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Chapter Ten

I watched the Assassin walk away from me, my breath still frozen in my throat and ears still ringing with the echoes of all his voices. One voice took far longer to leave than the others.

Beautiful. But he had only seen me once! It was such a useless, frivolous thing to occupy my mind, yet occupy it did. I thought of fit during the rest of my day, and it was one of the earliest thoughts of the following.

It was a jesting name. A courting name. A comfortable name from my father, a polite name from a duty-bound Prince.

It was not a title, bestowed by a man half out of his mind yet so completely burdened with truth. Every truth around him assaulted his mind. Why would this one, on I half-believed to be a lie, be the one so emotionally told to me?

He had said the words as though he were on his deathbed. As though they were the most important words in the world to him at that moment.

I was not terribly surprised that I was important to him. It was evident that I was helpful in keeping the voices at bay. That my touch could lessen the load even more.

But if that was the only reason behind my importance, why not touch me all the time? Force me to take his burden? Not that force was necessary; I found that I would be quite willing.

So why did he not touch me?

I finally came to the impossible conclusion. The only conclusion> He cared about me. Just as that chipped cup loved to say I cared for him. Just as his voice, ringing will all the others, had said to me.

At first, I only saw the self-centered side of this. No one had cared for me before, save my father and dear Peter. And of course my late mother. But to Costas I was an investment, to my people the production of a future king, and to my friends a pawn.

My beast needed me more than anyone ever had. But he refused to. Not even my father had refused to use me when it was the only option.

The realization caused my eyes to mist over. Now, more than ever, I was determined to help my beast. To cure him, to save him, to protect him from the monster beneath his hood. Because he, even as a beast, had been determined to protect me like no one ever had.

I read and talked constantly. I had never been able to do that before. Peter would tell me it wasn’t lady-like, or alternatively, that he was exhausted of my voice. But compared to hundreds being trapped in your mind, a single one seemed a small price to pay.

“I can hear the chipped cup, actually. It’s the voice that i can make out without touching you. It says more pleasant things than the others, wouldn’t you say? Although sometimes I could swear I hear that mirror in the blue bedroom snickering rude comments when I walk past. It does say the rudest things about my face and figure,” I said jokingly.

I had never dreamt that one day I would be joking to a man about my figure, but I felt no apprehension in making such jests to the Assassin. I had seen the worst parts of him, and he had only ever known me at my most piteous state; what was the point in being ashamed of anything anymore?

“You shouldn’t’ listen to the mirrors,” said the Assassin. “Most of the voices are honest, pure truth. But mirrors are different. They don’t tell what they see, but what you see in them. Tricky things.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “You jest.”

“Sadly, I tell the truth,” he said.

“Sadly is an interesting preface to that statement,” I said in order to bypass a question.

“It is sad because that means when you see yourself in a mirror, you only dream up flaws for yourself,” he said.

My cheeks flushed. “Perhaps the problem would best be remedied by thinking less of myself in the first place,” I said. “That reminds me of a theory I read yesterday by Lorde...”

Chores were neglected, meals forgotten, and offers from desperate kingdoms left unattended in the following days. The Assassin was occupied with his first slice of peace in many years, and I with providing it. I don’t know if the Assassin was ever fully aware of what I was doing, or if he was merely accepting it in that almost amiable way in which he accepted life’s natural flow.

If this is love, I thought, then it doesn’t feel like how all the poems and stories make it out.

Love was supposed to be heart-racing, cheeks red, stomach tight, eyes doey and mind mushy. This was comfort. Comparing this to what I had expected love to be like was like comparing a cooking fire to a firework. It didn’t blow me away, sweep me off my feat, leave me breathless and woozy.

But it was warm. And it was comforting. I was happy to care for my beast, ti simply be with him every day as I Tried to think of a way to help him permanently.

I questioned what sort of a love it was. Were there even different kinds? Was this the loyal love between friends? Or that between lovers?

At the time, it didn’t matter much. All my focus was spent on helping him. Things slipped into routine again, and life resumed much as it once had, saving for two small things. One, the Assassin was no longer keeping me here by force. And two, he didn’t have to.

It was in this time that his fortress had changed from my prison to my home.

“You don’t resent it,” the Assassin noted one day between speeches about foreign diplomacy over lunch.

“I don’t really hold grudges,” I responded. “Although if you’re looking for a flaw to blame, my father used to say that I was remarkably good at self-deception. Apparently, when I was little, I convinced myself that I was a master artist. But looking back on my heart-felt scribbles, I can see that isn’t quite true. And another time, I was positive that I could be a stone-hearted evil queen. That was most certainly not the case.” We fell silent for a moment, so I added, “But not. I don’t hold a grudge, my beast.”

“What was that?” The question flew from the Assassin’s mouth nearly before I had finished.

“Oh!” I cried, eyes widening. “I- it just slipped out,” I stammered. “It’s a sort of nickname I called you, when I first arrived here. And it’s... it’s meant to be endearing, but I can understand if you hate it.”

The silence stretched between us. I ached to interrupt it, that chasm full of his torturous voices. I didn’t need his monster to punish me; claws of my own raked over my heart as I grimaced at what I’d said. It was worse than a question; the voices were so loud I could nearly make them out.

“My beast,” he echoed. “You said my.”

He quickly had his face hidden behind the chipped cup, but I could have sworn I saw a silly grin just before.

I quickly lifted my cup to hide a silly grin of my own, reveling in the quietness of the voices and the contentment of my own life.

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