He doesn’t hold my hand anymore when we’re walking.
I’m not sure whether he doesn’t deem it appropriate to show any affection in public, whether he doesn’t like the clammy feeling between two pressing hands, or whether it is yet another one of his family’s unwritten laws of etiquette that prevents him from the simple gesture. But he doesn’t hold my hand when we’re browsing through the London streets, and always becomes oddly stiff whenever I try to hold him nearer.
It isn’t the issue of whether he loves me or not. I know he loves me, because he told me so each and every time I ask him to.
He told me so for the first time the last Masquerade Ball at the Ministry where he went as one of the ancient ethereal Sylphs and I accompanied him as Grogana - an ancient witch who held the ability of draining human souls into her emerald signet. The actual signet I wore that evening was once his family’s, when ancient respective families such as his still used those. When I asked him for it, he hesitated for a short moment before acquiescing to take it out of the family vaults for the night. And when the music swept us off our feet and the costumes blended together almost perfectly, he told me. He told me and he thanked me.
He told me so when we were sharing an armchair in front of the living room fireplace, each to their own - he with his books of some ancient incomprehensible wisdom, with his glasses perched delicately on the steep of his nose and that subtle crease of concentration just between his brows, and me with my books of frivol amusement and the most inappropriate habit of gnashing on my pinky - when suddenly his eyes ceased their rapid skipping through the lines and the three small words slipped out almost inaudibly just before he return to his reading like nothing had happened.
He told me so time and time again the night I found myself staring at the entrance doors with two suitcases in my hands and wrathful fluttering in my chest and my stomach coiling like a hissing snake with the solid determination to leave, and his voice desperate and almost pleading, so much not like him it frightened me.
It isn’t the issue of whether he feels embarrassed around me or ashamed of me. I know he doesn’t feel ashamed because he told me so every time I asked him.
He told me so after the first high society party he took me to, where I found myself scoffed at and talked about behind my back by every single person there.
He told me so after I told him about the chance encounter with some of the high society wives or girlfriends or mistresses in a small cafe in Diagon Alley, who circled me, asking and cajoling and demanding to know how I - a daughter from a “lesser” family - managed to catch the infamous Ice King. The following day I was surprised to receive invitations for afternoon tea from almost every one of them, with apologies for their mildly rude behavior the previous afternoon and endless intricate excuses for such antics.
He told me so the night his father appeared on the threshold of my apartment, demanding to see his son. They’ve locked themselves in the bedroom for about half an hour, and though there were no screams and no broken furniture, I knew they had had a very difficult argument behind closed doors, because when his father strode out of the flat, he came out of the bedroom and was shaking so terribly that his knees buckled and he crumbled down. That night neither of us slept a wink, though we laid in the bed, gripping onto each other with despair in our hearts, for I feared not to find him in the morning and he feared to find me murdered in my sleep.
And it isn’t as if he shuns away from physical contact all the time. Oh gods, no. I know very well the searing sensation of his hands on my stomach, my back, my thighs and every single previously unexplored inch of my body. I know the pattern his fingers draw across my back after a satisfying night by heart. I know the shape of his hands better than I know my own. I am fairly addicted to the way his nails dig into my skin whenever a mewling sound escapes my lips.
He welcomes and revels in physical contact, and not only of the sexual kind. He can never fall asleep unless his arm is draped across my stomach, drawing and pressing me closer into the confines of his body heat. He loves to sneak up from behind me and embrace me tightly, nuzzling into the nook of my shoulder and placing soft kisses, in his selfish and childish way demanding from me to leave the preparations for dinner and come seat with him by the fire. “Just for a little while,” he says and lures me out of the kitchen, knowing very well that the moment I lean into him on the couch I would refuse to leave until the wee hours of the night.
He is soft and hard and cold and searing and unreachable, unattainable while being completely attentive and mine. He is all the things I hate in men and love in him. He is wonderful and cruel and I can’t help but simply stare at him for hours while he reads, or sleeps, or eats, until he would notice, begin to fidget uncomfortably and advise me to find something more productive to do.
Still, though I know this little quirk of his is not suppose to trouble me this much, I find it irksome more and more with every single time we venture outside.
