She giggled when he scooped her up into his arms and started to run. She slipped her short, plump arms around his neck and held on just like he’d told her to, and to her it was all just a game at first, and he ran so fast that the wind bit cold into her cheeks, whipping her hair around, and at some point she stopped giggling and nestled her face into his neck where it was warm and closed her eyes until they had stopped.
Tucked up in his lap in the middle of the meadow, her face pressed close to his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around her, the thing that the little girl remembered the most was the smell of her brothers’ shirt, a smell that she would not recognize or be able to define until many years later, of perspiration mixed with the odor of smoke and burning wood. That, and the grass in the meadow tickled her face. Her heart was beating faster than it ever had before and she began to cry.
Ana sat bolt upright, waking suddenly, her forehead beaded in sweat and looked around the darkened room, slightly disoriented for a few moments. She was stiff and sore, and she stretched, cringing as she realized that she had fallen asleep on the small two seated sofa in the living room of their small stone house, and at best the furniture was only just barely tolerable enough to sit on, let alone sleep on, so she knew she’d pay for that by way of a stiff back for at least a day or two. She found a candle to light, and set it on the small table on the other side of the room, shivering as a cold gust of wind blew through the open window. Valgoren knew better than to leave anything open at night, and she wrinkled her nose and shook her head in annoyance as she closed the shutter. She was also more than a little miffed that he hadn’t at least covered her up where she slept. It wasn’t summer after all, and these nights in the desert, despite the mostly tropical climate, could get bitter at this time of year. The cold winds were and could be harsh and unforgiving.
She wondered, as she picked up the candle from the table and moved across the room and down the hallway to her brothers’ room to check on him, if everything was okay, or in fact what time he had gotten in and in what sort of a state even as to forget something as simple and in fact as important as closing a window. Though they weren’t technically in hiding anymore, one could never be too careful; he had said so on so many occasions that almost every time he did speak those words now, she would roll her eyes and say, “How could I possibly forget with you reminding me 5 times a day?”
She pushed the door of his room open with her free hand, slowly. It creaked, it always had done so since the day they’d moved into the house no matter how many times it were oiled, so if he was soundly asleep, she didn’t want to wake him on account of that. She simply wanted to make sure he was there, he was home and that he was safe, as always. Ana knew, before she even moved into the room, just standing in the doorway that her brother was not there, and that when she did in fact move out of the doorway and towards his bed that it would be empty. It was that instinctual feeling that one got at certain moments in time where you simply didn’t need to see or to hear something to know that it was so, it just was.
An involuntary shiver ran up her spine and she stood there for long agonizing moments, afraid almost to see it with her own eyes. It wouldn’t have been the first time that he was late coming home, or that he hadn’t come home at all, but it was the first time that she had ever been filled with such a sense of dread because of it. In her bones, she sensed that something was terribly wrong, and if asked about it at some point long, long afterwards, she still wouldn’t have been able to articulate how she knew. She just did. And padding across the stone floor in her bare feet, her eyes dropped to the bed and found it untouched and exactly as she had made it after he had left for work that morning. He’d not been back.
He’s not coming back.
She shook her head, swiftly, as if the words and the voice that she heard inside her head were actually real. She’d prove her subconscious wrong. She’d just go and find him, right now. Passed out in some bar somewhere or on the ship he’d been working on for the past few weeks. And she’d bring him home, and everything would be just fine. As it always had been, since it had been just the two of them. As it had been. Just fine.