Alvin leaned against the door of his apartment, stinking of sweat and monster blood. It was good to be coming home after what was supposed to have been a simple delivery mission. Yurgen had sent him on an errand to collect an envelope full of particularly rare spirit fossil fragments he'd been keeping in his old place in Xian Du, but of course, as always seemed to be the way, everything went fine until he hit a pocket of monsters on the way back. The city had glowed before him, a line of towering spikes on the horizon, and for a moment there he thought for sure that it was the last time he'd ever see Trigleph, barely dodging claws as he fixed his stare on the glittering skyline.
He wondered when his fighting skills had gotten so rusty. Sure, he'd been focused on business a lot more lately, but it wasn't like Yurgen didn't get him to do his fair share of heavy lifting, and besides, he'd been working out. Maybe I'm just getting old, he thought. Perhaps he truly had become an honest businessman.
Alvin stifled a laugh. Jude would have been proud.
He groaned and pushed heavily on the door. It was unlocked – that was unexpected – and it swung open easily. He almost stumbled inside, ready to confront whoever it was that had managed to break into his apartment, when his eyes locked onto Leia. She'd been sitting on the edge of the couch, her knees pinched together, but when the door opened she startled to her feet instinctively. Alvin had to fight not to draw in an involuntary gasp when he saw her, though, from the look on her face, he suspected he had done anyway.
She stood there in his living room, yellow jacked draped over the edge of his favourite chair, watching him with a fretful expression.
"Uh, hi Alvin," she said and flushed.
She'd changed since he'd last seen her. She was a little taller, for a start. Her clothes were less whimsical and she wore her hair pinned back under a sensible grey hat. He also couldn't help but notice that she'd filled out. Gone was the rakish girl he'd fought beside. Here was a girl whose chest protruded over her tiny waist. Not as much as Milla's of course, but he couldn't deny that her silhouette cut a more womanly curve.
He didn't want to gape but he couldn't believe she was real. She was the last person he'd have ever expected to see. He'd apologised, once, a long time ago and it was done, but even so. Things had never really improved between them. Not since he –
And besides. They'd stopped sending letters. It had been at least how many months? He couldn't even remember.
What was Leia doing in his apartment?
Leia lifted her hand in a gesture that looked like a wave, and smiled. He tried to smile back, though he knew it wasn't genuine. Running one hand through his tousled hair, he said,
"Long time no see, huh? How long's it been?"
"Two years," she said quickly.
"Two years, huh?"
They both smiled awkwardly. Leia clasped her hands, fidgeting, and looked away. Alvin stared down at the top of her head, trying to think of something better to say. He was suddenly very aware of the stench emanating from his jacket.
It shouldn't have mattered. They'd fought side by side hundreds of times. It wasn't like the scents associated with killing monsters was new to them, but somehow, this was different. He was different. He wasn't supposed to smell the same, and he wanted her to know that. Instead, all he could do was poke at a bloodstain on his shirt.
"Rough journey, huh?" she asked.
His eyes widened in embarrassment. He didn't think she'd seen him do that.
"Yeah," he gave his trademark hand gesture. "You know how it is."
He grinned. She nodded. He could feel himself putting up a mask again, but it faltered. Her face was so serious. He had a sudden sick feeling in his stomach that something terrible had happened. Was that why she was here? Had something happened to Jude, Elize? Rowan? The conductor was old, after all. He wouldn't put it past him to croak without saying goodbye. But how could he ask? He hadn't seen her in two years. He'd barely been able to manage a decent hello.
"What about you?" he asked, hoping to give her an opening.
She was surprised to hear a note of genuine concern in his voice.
"Nope, no monsters," she said, awkwardly smiling again.
"So, uh… when did you get in?" he asked.
"This morning. Balan picked me up from the airship yard."
