I’m content to let Andrei think Nik and I were having a simple disagreement, or he was teasing me. Still, that was a little… over the top. I know he can get jealous, but I’ve never seen him get angry at me like that. I don’t understand.
“Does he normally react like that? Touchy much?” Heath’s voice makes me jump. I flinch away from him. I can’t help it.
“No… That’s not normal,” I admit, keeping my face turned away. I’m sure I’m an open book, as always. Avoiding Heath’s gaze, I see several others watching. Rose looks sympathetic, Markus is a blank slate, and Nik’s expression is dark.
“Hope he’s ok,” he hums, staring at the spot where Andrei had just been. I don’t think we mentioned Andrei’s space-shifting ability.
“Yea,” I nod. “It’s probably ‘cause he didn’t sleep well,” I try to brush it off, but I can’t ignore the knots in my stomach. I move away from that spot, toward the others.
“Perhaps,” he whispers, glancing up at the wall. “So, what’s next?”
“Dunno,” I shrug, leaving him behind. He jogs to catch up.
Rose pushes past a couple of the young men Cliff brought and meets me a couple feet away from the others. “Are you alright, dear? Say the word, and I’ll eat him, I promise. I know we always said that about Logan, but-”
“Andrei isn’t Logan,” I brush her off, looking to Markus. “What next?” I ignore the feeling of eyes on the back of my head.
Markus studies me with his piercing blue eyes, then, with a slight nod, he turns to the others. “Gather the lumber, and we’ll make the frame.”
The men get to work. Nik walks past me, casually, carrying a long plank. He pauses to look down at me. I glance up into his dark eyes. It’s strangely comforting, the look in his eyes. Like he knows it’ll be okay, somehow. When I break eye contact, he moves on.
A dark shadow blocks the afternoon sun. When I look up, probably the last person I expected stands next to me. Ceph, his glasses resting low on the bridge of his nose, towers nearly a foot over me. He reaches out slowly, his palm barely resting on my shoulder.
“I’ll go check on him. You seem to have things handled here,” he offers an awkward smile.
I nod once, stunned. “Thanks…” he takes a step back and vanishes. I’m left alone on the sideline as the men move the planks of wood around. Rose stands in the middle of the fray, gesturing wildly, complaining that it’s not wide enough, tall enough, or whatever else isn’t perfect. I don’t envy them.
The guys seem to go along with whatever she says. Markus seems to reason with her until she finally accepts the framework that they’ve laid out. My arms ache a little, from holding the egg for so long. I look for a place to sit down when I feel a nudge on my back. I turn to see the familiar yellow eyes and blue scales. It’s hard not to smile, as he whines at me.
“It’s alright, Blue. Everything is okay,” I assure him. He tilts his head, skeptical. “I’m tired. Let’s sit together, okay?” he curls up, and I sit on the grass as I had earlier with my legs folded to the side. I rest the egg on my lap and lean back against Blue.
When I look at the construction again, Nik and Heath seem to be working together to move and mold stone. The other men hold the frame steady while they work, and Rose directs them like some sort of conductor. It takes about half an hour, but it starts to look like a cross between a cave and a garage.
The sun has begun to set when they put the finishing touches on the structure. Cliff stands with his other friends around Markus, as they place wards and spells around it. Nik jogs across the field and crouches next to me.
“You seem to be working hard,” he smiles.
“I’ll have you know, I’m growing two babies here,” I retort with a chuckle.
He nods. “About that… Want some company for a while? I don’t like how things went down earlier.”
“Are you planning to apologize to Andrei?” I raise an eyebrow.
He shrugs. “If I have to.”
I shake my head. “I’d pay to see that,” my gaze wanders, and I notice Heath hovering by the little makeshift changing room, shirt in hand. “I’m okay. Don’t worry.”
Nik runs his hand over his smooth brown hair, tied back as usual. “Not worrying about you… Easier said than done, it seems.”
“Apparently,” I agree, eyeing the sleeping dragon head beside me. “Go on, you’re probably exhausted.”
