A/N: And so finally, the final chapter (it is the final one, I promise). Thanks for all the kudos and hits and reviews. You guys are amazing. Hope you enjoy this last piece!
Part 3 of 4: when you rise with the day, I might not have too much to say
This may not be the last thing I tell you about the Dark Fae, but I promise it as significant as everything has been till now.
You see, one of their oldest beliefs, besides the power of love and the passion of their wrath, it that rain is the way the heavens found to marry the earth. Rain gives birth to life in a cycle that has no end, it could not find an end. It brings hope, nourishment and a bow of colours painting the skies that some may link to pots of gold.
Gold itself has no value to the Dark Fae. Rain is rejoiced. Much more value was found on rain, because unlike other species that gather in their nests, the Dark Fae celebrated. Children play while their parents collect water. Others are to watch as plantations are fed. Desert Faes have a peculiar relationship with rain, they do not know much about it, being so rare where they came from, and for that reason they stay vigilant for the promise of lightning and waves coming from the sea, agitated by strong winds.
And a raining day being the same as the one the Dance? What a blessing! The heavens themselves are blessing the unions! Such day would not go to waste. Young faes did not stray away from their duty: to find a partner, to present them a nest, and then, to mate and produce an offspring. So they danced in the air, their wings so wet they were too heavy to fly. Weary and stubborn, these faes ended up exhausted, and those who did not end up in their partner's nest, withdrew to their own to rest for the next day. The Dance would last another six days, and the week was just in its beginning.
Families gathered in their homes and much was discussed and done. Advice from elders: how to fly and impress a potential mate, how to show strength and wit, how to groom your nest, how to act when your bond is challenged. The latter reminded the children and young ones of the Dark Phoenix, and they asked their elders: was there any wisdom on her choice?
Maleficent, despise unconventional at most, would never have nothing but praise said about her choice. Duelling was so rare, events dedicated to exceptions, and what an impossible sight to witness: the Dark Phoenix defending the longest lasting soul bond seen in centuries. Another new tale to tell for sure, and children were certainly eager to listen. The magnitude of the power emitted when dealing with threats is a factor that attracts Dark Faes like pollen does to bees. But the nuances of this tale, and the things that didn't make much sense, made it all the more interesting. Why the raven didn't accept the duel? Why the Dark Phoenix defended him when he refused to defend their bond? Did she love him more he knew? Did the raven had no grasp of what a duel means?
Only the Dark Phoenix and her raven could give answers to those questions, and no one would be foolish to disturb them after such a display of loyalty. The Dark Phoenix had been clear in her message—fury and passion heated by poisonous and destructive fire, the weapons to wield against anyone who was willing to defy her choice.
And her choice was the raven. That absolutely no one would dare discussing ever again.
On the exception of little ones, of course, the ever so curious without filter to their questions, but that's a tale for later.
The first day was of battle, fire and then rain. It all went eventually away and conscience returned to a raven by the start of the night, the sun barely set in the horizon, clouds dissolving as the wind hit them, and light started to bounce through the windows.
Then, the smell of food.
Finally, the touch of feathers.
So many feathers.
It was overwhelmingly warm and comfy and of no end. Peace and safety surrounded the nest and for brief moments any whys and hows were forgotten.
Then, the raven remembered—a duel of all possible consequences, good or bad depending on the victims. His mind was back to what he went through that day, thinking of it as a nightmare—except for the bad luck, which later came to redeem itself with his salvation. He found himself alive and well, saved as once a long time ago.
His eyes opened in a snap, but his vision was blurred, so he had to rely on his senses. It was later of the same day, an afternoon of rain. Curtains were hit by the kind wind, and he felt very exposed when a cold breeze hit his body as found himself rested in a nest of furs, the softest nest he had ever laid on. His once torn robes were replaced by a loose dark shirt and braies that reached his knees, and a fine linen blanket covered him from the waist down. Sounds of wood crackling were not far away, the bubbling of liquid on a small cauldron, and the smell of vegetables, and he felt the hunger growl in his stomach because he hadn't eaten for several hours.
Over him, a blanket of feathers covering his arms and legs, an embrace of protection.
Beside him, the figure of a woman.
He didn't need to see her to know who it was. He would recognize her presence anywhere.
The soreness all over his throat from screaming and the taste in his mouth being of dry blood was proof enough of what had been real. A nightmare of violence and laws far away from his capacity of understanding. And even if fair in righteousness, it didn't stop the dread he felt upon facing such challenge.
"Hush now," her voice was comforting, a shush soft like the feathers covering his body, yet her touch was unexpected, and the raven almost jumped to feel fingers combing the strands of hair over his brow.
" . . . am I dead?" he wondered to himself. He felt he couldn't possibly be alive. How was any of this real? For all he knew, he could be dead now and this was but a glimpse of afterlife.
"No," was the answer, and it sounded amused by the absurdity of his question, and he wanted to smile, ironic to what felt like a seconds ago to him, "You are safe," and that voice, soft and kind seemed now hoarse, as if charged with emotion, "This, I promise you."
The promise was so true to him that he believed it.
But he couldn't help feeling guilty.
"I'm sorry—" he tried to say, and again was interrupted.
"None of this is your fault."
He blinked a few times, surprised as well trying to readjust his vision.
"I think I hit my head," he murmured, pressing his palms against his eyes, and it was not his intention to joke, nor to recall the time when he did it in the face of the uncharacteristic way his mistress admitted that she had missed him.
"A little," Maleficent jested either way, and she was kind, "Are you in pain?"
Diaval shook his head, "I can't see anything yet."
"Oh," hands removed his own from his eyes and a trace of golden magic sneaked into them, making them burn a little, "What of now?"
His sight found focus on feathers—his feathers, tied to braids made by little ones who so willingly wanted to welcome the Dark Phoenix to their people. Those feathers were an unusual contrast to dark oak hair, their sheen almost bluish.
Then, green garments dark as before, yet much more modest, summed up in a graceful nightgown that flowed like a water veil, of silky fabric and a round neckline that exposed collarbone and shoulders, arms yet covered to wrists. A skirt fell directly until it covered her feet completely, almost crawling across the floor just as giant wings did. Worth noting that it was a garment of rest, and the light tone of expression also told him so—his mistress was tired and needed the familiarity of home, not the pressure of snakeskin and bear armour.
Diaval felt like his heart barely fit in his chest, and he again wondered to himself if perhaps he had died. The vision of his mistress was like watching the night sky where nothing but the brightness of the moon seemed to matter. She was so beautiful and Diaval didn't fell worth of her.
He swallowed, and wouldn't blink once, "Yes, mistress?"