He would walk beside me, leveling his pace to my own - though I know he hates doing that because I walk too slow for his constantly speeding style - his hands tucked safely in the pockets of his cloak, and his mind either wandering only Merlin knows where or drawn and completely captivated by my continuous inane ramble. In restaurants or social gatherings he would allow his hand to rest above the small of my back to guide me in case I had no idea where we were going; and in family gatherings or in company of friends, he would allow himself to linger closer or kiss a little bit deeper, but he avoids holding my hand as if it was the plague itself.
The first time I ask him about that, he frowns and changes the subject, assuming it is another one of my random question he has the right to ignore. The second time, he asks me whether I feel alright and would I like a cup a tea, because I begin to look like I an coming down with something and he would not want to bear my mother’s wrath. When after the third time I ask him, and he come home with a humongous bouquet of the most rare Humming Buds, I know there is something the matter and I don’t ask again.
Until today, when it is pouring outside and the pounding raindrops cajole thoughts I never wished for.
He is sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace, the same silver-rimmed glasses perched on his nose-bridge and the same leather-bound book he had been reading for a month perched on the armrest beside him, supported by his right palm. I lay on the couch, leaning into his side and holding his free hand in both my own, gazing at it. Its shape and length fascinate me as I draw invisible flowers and fairies across his palm, measuring his long pianist fingers against my short earthy ones.
He is silent and cold and distant as always when one of his volumes is present. I don’t allow myself to interrupt him because the sense of importance I’ve always allocated to books and ancient tomes is still salient, and I don’t want to break his line of thoughts from whatever it is he is dealing with now. So I keep quiet, still examining his left hand from all its directions, thumbing the small scar across his lifeline and following the other lines with the tip of my nail.
“What is the matter?”
His voice sounds slightly raspy from lack of usage for the past hours, but his tone is quiet and even. I get that familiar feeling of comfort and warmth spread in my chest and stomach, but I can’t smile despite the fact that he knows me so well and I want to indulge in that knowledge.
“What makes you think there’s something wrong?”
“The fact that you’re being unusually patient and haven’t done anything to avert my attention from the book yet. Like biting my finger or declaring that you’re hungry,” he explains calmly, folding his hand around my own, his fingers curling sluggishly and tightening with a sense of morbid yet valiant strength. He brings my hand up and places a soft kiss on my fingers.
“I’m not hungry,” I counter out of habit. Even though I do want to talk, I can’t have him coax me into this so abruptly. “And I didn’t feel like biting your fingers.”
“Alright,” he says, quite obviously not convinced in the least. However he is still himself, and instead of prodding the truth out of me, he returns to his book, withdrawing his hand from my own.
I stifle a groan of irritation, thinking he has absolutely no right whatsoever to act insulted, and heave myself up, into a sitting position. With my back to him, I sigh and rub my face tiredly, hoping he wasn’t so very difficult some of the times. I sling one of my legs over the side of the couch and pull my weight upwards, planning on leaving the room for a while and getting a grip of myself.
However the moment I moved forwards, I feel a grasp of searing flesh on my hand and in an instant I am yanked aback, sprawled on the couch again with my head resting on his lap. I see only a flash of gray and pink before a pair of familiar lips seizes my own in a deep, breathtaking kiss, doing nothing to improve my sense of frustration and only worsening it.
When he finally draws back, his breath slightly uneven and eyes blazing lightning, I can see a furious ire within him, strengthened by the irritated clench to his jaws.
“What?” he hisses menacingly, his nose barely a breath away from mine. It is his favorite distance for conversations with me - when the slightest tilt of his head can brush our noses together and render me chilled to the bone and helpless.
“It’s nothing,” I whisper almost evenly, trying to look away without seeming weak and miserable. It really isn’t that big of a deal and I am probably blowing the whole thing out of proportions and when on earth did I become so clingy and annoying?
“It is not nothing if it managed to trouble you for the past few months,” he whispers back, his breath too close and too warm and-- oh, damn him!
“It-- it really isn’t—just-- just forget about it, okay?”
