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27: The Spy

Larke, 1182

My eyes blinked open, gradually accustoming myself to the dim light lazily spilling out from the thin window. Laying on my back, gazing at the plain ceiling, I absentmindedly caressed the soft sheets I was encased in. A thick, warm quilt encapsulated my body, keeping me warm. I inhaled, enjoying the pleasantness of the clean, fresh scent. My bed had never felt so cozy, the sheets smoother than I remembered, the blankets I was wrapped in so soft and luxurious.

This wasn’t my room. Not daring to move, I flicked my eyes around and noticed that it seemed to be a mirror image of mine, and certainly not my room at all. Then, I saw him, sitting on a chair next to my bed, reclined with his head leaning against the wall. The bare wood looked horribly uncomfortable and his posture awkward.

Why was I not in my own room?

It all came back to me. I’d gone to find Liss, only to be imprisoned myself; discovered that The Raven and Dean knew my identity; and then was given a deadly ultimatum. Which, I had taken. Or at least, I’d spoken the words as was expected of me.

Fortunately, my head felt much better. The throbbing had receded considerably. I wondered if they had cast healing magic on me, as I’d not expected to improve this quickly. That magical talent was a rare one, and usually not enough to do more than ease a minor headache. The palace had an extremely talented healer in their employ; I’d relied on him to mend anything from cuts to broken bones, but his expertise was more in the diagnosis. Still lying down, afraid to push myself too far just yet, I lifted my arm to brush my forehead, feeling for the bump and cut there.

My fingers detected a slight ridge, which must have been where the cut had healed significantly, but no bump. Unless I’d been unconscious for weeks, some kind of magic must have been at work there. That was fortunate; if they deemed me worthy enough to fix up, then they were probably planning on keeping me around still. That was good news. I hoped.

I rested my hand back at my side. Dean still lie there, breathing heavily in deep sleep, despite the apparent uncomfortable position he was in. I watched his chest rise and fall, his hair disheveled. He looked so peaceful, all the tension removed from his expression, that I couldn’t help but stare. It made him look younger, oddly enough.

“See anything you like?” he whispered; his eyes still closed.

It made me start, unaware that he knew I was watching him.

“How long have I been asleep?” I asked, curious.

“About a day,” he answered, sighing. He opened his eyes lazily and turned his head to face me. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, just stiff.” I shifted in the bed, getting ready to try and sit up.

I knew this would be the difficult part. Head injuries make any large movements impossible. Dean sat up quickly to help me, and I felt the heat rush into my cheeks at his concern for me. Would he still be so helpful if he thought I wasn’t honest in my pledge to the Naga?

I thought of Nya, and the promises we had made each other years ago. It was her and me, despite everything, against the world. In the beginning, it was simple. We were friends, and in return for my service to the Suryan Mages, she asked her father to look after my family. It was the only reason I’d agreed at the time. I never did see my family after that, but at least I had the assurance that somebody was looking after them.

Then, it became more. We became closer, she was at my side constantly, bringing me gifts, and helping me with my studies. I don’t think I would’ve become High Suryan Premiere without her, regardless of my power. She is brilliant, that woman. Eventually, which may have been her intent the entire time, my loyalty was to her. I owed her so much. My sanity, my purpose, the livelihood of my family. In return, all I had to do was serve the Kingdom as best as I could.

Then I came here, and though she had warned me before I’d been assigned that this would be an impossible task, that I held the future of the country in my hands, I hadn’t believed her. She did tend towards the dramatic, at times.

I’d been her loyal confidante, her friend, her lover, over these last fifteen years. Could I throw that away for these people I’d only met a few months ago? This was what I’d been trained for, I knew. Suryan Mages, at least the intelligence branch, knew that when going into an undercover mission how important it was to not become entangled. Perspective is everything, they had told me, and it’s crucial not to lose sight of the goal. Not to lose the forest for the trees. But I’d never been tested so hard before.

I dared not even think about my feelings towards Dean. I couldn’t consider those, not right now. It was too messy, too confusing. I felt foolish, like a child acting through a play they’d written, pleased with sarcastic giggles from the audience, taking them for genuine. But I also knew that through all of this nonsense, I’d been happier here than I’d ever been in the palace. And, I knew it was all because of him.

But that didn’t mean I knew what the right thing was to do.

