"You love me?"
I nodded, too afraid to speak. My eyes were closed, so I couldn't see his face. He sounded surprised, though. I could interpret that much.
I wished that I had been able to explain things in a better way, but I couldn't bring myself to regret the words. It felt wonderful to finally get them out after so much time.
Several moments passed. Then he spoke.
"Ella, you broke my heart."
"I'm sorry," I whispered as a reply. I meant to speak louder, but something caught in my throat. "I'm so, so sorry, Char. You have to understand that I hate myself for what I did."
I hadn't quite realized that until I said it, but I knew it was true. I couldn't imagine the kind of pain he had been feeling for the past six months, and I couldn't bear knowing that I was the cause of it. I opened my eyes, and a few tears made their way down my cheek.
"No, Ella...don't cry..."
He was at a loss for words.
"I'm just so confused," he said, finally. "You have to understand...I received a note from you about your new marriage, and that was the last I'd heard from you until I found you in my room tonight. I...I think you were right about needing to explain things in order." He tried to regain his princely composure. "I just need to understand what happened."
I nodded, and wiped away the remaining tears. Of course I should have explained about the letter first.
"I knew I couldn't marry you if I was cursed," I said slowly, trying not to cry again. "The risk would have been too great...for you, for Kyrria...it would be selfish of me to marry you when I would be putting you in such danger." Despite my best efforts, tears were welling up, but I pushed them up. I was going to tell him everything this time, without any interruptions. "And if I couldn't marry you, then I needed to get you to give up on me. So that's why I wrote you that letter."
I expected him to get angry. To yell at me, or at least raise his voice, and tell me how much he hated me. How he was a fool for ever thinking he loved me. I braced myself for the blow, but I kept my eyes open. I wasn't going to hide anymore.
He didn't get angry, but suddenly he looked wide awake, with the shadows of confusion still present on his face.
"You wrote the letter?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, unsure if he wanted me to say more.
"The letter that broke my heart?"
I grimaced. "Yes."
"You wrote it because you thought it would be too dangerous for me to marry you?"
"Even though you did want to marry me?" His voice was taking on a slightly more urgent tone, and his eyes searched mine for answers. The confusion vanished from his face and was replaced with an emotion I couldn't quite place.
I didn't hesitate.
"Because you loved me?"
"I still do."
He looked at me for a second - just a second, but it felt like the longest second of my life. I saw the hint of a smile form on his lips. Then his lips were on mine, and I felt a warm sensation spread throughout my entire body, and I felt his body shiver next to me. It took me a moment to react, but then I was kissing him back, quickly at first, but then more slowly. One of his hands made its way to the back of my neck, and I ran my fingers through his hair, and without proper balance we fell back onto the bed.
I could have stayed like that forever, but I needed him to say something. I pulled away.
"You don't hate me?" I asked, even though I knew the answer.
"Never," he whispered, rubbing his thumb against my cheek where tears had fallen minutes before. "If anything, after learning about how strong," he kissed me, "and selfless," he kissed me again, a bit longer, "and brave you are, I love you more than I ever have." His hands went to my waist and pulled me closer to him.
I leaned in to kiss him, but he stopped me.
"Ella," he said seriously, though his eyes were smiling, "I have something very important to ask you."
I smiled. "And what is that, my prince?"
He smiled too, and his hands found mine. "Will you marry me?"
I closed my eyes for a moment, and memorized the feeling of the butterflies rushing through my body. Everything, Mum Olga and Hattie and Olive and Father and Mandy and Lucinda, everything had been worth it for this moment.
"Yes," I whispered, opening my eyes again. "Yes, yes, yes."
I leaned in to kiss him, and this time he didn't stop me. I felt him smile, and I smiled too.
I don't know how long we stayed like that, but eventually I felt myself begin to fall asleep. He whispered in my ear that he loved me, and I mumbled it back, trying very hard to stay awake and failing. I remember Char pulling the blankets over me before pressing himself next to me, his arms around me, the steadiness of his breathing, and the warmth emanating from wherever he touched me.
My last thought before losing consciousness was that Philip was the best horse in the entire world.
Add'l AN: Haha, I guess I should have said this when I first published, but yes this is the ending, unless you think there's anything left unresolved. I don't want to keep going with this story because at this point I feel like it's done everything I meant for it to do...right now I'm more focused on trying to come up with a new story. Anyway, thanks to everyone who's read this, and extra thanks to the reviewers :)