Close enough to start a war
All that I have is on the floor
God only knows what we're fighting for
All that I say, you always say more
Turning Tables - Adele
Days take longer to stagger by when you're continually watching the lingering shadows of each hour pass. One of the universal truths, I'm afraid. Everyone who says time is steadfast, is a shameless liar.
I feel a sigh sink its weight through me as I gaze at the thick tangle of roots above my head, trying to hang onto the positive side like I've been struggling to do for a while now. At least those three days have been way better than the previous ones. Erhard has been kind enough to grant me the canopy bed, though his enticing smell, which is spread all over the sheets rarely allows me to sleep, I get more food than I can actually consume and I am currently sunk in the bathtub, feeling my body loosen up in the humid hotness.
…Yeah. I'm still here. Even though I don't like that.
Ugh. Okay, that's not entirely true. More like, I don't like being restricted here while a serial killer is out there, near the closest thing I have to a family. Because, that minor detail apart, strangely enough, the thought of forgetting about Erhard and never seeing him again is becoming somewhat terrifying.
Then again, so are the scenarios I've been making up about what might be happening in the Hollow. For a while I thought that if I just flowed with it, if I could just accept Erhard's generosity and the shift in his demeanor for the gift it was, I'd be able to simmer down and wait. I felt like I was given an opportunity. A scanty window in the blank wall of his stubbornness. I thought that if I pressed myself hard enough, I'd eventually make him see what I wanted him to see.
But now, three days later, I don't think there is much progress. Maybe we've even taken a few steps back. He rarely seems like he wants to talk with me, and when he does, he says nothing on the matter. He always seems stiff. Constrained. Careful. And while I appreciate and savor those little moments with him, it enrages me that he doesn't seem to understand my burden. It makes me wonder what possessed me to promise him I'd give him more time to think it through. Seriously? It wasn't like either of us was thinking clearly at the time. He looked like he'd rather be a hundred miles away and I was an emotional mess.
I slowly scramble out of the bathtub and wrap a towel around my torso, taking a moment to enjoy its warmth against my prickling skin. Catching sight of myself in the mirror, I feel slightly thrown off. It's me, alright, same as always and yet… not really. There's a certain weariness in my eyes, one that doesn't really have to do with my physical condition and it's only when I stare at my reflection for a while that I realize that I'm unconsciously frowning.
I force the muscles in my face to relax, leave the chamber and nearly jolt out of my skin as I enter the bedroom. Much to my surprise and embarrassment, Erhard is standing by the bed, adjusting his leather armor. My mortification dims a little as part of me grimly points out that he probably doesn't intend to stay long.
My smoldering anger starts to flare up. But despite my seething feelings, I close the door lightly behind me and wrap my towel a little tighter.
"Hey", I huff out with a dip of my head.
He carelessly glances at me and turns around. That is, until his eyes register what they saw. Coming to a swift stop, he turns around, his eyes wide and overcome with surprise, burning down at me.
My face flares hot with color.
My self consciousness reaches its zenith, even though the look on his face suggests that the view doesn't exactly bother him. Throwing my head back defiantly, I try to ignore my state of clothing. "Are you leaving again?", I throw his own words back at him, cold and rigid.
His eyes quickly trail down my body before meeting my face. I think he notices my attempt at acting smug, because he rushes to seem uptight as well. "Yes"
His tone, which mirrors mine, only manages to get under my skin. I nod and tread towards the bed in order to retrieve my clothes, throwing a bitter "Shocker" over my shoulder.
For several seconds I can feel him standing still behind me, but I refuse to utter a word. Not only because I know that if I do, my temper will get the best of me, but also because I still hope he will change his mind on his own, or at least care to ask why I'm being blunt.
He doesn't, of course. I'm not even sure why I though he would. Because, despite his initial blow, I eventually hear him walk away, carelessly slamming the door behind him.
Something shatters inside of me.