Nik sighs, ruffling my hair as he stands up. “Call me if you need anything.”
I watch him go. Honestly, I don’t know why we argue so often. Maybe it’s because he brings up things I don’t want to talk about. I know he means well, but for some reason, it always gets taken the wrong way. The others disperse and head back inside too.
I don’t really want to go inside. I don’t know what to do. Was I wrong? Do I apologize? Is it… safe to go back to our room? Ceph never came back, so I have no idea. At least, until I notice Heath walking up.
“It’s my turn to hold the egg,” he says, arms extended toward me. I frown. Really, that’s all he wanted? I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else. After all, he doesn’t seem interested in sticking around. I hold it out for him, and he takes it gently.
He sits on the grass next to me, cradling the egg in his crossed legs. He stares down at it as he speaks, his voice casual. “You wanna talk about anything?”
I bite the inside of my lip, hard. No one ever asks that. They always just ask if I’m okay. My eyes sting, but I fight it back. My voice barely comes out audible. “I was scared.”
“Yeah, it looked like it,” he nods solemnly.
I shake my head. “I’ve never been afraid of him before. He’s always… gentle.”
“I don’t know you guys that well, but maybe you should ask him what’s wrong.”
I pull my knees up to my chest, resting my chin on top. “I know… but I don’t want to.”
“I just watch and listen. I’m not the talking sort,” he says. “But I’ll listen, if you want to talk about something. I won’t judge.”
I scoff. “I’m not really good at the talking either. Which is what frustrates him… Any time I do tell him things, it just makes him upset. Not at me, but, because he can’t make it better.”
Heath hums. “He seems the protective sort. What can’t he make better?”
“What happened before we met,” I answer vaguely. “Caroline found a way to erase the physical scars, but that doesn’t erase what happened. I think he somehow blames himself, even though he didn’t even know me.”
“Sounds rough,” he looks down, thoughtfully. “Our scars remind us of the things we’ve gone through…” he says looking at his fingers. “If we didn’t have scars, then others quickly forget the pain we went through to get them, forgetting who we are…” he says in a philosophical tone.
“Not these scars,” I disagree. “It only reminded him of the things he couldn’t save me from. Things he couldn’t understand.”
“You said he was a time mage, right?” he asks suddenly.
“Yea,” I frown. “But, if he changed the past, we never would have met. If Logan wasn’t here and hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have left either. Besides, changing the past is sort of a big no-no.”
“You can say that, but it seems people with magic are drawn to one another, in some strange way. Like, when I came, I felt like we’d met before, even though I know I’ve never seen anyone like you. Perhaps there was another way you two would have met,” he sighs. “I wish I could change my past, but that’s ancient history.”
“If I changed the past, I don’t know who I would be,” I admit. “I don’t want that.”
“Have you told him that?” he shifts to look at me.
“What difference would that make?” I rebut. “He wouldn’t understand that. What person in their right mind would rather live through years of…” I catch myself, turning back to look at the darkening sky. “It’s not rational.”
“I don’t know, maybe it could help. But as a time mage, I’m sure he’s seen things neither of us could understand either. You know him better than I,” he shrugs. “Besides, you said he’s not normally like this. He seems bothered when Nik constantly brings it up, and he got equally angry when you wouldn’t talk about it. Maybe having a heart to heart would get things off both your chests.”
“I know he’s never seen anything like what Logan did to me,” I pout. “He told me so after he saw it for himself.”
“That kind of thing, it still leaves emotional scars. Maybe he has emotional scars of his own that he hasn’t told you, which is causing him to get angry,” he reasons.
“So that means it’s okay for him to become the thing he hates?” I challenge. I know he’s right, Andrei has a lot of his own trauma. He doesn’t let me help either.
“No, you misunderstand,” Heath corrects. “And from what I saw, he wasn’t becoming anything but frustrated… but you could help him understand how you feel too.”
I stand up, crossing my arms with my fists clenched. “You have no idea how quickly frustration turns to worse things,” I mutter as I head for the castle. I don’t want to believe that’s what will happen. Andrei isn’t like that. This isn’t the same as before. At the same time… My pace slows when I realise he’s not following. I pause to look back, to see him looking at me.