Perhaps I’d be able to think clearer when my head healed further. I watched Dean stare at me, concerned. Or, perhaps it’d be easier to think without him around. I suppose for now I must stay the course, as The Raven had elected to allow me to stay. I’ll figure out what I should do later.

“We should get you up and walking around,” Dean suggested. “It’ll help with getting you back to normal.”

Of course, he had to be right. And, the more time we spent together, the easier it would be to return to whatever sort of relationship we had before I was exposed. I thought to when I’d first arrived here. He’d shown me kindness for my false loss, had asked about my scars, and it seemed he was genuine when he expressed his empathy. I wondered if he still felt the same – or rather, I wonder if he felt anything for me, at all.

I succeeded in siting up, with Dean’s assistance. His body was close to mine, his face too close, his heat overwhelming me. It wasn’t as if the rest of my body was injured, although I was sore, but the movement made my head swim. It was an unpleasant sensation as I regained my bearings. Dean was now sitting on the edge of the bed, his hands floating behind my back, ready to support me should I need it.

A rush of shame came over me. Here I was, taking advantage of his compassion again, forcing him to help me, to take care of me. Nausea fluttered in my stomach, not helped by the pain in my head, and I took in heavy, shaking breaths. This was all too much. The best I could do right now was to get through these next few minutes. Then, I could think about the future, about my plans to escape. I just couldn’t think about it right now.

“Do you think you can stand?” he asked me, concern clear in his voice.

“I think so.” I whispered, looking directly into his eyes. They were, as always, clear and unfairly blue. “I’m probably going to need your help, though.” I looked back down, embarrassed that I needed to ask for support.

Wordlessly, he complied. He helped me move my legs to the side of the bed, my feet falling flat onto the wooden floor. I was still wearing my blood-soaked clothes; they were damp, sweaty, and simply disgusting. I needed an honest to goddess bath.

“Do you think I could bathe, first?” I asked, looking up at him, pleading.

“Oh, sure!” he exclaimed. He stood up quickly. “Yeah. Let me get you set up, and then I’ll let you be.”

He left me there on the edge of his bed. He hurried around the room, filled the bathtub that sit in his bathroom adjacent, collected a towel for me to dry with, placed a bar of soap on the edge of the tub, and even found an outfit from his dresser that he apparently deemed acceptable.

He returned to the bed to help me get to the bathroom. I took a few steps, with my hands resting in his, and found that walking wasn’t so hard. The difficult part was getting to a standing position. Dean led me carefully to the bathroom where he’d gathered all of the necessary items.

I stared at him pointedly, and he took the hint to leave me alone. He exited, shut the door to give me privacy, on guard just outside the door. Thankful to be alone, I gingerly undressed myself, slowly raising the hem of my tunic over my head, careful not to touch my forehead. The rest was easy enough, although I did have to sit down so that I didn’t have to balance on one leg.

I slipped into the steaming, hot bath with a sigh. Nothing makes you feel better quite like a hot bath does. I knew Dean was waiting for me, and, like a fool, I looked forward to spending time with him. I washed quickly, lathering my hair gently, yet thoroughly. I dried myself and got dressed in the clothes he’d picked out for me.

When I opened the door, he was sitting on his bed, his arm propping up his chin. When he saw me, he smiled, sending a shiver through my spine. That smile was dangerous. He rose to meet me and offered his arm, which I politely took, squeezing his bicep.

The next hour or so we spent in moderate silence, simply promenading around the manor. He said hello to everyone we passed, and I nodded slightly instead of greetings. Most people gave me a wary glance but would warm up when they saw Dean with me. I wondered if he was showing me around on purpose. A display of trust, I suppose, that I was allowed to wander around with him. I was sure that everybody had been updated of my recent escapades. Why wouldn’t they? They all apparently knew I was a Suryan Mage.

As we strolled around the compound, I finalized my decision I’d been subconsciously debating since my ultimatum. These people had taken me in, accepted me, and though we each had tried to take advantage of each other, they had allowed me to stay, given me a home. I’d gotten to know them, become familiar with them, and become close to them, too. They were more like a family to me than anyone in the palace.

It was because of this that I knew what I had to do. These people were good, despite their occupations, but they weren’t really my family. I had to keep my real family safe and fulfill my promise that I made years ago. I couldn’t abandon that, not now.

I looked up at Dean as he greeted yet another Naga with a smile and a nod. I would have to betray him, too. The thought caused a pain in my chest; one I could only describe as heart break.

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