Balan. Of course. That explains how she got into the apartment. Now things were starting to make sense. His cousin's name had triggered a vague memory and now he was recalling a conversation they'd had when the man had proposed that the girl should come and stay with them. Something about working at the research centre and Leia opening a restaurant. Balan had said his work kept him at the facility so he was rarely home anyway. It would make perfect sense for Leia to come and use his room, at least while he was so busy researching spyrites. If he were to be perfectly honest, he'd have to admit that he was probably drunk when Balan had asked him. So he'd said yes. Why not? It's not like Leia would ever agree to live with him. She couldn't even bring herself to reply to the letter he'd written all those months ago.
Balan had made a toast and said he'd write her right away. He didn't think the man was really serious.
"Um… Balan's last letter said you go out on, ah… business… a lot." At the word business she flushed deeply before carrying on. "So he sent me a key. He was sure you wouldn't mind, and when I wrote saying I was worried he sent back a letter saying you insisted he send a copy of your key, so, uh… thank you, Alvin. I'm really happy you're letting me stay here!"
She smiled a little too wide, and for a moment he worried she was going to try and jump up and hug him, still covered in blood and sweat. It was nice, even if it was obvious that her enthusiasm was forced. Still, it smarted a little, hearing about her communications with Balan. Seemed he still got letters. But what could he do? There never seemed to be anything he could say, at least nothing that would have any real value. Especially when it felt like she really didn't want to be talking to him. Her last letter was so clipped and formal. His last letter felt more like a dot point list of courtesies. Nothing a person could really reply to. It was no wonder she didn't write.
"Don't worry," he said, laying on the charm. "You know me. Always happy to accommodate a lovely lady."
"Uh, yeah…" she murmured, glancing away. Already he was feeling stupid.
"Uh, wanna get something to eat?" he said, aware that it was getting late. That perked her up. After Milla, Leia's appetite was second to none. How could he ever forget the way she ordered Jude to make something. It seemed like five minutes couldn't pass without either Milla or Leia demanding food on the battlefield.
"Yes please, I'm starving!" Leia said.
This time, Alvin really smiled.
"Let me just, uh… I need to take a shower and change."
He flushed. He didn't know why. It seemed like Leia flushed too. Perhaps she'd accidentally pictured him naked. Once upon a time it wouldn't have bothered him – hell, he'd have welcomed it - but now it was making him slightly uncomfortable. It would have been fine if it was anyone else, but not Leia. Not while they still had so much unspoken pain and guilt hanging between them. Not while his body was feeling so beaten and ragged. He'd never imagined their first meeting would go like this.
She sat back down on the couch, curling her legs up under her. He noticed, finally, that she wore long grey socks patterned to match her grey hat. She really looked quite stylish. She'd transformed into the kind of girl that would fit right in on Elympios.
"Hey, Leia," he started, hoping this would sound genuine and not sleazy, "you look good."
She blushed, but this time it made her smile.
"Thanks," she said.
He nodded, and moved through the apartment towards the bathroom, giving her a wide girth so that she wouldn't catch the scent of his sweat.
He'd just placed his hand on the doorknob when she called him back.
"Hey, Alvin," she said, leaning over the back of the couch. "So do you."
He nodded, appreciating the lie, and shut the bathroom door.
When Alvin finally came out of the bathroom, she was so hungry she thought she would fall over. He came out wearing a crisp navy suit accompanied by a new scarf. His hair was tousled back into its typical oh-so-messy-just-right position, and she could smell the heady scent of his aftershave. Even she had to admit, he looked good. She hadn't expected that. She didn't really know what she expected. Just Alvin, maybe? But then, she wondered, had she ever really taken the time to look at him? Back then, her every thought was on Jude.
"Ready to go?" he asked, and he looked at her with those rich, golden-brown eyes. Her heart stopped and she froze up. She couldn't help it. It had been two years since she'd seen him last, and still, that gaze had the power to put her right back in the shed in Hamil, fighting to save Jude's life.
And mine, she corrected. He's the man that tried to kill me.
Despite the spirit climes moving into Efreet, her whole body was cold. He stood waiting, smiling, hopeful, and she forced herself to snap out of it.