“It doesn’t take a genius to understand that concept,” he mopes, looking offended.
I can’t control the sting in my eyes this time. “How am I supposed to make him understand? Am I supposed to tell him he’s not allowed to get mad at me? That he can’t feel frustrated? That’s not fair.”
“You can’t make him understand anything, but talking usually clears those things up. If you just talked to him… I don’t have all the answers. All I know is, you block up a volcano and the explosion becomes so much worse from the pressure. If you don’t get out your feelings, you’ll explode just like that. Unless you don’t have relationships with people. They’re too messy and emotional…” he trails off.
I look up at the stars beginning to fill the sky. “It was simpler before I met him. The only relationship I had was Logan. I thought everyone else would rather see me dead, and I was fine with that,” I tap my fist on my arm anxiously. “If it wasn’t for Nik, I’d be dead, and this would all be easier on everyone.”
“Would it? From my perspective, people dying make it worse, ‘cause you can’t take back what was said,” he huffs, clasping his hands together.
“Yes, it would!” I snap. “All I do is burn and hurt people. I tried leaving, and that didn’t work. I tried dying, and I failed. I envy you, able to not care about anyone and just leave when things get boring. It must be nice. No matter what I do, I’m wrong, and someone gets hurt.”
“You envy me?” he asks bewildered. Eyes wide. He scoffs, holding my eyes with his. “You don’t understand what it’s like to be me. You claim to have it worse than everyone else, even those you don’t know well. Don’t you hear yourself?” he stands up with the egg.
“I didn’t say I have it worse than everyone,” I glare at him. I reach for my collar, pulling it hard down to show the scar between my breasts. “Do you understand, how it feels to be shot in the heart and lay there waiting to die, but you can’t? This was nothing. That was a walk in the park, compared to scars I used to have. I didn’t say I have it worse, but you certainly don’t have any right to tell me I’m wrong.”
“And do you understand what it’s like to fall into a volcano and feel your body burn for hours until you realise, you’re not actually burning, but everyone else is? You don’t have to say the words outright to mean them. You’re -” he stutters, glancing down at my chest. “You’- Would you pull that up! It’s distracting!” he shouts, fuming. He takes a breath, regaining his composure. “You say that I could never understand your pain. I can’t, I know that. And I could say the same for you. We all have pain. There are hundreds of different kinds of pain out there and yours is one and mine is one and Andrei’s is one. No one has it worse than anyone else.
“If I look like I don’t care, it’s because every time I did, I lost it. That’s how it’s worked all my life. Everything I’ve cared about, I’ve lost, so I gave up trying. There are times I wish I cared more. Maybe things would make more sense if I did, but I’m too afraid to. So don’t go telling me you envy me. I have nothing worth envying over. Nothing but this damn magic, and for all I care, you can have that too,” he grumbles to a stop.
“And yet I do envy you,” I repeat, releasing my shirt to spring back to its normal position. “Forget it. I don’t want to argue. It doesn’t matter, you’re just going to leave anyway,” I swallow the anger in my throat. It’s not worth it. “I’ll show you back to the dorms.”
“What, you want me to stay? After hearing all your horror stories about getting attacked and marred by people? I think I had a better shot at surviving on my own out there than I do associating myself with your lot,” he grumbles.
“You probably do,” I turn away. “I told Ambrosse, I’m no good as a teacher, after what happened to my last student.” My eyes sting, “I’m just… worried that if you leave now, you’ll be attacked. Just for meeting me.”
“Then why have Steve bring me here at all?” he sighs.
“It’s not up to me,” I glare back at him. “You think a place like this would leave their decisions up to a twenty-three-year-old? I’m following orders. Usually, people get less hurt if I actually do what I’m told.”
He pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers, his head bent. “Let’s say, I did stay. What would happen then? Would me staying here keep me safe from whatever’s out there? Would me being here help anyone? Or just myself?”
