I watch him unabashedly—as I've done for no small time, now.

First I was a cousin of one of his friends, and tagged along with them on the rare occasion what they were doing interested me.

One day changed that rather abruptly.

We were riding in the wood that day; there were five of us. I was the youngest, but with the antics of the others no one would have known I wasn't the oldest. I had not been comfortable with simple gay revelry for a while, then, finding it foolish and a waste of time. The attack had been an utter shock—the other four were all guards, and they hadn't noticed anything amiss, which served well to assuage my own guilt at seeing nothing.

Wise though we typically weren't, we fled—breaking up to do so, presenting a harder capture than we would have, thundering around on our horses together. He swerved suddenly into my path, and caught my arm, hauling me onto his horse before gripping me firmly around the waist and leaping into a tree. Our horses passed on, and a long finger pressed against my lips, his eyes narrowed and dark as he waited.

I saw him then, for the first time. Saw him poised like the lethal predator I knew only then that he really was. It was one thing to be told he was a warrior, to see him spar, and another entirely to see the cold eyes and wary body, awaiting the chance, the opportune moment, in which to unleash himself upon the enemy. I took a ragged breath, and he glanced at me, his features softening faintly before sounds below us drew him back into the tension of being hunted.

He leapt among them, and I—though no great hunter, nor that skilled with a blade—I followed. I couldn't remain in the tree and watch, though it was an oddly beautiful sight.

I felt a bit foolish as I landed awkwardly to his unutterable grace, and felt myself flushing at the surprise in his eyes, turning quickly with my sword now clenched in numb fingers. He said nothing—two elves, even if one was ill-trained at best—were still better than one alone. Or so I thought at the time. Now, I would stay in the tree.

We dispatched them… though he could rightfully take the credit for the majority of them. I simply kept my back to his, and swung rather crudely at anything that attempted to either approach or separate us.

I stood in the midst of blood and gore, and let my sword fall when it was clear none of the creatures around us would be moving again. Slowly I turned to him, and saw the light of battle seeping from his eyes, which became sorrowful for an instant before heading towards wary.

"You should not have seen this," he murmured, the implied 'let alone have taken part' lingering in the air.

I was tempted to close my eyes to recuperate, to rebuild a mask of indifference, but I found him too fascinating. "I have no regrets," I declared, a bit shakily.

"No regrets?" he echoed, lifting a brow to call me a liar.

"Nor tears," I replied quietly.

"Nor jests," he added, and I had no doubt that if he'd taken over in the presence of any of the others, there would have been laughter now, and jests, and even back-thumping and songs.

I shuddered, focusing on him to avoid the stomach-churning sight around us. "No death, even of such creatures, should be treated so lightly."

"No," he whispered, the word unneeded, for I had seen the agreement plainly in his eyes. A moment later he'd embraced me, and from then, I was no longer the cousin of one of his friends.

I was his friend…

It disturbed me sometimes, when he first began letting me see the elf who'd embraced me that day.

The one I'd known was a boisterous, playful, highly energetic and almost always mischievous elf. That was the one known by all, and loved by no small few. He could always be found with a ready jest, a lighthearted laugh, or an enthusiastic song of the glory of the wood or warriors or even maidens upon his lips. Always…

Except on the rare occasions when we were alone.

They were very rare, indeed, in the beginning—almost never happened. In truth, for the first three hundred years of our friendship, after that day, I don't think it happened more than once, and that was only for a handful of seconds.

After that, our 'Age' ceremonies passed as so many autumn leaves, and the elves around him stopped restricting his activities and his companions so forcibly.

He sought me out—I did not have the temerity with which to seek him, nor the thought that such would be appreciated… at least at first. I will gladly laugh in the face of any who attempt to call me a lady, but I was raised to believe the lord does the seeking, be it in matters of friendship… or more.

As I've stated, it disturbed me, at first.

Not so much that he sought me even when I was alone—no, he'd long been my friend, and I, his. What disturbed me was how he watched me those first minutes of that first time, before the elf I'd grown to believe him seemed to fade away, replaced by a quiet, intense, solemn elf who seemed able to read my mind in the smallest movement I made, in the skin around my eyes.

I'd always known him perceptive, but I quickly learned he knew far more than he let on… about everyone.

It was a good thing he hid it, too, or he'd have alienated everyone. Not a wonderful thing for a prince to do, after all.

A pattern soon befell those unprecedented visits. He would find me, watch me for a moment, and if I made no move to encourage his departure, he would sigh and cast himself into an obliging chair. From the chair he would most often run a hand through his hair, upsetting it and often unbraiding it entirely, before he groused about whatever it was that had finally overcome his ability to remain oblivious in appearance.

