(This story is part of the "Early Romance of Farscout & Brightwood" set of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
(with thanks to songwriter Jeffrey Foucoult, author of the song "Miles From The Lightning")
There was a rumble of thunder overhead, rolling through the stormclouds like a great shagback bull across the grasslands. Nearwoken whined and flinched; storms always turned the old wolf back into a den-hiding pup. Farscout soothed his wolf with a touch and counted his own heartbeats against the lightning that followed.
Eight heartbeats; the last had been twelve. The storm was rolling closer and closer. Farscout edged back as far as he could into the hollow of the fallen tree under which he and his wolf-friend had taken cover from the rain, and waited for the next piece of thunder.
Nearwoken jumped at the next crash of thunder and began to shake as he always did. Farscout scratched the old wolf's rump to distract him and counted again. Seven heartbeats before the flash of lightning.
A flash of memory, along with the skyfire: Brightwood in their tangled bedfurs, her pale gold curls sweeping across them both. She had always counted the distance between the thunder and the lightning with him, and had delighted in the fiercest of late summer storms outside of the den they had shared. He remembered counting her heartbeats with feverish kisses, and how her mouth had tasted like rain.
It was a bittersweet memory, one farther out of reach than the stormclouds and the thunder. He had learned to ration the memories like bites of meat during famine. It was easy for the mind to wallow in what-once-was, and to trade the comfort of memory for the despair of daily life without Brightwood in his bed, at his side, counting the heartbeats between flashes of the storm.
Another crash of thunder, and this time, only two heartbeats before lightning burned the sky. Farscout rested his weary eyes, and drew in a deep breath, savoring the scent of rain as it drummed through the leaves overhead. He counted his heartbeat against the next shock of thunder, and for that moment between sound and light, he let his memory kiss the long years goodbye.