He said he was sorry. It's over. He's a changed man now.
She nodded, forcing a smile until it felt genuine. Despite everything that had happened, she would not let it hold her back now. Balan was offering her a golden opportunity to really make something of herself, and she was not going to pass it up just because it meant she'd have to live with the man that had tried to kill her. She had to remind herself that Alvin wasn't just that man. Not anymore. He was also her ally. He was also her friend.
And he'd been her friend a lot longer than he'd been her enemy.
Shrugging it off, she stood and followed Alvin out of the apartment. As they walked, she was ashamed to admit that even now, she instinctively kept herself at a safe distance.
"I'm not too sure what's good to eat around here," he said.
They passed under a low bridge and came out into the main square. Leia looked around, fascinated by how much the place had changed. It seemed that the air was clearer. There were more stars in the sky, and she could see the faintest furls of plants beginning to grow in people's window boxes.
"There's a place on the corner that makes some great Elympion fare," he continued, "but if you're feeling homesick, I personally know of some great Rieze Maxian vendors who can hook you up with the finest soda rice this side of the former schism."
Alvin gave her a sideways look and grinned. Leia couldn't help but chuckle. She knew from Balan's letters that the Rieze Maxian vendors were an Alvin/Yurgen initiative. She wasn't going to let on that she knew though.
"I don't mind, I'm happy to try anything," she said.
"Anything huh? How about yakisoba fruit?" he teased.
"Hey, don't make fun!" she said, and playfully shoved him.
It was harder than she realised, hard in the way she used to shove Jude. He feigned a look of shock and then a cryptic expression crossed his face.
"So, you wanna play, huh?"
He gave her a sidelong look and her heart started to thud. If she wasn't mistaken, it almost looked like he wanted to fight. Trying to keep things light, trying to untangle the weight that was filling up the cavities in her chest, she smiled, reaching for her staff and realising too late that it wasn't there. Her body overbalanced and she would have fallen, if Alvin hadn't caught her.
Embarrassed, she laughed in relief and then he laughed too, tilting his head back so that the Elympion moonlight shone down on his face. It was good to see him laughing. Despite the fear that bubbled beneath the surface, it was good to see him. She had wanted to, for the longest time, but she'd been afraid of how she'd feel if she did. He still frightened her and she hated it. She hated how weak and helpless it made her feel. She hated the way thinking about him during the day made her run from him in her dreams.
It's why she stopped replying to his letters. It was the only way to stop the nightmares.
He didn't say it, but she knew it had hurt him. If she was going to live with him now, she was going to have to try and make it better. Things were going to have to change. It was now or never if she was going to make a peace offering.
"Actually," she started, making sure she had his attention, "I kinda have a hankering for a slice of peach pie."
He looked surprised.
"Peach pie, huh?" he murmured, casting his eyes to the ground.
Leia's stomach clenched. She began to fear that maybe this was too personal. Maybe she'd made a mistake.
"Yeah, or, you know, whatever. We don't have to eat that," she backpedalled, feeling her face go red.
Slowly, a soft smile began to play upon his lips.
"It's been a while since I've thought about peach pie," he said, giving a low chuckle.
"Oh, you know me," she waved, "always thinking about food!"
He was quiet for a long moment. Leia's heartbeat hammered in her ears.
Looking up, he met her eyes. Her breath caught momentarily in her throat, startled as she was by their gentleness. She'd only seen this expression once before, when they were in Xian Du.
"I know just the place."
He took her by the hand. She flinched. She didn't mean to. He caught it but pretended he didn't see anything.
She's still scared to touch me, he thought.
An uneasy sadness gripped him. Suppressing the feeling, he lightened his grip and pulled her gently towards a little café in the plaza, lit by newly imported floating spirit orbs.
"Peach pie is an Elympion specialty, you know. People think it's from Rieze Maxia, but it was my mother that brought them that recipe. I should know. Before she got sick, Mom used to sell them on the streets of Xian Du when I was a kid."
