"All this time. All this time you've been hiding away. Why didn't you ever come to me? I would have helped you?" His tone is sharp, filled with anger and hurt. Something I can understand.
"You could not help me. I couldn't even help myself back then."
"But Theo could?" He spits his name.
"Theo has done nothing wrong. He helped me when I couldn't have helped myself."
"You never gave me the opportunity."
"You couldn't help."
"It should have been me to help."
He had always been my go-to out of all the uncles even when I knew he never was. Looking up at him I feel that tight bond between us but it has changed. This isn't him looking at a little girl anymore. This is him looking at a woman, one he may have known when she was young but I'm no longer that person.
"I can't continue this argument with you Armand. Theo helped me and I will forever be grateful for him doing that. It wasn't because I didn't want to come to people but no one could understand me when I didn't understand myself."
"I hate it. I hate that it wasn't me. I should have been able to understand to help."
"We can't do this stuff now there is too much going on." I say turning to move away from him.
"Don't, don't leave yet." He reaches out for me; I side step his arm but he steps closer again. I tilt my chin stubbornly up towards his six-foot one height.
"We both need rest for tomorrow." It's not true. I feel far from tired when I'm around him. My body is wide awake and my chest aches. Is this a bond? Is this a soulmate? It felt different around Theo.
I have to find out what this is. Finding out what this is will bring me inner peace and I know it. Leave me in no question to what that bond is with Theo. Is this a bond that is so strong because of him beings around for my whole life, a childhood crush maybe? An adult infatuation possibly. Or is the bond with Theo that of someone who I needed to come into contact with. Because without him I wouldn't be free right now.
"How can you be so distant from me? It may have been years but …"
"But what Armand? I'm not a child that needs protecting anymore. I'm an adult and I know what I'm doing."
"You know what you're doing? You know that the position you want is mine, right?"
"I train the army. I command our army and troops. You want that position you have to beat me. You have to make me see that you are capable because if you cannot Niko will never allow you to take front position in this war."
"My dad will have no choice. This is my war and I will be fighting it." The threat of control being taken away from me has me getting angry. My hands tingle with flames that flick across my skin.
"You will?" He looks down and a smile tugs at his lips. The five o'clock shadow of hair is new, he was always clean cut before, it doesn't look unkempt though so I assume a permanent addition.
"Watch me." I storm away from him. For a moment I swear I hear the smallest chuckle behind me. Is he challenging me on purpose? We'll see.
Refusing to spend a second night in my parents’ room I return to my own. It was strange walking around a room that seems to have been stopped in time. Completely the same as when I left it. I order the guard that had been following me around at a distance to come in and take all the clothes home to his children. I'd overheard him speaking to another about having a daughter who was moaning about something or another. He hesitated but took the clothes in the end. Within hours my whole room was transformed into something bright and colourful. Sleep didn't come quickly but I rose early in hope that I could spend some time alone on the training grounds at the back of the palace, alone. I've done it for so long but now it seems to be totally different. I don't have to be alone; I have everyone around me, it's a choice. Cladding in black leggings and a sports bra I don't even run through the palace I leap out the window. Whistling into the air.
"Hey girls." Mis and Uni come bounding over at me and they nearly knock me off my feet. I could have them live with me in the palace. A comfort blanket whilst I embrace my old life. It isn't fair on them though so I let them be free. But they are never far away. "Let's go train."
Jogging to the back of the palace grounds, before the wall that cuts us from the others. I let loose. Fire engulfing my body this time not in rage or fighting. Just in simply letting go and feeling. Flames engulf me but I welcome it and feel the tingle across my skin. Moving through fluent moves one after another Straining my muscles through an array of workouts.
"It's good you look like you can fight but can you actually." His hoarse voice comes through. I turn breathing heavy from working out to see Armand and I breathe even heavier. In a tight black vest now, revealing rippling muscles of his arms and forearms now. A pair of black combat trousers on his toned legs. His dark skin glistens with sweat, had he been running? "Shall we spar?"
