A/N: Last chapter, folks! Thanks again for reading, and please review. Positive and critical feedback is VERY welcome!
In the late afternoon on the day that they arrived back in Alamut, Tamina found herself knocking once more on Dastan's bedchamber door. She adjusted the belt on her gown, and smoothed a hand over her loose hair in an effort to distract herself from the fluttering in her stomach.
"Yes," she heard the Prince call out flatly from inside.
She entered the room. Dastan was standing by his bed, halfway through pulling on an open-fronted tunic, and the flutter inside her got stronger when his face lit up as he saw her.
"Oh!" He crossed over to her, smiling immediately, and raised a hand towards her before hesitating and letting it fall. "I was just about to come to your chamber."
Tamina noticed his eyes travel over the silk drape of her gown, and she smiled. "Well, you should know by now that I don't like to be kept waiting."
He half-grinned. "I do know that... but, I wasn't running late - was I?"
"Maybe not," Tamina muttered. She could not resist trailing her gaze down his torso as she looked down to the long scar above his hip, just visible at the edge of his tunic. Her brow furrowed and she looked back up to his eyes, doing her best not to react to the intensity of his gaze.
"Does it still hurt?"
After a moment Dastan made a show of smirking and shaking his head. "A scratch like that? -Hurt me?"
Tamina smirked back slowly. "Oh, I see..." She reached out her index finger to give a featherlight touch to the fabric of his tunic, just beside the scar. "So, if I was to press hard - just here..."
Dastan's smirk turned into a grin as he grabbed her hand gently and pulled it away.
"I wouldn't put it past you, Princess..."
She smiled up at him, watching his lips and thinking about bypassing all conversation - when suddenly a knock came at the door. Dastan dropped his head and groaned in frustration, and she snorted lightly and stepped away from him.
"Speak to your staff, Prince Dastan."
He opened the bedchamber door and spoke quietly to a servant. Tamina crossed to the window, sat down on the edge of the ornate sofa, and looked out at the warm haze of sunlight which picked out bright colours in the flowers and fruit trees below. She heard Dastan instruct the servant not to disturb them again. Looking down at her feet in their jewelled sandals, she told herself it was silly for her heart to be beating so fast simply because she was alone with him for the first time since leaving Alamut.
Dastan shut the door and she heard his footsteps approach. With another flutter in her stomach she turned to see him standing by her side and looking down at her, his eyes and the corners of his lips already softening. For a brief silent moment they both hesitated, and her muscles tightened against the nervous pleasure of the crackling air between them.
Her face was level with the scar on his side.
"Does it still hurt?" she repeated.
Dastan exhaled, sat down beside her and shifted until he was leaning back on the sofa. "Only if I twist or stretch suddenly. It really wasn't a deep wound."
Tamina sighed and turned on the edge of the sofa to face him a little better. "Thank the gods," she murmured as she brought a hand up to her breastbone - clutching at air for the hundredth time and giving a brief wry smile.
Dastan quirked his lips. "The vial of sand?"
She nodded. "I am no longer the Guardian of a sacred dagger..."
He smiled a little and nodded. "Hmm. Now you're just a plain old Princess..."
Tamina could not stop herself from smirking. "Oh, I see - you think I'm plain, now, do you?"
"Oh, yes-" he grinned, "I'm quite bored of you, actually..."
Her smirk widened for a moment, enjoying the way the spark in his eyes contradicted his words. "Oh - well then..." She made as if to get up from the sofa. "Maybe I'll just leave-"
"Tamina!" Dastan's grin widened as he quickly circled his arm around her waist, and his voice dropped to a murmur. "Don't go anywhere..."
She paused, smiled and allowed herself to be held in place. "I'll stay - if you will be polite."
"I certainly will, your Highness."
Tamina mirrored his brief grin and watched him for a moment, waiting without being sure what she was waiting for. Then he gently started to pull her closer and she willingly leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. They sat in silence for a moment. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the rise and fall of his chest, praying that one day she would stop associating this sensation with the moment she had watched the Healer stitch his injured body back together.
Eventually Dastan spoke. "How does it feel to be home?"
Tamina paused for a moment. She could tell him of her concerns about the High Council meeting tomorrow and what punishment would be agreed for the village chief who had betrayed them, but for once her duties to Alamut were not at the front of her mind.