That's it? That's it? Again? He tells me he needs more time to make up his mind, while I fight a losing battle every day to stay here and stay sane and prove to him that helping me is actually worth a chance, and he just walks away? For, like, the hundredth time?
Woofreakinghoo. Look at me. The unnoticed one again.
My mind is such a storm of emotions that I don't understand what I feel. Oh, but I know cheated is at the top of my list. Hurt is there too, though I want to tread and stamp on that one until it's trampled and dead. I don't want to let him wound me. I want to show him what he's making me go through and scream at the unfairness of it all.
I chuck my towel across the room and start getting dressed, moving fast and curtly while tears well up in my eyes.
What the hell am I still trying to do? Honestly? I'm tired. Fed up. I can't do this anymore. Can't pretend that I can wait. So what if I promised him? A promise is a promise only if it means something, and judging by Erhard's unresponsive attitude, it means jack to him.
I try to push away a bite of guilt as the wheels in my head start spinning. I need to get back to the Hollow. And in order to do that, I need to get hold of the Hessian's sword. My mind buzzes in anticipation as I pace around the room. Take the sword; press the jewels; run. It would be a pretty straightforward plan. I'd just have to execute it during the daytime, when he wouldn't be able to follow me. Well, for a few hours, that is. But it would still be a precedence and one that I would surely try to take advantage of.
As for my chances? Admittedly, they are pretty slim. But that's all I've got.
Exiting the bedroom, I stride towards the armchairs and sink into one, in hopes of simmering down. Despite my adrenalin rush that seems to be clouding the rest of my thoughts, a certain twinge of uncertainty is always present. It's that combination of right and wrong that induces it… Hah, okay, it's that combination of logic and emotion, a blend of duty and regret. No matter what I tell myself, there is no sense of canny excitement in this, no victorious satisfaction in accomplishing it. No matter what I do, I am going to fail someone, be it the Van Tassels, young Masbath and Ichabod or… well, Erhard.
Erhard… Despite our rocky relationship, I'll hate myself after doing this.
Oh God, I can't even lie to myself. How crap is that?
I melt backwards into the softness of the armchair. My thoughts are racing towards all directions, so I take a deep breath in order to clear my head. I cannot panic now - it will only make my already difficult position worse. I just need to take one step at a time and right now, the only thing I have to do is wait for a few hours. I fix my eyes on the ever burning fire of the hearth, telling myself it's going to be okay. Just a few more hours, and I'll be done waiting. For good.
There's something painfully familiar about Erhard's return. The same spurred footfalls echoing from the antechamber. The same mindless slam of the door. The same uneasy looks we share. I've experienced that at least half a dozen times. They're enough to know it doesn't lead to anything but another repetition of the same events. They're enough to get me all worked up.
And yet, as my dark eyes meet Erhard I understand that my seething anger is not enough to rein in the bombardment of my feelings towards him, and suddenly, I hesitate, wanting to lash out but feeling dumbstruck at the same time.
Nervous tension tickles over my skin as I watch him take off his cloak. Noticing my restlessness, he subtly raises an eyebrow in my direction.
I childishly glare at him for a while, before giving in to my temper. "So how was your evening?"
The words roll out like poison, I can't help it, my lips curling in a mocking grimace of a smile.
"Schön" My teeth clench at his irritatingly offhand tone. "How about you? Slept well?", he casually suggests with a cold smile.
I lean back, avoiding his gaze. "As always"
After a minute of silence, the familiar ring of his spurs fills my ears as he starts walking towards the bedroom.
That… oooh really pisses me off. I roll my eyes. "Haven't we been here before?"
He comes to an abrupt stop and turns on his heel. The silence hangs like a lumpy weight between us, and I know, for one thing, that what is to come will not be something good.
"Is something wrong?", he warningly asks, as if he can't be bothered.
