Once begun, it was simple to fall in love with Tomas. The instinct to trust him that she'd felt on their first meeting was easy to embrace. His voice was a trickle of ice through her veins, his laugh a cool breeze. Even the brush of his hand against hers--it was warm, but not with the oppressive warmth of everything here. It was more like curling up with the pack on an especially freezing night. Despite her previous fears, she found herself telling him the truth of her life, wondering how he would receive such news.
"I knew you were not from here," he simply remarked. "The hair, your skin, those pale gray eyes." He touched her cheek, held it. "Of course, I thought maybe from beyond the lake--not from within it." He grinned, and she grinned in return. His smile was that way, an infection that was easily caught.
She took him to the lake one day and showed him. "This is the place I fell into your world, on the day of longest sun. It is the only time one can cross that bridge to your world. It is the only day one can even see it, and even then, some cannot see it at all."
She stared down into the water, imagining her own people there. It was still close to longest sun in both places now, and the ice was at its thinnest, so they would keep away at this time of year. All except for Ivana. She had always slunk away to watch the humans for those hours the tunnel was visible. Each year she wondered if she would have the courage to jump once the vision opened into a gate. She wondered until the day she did it.
Still, though she could not see them, she could imagine them--her pack, prowling for food, tussling together, or nestled in a pile to rest. And beyond them, as far as the eye could see, the expanses of ice and snow. Above them, the sky--cold, gray, beautiful in all its shades of light and dark. Within its clouds, the promise of snow. If she were there, the cold would make her shiver with pleasure, but she was here now, and despite her imagination she could feel only the heat.
"Did you mean to do it?" he asked, breaking her from her reverie.
She sighed reluctantly. "Yes. The legends of my people warn us away from the ice on the day of longest sun. They say those who fall through never return. Most will not stray near the lake, not on any day, except sometimes to hunt fish. But I--" She looked down, remembering. "I would not listen. I watched your world, caught up in its beauty, its color, the leaves and flowers growing everywhere. I saw you there. I would watch you--I mean, I would watch your people." She blushed. "I was determined to discover what it was like." She shrugged. "So I came."
He sat beside her now, his fingers touching her knee as he looked into her eyes. "And is it so bad here?"
She looked away. "It is not all bad."
He waited, but she did not continue. "Except?" he prompted.
She looked up into the sky, the brightness of the noon sun burning the air white. "Except that." She pointed upward. "I could not have known, but I should have known. I was warned. From my world, I could see only the colors--and a sky so bright I could barely look at it. But I could not feel it. I could not feel the scorching heat that burns into your core, setting your blood on fire. Every day I wait to see if my skin will melt from the heat, and every day it does not." She held out her hand before her, staring at it in wonder. "I am almost surprised."
He reached gently to grasp that hand and hold it between his. "And I am deeply glad," he said solemnly.
The heat of his hand, still so different from the heat of the air that constantly pressed in on her, rushed up through her skin. She looked again into his eyes, a deep dark brown like the rich soil beneath them. He leaned in, and she closed her eyes. When his lips pressed against hers, a glorious fire burned through her. She didn't mind.