Maleficent offered a side smile, like no other Diaval had even been graced with, kind and almost shy, yet filled with secrets.
"I asked about your arm."
That made him blink and the trance he was one was over. He frowned, "My arm?" which from totally unrecognisable had returned to normal, and he dared to say, stronger than ever. Diaval flexed his arm twice, opened and closed his hand, his fingers tingling. The pain he felt at having his bones broken was still in his mind, it was recent, familiar, and very disturbing, but there was great relief in not being able to feel it anymore, and it made him feel like nothing more than a horrible nightmare.
He sighed in relief, "Feels much better now, mistress. Thank you."
She hummed, and was about to say something else when a crack of the fire in the bonfire caught her attention. She pursed her lips instead, seemingly reconsidering, and left her place to walk to the bonfire. To Diaval, her silent felt like the times in which she was just his mistress ignoring her servant while he tried at all costs to talk to her.
Diaval didn't miss those times, yet he recalled them to be simpler than the times he lived now. He cleaned his throat, suddenly uncomfortable, and managed to sat up by himself with no struggle, his feet touching the floor and as soon he tried to stand, his own body seemed to rebel. A very strong nausea hit his stomach, and a bitter taste rose in his throat, and he wanted to throw up right there. He shivered, rested his elbows on his tights, his palms to hos eyes, to convey the feeling that the world around him was spinning.
It did not help him.
"Oh, goodness—" he stopped when he felt another wave of nausea hit his stomach, "—my stomach is eating itself!" then he chuckled to himself, self-deprecating, weak and almost pathetic, but nonetheless grateful to be alive, even if he still had doubts on it.
"It's empty," his mistress scolded him. The sound of clay pots clacking against each other reached his ears, someone looking for something. Diaval, despise the state of helplessness, was confused.
A presence was by his side in the matter of a minute, and he felt a shiver when a hand stroked his skull, nails running through his hair, soothing any headaches, although some butterflies were left on his stomach. Again, he understood nothing, and took deep breaths so he could open his eyes and guess what was going on.
But she wasn't about to explain, saying instead, "Breathe slowly."
He obeyed, and it helped, though he had to ignore the pain that hit the back of his head. Then, his nose wrinkled, and he was curious when a bowl of clay was neatly placed on his hands, "What's this?"
"Poison," obvious amusement touched her voice, and her servant stared at her in horror. The fae sighed, "Food, Diaval. Unless you wish your stomach to keep complaining," as if in response, his stomach growled, hunger making itself known, and Diaval felt his cheeks burn, "There were vegetables left by the Jungle Faes, nuts and bread. I—" she stopped talking to notice her servant watching at her with wide eyes, and his aura felt suspicious, doubtful even, the soul bond making the beat of his heart louder to her ears, and faster and stronger by every second of silence. She frowned, "What?"
The raven man said nothing, and his gaze fell down to the bowl on his hands. Chains pulled on his heart, longing making him sigh.
As Guardian of the Moors, Maleficent had so little time to rest and care for small needs. The extension of magic was in the freedom of power she had on using it. Her imagination would more than often allow herself to indulge on making her life rather easier—a little help wouldn't hurt, as it only required a thought of her will, an idea or perspective, and magic would to the rest (it wasn't for nothing Aurora's seventeen birthday was preserved from a falling tower covered in blue and pink frosting being sustained by a broom handle).
So whenever there was the need, a tree would sprout from the earth in a touch of magic, and Maleficent would feast on as many berries she could, as Dark Faes wouldn't require as much sustenance as humans or other magical creatures—two meals were sufficient for a healthy life. Still, Diaval would question her about it all the time, because "two meals are not enough, mistress, and an apple doesn't count for a meal!". The bird was right on the nature of her small portioned meals, and would often hunt small animals unlucky to cross his path when he was on this mission. He would proudly bring a prey home, and his mistress would have vegetables and nuts already in a small pot cooking by a fire in the ground, and a meal would be shared.
And so mistress and servant would share meals. Stews, soups and broths accompanied by bread was a common combination to the Moorfolk and humans alike, so simple to prepare—usually reserved to colder nights for being quite filling and sustainable and tasty, giving vigour to any weaker body in a matter of minutes. It was a cold end of afternoon, and a stew would perfectly do. The so many ingredients were found in the nest, and it was good for that, as they were a gift from the Jungle Faes, and it would be unwise to let them go to waste, an offense to the kindness of having them offered in hospitality.
To be offered this hospitality, however, to have his mistress cook and share a meal with him made Diaval miss those older times. When he wouldn't have dared to speak too much. When he wouldn't have dared to ruin everything.
"Mistress," the raven used her title in an insistently controlled tone, having no wish to sound nervous, but he couldn't help feeling foolish considering how hungry he was, "You shouldn't have."
Maleficent was not bothered by it, and merely rolled her eyes, disinterested, and gave way to another order, "Eat."
She had no wish to bicker, not yet anyway, and Diaval had no wish to sound ungrateful. Which would be easy, if complaining about kindness after being saved from the arms of death. But laying in a nest that wasn't his, being offered food by no one less than his mistress, so distinguished close he was able to smell the perfume of flowers in her skin?
He felt helpless.
So he gave in, and his frown dissolved little, remaining as his curiosity as he gazed down at the bowl on his hands. It felt warm against his fingers, and the clay was painted in red and blue paintings resembling ancient texts, steam hitting his nose in waves, and Diaval was so tempted by the smell that he could not help but give in, expressing a sigh.
"Thank you," he whispered and then blew on the stew to help it cool down before taking the first sip. The taste was strong against his tongue, composed of carrots and potatoes, mostly, then ground almonds, slices of bread bathed in a touch of honey.
It shouldn't be so surprisingly delicious, magic could do wonders on its own, but still, it was a meal made from care and that made him a little nervous and unsure. But hunger was so strong that doubts remained sidelined as he ate. Diaval wasn't very used to eat in his human form—it just wasn't worth the effort—yet he was so hungry and served himself of two bowls in order to feel satisfied. His cheeks were very red once he was finished, all due to the warmth around him, and his mistress sitting by his side serving herself of a much modest portion of the stew, wings lazily stretched and feathers touching the back of his neck, also didn't help on the blush.
But he was grateful, and his stomach was full, and despise the dizziness had diffed off, the need to voice his thoughts again made itself known.
"Why am I here?" he asked.
Maleficent was by the fire when she heard the question, "You fainted," she said, and what seemed to be a tale in the background flashed before her eyes before she added, "I turned you into a raven and brought you here."
