Mellie rested her head on Addison’s chest, enfolded in his arms, laying there, shaking and breathless. She had barely begun to absorb what had just happened when a noise caught her attention. She popped her head up, “What is that?”
“What is what?”
She pushed herself up, but remained in her position on top of Addison. “You don’t hear that?”
They both listened carefully, holding their breath in order to hear more clearly.
In the distance, barely perceptible, Mellie heard a rumbling sound, sort of soft and mysterious. So quiet she could half convince herself she was imagining it. But now she was sure that Addison heard it too. He’d come to attention, leaning up on his elbows.
“It sounds like horses,” he said.
She listened. It did sound like horses. But if it were horses, it would have to be a herd of them. Hundreds, she figured. A cavalry. Galloping at full speed, directly toward them. Yet, that made no sense, because there were no horses that could traverse this terrain.
Dread crawled up her spine and raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Suddenly, Addison sat up. Maybe feeling the need to be ready. Ready for… something, though she didn’t know what.
Then the sound changed. “Definitely not horses.” More like the sound of rocks tumbling, and beneath them, a perpetual, relentless sliding. A dragging vibration that became an omen. Filled with the warning of cracking branches and the chilling sound of snapping trees.
Mellie tightened her grip on Addison’s cloak, the realization hitting her at the exact moment it hit him. She started to get up. But there was no time to think. No time to run. Addison pushed her onto her back and covered her body with his own only an instant before a violent wall of snow slammed into them. It spilled over them in an endless sea of bone chilling darkness. Then, beneath her, Mellie felt the surface of old snow break free and they began hurdling down the mountain.
Addison tucked her head into his neck and kept it there with his hand. His other arm wrapped around her like a band of steel. So much danger, and somehow he made her feel safe.
At least, he did until they reached an end that neither of them knew was coming. Mellie felt her feet go over the edge first and instinctively reached out to try and grab the ledge, as if her fingers were strong enough to bear the weight of her and Addison together. But before she could, they were off the side, and Addison mumbled the word “Fuck” in such a calm voice that it would have been laughable, if only they hadn’t been plummeting to their deaths.
The last thing Addison thought about before they hit the ground was Mellie asking him if he’d refuse to bed her. They were about to die and she would never know the other half of his answer.
I’ll not take your virginity. First half.
Unless we were to be married. Second half.
He was a bloody fool. First for thinking it, and then for failing to tell her. Because when she’d asked that question, he had thought about spending the rest of his life with her. Thought it would be rather nice, in fact. But he’d recognized that the idea was unreasonable. If only he’d known that the rest of his life would be a few short minutes more, and that he and Mellie would spend it wrapped in each others arms.
Beyond that, Addison hardly had time to think. The force of the avalanche was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. It crushed his chest and stole the air from his lungs. And then they were falling off the edge of the world.
The drop had been mercifully short, but the ground instantly gave way, propelling them down another slope. The weight of the snow rushing in behind suffocated him. Snuffed out every precious molecule of air. He felt it force its way into his nostrils and over his tongue until he was choking and desperate. And all he could do was try to shield Mellie’s face. Pray that she could keep breathing. Even if he did not. Even if this was the last thing he ever did. To give her a fighting chance. A possibility to claw her way out of this. Because if anyone could, it was her.
They went over something hard, causing Addison to momentarily loosen his hold on Mellie. It was only for an instant, but it was enough to tear her free of his grasp. He heard what he thought was her strangled whimper and sheer terror shot through him.
He flailed around for her, somehow found the edge of her fur cloak, and latched onto it with his three-fingered hand and all the strength he had. She was a dead weight. Her body gone limp.
No. God, no!
There was nothing he could do until the slide lost its momentum. Just hold on to her. His fingers numb and twisted into the folds of her cloak. The weight of her body yanking him along the ground as the slide hurled him in the opposite direction.
He wouldn’t let go. Not if this was the last thing he ever did. Not if his arm was ripped off in the process. He would not lose her. Not this way. Not ever. Addison just held on and prayed. Unable to breathe. Unable to see. Tumbling through the inky black darkness for ages.
White. That was all he could see. Bright, blinding, white light burning into the backs of his eyes. Addison squinted, shielding them with his arm, as he adjusted to the morning sun. Above him, curious arrangements of narrow, triangular shapes blurred and sharpened, eventually focusing into a web of barren tree branches. Nearby, he heard bizarre noises. Rapid panting and sniffing. He felt cloudy and dazed. He blinked, trying to get his bearings.
