When the rain stopped, Aurora could see Gabriel’s body down below. He was pinned beneath an enormous boulder.
“Gabriel… Are you alright?” She called.
The storm had subsided, but the wind was strong and raked at her hair like angry fingers. The man and woman were going to send help. If emergency services came and took Gabriel to the hospital there would be tests and there would be questions. She had no idea what the results of a strigoi blood test would reveal or if a needle would even pierce Gabriel’s skin. All she knew was that she had to act before the couple made it back down the mountain.
“I need help,” she shouted into the wind. “Gabriel is so important. All of our futures depend on him.”
She held her breath and waited. Was it her imagination or was the wind easing? She had never tried to alter the weather and Aurora wasn’t sure if her pleas were being answered or if the easing of the wind was just good timing.
“Thank you,” she whispered, just in case. “I will do my best to repay your kindness.”
She took hold of the same vine Gabriel had used to rescue the couple and began inching her way down the cliff face. When she reached the bottom, she saw that Gabriel’s leg was crushed beneath the boulder. She dropped to her knees and tried to wake him.
“Gabriel, are you alright? Gabriel…” She rested her cheek on his chest and felt the soft rise and fall of his breath.
“Gabriel you have to wake up,” she pleaded. “There’s no time. People are coming for you.”
When he did not respond, Aurora stood up and pushed at the rock with all her strength, but it did not budge. Time was running out. Desperate to save him, she placed her palms face down in the wet earth and whispered. It was a risk, but if the humans came he would be in even greater danger. She had no choice.
Suddenly in the distance a tree crashed. And then another. She lifted her hands and let out a long nervous breath. He was coming.
“What was that?” Gabriel whispered.
“Gabriel, you’re awake.”
“Yeah, but I’m kinda stuck,” he grimaced. “Damned rock.”
Aurora scanned his body looking for any other injuries. Satisfied there were none, she turned to him. “Does it hurt?”
“Nah, it just feels like a peg stuck on your nose. Only it’s a boulder on my leg.”
Aurora grinned. At least he was talking to her again. When another crash echoed through the forest, Gabriel looked up. “What the hell?”
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “It’s just your rescuer coming to help.”
Suddenly from the forest’s edge an enormous grizzly bear pushed its way out of the trees. It reared up onto its hind legs and let out a bellow so loud that the sound vibrated through the ground and up into Gabriel’s body.
“Jesus Christ Aurora that thing must weigh 400 pounds.”
She dropped her gaze and quickly tucked her hair back behind her ear. It was a gesture Gabriel recognised immediately. It was what she did when she was nervous. “Aurora, you’re not filling me with a lot of confidence here.”
“Well… He’s a little grumpy,” she whispered. “I kinda woke him up.”
She pulled a face that reminded him of a child tasting bitter lemon. “Maybe just a little.”
Gabriel knew from his days out hunting that moving too close to a hibernating grizzly bear was bad news. If disturbed, a bear’s resting heart rate would immediately rise as it prepared for attack. It was just in their genes. He was going to be torn apart.
“Aurora this is not good. What were you thinking?”
“That we needed to get that boulder off you, and I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Gabriel was terrified. He had seen Aurora command her wolf and felt the heartbeat of the tiny field mouse, but this was a 400-pound grizzly bear. It could take his head off with one swipe of its paw. “Aurora please… This is too dangerous. I’m a sitting duck here.”
The bear pawed at the ground, its breath hanging in the air like a spectre.
“You need to trust me Gabriel,” she whispered. “I would never put you in harm’s way.”
As the bear approached, its feet were so heavy that Gabriel could feel the vibration of each step. He closed his eyes and silently apologised for every mistake he had ever made, but when he found the nerve to look again, what he saw took his breath away. Aurora was kneeling on the ground, her face tilted forward so her nose was resting on the bear’s snout. Its breath forming a delicate mist around her face. It was the most beautiful, and terrifying, thing he had ever seen. When she moved away the bear stepped back and swung its body around to face him.
“Aurora,” he whispered. “What’s happening?”
“Gabriel you have to brace yourself. I know you have a high tolerance for pain, but this might hurt a little.”
“Now wait just a God-damned minute…”
“The bear will roll the rock off you. Your leg will heal quickly, it will take just minutes but Gabriel, until that happens you are going to feel pain. The kind of pain you might have forgotten about.”
“Exactly how much pain?”
She winced, and he knew it was bad. “A lot.”
She was wrong about one thing though. He had not forgotten about pain. Every time he thought of his parents, of what they must have gone through since his disappearance, his chest ached. Whenever he imagined his mother staring longingly at a photo of her missing son, icy fingers wrapped tightly around his bones. He had not forgotten about pain because every day he carried the worst kind. Beside him Aurora was counting down from three.
“Stop counting and just do it Aurora,” he told her. “I’m ready.”
He quickly took a deep breath and waited, tense and afraid, but nothing happened. “God damn it Aurora, what are you waiting for? Just do it.”
Suddenly the bear pushed the boulder and Gabriel heard the gut-wrenching sound of his bones shattering. He screamed as the boulder rolled off his leg and onto the ground. Pieces of crushed bone pieced his skin and the pain was unbearable.
“Aurora,” he managed, fearing he would pass out.
“Just wait,” she whispered. “Your body will begin to heal.”
“I can’t… I can’t take it,” he cried. “The pain, it’s…”
“It will happen Gabriel. You have to be strong.”
It hurt her heart to look at his crushed leg and she couldn’t imagine the pain he must be feeling. She wanted to help but she had never healed anyone. It was not a gift she had been given, but he needed her. She had to try.
“Gabriel I’m going to try and speed up the process, but I need you to keep still.”
“Aurora…” he screamed. “Jesus Christ…”
She placed her hands on his leg and imagined it already beginning to heal. She saw in her mind the bones mending, the arteries and muscles reattaching and the skin knitting together. She focused all of her energy until she was spent and when she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Gabriel.
“Gabriel?” She whispered. “Are you okay?”
To her surprise, he smiled and met her gaze. “My leg, it doesn’t hurt.”
She reached out and let her fingers trace the perfect skin. “I told you your body would repair quickly. You’re a strigoi Gabriel, you weren’t made to break.”
“No, it’s more than that,” he managed. “You saved me.”
“No, I didn’t. It’s my fault you were even here in the first place. Gabriel I’m so sorry, for everything.”
Beside her the bear bellowed and she reached out to touch the soft tip of its snout. Understanding the task was complete, the bear turned and lumbered toward the forest not bothering to look back.
“You’re incredible,” he told her. “Aurora, I’m the one who should be apologising. I know you had nothing to do with what happened to me, and I know you didn’t do this on purpose. You have tried to forgive me for something that was unforgivable. I should have never taken my anger out on you. Can you forgive me, just once more?”
She smiled softly and reached out her hand. “Can you stand?”
Gabriel got to his feet and timidly tested out his leg. To his surprise it felt strong and sturdy.
“Gabriel, your life isn’t over,” she told him. “It’s just different.”
Her humility was surprising, and it was beautiful. She was hurting inside. She was afraid and yet she was apologetic and delicate. He had never met anyone like her.
“Aurora,” he began, but she stepped forward and placed her finger softly on his lips. Around them the wind blew, no longer wild, but soft and gentle. It caressed the back of his neck and wrapped itself around them.
But she never finished her sentence. Instead she was carried away by the warmth of his lips as he finally found the courage to show her how he felt.