They found a quiet booth in the back and Alvin beckoned to a slender waitress, who shuffled over to him at the promise of barely a wink. She gave him an electric smile and grinning, he ordered two slices of peach pie. She noted it down and trotted off, but not before giving Leia a long once over.
"Is she your friend?" Leia asked when she was gone.
"Friend?" he said, clearing his throat. "Yeah, I guess you could call her that."
They smiled at each other awkwardly, both knowing that the other knew the truth. It was Alvin, after all. He'd have a whole slew of girls at his beck and call, if he really wanted. She found herself blushing and she didn't know why. It's not like she ever wanted him. Besides, she'd chastised him for fawning over girls plenty of times. It's just that, for some reason she couldn't quite pinpoint, the way the waitress had looked at her bothered her. Like she knew something maybe she didn't.
Or maybe she just thought she was his girlfriend.
The thought was enough to make her cry out involuntarily and grasp at the menu, using it to hide her face.
"Leia, are you okay?"
"Yup, I'm fine," she chirped, praying he wouldn't tip the menu down and see how red she'd become. "I just realised they have fruit salad here! I'm going to have that too!"
"You sure like fruit," he said, smiling.
The peach pie arrived, and Alvin tacked an order of fruit salad to the bill. The flare in Leia's cheeks finally calmed down and she found herself staring at a table full of food. Thankfully, it looked delicious, and despite the fact that she was rapidly getting full, she was determined to eat it all. He asked her about her plans for the new restaurant and she prattled on about the menu, the wallpaper and the different choices of table settings. He listened, not really hearing what she was saying, overwhelmed as he was by the sight of her, the fact of them sitting there, sharing a meal, with her really talking.
It had been so long since she'd really paid him any attention.
Balan returned a few days later, and Alvin, not wanting to look like a jerk, slept on the couch so that his cousin could sleep in his bed since Leia was using his room. It took all his patience and strength to stop him from regaling the girl with all of Alvin's embarrassing tales, and they were up late, yet again, Leia trying to place bets with Balan and losing sorely, Alvin warning her against it, feeling lightheaded from a bottle of porange wine.
His eyes had just drifted closed when Leia let out an excited squeal. Balan had lost his bet. That meant Leia was in for a story.
He was over the edge of the couch before anyone could blink.
"Oh, no you don't, don't you dare! Don't think I won't forget this!"
"Come now, Alfred," Balan said, smoothly, "a bet is a bet, and I lost. Fair's fair, and I think I owe Miss Leia, here, a story."
"Yeah, come on Alvin! Just one story? I worked really hard to win that bet!"
She pouted, and his stomach lurched when he realised it was cute.
"But why's it gotta be me that has to be humiliated? I had nothing to do with this!" he protested.
"We both know it's because you don't have anything on me, Alfred," Balan said, smiling.
"Come on, Alvin, please?" she whined.
She was pouting again, and damn if he didn't want to go over there and kiss the pout away. It shocked him. He shook slightly and took a gulp of his wine. It burned his throat and went down quickly, but it was enough to take the edge off.
Get it together, Al, it's Leia. You're not supposed to be thinking like this.
He straightened his scarf – a nervous reaction – and looked back over at them. Leia was still pouting. Balan had his arms folded, wearing a smug grin.
"Alright, you win!" he said.
Leia fist pumped the air and Balan grinned triumphantly.
"Did I ever tell you about Alfred's first crush?"
Alvin settled back down onto the couch, telling himself it was only the porange wine causing the heat in his cheeks. It was gonna be a long night.
It seemed like Balan had only been there a moment before he was off again, back to the facility to work on his next big project. He'd left Leia a set of floor-plans and designs that she'd spent the next few days poring over, sprawled across the kitchen table despite the perfectly functioning desk that was in her room. Not that he'd minded. It was nice to have her in the space, and when she wasn't chattering about ideas for the restaurant, she was filling up his home with her bright persona that was just so feminine, and so Leia.
