...home will always find you.
Eryn is falling.
Wind rushes in her hair, stings her eyes. Blood pumps through her ears, and out through the gash in her torso.
It's a blessing that she can't feel a single thing; it's a curse that her final moments will be something she can't experience.
Seven hundred years of existence, only to die at the hands of some errant child.
It's what she deserves, all things considered.
Her mind is empty. She supposes normally people would think of family and friends; of love ones left behind. But Eryn has had none of that in centuries.
It's been only her for a very long time. And soon, it won't even be that.
The sky is blue. Bright blue, achingly so, burning her retinas just staring up at it; cloudless, endless.
Eryn closes her eyes.
She's long gone before she hits the ground.
Eryn is surprised when she wakes up.
Surprised to feel the aches of her body; her back in particular feels as if a building has landed on it, and her head has made double impact with a mountain. There's a cast on her arm but none on her legs, but those are wrapped so tightly they could might as well be immobile anyway.
The sky is now a plain white ceiling.
A heart moniter beeps somewhere close, slow and even.
Every breath feels like a waste.
Every breath feels like a miracle.
Eryn is still tired, so she goes back to sleep, to the sound of her heartbeat on the moniter and the echo in her broken ribcage.
There's someone in the room with her.
The scent of sterility shifts into something else; of coffee and vanilla and the sharp nip associated with winter months and magic.
Eryn opens her eyes, blinks to focus, and shifts.
Faster than she can sit up, a hand is on her shoulder and the scent washes over her, and she's being pushed back down before she can register it.
There's a person staring down at her and he's saying something, but Eryn can hardly hear, can hardly move, too stunned by the ease of his hand on her shoulder to pay attention or respond.
She's supposed to be a mountain; unmovable, steadfast.
She's supposed to be a hurricane; unrelenting, dangerous.
But the breath in her lungs is nothing more than a summer breeze and she's been reduced to a pebble.
I was supposed to die, she thinks, seeing without seeing. I'm not supposed to be here.
There are hands on her, rough hands, pressing her back. Faces she can't see are saying things she doesn't understand.
Her throat is hoarse and her shoulders ache.
Screaming. You're screaming. A part of her mind registers, but it's drowned out by the growing horror that she can't feel anything inside her.
She isn't supposed to be empty.
She isn't supposed to be alive.
Eryn shuts her eyes and doesn't know when she falls asleep.
The next time she catches the scent of coffee and vanilla and ice, Eryn's able to sit up with minimal effort.
He's staring at her, mouth slightly open. Handsome face; sharp, angular cheekbones, strong jawline, thick eyebrows and expressive whiskey brown eyes. His hair is curly black and he's in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt.
There's flour on his cheek and the scent of sugar permeates his clothing.
The stranger offers Eryn a smile. Eryn does not return it.
It falters, and he rubs the back of his neck.
"Are you okay?" He asks, and immediately winces. "Of course you're not. I'm sorry, you don't have to answer that. You fell from the sky, who would be okay after that?"
The man visibly deflates.
"Sorry. I'll just-I think the doctor will want to know you're awake. So I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere." He laughs awkwardly.
Eryn stares. She can't do more than that, can't find the words or find the strength to move her arms.
With one last look, the man leaves.
Eryn stares at the space he occupied.
The doctor says a lot of things.
Trauma, amnesia, selective mutism.
Physical therapy, actual therapy.
He says Eryn is lucky to be alive.
Eryn can't find it in herself to believe that.
The pretty man with sharp cheekbones and whiskey eyes comes back.
Smelling of sugar and vanilla and coffee beans, he ambles into the room and pulls up a chair with minimal hesitation, and sits by her bedside.
"I, uh, I'm Kal."
Kal holds out a hand to shake. Eryn stares until he tucks it back into his lap, folds it into the other.
"I'm the one that found you...y'know, after your, um, landing. It was just outside my backyard. There's a crater and everything."
Eryn doesn't say anything, so Kal continues. "I would show it to you, but the doctor doesn't want to throw you back into hysterics like before."
Slowly, Eryn shakes her head.
Kal blinks. "You sure?" His hand is already reaching for his back pocket. When Eryn doesn't reply he tugs his phone out and with a few deft clicks holds the screen out to her.
