Chapter 19 - Finally

There had been a moment in a Walmart janitorial closet somewhere in Paris, Texas, when I wondered what it would be like for the world to go black, and the only thing reminding me that I even existed to be the feeling of his arms around me and his lips numbing mine.

But when it happened in a remote, dirty alley in Cairo - when his lips crashed to mine and my eyes stared at him in shock as his eyelids flickered shut for a single moment and then shot open as though he'd just realized what he was doing - I was numb. In shock. Simply did not know what was going on. Why he was doing this. And the look in his eyes told me he did not know either.

We stayed, staring into each others' eyes for what felt like an eternity but was really only a split second. Then his eyes changed, morphing into an expression that I had never seen before, with a word echoing somewhere in his gaze.

Finally, his eyes said. Finally.

Finally, he was acting on his desire, if only for a moment. Finally, he was letting go, if only for a moment. Finally, he was letting himself have a moment of weakness, if only for a moment.

He closed his eyes and moved his lips against mine once more, renewing his kiss, renewing his offer. Reminding me that he was here and he had been here and I needed to decide just as he had decided. If only for a moment. He was holding back, waiting for my lips to caress his in return, for me to reciprocate what he was feeling.

There was a sudden rush of blood through my entire body as my brain finally realized what was happening and my stomach gave the strangest lurch that felt like happiness in disguise. My skin burned where he touched me as my eyes slid closed, my lips moved against his, and the same word echoing through his eyes jolted through my mind as well.

Finally.

I could feel his lips move upwards into one of those cocky smiles of his before he gently pushed me backwards until my back leaned against one of the scratchy brick walls that made up the alley. His arms pulled my body flush against his and I could feel his heart pumping, through his shirt, through his worn leather jacket, through his tough exterior.

Then he kissed me.

Really, truly kissed me.

He tasted of leather. Of fire. Of the woods. Of long nights under the stars. Of dragons, of swords, of battles, of scars. He tasted of stone and all things strong and yet so warm to the point of hot to the point of burning to the point of searing heat. He was the strongest liquor I had ever tasted and the fight alone of his lips and tongue were addictive to the touch, taste, feel.

It was my turn to smile.

He was more than I had thought. More than he had let himself be. He was more than he could handle.

Perhaps he realized I had realized this, as his arms tightened and his kiss turned vicious, as though he wanted to keep the truth from me for as long as possible. He was telling me, with his mouth, without words, with his tongue, without syllables, with his arms, without emphasizing gestures, that this was all he had to offer me. He had chosen to ignore what else he could be. Chosen.

And I chose to decide that what he gave me was all that I was going to take.

"Don't do that again," he whispered raggedly as soon as our lips parted, our breath fanning across each other's face as we clung to each other, shocked by the discoveries we had made in only a few moments. "Don't do that ever again."

"Don't do what?" I asked, a smirk crossing my face, leaving a hint of playfulness trailing behind in its path. "Don't kiss you?"

I swear, he nearly growled. Before I could make a snide comment about actually being a snarling griffin instead of just being named after one, his lips were pressed to mine once more and I was silenced before I could make noise.

But why shouldn't I do it again? Why shouldn't I risk my life in a fight against paladins? Why shouldn't I fight against odds that almost anyone else in the world would not be able to defeat? Why shouldn't I?

So even though the taste of his lips was the strongest of whiskeys and I was in that grey area between drunk and sober, that stage where all you know is you need more, I pushed away from him. When he looked at me with confusion in his eyes, the only reason I could think of was that I had done it because I could. Because I was in control of my actions. Because I had taken care of myself for all of the years of my life, and no one, no one was going to tell me what to do or what not to do, even if he had not even known what he was saying.

Looking into his confused face for a single second, noticing how cherry red and near-bruised his lips were, I felt the stirrings of longing in the pit of my stomach. Longing to go back to those lips and kiss them once more. Longing to lose myself in his arms, pressed up against a building that I had never seen before, in an alley I had been in once upon a time, many years before. Longing to forget all of my instincts and to just memorize the feel of him.

But I could not.

So I let myself place restrictions on my actions before I let him place guidelines on my life - and I placed a hand on his cheek and made myself look him in the eye and I told him, "We need to get back."

There was greater confusion than ever in his eyes, but I could not stop myself, would not stop myself, would not rethink my actions.

So even though that night, my ears would crane for the sound of his footsteps outside my door or beside my bed, and even though they would never find the noise they would look for that night or for nights to come, my legs carried me away from him, even though he stared after me.