She lifted her head and raised herself up to look at him. "I understand better now, why you didn't tell me immediately that you had used the dagger." He knit his brow and she paused and glanced out of the window, taking in the air scented with Alamutian flowers. "We're here. We survived. It's over," she said finally as she looked back at him. "Why dwell on the past?"
He smiled at her slowly, his eyes softening as he nodded once. She touched her palm to his cheek and wondered how long it might be before he kissed her. Then she noticed the lines that remained on his brow, and the small movements in his jaw as it worked silently, and she waited.
"Does that-" He hesitated, then took one of her hands in his own. "You don't want to dwell on the past?"
She shook her head and wondered why his body seemed suddenly stiff and taut.
"So..." Another pause. "Am I forgiven?"
Tamina blinked and tilted her head forward. "What? Of course." She watched as he dropped his head a fraction and breathed in and out, his forehead clearing, and her lips parted. "Dastan..." she murmured. "Of course you are."
He looked up again and she saw a trace of brightness return to his eyes. "I managed to make amends, then. By helping with that wretched dagger." He must have seen the slight indignation that crossed her brow. "I know it was sacred-"
"If it weren't for the dagger, we would not be married," she said pointedly, and he nodded.
She shifted as something flared inside her with an urgency she knew she could not avoid forever. "And if you want to know the truth..." she started carefully, and his eyes focused on hers. "I started to forgive you before I thought of taking the dagger back to the sanctuary. In fact, it was soon after you told me everything."
Dastan almost snorted, but he calmed himself as he saw that her serious expression remained unchanged. "Tamina! That can't be possible..."
She raised an eyebrow. "Then you must know my own feelings better than I do."
He hesitated. "You were furious..."
"Yes. But it wore off, didn't it?"
"Yes - and when it wore off, you were cold!"
Tamina puffed a breath from her nose and nodded, looking away from him as she remembered those difficult days. She stood and walked a few paces over to the window. Outside, the near-sunset light was drenching the leaves of the orange trees in a golden haze. Turning back to him, she saw that he was still seated on the sofa, his eyes never leaving her.
"I prayed and prayed in the High Temple. And I thought about the true meaning of the moment when you pressed the jewel on the dagger, while it was in the Sand-Glass." She paused and noticed a trace of apprehension darken his eyes. Her resolve stirred, and the words pushed out of her with quiet fervour. "It was your destiny to do that, Dastan. It's what the gods wanted. And they could only have chosen you-"
"Chosen me?" he interrupted, his voice low with an uneasy edge. "I chose my actions, Tamina. I'm responsible for everything I've done - not the gods." He hesitated. "You can't forgive me just because you think that they-"
"Dastan!" she exclaimed softly. She took a breath to control a flicker of frustration. "I'm not claiming that you were - a helpless vessel for the gods' will..."
He stood and crossed to join her. "Are you sure?" His eyelids crinkled as he looked down at her, and his voice took on a note of strain. "Because... I tried to tell you. It was my instinct that made me do it-"
"Yes - and I am telling you now that it was also your destiny."
He stared at her for a moment, his brow tightly knitted. Then he dropped his head a fraction and exhaled slowly.
"Dastan-" She barely noticed that she was interrupting him. "After everything you've been through - everything we've both been through... you still can't accept that the gods know your destiny?"
He looked up at her, his eyelids creased. "Are you really surprised?" He paused, then continued with quiet vehemence. "We make our own destiny, Princess. You know that's what I believe, and..." His eyes darted around for a moment, then settled back on her, his lips softening wryly. "I'm not going to change."
They stared at each other. Then Tamina realised that the luminous blue of his eyes was making her smile, and her ribs gently rose in a chuckle. Dastan's eyes narrowed fractionally and he watched as she stepped in close to him and gazed up into his eyes.
"I hope not." She slipped her arms around his waist, touched her lips to the base of his throat, then rested her head against the curve of his neck and closed her eyes. She felt him inhale an uneven breath, then his arms slid around her and pulled her close. They stood in silence for a moment.
"Tamina." His quiet tone had a shadow of uncertainty.
She leaned back just enough to look into his eyes again.
