This is the last chapter from Ironside! Enjoy!

Page 317-321 of Ironside: The End

Rath Roiben Rye stood at the edge of the water, taking a deep drink from the bottle of champagne he was holding. The breeze blew his loosed pewter hair around him, covering most of his face. He looked over the water as the waves thrashed in the ocean. It was so vast and powerful, yet even the sea was not its own master – the tides were determined by the moon. She sat in the sky above, surveying the land coldly. If even the ocean was not truly free, was anyone? Was it possible to serve only yourself, to be so powerful that no one could control you?

He didn't think so. There would always be something, somebody, that would be used against you.

He heard someone walk up behind him. From the sound of the footsteps, he knew it was Kaye. She stopped next to him, pulling a small object from her pocket. She put it in her mouth and blew on it, causing the checkered paper to unfurl with a squeak.

He smiled, and she gave a small groan.

"You really are a terrible boyfriend, you know that?"

He couldn't agree more. But, then again, he hadn't had any experience or any models to follow. "A surfeit of ballads makes for odd ideas about romance."

"But things don't work like that," she told him, snatching the bottle away from it and taking a sip. He had to shake himself to focus. Damn, she even drank prettily. How was that even possible? Someone would think that, after all this time, he would have gotten used to it, but apparently not. He drank in her every movement, making up for all the moments he had missed them so much. "Like ballads or songs or epic poems where people do all the wrong things for the right reasons.

"You have completed an impossible quest and saved me from the Queen of the Faeries," he said softly. "That is very like a ballad."

She didn't address his claim, but the way she answered told him that she didn't think of herself as a hero at all, though she was in his eyes.

"Look, I just don't want you to keep hiding things from me," she said, handing him the bottle, "or hurt my feelings because you think it's going to keep me safe, or sacrifice yourself for me. Just tell me. Tell me what's going on with you."

He took the champagne and slowly tipped it, letting it drop onto the snow. It fizzed and stained the ground pink. If she wanted him to tell her what he was feeling, he would. He owed her so much more.

Roiben debated internally for a moment, trying to decide what to say, how to phrase it. "I taught myself to feel nothing. And you make me feel."

Her breath was a cloud in the cold night air when she spoke again. "That's why I'm a weakness?" she asked, referring to their conversation in his chamber. It seemed like so long ago.

"Yes." He looked out to the darkened sea, seeing in reflect the image of the moon, its mistress, on the surface. He turned back to Kaye. "It hurts. To feel again. But I'm glad of it. I'm glad of the pain."

He would take all the pain in the world if it meant he got to keep her. She took a step closer to him as he continued.

"I know I failed you." He felt miserable just saying the words. He had promised himself he would always keep her safe and happy. "In the stories when you fall in love with a creature –"

"First I'm a thing, now I'm a creature?"

He laughed; she always knew a way to ease off tension. "Well, in the stories it is often a creature. Some kind of beast. A snake that becomes a woman at night or someone cursed to be a bear until they can take off their own skin."

She looked faraway for a moment, as she was thinking of something. "How about a fox?"

He frowned, wondering why she had chosen that particular animal, and what she was thinking of. "If you like. You're crafty enough."

"Yeah, let's say a fox."

"In those stories, one is often asked to do something unimaginably terrible to the creature. Cut off its head, say. Not a test of love, a test of trust. Trust lifts the spell.

"So you think you should have cut off my head?" She grinned.

He rolled his eyes. He should have known she could never be serious for long. Just one of the things he loved about her.

"I should have accepted your declaration, whether I thought it was wise or no. I loved you too much to trust you. I failed."

"Good thing I'm not really a fox or a snake or a bear. And good thing I'm sneaky enough to figure out a way around your dumb quest."

Yes, very good thing.

He sighed. "Once more I mean to save you, and yet you come to my rescue. If you hadn't warned me about Ethine, I would have done exactly what Silarial expected."

She looked at the ground, then suddenly held looked back at him, seeming to realize something. "I made you something." From her pocket, she pulled out a bracelet of a green braid that was wrapped in silver wire.

