Thank you everyone for reading the last chapter! I'm glad you all enjoyed it, and I hope you like this chapter as well.
A special thank you to all my reviewers; Crazy Redwood, Jade, beachchick3, Kei-Kugody, kmhappybunny240, CaptainFusou, and my guest reviewer. Thank you all so much for taking the time to review, hearing your feedback really motivates me.
Chapter 31: Confluence
It had been four days since I had seen Max in the marketplace. May had confirmed to me that Jax had indeed managed to smuggle him into the city. But ever since I had caught sight of him in the crowd my mind had become a jumbled mess. I was unfocused, as my thoughts constantly wandered to Max and how near we were to being reunited. It was agony that he was so close and yet so far from me, and his presence in the city affected my masquerade with Graves as well. With the knowledge of my true husband alive and so close it was nearly impossible for me to feign attraction and lust for Graves, and to keep up the masquerade of my love for him. Thankfully I was able to brush off my shift in mood as a symptom of my pregnancy.
Graves had gone out of the city for the night, and so I was on my own in my quarters. I'd just finished my bath for the evening, and was brushing out my hair absentmindedly in my room when May hurried into it.
"Is everything alright?" I asked her. She looked flustered as she entered my room, and I had thought she'd gone home for the evening.
"Come now," she ordered me. "We don't have much time."
"Come where?" I asked her.
"We were able to call off the guards but they will return soon."
I realized suddenly she meant Max. "He's here?" I asked breathlessly.
"Come," she ordered me.
I stood and hurried after May into my living room.
I froze as soon as I entered the room, my shock making me still. Max was standing there, wearing a uniform normally reserved for Graves' men. I noticed that he was markedly thinner than the last time I'd seen him and that his beard was long now, and tinted with gray. He looked older and more worried than I'd ever seen him. I didn't know what to say, or do, or even think. I was stunned, and it looked like he was too. He took one hesitant step toward me and as he did I seemed to wake up from my trance—I closed the distance between us in a few hurried steps and threw my arms around his neck as he wrapped his arms tightly around me. I let out a small sob as I squeezed him against me.
"You're alive," I whispered. "You came back."
"I had a promise to keep," he answered.
I cried tears of joy and pulled away from him to look up at him. Our eyes met for a moment, before he pulled me towards him and kissed me. I kissed him back, and the world stilled. For a moment I forgot about everything else, about the City and Graves, and May standing a few feet away. I got lost in kissing him, and held onto him for fear of the moment ending and our inevitable descent into reality. When we finally broke free, I met his eyes with mine and ran my fingertips along his face and into his beard.
"You grew a beard," I managed to say with a small laugh.
He laughed and nodded. "Your mother hates it."
"I think it suits you," I told him.
He glanced down to my stomach and the ever-growing bump there. "We're having a baby?" he asked me.
"I nodded. It's yours," I whispered against his lips. "I swear on my life it's your baby."
He nodded and reached a hand toward my small bump. When his fingers touched against me he smiled and let out a small laugh.
"You're going to be a father, Max."
He looked back up at me and pulled me into another kiss.
"Sapphire I'm sorry. I never should have left you," he murmured against my lips when he pulled away. "I should've gone back."
I shook my head and stroked his face affectionately. "It doesn't matter now. Everything will be made right soon."
He nodded in agreement and pressed his forehead against mine. "I've missed you more than you can imagine."
"I've missed you too," I whispered back. "God I missed you so much."
He wiped away my tears with his thumb and continued to hold me. I buried my head into his chest and cherished the feel of his arms around me. I'd thought I was never going to see him again, and yet here he was in the flesh. Holding him felt like I was home.
"I'm going to fix it," he told me. "I'm going to free you from all of this, and then we can be together again."
I nodded in agreement and was going to speak but I was interrupted by May.
"I hate to break this up but we really don't have much time," she said. "We have to get him out before someone realizes you don't have a guard."
I looked at May desperately as she reminded us our time was running out. "So soon?" I asked her.
"She's right," Max told me. I turned back to him as he said the words and I shook my head. I knew I was being foolish, but I'd finally touched him again. After half a year I'd heard his voice. I wasn't ready to say goodbye.
"Please," I told him. "Not yet."
"I'm sorry love." His voice sounded pained, and I knew this must be as difficult for him as it was for me. "We'll see each other again soon," he promised. I nodded in agreement before I pulled him toward me to kiss him again. We had just broken apart when the doorknob to the house rattled. It was locked, and did not open.
