"Ari," he says against my lips. "I love you. I have never cared for anyone as deeply or truly as I do you. And I cannot imagine losing you either."
Tears burn my eyes. I press into him, kissing him again. After a moment, I pull away to look into his eyes. "I love you too, Fenris Vane."
He strokes my face with his fingers. "I don't know what the future holds either, but we'll sort it out, somehow."
That night, I sleep in his arms, in the safety of our acknowledged feelings, however unknown our future is.
As morning breaks, something licks my chin. I open my eyes. "Baron?"
My baby dragon, now small again, peers at me with large dark eyes. "Yami!"
Fen and I linger in his room as long as we can that morning, and though he still cannot see Yami, I think he's starting to figure out Baron's odd behavior has a purpose. I, of course, can't tell him the truth yet, but I will be pushing Asher to end my contract as soon as possible. And I will not be signing another that involves secrets and physical pain.
"Would you like to join me in Stonehill today?" Fen asks as we head down to breakfast. "I must check on the soldiers before battle."
"I'd love to." I try to focus on being with Fen, and not on the war we are about to fight.
Asher is finishing up breakfast when we enter the dining hall with Baron at our feet. "There you two are," he says, dabbing his lips with a cloth napkin and standing. "Lazing about, are you?"
I snort and sit to eat. I find I'm famished after everything.
"Did you enjoy breakfast?" I ask Asher.
"Enough. But I'm in need of blood. Me and the other lads are getting restless." He turns to Fen, who sits across from me. "Where might we find a fresh source in your wild realm?"
Fen glares at him. "You know I restrict that sort of thing here, Asher. Make due with animals."
Asher grimaces. "How appalling. You live like such savages. How do you stand it, dear Ari?"
I shrug. "I don't drink blood."
He chuckles. "Not yet, at any rate."
Asher leaves before Fen gets any more angry, and I smile. "You two love each other. You should be kinder."
Fen looks up, narrowing his eyes. "He kissed you."
I nearly choke on my juice. "He told you?"
"Then he must have also told you it meant nothing. It was like kissing my brother, if I had a brother. Besides, I'm pretty sure I'm not his type."
Fen frowns. We eat quickly and walk to town. The army has set up camp outside the walls, since there isn't enough room inside. Baron trots between us, seeming quite happy that we are all together again. Yami rides on his back and occasionally flies over the wolf, causing Baron to bark and chase the baby dragon.
Fen just looks at me oddly, and I make a motion as if zipping my lips. He frowns, but doesn't push.
We walk to the outskirts of the city, to the largest crystal waterfall, the one that blocks the secret passage out of the Stonehill.
I rub the ring on my finger, the one Fen had designed for me. "I wear this all the time. It makes me think of this place. Of you."
We stand beside the water, crystals catching rays of sun, casting color and light everywhere.
"I don't need a ring to think of you," he says. He kisses me, and it's a lingering kiss. When he pulls away, I sigh. "I must check on the soldiers. We will leave soon."
"I worry for you. If anything were to happen… "
I touch his chest, and he covers my hands with his own. "I am the Prince of War. It is the Fae who should be worried."
WHAT IS IMPORTANT
"War is coming."
I do not want to leave Ari, but Asher approaches, and I know it is to tell me that our brothers are ready and it is time to march. "I must go," I say quietly, touching the softness of her cheek.
"I know," she says. "But I wish you wouldn't."
I kiss her once. "My heart stays here with you."
"You are my Karasi," she says softly.
"Spirit of my heart," I say. I have heard the Fae speak of this, but have never felt it myself until now. Time will tell whether this love gives me strength or weakness.
Arianna nods. "You are mine. And I am yours. We are bound, you and I. Come what may, we are bound."
"I will leave Baron with you, to defend you," I say.
But Ari won't have it. "I'll feel better knowing he's protecting you. I'll be safe in the castle."
By the time Asher reaches us, we have said our goodbyes. Ari hugs Asher and whispers something to him I cannot hear, and then we leave.
"What did she tell you?" I ask my brother.
He looks at me with an odd expression. "She told me we find more strength in love than in hate."
I should not be surprised that somehow Arianna heard the words in my heart and answered them. It is not the first time she has done so. "She is wise. We do not deserve her."
Asher nods. "In that we agree."
A Shade boy runs up to us, breathless. "The Fae army has breached the great wall, they're gathering north, just near the Outlands," he reports.
Remembering Ari's kindness, I tell the boy to fetch some food and drink before heading back.
Asher grins at me. "She really has stolen your heart, hasn't she?"