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Chapter 5

Pietro left that night, because they both knew that his absence would bring unwanted patrols to the area. Taiven wasn’t surprised when he turned up again a day later, this time by the front door. He was just as fascinated by the library as she was. He explained to her that his town had very strict laws. You knew what you were allowed to know. You left the town walls when you were given permission. You had to be inside your home at exactly midnight. Pietro was special though. He knew a secret way outside the city, and knew all of the soldiers by name and, more importantly, their schedules. He never got in trouble, even when he was caught. He always just got off with a warning.

This only increased Taiven’s suspicion, but she couldn’t help that she liked him. He was interesting to talk to. He knew things like how chocolate is made and why it’s bad luck to walk under ladders. Things that, as he put it, ‘were deemed silly enough to be harmless’. He knew exactly how many marshmallows he could fit in his mouth and what time it was by looking at the sky. He explained how electricity in the towns work, and the wonderful things you can do with machines. He described in detail what she had only seen from afar or in ruins, how his city looked like to a citizen. In return, she talked him about plants, which ones are poisonous, wolfsbane, which ones you can eat, roots and tubers and which ones are useful for other things, like driving away insects, rosemary. She told him about the body, like how cells in your brain fire electrical signals to each other and down through the body to make something happen. She gave him her favorite books, and taught him how to make a weapon from just about anything you can find. She shared legends from her people about the constellations and things in nature like tree and water people and dragons, things that disappeared long ago, when the veil was torn. She gave him their history and the history before then, as she knew it. And he shared what he had been taught in school.

They became very close friends in the time it takes the earth to circle the sun twice. They gave each other gifts, and went on short trips into the woods. He wanted to take her into the city once, forgetting for a moment what she was. But she only had to turn her head, her ear that was a slightly pointed reminder to tell him why he couldn’t. Any sort of head covering was banned in the city; long hair had to be tied back so that your ears were clearly visible at all times, for reassurance that you were human- not elf.

In response to this, Pietro devised a way to stay overnight. He persuaded a ‘friend’- here he didn’t go into detail with Taiven- to sometimes stay in his apartment and signal that he was there to the patrol. And that made up for it. This way they could go on longer trips into the forest, stay up all night to star gaze and not have to worry about the consequences.

And, one night, a line was crossed. It had been the strict unspoken policy between them that personal history was not to be asked about. Taiven had her secrets, Pietro had his. Sometimes she felt compelled to tell him, and this was always enough for her to remember her old suspicion and turn away from him. But one night this didn’t seem to matter. He asked her why she lived all alone as he touched her hand. And she told him. She told him that her entire family group had been murdered. She told him that she had this strange dark side to her gift, though she didn’t go into detail. When she tried to describe that morning when her tears had fallen over the corpses of men, women and children she had loved and cared for, she went a little cold. She closed herself from the world, running away from the memory the only way she knew how, by locking herself away.

She became gradually aware of a warmth driving away the cold, a gentle touch pushing the memories away. It felt like rain on a sunny day and she realized that he was holding her, one hand feeling soothing against her head as he stroked her hair, the other pressed against her back. She was crying against his shoulder as he murmured in her ear that it was okay. And not for the first time, Taiven wondered about the curious effect Pietro had on her. How he seemed to charm her into doing what he wanted, even if he didn’t realize he was doing it. And her mind could only focus on one possibility as her tears dried and her head cleared. Her heart was pounding as she pulled back, looking at him with almost certain conclusion. “Pietro. Who are your parents?”

He raised his eyebrows at her and chuckled, “Inner-City rich folks.”

She shook her head, “No. What are your parents?”

He frowned, shaking his head, letting go of her a little to lean away. She pressed the question until he answered what she had thought. He didn’t know who his biological parents were. He was adopted by his parents when they appealed to the council for a child. He had just been a toddler. He couldn’t remember his life before then. So she told him what she thought- that at least one of his parents, most likely his mother, had been an elf. That he was half-human, half-elf and no one knew because his ears were round and his gift wasn’t noticeable. That only someone who was naturally suspicious of everything around her would notice when she started feeling immediately caring toward someone she had just met.

“Pietro, I think your gift is to influence people around you to do what you want.” She finally said. He stared at her, his forehead scrunching towards the middle, a crease forming between his eyebrows. His eyes went to the side, with a distant gleam. And she could tell he was thinking about it. Thinking about how all his life he had never gotten into serious trouble. How he was always greeted with a smile, with the exception of Taiven, and how no one ever seemed to disagree with him, again with the exception of Taiven. And he swallowed, his fingertips of one hand running along the rim of one smooth ear. His other hand resting on top of hers.

She waited for him to say something, anything. She wanted to know what he thought, what he was thinking. She wanted to know if he agreed with her. She was worried he’d become angry. That he’d leave to never return. But then he looked at her again, and smiled. Her worries melted away as he whispered, “Does that change what you think of me?”

She was shaking her head, her lips forming the words to say 'of course not' when he leaned towards her, cutting her off effectively with a kiss. She capitulated to him, returning the strong passion he opened to her with the warm shine of her own attraction to him. They explored this new territory in their relationship as equals, lying and laughing with each other, murmuring sweet things in each other’s ears and seeking kisses when they thought the other least expected it, relishing in the element of surprise.

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