Max's eyes jerked to the door, and I looked toward May.
"Who is that?" I mouthed to her.
She shook her head and whispered her response, "I have no idea. No one should be here."
"You need to hide" I whispered to Max urgently. He nodded and kissed my forehead before he walked into my room and disappeared.
"Sapphire?!" I recognized the harsh voice on the other side of the door immediately. James Doyle. "Sapphire, where is your guard?"
"Doyle," I whispered. I looked at May before I wiped the tears from my eyes and tried to clean my face.
The door shook again and then jumped as he slammed his fist into it several times. "Open the door!"
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself before I walked forward and opened the door. "Can I help you, Mr. Doyle? I assume you have a reason for calling on me at this hour?"
"Where's your guard?" He asked me.
"I've been inside how should I know?"
Doyle pushed past me, bumping me as he did, and into my quarters. He pointed an accusing finger at May. "I'll bet she knows where he went."
As he rounded on May, I closed the door to the house.
"There's no need to accuse May of anything," I told him, attempting to diffuse the situation. "He's probably just wandered off to get some water or use the bathroom."
He turned on me now, and took several steps toward me. "No. There were three voices in here, a man's voice. Who's in here?"
"No one," I lied.
"You've been crying," he told me. "I can see it in your eyes. Why so sad, my Queen?"
I didn't answer him.
May walked forward toward Doyle. "It has been the two of us, this whole evening," she told Doyle. "We don't know where the guard went, I swear-"
I jumped when Doyle backhanded May across the face. She staggered back, clutching her face, and I yelled.
"What's wrong with you?!" I screamed at him.
"Who's here?" he asked me again.
"No one," I answered once more.
"Alright," he replied evenly. He walked forward and grabbed ahold of May. She cried out as he grabbed her, and I let out an involuntary "No!" as he did.
"Let go of her," I ordered him, my voice like ice.
Doyle drew his gun and held it to May's head. "Who is here? Where are they?"
"No one," I muttered again.
He pulled the hammer back on the gun. "Where are they?" he asked me again.
I didn't mean to give it away. My eyes flicked for just a second toward the back of the house, toward my room, and then back at Doyle.
"Very well then," he answered, a grin on his face. He shoved May to the ground and she fell hard, harder than a woman her age should fall. I rushed to her side, tears streaming down my face, and held onto her as she gasped for breath.
"May I'm so sorry," I told her. I held her in my lap and looked down the hall, where Doyle was marching toward my closed bedroom door.
Doyle kicked my bedroom door open, and walked into the room. He wasn't in the room for more than a few seconds when Max seemed to materialize from thin air behind him. I saw the glint of a knife just before it was plunged into Doyle several times. Doyle gasped and gurgled but didn't scream, and eventually slumped to the floor, lifeless, a pool of blood slowly growing around him.
Max looked at me from the end of the hall, and I ran toward him. As soon as I was upon him I threw my arms around his neck and held him against me. We only had a few seconds before I broke away from him.
"Go now," I told him. "I'll deal with this."
He shook his head, "I killed him. Let me take his body."
"No, they'll find the evidence here no matter what and wonder what happened to the body. He has to stay." I snatched the knife out of Max's hand and took it in my own. "I'll tell them I did it," I told him.
"Yes. I'll lie. I'll say he came in here and attacked me and I defended myself. I am in Graves' good graces he will hear me out. But you need to leave, before anyone sees you."
Max hesitated, clearly against leaving me alone to deal with the mess. But we didn't have much other choice.
He lifted his non-bloodied hand to my face and stroked my skin with his thumb. "I love you," he told me. "More than anything, Sapphire. I will see you again soon, and I will keep our family safe."
I nodded. "I know. I love you, Max." I kissed him again before I pushed him toward the exit. He looked back at me one last time before he left the room and was gone.
I turned to Doyle's body. I rubbed my hands in his blood and smeared it on my dress. I held the knife in my hand and counted in my head. When I'd counted thirty seconds, I began to scream. A terrified, blood-curdling, scream.
"Somebody help!" I screamed. "Please, somebody help us!"
It didn't take much of my screaming to bring guards bursting into my chambers. A few stopped first at May, examining her, and the rest came to me.
"Are you alright my Queen?" one of them asked me.