"That's not what I—" Diaval hesitated and felt there was no use to argue, not if he was to sound ungrateful to the kindness his mistress had showed him, "Thank you," he said again, and grasped the linen cloth once covering him, hands clutching, shyness against his usual brashness, and tried to come up with a better argument, "What I meant is that I don't understand why I'm here, mistress. This is your nest. I shouldn't be here."
"You are where I want you to be," Maleficent told him, "Stop complaining."
He frowned, "I'm not complaining—"
"You are complaining," she insisted, and sat by his side in the nest. That was when Diaval noticed that she was without her staff. It rested by the nest, so far away from her reach that it seemed forgotten. Despise her magic not requiring any artefact to bring or destroy life, the staff served as the physical support she had when walking for the first time without her wings, an illustration of her need to feel safe even if she was stuck to the ground. Not having a staff at hands showed a total lack of concern, an absolute state of enough safety one would let themselves to be free.
Which seemed totally illogical considering how she left the nest the night before. Now she saved his life, healed his wounds, laid him in her nest, and all the fear he saw in her eyes the night before seemed to disappear.
What the hell had happened that he didn't know about?
"Diaval," his name came in the form of a warning, his mistress thinking he was going to insist on complaining—or at least, what she considered a complaint.
"I'm not complaining," he clarified again, and his gaze dropped to his hands as his voice dropped in volume, "I simply have no wish to bother you."
The sigh that came in response sounded extremely annoyed.
"The times in which you bothered me involved you pestering me with gifts whenever I wouldn't talk," her voice returned to the kindness of before, overcome by a little weariness—the day had been fateful for both of them, "Those moments never involved fear."
Diaval frowned, lips parted, hesitation pausing him before he whispered, " . . . fear?"
Warmth, not fear, what he felt when his mistress confessed so softly, "You frightened me."
Diaval did not understand the real meaning of her words, "I did?" he asked and when his mistress didn't respond right away, he tried to apologise, "It was never my intention—"
"Stop talking," and that he did, not because of her order, but because a hand did not hesitate to slid down across the marks on his neck, down to the large one on his chest, a fruit of his transformations through magic, to rest over a barely healed scar, right over his beating heart.
She watched how his Adam's apple rose and fall, denoting nervousness at her words and touch, and his hands would clutch to the linen cloth on the best, an attempt to hold on any impulses. But there was no disgust, no rejection, no fear in his eyes, but uncertainty on why she was doing any of this. Maleficent couldn't blame him. She hadn't expressed her thoughts, for she could read what he felt, and so she knew that her touch was not only welcome—it was wanted.
Despise it all, the ease in which she found herself touching him, it was yes very strange, as much it was to be wanted so strongly. For so long she feared being rejected as she had once been rejected in the face of betrayal, and here she was knowing exactly what would happen if she indulged on the readings of a soul bond she had been unaware for over two decades. It was liberating and ultimately terrifying. Amusing too, in understanding the power she had over her raven—a power that did not come from a sense of obedience or duty or guilt, for Diaval did not allow her to touch him out of fear—he did it because he simply could not deny her anything.
Again, a fruit of his love for her.
A love that awakened the greatest sense of brutality ever felt when in face of a threat.
"You fought him," she gazed into his eyes, no longer able to look at the scar over his heart without flames of vengeance forming in her own, "which is one more reason to—" a glow of green flashed over her eyes, but it was only for a moment, "—end him."
The memory of Borra's crimes was vivid, so recent and burning, that Maleficent had to force herself not to return to the arena, to that bloody Desert Fae, and do to him exactly what her impulses told her to.
Instead, she continued with her monologue, "I cannot comprehend why would you go through battle with no fear of embracing death as one does to an old friend."
She knew there was not much her raven could have done against the traditions of the Dark Fae, and it was certainly unfair on her part to demand that he had done nothing. What irritated her was that she was not there. And hadn't she been warned by fate, she would have lost the one she didn't even have time to love as he loved her.
And that is why the fury of her blood was like poison.
For death would be the fate of those who tried to take from her the one whom her heart belonged to.
"You know me, mistress," Diaval tried for a smile, "Always trying to mingle and make new friends."
The naive attempt at humour did not work, and Maleficent glared at him, dark demeanour falling over her eyes.
"My patience is at limit, Diaval," a warning this time, and the hand over his heart remained, "Do not test it. Do not wish for me to avenge your death, for not even the more foolish of creatures would desire death by my hands."
And the size of her promise became more impactful, in a way that Diaval did not expect to come from her.
And he might have even agreed with such logic, had he not quickly picked what his mistress had revealed to him.
"Did you kill him?"
There was no criticism—nothing could be done if Maleficent had actually killed Borra, but it would be a surprise if she had actually done it. She was not violent by nature, despite the insistence on making others believe so. She was easily bored and preferred to be alone, she did not like to waste time on small talk, she was mostly grumpy when challenged, stubborn when facing new ideals, and that was due an absurd pride, which was natural to Dark Fae such as herself, but everything ended when it came to Aurora, because Maleficent loved her child and was willing to do anything to protect her.
And yet, she didn't kill Ingrith, who had offended her so much, who had almost killed her Aurora, instead bestowing upon her a curse worse than death itself.
Had she killed Borra, though, the anger that had overtaken her was certainly far greater than any she had ever felt in her life, capable of stopping any reasoning.
The fae didn't seem the least bit bothered by the possibility, however.
Killing is not how I describe what she did to Borra, but it was not for lack of want. Maleficent simply had more pressing matters at the time to bother pausing her time (i.e., saving her raven) to torture and then later end the life of that bloody fiend.
But oh, yes, she would've him tortured and killed if she could. The rage that filled her at the time, and perhaps at the present moment by the mere memory of it, would have her do that.
"Mistress," Diaval himself was in disbelief, as Maleficent's silence and indifference often were pretty telling to those who knew how to read it, "What did you do to him?"
The answer was right to the point:
"What you would have me do to anyone who dares harming what is mine."
That made Diaval frown at her.
He understood very early on his interactions with them that the Dark Fae were possessive, whether out of love or pure selfishness. His mistress therefore would be protective of him, she had him claimed as one of hers the night before, but this felt different. It brought him a strange and funny feeling, to know that he belonged with her, even if it wasn't the way he wanted, but he was happy to know that she was willing to protect him no matter what happened.
What he didn't know is that she took it as a personal offense on what happened to him. It made her blood boil in anger. She was possessive and quite practical, yes, without a doubt, a warning as to how she would react if anything similar was to occur again: an immediate and violent response, of fire that was so green it reminded the venom of serpents that would burn the skin of her enemies in the powers of hell.
Had she not arrived in time . . .