Even though he worried his presence was making her uncomfortable, it was nice to have her around. She smiled and laughed airily, and cooked surprise monstrosities that made him wonder how this restaurant was ever going to get off the ground, but every now and then he saw it. The way she sometimes stiffened when he stood too close. The way she looked over her shoulder when he walked in the room.
Still, she waved it away with a smile that made him wonder sometimes if perhaps he had just imagined it all. Perhaps she really was fine and it was just his guilt that was holding him back, trapping him in Hamil. They'd been getting along, and it seemed that things were really improving when she asked him to accompany her on a trip to pick out wallpaper since she didn't know the way. It was unlike Leia to ever worry about something like not knowing directions. The Leia he knew just threw herself into situations head first, no matter the danger, so it warmed his heart to think that this was just a ruse to get him to come along.
The day was hot, and so she'd opted to wear a sleeveless dress with an elaborate lace pattern across the back. He'd teased her, saying she looked more like she was playing dress-ups as a spirit than a girl trying to start a business on Elympios, but she ignored him, teasing back that no self-respecting businessman wears a suit with a scarf. They left earlier than he would have liked, but the early start was made up for by the fact that she walked a little closer to him than usual. He couldn't help but smile, stepping out into the Efreet enhanced sunshine, a beautiful girl on his arm.
Coming across the square, Leia spotted the store she wanted. Excited, she let go of his arm and dashed ahead. It was then that he saw it, lit up like a beacon under the sun: the scar left by the bullet wound in her back.
The sight of it winded him and he stood reeling.
I did that.
His heart thudded hard in his chest, each beat pulsing in his ears until he thought his vision might swim.
I did that.
The sunlight glinted off her hair and she beamed radiantly as she turned around. The scar still burned in his mind like a black spot on the sun.
…How the fuck could I do that?
He thought he might choke when she called out to him. He knew he had done it, of course. How could he ever forget? But this was the first time he'd seen it. He clutched his stomach, feeling sick. Before he knew it, she'd run back to him. She was speaking but he couldn't hear her voice. Vaguely, he was aware that she had one hand on his back.
Finally, something broke through.
"Alvin, are you alright?"
There was genuine concern in her eyes and he was dimly aware that she was gently rubbing his back. She was trying to comfort him.
"I'm fine," he croaked. "Bad take-out. Listen, I'm gonna go home and hit the hay."
"We have to get you to a doctor," she started.
"Take me to Fenmont to see Jude? No thanks, I'll pass," he tried to joke.
"That's not what I meant, but at least, let me have a look at you…"
"No!" he said, more forcefully than he meant to.
She looked hurt. That wasn't what he was expecting. Somehow, that made this that much harder.
"No," he repeated, softer this time. "I just need to rest, and you need to carry on here. I'll see you when you get home, okay?"
He stumbled home like a broken old man, and she watched, her heart breaking with every step. Something was very wrong and it wasn't bad take-out. Only then did she become aware of the large transparent panels displaying her back.
Is this how he walked when he thought I had died?
She couldn't concentrate. The store clerk was getting impatient and she knew it, but he carried on as if he was happy she was taking her time, and she pretended that she actually cared about whether or not the wallpaper was made with threads of silk. She was worried about Alvin. Every time she closed her eyes she could see his face – that grimace that spoke of so much pain and regret.
All of a sudden she felt guilty for doubting.
She'd held it against him, all this time. He'd said he was sorry and she was sure that he meant it, but how could she have been sure? Alvin was the betrayer. Alvin was the big fat liar. A part of her told her that if he did it once, he could do it again. And yet, she'd seen how hard he had tried to get back on their good side. Elize had seen it. She'd forgiven him. But then, she'd tell herself, Elize wasn't the one that had been shot.
It had been so much easier when they hadn't been speaking. She didn't have to think about him. She didn't dream about him. She could try to forget and the pain of it would just melt away. But then, she agreed to live with him. She didn't know why. Perhaps a part of her wanted to just face it. To look him in the eye and feel safe again. To be close like they were, before this had happened, when they swapped stories and she taught him tricks like her epic hi-five. Somehow, she wanted him to chase the nightmares away.