I found it a great source of amusement—I still do—when he told me something which a few days later had shocked the entire halls and much of the village, as well. Such as the sudden binding of the rather ancient and self-proclaimed bachelor advisor to the king to his much, much younger nephew's previously courted young lady.

I'd asked him many times how he knew something, but he'd simply snort and shake his head, chiding me that he simply watched people.

After a while, I got the hint, and began watching him.

I soon discovered—to my embarrassment—that he was far more subtle than I in the matter of observing people.

He caught me out many times, but would simply look away after a slight shift of his eyes indicated his amusement at my attempt to be subtle.

When the court gossips noticed… they weren't so kind. They were rather vicious, really, and eventually had me near tears, though I despise them—despise both tears and those particular elves. It is simply rather heart-rending to hear all the nasty things people ever thought about you being brought out as reasons why the prince could never possibly be interested in you. Of course, to my face it was simply a sweet smile and the polite information that crushes soon wore off—it would be centuries before I would be able to attract any real attention.

In retrospect, I should have known he'd overheard that comment, I really should have. He wasn't known for lacking intelligence, nor were his senses anything but heralded, yet I didn't consider it… probably because I wasn't looking at him, and he was in his 'wood-elf' mode, as I'd come to think of it by then, so only looking at him intently would have given him away, and only to one who had been observing him.

The next day, I'd done my best to brush it off, and he didn't give any indication… well, of what he must have been considering, even then.

Though really, he may have already been decided, and was simply waiting for the right time.

At any rate, I was not a small bit startled when he pounced, so to speak.

As was my fashion, I'd escaped when the feasting within the great hall turned to dancing and merriment. I sometimes stayed for a while, but it did get tiresome.

That night I'd chosen one of the more occupied gardens, probably because I'd been feeling a bit too isolated and thus lonely, thanks to the rumors running pell-mell through the court.

Having noticed a few of the more vocal elves responsible for the faint ache within my being, I was about to turn to leave when arms appeared from the shadows, drawing me backwards until I was resting lightly against a chest. It was accomplished so gently, so gracefully, that I didn't immediately think to protest, though I touched the hand at my waist.

"So this is where you've slipped off to this evening?" he asked softly, just as I thought I recognized the hand, the other one lifting to brush my hair away from my neck and over one shoulder, dropping a light, shiver-inducing kiss to the skin of the other.

I could almost see the utter shock on the old biddies' faces, and relaxed back against him with a wicked smile, once I understood. "It is," I agreed quietly, tilting my head to the side, allowing him easier access for the next kiss, which fell lightly at the junction of neck and shoulder. "As should be quite apparent, as it is here that I am."

"Hmm," he hummed against the skin of my throat, the kiss packing a bit more power as it included lightly nipping teeth. "You couldn't have sought… quieter wanderings?" he asked, lips grazing my jaw.

Though I knew the apparent seduction was simply a show for my tormentors, he was doing an incredibly good job! I shivered again as warm breath inched closer to my ear, and tightly squeezed the hand at my waist. Obediently he diverted slightly, nuzzling his nose behind it, instead. "I have no particular attachment to this garden," I managed, a bit more breathless than I would have liked as I slowly turned to him.

His eyes were enigmatic. "You would go with me now, would let me seduce you in an occupied garden, but you would prefer to let the court call this a crush on your part than be seen like this with me?"

I cast my eyes down, away from his, and sighed softly. "You're the prince."

"I'm quite aware," he murmured, his voice dry—which startled me into looking at him to see one brow had quirked. He realized at my look that he was being a bit less 'wood-elf' than he was expected to be, and dropped his forehead to mine to distract our witless watchers. "And?" he asked softly, slipping back into the role that his own complex nature had directed he play.

"And I'm no one, really. I'd rather not have to hear that I'm not worthy of you based on my blood—hearing it based on my flaws is bad enough."

Suddenly, my heart stilled—I'd said too much! That was beyond giving the gossips a need to eat their own words.

Seeing his eyes, I was sure of it, that it wasn't simply a matter of panic on my part. He knew, he knew that it hurt to hear that more than it should, more that it would… if we were simply friends.

My heart resumed beating painfully after I'd gone cold all over and started to shake softly.

He cupped my chin, and crossed the line I'd been sure he wouldn't—he kissed me, fully and truly, before drawing back just enough to look me directly in the eye, waiting until I'd registered that he wasn't hiding behind the guise of a wood-elf. "But I've chosen you," he stated with a finality that made any protests foolish wastes of breath. He kissed me lightly once more, and then drew me out of the garden without looking back at the busy-bodies. I was rather tempted to see their faces… though really, that thought was fleeting, as I looked up at him as we walked.

My chamber was, by my own choice, in a rather remote wing, which was entirely unoccupied, save for myself.