“The Guild is a safe haven for people like us… but now, it’s also kind of a prison,” I hug my arms around my chest. “Everywhere else is dangerous, especially for us. I don’t want to force you do stay here, or to help us. I want to just do this alone and spare the rest of you, but I can’t. Not anymore.”
“Doing things alone doesn’t sound very plausible,” he rolls his eyes in the dark. “What… happened to your last student?” he asks hesitantly.
I turn enough to meet his curious gaze. “She died. She wasn’t a Guardian, like us. I did something stupid, and she tried to save me. She wasn’t even supposed to be there. I should have been the one to die that day, not her.”
“I see,” he shakes his head. “And was it just from an accident? Or was it from the other side of this war?”
“I left to confront the enemy. I wanted to end it,” I grind my teeth, liquid spilling over my eyelids in frustration, “They made a bullet, specifically powerful enough to incapacitate a Guardian. It was made for me. She followed me there and jumped in the way. Maybe if you keep your distance… Stay here, but don’t get involved… Maybe you’ll survive this.”
“And how do you expect me to do that as your student? If you ask me, it’s already too late. You’ve got me involved already,” he says, holding his elbow and twisting his hand through the air.
I feel the wetness trail down my face and I quickly turn away. “I’m sorry,” my voice betrays me, so I clear my throat. “I’ll find someone else to teach you. Hate me, if it helps you stay safe.”
“Now your just being ridiculous. I don’t want any other teacher. Only you can teach me to control… whatever the hell this is,” he’s silent for a moment, a long awkward moment. “Don’t cry. Please.”
I spin around. “Why? Why wouldn’t you want another teacher? I told just told you I’m not cut out for this. You could die! Don’t you understand that?”
“Yes, but-” he takes a long stride towards me, grabbing my arm in his hand and before I have time to blink I feel his lips on mine. He pulls away after a long pause. “You… tempt me…” he mumbles, unblinking.
I stare up at him, my eyes sting without blinking. Did that just happen? I thought he was angry, I thought he would probably want to leave early… but then… I glance down, his gloved hand still wrapped tightly around my forearm. My mind races over the last few minutes, but I still can’t predict that.
“I… tempt you?” I repeat, forcing my lungs to move again. What does that mean?
“Yeah…” he replies, his face turning red in the dim light. His grip fades and he lets go of my arm.
The implication sinks in, and I feel… kind of flattered. “Oh,” is all I can say. My face feels warm too. Should I be angry? Or something? I’m not even sure.
“You tempt me to stay, but I can’t make any promises. If you ever need someone to talk to… well, you can talk to me, at least while I’m here,” he mumbles.
I don’t really know what to say to that. “Okay,” I whisper, glancing around us. “We should get back inside. Training in the morning, remember?” I change the subject, hoping to get back to some sense of normality.
“Right,” he hugs the egg against his chest, following behind me. Blue watches us, his head still on the grass but his eyes wide open. At least he can’t tell anyone…
“Do you want to hold onto that tonight?” I ask, though I’m sure of the answer. “We can take turns roosting.”
“Yeah,” he replies passively. He seems to avoid looking in my direction, so I let things fall into silence. It’s not like I have any idea what else to say.
When we reach the dorms, I wave as Heath heads into his room. I take a deep breath before I open my door. The light is on, and just inside, sitting at the desk is Andrei. He slams the book he was writing in shut, jumping out of the chair. I hesitate in the open door as he crosses the distance, pulling me against his chest. His arms wrap tightly around me, and he buries his face in the crook of my neck without a word. I can hardly contain my relief, pushing the door to close before I slide my arms around his waist.
“I’m sorry,” he coughs into my hair. “I didn’t realise.”
I frown. “Didn’t realise what?”
He pulls back, searching my eyes desperately. “I was scaring you. That’s the last thing I wanted to do.”
I shake my head. “No… Well, yes, but I know you didn’t mean to. You don’t need to apologize for being upset… I should have told you what Nik was teasing me about but I was embarrassed. I thought you would get the wrong idea,” I admit, hoping to clear the air. Although, maybe he wouldn’t get the wrong idea after all.
