His polished image was gone, havoc wreaked upon him during the nights he’d spent awake and the days staying alert in order to protect me. Now, he was hunched over the wingback chair, his hair disheveled, his clothes rumpled, and bags beneath his eyes.
My chest tightened when I saw him.
Slipping out of bed, I kept my eyes on him. He was breathing slowly, his eyes were closed, his lips slackened. I slid silently across the floor towards him to kneel at his feet.
Despite being unkempt, he smelled fresh and earthy. His face was still so handsome my breath caught in my throat and his body, firm even when at ease, still sent pleasure humming through me.
Usually it was him watching me sleep. This, I knew, was a rare treat.
We stayed this way for several minutes, each one I adored more than the last, and then his lips moved.
“Do you think you’ll be finished staring any time soon?”
My mouth fell open in embarrassment…and annoyance. “How long were you aware I was here?”
“Since you woke up.”
His eyes opened, glossy with fatigue, but lightening a little when they landed on me.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded, still embarrassed.
“Because you needed it…and I needed the rest.” He explained it with such blunt logic I didn’t bother trying to dispute it.
Then he made an announcement I couldn’t resist disagreeing.
“I needed the rest, Magdalene, because I’m going to the prison.”
He watched me for a reaction.
I felt my lips pinch closed, but this was very brief. My mind swirled with thoughts, gathering points to use in arguments against his decision but only one stuck out loud enough to be heard clearly. I said the words aloud without even realizing it.
“But you’ll be exposing yourself to imminent danger.”
He nodded. “That’s possible.”
“No,” I whispered and then repeated it with far more force. “No.” I stood up. “I forbid you.”
His eyebrows immediately rose up, but I didn’t care if he was insulted.
“As my guardian, I demand that you stay.”
“That’s not how this works, Magdalene,” he said in warning. “You know that.”
“Your singular goal in existence is to protect me,” I retorted. I realized, but quickly pushed it aside, that in any other situation I would have delivered those words with great affection. There was not a hint of it in my voice now. “I will not allow you to leave me without your protection.”
His brow creased in confusion at me, but he remained silent.
“Do you understand me?” I said, emphatic and absolutely unwavering even while deep inside I knew two things with equal clarity: one, I had never pulled this kind of authoritarian command before, and, two, it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to listen anyways. His response confirmed it.
“I won’t leave you without protection. You know this.” He held up his hand just as I was about to cut him off. “You know this and so I’m reasoning that you are making this demand of me simply out of fear…fear for me and for what I might encounter. I respect and understand that but I cannot allow it to direct my actions.”
“You don’t have a choice,” I retorted.
He was silent for only a brief moment and then he stood, his hands lifting from his sides to gently place them on both of my cheeks. “What would you have me do?” he asked quietly, filled with remorse I didn’t understand until he went on. “I haven’t heard from Magnus since he left for the prison…a mission I was meant to go on. He’s clearly in trouble now. What would you have me do, Magdalene?”
I was torn and without a response. Stay, I wanted to tell him, beg him. There was only one problem with that request. It would mean that he would never forgive himself if Magnus was in danger and without having to say so, I knew we both believed that was the reality.
I stepped back, moving out and away from his hands. “Go…I mean it.”
Eran nodded, not at all basking in the glory of winning this particular argument.
We stared at each other in silence then, neither one knowing what to say to comfort each other. There were too many words and not enough time.
Unable to condense all the emotions – dread, sadness, longing – into a single sentence, I settled on verbalizing something else entirely…something that had planted itself inside me long ago and had kept me full of life and hope throughout the centuries. It had given me inspiration to move forward during my bleakest moments and made me fight harder than I ever thought possible during battle.
It had given me purpose.
Despite it all, it was far more challenging to articulate than I ever thought it would be. Not because I had any inhibition in the meaning behind it but because the deepest part of my soul feared that it would be the last time I could ever tell him in person.
Because of that fear, every emotion I felt for him came through as I spoke the words.
“Eran…I’m in love with you.”
His breathing stopped, he closed his eyes, and then he swallowed. “Say that again,” he whispered.
“Eran, I am in love with you,” I repeated with the same intensity.
He drew in a shaky breath.
Now it was me who placed my hands on his cheeks. They were firm and I could feel his jaw tightening as he struggled to hold back his emotions.
Leaning forward, I felt our lips meet. The touch was delicate at first but grew stronger, deeper. When we held each other, it was not like the times before. There was comfort in our embrace now and it told me that no matter what happened from this point forward, we would be able to accept what came our way because the love that had grown from us had made us each stronger.
When we pulled apart, when our kiss had satiated us, we remained only inches apart.
“Those words from you…they always give me strength,” he admitted.
I smiled gently. “They do the same for me… And that is why I am going with you.”
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