The crater is big and ugly, carving a hole into what was probably a beautiful stretch of grass. Blood splatters on the inside and around the surrounding grass, stark red and jarring.
Eryn closes her eyes and breathes in deeply.
That's where she should've died.
But you didn't. A voice says. It almost sounds like Vann, her oldest friend. You didn't because you don't want to.
You didn't because you can't.
"Doc says that any minute later and you wouldn't have made it." Kal is saying, and when she opens her eyes he's sliding his phone back into his pocket. "Good thing I took the day off, right?" He smiles.
Eryn doesn't respond.
Her ribcage and torso twinge with every breath in and out.
Her left arm is practically unusable and her legs are little more than cut up strips of flesh.
One of her fingers, the forefinger on her left hand is completely shattered.
Her body hurts and her soul is nothing but smoke and the barest of sparks.
Eryn opens her mouth, and says,
The smile she gets in return is blinding.
The man visits every two days, bringing his scent of sugar and ice, bright smiles, and stories.
Kal talks a lot and about everything; his childhood, his current job, his friends. Anything and everything, with unbounded enthusiasm, despite Eryn's silence.
She doesn't know what to say, doesn't want to say anything, and he seems to understand that, instead listening to the words on her face.
When a story edges on disbelief, her eyebrow raises and he's quick to assure her.
When Eryn finds something funny and her mouth twitches he laughs twice as hard and smiles twice as wide.
Eryn doesn't talk, but Kal fills the silence her mind would try to occupy and she's grateful.
It continues like this for two and a half weeks:
Eryn wakes up from a very short sleep.
Her nightmares loop for two hours.
The nurse comes in with breakfast.
The nurse comes back for the tray and leaves.
Eryn practices sitting and walking, without permission, because her back is nearly healed and her legs are no longer ribbons, and now flesh and bone and a canvas of faded pink scars.
Kal visits every other day to make her laugh or drop off books or sneak in snacks.
They share lunch for an hour, and then Kal leaves.
When Kal isn't there Eryn reads a book until the nurse comes to tell her that she has to practice walking for real.
Eryn pretends to be bad at it, stumbles and takes breaks because people will ask questions if she's suddenly fine.
In the evening Kal will come back, and their talks are slower, quieter, with the orange and purple sunset at their backs.
In the second week, on a Thursday evening, Eryn tells him her name.
Kal smiles so brightly Eryn can see the sun shrinking faster in shame.
Kal leaves around seven, before it gets too dark.
Eryn reads until the lights go out.
Then she lays away until the painkillers force her into a fitful rest of crackling hands and scathing words and fire.
Of course, because Eryn's life is a train wreck, there's a commotion at her door. Eryn hears the words police and questions and she's out of the bed before it registers, feet on the ground and racing to the window.
It's too early for Kal to be here; she's barely woken up a couple hours before, so there's no scent of vanilla and sugar at her door. Instead she can smell gun powder and sweat; false assurances like bitters on her tongue.
Whoever is at that door, they do not wish her well.
Eryn opens the window and looks down. It's not far from the ground, and she's jumped from higher. Who cares that she's not fully healed?
Not like Eryn'll die anyway.
Not when she doesn't want to.
The door handle jingles.
Eryn climbs onto the ledge of the window, and without looking back, jumps.
It doesn't feel like falling.
Last time it was out of her control, free falling from a height she can't even begin to fathom, mind and body pushed to the very limits, tethered to the land of the living only by the bite of her jaw and her broken, bloody fingernails.
But this drop is measly in comparison, barely a height to think about. In seconds the asphalt is on her toes and she drops into a roll, scuffing her hospital gown.
Eryn pushes to her feet. The police have noticed her empty bed.
Eryn follows her nose and runs.
Eryn isn't surprised when she ends up at a quaint, homey bakery.
Her nose, no matter how many time it's been broken, has never let her down, and while she passed several other bakeries, it was the lack of sharp ice that kept her moving until she found the right one.
Now, Eryn knows how she looks; wild red hair, dirty hospital gown, barefoot and casted and bandaged. She resembles a runaway rather than a dragon.
That's why she sneaks in through the door that says emergency exit, and enters into a kitchen. It smells right in here; like the scent she found comfort in the past two and a half weeks, and she takes a moment, barely half a second, to breathe it in.
