January 8, 2017

In Which Aspen Is Alone and Not Alone

May 4, 1203

"Oh." Based on the tread from the hallway outside, Aspen had braced herself for Darry. Of the other adult males likely to be present in her childhood home--and those had been an adult male's footsteps, the floor's response had made no secret of that--her father mostly respected her need for space, and neither Medur nor any of the manservants would have any particular reason to talk to her. So, she'd risen from her bed, fully prepared to tell her brother not to bother, that they had nothing to talk about, or at least nothing that she knew how to tell him.

She hadn't considered Nato. Nato hadn't called on her since she'd returned to her parents' castle. She hadn't seen him since their morning after. She hadn't minded. She'd assumed that he, just as she did, wanted to be left alone.

But the sands in his hourglass might have run down sooner than hers had. He, after all, had had the luxury of actually being alone.

"I wasn't expecting you."

"I wouldn't have been, in your place. I wasn't expecting to be here either." His icy eyes settled on the couch behind her. Some trace of her perpetual presence in the room must have caught his eye, a clump of red hair on the fabric or a lingering indent in the cushion. She didn't mind much if he judged her for it. Before her covert excursion of a few nights prior, she'd only left to collect the occasional scraped knee or paper-cut, just enough to hold off the assault of woes and delusions. "I guess we should talk."

Aspen nodded. She didn't want to talk to anyone, but she'd have to before long, and Nato was the logical starting point. "Let's sit down."

She made for the couch, not offering him a chance to say he'd rather stand, because he probably would have. But he joined her on the couch, because it wasn't a battle worth fighting and they weren't enemies, most of the time. "I, uh... I'm surprised that you're still in Naroni, to be honest. I thought you'd have left by now."

Her toes curled within her slipper. She'd thought the same, once. She'd only returned home for a few days recovery, but that was a month ago now. "I wouldn't be of any use there now."

Nato frowned, brow furled. Confused, no doubt. He wasn't sad that she wasn't going. He might have gotten some relief if he'd swiftly become a widower, but she didn't think him cruel enough to hope for that, not given his opposition before. "Why not?"

"Because I'm pregnant."

Her fingers twitched themselves to a white-knuckled fist, as if the words hadn't been true until she'd said them. She hadn't told anyone else. The close she'd said was that she thought she might have been, when she'd stolen away to Lady Arydath in the dead of the night. Even the old woman's confirmation hadn't been quite enough, even her own recent caution in what she did or didn't take.

If the lack of visible reaction was a reaction in itself, then she'd sentenced Nato to a similar state. "Um... have you decided what...?"

She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Do your parents know?"

She shook it again. "I don't want to get their hopes up."

Sighing, Nato slumped forward, eyes shut in some form of proto-agreement. She didn't know if she liked that. Some part of her wished he'd swoop in and take charge and fix everything, just like some part of her wished he'd just go away forever. "I'll follow your lead, then."

"So you have nothing else to say?"

He must have, surely. She did, even if she didn't want to. She didn't want to say she didn't remember the night they'd made their baby, sleeping with him at all, what sex even felt like. She didn't even remember kissing him, if they'd even kissed. She'd never kissed anyone else, not expecting to live long enough to bother being interested. How many things there were to say about that--knowing what it was wake nauseous as some would-be person laid siege to her body, but not knowing what a man's lips felt like on her own. It was tragic and pathetic and the last thing she wanted to tell him, but it was a thing to say, and he must have had things to say too.

If he wanted to. "Nothing that would make a difference. I don't want to ruin your life. I'm sorry if I did already."

"You didn't ruin my life. I never really had a life." And why would she have had one? It was a fact she'd learned when she'd been very young, that her life was for everyone else. "Not one I could do much with, anyway."

He stared at her, one eye ice and the other blue fire, within an inch of her own, distant as the dimmest star. "Is there anything you want me to do?"

She shrugged. "Stay with me a while? We don't have to talk." She just didn't want to be alone, now that she'd said it.

Alone, to think about how she wasn't alone.

"All right."

NEXT CHAPTER:

1 comment:

Van said...

You know that thing where one joint starts aching, then all the other joints decide the aching must be cool and start doing it too? :S