“Well… Nik can be annoying and I guess I still have strong feelings about not being there to help you when you needed it most. I guess I’m jealous and I imposed my jealousy on him and you… whatever. It might not make sense but I’m still sorry,” he insists.
“Thanks, but,” I shake my head, “it wasn’t about that.”
“Oh?” he tilts his head thoughtful.
“Earlier, when I was training Heath, he sort of… accidentally burned his clothes, when he was showing me his lava form. It was really awkward, so I called Nik and asked him to bring spare clothes. I told him not to say anything, cause I thought you might misunderstand, and he said that you wouldn’t care what he said anyway, and so that’s why we were sort of arguing…” my words start to run together as I ramble on. “And then it just turned into a whole mess… again.”
“Oh… well… if that’s all that happened…” he laughs a little. “Reminds me a little of our first spar together, a bit,” he blushes with a slight smile. “Wish I’d been there to see it.”
“It was horribly embarrassing for us both!” I hiss, trying to keep a straight face. It is kind of funny, in retrospect. “I didn’t want you threatening the poor guy off the island for a silly mistake. Considering how you are with Nik, and he’s kept his clothes on so far,” I sneer playfully.
He narrows his eyes with a wicked grin. “It was embarrassing, eh? So… how does he compare? Is he anything like your Mr. Hero?”
I’m pretty sure I turn redder than a tomato as I cover my face with my hands. I can’t believe he just asked that. “I didn’t look! That would be so… Intrusive!” I gasp, though it’s mumbled through my palms.
“Oh? If I remember correctly. Before we were even dating you got me stripping in an unfair bet,” he smirks.
I peek out between my fingers. “Yeah, well… I knew what I wanted, I guess. Besides, you kissed me first!”
“What!” he blushes. “Well… it’s your fault for looking so gorgeous…” he purses his lips.
I lower my hands, narrowing my eyes. “If that’s your excuse, how come you aren’t always kissing me? Am I only pretty in certain light?” I ask, pretending to be hurt.
“What? We can’t go walking around with locked lips,” he whispers. “You don’t understand how hard it is to not kiss you.”
I hum skeptically. “I don’t know if I believe you…” I say with a singsong tone.
He scoffs. “You don’t be-” his hands grab onto my waist, and I’m yanked into him as his lips crash onto mine hard. It takes my breath away, to say the least. My stomach flutters and my lips curl into a smile as I return the kiss quickly.
When he finally breaks for a breath, he whispers. “Sorry…” Almost too quiet to hear. It’s only the second and third time that he pauses that I even catch the word. His hands move up along my sides, holding my jaw like he’s afraid I’ll fall apart.
I am tempted to fall apart. All the pain and regret packed into that one syllable reverberates through my bones. How could I even for a moment think that he, Andrei, Mr. Hero, could ever even remotely become like Logan was?
My fingers slide along the fabric of his shirt, searching for the bottom edge as a single treacherous tear escapes down my cheek. He gently pushes me until my back presses against the door, without breaking contact. I find the hem of his shirt and slip my hands underneath. He shivers as I press my palms against his cool skin. One of his hands disappears from my cheek, and a moment later I hear the click of the lock.
Something that was said earlier rings in my head again, something about Andrei having emotional scars too. “Wait,” I reluctantly tear my lips away.
“Why?” Andrei gasps to catch his breath. “Is something wrong? Did I hurt you?”
I smile at the question. It’s so typical of him, and I adore it. “No, of course not,” I assure him quickly. “I just… I was wondering… it seemed like more than just jealousy before. Are you sure you’re okay? I’m worried, cause, like, if you just ignore it and stuff you’ll explode.. or something,” I don’t think my attempted metaphor made any sense, but I tried.
He carefully composes his expression. “Uhh, what gives you that idea?”
“For one, that awkwardly suspicious answer,” I retort, raising an eyebrow, “and because since I’ve known you, the only time I’ve seen you yell at anyone like that was to protect me. I know I’m not that easy to deal with, but… even I can tell that was kind of an overreaction. It was like you were possessed.”
