Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 11

She saw him in the hallway, shaking, shivering, the end of a leg of his jeans ripped, and his t-shirt torn, his hair wet with rain and scratches on his face. She hurried him into the flat, leading him to the sofa, before making him a cup of tea and bringing him a towel for his dripping hair. She sat down next to him and put her arm around his back, Aiden resting his head in his still shaking hands.


“Are you okay?” She asked, immediately annoyed with herself for the stupidity of her question. Of course he was not, if he was okay, he would not be sitting here, shivering on her sofa instead of being out for dinner with her.


Aiden knew what she meant, “Yeah, I’m fine, just a little shaken.” He managed, his voice trembling. It was the first thing Echo had heard him say since he had gotten inside, and he sounded far more than a little shaken.


“It was Mick, wasn’t it?” Echo didn’t want to ask, but she didn’t want to leave it unsaid.


The mention of the Xul’s name set Aiden off shaking more so. Echo looked into his eyes and saw nothing but all consuming fear. She rubbed her hand over his shoulders to try and soothe his shaking. Echo took down a dark grey fleece blanket that rested on the arm of the sofa and opened it out, draping it over Aiden’s back and shoulders. He lifted his head out of his hands and took hold of Echo’s.


“Yes,” He said, holding on to her hands, “Echo, I am so sorry, I think I lost him, but…” He broke off, looking into her eyes. “But if he followed me here…”


“It’s okay,” Said Echo, lifting their hands slightly, “It’s okay.”


Aiden looked at her, some of the fear in his eyes fading to confusion, “But, but if he finds you here, if he realises…”


Echo broke him off this time, “We have protection charms, and,” She paused, this was not the situation in which she wanted to tell him the good news, but she hoped it would make his day slightly brighter, “And tomorrow, we’re going to meet the Ashby Garden’s Community, Aiden, we’re going to have our defence, we’re going to have a Community, we’re going to be okay.”


Aiden’s eyes widened, and lit up slightly, though still clouded with fear. Echo wished she had listened to Aiden, that she had contacted her father sooner, thinking how if she had done, they would have already met with Nettie, how they may have had their defence charm, and how Aiden may not have had to have gone through what he just had.


“Don’t think like that,” Aiden said, sensing what she was thinking, “This was not your fault.” He put his arm around her now, the two of them sitting there, holding each other in their arms, intertwined by their embrace.


They sat there like that for a while, the silence brushing past them as panic and fear began to calm somewhat. Gradually, Echo began to feel Aiden’s shaking slow down, the adrenalin from the fear slowly melting away. Echo noticed Aiden’s tea was finished and went to get up, realising neither of them had eaten what with their dinner plans being interrupted.


“Can I get you anything?” Echo asked, picking up his mug to take back through to the kitchen, “Something to eat, tea, wine?”


“Oh god, Echo, I’m so sorry, we can still go out, if you want?” He asked, genuinely sorry that their date had not happened, but hoping she would not want to go out. For the time being, Aiden did not want to go anywhere, the sofa was where he currently felt safe.


“Don’t be silly, neither of us want to go outside, really now.” Echo replied, to Aiden’s relief, “Anyway, I don’t know if it’s even safe for us to go outside tonight.” As the words left her mouth she wished that she’d kept hold of them. Aiden looked down and his hands, which now trembled more violently at the thought of the world not being safe, and at the thought of bringing danger to Echo and her home.


“Oh, Aiden, I didn’t mean… I mean, I’m sure it’s okay, it will be okay.” She corrected herself once she had seen his reaction.


“No, I’m sorry, god Echo I’m so sorry.” He lifted his head from the spot he was staring at the floor to meet her eyes, “I should have just gone home, I shouldn’t have come here, knowing h-, knowing Mick was following me, god I shouldn’t have put you in danger.” He looked back down, blinking away the tears that stung in his eyes and blurred his vision, “And I shouldn’t make you see me like this. I shouldn’t make you have to deal with this.”


“Please don’t be so silly,” Echo said, her voice quiet but certain, “This was always both of our problem, both of us have the same dangers, and Mick is as much of a threat to me as he is to you, always has been. We just have to stay together. Together, with the Community, then we are strong, then we can protect our selves.” She hoped that she was right, trying to believe the certainty that she heard in her voice.


Echo walked through to the kitchen and came back in with a bottle of red wine, two glasses, and a pizza delivery menu that had been pushed through her letter box a couple of weeks ago. She set the menu and glasses down on the table, before uncorking the wine bottle and pouring two glasses, setting one down in front of Aiden, afraid to pass it to him with his hands unpredictably trembling.


“We just need to relax tonight,” She said, by was of an explanation, “And tomorrow, when we have the advice we need, then we can worry about things we can’t control.”


They sipped on their wine, the alcohol relaxing their minds and the tenseness in their bodies. They placed an order with the pizza delivery company, and tried to talk about things other than the circumstances in which Aiden was there, and, by proxy of that, the upcoming meeting with the Zagmi, and anything to do with Apsu at all. But Echo could see it snagging away at Aiden’s mind, hurting him, making it had for him to focus on anything else. Eventually, she could stand it no longer.


“You know, we can talk about it.” She said, calmly, knowing, of course, that Aiden would know exactly what “it” was, the taboo of the day, “What happened? You can tell me.” 


Aiden picked up his wine glass and gulped down its contents, staining his top lip deep red. He knew that Echo should know, and that he should be the one to tell her, but he didn’t want to re-live it, to experience that level of fear again, at least not whilst sober.