"This is your hair?" he asked after a moment of surveying it. It was delicate and simple, but finely done, not crude in the least. It held a simple kind of radiance that so many people attempt everyday, but few succeed at. Kaye was one of those few.

"It's a token. Like from a lady to a knight. For when I'm not around. I was going to give it to you before, but I never quite got around to it.

He ran his fingers over the cool surface and looked at Kaye. "And you made it? For me?" he asked, astonished.

She nodded, and he held out his wrist to her.

Fireworks went off as she clasped it on him. She turned her attention to the sky as the golden showers rained down and lit up the dark background.

She looked back at him to find him still looking at his wrist where the cool metal sat. No one had ever given him something like this before. No one had cared enough to give him something like this. He was touched by the gesture. It was personal, and it reminded him of Kaye – simple and beautiful. He couldn't believe she had made it for him.

He thought back to her words as she presented it to him. He looked up. "You said it's for when you're not around. Will you not be around?"

She didn't answer immediately, and he began to get worried. Please stay around.

"How will you rule both courts?" she asked.

He shook his head, noting that she had not answered his question and worrying about what that could mean. "I'll try to keep one foot on each side, balance on the knife edge for as long as I can. There will be peace so long as I can hold them. Provided I don't declare war on myself, that is."

"Is that likely?" she joked.

"I must admit to a good deal of self-loathing," he answered with a smile.

"I was thinking of opening a coffee shop," she said quickly. "In Ironside. Maybe help people with faerie problems. Like Luis does. Maybe even help faeries with faerie problems."

"You know I just made a very advantageous bargain predicated on the fact that no faerie wants to live in the city." He stopped and shook his head, realizing he was talking to the girl who solved the unsolvable puzzle. It was no use arguing with her. "What will you call your coffee shop?" he asked instead.

"Moon in a Cup. Maybe. I'm not sure. I was thinking that maybe I could move out of my grandmother's – spend half my time working in the shop and half my time in Faerie, with you. I mean, if you don't mind me being around."

He smiled at this, that she would be with him. Half the time anyway. He was a bit stung at the fact that she had added the last sentence. Of course he didn't mind when she was around – he loved it. But he supposed that she might need a reassurance after everything that had happen. "Like Persephone?"

"What?" She leaned in and skimmed her hand under the long woolen coat he was wearing, tracing his spine. His breath hitched involuntarily at the feel of her soft, warm hand tracing his back.

He let his head fall on her shoulders lightly and let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. He told her the story mechanically, finding it hard to think.

"Like you're doomed to spend half your time dealing with the Bright Court and half with the Night Court?" she asked after he had finished.

Roiben laughed at her perceptiveness. "Very like."

Kaye looked to the far shore. She suddenly slipped out his arms and whirled on the beach. She let out an exhilarated laugh and spun faster, hair blowing around her face, which glowed with happiness, simple and pure. Her black hair was a contrast against the white of the ground, and her arms were outstretched. His mind darted back to his earlier thoughts. Freedom.

Kaye looked happy and innocent and free. Free from masters, free from troubles, free from burdens or responsibilities. Not tied down to a single thing, not restricted at all. As free as a bird, she was soaring in her own little world.

As he looked at the moon shine down on her smiling face, he saw its light anew. It was no longer cold and unforgiving, but calm and peaceful and serene.

"You still haven't told me," he reminded her softly, unable to resist asking but speaking quietly, afraid to ruin the perfection before him.

She stopped in front of him suddenly. "Told you what?"

He grinned. "How you managed to complete the quest. How you claimed to be able to lie."

"Oh. It's simple." She let herself fall back onto the snowy beach, and looked up at him. He couldn't help but let out a surprised laugh at the cleverness of the words she spoke next.

"This is me," she said mischievously as she reached out with one hand. "This is me lying."

The end! Please review and tell me your thoughts (flames welcome).

I was going to continue with scenes from Tithe, but I don't have enough reviews to do so. If I get more, I'll continue this fic, but for now, I don't think I'll be continuing.

Who knows, though. That might change. :)