“I don’t think so,” he purrs evilly, planting a small kiss on the tip of my nose. “I think,” he continues in the same purring, teasing, searing voice, kissing my eyelids each at a time and moving down to the cheeks and the sides of my mouth. “I think, there is something that’s bothering you. What I don’t understand is, why aren’t you telling me what that is?”
I want to tell him that at the moment I’m not only deprived of my verbal, motor and thought-processing abilities, but of the breathing ability as well. He is. Just. Too. Close. His breath is warm and tickling, his lips are soft and tender, and his hands - one twirling a strand of my fiery hair and the other one lazily caressing my stomach - are gentle and soothing. How can I be troubled now?
I forsake any attempt of verbal communication and instead release a puff of satisfied sigh from my lips, allowing my lids to flutter shut and my hands to seek him and pull him closer.
But he pulls away before I can reach and speaks up evenly again, his voice showing no traces of cracking, but the vein on his neck pulsating wildly.
I look up at him and shut my eyes again, this time in frustration and building hunger. I lick my lips, damning him for doing this and leaving so cruelly, and rub my face again, trying to rub away the awakened yearning or the present haziness.
“I’m telling you there is nothing,” I tell him again, this time evenly. “I am just moody lately, that is all…”
“Where did you learn to lie so well?” he asks, nonplussed by my brush off.
I stare at him from between my hands, serious and slightly irked, and make a move to sit up and get away, only to be pressed down by a manicured hand of a well-bred Ice King.
“You are not leaving, love,” he drones in an explanative tone. “Not until you tell me what is wrong.”
“You really want to know?” I ask him, not bothering to hide the skepticism from my voice. “You want to know so we can change it or so you’d just know what to ignore?”
His expression doesn’t change and he makes no movement, but I suddenly have a dreading sensation as if I just slapped myself. What I said wasn’t fair, was out of place and simply untrue. Why would I say something like that?
“I’m sorry,” I add a moment later, squeezing my eyes shut in regret and beginning to pull myself up again. He doesn’t stop me this time, instead helping me into a sitting position, then immediately pulls me again against him, embracing me tightly around my stomach.
“Tell me,” he commands quietly close to my ear.
Inhaling deeply, I lean into him, crossing my arms atop of his. “It is stupid,” I give him a fair warning. “And infantile. And superfluous.”
He doesn’t reply and I see that as a sign of him not caring. Sighing again, I finally speak up. “We don’t hold hands anymore.”
There’s a moment of stretched silence in which I hear the words reverberating in my head and realize how completely idiotic and imbecilic I really am. Another moment passes and a horrid thought that he might break things off because of my royal stupidity crosses my mind and, like fire in a thorn field, catches on.
But another moment passes by and I hear and feel a small sigh escape his lips before he speaks. “That’s right, we don’t,” he acquiesces, nodding his head slightly. “It doesn’t feel right.”
I can’t help the tiny stab of sadness within my chest. I nod understandably, telling myself that it was the bloody family name and pride from the wretched start, and move to remove his grip around my stomach, which causes him immediately to tighten it.
“I didn’t say this was over,” he explains gently, planting a tiny kiss on my shoulder.
I exhale a little shakily and clench my teeth, hoping with all my heart that I wouldn’t burst in tears.
Stupid little girly girl. Stupid, stupid, stupid…
“It has nothing to do with you…”
I honestly don’t understand why men think this line could make things better in any way or at any situation. Biting my tongue and smothering the protests of my heart, I try to prepare for the worse, for what I’ve been told too many times would come eventually, because he was who he was and he was untamable. I didn’t want it to be true so much, and now I had somehow forgotten about the dangers of loving an Ice King.
“It is my fault. I guess…” he adds as an afterthought, looking away for a long moment. “Ever since that night.”
I nod silently again, valiantly biting back the tears and willing myself to stare at the ferocious downpour pummeling the windows of my apartment. It’s easier to concentrate on the water than on him; water can’t break my heart.
Oh gods, what a cliche! I should definitely stop reading those bloody novels.
