back, hauling Lonan up, back onto his feet. “You landed kind of hard …”
Lonan grimaced, his already pink face flushing just a little more out of humiliation. “Yeah, I know, I--” Suddenly, his pretty indigo eyes widened, and, in a panic, Lonan quickly shook off the bag he had been carrying on his shoulder. “I don’t know about the food, though!”
“Uh-oh.” Grabbing the soaked bottom of the leather sack, Vanessa held it steady as Lonan unlaced it and nervously rooted around through the contents.
Finally, he sighed, somewhat relieved, and shrugged. “Everything looks dry … the bread looks kinda squashed …”
“S’alright.” Vanessa glanced up at him as he laced the bag back up.
She felt her throat tighten as she studied him; this picnic thing was supposed to be a big event.
After several hours of antagonizing Queen Islene, making totally sure that he wouldn’t be unexpectedly called off on this or that mission, Lonan had all but gleefully gathered Vanessa up, carefully picking out the best food from the market and packed up. He was like a little kid, so excited, dying to bring Vanessa to this little cove in the nearby lake. He had wanted to bring Vanessa there several times before, but all of his plans had been thwarted by the war, by …
At the thought, Vanessa shuddered, feeling the blood drain from her face. Alarmed, Lonan glanced up at her. “You all right? Are you cold?”
“Uh, I …” Not wanting him to see her fear, Vanessa quickly looked down at the water that swirled around her legs. “Yeah. It’s freezing!”
“Well, let’s get out here then!” Smiling, Lonan slung the bag back over his shoulder, jarring askew a slimy twig that was tangled in his dark gold hair.
He looked so ridiculous with clumps of waterweeds clinging to his hair and his once immaculate robes drenched, that when Vanessa finally noticed how much of a disaster he was, she couldn’t keep herself from roaring in laughter.
“Huh?” Confused, Lonan stared at her quizzically, reaching up to brush his dripping hair back behind one long ear. He jerked his hand away in shock as a small cat-o-nine-tails tumbled free. Suddenly, it occurred to him how messy he must of looked. “Aw, c’mon!”
Vanessa choked, spinning away quickly and shielding her grin with one hand so he couldn’t see her giggles. Still, as she knew he would, Lonan playfully narrowed his eyes then growled, stooping over and cupping ice-cold water in his hands.
He pitched it at her, laughing as she yelped and try to dodge the spray. “That’s what you get!”
“Creep!” Laughing, Vanessa sloshed a foot out, sending a wave of water straight into Lonan’s face. Gagging and laughing at the same time, he charged after her, chasing her up the opposite bank and leaving the little ducks grumbling in their wake.
Vanessa hadn’t gotten far when Lonan appeared at her side, grinning widely and snatching her hand up in his. “Come on, we’re almost there!”
Strangely, Vanessa felt comforted by the touch of his hand. Not trusting her voice, she only nodded, picking up the speed so she could match his long stride.
As they raced up the steep hill, Vanessa glanced at Lonan out of the corner of her eye, wondering, for the trillionth time that day alone, what the hell had happened; almost a year ago, Vanessa had been sent to this island Bresail to help the young queen Islene and her warrior Lonan fight an army composed of vampires, warlocks, Skorpyons, manticores, warrior women, demons, and hell hounds, led by the maniacal vampiress princess Lamia Carna and her sinister mother Queen Tartara.
Barely four months ago, Lamia Carna had killed Vanessa.
Vanessa vaguely remembered being held by a panicking Lonan, seeing her blood soak his tunics and battered armor just before everything turned black.
She was just starting to remember how Lonan, refusing to let her go, followed her into the Underworld.
She didn’t want to remember anything else.
And now she was back. And she knew that if Lonan hadn’t stayed with her for all those weeks as she recovered, Vanessa would have lost it completely.
It was because of him she was alive again, and she still didn’t know whether she loved or hated him for it.
“Right there!” Panting heavily, Lonan all but dragged Vanessa up the last few feet to the top of the hill. Winded, she sagged against him, gazing down the opposite side of the hill where he pointed.
Spotting it, Vanessa straightened. “Oh … wow.”
Lonan hadn’t some much as dropped a hint to what this cove looked like, and he grinned again as she stared, momentarily speechless at the waterfalls cascading over shimmering silver rocks and blue willow trees that dipped their slender branches into the serene water, steam curling gently off of the surface and winding its way through the clutch of willows and pines.
Vanessa blinked, wanting to make sure she was seeing this right. “This … it--it looks like …”
“Cibola,” Lonan finished. He glanced at her, his indigo eyes softening. “I knew you missed it. The way you described it …” He shrugged, waving to the cove below them. “It sounds just like this place.”
It did look just like Cibola, Vanessa’s homeland, like the jungle lowlands where she lived. Thinking that, Vanessa smiled, then spun around, rising on the tips of her boots to kiss a stunned Lonan. “Thanks Lonan. This … means a lot.”
Her kiss had momentarily taken the tall elf aback--she hadn’t given him a kiss for several days now, and Lonan hadn’t tried to pressure her about it, or demand to know why. Seeing this as a good sign, Lonan smiled again in relief, then gently kissed her forehead, holding her small frame tightly to his body. “You’re welcomed, Vanessa.”
Arms wrapped around each other, Vanessa and Lonan carefully navigated their way down yet another steep slope before reaching the wonderfully flat beach. Lonan proceeded to roll out the blankets and arrange the food, waving Vanessa away so she could explore the beach.
The cove’s waters were amazingly warm from the hot springs that boiled below the surface and regularly poured into the lake. Bright, plump fish darted through yellow and blue coral as pine trees lining the cove regularly dropped a prickly cone. As Vanessa stooped to gather shells that peeked out of the pale sand, a bright red heron trotted by, pausing to look at her curiously before taking flight.
