Cooperative: The Destination
Bond thanks to Predator in Cave
James squirmed a little. Something was holding him down. He snorted and opened his eyes, only to find himself face-to-face with a set of large eyes. Aris. She looked pensive, however. His eyes looked to the side and he saw her sword resting on his arm, while her other hand gripped the side of his head. He opened his mouth to speak but noticed that her own eyes seemed to focus on something behind him.
Their eyes met again and they stared at each other in silence. James heard rustling behind him, from deeper in the cave. Her eyes focused behind him briefly then continued to stare at him. He blinked and tried to turn his head, but her grip was firm. He looked back at her as she shifted her sword ever so slowly. He relaxed and nodded slightly. He could tell that even though she looked at him, her attention was behind him. The sword was not meant for him.
Then he saw it. Almost as if it was in a reflection. But, not. He blinked hard and looked at her, trying not to gape. Not at what he saw, but how he saw it. Her eyes flitted to him briefly then returned to cover the intruder that was poking at the glowing embers of the fire. It had come from deeper in the cave, waking from its slumber to go on its hunt. He was seeing it through her own eyes.
She nodded almost imperceptibly. Confirmation. It was like she knew what he was experiencing. James rolled his eyes. Of course she knew. She was an Elf.
As the newness of the experience wore off, he focused more on the intruder. It had yet to notice them. No doubt the smoke from the fire hid their scent. He wondered if they could stay hidden until it eventually left the cave. But they were lying across the entrance of the cave. It would have to step on him.
She continued to hold him still as she slid her sword ever so slowly over his shoulder. He got the distinct impression that she was coiling for a strike. He looked at her leg, then back at her, shaking his head slightly. She squinted at him, scowling. He shook his head again, then looked at his backpack. She followed his gaze, knowing his thoughts. The flare gun.
But the risk was high. Every movement they made increased their chance of discovery by what looked like an apex predator. The element of surprise could be lost, and with such a creature, surprise was all they really had going for them. It had huge digging claws and an armored head that contained a mouthful of sturdy, sharp teeth. Though it had fur, James couldn’t help but wonder if it was a reptile of sorts. The fur was sparse and the armor plating seemed to cover most of its body, as if a pangolin got crossed with a massive bear. Currently, the creature seemed distracted by the warmth and glow of the embers.
James focused back on Aris as his foot hooked the shoulder strap of the backpack, and he slowly started dragging it towards them. He froze, seeing through her eyes as the creature raised its head. But an attack never came, so he pulled his backpack within reach of his hand. Without moving his arm, he carefully unzipped the backpack and started to reach in. A furry hand stopped him, and he froze as he felt whiskers on his cheek. A heavy huff behind his head blew a lock of hair in his face.
The creature was still oblivious of him, however. It seemed interested in the discarded gauze from when James had changed Aris’s bandages. He realized that he had been sleeping close to where he had folded the old, bloody bandages up. Grimacing, he looked at Aris, who kept her sword ready. Somehow he could not imagine the sword causing much damage to such a massive, armored creature. She glanced at him then at the backpack. James nodded as he slowly continued reaching into the pack to find his flare gun.
As he rummaged around, a massive paw suddenly stepped on his chest. James screamed, startling the creature. It instinctively flinched, raking the claws across his chest as it jumped back. Aris let out a terrifying yell and thrust her sword at its eye, causing the creature to retreat even more. James continued trying to find his flare-gun until another heavy claw landed on his chest, forcing him to exhale. The creature was trying to get at Aris, however, since she seemed to represent the greatest threat.
Aris cried out as its other claw knocked her into the side of the cave. She scrambled to retrieve her sword and James could see the creature stepping over him as it charged at her. He punched up at its soft underbelly with all his might and the creature squealed and curled up to bring its mouth at him. He rolled as he tried to avoid the teeth, but found himself getting partially lodged under a root. The bite caught part of the root, saving him. He grabbed the jaw and tried to push it away.
But its claws easily shattered the root and the creature leaned into him again, using its weight. James closed his eyes, dreading the inevitable as he was easily overpowered. But as he closed his eyes, he saw the wrecked castle he and Cory had been surveying.
Part of him wondered why he would think of that in his last moments rather than the fact that Aris would be alone. Suddenly he felt hands pulling at him, dragging him away from the shattered root. He flinched and cried out, then opened his eyes. Aris had his head in her hands and in a torrent of relief, he felt a flood of memories and emotions washing over him. The creature had vanished and Aris was gaping at him, her eyes wide as she gripped his head. His entire world became hers in that instant. She was safe.
Blinking, he put his hand on her cheek, then the back of her neck as he took a deep, shuddering breath. He felt her calming him and his racing heart slowed a bit. He really was alive. And so was she.
“How?” she asked. James wasn’t sure if he heard the question with his ears or head. Aris stared at him, breathless.
Licking his lips, he glanced around to be sure the creature was actually gone. His vision was peculiar, however. He saw himself from her perspective. She released him and stumbled back, still staring at him. He could still feel her in his head. “Aris?”