Then she goes.
This part of the kitchen is empty of everything but dishes, but when she rounds the corner, Eryn spots dark curls and familiar jeans behind a counter. He's kneading bread, she notices, forearms flexing as he presses down on the dough and rolls, humming a tune under his breath.
No wonder he jumps so violently when Eryn claps a hand around his mouth and pulls him back to her chest.
Kal screams into her palm and flails and Eryn growls out a shut up, and he does, falling limp in her grasp.
She lets go and he turns. Wide eyes run down her form, as if in disbelief. His mouth is slightly parted.
"How the hell did you get here?"
Eryn considers her options quickly, and settles on an answer.
"From the hospital?"
"You do know that's about five miles away, right?"
Kal buries his head in his hands, and takes several deep breaths. Eryn doesn't rush him.
"Is there a reason you ran five miles from the hospital to here?"
Eryn almost doesn't want to tell him the truth, but those whiskey eyes are honest and open and staring at her like he wants to know because he cares and-
Eryn's walls are little more than a weathered down cliffside drowning in tsunami waves.
"The police were outside. They...wanted to ask questions." She looks at those whiskey eyes with a gaze she faintly remembers someone calling terrifyingly earnest. "I cannot answer those questions."
For a while, there's nothing but silence. It unnerves her, seeing Kal's usual exuberance muted into something Eryn could almost believe was contemplative if she couldn't already see the determined set to his shoulders.
"Okay." Kal says, eyes dead serious. "Okay, I'll help you out."
Eryn almost smiles.
Kal leaves to convince his boss that he's too ill to work.
Eryn doesn't do much in that time, but watches the bread in the oven until he comes back, smiling slightly and untying the apron around his waist. He drops it in a chair and Eryn follows him out of the kitchen and back into the back alley way, out into the sun.
Eryn doesn't ask questions when he goes out to the parking lot, and hops in a dainty, slightly run down car.
It's well worn and saturated in his scent, and Eryn's shoulders loosen enough for her to relax into her seat with minimal effort, arm tucked protectively to her chest.
Kal switches on the radio to an upbeat song Eryn doesn't know, but appreciates for the way it pushes back on the creeping dread worming its way into her chest.
Kal is quiet when he drives. By the way he keeps his eyes on the road and the steady position of his hands, Eryn would think he's ignoring her. But the furrow in his brow is unconscious and his jaw is loose, so he must just be concentrating.
Eryn turns back to the road and doesn't bother to add to the noise.
The house Kal leads them back to is like his car; small, well worn and homey. The porch steps creak under their weight, the hinges squeal as he opens the door, the lights hesitate a fraction of a second before turning on.
Kal takes his shoes off by the door, tucks them by a coat rack.
Eryn wipes her feet on the mat and steps fully inside.
"Want a drink?" Kal asks, hesitating at an archway. Eryn's first reaction is to say no, but she's going to be talking and explaining, and she hasn't spoken more than five words in the last seventeen days. Her throat is sore from the few sentences she said at the bakery.
He disappears beyond the arch, into what Eryn spies to be the kitchen. She looks around, but other than the odd smell of ice there's nothing out of the ordinary, so she takes a seat on the couch and waits for him to get back.
It takes two minutes, but soon Kal is handing her a glass of water and Eryn is downing half in one go.
Kal sits on the coffee table in front of her. Eryn is impressed that it can hold his weight, but in truth he's not that large, and seems to hold most of his intimidation in his height and honest eyes.
"Before I start," Eryn says, because this has to be clear or else nothing will work, "I need you to know that I will not, or ever will hurt you. You saved my life, and that is a debt I cannot repay."
It's amusing, watching the flush that settles high on Kal's cheeks. He rubs the back of his neck and bobs his head, absently muttering his understanding.
Eryn doesn't hesitate. "I am a dragon."
It goes as well as one expects.
Kal starts laughing.
Doubled over, forehead almost touching his knee, clutching his stomach. Kal is wheezing, and Eryn can taste the salt of tears on her tongue as she heaves a sigh and waits.
It peters out eventually, and Kal takes his time wiping his eyes and face as he straightens.
Eryn's face is carefully blank.
