The Other Shoe | ii

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"How long was your magic supposed to last?"

"As long as we are inside."

"Then I don't suppose we're actually outside and all this is another one of your parlor tricks?"

Soon after Fionn heard what she had—pounding feet and jostling armor. A less than gentlemanlike oath rolled off his tongue. There was only one way out from where they were and that was through the guards. Nerina walked towards the man Fionn was helping to walk.

"What you have seen and what you will see is all a dream. You will remember nothing when I wake you. Sleep." Since feeding on Fionn's blood, Nerina had realized she was stronger. The compulsion worked in an instant. "We don't want him spreading tall tales now do we?" Nerina took a step back, hands out from her side. "I need better clothes."

"Nerina."

"You did it your way. Now it's my turn."

Fionn hesitated. He knew what was going to happen. With another wave of his hand, she was standing in front of him in breeches and a shirt her hair braided down her back. He frowned at her back as she took off at preternatural speed cutting a path through the men like a hot knife through butter. That was what he had wanted to avoid. Putting them to sleep would have kept all of them out of harm's way if it had not been for certain... interruptions.

Safely hidden in the trees, Fionn propped the sleeping man up against a tree. Nerina met up with them her smirk withering into lines of concern. He was wearing a dark anger she had never seen before.

"I get you like to use magic but some old-fashioned fist fighting works too. I promise I didn't kill any of them."

"It's not you."

Nerina looked towards the prison then to him. "The magic wore off. So what?"

"It didn't wear off." His voice came out like thunder and the sky rumbled with it.

Nerina looked up at the lightning flashing through the thickening clouds overhead through the trees. The clear sky now looked like there was a storm brewing. Her skin tingled uncomfortably with the magic in the air around her. She had to fight the urge to rub at her arms. The picture of the heads on fire came to her mind and she closed her eyes pinching the bridge of her nose.

"It's them isn't it?"

He did not answer as he stood there seething. The look in his eyes was distant his jaw clenched, hands fisted. The tingling was becoming much stronger than she could ignore. She rubbed at her arms as it started to sting as if she was standing in a swarm of bees. Nerina went to stand in front of him her height below his chin. He looked over her head as if she was not there. When she touched his face with her hands to bring his eyes down to her, her palm pricked with the energy coming through his very skin.

"Fionn. Fionn. Look at me."

Eyes now looking down at her they remained distant as if he was only a shell standing there in front of her. She began to worry as she gently patted his cheek. Magic was a world she did not understand but she could feel fear slithering up her back like icy fingers. The sky erupted; fat drops of raining pounding down on her face. She could hardly keep her eyes open. Lightning. Thunder. The winds wailing through the trees, slapping the rain against her skin like tiny ice needles. Nature was responding to the anger boiling out of him. The trees around them creaked and moaned against the battering wind. In a distance, she heard the snapping of a branch and it crashing to the ground.

"Fionn. Fionn." She was frantic to reach him. A bolt of lightning hit a tree close by and Nerina could smell the burning of wood, see the smoke through the rain. She shook him now as her voice raised in anxiety. Another bolt dropped closer to them. The earth beneath their feet roiled. Nerina acted with urgency sinking her teeth into his neck.

He came back gasping, wrapping his arms around her like steel bands. Nerina went down with him when he fell to his knees resting his head on her shoulder. She held him. Said nothing as he held on to her.

"They saw you." Fionn's words were broken.

The air stilled in Nerina's lungs before she let it out in a long stream taking a deep breath afterward. Cloaking her had not been on his mind when they had entered the prison. The talking heads would have found her sooner rather than later if they wanted him as badly as he had told her. She would have preferred later.

Fionn and Nerina returned the man to his weeping wife. Compelled, he remembered nothing of what transpired. One minute he was in his cell the next, he was home.

Nerina sat back against a downed tree branch silently musing on how she had found herself on the other end of someone else wanting her dead. There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide and no killing them either. It seemed Nerina had moved up on the ladder of misfortune and cashed in on a handsome prize.

Contemplating her ever-growing proclivity for bad luck, she watched Fionn pace. They were back on the island where Steele had left her. Safeguarded now, Fionn had her hidden. Nerina was grateful he had not opened his mouth and lied that they could hide that way forever. That she could hide that way forever. He was doing all he could and she could see that with all that he was still bothered. He was powerful by himself but together the heads would have enough magic. That was her speculation as he had said nothing more to her other than they had seen her. The implication did not need to be voiced.

Fionn came to sit in front of her on the ground taking her hands in his. With more gentleness than his mood should have allowed he kissed both her palms. Placed kisses on her wrists before resting his forehead on their joined hands. When he looked up at her Nerina felt the words before he said them.

"I love you. With all my heart and soul I have never loved another woman the way I love you."

Before she could respond, he had her mouth captured in his. The kiss lacked the gentleness he had used on her hands. It was desperate, scorching to her senses. Nerina allowed him to take what he needed to be comforted. Later, wrapped together in a languid heap Fionn traced the line of her back with a finger. She shivered and he smiled.

Nerina traced idle lines down his chest her head nestled in the crook of his arm. "What now?" A basic question held life or death.

"Now I protect you with my life."

"You cannot die. You said so yourself."

"But I can ascend."

Nerina rose up on her elbow to look down at him. "Ascend?"

Fionn used his hand to hold her hair back from her face as the heavy silk flowed over his chest. His fingers moved along her scalp to the nape of her neck his eyes searching. She had said she loved him back. "That is what they want. That is not a life. There is no life without you. Not anymore."

Fionn kissed her and Nerina could feel her chest tightening. When the wrong people wanted you, they would do anything.

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