We stared at each other for a long time. She looked as surprised as I felt, despite the must’ve been waiting for me. She was wearing the same night-clothes I saw her wearing all those weeks ago when I first met her in the palace. Given the time, I suppose it wasn’t all that surprising.
Part of me immediately wanted to stick my head out of the door and call Devon back, but I didn’t. I didn’t need to.
“Hi.” I said, finding my voice.
“Hi.” She said, her blush visible beneath the soft fur of her cheeks.
Another long silence fell between us. Every time our eyes met, she shied away from my gaze. I found myself thinking it rather cute.
“Oh, shut up.” She said, though I could see her trying hard not to smile.
“I can’t help it.” I said. “You’re adorable.”
She stuck her tongue out at me. I could tell she was relieved as I at the levity.
We both stopped, the surprise on her face matching my own.
“Um, you go first.” I said, rubbing the back of my neck.
“No, it’s okay, you can go first.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” She said, toying with her hands. “I mean, I know why I’m sorry, but why are you apologizing?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m sorry I wrote you off like that. I was nervous about the dragon, and being the group leader didn’t make it any easier.”
“It’s okay.” She said. “I mean, it’s my fault, really. If it weren’t for my damn social anxiety, maybe you wouldn’t think I’m just a hallucination.”
“Still, real or not, it was wrong to do that to you. It wasn’t a nice thing to do.” I let out a sigh. “And still you tried to warn my about Meryli. You even tried to save me from Dee.”
Her blush very evident now, she said, “She wasn’t really attacking you.”
“I didn’t know that at the time, and I doubt you did either. Thank you … and I’m sorry for not believing you.”
““No, Jimmy, don’t be sorry.” She said, not meeting my gaze. “It’s my fault. I did this all wrong. It’s no wonder you don’t think I’m real. Even now, you aren’t sure, and it’s my fault. I might as well just be an illusion with the way I’ve handled this. I could’ve done so many things to show you I was real, but I didn’t because … because I was scared.”
“Am I truly that frightening?” I asked.
“You have no idea. Jimmy.” Sighing, she said, “I should’ve told you from the beginning.”
“Hey.” I said, rubbing her cheek. “Tell me what?”
She met my gaze for a long moment before letting out a sigh. “You know how tigreth women bond with their mates? Well, the fional do as well, both the men and women. It’s different with us, though; there’s no fight, no contest. For us, it’s a two-part process that starts with a kiss between two people who feel a mutual attraction.”
“Like when we kissed in the lake at Natalya.” I said, realization washing over me. “By the Creator, I’m thick. That’s why I keep waking up when your around, why I get snippits of how you’re feeling. We bonded that night; you’ve been in my head ever since.”
I did feel an emotion at that: shame. Her embarrassment was so strong that I could feel myself blush a little. She sat down on the side of my bed, her head bowed. I slowly sat down beside her and patiently waited, feeling her need to explain it to me.
“I should’ve told you before I kissed you.” She said, “I should’ve explained it, but after watching you for so long, seeing the way you act even when there’s no one else to watch you …”
She turned her gaze on me, her affection flooding through the bond I knew us to now share. I really like you, Jimmy. You’re handsome, brave, dedicated, and by the Creator you’ve a kind heart. More than anything, though, you know how it feels.”
“How what feels?” I asked, by voice quiet.
“How it feels to be alone. I know it’s not fair to compare your situation with mine. I’ve lived surrounded by others in the palace for years, whereas you had no one save tourists and the occasional visit from my father when he was on the way to spend time with my mother.”
I took her hand between both of mine. “I grew up in Rimstak after my parents died. Trust me; sometimes there’s no lonelier place in the world than in the middle of a crowd.”
She gave me a timid smile, the happiness she felt brushing against my own thoughts like a warm breeze. “At first, it was everything I wanted. I knew it would take a little longer for you to start feeling the effects, as you aren’t fional, but I hoped to give you a chance to see into my mind as well as the weeks passed, give you a chance to get to know me the way I knew you.”
She sighed. “And then, I went to check on you after the incident with the prop dragon in Wukice. I didn’t realize just how strong the urge would be when feeding of our feelings of mutual attraction.”
“To complete the bond.” Blush reappearing on her cheeks, she said, “The kiss is the first part. The second part … well …”
I felt my own cheeks grow warm. “I think I understand.”
“You liked me, I liked you, and our affections just fed on each other, making the urge to complete the bond all the stronger.” She sighed again, a smile on her face this time. “It’s gotten easier to manage, but by the Creator was it overwhelming before, especially in the Genovis facility.”
“Really?” I said, a sly smile sliding across my face. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Shut up.” She said, punching my arm playfully. “Seriously, I’m surprised I was able to stop myself from just jumping you outright and completing the bond whether you were ready or not.”
“To be fair, I wasn’t exactly pushing you away.” I said.
“Yes, but part of you was still fighting. I think some of that discipline you taught yourself over the last thirteen years finally started trickling through the bond when we met in the Genovis facility, ‘cause that’s when I finally realized what I was doing.”