“Possessed? What are you on about?” he asks, the pitch of his voice rising. I recognize a bad lie when I see one.
“Am I wrong? Should I expect things like that to happen normally now?” I try to call his bluff.
“No… I – I don’t do it on purpose,” he flounders.
“Right, I know that. There must be a reason, something bothering you…” I press my body up against him, hoping to distract him into being honest. Desperate times…
He moans. “Oh, come on.”
I purse my lips, and lean back against the door, crossing my arms. “Okay, fine. I’ll keep my clothes firmly on until you tell me what’s bothering you.”
He grits his teeth. “I… I don’t want to bother you with it. You’ve got enough to deal with. There’s no point adding my own petty problems to the mix. Please don’t keep these on,” he pleads, fingering the hem of my shirt.
I catch his hands. “Ah-ah! I’m serious. If you don’t want to tell me, then I’m keeping my clothes. That’s the deal.”
“That’s no fair,” he whines. “I don’t really even know what it is! You can’t do this to me!”
“Can’t I?” I wonder, slipping past him and heading toward the bed.
He leans against the door, head back, looking defeated. “Why do you wanna know so bad? It’s nothing really.”
“If it’s nothing, then it shouldn’t be so hard to tell me,” I retort, hands on my hips.
“Oh my God. You’re making this to be so much more than it needs to be!” he groans in frustration.
“I’m making it difficult?” I scoff. “If it was the other way around, would you let it go? No, of course you wouldn’t,” I don’t bother letting him make some sort of refusal. “I asked a question. If you don’t want to talk, then you don’t have to.”
“Arghh, fine… whatever,” he groans audaciously. He walks over to the desk and picks up the journal. “It’s this. It doesn’t make sense. Parts of the entry of France is missing but there are things I remember that aren’t written and then there’s a blank. I never noticed it before… but I don’t remember how I got back and it’s not written. And just thinking about it gives me this headache, like a puzzle I can’t solve…” he says in a rush, shaking the book as he talks.
I watch the old notebook swaying in the air. I remember the chapter he’s referring to, and I think he mentioned it before once. “That’s hardly nothing,” I reply quietly.
“It is. It’s just a memory. I keep impeccable notes but this one was my favourite and now it’s like half if it’s gone and I don’t know why. Why do I know I was there for five months when only three are accounted for?” he rubs his forehead. “It just doesn’t make sense. And that’s keeping me distracted. Making me annoyed… I’m sorry. I can’t let this get between us. I’m sorry, today I overreacted.”
I step closer again, resting my hands on his sides. “Maybe the best way to not let it get between us is to talk about it, when something like that happens, to either of us,” I stand up on my toes and peck his lips.
His lips linger before he pulls away. “But what’s there to talk about… I can’t remember.”
“You can tell me when you’re feeling frustrated about that, instead of ignoring it,” I suggest. “Maybe we can figure it out. There must be a reason you can’t remember. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be bothering you.”
“I suppose,” he grumbles, putting the book down on the desk. “But I don’t know what,” he sucks his breath in, clasping a hand to his head.
I giggle. “That’s the part we’ll figure out,” I casually slip my shirt over my head while he’s distracted. “Together.”
“How-wowow.!” he says still holding his head. I reach up to put my hand over his.
“I don’t know how, but we have to do something. Forgetting something shouldn’t give you headaches. Stop thinking about it for now. There’s not much we can do about it tonight,” I keep my voice quiet.
“OK… I’ll try,” he says gloomy, pulling his hand away from his head. He reaches out for me, caressing my arm as he tugs me closer.
I run my fingers through his messy long hair, causing him to shiver. “Don’t worry. You’ll forget all about it in a few minutes,” I muse, as my other hand expertly unfastens his belt.
He gasps, this time in shock as he leans back on the desk with one hand, the other roaming up my arm to cup my jaw as he pulls me in for a kiss.
By Krystyna Yates