. . . the hand on his chest started a light caress, so soothing it barely felt there, a reaction to the tumult of emotions at the possibility of having lost her raven. She needed to feel his heartbeat, needed the assurance that he was alive and safe and well and with her, for there was nothing to fear as long he was with her. She was determined to dissolve all the sharp nervousness and anxiety her raven had over his shoulders, as well her own.
It had the opposite effect, as one would expect of a raven who had no idea of what was going on, and so his heart pounded like a drum. His mistress was sitting so close, hands so tactile and that wasn't her nature. That had him worried. Diaval did not understand, he could not. What he knew of his mistress was that she spoke through actions, almost never through words even if she had no shame on saying what she thought. Touching was so rare however, a gift for much time not even allowed to Aurora. As the young queen grew in grace and beauty, Maleficent couldn't find in herself to deny her little beastie the warmth of an embrace.
Diaval was always allowed proximity if in raven form. He would land on her shoulder and fondly peck her cheek or nuzzle her hair. She would caress his feathers and he would purr, causing her to laugh. When he wanted to be a man, he would land on her staff and peck her fingers.
After the battle at Peaceforest's castle, he was tasked in preening her wings, and he seemed to get lost whenever he did it, taking all the time necessary to keep them clean and shiny. Sometimes, preening was followed by soft conversation, then a touch on her arm when assisting her to dress, perhaps a whisper in her ear when he wanted to share secrets and precious information he had gathered while flying around under her orders.
He fondly remembered of an autumn afternoon when the three of them were sitting on a hill watching the sunset. Aurora was talking cheerfully about her day when a cold wind hit on them and she suddenly stopped and shivered, rubbing her hands on her arms, her coat not being enough to keep her warm. Diaval, on the other side, rubbed his hands together. Maleficent took it upon herself to wrap her wings around them both—it was purely instinctive, and neither seemed to care. Aurora laughed, then snuggled closer to her mother, basking in the warmth of her wings. Diaval seemed to freeze at first, and then he smiled, open and happy in face of such honour.
But the subtle, casual touch of her wings was nothing compared to having her caress his bare skin, sitting so close to him that he could listen to the sound of her breathing.
What was going on?
"Mistress . . ." but then again, how was he supposed to ask her?
Unknown to him was that none of this was an act of obligation, as the soul bond did not force her to do anything, but it rather made her see feelings much more clearly, and she no longer had the strength to fight them. She had wasted too much time denying herself so much. Aurora's love had been denied for so long, and she always regretted. She would not repeat the same mistake when she felt the love of a raven that had in her presence the greatest happiness he could have. His devotion pleased her and she felt the urge to return it.
Even if it left her raven without understanding a single damn thing regarding his mistress' will.
"Tell me what happened."
You may think Maleficent knew enough of the duel to conclude on what had happened. However, nothing seemed to make sense to her. She could respect Diaval would accept the duel on principle, he had a brave heart. But he was never an intrepid fool willing to face danger for his own pride. Had the chance to achieve glory, even in a contradictory way, seduced him? Ravens were so careful. They placed great value on life. For Diaval to foolishly take the chance to proof himself through an act of violence? No logic. Surely he knew there was no need for it? He had proven himself over the years, and she knew he did love her, that he wanted her desperately, with the soul bond telling her of his love in waves of warmth everytime their gazes crossed paths, so why leap into the chance of death so certain? Lack of conformity painted her eyes green, something the usual coldness of her voice perfectly hid.
"That was no wish of death, mistress. Neither an attempt," Diaval held her hand to his chest, gently, to stop the caress that was causing him to lose focus, in a way of trying to keep himself calm, "Borra wanted to talk to you. I told him you've left. He challenged me for a duel. I refused. He dragged me to the arena. Ini tried to convince me to duel him, found me a spear to fight. I refused again and Borra attacked. I tried to defend myself and failed."
"Were you not told of the consequences?" Maleficent asked then, the poisonous green of her eyes still shining, and anger seemed to consume her insides. She could feel that what happened had her raven physically and mentally drained and the soul bond would tell her why if she was willing to read more into it, but on this matter, the explanation was something she wanted to hear from his lips.
"I was. Later, by Ini. Borra was shouting at me," Diaval made a face, mockingly imitating a rather exaggerated low voice that sounded more like the grunts of a bear, "Our rules no longer apply to you! You are a disgrace! You have no honour! I will make you pay! I couldn't understand most of his words, mistress. He growled all the time! And he kept calling me crow. Crow! What makes him think I'm a crow? The difference is shattering!"
To this annoyed rant, Maleficent commented nothing, a smirk as her only response. Her raven sounded more offended about having his species mislead on purpose than on the actual attack against his life. It wasn't surprised Borra would act like this. He never hid his disapproval, if not distaste, for Diaval's mere presence. It was to be expected that he would try anything against her raven, but men, Moorfolk or human, are too stupid creatures to make sense of any logic. If anyone told him not to do something, Borra would do it out of sheer stubbornness, for despise his excellency on war and devotion to his people, the Desert Fae didn't seem to know none than being a dedicated, yet rude warrior with a pride bigger than his wings.
And the thought of him made Maleficent want to snap his spine in half. Instinct said she should've killed him on the spot, but that would be the anger still talking against her senses and the least she needed now was to set a war against her own people.
Although, considering the circumstances, she doubt anyone there would go against her choice to kill Borra.
He dared to defy her.
He deserved to pay.
"What did Ini tell you?"
That Tundra Fae too. Thought as a friend, or at least an ally, and in the end she tries to have her raven killed.
Such offense couldn't go unanswered.
"Ini said—" Diaval showed some hesitation, torn between the wish to tell the truth and the will to make peace and prevent his mistress from doing something she would later regret. He opted for the truth because it would be of no use to lie. Maleficent knew when he was lying. He was terrible at it anyway, "—Ini said that by refusing to duel, Dark Fae laws no longer apply to me and so Borra could do to me as he saw fit. I was seen as an intruder. A trespasser. Borra attacked me. Some others wanted to . . . help me, kept shouting at me to use the spear and defend myself. I tried and well, didn't work much on my favour, you see. I just delayed the inevitable. It doesn't matter now."
"It does," the Dark Phoenix glared at her servant, and he winced at the sharpness of her voice, and green fire coloured her usual honey eyes, "You almost died."
Diaval offered a small smile, his voice to casual when speaking of nearly death situations, "There is no need to overreact, mistress. Thanks to you, I'm well alive. Besides . . . " he sighed, sensing that he was unable to feel angry, " . . . the Dark Fae followed traditions sacred to them. I cannot fault them for reacting at an insult to their culture . . . as odd it may be to me."
