A/N: Work in progress.
While she should have been rejoicing, it was difficult for Shreya to do so in the face of everything. After her moment with Ellie was finished, she’d be heading back to her home and, eventually, to the foxes’ mercy. The Elders hadn’t fully decided on what they’d do with her, but Shreya knew in her heart that they’d sacrifice her to save the rest.
Time was fleeting. There were still words that needed to be said.
“First, I need you to stand,” Shreya said. She didn’t like it when they were on unequal footing. That wasn’t how their relationship worked.
“I don’t know how to explain how sorry I am,” Ellie said as she stood up. “I’m the sorriest person in Casterne. You believe me, don’t you? You can forgive me.”
Ellie saying she loved her didn’t erase everything else she’d said and done. It didn’t make her bigotry disappear. She acted like Shreya was some sort of exception, that she was different from the others. But Shreya was undeniably a wolf. She wasn’t hiding that anymore, and if they were going to work out, Ellie needed to make peace with that.
Baby steps. Deeply rooted prejudices didn’t melt away that easily.
Am I strong enough to be with her through this?
Shreya wasn’t entirely convinced, but she wanted to be. If she struggled, she wanted Ellie to be the one there to help her. The question remained whether she’d falter. Ellie didn’t seem like the most stable of people right now. Would the old Ellie have let herself get carted off in a box like that?
“I cannot forgive you right now… I am not saying I never will,” Shreya said. “I need time to heal.”
“Th-that’s okay. I can live with that,” Ellie said. She hugged her arms. Her bottom lip continued to tremble.
“Would you like some water?”
“Sure. Hope you don’t mind me sitting down. I feel like someone’s dropped a wall of bricks on my head.” Ellie took a seat at the table. She rubbed her eyes, smearing her tears across her face.
Shreya brought her water gourd over, then took the seat opposite of hers. Ellie couldn’t get the cork out. Try as she might, it stayed wedged-in. Shreya had to take care of it for her. It popped out without a problem.
“Thanks,” Ellie mumbled. “I’m pretty sure I loosened it for you.”
“No, you did not, but you tried and that is what matters.”
“Could you break this table if you wanted to?”
That was random. “You could if you wanted. It has many weak spots,” Shreya said. It was sure to fall over from a bad kick to one of its legs.
“I mean, not just this table. Lots of things. You’ve got wolf strength or whatever. That means you’ve got to be intensely strong. You could throw me across this room if you wanted to.”
“Why would I want to do that?” Shreya asked.
Ellie shrugged. “I’m just saying you could do it, not that you will.”
“I am not certain I can. I think I would hurt my back.”
“Are you calling me heavy?”
“I am calling myself not as powered as you think. I think Shanti could do it,” Shreya said. “If you had not woken up after you fell from that tree, she would have carried you here.”
Ellie groaned. “I’d rather forget about that whole thing. That was the worst. And then I threw up after that. You guys heard me with your super ears. Ew… So does that mean you hear everything really loudly? What if I scrape my fingernails along the table? Can you hear that?”
“I can hear it. It is not loud, but I can hear it. Hm…this is funny. When we were first talking, I used to worry I was not loud enough for you. I had to guess at the loudness. Your senses are not as good as ours.”
“Doesn’t it ever get overwhelming to hear every little thing, though? And doesn’t it hurt sometimes? We’ve got these special whistles back at Stockbrunn that only dogs can hear. It startles them and makes them come running quick. Maybe you could hear the whistle.”
Shreya grimaced. “Not if it is only for dogs. I am not a dog.”
“Other animals respond to them, too,” Ellie said. “You’re too pretty to be a dog, anyway.”
“Thank you.” She returned to Ellie’s question. “Sometimes, noises can be distracting. There is a lot happening outside, but I would not say it is overwhelming. My focus is not scattered all over.”
“Oh, and smells! What’s that like? You know that after-rain type of smell, when the air feels real damp and humid? You’re probably smelling it with layers. You don’t get one scent cloud, you get many things all at once.”
“I do not know if I would describe it like that. It is hard to say. This is all normal to me. I do not know how bad it is for you.”
“What about taste?” Ellie covered her mouth. “Oh no, has my breath ever been terrible to you?”
“Not that I can recall.”
Ellie giggled. She leaned forward, her elbows on the table. “See, this is what I missed. Us, talking together and getting to know each other like this. We get a second shot at this. I know I’m probably going to say the wrong things sometimes, but I’m going to try not to. We’ll take things slow.”
“We were never good at slow,” Shreya said, remembering more than one occasion when they’d been the opposite of that.
“I know, I know. Are you glad we’re getting another chance? I am. Not having you in my life anymore was horrible. I felt like I was losing my sanity. But I think I probably lost it years ago, I don’t know.”
With Freesia? Shreya noticed how hard hearing Freesia’s name hit Ellie during their argument. She’d gone for her throat, trying whatever she could to shatter her Elspeth image. Shreya tore at her, inch by inch. She wasn’t sure what had finally pushed Ellie over the edge.
It was like she had suddenly snapped out of being Elspeth and was trying to become Ellie again. There was an air of fragility in the room. At any time, this moment that felt so much like one of their old moments, could splinter like fallen glass.
to be continued