Kal's remaining smile dies. "Oh. You're...serious."
Eryn puts down her glass and holds out her good hand towards him. It takes a good deal of concentration, since her magic reserves are practically ashes, but she manages to bring her scales out of hiding, just ten or fifteen littered across her forearm like tiny shields.
The bright orange reflects harshly in the light, and bounces off Kal's wide eyed whiskey stare.
"Oh wow," he says, glancing up at Eryn, then back down. "Oh wow." He repeats, one hand coming up, then pausing.
"Do you mind if I-I mean, can I-"
Eryn shrugs and holds her arm closer to him.
Kal only hesitates a moment longer before carefully running his fingers over the scales, touch so light and feather soft it draws a shudder from her spine.
Eryn lets him pet her arm for several seconds more before retreating, tucking her arm back into her chest as the scales disappear once more.
"That was very cool." Kal said. "Is that all you can do?"
The question is so absurd Eryn snorts. "Of course not. I have wings and a tail and talons. My teeth are razor sharp and my senses are impeccable. This is just my human skin. It makes blending in easier. Nobody really gives me a second look when I'm not thirty feet tall and curling smoke every time I breathe."
Kal whistles. "Wow, I think that's the most I've ever heard you say."
Eryn shrugs and says in her dullest voice, "Maybe I just like talking about myself."
Kal can't tell if she's bullshitting or not by the look on his face, but he doesn't call her out.
"So why can't the police ask you questions?" He asks.
Eryn's mouth twists to the side. "Because technically, there's no record of me. I fell from the sky. Literally. I appeared out of the sky and crash landed into this dimension. I don't exist, and they're going to want to know why."
Kal is quiet for a little while.
Eryn takes the time to remove the cast from her arm. She's never liked them very much, and her arm is one hundred percent healed anyway, so she makes easy work of the bandages, sighing when her skin meets fresh air.
It looks the same, except for a long, pink scar from her wrist to her elbow, mostly healed. The scales there will probably be easy to remove now. She'll have to be careful.
"There...are some people who may be willing to help you. They've helped me out a lot the last couple years. I trust them."
Kal says, but his heartbeat has shifted; it's slightly more erratic, an uptick in pressure.
Eryn doesn't mention it, and simply nods.
Kal schedules an appointment for the following week.
That evening he cooks them dinner. Mac and cheese.
Eryn hasn't had this in a long time. A homecooked meal, someone that actually cared about her, mac and cheese.
It's a lot to take in, and Eryn finds herself staring at the bowl or Kal or her own scarred hands, blinking and trying to make sense of it.
Kal asks if there's something wrong.
Eryn shakes her head and finishes her meal.
Eryn takes a bath.
She spends two hours untangling knots from her curls, scrubbing dirt from her skin, digging blood from under her fingernails.
It's a good two hours spent.
Eryn is inordinately pleased.
Eryn will not take Kal's bed.
Kal doesn't want her sleeping on the couch.
It's put them at an impasse for the last ten minutes.
Chin jutted, eyes narrowed, jaw clenched; Kal reminds her of a kitten.
Eryn wants to laugh.
Instead she tells him to go to bed. She growls and everything.
Kal refuses to budge, and instead offers to compromise.
That's how Eryn finds herself sleeping in the living room on the couch, Kal spread out on a single seat, feet propped up and snoring.
Eryn doesn't sleep, but she rests well.
A new routine develops.
Kal wakes up and prepares for work, while Eryn pretends to sleep.
When Kal leaves, Eryn gets up to see breakfast prepared for her, along with a joke written down on a piece of paper. Most are terrible, but Eryn laughs anyway, and keeps them hidden in the cushions of the couch.
Afterwards, Eryn takes a shower, combs her hair, and steals a shirt and sweatpants.
Eryn spends most of the day reading.
If it's sunny she sits on the porch.
If it rains she stays inside.
When Kal gets home they play rock, paper scissors to see who'll cook dinner. (This is because they had another stare down when Eryn wanted to cook and Kal refused. This is the compromise they've settled on.)
After dinner they watch T.V. until ten, then Kal switches off the lights and goes to sleep.
Eryn just stares at the ceiling, sheets pulled up to her neck yet still cold, struggling to remember how to breathe when the air didn't taste like war and bloodshed.