I turn the flames off with such ease that you'd think I mastered these abilities years ago. Rather than days. With a nod he comes closer raising his arms. Uni and Mis come to my side protectively growling at Armand who stands looking at them confused.
"It's ok girls. He isn't any danger." I smile at him. He got my meaning that he has no chance of hurting me. The hounds move away and sit watching. Ready at any time.
"Are your hounds going to attack me if I land a blow."
"You won't. No, they won't hurt you now I've told them."
We begin at first, it's easy sparring. Neither land a blow with both being too quick. The perfect match for another. Eventually I manage to land a punch to the side of his head. He seems shocked for a moment but manages to dodge my next blow. When he grapples me to the ground smiling thinking he has me pinned, my flexibility comes in handy as I wrap my legs around him throwing him off. I sit on his back facing the opposite way. My fingertips just graze against the solid curve of his backside.
"You've been practicing." Armand says as I quickly and awkwardly climb off of him. He gets to his feet smoothly straightening himself out to full height.
"I had a long time to do so." I reply with a shrug.
"Sisi before you left you came to me. I hadn't realised then that it was an emergency. Did you come to ask me for help?" Everything has turned serious. I hadn't come to him for help, I'd come in hope that maybe the idea that he was my soulmate might help me escape some of the nightmares.
"It wasn't, I'd come to say goodbye." A lie but opening the wound of feelings I feel towards him isn't something I need to bring up now. Especially when he doesn't show any signs of being affected by me. Not in the slightest other than annoyed by the fact I up and left.
"You knew you were going to leave and when I said I couldn't tell you just walked away." His voice becomes darker now. Annoyed in a way that I've never heard him. "Why wouldn't you have told me so I could convince you to stay. Whatever it was I was busy with wouldn't have made a difference. I would have cancelled it to speak with you. You must have known that."
"I didn't. Not anymore. Don't be offended Armand I didn't even know myself anymore. I didn't feel loved or love. I just didn't feel anything but anger anymore."
"And yet you came to me."
"Call it a habit."
"One that seems to have died?" The anger is gone and his face is his usual mask of emotions but I swear he sounds hurt. Because he missed me? As more or less than a child he'd grown up around.
"I do not need anyone. I choose who I have in my life now."
"So far that doesn't seem to be many as you are already spending time alone."
"You are so fucking annoying. How hadn't I remembered that? Or have you just become that since I've been gone. You seem a lot more like all the others now. A strict uncle." I nearly choke on the word uncle but still say it all the same.
"Do not try and push me."
"By stating the facts. Is Neo still fun? Least there is someone in this place that isn't some grumpy old guy."
Armand crosses the distance between us and stands before me. I glare up at him. Maybe he isn't who has changed but instead I have. I know time has changed me, the curse or spell I was under made me do unforgivable things. Yet Armand standing this close sends my body into overdrive. He is beyond handsome and the fact he had history so many years before I was born maybe even centuries on earth, yet it should be enough to put me off. To stop whatever this feeling is I get whenever I'm around him.
It's totally different to how I had felt with Theo. Theo the kind, submissive angel and Armand the demon who pushes every button I have. So different and yet the allure, the bond that ties me to each is similar.
"Sisi you're playing with fire. There is only so much self-restraint a demon of my breeding will have."
"And one of my breeding has zero. You come out here with your intolerable attitude expecting me to still be tangled in my bed sheets or hugging family. I will not do either. There is a fight coming and I will be leading it."
"You believe yourself capable which is the first step but you are still to prove yourself as such."
This man. His infuriatingly handsome face, the beard, the tied afro I know is unruly and yet tamed all at once. The warmth of his brown eyes that spill red more often when I am around. His stature, his body beneath the vest that does nothing to hide it is defined and solid.
Is it him who breathes heavy? Or I? We look at each other. The willpower not to touch him, not to kiss him as I've yearned to do for as many years as I can remember. A woman can fantasise but mine had been futile. Armand is respected among my family. A dear friend to my parents and centuries older than myself. But what is an age to an immortal? If he feels as I do how long can we both fight the burning attraction?