“I don’t even know how it happened,” Aiden began, slowly, looking at his hands, begging them not to begin trembling again, but to no avail, “I took the bus to yours, to the station, I got off, and started walking over this way. I got off a couple of stops early because I was running early and didn’t know if you’d be ready, so I didn’t want to be here too soon. It was raining, but not much, and I had an umbrella, and a jacket too, back then,” Once he had started talking, he had found it difficult to stop, realising Echo was right, “I was walking, just walking from the station, when I heard him barking, growling from behind me. I thought it was a dog, not a Xul or an Apsu, just a dog that had lost their owner, or was complaining about the rain, but then I looked closer, I saw his marking, I saw his face, and I felt him gripping at my mind again.


“So I did the only thing I could think to do, I ran, fast, as fast as I could. I slipped in the rain, fell into a branch and scratched my face, must had dropped my umbrella then too, but he was following me, that Xul was faster at running than I was. I wanted to Become, but I knew his hold would be stronger on me if I did, and besides, there was nowhere to hide. He closed in on me; he bit my legs, grabbed only the legs of my jeans, he ripped some bits of them right off I think, he took hold of my sleeve and started to pull me down from my jacket, so I took it off before he could get me. But I kept running, it was all I could do. I cut through a shop, trying to lose him, knowing that unless he transformed back into his Human Form he would not be able to follow me through there, and if he did his hold on tracing me would be less. Once I was out, I just ran straight here, hoping I’d lost him, hoping that the rain would wash away my tracks, It was as best as I could do.


“But Echo, he was inside my head again, he gets in, and it just… it feels like he wont leave, not ever. It feels like he has you, like he owns you, like everything you do is in his control.” By the time Aiden had finished re-living the story for Echo, tears had begun to stream down his face, staining his pale skin in wet stripes. He buried his head in his hands, trying to hide the fact that he was crying from Echo, although with little success. Echo put her arms around Aiden and pulled him into a hug, his eyes dampening her shoulder. Once she felt his arms loosen their tenseness, they broke apart.


“Hey now, come on,” Echo said, stroking his back to try and soothe him. She poured him another glass of wine. Aiden wiped his eyes and reached for his wine, Echo trying to smile at him to lift his mood when his eyes crossed paths with hers, and he forced one back. It surprised him, but the act of smiling along with the release of his crying had made him relax somewhat. Or maybe that was just the wine.  


“I really don’t know what I’d do without you, Echo,” Aiden said eventually, once he was sure he would be able to speak without the risk of crying again.


Their pizza arrived, Echo answered the door, keeping an eye out for Mick, not seeing him anywhere around. She was sure that Aiden had managed to lose him, but knew that Aiden would still have his doubts on the matter. She brought the pizza though, deciding that they would try to make the most of their evening together. If nothing else, the experience with Mick had brought them closer, it had reminded them that they were now reliant on each other for support, and it reminded them quite how important their meeting tomorrow would be.


Aiden could hardly manage half a slice of the pizza. He felt nowhere near as distressed as he had done earlier, but he still felt drained and shaken, weak from the events of the day. He glanced up at the clock on the wall, realising he had been at Echo’s for almost four hours. Four hours of sitting and crying and trying to get his head round the trauma. He could not bear the thought of leaving, of leaving Echo alone and the journey he would have to make home.


“Echo,” He began, “I know it’s a lot to ask, it’s just, would you mind if I stayed over the night? I could sleep on the couch, I just, well, we’re safer together aren’t we? Stronger and that. I just want to make sure you’re safe.” He continued, trying to phrase the words in a way he felt comfortable with saying, in a way that he would not admit his fears directly, despite the fact he had nothing really left to hide from Echo after this evening. She had no illusions of manliness that was not there, she had seen him raw and open, no illusions or impressions, just Aiden as he could be.


“Of course,” Said Echo, glad that he had been the one to suggest it, “To be honest, I could do with having someone – having you – around, I’d be a little jumpy myself if it weren’t for you being here.” She reached her arm over to him, and rested her hand on his knee. He leaned in, his face next to hers, a slight stubble form his chin grazing softly against her cheeks, his tear-stained, bloodshot but brilliant green eyes looking into hers, the warmth of his breathing against her. He pulled her into a kiss. It was slow and sweet, gentle, open mouthed and subtle. It was strong and powerful, full of anxiety, distress, and passion. It was everything Echo could have wanted, without, of course, the circumstances in which it occurred. But out of the ashes of adversity, this phoenix of a kiss was born, ready to guide them into their power, together, their combined power, the power of the one and the many. For the first time in weeks they felt truly like something could be done, their spirits lifting, Aiden calming back down to almost his normal pace being, and Echo feeling him do so.


They spent the night in each others arms, listening to each other breathe, being calmed by the steady pace, trying to relax as best they could, which was considerably more than it would have been alone. Though Aiden was annoyed with himself for showing Echo quite how vulnerable he really felt about the situation, he could not have thought of anyone better to have to go through it with, for all the support and strength and knowledge that Echo had, for both life, and for this. He vowed to himself to keep her safe, to take on the man’s role, if need be, and to protect her, as he knew that she would do him. Together, they were more than twice as strong as they were apart, Aiden had felt it that day in The Heath, when she had helped him break free of Mick’s mind interference, compared to how it had felt, and quite how much harder it had been today. Together, and with whatever help they could get, they would protect themselves, they would keep each other, and themselves, safe, and they would do so without it interfering with every single aspect of their lives. They would be practicing Apsu living in the Lu world, with Lu dramas, parties and work, with Apsu problems, magic and excitement. They would have it all and they would not accept anything less than just that, everything.


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