"Is something wrong?" I'm up in an instant, stomping my way to him, my eyes momentarily drifting down to his sword which is dangling from his waist. "You know what? I'll let you find out the answer to that on your own"
He tenses up. "Mind your tone"
"My tone is just about perfect", I inform him, making a meek attempt at pushing him.
"Linda…", he reaches out and grabs my wrist as if to calm me. But screw that.
"Look", I yell at him, freeing my hand and throwing my arms up in exasperation. "I waited. I WAITED! All these days… But it doesn't even matter! It makes no difference at all!"
He actually looks slightly shocked and part of me is astonished that I worked up the courage to speak to him like that.
His eyes glaze dangerously. "Are you finished?"
Am I finished? No, I'm freaking well not! "I'm so stupid. So, so stupid" My voice cracks and I take a step back. "You asked and like before, like every other stupid time in the past few days, I waited for you to think and decide for yourself. And you know what? It killed me. Being unable to protect those I love or even defend myself killed me, but I did it for you" A lump forms in my throat. "But you didn't notice. You NEVER notice"
He bares his teeth. "You need to calm down"
My stomach quivers at his tone but I don't allow myself to feel inferior to him. "I don't want to calm down! I don't even care anymore! Because what does it matter? You want to kill me? Then do it! It's better than being your goddamn prisoner!"
The voice that rumbles over me is filled with anger. "Ist das was du denkst?", this time he does grab my hands, hard, knuckles gripping tightly around my wrists. His face is suddenly in front of mine and it's furious. "That you're my captive?"
Oh God. His eyes bore into mine and I suddenly begin to regret my outburst.
"Do you think that this is how I would treat you if I didn't have doubts? Do you think I would let you roam about if I didn't believe a word you said?"
He shakes me so hard that cold clarity begins to seep through my veins.
"And keeping me trapped here was your solution?", my voice comes out meek and low and it is nothing compared to my previous flare-up.
He spins me around and pins me against the bedroom door, fury and rage and heat slamming into me.
"Did I ever lay a hand on you?", he snarls, pressing me up against the wooden surface. "Didn't I listen to you? Didn't I give you everything you needed?"
I frown. "You want me to be thankful you didn't starve me to death?"
"You claim there is a murderer in the village. If that is true, then you are safe here, with me, anyway. I thought this was good enough for you"
"Well, as I said, you don't notice much"
"I'm not around much!"
"Is that a problem?"
That hits home. I try to look away from him, but he wrenches my chin back up
He watches me, face impossible to read, waiting for an answer.
"The problem is that you… you disregard everything I say", I finally let slip, feeling my chin tremble.
"This isn't true", he crudely returns, his voice no more than a rough whisper.
I sigh in exasperation. "Then why don't you let me go?"
His hands come up to cup my face. "Because I can't"
I freeze where I am. For a moment I just stare at him, while his words swim around my mind, all the air rushing out of me like a fist has punched into my stomach.
Does he… Does he feel the same way as I do? Is that what drove him to flee every night?
My lack of self-belief cancels the thought. I can't believe that even now my stupid hope still flickers there.
I close my eyes for a moment and my tears start to flow. "Why…?", I start but I'm promptly cut off, because suddenly, his mouth is on mine, and it's furious. Lips bruising, teeth nicking and it's so rough and promising that it burns right through me. Not really kissing, but claiming. Ruining. A violent release of what had been building up between us in the past few days.
His hands run hungrily around my body, pulling me up closer till I'm wrapped around him and I just get lost in it, desire and pain and heat racing through every part of me as he continues his assault on my mouth like he can't help it. I run a hand through the raven mess of his hair and a low growl comes from the back of his throat. His light nipping gets all the more intense until he eventually bites hard on my bottom lip, causing a thin, warm trail of blood to trickle down my chin.