But Diaval should have known that when his mistress put something on her head, nothing could change that.
"Whoever disagrees is free, though not welcome, to argue with me."
Which means this matter was settled and finished, and there was nothing Diaval could do.
"Although, if I ever sense those idiotic ideas are being considered among the people again, I will not hesitate to eliminate the thought."
Diaval couldn't help but try though. If he was to be paid a coin of gold for every moment he acted like a voice of reason, which stopped his mistress from doing something she would later regret, he would be a nobleman by now.
"Wouldn't that jeopardize your alliance with them?"
Also, anything to distract him from the hand on his bare skin—that would be quite nice.
"Would you rather I let them beat you to death?"
This made any argument against her to dissolve immediately. Diaval obviously wanted to be indulge on a fight of words, as it came naturally to him whenever his mistress disagreed with him about literally anything, he loved bickering with her, it was exciting, but his mistress had him on spot, a raised eyebrow in a challenge.
"No," the raven man sighed again, frowning, and spoke sorely, a noble shadow, "Forgive me. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful, I . . . mistress, I initiated this. My refusal caused this. I offended them and they reacted. I might as well admit it and try to amend my mistakes, no?"
It was an order now, not a suggestion, one that Diaval didn't want to take, "My actions may have caused a rift between you and your people and you don't want me to do anything?"
"I don't require you to," Maleficent said, "Whatever is to happen between me and the Dark Fae, you are not to be involved."
Diaval insisted, "But I cause this!"
"You didn't know," came the clarification that sounded more like a lament in Maleficent's voice, and the fae ended up sighing the last words softly, "You couldn't have know."
That was new information and it made Diaval curious, "Is there more about those duels I wasn't told?"
A lot more.
"They expected you to duel," Maleficent revealed.
"That I know," Diaval said, "They screamed that part at me after I refused."
Maleficent didn't wait for better thinking, she refused to walk in circles, and her eyes watched his expression at every moment, "And why did you refuse it knowing what it entailed?"
Diaval was taken by great surprise. He didn't expect his mistress to ask him something that at least would have no meaning or importance to her.
She ignored the pain his eyes, and the soul bond told her to offer comfort. Instead, she salted the wound by asking in an almost cruel suggestion, "Wouldn't it be an opportunity to have what you wanted?"
Her raven turned shy to her words, almost embarrassed, and his gaze fell, no wanting to meet hers as he allowed himself to sigh a final time, so tired and regretful already of not having finished this conversation before. His hand still hand hers against his chest and he didn't seem to know what to do. Maleficent didn't pull away, and waited.
The events of the night before needed to be talked about, sooner or later. Yet to Diaval, what there was to say anyway? Refusing was the only option left to him. Maleficent was not his. She would never be his. Love is a choice and if his mistress would never make such a choice, be it for him, her servant, or for anyone else, a duel would do no good if it would only bring her irritation and memories of what she struggled to forget. It would be not only stubborn, but arrogant, bordering insulting, to the answer she had given him the night before. For a duel, which Diaval could understand, is a question: which of the contestants is worthy of love.
And Diaval had his answer. It was no. By saving his life, the Dark Fae would see it as if his mistress had chosen her servant over them, and Diaval couldn't let that happen.
So he said, "I have no right to fight for what is not rightly mine to claim."
And just like that, any further doubt was banished, by the sight of his eyes, and without trying the soul bond expressed the feel of rejection he felt at her leaving him behind as a response to his unspoken proposal over the embarrassment of being publicly humiliated. Diaval had walked in circles, and there was great fear in actually saying what he felt, contrasting with the strange certainty that he seemed to have that she did not to feel the same as he did. When he saw that she showed no interest, he found himself giving up on his own will, but he wanted her to know, and even tried to convince her that maybe one day she might be able to find someone else to love.
His heart broke at the alternative, but he held on, because he loved her.
"It would be foolish of me to accepted that duel, anyway," he went on his explanations, and let out a dry and embarrassed laugh, the comedy of himself, and he glanced at their joined hands, whispering, "It is ridiculous enough that someone would find a rival in me. I am not—" and he was unable to say the words, to admit aloud what his mind had always understood, what his heart insisted on denying until he could no longer breathe, "—you deserve better than have others believe you would have a servant as—"
A beat of silence was shared.
Diaval looked up at her, startled at the possessiveness of her expression and the depth and extent of her words.
To Maleficent, the naturalness in which she said this word surprised her more than him, precisely because she knew she spoke without thinking. It was a reflex. Of course he was hers. It was clearer in her mind to say that than to admit that the rain was wet, that iron burned her skin, that the sea smelled of salt, and she found it rather amusing that of the many battles she had fought in her life against thoughts and feelings that she denied for decades, the fact that Diaval belonged to her was not one of them.
Diaval loved her and he was hers.
"No duty nor debt would have save you, Diaval," she told him, in a strong and deeper voice, a promise of destruction if someone stopped her, and looked him in the eye the whole time while adding, "No tradition, people or army would prevent me from doing so. I saved you because I wanted to. Not because it was expected of me."
"And for that, I'm grateful, mistress, I truly am," Diaval said, and his eyes, though dark as night, held the blue of sadness as the sky of no starts, "But the least I can do is to take this burden from your shoulders in any ways I can. There is nothing I wouldn't do. And if you asked of me to stay one hundred years away, I would."
There was determination in his voice, spoken in a sense of duty greater than the pain in his chest. Maleficent did not understand what he was talking about, and her first impulse was to put an end to his plans. For they were poetic and extreme, and she knew he was true to his word, no soul bond needed to tell her that—Diaval didn't lie, and he certainly never lied to her, he was a creature of honour. And before the truth and the promise of his words, before the possibility of being away from him for another night, let alone one hundred years, her heart stopped in time, and in an uncontrolled response, she broke the link of their joined hands, and tightened a fist on the collar of his shirt harder than it should, claws clinging to the fabric.
Her face didn't show the sudden panic she felt, but her jaw tightened, and her eyes moved quickly searching on his face for a sign she could understand. She saw no reason in his words. She saw no reason for such an absurd suggestion.
"I would never ask you a hundred years."
Diaval covered her fist on his chest with both hands now, and the strength was gone, slowly, and she seemed to relax, now calmer, and her eyes followed him as he brought her hand to his lips, in a warm, gentle gesture.
"It is an offer," he said, voice raspy decorated by a kind smile, "Freely given."
She instantly refused, "I do not wish for you to leave, Diaval. Would have I not told you if so?"