By the time we reached the door, he'd given up on being a wood-elf prince and was watching me with that same, solemn intensity I'd come to expect. He touched my cheek lightly, trailing one finger over my jaw, before sighing. "I have chosen you," he admitted softly. "I know…" he trailed off and swallowed hard, looking away.

That I wasn't ready, wasn't anywhere near ready, for that.

He was so intense, it could be quite frightening. There was little difference between the elf he was when alone with me, and the elf he was when alone in a battle. There were no pretensions, no attempts to impress, nothing superfluous or unnecessary.

I still found him beautiful.

Beautiful, though he could so easily frighten me. He had killed countless beings—he'd been ranked an assassin by the captains and commanders, which was a difficult mark to obtain, and viewed rather ambivalently. It excluded him from ever leading the army or even a patrol, because he worked best when he could simply commune with himself and the land, rather than several other elves. It also marked him as one who could kill even another elf, and another, and another, and continue, until his task among the enemy—whatever enemy—was done.

So yes, he was frightening, though I knew I would never see him when he became a predator out for blood again. The glimpse I'd seen was quite enough—to know those chilled eyes when that part of him had been fully developed would send me running quite happily in the other direction, which I didn't want to do.

I wanted to continue watching him, his eyes, to learn more about him from what we had both apparently deemed a safe distance, as it was clear he knew I could not yet handle everything that he was.

He was powerful, he was dark, he could be cold and even cruel, but he was also sweet, and kind, and often so in need of the simple tenderness of a welcoming ear that I'd longed to hug him, but refrained. He was a constant contradiction, at least in my eyes, because for me, from me, he didn't hide. With me, he was simply who he was—a complex and isolated elf who was tired and hurt by that isolation… though his, rather like mine, was self-imposed.

His because he was a high-blooded prince among wild wood-elves, and mine… because I had suffered a terrible blow in my youth—I'd listened to my mother cry herself to sleep for years over my father, and had sworn I'd never open myself up to that kind of heartache.

I'd been outlandishly successful, save my few friends, but I'd realized that it was self-destructive at best quite a while before those kisses in the garden, and so I didn't even consider turning away as he lightly touched my chin again, his eyes troubled before he sighed, and kissed me lightly.

"Try to sleep well, tonight." His tone made it obvious my previous lack of sleep had been quite apparent to him.

I bit my lip, but nodded, and he kissed my forehead before leaving for his own rooms.

It took no small amount of time. His past, I essentially knew, as he knew most of my own, but pasts are of little importance—how events affected one, however… It took years of visits and his intensity before I was decided.

Even then he continued with the slowest seduction known to elven-kind—it took him another four hundred years to ask me to bind myself to him… and another two years to plan the ceremony.

But now, I can feel his heart beating alongside mine, can feel the true emotions behind the mask, even if I didn't watch him as closely as I do to see the slight cracks in his roll he's never able to repair, for to repair them would be to become the wood-elf. I know him almost too well, now.

He is in the midst of his 'friends', none of whom know him well enough to know that they don't really know him at all, and his laughter is partially at the cruel world that cast him into such a place. He's defeated her—he took on the world and he won, because he found one to accept all that he is.

I still don't think that one is truly enough, but when I mentioned it, he gave me a funny little smile, before drawing me closer, tucking my head under his chin. "You seem content enough with one."

I gave up the argument there, because I knew as well as he did that his observation was an outright lie—I wasn't content, not in the least!

I was, sadly, deliriously happy.

Those eyes of his catch on mine, a small smile lighting their depths even as he extricates himself to cross the hall until he stands before me.

A glint in his eye is the only warning I have before he's picked me up, encouraged my legs around his waist before he takes a searing kiss from my lips. They expect the occasional display of physical affection, and he obliges them, which quite surprised me at first, as he is just as private about such things as am I. This kiss, like those witnessed before it, leaves me feeling faintly cheated, as it isn't the whole of my husband kissing me, just the part he lets them see.

He chuckles against my lips and lets me down, brushing the lightest kiss over my lips, which makes me smile—that is my husband kissing me. He smiles as I beam at him, before frowning faintly. "No regrets?" he whispers softly, too softly for anyone around us to hear him.

"Nor tears," I agree, lightly arching my thumb behind his ear in a way I know soothes him. I smile as I feel him relax utterly against me, sighing when I feel him gather the pieces of his mask, regaining his determination, pulling himself away.

He nips my bottom lip and then throws himself into his roll, drawn into the feasting celebration of victory within instants. As he laughs, sings, and drinks, from my little shadowed corner, I smile.

I watch him.

And as I turn to leave the feast, I know he watches me. I know that wherever I go, he will follow. I am his chosen, I am his mate—I smile, and slip silently into the hall leading to our rooms.

He will soon follow.