The trouble was, they'd come back.
Only now, she didn't just dream that he killed her. She dreamed that he left her instead, and that was just as bad. Her heart was heavy with fear and anger and sadness and something else, what was it, longing? Could she dare to admit that somewhere along the way she'd fallen for Alvin? That she'd wanted him just as much as she was afraid of him?
She hid her feelings with smiles, and all the while he tiptoed around her and she wanted to scream. Her thoughts knotted in her chest, an uneasy lump that made her shake just to be near him.
And now she'd done something as careless as show off her scar and she finally got a glimpse of just how broken he truly was.
It was done. She couldn't let her fear of him take over any more. He needed someone, and he sure as heck needed some classic Leia-style cheering up. Never mind her crush. She figured she'd managed the pain of a hopeless crush before, she could certainly get through this!
What Alvin needed was a gesture of friendship, and that gesture had to be big. She remembered once he'd said he was a cat person. Despite her misgivings about cats, she resolved to get him a kitten. Giving up on the wallpaper, she left to purchase the sweetest, most playful kitten she could find.
Unlocking the door, she nervously stepped inside, cradling the kitten in her arms. She called out to Alvin but there was no answer. Closing the door, she gently placed the kitten on the floor. Had she known that kittens were prone to hiding, she would have thought twice about it, but it was too late. The kitten darted into Alvin's room.
She was only in there for a second – she made a point of never going into his room unasked – when she saw the letter. Half written, it lay open on his desk.
I can't keep pretending that I'm okay with what I did to you. You have an amazing opportunity here to start a successful partnership with Balan and I don't want to get in the way of that, so I'm leaving. I'm sorry. I'm heading back to…
And that was that. The kitten mewed by her feet and she picked it up, staring blankly at the piece of paper. Tears welled in her eyes and she was unable to stop them from falling.
He didn't even say where he was going!
Hours passed and she sat on the couch, feeling numb, staring at the door while the kitten played at her feet. Finally, when her heart could take no more, she picked up the kitten, held it to her chest and cried and cried. The tears fell until her eyes dried up and her throat was hoarse, and still she felt terrible. It was no good. He wasn't coming back. She put the kitten in its basket, took it to her room and went to bed.
The nightmares came, tormenting her.
She woke to a cry in the night. At first she thought it was hers, but then it went again, louder this time, and in it she could recognise her own name.
He came back!
Feeling sick with nerves and apprehension, she crawled out of bed, slipped across the hallway and opened the door to Alvin's room.
He dreamed he'd killed her again and he woke up, sitting bolt upright, her name on his lips. She stood at the end of his bed and for a moment he was startled out of his mind, thinking he'd seen a ghost. Before he could say a word, she crawled over and sat on the edge of his mattress.
She reached a hand to brush the hair out of his eyes and he shivered at the touch.
"Alvin, it's okay, you just had a nightmare."
He hung his head, reeling with shame, reeling at the action of his own hands.
"Every night I kill you," he managed.
"I know," she said gently, easing closer to him. "Every night you kill me."
She smiled and the shame was too much. He blinked hard, trying to look away.
Before he knew it, she'd turned around so that her wounded shoulder was facing him. Slowly, she lifted her hair and slid down the strap of her nightdress.
"Alvin, we need to face this, because this is killing us," she said, and her voice was grave.
"Leia, I…" he sputtered.
"Here," she said, and she grabbed his hand, pressing it against her scar. He winced and tried to pull his hand away, but she held it there, forcefully.
"I don't want to be afraid of you and you need to see that I'm real," she said, turning so she could meet his gaze.
It felt as though the wound was throbbing under his hand and his body flooded with guilt.
"You need to see that I'm not going anywhere, okay? And I'm not afraid of you."
He held his hand there for a long time, fighting tears, leaning against her and feeling all his strength wash away.
"I'm so sorry," he rasped.
