Her lids felt heavy. Warmth and drowsiness made her unwilling to open them. It was so comfortable. She wanted to sleep a bit more...
His voice was like a warm breath on her face. She knew who it was without thinking, but the surprise that he was here while she was asleep, opened up her eyes.
There he was, slim lips and high cheekbones under beautiful red eyes. Even though his brows were locked together, the gaze was softer than usual.
"How do you feel?", he asked. When she realized that it was worry that made him look so vexed, a fuzzy feeling raised in her chest. The cold wall he raised to keep people away was lowered right now.
"Tired", she murmured and closed her eyes again.
"Don't sleep." It wasn't uttered like a command, but more like a wish, a hope. It made her unable to refuse, however much appealing the darkness and warmth of sleep was.
While slowly blinking her eyes, she noticed that her arm was out of the beddings. It was slightly cold. With an unarticulated murmur, she wanted to pull it back in, when something tightened around her hand.
"You - " Suddenly, she was wide awake. Nathaniel let go of her hand right away, but it was a bit too late. "Did you hold my hand all the time? And - wait - why am I here? Wasn't I in some sort of..."
She rubbed her head, trying hard to remember. What happened now appeared to her like a strange dream. She had a fight with Nathaniel, ran away in a bout of mixed up feelings she couldn't even distinguish anymore, came into her room and then... it all seemed a bit blurry, most likely because she just woke up, but she was sure that she shouldn't be here right now. At least before she fell asleep, she was somewhere else. She remembered a secret passage, a carriage, and a building with high white walls.
"Easy", Nathaniel said, as he saw her face paling in some sort of pain. He stretched out a hand to caress her hair but balled it to a fist in the end. He didn't know yet what caused her disappearance, it could as well be his words. Nonetheless, his voice was calm and reassuring. "You're here now. You are safe. Everything else can wait. Calm down."
Though it wasn't much, it was enough to break through the confusion in Katherine's head. She looked up at him and the first thing she blurted out was: "I'm sorry!"
She took a few deep breaths to clear her thoughts. In his eyes stood question marks. Before he could say anything, she continued: "I shouldn't have run away. It was all just too much, and I couldn't handle it anymore, I... in my head I know that you won't force me to anything... or at least I hope that you won't?"
When she searched in his face for the answer, he nodded reassuringly. Though he felt a bit sour that she even had to ask, it could be excused for he really did kind of force her in the beginning and treated her like a prisoner. So much had changed over the last few months that he regretted this treatment now. "I won't put you in a cage if that's what you fear. Even if you want to use your magic openly."
Though he very much wanted to lock her up after nearly losing her this time, he knew that it would destroy her. She wasn't made to live in a cage and would fight against any shackles until she died on the wounds. Of course, it was against his wish if she really wanted to show her magic openly, but in the end, it was her magic. So, it was her decision.
The smile Nathaniel got for his words made him feel like it was worth the trouble.
"Good", she said cheekily and used the opportunity to grap for his hand. He obviously held hers when she was asleep, so shouldn't she return the favor? Her heart beat fast in fear he would push her away, so to distract him she rapidly uttered: "You know, I was just irritated. I didn't want to be so harsh."
"Hm-hm", Nathaniel made. Though he noticed her maneuver, he generously allowed it. She was just back from a long sleep, so she had some leeway. It was definitely not because he wanted it himself. "You don't need to apologize. It seems like I frightened you."
"Not really you", Katherine corrected, while gazing at their interlocked hands, the fingers weaved together. "It's as if I saw him though you. Ethan Balder. He also said something similar."
It was hard to call him by name, nearly as hard as 'my cousin', but it was easier than calling him by her father's title. There was no bond left besides hatred and pain.
They remained silent for a while, and just when Katherine wanted to draw back because of awkwardness, Nathaniel asked: "Are you still afraid?"
"Are you still afraid of me?", he repeated seriously. Katherine didn't know what she should make out this simple and yet difficult question.
"Not right now", she replied slowly. She didn't want to betray his trust when he was asking so earnestly, but she also didn't like showing vulnerability. "Also not usually. You... sometimes you get that cold gaze suddenly. It's a bit frightening. Just a tiny bit. It feels like I am nothing to you, or like I'm your worst enemy."
Though it started in a good way, she still ended up saying too much in her opinion, so she added: "But I can cope with it, really. I won't run away like this time. It was only an accident this time. You suddenly said something he would say and I was just shocked. That's all."
She held onto his hand tightly, as if afraid he would take it back because she spoke of something unpleasant. But Nathaniel had no intention of doing so. Her smooth little hand gave him the support he needed right now.
It looked like his little Valkyrie was still afraid of some characteristics of him. How would she react if she knew the truth of how bad he really was? Killing once or twice might be explainable in the upper society, but as much as him? All the deaths suddenly weighed down on him. And he didn't prepare to end it just yet. Yes, the murders also had their reasons, their intention that was not completely fulfilled. Nonetheless, they were murders in the end. Even on battlefield, it should be called as such.
"What are you thinking?", Katherine suddenly asked. It looked like he stayed in his thoughts for too long.
His lips pressed together tightly before he opened them. "Just some bad memories."
"Oh." There was silence again. Katherine furrowed her brows, then she tugged lightly on his hand. "Don't think about it. Thinking doesn't change it."
"Forgetting also doesn't. Sometimes, we have to carry the sins we loaded on us for our whole life", Nathaniel countered in too light a tone.
Katherine narrowed her eyes. That sounded like a pretty bad life. For what great wrong was he blaming himself? She couldn't believe he would do something awful enough to deserve such life.
"Not today!", she suddenly said fiercely. "You can't be blaming yourself today. It's my wish. Because today is my - "
"Birthday", Nathaniel ended her sentence with furrowed brows. The day had come too fast, and he didn't expect her to wish something like that. "Do you really want to use your wish for something so meaningless?"
"It's not meaningless", she held against it. "I want you to stop blaming yourself."
"But you know that I can only do so for a short while", the Earl mused. "Very well, I will do as you wish."