That feeling again, that dull, bottomless dread that he'd known only a few times in his life, the sense that nothing ever would or could be right again...he'd known it in the jungle more than once, when he'd finally given in and talked; even though he hadn't given the enemy anything real, anything they could use, it had still been crushing, an end to himself, and here he was again. He'd given in. Tried to ignore the thoughts, go back to sleep, but there was no sleeping now. He'd done this. He'd broken. Left the path which he'd believed himself meant to walk, taken an easier one. Just for the sake of making things easier. For himself. Unacceptable. Had to fix it, couldn't fix it, couldn't wander off and do the things he needed to do, not with everyone in camp and expecting him to be there in the morning, and suddenly he couldn't breathe, couldn't get his breath at all, wanted to run, had to run, but made himself keep still.
The moment of panic passing, Einar at last permitted himself movement, crawled out of the sleeping bag—wanting to stand but pretty sure that he didn't have the breath for it; no sense falling and waking everyone—past the still‐glowing coals of the fire, feeling their warmth radiating upwards at him as he passed. He shivered at the contrast, went on until he could feel the heat no more, back against an aspen and arms wrapped around his knees as he shook in the night chill. It was better in the cold, to be cold, to have it seep down inside him. Brought a certain quietness, a solace, an ability, perhaps, to refrain from taking his leave of the camp and seeking the harsher if far more effective refuge of the ropes. Which he could not do that night, must not do. They were traveling, and his absence—and his actions—would interfere with the course of their journey, perhaps put his family and their guests at more risk than that to which they were currently subject because of their lower elevation.
Liz found him some time later when she noticed his absence and searched the camp, felt the tension in his body when she touched him, knew he wanted to be up in the woods handling things his own way, as he had been when Bud had found him this last time... She sat down beside him, tried to put her parka around his shoulders, but he didn't want it.
"What's going on? Can't sleep?"
"Shouldn't have done this."
"What? Left the bag and frozen yourself to an aspen tree...?"
"Come down here. Agreed to come down here."
"You couldn't breathe."
"Doesn't matter. I gave in. Not ok."
"What's not ok is you getting yourself into situations where you can't get enough oxygen without losing elevation because you've been doing things that cause you to bleed so much."
"I know. Ridiculous, isn't it? But I don't know what else to do, sometimes. You know, something was...taken from me back there in that cage, and doing the ropes, enduring through it...that's the only way I have of getting back what was taken, just a little of it, just for that moment, Makes me ...clean. Justified. Justified to go on existing for a while more. "
"But yesterday...the things you and Bud were talking about. You know you don't need to stay in that cage anymore, and every time you go do the things you do with the ropes, you're putting yourself back there."
"It's how I go on living, though. What allows me to go on living. Even if I accept the things he said, and I do, intellectually...well I've got to do certain things if I'm to go on living. "
"But it doesn't have to be that way. Does it? Isn't there something else you can do instead?"
"I don't know anything else."
"You know Will, and you know me."
He was silent. He did know them. It ought to be enough. But wasn't.
"Can you just let it be? For a while. I know you can't let it go entirely, but just try to set it aside, live here with us for a while and see what happens..."
Yes, he was willing. Afraid, but willing. Nodded in the darkness. She took his arm, helped him up.
"Come get warm. Come to bed."
He wasn't quite ready, got stiffly to his feet and stood for a minute, listening. "I hear water. A waterfall. Do you hear that?"
She did. "We'll go find it in the morning."