Something changed in his eyes, suddenly they widened, and his lips parted, and gone was the defeat, gone was the sense of dread, and he tried to remain serious, but she could see that the beginning of a grin was forming on his lips. The soul bond told her that great hope had awakened in his chest.
"I can stay?"
"I want you to stay."
A smile was opened as though it would split her raven's face in two of so wide. Diaval tried to say something, but his excitement was so great that it made him feel magnificent, and he lacked appropriate words. His breathing became more apparent, stronger, and he could only chuckle at himself and his own stupidity.
"I—I thought you wouldn't—"
"You were mistaken," she said and the her voice turned fond, "A common occurrence."
Diaval grinned at her. He felt like dancing. For his mistress wanted him close. She was not angry at him.
And to think that he made himself believe he would be abandoned because of his feelings . . . feelings whose memory made his smile vanish, and the other one that followed was not so wide, for it was forced, and the soul bond told her that a great pain returned to his chest.
"Never again I shall speak of . . . of what was spoken," then he promised with his heart, the sincerity in his eyes would make anyone believe that he spoke the truth, that he would forever ignore his own heart as long as he could be by her side, "This I vow to you, I swear—"
"I cannot nor will I ignore what was said," but Maleficent could never allow it to continue, not with her own heart begging him to repeat what was said the night before, "It cannot remain the same as before."
The smile on Diaval's face, once genuine and then forced, completely disappeared, and a sense of terror corrupted his gaze, and he swallowed, feeling very afraid.
The fist on his shit relaxed, a hand raising to cup his cheek, caressing the scars on his temples for a few long seconds before looking into his eyes and saying, "I apologize," and Diaval became even more quiet, eyes wide. He could not believe his mistress was apologizing to him, "It was wrong of me to have left you by yourself. Had I not, Borra wouldn't have dared to force you into such nonsense of a duel."
Diaval said nothing in return, he couldn't. Maleficent had slid her hand to hold the back of his neck and leaned into him, pressing her forehead against his, closing her eyes. She heard his breathing falter, but no complain, either for now knowing how or for not wanting to, though she suspected on the latter when he held her wrist, cold fingers spread through her skin, and breathed warmly against her face, "Mistress?" and he sounded a little worried, as breathless as her, and so confused. He did not mind the sudden approach, even if he did not understand why.
But she could no longer contain herself. Adrenaline ran through her veins for different reasons than the ones hours before in the arena, but the burning on her flesh felt like the fire she used to destroy her enemies, at the very thought of what might have happened, and passion consumed her. It had been so, this consuming anger, from the moment she realized her raven was in danger, and she flew high and fast, her wings carrying her through the wind and clouds, falling like a lightning in the arena, and her fury was greater than the world, and it was in the midst of the ire of fire and the strength of her passion that she finally surrendered to what the soul bond showed her.
And what she saw when she landed in the arena was her raven.
And what she felt was anger at those who hurt him, for how could they defy their soul soul bond?
And what she wanted to do was to kill all of them regardless of guilt.
And what stopped her and made her reason was the soul bond telling her that her raven did not need her wrath, but her care.
For he was hers.
And it was there, in the middle of the arena, when she surrendered her heart to him.
"Do you know of soul bonds, Diaval?"
His breathing continued to wheeze, but he responded the best he could, "A force that unites people build on shared emotions and interests."
The answer was too perfect for someone she assumed didn't know what the matter was about, and she pulled away, but not too much, enough to raise an eyebrow at him, the question hanging in the air.
"Aurora mentioned it once," Diaval explained, rather clever to read her expression, "Philip too, and so did the Three Pixies. Knotgrass seemed rather fond of the concept."
And it is interesting to note how he needed no soul soul bond to read whatever she meant even by no talking. He became familiar with her mannerisms, memorizing each trait, each sign, each feeling, each gesture.
Diaval was naturally curious—after all, his mistress had never discussed this. It was not a subject most would usually associate with her, and she didn't fault such reasoning.
"Soul bonds are known to Dark Faes. They are formed whenever a Dark Fae is . . ." her words were lost on themselves for a moment, and Maleficent smirked slightly at the absurdity of she was about to say, " . . . whenever a Dark Fae finds love."
To think that she would talk about love again in her life had been target of mockery and debauchery for decades, and there she was speaking tales of love. Her hand left its place on his chest, disentangling itself from his fingers, to travel slowly and carefully to the feathers in his hair, the same kind as the ones tied to her own. She smoothed them out, the soft texture beneath her fingertips telling her they were well cared for, the light reflecting off in black, and feeling bolder, until her nails reached his skull in a light caress. She felt the skin prickle under her fingers, and a slight shiver, and a warm breathing against her face, so accelerated to the point it was very audible.
When she looked at her raven, he had his eyes closed, surrendered to her caresses, and she continued to stroke his hair as she said, "As this love grows through time, with time . . . " and her fingers again went down the long scar on his left temple, and the touch was celibate, as she feared that her claws could break the skin, " . . . the Dark Fae have their souls blessed with strength, thus expanding their power."
Diaval did not seem to register very well what was said to him considering he fell victim of unexpected, yet very welcome touches. Maleficent didn't do it on purpose—she didn't want him distracted, but she wouldn't complain about having him so surrendered to her.
When, however, his mind seemed to understand what she had said, he snapped his eyes open and looked at her in surprise.
It didn't take long form him to find a conclusion, being the bright raven he claimed to be and that she knew he was.
"Love is literal power to the Dark Fae?"
Maleficent ceased her caresses to return her hand to the middle of his chest, his heart, beating still so hard and fast. Her fingers would sneak their ways through the lances of his shirt, and the skin there pulsated, heaving up and down.
Looking at his lips, she saw them tremble, but no words left them.
"The Dark Phoenix is alive within me because of it," she continued with her tale, rather casual on her ways—she didn't remember feeling so calm in her life before—maybe it was the certainty of the soul bond, maybe it was part of being a phoenix—it didn't really matter. She was tranquillity, a little tiredness, and saw no use in being harsh as she used to be. Not with her raven.
Admittedly, she also amused herself in making him so nervous.
Call her evil if you wish.
It was fun, she couldn't help it.
"Conall found me by reading it. He felt it, they all do, as the power I wield comes from the soul bond I share with—"
It was a more than obvious conclusion, logically the only one to be found. Ultimately, who she would love besides her daughter? But no matter how fond Maleficent was to recall their child, she had to shake her head and correct him, "Soul bonds are exclusively shared between mates."
A pause watered by silence, and her raven sat there watching. He said nothing. He blinked many times, his mind running wild so comically his eyes widened in surprise and his mouth opened and closed many times. A hand cupped his cheek in a gesture of comfort. He trembled under her fingers, anxiety far greater than his poor heart could think of experiencing. Nervousness returned in all its strength and power, his breathing was so audible and he swallowed hard.
