It was with a light breeze that Bactine burst out of the hut belonging to Namah. Dawn was in the air, and everything was more or less delightful, as far as she was concerned. The sun even had somehow edged its way through the miasma that generally surrounded the marsh and fell on Bactine’s face with radiance, as if drawn to further elevate her mood. Xylic followed behind, unusually cheerful despite his general self, and if one were to observe closely, it would be evident that he drew pleasure from the height of Bactine’s happiness.
Namah emerged last, even mildly elevated herself, as on one of those mornings when cheer is catching, although she was very careful to hide it in order to remain her own singular brand of dignified. It was she who then broke the natural sounds which encompassed them, including a small patch of chuckling birds and the rustle of leaves, filling the rend with the inferior and less expressive language of man.
“If you get yourselves stuck in the swamp, I’m not coming to help you,” she indifferently informed the two. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t even know you.”
Following this speech, she went back into her hovel with scant pomp, leaving Bactine and Xylic alone.
In the fortnight past, Namah had perceived Bactine intently, and had tailored her education accordingly. Namah taught her only a few tricks, but they were the ones that she believed would work well for the girl in a pinch, although were so potent most of the defense spells would render her unconscious for a short duration following the initial burst. Namah had warned her of this repeatedly and to a great extent very tiresomely, but in the end she was content that the girl had ingested the most of what she needed to know.
So after less than three weeks, Bactine was not only able to heal the wounds on others, but able to regenerate and defend herself and those around her.
It was this that had Bactine in such high spirits on this particular morning, as she and Xylic set off towards the forest which led to the farmlands, which led to the city and ultimately her home.
The marshes weren’t overly hard to traverse, as most things aren’t overly hard when moods are high. She and Xylic made their way rather closely; he with a stick and she very near him, and she took his hand warmly which didn’t feel at all awkward as she kept it in her possession for the time being. He, for his part, relinquished his hand willingly to her.
They talked very lightly in the forest, as the close, woven trees around them returned the small laugh that might escape one or the other now and again. They were alone in a room, or a closet perhaps, that moved past as they walked, never really changing as it was always the trunks and branches and leaves. The day passed as a pleasant hour, and when the night came they slept peacefully and side by side, each given the brief blessing of contentment that deepens sleep and never lasts.
The next day, as they reached the edge of the farmlands and the city proper came into view, Bactine began to feel unrest, as if a bee were inside of her and she was a barrel, and it was flying about trying to find the exit. She said nothing of this to Xylic, not wanting to break the pleasant reverie of recent hours, but he perceived it in the particular furrow of her brow, regardless. As was his way at times, he only inquired passively by walking closer to her side.
At first, she merely tried to ignore it, but as she came closer and closer to the city she started to wonder if she was suffering from some sort of anxiety attack. Her breath was uneven, and she felt herself shiver, so she moved to lean herself against the nearest tree.
“What is it?” asked Xylic.
“I… I don’t think I want to go home,” she said.
Xylic glanced at the city, and, as he didn’t defend home’s merits as it were, she wondered briefly if he shared her sentiment.
“Then what do you want to do?” he asked her.
She glanced up at him, and smiled despite herself. To her, Xylic was just funny. In every possible sense of the word, he was so. She was very sure she’d never meet anyone as odd if she should travel as far east or south as any map was penned. At the same time, however, he was remarkably endearing, especially now, when he was so openly asking her what she would rather do than go home.
The idea of doing anything else was silly, really. She missed her mother and Snowball, and her father, and possibly even the wash. It was just that the idea of going home strangely made her feel like a clamp was being slowly shut over her, or as if she were a firefly being closed into a glass jar for keeping. Forever.
Her breath fell distressed and uneven as she returned her gaze to Xylic, and then everything began to happen at once. He was looking at her with an intensity that she was fairly certain she’d never seen on his face before, and she suddenly knew, as the way intuition takes over at times like this, what he wanted to do. In her current mindset of trapped desperation she found she was rather drawn to him in return, if because she truly was or because he offered escape, she didn’t care. Suddenly the space between them was fiercely magnetic, and it was only through falling against each other that the tireless pull was relieved.
He sighed into her hair and held her against him with quiet desperation. For her it was warmth, all fluid and red, and almost as if she were looking inside of him again. She wanted to kiss him inevitably, and so they nearly did.
“Bactine!” called a voice. “Is that you?”
Bactine was fairly bleary at the prospect of conversing with or even noticing anyone except for Xylic at the moment, however, she worked very hard to focus her mind and pulled away from Xylic at the same time she recognized the caller.
“Violet,” she said, not altogether welcoming. “There you are,” she finished lamely.
“You’re back already?” Violet exclaimed. “Your mother will be thrilled!”
Then Violet stopped, considering.
“Unless that means you’ve been expelled,” she said to Bactine in a dubious manner.
Bactine smiled wryly.
“No, I wasn’t expelled,” she said. “It was a… unh… accelerated course.”
“Oh,” said Violet vacuously. “Well, I should be going. I’ll see you soon!”
Violet spared Xylic an openly flirtatious smile which garnered absolutely no reply and flounced away.
Suddenly awkwardness closed around them like a thick fog that clouds all senses. Xylic spoke first, uncharacteristically.
“It’s late,” he said. “If we hurry, you can be on your front porch by sunset.”
Being both relieved and anxious over the excuse he’d given both of them to pretend nothing had just happened, she straightened herself and walked on with Xylic ever nearby; towards the city and towards her home.