I raised my hands out of the heated pool and cupped his face between them, leaning in for a kiss that was the barest whisper of a touch of my lips to his. His hands stayed on my back below the water line and gently kneaded the tight muscles in my lower back. I traced his lower lip with damp fingertips and for a moment could hardly believe this was real. He made a wry twist of his lips and murmured,
“It is still so new isn’t it?”
I nodded gently and bowed my forehead to his, closed my eyes and just relaxed listening to the gentle lap and fall of water around us and the soft murmur of conversation from the other pool. I was so still for so long I became slightly entranced, allowing my mind to let go, and slip into a light meditative state. Elethor was simply content to hold me and enjoy the moment as much as I but finally in a gentle, almost wistful tone he said,
“Head back, keairrah,” his hands splayed low on my back and hips to allow me to arch back into the water with some grace. I bent backwards and dipped my hair in the pool as he had instructed, managing to get it all without fully submerging sitting up again, the tendrils of hair sticking to my neck and tickling my shoulders longer now that it was straight and wet. He smiled and held out a hand and with a flick of his wrist the bottle he wished left the neatly stacked platter at the pools edge and levitated to him. I quirked an eyebrow at the display of power which he had never been apt to perform before the cataclysm that I could remember. He smiled rakishly at me.
“I would not let you go for a trifle such as this, not now and not ever.” I smoothed my hands up his shoulders where they rested, touched by his words and allowed them to come up the sides of his neck before burying them in the hair at the back of his neck, where his mane began and crushed my lips over his in a demanding kiss. He returned the kiss patiently drawing away slightly then a bit more insistently. He pulled one of my hands away from the side of his neck and laid a gentle plant of lips against the skin of the inside of my wrist where my pulse fluttered.
I closed my eyes and let myself go in that small feeling for a moment when the smell of moon flowers brought me back to the water and the man and what it was exactly we were supposed to be doing there. Elethor poured a small amount of the liquid from the vial into the palm of his opposite hand and pressed the crystal into my free one. I capped it for him and held the bottle careful not to drop it. He rubbed the soap between his hands and reached out to work it into my hair, his hands returning to my back to support me so I could bend back once again to rinse the strands clean. I returned to a vertical position a little dizzy from the awkward position I had held. His lips curved appreciatively as his crystalline eyes roamed over me and I smiled back. He took the bottle of expensive soap from my hands and waved it back to its place on the platter. We rested in each other’s embrace for several moments when a woman cleared her throat behind me. I jumped and Elethor’s arms tightened around me reassuringly.
She asked him something and I molded myself to him, hiding my front against his modestly, laying my head on his shoulder as he stroked my back both in and out of the water reassuringly. He answered the woman and I could hear the note of relief in his tone, the timbre of his voice controlled and as soothing as his hand on my back as he made his lengthy reply. I heard the soft click of her claws on the stone as she retreated and realized after several moments that they had all gone, and we were alone in the chambers with simply the sound of tinkling water against stone.
“She will bring you something to wear and we will get out,” He mouthed against my ear, voice low and soothing yet still intense. “…though if I had it my way, I would take you again here and now.” I shivered in his embrace though not with cold and he laughed. He cradled me in his arms until she returned, another short and pleasant exchange between the two and she was gone again and he helped me out of the pool, wrapping me in a thick absorbent bath sheet, taking another for himself. The woman had brought a dress; the match to the white one Elethor had given me the last time I was here, though that one remained back in Elysea.
I slipped into it and turned around. Elethor nodded appreciatively, and finished buckling the clasp at his throat on his tunic. He held out his hand to me and I took it, and he pressed my combs into my palm, I fixed my hair the way I liked it and we left the bath chamber together, my arm linked with his, hand lightly resting upon his wrist. He covered my hand with his and we moved up the hall, I shivered and this time it was with the chill that pervaded the air and he stopped in his tracks, unfastening his cloak and clasping it around my shoulders. He murmured slightly and tapped the edge of the material three times and I was warmer, just like that.
I wrapped my arms around his and we continued on, though I did not know where it was he led us. It was soon apparent when we stepped into a wide open practice room for the martial arts where it was we were going, the room was open to the elements and a wide veranda for flight training beyond, and set with fine china and silver cutlery was a small table for two, lit beautifully with candles and waiting for us were two glasses of a rich ruby hued wine. I stopped and stared for a moment at the scene so perfectly set and turned bewildered eyes upon Elethor, who smiled gently at me. He leaned down so carefully and kissed me then, and with that kiss he told me so much more than he ever could with words that he loved me.
He drew back and pulled out one of the chairs for me, I wrapped myself in his cloak and took the proffered seat as he tucked it beneath me, edging me close to the table. He sat opposite me and we were quiet for several moments, he spoke first.
“What I would not give for you to stay with me.” He sipped at his wine and I cast my eyes at the pristine white table cloth.
“I wish more than anything that I could.” I said in answer.
“This frustrates me to no end.” He said with such vehemence. I looked at him sharply, and studied his face, his forehead marred by the deep lines of a frightening scowl.
“I am going to have to go back.” I said softly, and with no little heartbreak.
“Must you?” he asked “Could you not just stay here with me?” his voice faltered and I did not mock him, instead I took a breath and spoke the painful truth.
“…and what my love? Remain hidden? Wait until the adaptations took hold of me, always watching, always fearing your Shadow Judges appearance? Always wondering as you leave for this battle or that battle if it will be the last and that you would never return to me?” I bowed my head and my lip trembled betraying the strong emotion I felt. “I could not bear it; I would go mad with the need to do something.” He came round the table and knelt before me and took my hands in his, letting them rest in my lap.
“It’s a foolish notion, I know, but what would you have me do? I cannot bear this distance, not knowing if you are safe, or if you hurt and knowing I am powerless to save you the pain.” He kissed my fingers; head bowed his face hidden from me.
“Keep faith. It is all I would have you do. Aion has a plan for us, I know not what he wills but we must keep our faith and know that some day we will be together.” He looked at me sharply searching my eyes and what he saw must have been enough, because he rose with a last gentle squeeze of my fingers and retook his seat.
A little shugo appeared and our conversation halted for the time being as he set out a meal for us from a small silver cart he had brought with him. It looked like a lovely and flavorful pasta that steamed gently in the crisp outdoor air, and when the Shugo had gone and it was just me and my beloved again I realized I was famished. We ate and drank our wine and spoke softly of memories that spanned so far back in time they were vaguely hazy for the both of us, we laughed and at some points fell silent in tribute to the friends we had lost and I failed to notice when the twilight of the Asmodian day faded into deepest night with only the dwindling candles on the table left to push back the dark. Elethor watched me by the light of the flickering candles as we fell into a comfortable silence.
He rose and came to me, holding out a hand and as I placed my hand in it and rose to my feet he led me to the railing to look out over the grounds of his holding. It was amazing, the lights that emanated from the flora and fauna were bright and surreal and so amazingly beautiful in hues of deep blue, purple and pink. I stared; stunned by the twinkling lights of the tiny sparkle bugs wafting lazily from plant to plant. I looked at Elethor who only had eyes for me, and the question… is it always like this? died on my lips before I could speak it. He leaned down so carefully and kissed me and my heart seized in my chest and I swallowed hard and kissed him back and in that moment it too everything in me not to say. Yes, I will stay with you.