Maleficent knew it was a result of a numb mind that had been filled with too important information at once, no chance to breathe or think twice, and she tried to ease the situation by continuing to caress his face very lightly, patient in waiting for him to process what she meant. He would certainly understand that she would never be so affectionate for no reason, would he? It couldn't be so impossible to understand what she was trying to say.
He interrupted any additional words by removing her hand from his face, holding her wrist with a grip that was gentle. His eyes held many emotions, "The Dark Fae told you of this?"
His voice was usually raspy and low, very masculine, but at that moment it sounded weak and fearful.
"Udo did," Maleficent replied, "I never knew before. I couldn't have. I do it now. With the need of a glance."
Diaval said nothing to this, gaze lost on his own thoughts, and the frown on his face growing ridiculously serious, realization forming in his head, hitting slowly but with the force of lightning.
"At the arena," he tried to recall, the images from that morning still a little confusing in his mind, "The Dark Fae wanted me to duel. Insisted so much. Were surprised I refused to. Accused me of dishonour."
"Fools," he didn't look at her as she spat the words, "They know nothing."
"I couldn't have know," he repeated her words, and even though his lips trembled and his mouth was dry, he held on tight, he had to, and looked at her as he continued with trying to develop a reasoning, "About their law. They expected me to already know. And you tell me they can see—" he paused as it didn't take long for the truth to settle in his mind, and yet, it felt like too much even for him, "—they accused me of dishonouring you because they think of us as—as—as . . . "
He couldn't say it. For it seemed so absurd to him that just thinking about such words made him feel like a fool.
And yet, it made her more courageous, as she would no longer fight the inevitable.
"You knew," her raven continued on his wonder and surprises, and his eyes shone in hope, "You saved me."
The first reaction to that was fondness. The second was maybe fun as she stated again, only indirectly, "Borra is not mine."
And in him, there was a wish to inquire more, and there no time to do so as the soul bond would emanate from him between a gigantic sense of duty, half spoon of wonder, immersed in a love wild similar to waves that never falter. Lava was his passion, liquefied by the heat of what he felt, the power to render peace with one glance.
Then, disappointment as he recalled more and more, "You told me you needn't a mate," but without malice or resentment, just wanting to clarify his resistance, "And I now you tell me—" he bit his tongue, unable to say it just as she was unable to deny that he belonged with her. But while it was the soul bond that prevented her from saying it, it was the very love in his chest that still struggled in hopes for a future. He sighed, heavily, "Can a soul bond change so much?"
It was annoying to her how his doubts had so many precedents, from her reactions to mentions of true love to actual insults and disregard to likelihood of acquiring it herself. How could he believe in her choice to be with him if not but hours ago she reacted the night before, she left him behind, not caring about his feelings at all? And it was tiring, to her dismay, to have her will so discredited.
It wasn't so difficult to understand. Dark Fae crave their partners, love was logical to them, and those who had none were so much wilder than those who did. Love leaves no place to doubt in a Dark Fae's heart. Which was an unknown concept to her, she never had others influence on what she was to do, but it wasn't as if Diaval hasn't found many ways to change her ideas over the years. It was not easy, and he often failed miserably, but she never failed to listen to his advice, even if she pretended not to be listening—he never offered them under ill intentions.
"Soul bonds cannot force feelings that are not familiar. It grants gifts. To reach what was once untouchable, thoughts once forgotten, and to see them."
"And it pleases you?" Diaval had to assure he wasn't fooling himself, and it left him euphoric to the point of open an idiotic smile, "What you see in me?" but then, memories of last night returned and his eyes turned sad and guilty, "It doesn't frighten you anymore?"
"I was surprised, not frightened," she corrected him, regretful of her actions, the way fear had caused her to lose reason and leave without further explanations, "When I came to know of you and the duel—" she couldn't finish, seeing that the flames of wrath would consume her, and so she preferred to admit a secret, "—then I was frightened. "
And secrets such as this could be received with scorn or laughter as weaknesses generally were, but Diaval did not have a cruel heart. He brought her hand to his lips and planted a kiss on the palm, reverence and gratitude for the trust placed on him, because he knew how much it cost her to be honest with others. Twenty winters shared or not, she was often reclusive, it was her very nature. Confessing to him showed that she felt safe enough to, that she saw him worthy of her words, of her feelings, and Diaval was honoured.
He wanted to elaborate jokes, a defence mechanism to melt down his anxiety, the ever nature of a raven so eager to jest with those they loved, and they normally did when talking, it was their thing, a way to ease tension, but he feared it might make her feel insecure about being so open on her feelings.
That wouldn't do. Not yet anyway.
"Are you certain?"
A pause, then a smile, the softest he ever had seen in twenty years.
"I cannot without you."
You may see I refer to the words from that fateful night, before the battle against the iron army, before her wings were returned, but with a little change.
I can't do this without you.
Romance was never a need to her before, but a wish denied over the years, even before the betrayal.
Diaval was the one whose love she wanted. A choice, not a resort or trap. She didn't want him by her side because she wanted to take advantage of him. She didn't want him by her side to have more power. She didn't want him by her side to maintain a status of respect to her people. She wanted him for herself.
Selfish perhaps, she didn't care.
He sounded so startled by the sincerity of it all, feelings and words, and a sigh from Maleficent went astray, so tired, "Have I ever done something I didn't want to?" she asked shortly thereafter, the sound of her lack of patience not making her raven fail in a response.
The immediate counter attack was unpleasant, and she frowned at him, willing to object, and he didn't let her by explaining his answer in a rather didactic way that spoke volumes on how he indeed knew her more than she did it herself.
"First, there was the sleeping curse. You were angry, and then you regretted it. But you took time to admit it. And then Philip, you didn't like him at all; you were polite to him because of Aurora, and when she preferred to spend the day with him instead of us, you were grumpy—"
"Concerned," he corrected himself, and there was exaggeration, "And there's the dinner with Queen Ingrith and you hate small talk—"
"This was not what I asked of you."
That had him hesitate to continue. Don't change the subject, was almost added, but it ended up implied as a silence was shared by the two in an intense exchange of looks.
Diaval sighed heavily, his shoulders falling in defeat. He kissed the inside of her wrist, then her palm again, and closed his eyes as her fingers rested upon his cheek as he whispered, "I meant it when I said I don't need more. I'm happy as long as I can stay," he promised then, solemnly and more truthfully than ever in his life, perhaps they were the most important words of his life, "You don't owe anything—"
"My want is not in debt, Diaval," she said, and insisted on holding his face again and he was unable to deny her that, "Nor is my heart."