"He attacked me and my handmaiden," I told them, my hands shaking and tears streaming down my face. "I let him in the house, and he tried to attack me. I hid in my room but he broke in - oh god- please I had no choice!"
One of the guards nodded and tried comforting me, while the others swarmed around Doyle's body. I let the knife slide from my trembling fingers and onto the floor.
"Please," I begged the guard. "Send for the King. I need to speak with him."
My heart was still pounding when I finally escaped the palace and out into the city. It hadn't been long after I'd left that I'd heard Sapphire's scream, and guards came rushing to her aid. Her distraction actually made it easier for me to escape the palace, and I was able to leave unharassed. I stripped of the bloody guard's uniform and back into my threadbare clothes as quickly as I could and stashed the bloody clothes in my bag for the time being. When I reached the Under City I was able to rinse the blood off of my hands in the reservoir. When I finally returned to Simeon's house the first thing I did was burn the uniform in his fireplace.
"What happened?" Jax asked me as soon as he saw me burning the uniform.
"I saw her," I answered. I didn't want to deal with Jax nagging me right now.
"How'd it go?" he asked.
"She wasn't happy to see you?"
"She was. Doyle wasn't."
"Doyle saw you?!" Jax exclaimed. "We need to leave, right now. Why didn't you bring her with you?"
"He's dead now, I killed him. Sapphire is taking the blame."
"Holy shit," Jax muttered. "This is a disaster."
"We have to trust that she can handle this. How long before the Citadel arrives?"
"Anytime in the next 48 hours is my best guess," Jax answered. "But if Graves kills Sapphire before they get here then I suppose it's all for nothing isn't it?"
"He won't kill her," I answered. I was telling Jax, but I was telling myself too. I had to believe he wouldn't kill her. It was the only way I was able to leave earlier, with a body still lying in her room.
"Maybe we got lucky," Jax muttered, clearly trying to make the best of the situation. "With Doyle gone the odds of Graves discovering our plan have pretty much evaporated, unless something dramatic happens in the next day or so."
"Maybe," I answered back. My mind was recounting every detail of the time I'd spent in the palace. How many guards there were and where, which hallways offered the most cover. But it wasn't long before my mind inevitably drifted to my wife. I sat down in an armchair in the living room and looked into the flames that were eating away at the uniform. I'd finally gotten to see my wife, even if it was only for a few seconds and I'd had to kill somebody while I was doing it. In my mind, it was worth it. She was just as stunning as I remembered her. To hear her voice again, to feel her skin on mine—it had felt like I was caught in one of my dreams again. And to see her pregnant—that had been surreal too. I knew how much time she'd spent with Graves, what he had done with her—yet I still believed that it was my child. I trusted her, I knew she would tell the me the truth no matter what it was.
I drummed my fingers along the armchair and tried not to let my mind run. I knew they'd call Graves and he would be back here soon. I thought of the last time I'd seen the man, when he'd tossed a grenade under my vehicle and nearly killed me. He'd looked so gleeful, so confident in his plan and his victory. He'd known as soon as Marcus and I were out of the picture that he was going to win. I imagined he'd held the same look of victory when he found Sapphire alive and well once more.
I couldn't help when my mind drifted to the palace, and what Graves might do to my wife. I thought about him killing her, but mostly I thought about him touching her. Jealousy pounded through my veins, hot and violent. I wasn't going to be able to take much more of this waiting—if the Citadel didn't come soon I might take matters into my own hands.
I was trembling from head to toe in the King's Chambers when Graves burst through the door. I gasped as his door banged open, terrified. I didn't know what was about to happen to me and was very aware that tonight could be the night I died.
Graves looked more intimidating than ever as he glared at me. His eyes were dark and unreadable, his jaw clenched in anger. I met his eyes, but I didn't bother trying to disguise my fear of him. The emotion was too overwhelming, and I had every right to be afraid.
"Leave us," he growled at the guards that had been waiting with me. They walked out of the room with hurried steps and closed the door behind them.
"What happened?" he asked me from across the room, his fists clenched tightly.
I still hadn't changed out of my blood-stained dress, and I was up to my elbows in Doyle's dried blood. I felt tears begin to flow down my face as I began to speak.
"He- he started banging on my door as May was helping me ready for bed. I opened the door for him and he told me that I was alone—that my guards were all gone. He came at me, but May got in the way and he hit her and pushed her down. I managed to get away and hide in my room." My tears overwhelmed me at this point, and my eyes fell to the floor. I was too terrified to say the next words.
