Cyan sat on a rock just outside the village looking up at the night-time sky. She could've used the excuse that she was star-gazing, except there were no stars, just an indistinct glow from the mountains to provide a dim light to dispel the evening gloom.
The truth was that she needed the solitude to brood without anyone intruding into her dark thoughts.
A familiar male voice floated out of the near-darkness.
"Mind if I join you?" Donovan asked as he approached, placing a foot on a stone outcropping and leaning down. Of the rest of the group, he'd somehow made the smoothest transition to wearing the village's clothes. While the others looked like they were wearing a costume (and watching Billy Jo try on clothes made for people two sizes smaller than him had certainly been entertaining), the former pilot looked quite comfortable walking around in native garb.
After a few seconds of comfortable silence doing his own non-stargazing, Donovan said conversationally, "Y'know, they say that doctors make the lousiest patients. I'm not sure about that, but I know some pilots who make horrible passengers."
With a sigh, he spoke further, the lightness in his voice dropping to a more serious tone. "Cyan, I don't know and won't even pretend to understand what's happened to you before. It's obvious it was something painful, and you're still carrying the pain tightly inside you."
He flashed a wry smile before continuing. "As a certified male, I'm genetically unqualified to provide any support, but I can at least make the honest and sincere suggestion that keeping yourself bottled up like that is just not good for you. I'm sure someone like Mother Gytha would be open and sympathetic about lending an ear, and she may even surprise you with some helpful insight. Women like her tend to."
Cyan looked over to Donovan with a calm and cool expression. She wouldn't let her emotions permeate her usual stoic demeanor that she had kept around the group and the villagers so far. If there was anything she didn't want known it was that she was a total emotional wreck.
"Guess I'm not the only one who can't sleep around here these days, huh?" she said, her voice an almost-croak. Her emotions had been piling up over the course of their stay in Fyrkat and she didn't know how much longer she could hold her facade of being the 'Big Stoic Lady' everyone had come to see her as.
Taking a step up from her perch on the small rock, she turned away from Donovan so that in case she started to tear up he couldn't see. She could still feel his eyes locked on her, though.
"I appreciate the hospitality and all, Don, I really do, but I'm fine. If I need help you'll be the first person to know." Cyan was trying to keep things brief. A long conversation would likely lead to her losing control.
Donovan was having none of it. He said, gently, "You're not fine, Cyan. You're in pain. I can see it, and I'm not the only one. All I want to say is, you don't have to deal with that pain alone. Please."
He made no motion to rise, staying perfectly still respecting Cyan's personal space. Nevertheless, it was obvious his full attention was focused on the woman.
"Not the only one huh? Is it that obvious? Cyan said with a sarcastic tone. "Guess I'm really bad at playing the tough girl..."
She kept her back to Donovan but took in a deep breath and started to rub the scars on her right hand in a circular motion. The rubbing always helped to ease the pain.
Every time Cyan got into a mood she would feel a slight twinge of pain in her right arm, a lingering phantom pain that always seemed to surface whenever bad memories came to her in her waking hours. So being an emotional wreck like her, she was massaging that hand often.
Donovan let a sad smile play on his lips. "Yes, Cyan, despite your best efforts, you've managed to make a few people care about you. Imagine that."
He dropped his head for a second and raised it up again to regard her directly. "You're a strong woman, Cyan. I wasn't saying otherwise. You've carried your own weight and more as long as I've known you. But letting someone share some of your burden doesn't mean you're weak".
Cyan turned to look over her shoulder slightly with Donovan just barely coming into view. She didn't want to have to look at him in the eye.
"Besides," she said, trying to put some bite in her words. "What does it matter to you anyway? Don't you have your own problems?"
The wind blew softly over the grassy fields of Fyrkat as the two held a slight pause in their conversation. Cyan wouldn't admit it outright, but she was a tad curious as to why Donovan seemed to care as to how she was feeling. Was he legitimately trying to be an open ear willing to hear her problems? Or was there something more to it?
Donovan cocked his head, the smile shifting into something a bit more roguish. "Me? Sure, I have my own set of problems." The smile faded into wistful repose. "And come to think of it, I haven't been any more open to sharing about them than you have," he admitted. "But having to deal with issues in my life doesn't mean I get to ignore others'. And focusing on healing other folks' pain is no excuse to ignore your own."
He stood up, holding his hands open in a peace-keeping gesture. "Look, all I'm saying is, talking about it does help. Doesn't have to be with me, but there's got to be someone in the village you can feel comfortable opening up to, even just a bit. Could you at least try, please?"
Cyan held her breath for a brief moment that felt like an hour to her. Her thoughts started clouding her mind and making her hesitate for her next words. Donovan didn't seem like he was just going to 'go away' at this point in the conversation.
Since her husband's death she had seemingly lost the ability to speak freely with anyone beyond her mother. But perhaps it was time that she tried opening up to someone in the group a bit more. Donovan being former military himself might even be able to relate.
But there were plenty others in the past she talked to that didn't seem to understand her pain at all; her psychiatrist Dr. John Tipton, her fellow EMT Jen, even parts of her own consciousness couldn't understand why she felt so much pain so often.
Another gentle breeze blew over the both of them. The soothing cool of the wind gave Cyan a resolve to her hesitant and emotional mind. This village and its people reminded her so much of her younger days of being on the Northern Reservations with her mother, a time when she'd felt so happy and optimistic about everything.
Her lips quivered slightly as she spoke. She hoped that Donovan could truly be that one sympathetic ear she needed right now.
