X. Home

When they reached the bottom of the elevator, they left the mountain behind and returned to the valley of rain. Niko threw away his golden band without hesitation. As they walked through the woods, River managed to find the same giant tree with the carved out space inside of it that they slept in before. They decided to make that space their new home. Niko and River left their things inside it, Niko taking only his dagger with him. The cloak Niko had worn over their journey was tossed onto the floor of the space. River gave him a look questioning that. Niko used his hands to say he didn't need it anymore. With his voice, he added, "I think it'd make a better blanket." The couple walked through the field in the center of the valley where the river ran through it. The rain had stopped briefly in that spot, the storm twisting around to drench them again soon. Niko enjoyed the rare occurrence. He sat down by the river and listened to the wind. River walked into the water to wash his feet off. Niko watched River for a while. Then, he took out his dagger. With one hand, he pulled his hair together and with the other, he cut through. White strands fell from him like rain. He tossed the dagger to the side. Niko played with his necklace. The last few months were long and painful. His life could never again be like it was. He wanted to see once more every person he'd met along the way, even those encounters that ended in suffering. He knew in his heart he never would. For that reason, he swore to keep hold of those memories for the rest of his life and forget not a single name. A strange calm came over him that one could only experience after complete exhaustion of the body and the mind. He did not think of happiness or sadness, only the wind running through his newly cut hair and the smell of rain all around him. "Niko." Niko looked around to see who called him. The only person there was River. River smiled at him. "Was that...you?" Niko asked. "Does my voice sound strange?" River asked. His voice was a little deeper than Niko expected. "No, not at all." Niko stood up and joined him in the water. "How did your voice come back?" "Because there is someone who would want to hear it." River took hold of his lover's hand. "I threw it away when I thought no one wanted to hear me...no one wanted me." "I'm sorry. I've been very selfish on this journey. Thank you for letting me hear you speak." Niko held River's hand tightly. There was silence between them again for a few minutes. Niko cleaned his feet off while River washed his shoes. A strong gush of wind passed through. River stood up. "It's going to rain soon." Niko looked up at the sky. He saw the rain coming closer. "Yes." "We can't live like you did before, and we can't fix yours wings." River said, staring out at the rain ahead of them. "That's alright. I'll be fine without all that." Niko washed his sandals off. "This place is beautiful." "Yes, it is." Niko put his sandals in the grass after washing them. The rain was nearly upon them. Niko rose up. He watched the wind flow around River, unable to move him. His voice barely above a whisper, Niko asked, "Are you sure I'm enough for you?" "I could ask the same." River laughed. He put his hand to his throat. "It hurts." "Your throat?" River nodded. "I haven't spoken in so long..." "You'll get used to it again." Niko kissed him on the forehead as the rain drenched them both.