“How?” Aris asked again. She shook her head and glared at him, her irises taking on a bright yellow hue. “How!?”
“I don’t know!” James yelled back defensively. He sat up a little and looked around. “I think I sent it back to Earth. Terra. The castle we were surveying.”
“No! Not that,” Aris said with restrained fury.
James looked at her, not understanding.
She took a shuddering breath and put her hand on her chest. “You are here.” She then put her hand on her head. “And here.”
James blinked as vertigo washed over him. Laying back down, he stared at her, then understood. “The Elvish bond.”
Aris held herself as she glared at him.
He looked up at the ceiling and still saw himself. Through her eyes. “Aris. When I first met you, we had been bonded for years. You told me it was impossible. An impossible bond.”
Silence. He looked back at her and she met his gaze, wiping her eyes. She shook her head. “I was terrified. I was…you were…it was going to kill you and I was terrified.”
James smiled sadly. “So was I. You would be alone.”
Aris took in another breath and looked out at the moonlit forest. “But then you were alive. You survived. And I…” She stopped as she rubbed her temples. “This doesn’t just happen. Not like this.”
“Can you…undo it?” James sat up a little.
She shook her head. “Our bond is for life.” She rubbed her face. “We are life-mates.”
“Aris,” James started, then stopped. He sighed and lay back down, then winced. “Oh, I think I need the first-aid kit now.” He rolled over to reach for it, but she already had it out and open. He tried to wave her off. “I can do that.”
Aris pushed him back down and ripped the rest of his shirt open. “I can see better. And now…I can feel where it hurts.”
James pursed his lips as he looked at her. He could tell she was furious. But not at him. Not at anything, actually. Confused, scared, angry, and something else.
“What?” James looked at her.
“Just…stop it. Please,” Aris said as she wiped her eyes.
“I didn’t do it. I just…Aris, please don’t hate me,” James stammered.
Aris sat back and put the rest of the bandages away. “You’re lucky it was just a scrape. Had it meant to hurt you…”
“I’d be dead,” James finished her sentence as he inspected his chest. The worst of the scratches were bandaged. The rest were just sprayed with antiseptic. “My chest hurts.” He pulled his ripped shirt back over him. It was more like a vest now.
“Your ribs are not broken. But you’ll be sore.” Aris squinted at him.
“Aris, I’ve been looking for you for a year. Please understand, I would never hurt you.”
Aris regarded him for a long moment then slumped. “I know. I’m just…” She looked down. “Bonding wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to dedicate myself to my mate, and he to me. We were supposed to have our Blessing.”
James nodded. “You were not supposed to crash into this planet either. Or survive.”
“You are impossible, James,” Aris said quietly. She shuddered. “I’m…this wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I think it was,” James said.
“I control my fate!” Aris glared at him. “Me! Not you. Not…that!” She waved her hand at the wreckage down the hill. “Not some dream!” She rubbed her face. “What am I going to do?”
“Aris.” James sighed and looked at her leg. “You’re bleeding again.”
“I don’t care,” she said, her voice muffled by her hands.
“I do. It hurts.” James adjusted the gauze holding her bandages. Touching her sent a shiver up his spine and he took in a sharp breath. Shaking his head, he finished adjusting it and sat back.
“You wanted this.”
James looked at her thoughtfully. “I wanted what we had when I first met you.”
Aris just looked at him.
“It felt like a piece of me was missing, Aris. When the Younger sent me back.” He shook his head. “I never meant for this to happen, not like this. But…it’s like I’m whole again.”
“I was deemed unworthy to bond,” Aris said, sullen. “My dreams. They tried to fix me, but couldn’t. They were going to banish me from flying even. The dreams would…I would be somewhere else. Not in control. I nearly crashed once. They thought I would affect a mate too, so they made me untouchable. That’s why I came here.”
James gulped. “I didn’t cause your dreams, Aris.”
“I know that.” She wiped her nose as she looked at him. “I couldn’t help it, either. When that thing disappeared, and you were still alive…” She took in another deep breath. “I was just so scared, but so happy…and…”
Aris shook her head furiously. “Stop it. Stop being happy.”
“I can’t help it. Part of you is happy too,” James said.
“This is going to take some getting used to,” Aris said, subdued. She scooted closer to the fire pit and tossed another couple of sticks on it.
James sat where he was, unsure of what he was supposed to do. She lay down next to the fire, facing it with her back to him. Suddenly he felt utterly alone, confused, abandoned. He blinked and realized it was her feelings. He scooted over to her and wrapped an arm around her. She grabbed his hand in hers and pulled it to her chest as he cradled her head on his other arm. “You’re not alone, Aris. And you will never be alone again. Got that?”
She nodded and wiped her face with her free hand as she watched the fire.
He felt her relaxing a little, being less hurt, and embraced her tightly. “We’ll figure this out. Together.”