Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Persia.
There was, of course, always a catch.
Her eyes spoke volumes—rimmed with a dark liner, always downcast, but with a softness that seemed to catch his attention at the worst of moments. But more than once, he'd note a hint of frustration, anger, even, amidst the crippling anxiety and grief he could so easily pick out. She was a wonderful success of a princess, a daughter, and a partner, but she was a failure of a stoic. This, more than anything, was what reassured him of her humanity. After Ahriman's escape and all he had seen, he wasn't about to discount the existence of goddesses.
There was something else about her, though; there was something else he couldn't quite put his finger on. Maybe she knew something he didn't and didn't want to tell him—couldn't tell him.
Whatever it was, he didn't want to pry. Too much, anyway. After all, he hadn't even given her his name. He was only human, though, and he'd seen enough curious cats and their nine perfectly intact lives to know that a little nosing around couldn't hurt.
"I know there's more to you than meets the eye," he'd say, and she'd quip a response that was as graceful and clever as it was guarded. Princess, indeed. She'd the elegance of a dancer and the swiftness of a bird in flight. The many times he'd felt her hand—small hand, delicate hand—on his forearm, with death staring up at him from any number of gaping chasms below, was a testament to this. She never slipped, never faltered, never left him hanging for too long. It almost made him believe in this destiny she and her gods so worshipped.
So as they sat, perched on the edge of a precipice in the Alchemist's world of flight and fancy and grinding, grunting mechanisms, their feet dangling precariously above what seemed like a bottomless floor, he turned to her, hoping to catch her eye.
She turned to look at him, and he smiled encouragingly. "See? I knew it was a good idea to take a break."
She let the barest hints of a laugh slip through and closed her eyes. "I wouldn't have stopped if it weren't physically impossible for me to go on."
"I'm just saying, it was a good idea."
She rubbed her thighs thoughtfully, no doubt sore from a combination of healing and the strenuous exercise they'd both been pushed into. Truth be told, he was feeling a bit sore himself. He wasn't out of shape by any means, but his tomb robbing stints didn't usually involve this much activity. He'd been pushing himself to the limit since the very first fertile land they'd healed.
"Well," she breathed, "let's hope it won't be working to our disadvantage."
The Prince, Tomb-Robbing Extraordinaire, Jack of All Trades and Master of More than a Few, lay back in the grass, upsetting a nearby butterfly. "I don't think it will. The Concubine awaits us, after all."
In an uncharacteristic display of informality, Elika lay back as well. "I know how anxious you are to see her again."
He rolled his head so that he could stare her directly in her pretty little side profile. "I'm tempted just to let Ahriman have this place, and have her while he's at it. I mean, I didn't think it was possible for one woman to get under my skin anywhere near as much as she does."
"I didn't think you the type for misogyny."
"Hey, I'm no misogynist. I love women. She's really not even technically a woman, if we're being completely honest."
Elika stretched her arms high above her head, tensed, and then relaxed. Any hope for further conversation lulled away when she sighed.
The Alchemist really had it made here. It was the perfect temperature, and the noise of the far-off machinery made for pleasant background noise. He counted the butterflies that fluttered by, counted the birds that sailed overhead, and counted the precious seconds that ticked by in which Elika lay, quiet and sated and peaceful, most importantly, directly at his side. She was close enough that he could touch her with very little movement—perhaps a slight shifting of his hips or a wriggle of his torso. And he could touch her not in a way to save her life, or to have his saved, but just to touch. Just to feel her skin, or find her pulse, or listen to her heartbeat, and thank the world and everything in it that she wasn't somewhere else in that exact moment.
And really, he couldn't help but think that this was how it should be.
He wondered if she'd dozed off. It wouldn't be a good idea, strictly speaking, if she took a nap, especially considering their time-sensitive predicament, but he'd never been one for strictness anyway. A touch of pollen tickled his nose, though, and he tried desperately to stifle a sneeze. He was miserably unsuccessful. Elika laughed under her breath.
That was all the provocation he needed.
His left hand, once draped across his stomach, slid to his side, and then to hers. He found her pinky, and then the rest of her fingers, and he let his hand stay atop hers. It was all the physical contact he needed. It had his stomach doing flips and his heart pumping rapidly to keep pace. It had been so long since he'd felt like this. Love and lust had always blurred, but here, the lines were vivid. Oh, what she had done to him, and oh, the things she continued to do.
Elika's fingers twitched cautiously under his, and he returned the favor.
"I'd have said your name," she admitted, somewhat sadly, opening her eyes slowly, "if I knew it."
"You can call me Prince." He rolled to his side, pulling his hand from hers in the process, in order to get a better view of her. She avoided looking at him at all costs. Such a dichotomy, they were.
"I won't call you by anything but your name." And with that she finally did let herself stray to look at him.
His heart stuttered and his lips did much the same. "E-Elika."
She raised an eyebrow at him and then closed her eyes once more, wearing a wry smile. "You know too much of me already. I should have followed your closed-book policy more closely."