I heard the sound of Graves' boots as he walked toward me, my body flinching involuntarily with each step he took. He came to tower over me, and as he did a terrified sob came from within my chest.
"Stop crying," he ordered me. I didn't dare look up at him, I was too afraid. I tried to stifle my tears and took several deep breaths in. The crying abated somewhat and became silent tears streaming down my face, but my fear only intensified. I flinched as I felt his fingertips on my chin but didn't fight him when he raised my head to look me in the eye.
I couldn't read anything from his eyes, the normal chocolate-brown color of them seemed jet-black now— and with his clenched jaw and straight-lined mouth his face was equally as unreadable.
"Finish," he ordered me. "Now."
I took another breath to steady myself before I spoke. "He forced the door to my room open. I was hiding and as soon as he came in I stabbed him. I didn't want to, Axel please you have to believe me I didn't have a choice."
He released my face but still glared down at me. He reached onto his belt and unsheathed a large knife, and I recognized instantly the knife that Max had used to kill Doyle. Graves raised it before both of us, turning it side to side and examining it.
"This is a nice knife. 8 inches, military-grade it looks like," he lowered the blade until it was just touching my neck with the tip. "Where did you get this, Sapphire?"
I took a sharp breath in as I felt the prick of the blade on my neck. "I had been hiding it for months," I lied.
"Where did you get the knife?" he growled. "Don't make me ask you again."
"You moved me into the Queen's quarters," I told him. "It's my mother's old room. There's a false drawer in the dresser, it has a secret compartment. She hid knives there when we all lived here." At least all of that was true. "I found it after you moved me to that room."
"Are there more of them?"
I shook my head. "No."
"Were you planning on killing me?" He asked.
I thought back to a time so long ago, when Max had pressed me up against the wall and asked me the same question.
"No!" I stated without a second of hesitation. "No. That was never my intention I swear."
"Then why keep it?"
"In case I had to," I answered. "In case of something like last night."
Graves stared down at me for a second longer before he removed the knife from my neck and sheathed it at his side again. He lifted his hand now to my neck and brushed the skin there with his fingers. The contrast between Graves' fingers and the knife he'd held there moments before was a welcome one. He held me there for a moment before he ran his thumb over my cheek several times. His eyes didn't seem as dark as they were before—he seemed more like the man I had gotten used to living with. "Are you alright?" he asked me, his voice low and gentle now.
I nodded and he reached forward with his other hand and pulled me toward him. He pressed his lips against my forehead and I let out a small sob of relief as he did. He pulled me into his chest and I wrapped my arms around him before I began to cry again.
"Easy, easy," he shushed me as he ran his fingers through my hair over and over, the gentle tug soothing the intensity of my sobs somewhat. "It's alright," he told me. "He's gone now."
I nodded into his chest and continued to cry. I was overwhelmingly relieved that he had believed me, and took a strange comfort in being held by him.
"Is May alright?" I asked through my tears.
"She's broken her hip. I don't know that she'll make it, I'm sorry Sapphire. We will do everything that we can for her though."
I let out another small sob as guilt wracked my body. If it hadn't been for me, May would've never been in harms way. If she died, her blood was on my hands. I realized suddenly that during the battle to retake the city, anyone's lives that were lost were technically my fault as well. "It's my fault," I whispered out. "She was just trying to protect me."
"No. This is my fault," he murmured into my hair. "I knew of his dislike for you but I didn't believe he would act on it. I would've never left him alone here if I'd known he was going to try to hurt you."
"It's okay," I answered. His understanding response was making guilt pool in my stomach. "You didn't know."
He pulled away from me and raised my chin with his fingers once more. He wiped what was left of my tears from my face with his thumbs before he leaned down and kissed me. When he pulled me towards him I felt an intensity and desperation from his kiss that surprised me. He held me close against him as he kissed me, one hand tangling itself in my hair and the other pulling my waist toward him. I realized he was relieved that I hadn't been hurt. I reached up to his neck and pulled him down toward me, intensifying the kiss further. I was so happy that he believed me that it wasn't hard to make it feel genuine. For now, Max and our secret plot was safe from Graves.
Graves pulled away from me a few moments later but continued to hold me close against him. "Let's go clean up," he told me. "It's been a long night."
I nodded in agreement and he laced his fingers through mine before he headed toward the bathroom.
A/N: Thank you all for reading and as always leave me a review!