Chapter 5 A Problem

Gage was quiet as they walked through the woods towards the road. Deris' niece, who would have believed it. He really wondered whether he should tell her that it was Deris who had cursed him. But if she didn't know her cousin was dead already, he didn't want to be the one to tell her, it should come from family. He had the feeling though, that she might be angry with him for not saying anything. He argued with himself back and forth as they walked, still not sure what to say.

Reve glanced at Gage again, what was wrong with the man? He said that she could come and now he was acting like he wished she wasn't here. She caught his eye briefly and she thought she saw a flash of guilt in his eyes. Guilt? she wondered, what did he have to feel guilty about? After that she watched him more closely. Maybe he was planning to abandon her.

That evening at camp she couldn't take it anymore, she had a feeling that if she didn't confront him, things would only get worse and they had a long way to go.

"Gage?" she said, he didn't look up from his task. "Gage?" she said louder, but he seemed lost in his thoughts. She threw a wadded up shirt at him and he started staring back at her surprised, the shirt hanging off his head.

"What?" he asked, pulling the shirt off.

"You were lost in your own world, I had to do something to get your attention" she said.

He grinned sheepishly and sat up waiting for her to speak.

"Are you planning to dump me?" she asked bluntly.

"What?" the shock on his face made her feel a little better about the situation.

"You've been ignoring me all day and you look like you are feeling guilty about something" she said, watching him closely.

He looked down "It's not what you think, there's just something I think you need to know and I'm not sure that I'm the one to tell you" he looked back at her with an uncertain expression.

"You could just tell me, I won't break and it would be pretty uncomfortable to have this hanging over us for the whole trip" she said.

He nodded, perhaps she was right "Deris is the one who cursed me" he said quietly. He watched, waiting for her to make the connection.

"Hadley" she whispered, shock making her go white.

He nodded and when she sobbed he went to her and held her while she cried. She held on tightly, it was a little hard to breath, but he knew that he was all the comfort she had here. Finally she pushed him away and brushed the tears from her face. "I'm sorry" she said, brushing the wet spot on his shirt.

He took her hand "Don't worry about it, I cried too when it happened, I still cry when I think about it."

"You are a good man" she said.

"No, if I were good, she would still be alive" he said, a bitter edge to his words.

Reve shook her head "She was an angel you know, and she would never have fallen in love with you if you weren't a good man."

He didn't know how to answer that, but he wasn't entirely sure he agreed.

"How was it that you hadn't heard about her death?" he finally said.

"I travel a lot and I've been avoiding correspondence with my uncle" she said quietly.

"Why?" he asked, if she loved her cousin so much, why avoid them.

"Because my uncle wants me to get training as a mage. It's easier to just avoid the nagging" she said glumly.

"Oh, so you come by it naturally" he said, a teasing note to his voice. He needed to lighten things up here.

"What do you mean?" she asked frowning at him.

"Nagging, you seem to be so good at it" he said.

Reve laughed "It's a gift, I guess."

That evening wrapped in her blankets, Reve thought about what had happened. She was attracted to the man, but she had the feeling there was no hope for her. He was in love with Hadley. How could she ever compete with that. Hadley had always been better than her, beautiful, gifted and a really nice person. If she hadn't loved her like a sister, she would have been jealous. She felt the sadness deepen and a tear rolled down her face before she fell asleep.

Gage lay in the darkness awake. He heard her cry in her sleep and couldn't stand it anymore. He stripped and changed right in the camp, she was asleep and wouldn't see him. He needed a good run.

After a time he came to himself again, that wasn't good. He had lost himself in the cat. It frightened him a little, how easy it was just to let go. But to do so would be a kind of death and even in his pain he didn't want to die, at least not like that. Besides he had a responsibility now and maybe a tiny ray of hope. She was Deris' niece, of his blood.

He sighed and turned back to camp, he needed to return before she woke up. He shivered off the residue of the change and was reaching for his clothing when he heard her stir. He froze.

"I thought you didn't change in camp?" he heard her voice whisper.

He turned slowly to see her watching him, with a yelp he dove into his blankets and covered himself quickly. He heard her laugh as he struggled to pull his clothing on under the blankets.

"Don't worry on my account I've seen a naked man before, it doesn't bother me" she said, a hint of laughter still in her voice.

He poked his head out startled "Where would you have seen that?" he asked, surprised.

"Do you remember Haslern, the plague they had a couple of years ago?" she asked, all laughter gone from her voice.

"Yes, it was a terrible thing" he said watching her from the safety of his blankets.

She nodded "Yes it was, I can still taste the smell of the dead burning on the pyres sometimes."

"You were there?" he whispered, shocked.

"Yes, I hadn't been there long when it struck. I was trapped with all the rest, but I decided that if I was to die, at least I would die helping. I walked to the Healers compound and volunteered, for the duration I took care of the dying" her voice was so quiet, he could hardly hear her. A tear ran down her cheek.

He forgot his half dressed state and went to her, pulling her into his arms as she broke down crying. It was the cold air that brought them both to their senses. He shivered at the feel of the cold breeze on his bare back and she pulled back looking at him "Finish getting dressed or I'll be nursing you back to health" she said in a sharp voice.

He grinned slightly, this was better than those tears. He didn't really like to see her so sad. He frowned slightly as he pulled his shirt and coat back on, he had just met her why would he care? The only thing that he could think was that she was Hadleys cousin and she would have wanted him to care for her.