He huffed. "Damn glad you didn't. What excuse would I have then? 'I decided to follow this girl whose name I don't know and whose origins are also unknown and help her save the world because…well, because.' I have a reputation to uphold, you know."
"Quite a reputation it is, carrying a lifetime's worth of pleasures on the back of a donkey. Pleasures which you stole, I might add."
"No pleasures are ever your own to begin with." He grinned as a closing remark, but she was blind to this. All for the better, he supposed.
After a moment's pause, in which Prince absently twirled blades of grass in between watching Elika breathe, Elika sat up. With no little effort, he noticed.
"Shall we go, then?" she asked around a grimace.
Without thinking, he put his hand firmly on her upper thigh. "You're still sore; I can tell. You need more rest than that."
He hadn't noticed his wrongdoing at first, but when she glanced surreptitiously from him to the hand on her thigh, he pulled it away immediately. "Sorr— "
"I just need more lightseeds," she said, turning away from him. "I'll be fine as soon as we collect two or three more."
"Elika, look around you. We've leeched this place dry of lightseeds." She didn't respond, and he felt slightly bad. "I mean, we can get them. But not here. I think we can get some at the palace now, and we need to—"
She went to stand, but he grabbed her obstinately by the wrist to stop her. The look she shot him was laced with daggers, but he paid no mind. He was used to it, and not just from her. "You can glare at me all you want, but that's not going to make you feel better."
She harrumphed. "I beg to differ." And unsuccessfully attempted to pull her arm from him.
"You're going to get hurt if you don't just sit down. Ten more minutes is all I'm asking for." She tugged again. "Look, I'm not the kind of guy to force a girl to do what she doesn't want to, but I might make an exception for this." His voice held no hard edge, though, and was instead light. He was teasing. Hopefully she'd pick up on that.
She rolled her eyes and set her jaw. "We're going to die, and it's going to be your fault, all so that you can watch me breathe."
What? She knew? No way. She couldn't have seen it. How humiliating. He was definitely above such things. Now he was never going to look at her again, even if she—
She lay back down, but on her side this time, facing him. She rested her cheek in her palm, the elbow of the same arm supporting her.
—even if she looked at him like that. He pouted. "What? Don't look at me like that."
"I should be saying that to you."
Deny, feign ignorance, something had to be done to preserve his pride. "You delude yourself, princess."
She didn't reply, but returned to lying on her back.
He had to save face now, didn't he? Taking a daring move, he rolled over, chest hovering inches above hers, his right hand bracing himself on one side of her. He smiled charmingly at her alarmed look.
"What are you doing?" she demanded.
"Proving you right." State a fact. Keep cool. Yeah, he still had it. Years of womanizing not spent in vain.
"Well, I'm watching you breathe, aren't I?"
"Of course you are." Her tone fell to a more comfortable one—one with the consistency of honey, or silk. For hours, it seemed, her eyes lingered on his, searched his, grasped for something solid to hold onto, for a secret he could entrust her with. He could sympathize with her, and he tried to swallow as inauspiciously as possible.
"I won't give you my name because I'm afraid."
"What?" She sounded somewhat breathless, or maybe just surprised.
"You wanted a secret, didn't you? There it is." His now huffy demeanor did not deter him from staying exactly where he was. If she didn't protest, he wouldn't either.
She lowered her eyes to his lips momentarily, and then to some point on his jaw. "You've nothing to be frightened of."
And it was such a silly thing to say, he figured, when the god of darkness was clawing at his veritable straw prison as they sat there. Even as the birds sang and the reservoir water rushed and the grass and ivy and shrubs reached up toward the sun, Ahrimon was sinking talons into loopholes and tearing escape routes. So didn't he have everything to be afraid of?
He shouldn't have been afraid of her, or attachments made to her. He shouldn't have been afraid of anything to do with her—not her skin; not her eyes; not her hair that dusted her cheeks and swept over her neck.
Conquering fears had been his forte as of late.
Slowly, so slow that it was difficult, he dipped his head toward her. He didn't think she would go for it—would probably push him off and ask what he thought he was doing again, or roll out from under him and declare their ten minutes well past spent. He almost wanted her to, in truth. Things were getting too personal. He didn't want to have something else to lose.
She didn't move, though, and when his lips, dry, chapped, pressed against hers, he felt suddenly lethargic. With no measure of haste, he pulled away, only to kiss her again with renewed deliberation. And again, he pulled away, then kissed once more. Elika hardly responded, except to part her lips and breathe deeply.
When he pulled away for the last time, it was only to whisper a half-hearted apology. She initiated the next kiss cautiously, lifting to meet him, and it gave him the go-ahead to slip a hand under her neck. As soon as he did, though, she pulled away gently. He drew his hand away slowly, feeling somewhat dazed and figuring he didn't look much different.
"We don't have much time." Her voice was barely more than a whisper. The statement hit him particularly hard, and he brought himself to his feet. They didn't have time for frivolities. They didn't have time to cultivate relationships or foster feelings for each other. Time was of the essence, and it couldn't be jeopardized.
He helped her up and then stretched his limbs. Elika strode past him, her torn garments fluttering.
"To the Spire of Dreams."