Hazel and Holly — A Future Found
Previous: Aggravated Acceptance
The journey back to Sarnum was largely spent in tense, exhausted silence. When they weren’t all sleeping, that is. Hemlock slept the most. Holly spent a good portion of her waking hours staring out the window, her expression pensive and distant. Hawthorn expended his energy avoiding Hazel’s gaze. She couldn’t really blame him, after all that had happened.
They reached Sarnum late in the following day. The acolyte that served as their driver dropped them off at Sensi’s Contemplation. Holly had murmured her concerns over Tum having gone missing, while Hawthorn had muttered his over his carriage that had undoubtedly been stolen. But all were too tired to do anything about those problems, so they all agreed to go back to the inn to figure out what to do next.
It was strange for Hazel, being back there after everything that had happened. The three old women still sat on the sofa in the common room, knitting up a storm. That they had remained unchanged accentuated how much everything had changed for Hazel, that she no longer felt like the same person she had been before. She didn’t know how to go back—she didn’t know how to feel comfortable in her skin again.
They went upstairs to their respective rooms. Hazel escorted Hemlock to his door and had started to open it when Hawthorn cried out from his room nearby. She hurried over and found Tum and their driver inside while the entirety of Hawthorn’s wardrobe had been strewn across the floor.
The driver’s cheeks flushed red. He mumbled something about needing to check the horses and hurried out.
“What are you doing?” Hawthorn cried. He picked up one of his shirts between a pair of fingers, sniffed at it, then made a disgusted sound and dropped it back on the floor. “What have you been doing?”
Tum drew himself up. “Having a bit of fun, that’s what. You and Miss Holly all ran off to go spoiling without me, so I did some spoiling of my own.”
Hawthorn’s face turned an impressive shade of purple. He drew himself up and opened his mouth, but then Holly came up behind him. She squeaked when she saw Tum and ran inside and hugged him. Instead, Hawthorn clenched his eyes shut, took a deep breath, then turned and walked away.
Tum wriggled out of Holly’s hug. “Oh, sure, it’s all well and good once the spoiling’s been done, but don’t think I forgive you.”
“They put us in boxes, Tum. I would’ve rather they didn’t, and I would’ve rather you came with us, but we didn’t have any choice.”
Tum sniffed. “A likely excuse.”
“It’s probably good you weren’t there. They didn’t have any beer.”
He look at her out of the corner of his eye. “No?”
“No, none. They had these creepy mushrooms, though.”
Tum shook his head. “Nope, don’t like mushrooms. Old Uncle Wirt kept some ‘shrooms in his cellar, rather than beer like any decent gnome. They were a weird sort that stained his hands black, and made you see odd sorts of things if you got too close to ’em.” He sniffed. “Nobody liked Uncle Wirt.”
“Um, yeah. See? It’s good you stayed behind.”
Tum nodded. “Suppose so.” He looked her up and down. “So, what’d you spoil?”
“I told you, nothing.” Holly sighed. “Never mind. Let’s just go find you some beer.”
Tum perked up. “‘Bout time.” He ran from the room. Holly followed him out.
“At least some things haven’t changed,” Hemlock said as he leaned against the doorway. He smiled.
Hazel went over to him and he took her arm. “Everything else has,” she said as they walked back to his room.
“It always does, Hazel.”
She helped him over to the bed and he sat down.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” she said, unable to look at him. “It was all my fault, Ash hurting you like that.”
“From what I recall, he was the one who did the hurting, not you.”
She shook her head. “If not for me, none of it would have happened. If I hadn’t gone off alone… if I’d done something different… it never would have happened. It shouldn’t have happened.”
“You don’t know what would have happened if you’d done things differently. Maybe things would have gone for the worse. Maybe not. Maybe if I’d done something differently…” He shook his head. “It’s pointless wondering about such things. We are where we are. That’s all we need to think about.”