Then it all came back to him. Memories pouring down like a torrent of rain. His horse catching its footing wrong. Careening out of control. The snapping of limbs. Sharp, shredding pain in his thigh. Blistering heat on his limbs. A white seraph. Crystalline eyes. Mellie. Snow and ice and cerulean springs. And hot, passionate love. Desire. Aching need. And falling and falling and falling.
He forced himself into a sitting position, every muscle in his body rebelling against the movement. He cried out, “Mellie!”
She was there, only an arms length away, his fingers still latched onto her cloak in a death grip. And Duke, laying practically on top of her.
“Duke. What the-?” Addison lurched himself towards Mellie, his heart beating at a frantic pace. She wasn’t moving, but he saw the distinctive cadence of breaths turning to frost above her mouth. The invisible vice squeezing his chest relinquished a bit of his heart.
Duke came over and slobbered on his face and Addison pushed the beast away. That was when he noticed that he and Mellie lay in a trench, with mounds of snow all around them. The dog had dug them out. “My god,” he rasped, completely astounded.
Addison was about to hug him and give him a hearty “Zie brav” when Duke turned and began trotting away.
“Where are you going? Duke.” The dog didn’t respond. “Duke! Come back here. No!” Addison yelled after him, but he was running faster now and too far away for it to make any difference. “God! You bloody, fucking-.” He trailed off, not having the energy to continue screaming at an animal that wasn’t going to listen to him. Not when Mellie needed his help.
He clumsily pushed himself to his knees and made a cursory once over of her body for injuries. He would do a more thorough check once he got her out of the cold. She had a gash on her forehead and her hair was matted in dried blood. The sight of it wrought a fear in him unlike any he’d ever known.
If she died, he would never forgive himself. Though, he wouldn’t carry that guilt for very long, because he’d die not too far after. For he’d curl her into his arms and hold her until it was all over for him as well.
Coming to his feet, he looked around, found the direction they had most likely came from. In the dark it had seemed as if they’d gotten caught in the wrath of God almighty himself, but in the daylight, Addison saw that the avalanche had actually been on the smaller side. Lucky for them. A larger one most assuredly would have killed them.
Still, there was no way he could climb his way back up, especially with Mellie in his arms. In the other direction, the hill tapered off into a heavily grown forest. His best chance to get them shelter lay in there.
Kneeling down, he carefully turned her into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder and making sure he had a good hold on her, before rising and heading into the woods.
Mellie would, undoubtedly, know exactly what to do in this situation. If their roles were reversed, which of course, they had been, Mellie would keep them safe and alive. Addison was very much aware of the fact that he had not even a small clue how to do what came so naturally to her.
No. It wasn’t entirely natural. She was skilled. Knowledgable. Intelligent. She relied on gut instincts, yes. But she’d learned this. Fought for it. Won it. And his stupidity had put her at risk. Because he’d been bored and decided to go on an adventure.
Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself. He would not fail her now. He could do this. He would rescue her if it was the last thing he ever did.
As he walked through the forest, he scoped out the scenery, looking for something he could use as shelter. A cave. A rock formation. A cluster of trees. Finally he noticed a semi-circle of bushes near a tree with a large trunk. It would have to do. Setting her down, he tried to duplicate the actions Mellie took to light the fire by the hot springs. Bark. Branches. Flatten the snow. Light the fire.
How the hell did he light the fire?
Of course he’d lit fires before. But he’d had flint. Or servants. Servants, he grumbled. He understood now how incompetent they’d made him. Well, he knew the basics. Friction, and lots of it. So, he set to work.
An hour later, his hands were raw and sore. He was trembling with cold and fatigue, and still no fire. He tried again and again and again. Several times he’d wanted to give up, felt tears of frustration burning at the back of his eyes. He wanted to scream. To throw something. To murder Duke for abandoning them, when he could have been keeping Mellie warm.
But every time he’d been on the edge of accepting failure, he looked at Mellie. Saw her beautiful, porcelain face. And remembered that there was no amount of pain or fatigue, no obstacle that would stand in her way and prevent her save him. And he refused to give up on her. He would work until his arms worked no more.
He had no concept of how long it took, but eventually Addison was rewarded for his efforts. A swirl of smoke danced off the wood that he was furiously rubbing. He saw it, made sure not to change a thing. It was working. And finally. Finally. An ember. Gently, he picked it up and cradled it in his hands, blowing on it softly, until it burst into a flame. He held shaking hands to the pile of kindling and patiently worked it into a flame.
When he was done Addison leaned back on his heels, threw his head back and roared in relief. And then he remembered that he’d only done one thing. One. And there was so much more to do before he got them out of this disaster.