She looked away from me. “I should’ve explained everything and given you a choice that night at the lake, but I didn’t. I forced myself on you, because some part of me was afraid that you’d say no. I’m sorry about that, Jimmy, and … and if you want to break the bond, I completely understand. You really deserve someone so much better than-”
I cut her off with a kiss. Her eyes widened in surprise, but soon she brought her hands up to caress my cheek and neck. As I pulled away, I said, “Do you remember the first thing you ever said to me?”
“I like you.” She said, nodding slightly.
“Well, I like you too. I liked you since you smiled at me for reassuring Princess Zelda all those weeks ago. I wasn’t partially bonded to you then; heck, I didn’t even know your name. I won’t pretend that I fully understand the nature of the bonding, but would I have agreed to give it a try? Yes, I think so.”
Her smile widened slowly as I continued, “I’ll admit that our relationship’s been a bit unusual, and after what you’ve told me, I do think it’s too soon for us to complete the bond, but do I want it to end?” I shook my head. “No, I don’t.”
Her happiness radiating throughout my core, Terra hugged me. “Me either.” She whispered in my ear.
When she pulled away, her hands in mine, she asked, “So what now? What’s the next step?”
Seeing her looking so earnestly at me was almost too much. I scooted back on the bed and picked up the remote on my bedside table. Waving it meaningfully, I said, “Well, seeing as we’ve already eaten, would you like to watch a movie with me?”
She smiled and quickly scooted back until she was right beside me. Nestling against my side, she said, “I’d love to.”
I awoke the next morning in bed with Terra curled up against my side, my keikogi over her shoulders and the remote for the console that served as both computer and television for the guest chamber still in her hand. Smiling, I kissed Terra’s forehead. She nuzzled against my chest for a few moments before settling down, a contented smile on her face as she continued to dream.
I was content to lay there and watch Terra sleep. Unfortunately, as a result of the large feast the night before, I soon found myself needing to go to the bathroom. I carefully extricated myself from Terra’s sleeping arms and slid out of bed. Seeing her shiver slightly in the cool air, I pulled the comforter over her.
“Be right back.” I kissed her on the forehead before moving swiftly to the bathroom.
After dealing with the more immediate issues, I approached the sink and washed my hands. As I reached for a towel, however, I spotted something strange on the sink; lying beside the silk night robe Terra had discarded for my keikogi was a strange metal bracelet.
Curious, I picked it up and inspected it for a few moments before I chanced to glance up at the mirror and saw Terry’s armored visage staring back at me.
“Agh!” I stumbled back, dropping the bracelet into the sink. Terry’s image vanished in an instant, leaving behind only my own reflection in the mirror.
Slowly, I picked up the bracelet again, my eyes never leaving the mirror. The moment my fingers touched the bracelet, Terry’s reflection again engulfed my own. It took but a few moments to find the triggering mechanism on the bracelet. When triggered, Terry’s image once again vanished.
I was still trying to process this when I heard someone at my door call out, “Jimmy! It’s Arc. I’ve got Mick and Terry with me. You decent?”
“Yeah.” I called back, still distracted by the strange bracelet.
I heard the door to my room slide open. “Yo, Jimmy, it’s almost noon. How about we get some lunch before we …”
Hearing him fall silent breaks my distraction. I walk back into the room with the bracelet in hand only to find Terry, Arc, and Mick staring at my bed. Arc was stunned, Terry seemed bemused, and Mick had a satisfied expression on his face as the three of them watched Terra slowly sit up in bed, still looking sleepy.
“Oh.” She said, blushing as she pulled the keikogi closed over her night clothes. “Um … hi.”
“Hi!” Mick said brightly. “You must be Terra!”
Terry gave her a little wave. Arc continued to stare with his mouth wide open.
After a few moments of silence, she said, “I-I should go.”
She hopped out of bed and hurried toward the door, her tear-shaped tail bouncing with every step. I caught gently by the shoulders before she could slip out of the door.
“You don’t have to run away.” I told her. “Please, stay.”
“Indeed.” Mick said. “Perhaps a fourth room renovation in the Saybaro is in order?”
Terra looked at me in askance, to which I nodded. “If you want to. I mean, moving in might be a bit sudden, but-”
She stopped me with a kiss. I held her close, my hands rubbing the small of her back in that way I know she liked.
“It might take a few weeks.” She said, arms around my neck.
“Take all the time you want.” I told her. “Just don’t take too long, okay?”
She gave me a smile and another kiss before slipping out of my grasp, leaving me holding nothing but my keikogi. I watched her run down the hall, only to stop and turn back a good distance away.
Smiling, I kissed the tips of my fingers and held them out toward her. She repeated the gesture before hurrying out of sight.
My chest feeling near to bursting with happiness as I slipped back into my keikogi, I turned back to my friends. Arc was still staring slack-jawed down the now-empty corridor.
“So.” I said, clapping my hands together, “You said something about lunch?”