That night, that night… I can practically see her in my mind’s eye - tall, blonde, lean, obscenely agile…
I deem to myself to hear my heart break, but then hurry to assure myself that it is physically and scientifically impossible. However that knowledge does very little to my disposition, because he is still close and he is still breathing and he still had that night…
“It just didn’t feel right,” he repeats his words and I feel his grip around me loosens, finally releasing me from his constraints. Suddenly I am not as eager to get away, for this might be my last time this close to him. When did I become so pitiful?
Unable to contain my emotions any longer, I finally release a long overdue sob, small enough for me to immediately smother it, but loud enough for him to hear it. Horrified and mortified, I jump to my feet, praying to all gods and deities that he would have the decency to not follow me in my flee of shame. All ethereal beings were apparently busy, because the moment I am up on my feet, I am down on the couch again, gripped at my wrist by an iron fist of a very cruel man.
I refuse to look at him, imbedding my eyes on the wild pounding of the rain outside and docilely wondering whether the pounding really belongs to the rain or to my own bleeding heart.
“It didn’t feel right,” he explains once again, his voice maddeningly calm and even.
Not a trace of regret or sorrow can be detected in him and it makes things that much worse. Putting up my last walls of defense, I feel my veneer begin to crumble down in the fiercest of ways. Boulders and plaster and tears and blood, all cascades down like morbid waterfalls of destruction and all I can think about is that he’s still holding my hand, still gripping me and drawing me to him, still sitting too close for comfort, still breathing and speaking.
“It will now,” he adds reassuringly and I suddenly feel him slip something into my hand.
My hearts skips a beat before breaking into rabid galloping and vicious attempts to break out of the ribcage. Slowly, hesitantly, with almost physical pain, I turn my head to face him and am greeted with one of his infamously mysterious smirks. He looks evil and cruel; he feels evil and cruel as well, but I cannot bring myself to care.
My eyes slip to the open hand and I see a silver signet resting peacefully in the middle of my palm, an emerald serpent adorning its face. My heart skips another beat and I glance up at him, bewilderedly demanding him to stop enjoying this and explain himself immediately. And so he does.
“After the night of the Masquerade, when you wore this and we danced, and you were beautiful and wonderful and perfect and too much… your hand within my own didn’t feel right. Something was constantly missing and it took me too much to understand what that was. I couldn’t not to-- I had to!”
I stare at him, dumbfounded and petrified and exhilarating and refusing to believe things that can never be and trying to deny the sense of cool metal in my hand. He seems unstill and anxious in his own calm and collected way and a little voice at the back of my mind tells me he had been walking around with this ring more than a day. Gulping against the sudden parchedness in my throat, I stared at him for a while, trying to compose a sentence.
“You-- you-- I-- what?”
His lips curve deeper into a smile and he wordlessly picks up the ring and slips it onto my finger, all the while watching my confounded state. “Will you?”
The presence of an actual ring on my finger kind of snaps me back into the present reality, forcing me to concentrate at once and regain my scattered and mostly deteriorated senses.
“Well… umm, you-- it is a nice piece of jewelry,” I murmur lamely, awkwardly inspecting the ring and its engravings. “But you should’ve installed a bigger stone here. You can barely see this one…”
My stomach churns and I feels dizzy. I an fairly surprised that the words are able to find their way from my brain to my lips, because I’m sure I would not be able to show the way from my living room into the kitchen - which is in the same room - and back. I don’t care about the stone or the ring, but more about the look in his eyes at that very moment.
He releases the tight grip around my wrist, sure that I would not try to leave again - maybe because my knees had turned into jelly somewhere along the line - and instead slinks his long, limber fingers into the spaces between my own. The side of his mouth curls upwards just slightly when he examines it appreciatively, and he looks at me.
I have to agree - and the furious fluttering within my stomach as well - but I am deprived of that right by a pair of lips crashing my own with pent up power of a hungry man. Not a fiber in my body dares to deny this man anything that he wants, because I have been in his heart and I have seen into his soul, and I found there chambers of galleries of my portraits and pictures and shrines. I know where he goes when he sleeps, and I know whom he calls when he wakes. I am his comfort, his kingdom, his sovereign, his lover and his friend. But perhaps most importantly…
I am his perfect hand to hold.