“You’re just fine, Beth. A little to your left, and then drop. Then you can hang off that branch and I’ll catch you.”
She clung to the trunk, foot groping. “I can’t feel it. Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Jack was pretty sure. He saw where the broken branch had been, around the other side of the tree, and the one he was guiding Beth towards didn’t seem that much higher.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m dropping to it.” She slid her way down and around the trunk a bit, bark snapping and crumbling against her buttoned-up coat.
It rained down on Jack, and he looked away, just for a second, blinking it out of his eyes as it stung and burned.
He heard Beth’s half-fearful, half-triumphant cry, heard the solid sound her sneakers made on the branch.
And then the branch gave a sharp crack.
Jack wrenched his blurred gaze up in time to see the branch sweeping downward, the pale wood shining in contrast to the gray-green of the old bark.
Beth was plummeting towards him, opposite the way he’d expected her to come off the branch. Of course, that was before the branch went and snapped.
He lunged, felt her smash into him, tried to get his feet set to absorb some of the impact. They slipped out from under him, and he landed on his back. Beth landed hard against him.
She was awfully heavy for an angel.
* * * * *
His vision swam. All around was grayness, with some pretty dancing white lights.
Jack, wake up!
He blinked, waiting for things to come back into focus. It wasn’t working very well. Maybe he’d just rest a bit, and try again later….
* * * * *
Jack was breathing, she could hear, but it was very shallow. Beth sat up, shaking her head to clear it.
She was sore, but it was all over, not in any one particular spot.
“Jack!” she said, shaking him. He didn’t respond.
She bit her lip. Started running her hands up and down, checking for broken bones. Everything felt all right. She got up to his head, ran her fingers through his hair as gently as she could. When they got around to the back, he let out a moan. It felt tender. A lump was already beginning to form.
She wiped her hands off as best she could, peeled an eye open, then let it slide shut. She had no idea what she was looking for in there.
She worked her fingers into the collar of his jacket. His pulse was still going, slow but strong and steady. Breathing, and a pulse. Good things.
“Jack, what am I going to do?” she said.
He was too heavy to carry. She didn’t want to risk moving him, anyway. And it was getting darker. She must have been out for a while, the shadows were all longer.
“Jack, you have to wake up!” she said.
She couldn’t leave him to go for help. What if she got lost?
“What do I do?” she asked. “What can I do?”
Then it struck her.
If Jack wouldn’t wake up, she’d just have to make him.
She leaned down, took his face in her hands, touched her forehead to his. She slowed her frantic breathing. Matched it to his.
* * * * *
Beth’s voice jolted him from a murky, gray dream.
“What?” he asked, a dull throbbing in his head doing nothing to improve his mood.
“Thank goodness,” Beth said, throwing her arms around him.
The dull throb turned into a spike.
“Easy,” he said. Then he blinked. “Are my eyes going funny, or are you… not entirely here?”
Beth was…. The only word he could think of was “flickering.” Like, she was made of candlelight and there was a strong draft in the room. It looked pretty, her hair was just the right shade that it looked like candlelight, and—
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s just—”
“Jack, there’s no time for that. You have to wake up.”
“What are you talking about? I am awake.”
“No, this isn’t the woods.”
Jack looked around. “Then... Where is it?”
“We're in the place between dreams. And we have to get you awake so that we can get home. Its getting dark, and its starting to snow and you’re too heavy to carry.”
“You’re no featherweight yourself,” Jack said.
She glowered. “I didn’t want to have to do it this way, but just for that—”
She took a deep breath.
“What are you—”
“We’re out of time, Jack. This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you,” Beth said.
She pinched his arm. Hard.