I let out a muffled groan and he shifts against me, refusing to stop. When I finally pull away, heaving for air, some clarity gets restored in him. He lets out a sharp breath of air and lets me slide my feet back to the floor. I clear my throat and lower my head, feeling unable to face him. Not just yet. My hand comes up to meekly wipe my lips, but Erhard grabs it almost immediately. He nudges my chin upwards and when I dare look at him again, I notice the intoxicated heat that saturates his eyes as he stares at the damage he's caused.
I'm too stunned to speak. Instead, I limply let his mouth descend slowly on mine again. For the first time I realize how much he hides. How much he really wants. How much he… oh God… He gently licks away the blood that surges from the little wounds, his hands locking around my wrists in a white-knuckle grip that reassures me he makes a great effort at holding himself back.
The way he's pressed into me I can feel the hilt of his sword pressed against my stomach. I jar slightly at the realization but Erhard doesn't seem to notice.
…Because I can't…
His words ring inside my head, gripping me back to reality. Whatever remnants of logic are left in me are screaming this might be my only opportunity. So close. And yet… I don't think I can do this…
Or can I?
Our lips part.
More blood will be shed.
For a moment Erhard looks like he's struggling to reign himself in. I see it in the lines of his face, the ragged edge of his breathing.
…There is no stopping.
He reaches out a thumb and gently rubs it over my sore lips. "I hurt you"
The crimson-eyed snake is the way out.
"No" I try to smile, knowing I'd let him do this again. "It doesn't matter"
"How does it not…?", he starts, but this time it's me who doesn't let him finish.
It's now or never.
I reach up towards him, standing on my tiptoes, my hands pulling his face downwards until I can taste his lips again. His arm comes up behind me, crashing me in a tight hug, his mouth moving away from mine to claim my neck and trail raw kisses along my collarbone.
My hands travel the whole length of his broad chest, nails digging into the worn leather of his armor. I open my eyes and glance at the ruby-eyed snake that seems to be staring at me challengingly, the sight twisting my stomach into knots.
If only I didn't have to do this. But, then again, what choice do I have?
Without giving myself time to think about what I'm actually doing, I let my hand slide lower.
He bites my neck lightly, the tiny movement making my stomach flip.
My fingertips brush the buckle of his belt and he stops to look at me.
His face freezes and the emotion that flickers in the electrifying blue of his eyes is so unexpected that it almost breaks my heart.
I swallow, innocent nervousness unfurling in the pit of my stomach.
What the hell am I doing?
Seriously. How could I possibly believe that this is a good idea? I mean, does he even know what I'm doing? He probably wouldn't let me so close if he did. What does he think this is? Does he know I'm going for his sword? Does he think I'm trying to… to…?
No, he wouldn't… Would he?
I stay motionless for a few seconds, my hand never moving away, waiting for a warning, a chastising, the inevitable end of the world… But… nothing. He's not trying to stop me. He still has me pinned against the door, granted, but his eyes have dropped to his belt and he's just watching. Waiting.
I look down at my hand, swallowing the butterflies in my stomach, then rapidly move it two inches to the right and hook my fingers around the snake's head.
It all happens so quickly that even as I'm doing it, I can't believe I'm really doing it. I quickly press the red jewels and drag my hand away as if the contact burnt me.
That jolts Erhard out of wherever he's been. He looks at me in disbelief, but I'm too shocked to speak.
A thunder fills my ears. It feels like the whole world has stopped. Like it has slid away from my grip. I watch his reaction. The realization that etches itself across his face. The anger that slips over his eyes. Tears start rolling down my cheeks uncontrollably and I bite my lip to stop it from twisting into a broken sob, because the look on his face speaks volumes. It's bitter; hurt; maddened. A silent promise. An unheard threat.
His form fades into the darkness and as the rest of my surroundings dim before my eyes, I am sure of one thing only. His trust in me is shattered. We'll meet again soon.
A/N: Many thanks to MonstarzGirl, TheElegantFairie, bleach102, ElizBennet, watergoddesskasey, KatCharm93, HessianLover99, noodle86 and missdisaster for reviewing!