I woke up to the sound of a snarl, though it quickly sounded like a roar. The opening to the cave we were in was covered in a large shadow, and I could hear the soft steps of large and deadly paws. Thijs had told us of the animals that roam the woods in the dark, telling us that our only way to stay safe was to remain inside the cave.
The shadow left as soon as it came and I exhaled the breath I had been holding in. I turned to looked at Aria, who was a crumbled mess, shaking and whimpering in her sleep. The blankets where a mess around her, jumbled up and tangled with her legs and not offering an ounce of warmth.
I chuckled quietly, I was surprised when I had found out what a crazy sleeper she was and now all it was, was endearing. As quietly as possible, I scooted toward her and wrapped my arm around her waist, picking her up slightly as I untangled the blankets from her legs.
I froze when her eyes opened slightly and she looked up at me, but she only shoved her face in my chest and fell right back asleep. I gave in then, I had only planned on covering her with the blanket and moving back to my spot, but now I couldn't.
The rest of the night, I spent it watching her sleep, making sure not a single noise woke her from her slumber. It was devastating to know that she was marching her way back to Dastan, and I was the one helping her through. But I would suffer the quiet pain of watching her go the man she loved to make up for everything I had done to her. As much as I knew that, I felt the temptation of sweeping her away, in my arms, almost daily. My eyes remained glued to her until the sun began to rise and the birds began to chirp.
I woke her up gently and we packed all of our things. The sun offered enough light so that we could continue our journey and we did so as we ate the sweet fruit that Thijs and Sarn had for us.
"So who is this person we are meeting with?" I finally broke the silence, looking at Thijs who walked in front of Ari and I with Sarn at his side.
"Her name is Keena." Thijs grunted as he climbed over a large trunk, Sarn followed, and then I did, pulling Aria up after me. "She is an old and wise Alvina. To be honest, I'm surprised she accepted our request, well I guess I would've been surprised if anyone answered our request."
"Wait." I stopped in my tracks, my heart beating against my chest, "How many letters did you send out?"
Thijs shrugged, "A few-"
I growled, stomping toward him, "Woah. What are you doing?" Sarn stood between us, a knife pointed toward me. I frowned, scowling at the man who drew a weapon on me. Aria looked at the interaction with wide horror-filled eyes. "I won't hurt him, Aria." Sarn assured her, "If he doesn't hurt Thijs."
My body lost its tension when I felt her small hand on my arm, I looked down at her and she signed, "What's wrong with you?" Her frown deepened.
I shook my head, sighing, "Sorry, I didn't meant to react like that, but hundreds, Thijs? We're trying to keep her existence, the fact that we want to use magic a secret and you go and send hundreds of letters?" I finally began to breathe normally as the last of the sentence left my lips.
Thijs paled slightly, "I-I made sure to only contact enemies of her parents... and trust me, they have a lot."
I looked at Sarn, who still had the knife pointed toward me, "I won't hurt him, Sarn. Not unless harm comes to Aria." Sarn nodded, understanding where I was coming from.
"Hold on." Thijs lifted his head and narrowed his eyes at the sky, "I think we're close." He spun a few time, "Yes. Stay here while I scavenge ahead." He nodded at Sarn, who followed him and they took off.
I scoffed, watching the leaves they disturbed flutter in the air. When I looked down at Aria, she was frowning, staring down at the ground.
"Hey?" I grabbed her shoulder, though she didn't look up at me, "Aria?" She gasped, as if she was surprised to see me there. I frowned, "What's wrong, love?"
She bit her bottom lip, breathing a bit deeper than before, "What if we stayed?"
I jerked back, a weird wave of excitement running through my skin "What? Why would that even be a thought in your-"
"You said you had nothing to look forward to back at home-"
"Aria, I was tired and irritated last night, okay? Don't-"
"But you'd be happier here-"
A part of me wanted to smile, to laugh and enjoy the fact that she wanted me to be happy, but I interrupted her, "It doesn't matter if I'd be happier here Aria! You need to go back, you- I- as much as I don't want to say this-you need to go back...for him." I gritted the words as I spoke. "What are we going to do if we stay here?" I lift my arms in the air and she begins the look defeated, "Hide from your parents forever?"
She shook her head and she wrapped her arms around her waist.
"Aria?" I wanted her to look at me, I wanted to look into her eyes when she would decide that this was in fact a crazy idea.
She finally looked up at me, tears building up in her eyes, "But if we stay-"
"Aria." I cut her off, taking a step closer to her, "If we stay, the guilt will eat you alive." She frowned, turning her gaze back to the floor, "Don't you know I already see it? Fuck, Aria. You know what I would give to be selfish enough to say yes? To keep you to myself? But I have seen it, I have seen the guilt in your eyes when you look at me with love. I won't let you live like that."
I stood there, heaving, my chest falling and rising dramatically. A horrible sob left her lips and I saw her slowly fall, her ankles giving out. I reached out to her, wrapping my arms around her and picking her up against my chest while one hand combed through her hair, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that." I kissed her temple, fighting my heart that wanted to beat out of my chest.
I knew she feared the consequences of her feelings, feelings she couldn't stop. If she chose me, what would she say if she was ever in front of Dastan again? And once she was with Dastan again, her and I would cease to exist. It wasn't fair of me to push that and make her feel worse about it. Now, I was being eaten by guilt.
"Hey!" Thijs voice reached us through the trees, "We found her!"