His eyes opened, "Your heart?"
Her soul in fact, but she wouldn't tell him (not yet) that she could die had anything tragic happen to him—there was no need to put more tension over his shoulders.
"Ask me, pretty bird," she suggested, and her voice dropped to a hushed tone, an admission perhaps to them both, and her eyes were lost for a moment on her own memories, "You must ask me what I want, not assume what I feel."
"I don't wish to hurt you," he confessed.
"I have no fear of that."
The raven man turned his face so his lips would plant kisses on her palm, reverent, loving, and in a way, preparing himself for her answer, "Is a mate what you wish of me?" he then asked, finally, and looked her straight in the eye, begging for a clearer answer, "Am I the one you want?"
There was a special sparkle in her eyes, something mischievous, jovial, and she smirked, "A raven servant has been quite useful," she heard a huff, discredited, and her smile widened as she spoke, "but as beautiful the raven may be," and felt him smile against her palm, "it doesn't have lips for me to kiss nor a defiant tongue to pester me to the point of madness."
In response, she saw, more than she felt, how air came out of his lungs, and his shoulders dropped with relief rather than defeat, and the tension dissolved into tranquillity, similar to when wood melts when on fire.
And fire still burned, it warmed the nest, and it warmed his feelings, but the real glow came from his eyes, that became kind, more than they already were, and even if no smile graced his lips, there was no more nervousness on his face, but serenity. All the certainty that he would be rejected, all the anguish he felt earlier that day, the dread of the battle, the pain of the spear that almost destroyed his flesh, not even the confusion at the sudden kindness of his mistress—all of that went away at once. The soul bond showed her that his heart was filled with a love that was accepted, a love that awakened an unimaginable power, the unique flame of the Phoenix, which burned.
Above all, his love was welcome, it was well-liked, it was desired.
Love for her.
And so, he would no longer deny himself what he always wanted.
He placed a final kiss on her palm, dropping it to rest on his chest, over his heart, so she could again feel how it beat for her. Then, cold fingers against a fine-tipped cheek, and strokes on lines of her jaw, an artisan to a gemstone. He saw emerald and topaz in her eyes, and he lost his breath again, heart leaping strong and fast.
" . . . may I?" he asked the moment his fingers slid over her red lips, and gone was the shyness, and the intensity of his voice made it very clear what his intentions were.
Maleficent wondered why he felt the need to ask, but appreciated nonetheless. She said nothing to his query, she watched in a test of resolve, a dare to be bolder and find out, to take a leap and do what he wanted. Instantaneously, he interpreted her challenge, and sat upright to too watch her in curiosity, to assure himself if indeed what he had read in her expression had been what she truly intended.
Finding a smirk similar to his own, his eyes fell to her lips, and the smirk was replaced by a look of hungry, a man thirsty for water after hours lost in a desert. It took her by surprise, despise the soul bond speaking of lust and want and love love love. Diaval never looked at her like that, without shame or restraint. He was always respectful and discrete about his will, he did not speak much of his most secret desires, so much that she was surprised to learn he was in love with her, for she never thought he nurtured anything more than friendship, perhaps admiration.
But he felt everything for her.
And it made her feel everything for him. His love aroused euphoria in a way she never believed she would be able to feel again. Giving it some thought now, she would say she never truly felt such things, because even Stefan didn't make her feel that way. He never truly loved her, his heart was never fully devoted to anything but his own ambition, there was no place for a friend, a lover, neither his own child. Whatever there was he could have felt toward her was a feeling weak enough to have lost itself against the force of time.
But Diaval . . .
He was her wings, meaning the same once said many years ago.
"Do all the Fair People have wings?"
Most did. Love was the rule in the Moors, sought for several reasons: procreation, lust, or simply the desire for companionship. Love made them fly, and all the other faes did. Maleficent had wings—actual wings—that would take her to places inaccessible to many. There, she would find refuge for her loneliness. But those wings were stolen from her and for years that's all she was to say about it. She would dream of them—how gigantic they felt when they enveloped her whether she felt cold or insecure, how it took almost an entire afternoon to clean them, and how vanity made of them her greatest pride.
She found a raven to replace them. He dragged behind her when she walked. He was strong—his love would carry her above the clouds and into the headwinds. He never faltered, not even once. She could trust him. He loved her. And his hands would slide down her face, holding the curve of her neck, palms stretched out and pressed against her jaw, and he seemed to forget everything he wanted to do just by looking at her, having never been able to be so close. He searched her eyes for doubt, insecurity or regret, and there he found nothing that was not a calmness of which he knew he would never be worthy.
A smile formed and then disappeared on his lips, as he was so discredited in the freedom that he was granted. He revelled in the beauty of her eyes, the softness of her skin and the temptation that was the red of her lips. He sighed, as if fascinated, and moistened his lips before leaning in and pressing them against hers.
It was a soft kiss, of brief time, barely a shy touch, a little awkward due the lack of any experience from both parts, but it was a kiss so different from the one she had once tasted on her sixteenth birthday.
Because it was not a gift from a friendship that she no longer remembered the bases of, a friendship so weak it wouldn't survive a simple test of trust. It was a kiss from a dream, of hope, a kiss that her raven would refuse himself if she so desired. Ultimately, it was an act of love so true she once thought impossible, one that would make her close her eyes and feel in a way she believed she would not allow herself anymore—forbidden any desire in relation to that, to find a new love, to let herself be loved again.
In fact, she now saw that she was never loved that way, and that she never loved a man that way. A simple kiss was able to tear down the last wall that fear had built around her heart, preventing her from seeing what was literally in front of her for so long.
It all came apart with a touch once upon a dream.
And when it was over, she found a pair of black eyes so bright and warm as the sun that made her chest heavy, filling her with more emotions than she could handle. She didn't need a soul bond to tell her that she was loved by that raven. That she was loved by her wings.
She touched his face, and saw the biggest smile of all to grace his lips. She noticed too, now so close to him, things that she had not allowed herself to notice before: how handsome he was in his human form, which from every appearance, had strong features, such as hers, and his scars disappeared as he smiled.
She stroked them with her fingertips, and closed her eyes as she felt his fingers caressing her face, the touch light as a feather, her hand resting on his wrist when he leaned his forehead to hers, and felt his passionate gaze as he whispered three words:
"I am yours."
Oh, she knew.
A/N: So, I lied. Sort of? Like, this chapter ends the main story, but the next one will be some sort of huge epilogue. Take it as a compilation. I promise it's almost ready. Anyway, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed. :)