The bed was empty when she woke to the sound of raindrops tapping at the glass and sill of the still-open window. She felt groggy, hung-over, as if she’d been the one who spent the night drinking. Her head thumped and ached as she lifted it from the pillow and scanned the empty room until she saw him standing near the farthest window, hand propped on the sill, head tilted into the cool glass and eyes staring across the campus below.
Her stirring in the bed caught his attention, which he slowly turned from the window, those sad blue eyes finding her. The smile he offered did not reach his eyes, and faded quickly as he dropped the arm he’d propped himself against the window with and stood up straight. The youthful spryness of his general demeanor was lost in the grey, damp tones of a rainy dawn, and when he started toward her she realized it was with a limp he tried to hide.
“Nyan,” he arrived at the edge of the bed, hovering over her like a shadow for a few moments before she reached out and took his hand, drawing him down to sit beside her. “I’ve woke in worse places with far fewer clothes on than this,” he began, “but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more embarrassed than I do this morning.”
“You probably should be embarrassed,” she said softly. “You made a complete and utter fool of yourself, left a room full of students who look up to and admire you waiting, and then when you did show up…”
“I know,” he tilted his head down, hair falling across his brow and tickling across the bridge of his nose. “And maybe I should feel bad about all that,” he shrugged, “but the only thing I feel is sorry I did this to you.”
“You did nothing to me,” she assured him. “I chose to help you, brought you here and let you sleep it off, but nothing else happened.”
“That’s not true,” he insisted. “Just because I’m a bad drunk doesn’t mean I don’t remember the night before. I remember,” he assured her. “I always remember, and I said dreadful things to you, Nyan.” How easily that nickname rolled off his tongue, as if he’d known her all her life and felt comfortable enough to shorten her name without asking if it was all right. “Truly awful things I had no right to say.”
“You have more experience with this world than I do,” she shrugged her shoulder up against her ear. “You obviously know what you’re talking about with this world cock and its wicked fuckery.”
“Gods,” he moaned. “I said that, didn’t I?”
“More or less.”
“Though not half as eloquently as you just did.”
Before he could continue to apologize and make excuses for himself, Nyannah brought her hand up and touched his face. Head still tilted, she met his eyes and just stared into him. “What happened to you, Dandelion, to bring such sorrow to you? What dark and awful things haunt you?”
“They are too many to name,” he sighed and nuzzled the barely noticeable hair of his cheek across her open palm. “And I would not curse you with their darkness.”
“Have you written about them?”
“Some of them. Only the best and brightest moments, mostly,” he surmised. “The ones that made it all worthwhile, though in truth I ask myself each and every day how such senselessness could ever be considered worthwhile. The world is a dark and hideous place, made only brighter by the company we keep.”
She didn’t know what to say, and after a long silence he went on to confess, “A good friend of mine, the very best of friends, you’d say, he died not long ago, and try as I might to make sense of it, there is none to be made, Nyan.” His eyes were closed, his lips pursed and pinched as he swallowed the swell of emotion inside him and refused to let it rise. “And I know there’s nothing I can do to change any of it, and even if I could, why would he ever want to come back to this place? Why would I subject him to the cruelty of this world again when he’s found freedom? And a part of me sort of hates him for that.”
“So you seek to join him in death?” she balked, leaning out as she shook her head in dismay. “Oh Dandelion.”
“I don’t wish for death, but sometimes I find myself drinking for the both of us,” he chuckled a little, breaking the tension brought on by his confession. “Because Geralt loved a good drink and I know he’d appreciate my efforts to keep the memory alive.”
“I’m sure he would, but… You’re still alive. I know that isn’t what anyone who’s lost someone wants to hear, but there are obviously still things for you to do and see, to translate in that way you do to make the world understand your vision.”
His smile was dry, the barest twitch of muscle as he brought his head up from her hand and opened his eyes again to look at her. “Maybe,” he nodded, “but who wants to do and see any of those things alone?”
“No one,” she agreed. “No one at all.”
“I don’t do well alone,” he laughed softly, “as you can see. I’m quite bad at being alone.”
“They say the man adored by all is often the one most lonely.”
“Isn’t that the truth…?”
“The things you said to me last night, they made me think, and maybe I’m wrong, but I think I figured something out of it all. What if that’s our purpose. You said the world wants to fuck us, but what if we’re meant to teach it how to be a gentle, better lover?”
“Rather than a rapist?” He quirked an intrigued eyebrow.
“Exactly. The arts, music and poetry, they bring out the best of this world, do they not? Little glimpses of light that make the darkness more bearable, you know? And every time we share those parts of ourselves, the way we see things, maybe it tames the beast just a little bit more. Maybe one day our children’s children will live in a world that doesn’t feel the way this one does.”
“That’s what you should say in your final paper for Master Genivere,” he decided, dropping his hands onto the tops of his thighs. “And on that note, I should probably go. I’ve shamefully kept you from your classes this morning, and I probably have some explaining to do regarding last night. I’m sure word’s spread all over campus…”
Nyannah nodded understanding, though judging from the hour it was already too late for her to make her class. “Will you finish your lectures tonight?”
“Absolutely,” he promised, reaching out to grip her chin between his thumb and forefinger. He tilted her head up so she had no choice but to wallow in the depths of those sad, but perfect eyes. “And I expect to see you there, promptly on the hour.”
“Are you going to sing tonight?”
“Not if you’re going to be late.”
“Then I will be there,” she assured him, “promptly on the hour. I may even wear bells.”
He tossed his head back in a genuine laugh, one that momentarily reached all the way to his eyes, and then he said, “Now that I’d like to see.”
He leaned forward then and touched the softness of his lips to her forehead, muttering, “Thank you, Nyan, for seeing me through that bit of darkness. You are truly an extraordinary woman.”
He drew away, gave her chin a final, thoughtful tug and then rose from the bed. Nyannah watched him stretch his back and his legs before walking across the room to retrieve his jacket. He paused to lift his hat from the desk, turned back to look at her as he lowered it onto his head, tipped it toward her with a dashing wink, and then headed for the door.
Once he was gone, the sound of his footsteps receding down the hallway, then the stairs, she fell back into the bed with a thump and a sigh.
Her shirt, the blankets, the pillowcase, they all still smelled like him, that light and pleasant scent that even several years from that moment would call to mind the very first night she spent in the arms of a man who’d hold her heart in the palm of his hand until the day he died.