"Listen," she started, "and try to understand, instead of being so stubborn and proud-"
He half-smiled. "You call me stubborn!-"
She resisted rising to the bait. "Listen! I'm not going to change either. I believe the gods know our destiny. But - it's still us that have to make it happen, Dastan." She brought her palm up to his cheek. "And I know that the gods could only have chosen you, to do everything that you have done. Because of - your courage, Persian. And your strength, and determination." The sweet churning in her heart made her move forward to kiss his forehead, and her voice dropped to a low hum. "And your loyalty." Another kiss to his temple and then his cheek, and he closed his eyes. "And your sense of honour."
She stopped with her heart pounding. Dastan opened his eyes to gaze at her intently, and a silence passed. He lifted a hand to stroke her hair.
"That's how you see me?" he asked, a crack opening up in his tone. She nodded. Finally he gave a slow, dazzling smile, and dipped his head to touch his lips gently to hers.
"Hm-" She made a soft noise and held him closer.
He was already smiling again as he pulled away and locked his eyes on hers. "Well... I'd be a fool to think that anything else mattered."
She started to smile. Relief made her movements feel lighter as she traced her palms up his chest and shoulders, interlacing her fingers behind his neck. "Hm. You can be very foolish..."
"Not that foolish," he grinned as he leaned in, and his mouth met hers again. They shared a long kiss, and a tight coil of suppressed desire started to loosen within her.
"So..." he murmured when the kiss finally ended. "I was right."
Tamina blinked and clutched at his back, her concentration shaken. "Hm?"
"When we were in the courtyard that day." He kissed her cheek. "You said you wanted to know who I was, and I told you that you already knew. I was right." He paused and quirked his lips. "So maybe I do know your feelings better than you do."
She shook her head and her shoulders bobbed as she chuckled, unable to resist her amusement at the bright self-satisfaction in his eyes.
"Are you intentionally obnoxious, Prince," she asked, moving a hand to press her fingertips lightly through the soft hairs on his chest, "or does it come naturally?"
He half-sniggered, then suddenly she found herself raised off the floor as he bent and lifted her, with one arm under her knees and the other around her shoulders. She smiled in surprise and held on for the few seconds it took him to cross to the bed and set her down. She reached out and eagerly pulled him close as he climbed onto the bed, his arms sliding around her as they fell into another kiss which deepened slowly and flooded her body with urgent warmth. Then she shifted a little in discomfort and he pulled away to look at her in concern.
"This bed," she grumbled as she fidgeted against the mattress. "I'd forgotten."
A grin broke across his face. "Isn't it the same as yours?"
"Certainly not. Mine is much more comfortable." She shifted again and Dastan started to laugh as he pulled her close again and stroked her back. She stilled, and smiled at him. "From tomorrow, we're staying in my chamber."
Dastan stared at her for a few moments, his grin becoming even wider.
"Does my opinion matter, Princess?" he inquired.
She smiled and began threading her fingers into his hair. "Let me put it this way. From tomorrow, I will stay in my chamber, in my far more comfortable bed, and you may join me if you wish."
He snorted lightly. A kindling warmth traced across her skin as she watched him cast his eyes slowly over her curves, before he met her eyes and smiled.
"Thank you, your Highness," he murmured in a voice so low it was nearly a growl, and he dipped his head to feather kisses to the graceful curve of her neck.
Tamina smiled and let her hands wander over him, learning the muscle and sinew of his torso. "Besides, my chamber has a better view as well..."
"Hm." Dastan continued to trace his lips down her neck and onto her shoulder, pulling her gown gently out of the way.
"And it's more convenient for- ahhh... hmmm." Tamina shut her eyes as he shifted a leg in between hers. "Dastan..." she murmured, her voice dropping to a tender point low in her throat. "Are you trying to shut me up?"
He raised his head to look at her. Even before he grinned, she could see the gleam in his blue eyes.
"I would never attempt anything so futile."
Tamina smirked. She traced her fingertips lightly along his skin at the edge of his trousers' waistband, then hooked a finger inside the fabric.
"That's a pity," she continued in the same low voice. "I was planning to let you succeed."
Dastan's eyes widened with a hungry delight that made her start to giggle. In one movement he slid an arm around her waist, rolled her gently onto her back, and covered her mouth with his own, as sweet late afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows.