25. A Garden of Untold Truths

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Grass rustled underfoot as Regina heard Dwain stride careful steps across the Hollow, towards her. Regina ignored him where she knelt brooding at the edge of the vegetable garden. She kept a firm gaze upon sweet-smelling orchids basking in the light of the mother moon.

"Can I sit?"

Regina steeled herself, closed her eyes tight, with a tight jerk of her head. A sigh escaped her lips, an aching rumble from the heart, so filled with pain and confusion, that she didn't know how to respond, despite the fact that her mind was abuzz with a thousand different words, phrases, curses, hexes, questions, pleas...

"Reggie..."

"I don't understand," she said, cutting him off. "Why must you throw away everything we have worked so hard to build here in the Hollow?"

"I ain't throwing nothing away, yeah," said Dwain.

"You promised!" she said, throwing a glare at him. "You promised – our bond, unbroken! Do you remember, when we were kits? The pact we made? To never leave each other astray? That no matter what happened, nothing would unbind what we have...?"

Regina sniffled. When Dwain didn't reply, she dipped her chin, wiping her nose.

Dwain shuffled forward, sat down with a heavy thump across from her, with the orchids between them. She refused to acknowledge him. All that there was flowing through her was a hurricane of disappointment, her own sense of personal loss.

He sighed. "Reggie – we were made to suffer a great loss. Altus fell because we were too weak to defend ourselves."

But the mention of AltusVillage caused something in her heart to pang icy. She didn't want to look at him, didn't even want to have his hedgehog scent in her nostrils. Despite herself, Regina turned her attention away from the orchids, found Dwain gazing upon the garden as he continued to speak.

"Imagine if ... if this Alliance had come to our aid! Altus would stand today, and our families, our friends ... Reggie, do ye remember the Harvest? How important it was to us back then?"

"Back then, yes – but now...?" Regina shook her head. "Dwain, I am a different mammal now. And so are you."

Dwain closed his eyes for a moment, nodded. He reached around the orchids and nudged Regina's paws with his digit tips. Despite her anger for him, the simple graze was electric. She flinched, pulled away.

"Everything I want and need, the sense of peace that I so desire, all of that is right here where I sit," she told him slowly. "This garden – my flowers ... you."

Dwain clasped her paws in his, igniting an icy shiver up both her arms. She glared at him, lips pursed. She pulled her digits free from his. "Don't touch me."

"Reggie ... I feel the same."

The anger in her heart started to die, replaced with that of sadness. Regina fought to keep fresh tears at bay; one escaped, rolling down the soft fur of her cheek. "Dwain – don't go to Warminister. You may go wherever you must in the world, but I beg you..."

Dwain shook his head. "I must, yeah. Me heart tells me no other. If'n I can do anything in me power to keep ... to keep you safe ... then I must ride to Warminister."

"You don't need to keep me safe!" Regina exclaimed. "I am not the frail and frightened skunk kit who fell into the tavern cellar all those years ago! There is so much sadness in you still, and I don't know how taking up the mantle of an Alliance Peace Officer will help alleviate that! The peace in which you seek must come from within!"

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