"... There was... a fire..."
Donovan recognized the moment for what it was and waited, his face betraying no emotion other than attentiveness.
The hardest thing for someone to do is to listen, to be told another person's ideas and thoughts without seeking to correct, catalog, or challenge what he or she hears.
Yet, somehow, Cyan could see in Donovan's face the willingness to do exactly that, to accept her words without judgment, without expectation or condescension.
She kept her back to him, and calmly started to speak.
"My husband... He died in a fire two years ago when I was in Afghanistan... He was the only person I really loved more than my parents... And I couldn't save him..." Cyan bit her bottom lip so that it would stop quivering. "Seeing this place, and these people... Red would have loved it... This would have been like a dream to him much like it is to Ed... And I can't share it with him now... Because of my failure..."
A single tear fell down Cyan's right cheek.
Donovan stood quietly for a moment, then said quietly, "But you tried didn't you? The scars on your arm, your hand. That happened when he died." It was not a question, just an acknowledgment.
He was quiet again for a few seconds before switching to a lighter tone. "Red must've been some guy. I wish I'd had a chance to meet him. What was the best thing you loved about him?"
Cyan stood silent; contemplating all the things she knew she loved about Red. It was hard for her to say outright what it was she loved most about him. She loved everything about Red; from his charming wit, to his willingness to understand others without judging them; Cyan found him to be one of the most amazing people she ever knew in her life.
Then it hit her.
She remembered the day Red had proposed to her. He asked her what it was she wanted the most from their marriage. Cyan simply wanted a normal life with a small family living back on the Reservation where her mother grew up. She wanted to live a life away from war and not have her children grow up in fear of it. That is why she fought in Afghanistan, to help one day create that peaceful world to start a family in.
Red had told her that he didn't know if they could one day do that. He promised that no matter how bad things ever got, though, that he would stay by her side for all time. He would fight to make that better world for her and their eventual children, and they would have their normal life. Even if it never seemed possible, even if he had to do it alone, he would never give up, he would never lose hope. And if she lost hope, Red would hope for the both of them.
Cyan loved Red's hope.
She finally turned to face Donovan, sure of her words.
"I loved how no matter how bad things got; he always kept his hope. Especially when I had none… He was the reason I kept going..."
Donovan absorbed the words she'd spoken without reaction. Finally he replied, "And you, Cyan, do you have any hope now?"
Cyan hesitated. After all that had happened in her life she was starting to wonder if she really did have any hope left in her. Red had always been her cornerstone during the tough times and without him she felt like she just couldn't stand up anymore.
She looked to Donovan with a somber expression; tears welling in her eyes.
"I don't know anymore… I wish I did… But I just don't know anymore…"
Her cheeks shone as silent tears flowed.
Donovan moved slowly closer, stepping just inside her circle without crowding her. "And the fact that you don't know is proof itself that you still have some, somewhere in there." He moved one step closer to point at her chest, still not making contact.
"That's the funny thing about hope, Cyan," he spoke softly, close enough that she could feel the breath of his words on her skin. "It will survive even in the worst of circumstances, ready to grow if you just give it a chance."
Cyan was taken aback by Donovan's words.
The man's wisdom certainly went beyond his years, and she could genuinely believe now that he was if anything else a friend simply wanting to help. Being standoffish to him now wouldn't gain her anything.
"You know what Don? You're right… That's practically something Red would've told me himself. It's amazing how much you remind me of him some ways…"
A few more tears slipped down Cyan's face, but not tears of sadness or regret this time. These were tears of joy and relief. She had found what looked to be a true friend in all of this chaos that had occurred in her life.
Cyan extended her right hand out to Donovan. "Thank you Don…" she said with a warm smile coming across her tear stricken face. "You were what I needed right now more than anything…"
Don's face quirked into a mildly roguish grin. "Believe it or not, that's not something I hear from a woman that often," he joked before his face settled into a more serious mien.
"You're welcome, Cyan," he said, taking her hand in a warm grip. "Thank you for trusting me."
He released her hand and offered warmly, "If you're still in the mood to sit alone, I'll head back. No need to give the villagers more to gossip about."
He turned to leave.
Cyan couldn't help but look down at her hand. Donovan had shook it but made no mention or further comment of the burns, or her missing fingers. He knew what was there but they seem to simply not bother him. That was a first for her. Someone always seemed to have something to say about her injuries it seemed. But Donovan only acknowledged them in passing, not making a point of it.
Still smiling Cyan took a little more joy in the moment for what it was. Someone was being there to help her in her time of need. It seemed like Donovan could be a true friend.
"Hey Don!" she shouted, hoping to stall his retreat back to the village. "You can stay here if you want... I think I could probably use the company..."
Donovan turned back but hesitated before answering. A flicker of emotion crossed his face and in the dim light it was hard to recognize. Sadness? Regret? Guilt?
He broke into a smile. "Sure," he quipped as he ambled back to join her. "But don't blame me if the village grapevine gets buzzing. You'd think they didn't have TV or something to entertain themselves with," he added with a wink.
"They can think whatever... It's just that in all of this, I really could use a friend you know?" Cyan knelt down and took perch on a rock with an inviting look to Donovan. "It's not like I'm putting a knife to your throat or anything. I just don't want to be by myself right now..."
Donovan chuckled as he stretched out on the grass, propping his back on another rock. "Well, then, you're in luck. I am a certified man-friend and experienced teddy bear. Not to mention an accomplished raconteur, passable fashion-plate, and lousy cook."
The empty sky shone on.
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