Watching it go, Vanessa drew in a steadying breath; it was so quiet here. What was the word she was looking for? Tranquil … serene?
Her heart gave an anxious thud: romantic?
Swallowing hard, Vanessa glanced over her shoulder, back at Lonan. He was kneeling on the picnic blanket, gently shooing away a small green lizard that had come to investigate the goings-on. Vanessa smiled; he didn’t look like the mighty warrior that had pounced on her a year ago.
Vanessa’s smile faded just a little; her track record with men wasn’t that great, and after she learned of the prophecy of her death, she had been fearful of falling in love, or making friends and leaving them all to grieve for her. She had tried to be as cutting and cruel as she could, but Lonan had persisted. He hadn’t liked her at first, but when they worked together, patrolling, fighting demons, he saw that this bad attitude Vanessa had was just a front. He pressed, and Vanessa relented, knowing that she had been in love with him since the second she saw those indigo eyes.
That almost changed though, in those feverish days after Lonan had descended into the Underworld to retrieve her soul. Sick and in extreme agony, Vanessa had deliriously come to believe that the man she loved had just pulled her out of one hell to put her in another.
Their relationship had frayed. Lonan hadn’t given up, though.
Hesitating, Vanessa turned and walked back to the blanket, feeling her smile grow anew and her face flush red-hot when he glanced up at her. “Going swimming?”
Both of Lonan’s elfin ears pricked up in disbelief and his jaw dropped open. “Go … what?”
Vanessa grinned, placing her shells off to the side. Standing, she dropped her medicine satchel onto the blanket, then proceeded to unbuckle her belt and kick off her boots. “Swimming! C’mon!”
“W-well, I might--oh man!!” Squeezing his eyes shut, Lonan spun his head away from her, holding up a hand to shield him as she slid out of her shorts.
Vanessa laughed. “Lonan, it’s not the first time you’ve seen me without clothes.”
Lonan grimaced. “I know, but it’s the first time you’ve undressed in front of me!”
So chivalrous. Vanessa smiled, but she knew he was right, and she flushed a darker shade of red.
“Won’t be the last time,” she promised, tossing her tank top at him before heading back towards the water.
The water was so warm that Vanessa didn’t hesitate to plunge in. When she surfaced, flipping her long hair back so a torrent of water arched through the air, she saw Lonan, stripped down to his thin white trousers, wading into the water after her.
Vanessa’s breath caught in her throat and she tried to look away; Lonan was so perfect to her, from his lean, sinewy body to the gold hair that shrouded those intense eyes.
Vanessa tried to stammer something, some sort of stupid excuse so she could turn away but Lonan was suddenly right there in front of her, his strong hands on her hips. He pulled her against his chest and kissed her without a second thought, driving his mouth down hard on hers. His strength, his taste left her dizzy and Vanessa could feel herself melting against him, her arms wrapping around his neck to pull him closer and her eyes closing as she drank him in.
Lonan gently pulled away, dipping his head to kiss her throat as he ran his fingers along the flawless curve of her spine, his pale ivory hand a stark contrast to her own dusky skin.
It was like this for the rest of the afternoon, the embraces, the caresses, the heady kisses, until Vanessa fell asleep on the blanket, wrapped in Lonan’s thick arms. As the last of the sunset faded away, Lonan gently nudged her awake. “Vanessa, look.”
“Hm?” Rubbing one eye sleepily, Vanessa opened her eyes, meeting Lonan’s gaze. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Smiling faintly, he rolled onto his back, looking skyward. “Look up.”
Bemused, Vanessa lifted her head, then gasped, sitting up as the little glowing creatures flitted by. “Are those .…?”
“Hummingbirds,” Lonan answered, watching her as she trailed the gleaming little birds that darted through the bushes of night flowers.
Wide-awake now, Vanessa sat up on her knees, watching the tiny birds perch themselves carefully on the lips of the red flowers. They were so close, that Vanessa could see the spots of white-blue light on the tips of the birds’ wings and just under their glittering obsidian eyes.
One of them, a bright green male, noticed her studying them. Glancing at her, he cheeped merrily through his smiling, needle-like mouth before shooting away in a streak of light.
The cove was sparkling with light. The reflection of stars danced off the water as large, silvery fish drifted lazily by. The hummingbirds continued their feast as fireflies began to appear in the trees, and the bright colored orbs of faeries raced across the cove, giggling.
Propping himself up on an elbow, Lonan glanced up at Vanessa, gently running the tips of his fingers over her bare thigh, drawing her attention back to him. “I know you’ve been wanting to see the hummingbirds since you got here,” he said softly. “Most of them came here to hide during the war … that’s kind of why I made a big deal about getting here. I just wanted you to see.”
Vanessa was startled as her eyes suddenly welled up. Poor Lonan … he had done all this to make her happy, and all she had done in return was avoid him and treat him like dirt.
Seeing her tears, Lonan sat up, alarmed. “Vanessa …?”
“Why are you so good to me, Lonan?” she choked, struggling to stave off her tears. “I’ve just made your life harder since I got here--!”
“Don’t say that!” Lonan whispered, his voice suddenly fierce. With shaking arms, he gathered her up against him, and buried his face in her hair. “I did this because I love you, Princess, and I have nightmares every night of you dying again. Losing you once was too much and … I …”
Sniffing, Vanessa raised her face to his, cupping his cheek in her hand. “I love you too, Lonan,” she murmured. “I’m … sorry …”
“Don’t be.” Delicately, Lonan guided her back to the blanket, and there they slept, arms and bodies entwined, until the sun rose the following morning.
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