Her appointment is Wednesday.
Kal takes the day off so he wakes up at eight, and they leave the house at ten.
The ride into town is silent save for the pop tunes the radio churns out, and soon they're at a multistoried building made of glass and magic in its walls.
Eryn stops right outside the door.
She won't move-can't move. The place is saturated with magic, thick and cloying and dangerous. If something goes wrong she can't protect herself, or Kal.
But still, Eryn takes a deep breath, settles her nerves with an iron hand. Power or not, fire or no fire, she's still a dragon.
She steps inside.
As soon as she's past the doors people stop and stare. Eryn's not sure what they see; a five foot eleven inch redhead in a too large hoodie and sweatpants, blank faced and dull eyed. Or maybe they can see the sharpness of her teeth and the hinted curves of the talons on her bare feet, or the phantom image of wings against her back, red and beaten but still beautiful.
Eryn wonders if they can tell she's dangerous by just looking. Maybe they wonder why she's here with Kal, who's talking amicably with a receptionist.
Obliviously, Kal leads them up to the elevator. He doesn't even ponder on the hush that has captured the people here.
A pretty woman with mossy green eyes and a plethora of freckles across her face glares at her as she passes.
Eryn bares her teeth, lets a growl settle in her chest.
The woman flinches and ducks her head.
Eryn finds victory in the little things.
They head up in the elevator and down a hallway, until they reach an office.
It...doesn't smell like anything.
Or rather, it smells like something that's meant to cover scents.
Eryn flexes her fingers inside her pockets as Kal opens the door.
The inside is that of a standard office; bare walls, wood flooring, books and papers scattered about. There's a desk with chairs in front, and a man is sitting behind that desk, and the scent of nothingness grows stronger.
"Kal," the man at the desk is surprised to see him, by his wide eyed stare, "I didn't expect to see you. The appointment was for Eryn."
"It is. I was just helping her get here." Kal is fidgeting, one hand goes up to rub the back of his neck. There's a flush on his cheeks.
The man's stare is impassive and hard. Unusually so.
Eryn clears her throat to get Kal's attention, and puts her hand on the back of his head. She pulls him forward until their foreheads touch.
"You can leave, but don't go far."
Eryn hasn't had to reassure someone in a while, so the pheromones she releases are weaker than they should be. But still, Kal relaxes, shoulders slumping inwards and head leaning back on her hand.
She drags it through his hand, squeezes his nape then lets go.
"I'll be fine."
Eyes slightly dazed, Kal nods and goes with the promise to be back in a hour.
The door clicks shut behind him.
"Please," the man says, "have a seat."
"What are you?"
"What did you do to Kal?"
The man doesn't reply, but his jaw is tight.
Eryn really looks at him then. Bypassing the lightness of his eyes and the mole underneath, the paleness of his skin and the suit shaping broad shoulders, she lets the illusion of handsome man pass her, until she reaches the truth beneath.
Eryn lets her eyes flash. It's the most she's willing to waste on him, this man who so clearly has caused Kal (her saviour) such distress.
"I am a visitor. That's all you need to know."
The man steeples his fingers together and leans forward. That disgusting empty scent wafts towards her. Eryn resists the urge to gag.
"I think I'm going to need a little bit more than that if I'm going to fabricate an entire identity for you."
"I don't-" Eryn stops herself. This isn't like before, when she was alone and could do whatever she wanted. She was rescued, and taken care of by Kal. If Eryn is to step a toe out of line now, they would definitely connect them and go after him.
Eryn would not have another person's blood on her hands. Not like this.
"Very well." She concedes, head high and eyes very carefully dull. "Ask you questions."
"What is your full name?"
"That's an odd name."
"It's the name of my clan. I'm the last of them."
"...Oh. I am sorry to hear that."
"...Alright. How old are you?"
"I don't really remember, but I can give an approximation."
"Seven hundred seventy-five, give or take ten years."
"Right, okay. Where are you from?"
"Do you mean a country in the Cloud Kingdom, or...?"
"No. I fell from the sky, from another dimension. My home is not someplace you will find, or somewhere I can return to."
"Okay, it seems you aren't taking this seriously. If not, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Eryn is undoubtedly pissed.
