He had changed so much, and yet not at all. He didn't smell like Mitt. Maewen hadn't even realized, until now, that she had missed the way he smelled. Before, he had smelled of horses and gunpowder and sweat; she pressed her face against his chest and let the smell of his old leather jacket overwhelm her senses, so that she wouldn't have to think about what he smelled like now, and how much it had changed. She held him tight, her fingers digging into the jacket against his neck and feeling the worn patches (how long ago had he gotten this coat? Before she'd even been born, no doubt) and pretending that he was still wearing the clothes she had seen him in at the last, after the battle, before he had handed her that damned statue. Stroking his hair, the same hair upon which she had once laid a crown, centuries ago.
She could feel his breath soft against her hair, his chest solid against her cheek, his arms wrapped protectively around her. She never wanted him to let her go.
He didn't bother to ask why she was crying, didn't complain about the wet marks her tears were leaving on the front of his jacket. They had both faced unbearable grief when Maewen disappeared, and though he had certainly suffered longer (two hundred years, Maewen thought, not for the first time), she had been no less devastated than he. Afterwards there had been all that time after the fall of Kankredin, all that time that Maewen had spent looking for Mitt, when every day she had known he was still alive but had been unable to find him.
He's two hundred years old, she had thought then, with a sort of ridiculous humor. I'm thirteen. It had been years since she had found the thought amusing.
Maewen hadn't understood, at the time, why he had left again. Why he hadn't rushed to her in the watery ruins of the palace, overjoyed to see her again after two hundred years. She hadn't understood how he had been able to walk away from her. Now, of course, she knew that for her, only days had passed since her return from her adventures; Mitt, on the other hand, had experienced two hundred years. He would have done a great deal of maturing in all that time, and there was no way he could have hoped to relate to a thirteen-year-old girl, no matter how much he cared for her. So he had left again, made himself scarce, distanced himself from her until she could cope with what he had become.
It had taken her eleven years to find him again.
"Maewen," he whispered into her ear, for the thousandth time. His voice was soothing, a calming caress. It was Mitt's voice, almost exactly as she had remembered it; yet at the same time it was older, more world-worn. No doubt he thought her a bit more world-worn, too; she certainly wasn't a girl anymore, and Maewen knew it showed in her appearance if nothing else. Eleven long years. She laughed against his chest, a small, shaky, half-controlled giggle, almost closer to hysterics than mirth.
Mitt pulled back a little, tilted her chin up to see her face. His cheeks were wet. She hadn't realized that he had also been crying. "What are you laughing at?" he asked, an uncertain smile beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth in spite of the look of concern on his face.
"Eleven years," Maewen whispered, her voice hoarse. "It was only supposed to be four. To allow for inflation, remember?"
He chuckled, a gravelly sound that she didn't remember. "So Wend did give you the message. I'd forgotten about that. Maewen, that was decades and decades ago. Things didn't turn out nearly the way I thought they would."
She thought of how he had staged his death as Amil the Great, after discovering that he was one of the Undying. She wondered what it would be like, that moment when you realized with utter certainty that you were going to live forever, that you would never know the peace of death. She had seen the actions to which that knowledge had driven Wend, had seen what he had become. Mitt must have seen the transformation, too; he must have been there every step of the way, watching Wend grow bitterer over the decades, waiting until everything finally came to a head at the Tannoreth Palace. How could she dare to begrudge Mitt an extra seven years afterwards if it could make things better for them both?
And Maewen knew that she would not live forever, like Mitt would. They could marry, and have children, and weave their lives together for years and years, but no matter how old Maewen became, Mitt would never age; and then one day Maewen would die and Mitt would keep living. Forever. She thought she could understand how he might have wanted those years to prepare himself for their meeting, to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much they loved each other, she would be gone before he knew it.
The knowledge was painful. But no matter how short her life was in comparison to his, she wanted to spend it all with him.
"I love you, Mitt," Maewen said, infusing the simple statement with a promise to him.
He understood. "I'll love you forever, Maewen," he whispered. She believed him.
And forever, for Mitt, is a very long time.