"I know," she said, blinking back tears. "I'm sorry too."
"How do I get past this?" he whispered, his voice hoarse.
"With forgiveness," she said. "And… I guess you just try to be your very best."
"My best, huh," he uttered, giving a sharp laugh. His fingers idly circled the scar tissue left by the bullet wound.
"And what's that exactly?"
All he'd ever been good for was fighting. Even working with Yurgen, it was obvious that the most useful part of him was his sword. Sure, he'd made the odd cargo delivery from time to time, but he couldn't help but feel like his title had simply gone from mercenary to bodyguard. No matter how much he tried to change, his job just lead to killing things.
Leia whimpered softly. Panicked, he tried to move his hand but she held it there.
Why was she doing this?
He sighed, bowing his head so that his forehead grazed her shoulder.
"Do you forgive me?" he asked, not really wanting an answer.
"Of course I do," she said, finally letting him drop his hand. "But I really don't think it's my forgiveness that you need."
She shifted on the bed so that she was facing him. Her expression was too earnest. He couldn't bear it.
"You know," she said, "I've been thinking about what you did to me for a long time, and I realised something."
"Yeah," he said, prepared for more pain.
"You don't miss, Alvin. Not ever."
"Think about it. Even when your sword arm is sloppy, your shots never miss. But when we fought that day, you were firing all over the place."
He gritted his teeth. The memory still punched the wind out of him.
"I've seen you fight," she continued. "If you wanted to, you could have ruptured my heart in a second. But you didn't. Do you know what that means?"
It was true, he didn't normally miss. But how could that knowledge change the situation? He still hit her. He still expected her to die. Sure, his shots were erratic but she'd been jumping all the hell over the place. Sick with the memory, he closed his eyes. Once more, Leia was just standing there, slumping to the ground in front of him.
Leia was just standing there.
He raised his head, his mind struggling to put the pieces together. He met her eyes. She finished the thought for him.
"You missed. You couldn't kill me. You don't have it in you, Alvin," she said, smiling.
Relief rushed into his heart like a hot wind on a cold day. He'd replayed that scene over and over but he'd never looked at it this way before. If he missed, that meant he really didn't mean it. He never planned to kill her.
It was an accident.
He looked into those big, green eyes and they had never seemed more beautiful. They danced as she beamed, and he thought he might drown in that gaze. Never in his life had he been happier or more relieved to see someone's face. He wondered when it was that he had fallen in love with her. He couldn't pinpoint the moment but he knew it had been there, along with his guilt, burning a hole in him.
"Leia…" he whispered.
Smiling, he felt the bitter prick of tears.
Her small hands reached out, enveloping his.
"Everything is going to be alright now, so don't beat yourself up anymore, okay?"
"Leia, I…" he faltered.
She gave his hands the slightest squeeze.
"Thanks," he said finally.
"You're welcome. And don't go leaving me now, okay? Not when I just got here!"
"I won't," he promised.
Slowly, she entwined his fingers with her own.
He felt the heat in his cheeks. She blushed. It was too much. Ignoring the hammer of his heartbeat, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. Their lips touched for the briefest of moments before he felt her body stiffen. Too late, it occurred to him that this might have been a mistake. His stomach clenched and he pulled back, determined not to take it any further.
The flush had deepened across her cheeks. She made an encouraging sound and relaxed in his arms.
"A-Alvin…" she whispered.
Ever so lightly, he touched his forehead to hers.
To his surprise, she gently brushed his nose with her own.
He was done. Wrapping his arms around her once more, he pulled her into his tight embrace, softly pressing his lips to hers. She stiffened again, momentarily, before closing her eyes. Slowly, tentatively, she pushed her body against his. He deepened the kiss.
There was a soft mewling at the door.
Alvin broke away.
"Uh, Leia, what was that?"
Smiling shyly, she said,
"Um, I forgot to tell you I bought you a kitten…"
Flooded with happiness he hugged her close. For the first time in a long time, he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Looking lovingly into her eyes, he kissed her again.