She's tempted to just burn the whole room down, just to watch his face when he's consumed by flames, but she holds back the feeling by a thread of patience.
I would eat you for breakfast if I could change, she thinks bitterly.
Instead she says, "I don't care enough about your opinion to lie. I don't even want to be here, but for Kal..." To make sure he doesn't end up in trouble while I'm here. "I have to do this; to get my documents. To live here legally as long as I have to."
The man sighs, but sits up straighter. His eyes are more serious than they've ever been up to this point. "Who is Kal to you?"
Eryn thinks about the past three and a half weeks. About preparing meals together and sharing the same den and learning to live around each other.
She thinks of the smiles she gets when she speaks up, and the warmth she feels down to her very centre.
She thinks of staying up at night, less because of nightmares and more because she can't trust a world that can't guarantee Kal's safety.
So when Eryn says, "He's mine," she doesn't feel anything but truth in her words.
The meeting ends with Eryn Raes-Vi as a citizen of Newvalley.
Kal takes her for ice cream to celebrate.
Eryn doesn't have much of a taste for sweets, but watching Kal try to finish a giant sundae before it melts tastes like the sweetest victory she's had in a long time.
In the next weeks, Eryn decides to be a member of society.
First, she gets a job.
At first, of course it was difficult to convice people to hire a person who had zero credentials to speak of, but a small flower shop owned by a robust, zestful woman had been desperate, and at Eryn's ability to carry three giant bags of fertilizer without breaking a sweat, had hired her nearly on the spot.
After her first paycheck a week later, Eryn buys herself some clothes.
The rest goes into groceries, which Kal only fights on for three minutes.
Eryn counts it as a win.
The second week, she buys some wood, a hammer and nails, and goes about fixing the house.
First the creaky steps, then the holes in the porch and the railing.
She finds a wrench and fixes the leaky faucet.
When she starts pulling weeds outside in the back garden, Kal protests.
"You don't have to fix up the house." He says.
"I do." Eryn replies.
"You don't have to repay me." Kal insists.
Eryn likes to think that she does, she knows she does. His kindness to her is the only reason she's alive when everybody else would rather see her dead.
But of course she doesn't say that.
What she says is something very different.
"It's my house now too, and if I want to pull up weeds, I can."
Kal flusters, cheeks a ruddy red. He tells her to do what she wants, and not to worry about dinner that night.
Eryn think it's a fair trade.
The third week Eryn gives up most of her paycheck towards bills, ignoring any and all protests. She lives here now, Eryn reminds Kal, she's not a freeloader or his guest.
Kal settles on a compromise. Eryn pays for water (because she takes the longest baths) and Kal pays for lights (because he uses the lights to read most often).
They split grocery money evenly, and Kal also pays for internet because Eryn refuses to buy a phone.
And so life for Eryn and Kal goes on.
Eryn doesn't forget the reason she ended up in this world, but neither does she dwell on it.
That is the past.
This is her present.
And until the future catches up, Eryn will continue to live here, in this now, with her pack.
It's in the forth week that everything crumbles.
Eryn gets home at six, as always, but Kal is not there. It's Tuesday and his shift ends at five, and he's home no later than quarter to six.
It's also raining hard, and Kal hates being outside in this weather.
He should, by all means, be home.
Eryn steps inside.
The house is empty, as neat as they left it this morning, and smells like nothing.
Not like sugar and vanilla from Kal's job, and the sharp ice from something he hasn't shared with her.
Nothing like the smoke and soil and sun that tells of something simultaneously gentle and wild that Eryn has crafed her life into.
The unfamiliar scent in their den smells like nothing at all.
A growl builds from the deepest part of her chest, rattles her ribcage and passes through pointed teeth.
Eryn falls back on the feeling that makes up her core; the fire curling and roaring, the dragon yanking its chains and screaming.
Her half-transformation comes back to her easily; her tail curls snugly around her waist, and her wings fold against her shoulder blades. Her claws are as sharp as ever, her scales harder than diamond and brilliant orange even in the misty rain.
Her anger had always been a part of her, fire and flame, eager to consume.
Eryn hopes whoever took Kal understands the concept of mercy.
She hopes that their gods understand it too.
Thanks for reading!