“And what are you thinking about?” She couldn’t help but feel he must want to get away from her—away from the source of so much pain. How could he not? But she didn’t have the courage to ask him directly.
Hemlock fixed his gaze on the floor and was quiet a long while, and Hazel grew nervous.
Finally, he said, “I’m thinking about whether or not it would be terribly inappropriate if I asked you to marry me.”
Hazel’s mouth fell open. Hemlock looked up and studied her. “Would it?” he said. “Be inappropriate?”
Stunned, all she could do was stand there and shake her head.
His brow knitted into a puzzled frown. “Is that ‘no’ it’s inappropriate, or ‘no’ it’s not inappropriate?”
“You don’t want to marry me!” Hazel blurted out. She winced at how harsh she sounded.
Hemlock folded his hands and gave her a level look. “Oh? Would you care to tell me more about what I do and don’t want? It sounds most enlightening.”
Hazel tightened her jaw. “You saw what happened. You know what happened. You…” She took a deep breath and, calmer, said, “You should get as far away from me as possible.”
“I see. And what would you say if I told you that I didn’t want to get as far away from you as possible? That I wanted the exact opposite of that. What would you say then?”
Hazel pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling. “Then I’d tell you you’ve lost your mind.”
“Is that all?”
“I’m a necromancer, Hemlock! I can’t deny it anymore. What’s more, I’m not sure I want to deny it. I don’t know what I want! I don’t know if I’ll be able to go home. I don’t know if I can just start living my life the way I left it. I don’t know if I even want to try. I don’t know anything other than I’m confused, and scared, and I know you can’t possibly love someone like that because you deserve better. You… you deserve better, Hemlock.” She covered her face with her hands and took a deep, ragged breath.
He was quiet a while. Hazel wondered if she should leave when he said, “Will you sit with me?”
She shouldn’t sit down; she should leave. It would only be harder the longer she waited. But she didn’t want to go, so she sat down on the bed next to him, though she kept her gaze fixed to the floor.
He turned so he could look at her and said, “You know, when you left, the only thing I could think about was how I needed to find you and stop you. I couldn’t let you go through with it, and if you did, it would somehow be my fault. I would have failed.”
“I know,” Hazel murmured. “It’s why I left like I did.”
He gave her a half smile, though the other half looked sad. “Exactly. But looking back now, I don’t know… it all seems kind of foolish.”
Hazel frowned. “That you came after me?” Of course it was foolish, but hearing him say it still stung.
He shook his head. “No, I was foolish thinking I could keep you from doing something so important to you. Something that, I realize now, is a part of you.”
Hazel stared at him, she didn’t know what to say. But it was Hemlock who now kept his gaze to the floor.
“Did Holly tell you we drank the potions?” he said.
“What potions?” Then she remembered. “Odd’s potions?”
He nodded. “Also probably not the smartest thing to do, but under the circumstances, it seemed worth the risk.”
He stared at the wall, looking thoughtful. “I saw a world in which you did not exist. Not even a little bit. It was like I had never known you. After I woke from that, I realized what a trivial thing it would be if you were a necromancer. What difference would any of it make, as long as you were in my life?” He took her hand and returned his gaze to her. “I don’t want you to leave my world, Hazel.”
“But what if I can’t go back? What if the Grove won’t take me back? What if… I don’t want to go back?”
He smiled again, this time more happy than sad. “Then we’ll live somewhere else. The Grove has never felt much like home to me anyway. We can figure it out, Hazel.”
She wanted this—wanted it so much it almost hurt her. But she was afraid to say yes, afraid to look at this moment directly and frighten it away, or break its delicateness with her clumsy, heavy way. So she said nothing, squeezing Hemlock’s hand as if that would keep the tears from rolling down her cheeks. It didn’t, but none of it mattered. It was like he understood anyway. He took her in his arms and kissed her, and Hazel let him take some of her fear away.
Next: Fastened Friendship
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