Lir shivers. He coughs. And coughs. And coughs until there is warmth against his lips, left behind by droplets of water that have been expulsed from his lungs. The rest of his body is freezing. Goosebumps rise across his arms. Someone touches his skin. He doesn’t know who, but he leans into it, lets the arms that envelop his figure take him, because nothing matters anymore. He’s gone.
He knows this is a dream, heaven, perhaps, or maybe hell. Wherever he is, it cannot be real. Real would mean the impossible. And Lir is far from being that. He isn’t immortal. He’s ordinary, fickle, mostly human, and certainly not God.
Yet, he thinks. He feels. He breathes.
Why is that?
Why is he alive?
Why is he here, when the presence of a pulse is barely present within his chest?
“Hey, you’re all right.” It is unclear if Lir knows this voice. The tone of it is too rough to be his father’s, too kind to be his sister’s, and too loud to be his mother’s. “Lir? You’re Lir, aren’t you? Can you hear me?”
He can. Lir can hear him all too well, like the birdsong that has turned his shoulder into a perch. But talking is like sinking, and when Lir parts his lips to say, “Yes,” to say, “I am,” it is only coughs that survive his body’s struggle between the need to inhale oxygen, and the yearn to exhale words.
The man says something again. It rings, as wind does against windows when they are closed. Lir grabs onto linen cloth—a coat, perhaps, he does not know. The world is a furious blur. The arms which hold him are an anchor, and he is grateful, yet afraid all the same.
Lir does not believe this man has ill intentions as he carries him away. Because he is gentle. When he puts Lir down, onto the sand. When he takes the curve of Lir’s chin between his fingers, and breathes the life back into him. But Lir has been taught to fear the unknown, and as he gasps, and chokes, and curls into himself, he trembles. He fears.
Nothing here is familiar. Not even the feel of his skin, or the gusts brushing against his being. The scent of the ocean. The sounds of gulls flying overhead—it was not like this in his village. It was Winter. “Where am I?” these are the first words Lir tells him, and, Lir hopes, that they won’t be the last.
“On an island,” the man says. “One not too far from Arktos village. Do you… Do you remember what happened to you?”
Drops of aqua slide past Lir’s neck. His hair is soaked. There is heat again, though it is radiating from the man’s skin this time; definitely not Lir’s. His veins are still frozen. His brain is made of icicles, of things not meant to be a part of the human body. The liquids that filled his throat without mercy come to mind. Lir wants to throw up. “No.” He lies because he doesn’t want to explain, how he is dead, yet alive all the same.
“I won’t tell,” the man’s claim is a whisper, soon lost to the sound of crashing waves that lap at their shadows. Lir wonders if his savior feels it—how his pulse dissipates, as if it were not here, not present in this world—when his palm comes to rest against the inner side of Lir’s wrist, and stays there, without letting go.
His senses come back to him, one by one. Although Lir is compelled to keep masquerading as a victim of amnesia, a knowing feeling within him tells him it is okay. He can trust this man.
It isn’t like the sensorial-magic he practiced when young. It is a deeper-rooted instinct, related to patterns and memories he can barely trace. An echo of the past. A hopeful whim, disguised as a hunch, perhaps.
“I drowned.” Lir’s voice is still a croak, a bare, withering cry for help. There isn’t need to explain the rest. He is sure the man has figured it out by now. One would only have to take a look at his skin—still bordering on a light cyan—to know he doesn’t look quite human anymore. To know he will soon be a problem.
Despite this, the man isn’t fazed. It occurs to Lir now that he’s wearing a scholar’s uniform. His variscite eyes are observant when he blinks, quiet and calm. “Does it hurt?” he asks, while checking Lir’s other wrist.
Does it? the question shouldn’t prove difficult to answer, yet, it is hard to know.
Does it hurt?
Lir’s hand finds a way over his heart. “Here,” he tells the man, because even though the pain is minimal, it feels as if he has lost something of tremendous worth, and simply having knowledge of this tears him to pieces from within.
The man pushes his round glasses upward, so that they sit better atop the bridge of his nose. He sighs, then picks Lir up again, gentle, like before.
It is then that Lir finally understands the nature of this rescue. The scar, faded in the mid of the man’s palm, etched into his savior’s rich brown skin, is one that sparks a glint of recognition in Lir’s mind.
It is Tobias who saves him.
It is Tobias who brings him home.
It is Tobias who places fresh bedsheets over Lir when he is freezing, and takes them off when Lir’s temperature rises. Even if Lir may not truly be the Lir he once knew, his mentor gives him warmth, reassurance, and all Lir needs to be at ease in this strange, maybe even dangerous place.
The sky is pitch black when Lir’s feverish haze wears off. He shuts his eyes once more. There is no difference in what he sees.
Lir does not want to face the world. Not yet.
The soft sound of waves that linger, the noises of insects buzzing—crickets singing outside of the cabin by the sea—help him drift off to sleep. To dreams better than yesterday’s nightmare.