twenty-one. Safe Haven

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I eventually fell asleep, exhausted by the all the tears and lulled by Gabe's hands in my hair, his fingers tangled up with my braids and the smell of him, everywhere –a hint of mint and citrus, of woods and rain, subtle and comforting.

I woke up tangled up with his sheets, bathed in that same scent. I buried my face in his pillow and just breathed it in, registering the sounds around me –for one, the shower was on in the adjacent bathroom and then there was the steady pitter-patter of rain against the windows, tempting me to just let go and fall asleep again.

But I sat up, stretching and yawning –Gabe emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of mist just as I was getting out of his bed. He wore nothing but boxers, and I took him in, starting when I saw the tattoo that sprawled over the width of his broad chest. At first glance it looked like a winged crest, but before I could get a better view, Gabe turned his back to me and started rummaging through the open drawer of a dresser.

"I see you're up," he intoned, his back still to me as he put on a black t-shirt. "Next time you decide to crash here, you're sleeping on the couch. Why am I the one who ends on a sofa in my own damn house?" he asked, and without waiting for a response, he continued. "What do you want to eat for breakfast?"

I was grateful for his nonchalance. The understanding, soft Gabe from yesterday was gone, replaced by his usual abrasive self –and it was precisely what I needed.

I smiled at him when he turned to face me and he grinned back.

I could get used to mornings like these.

It was a fleeting thought, but it had been there and it immediately left me feeling ashamed and guilty.

"I'm not hungry," I said and tried to gulp down the guilt. "But I'd love some tea."

"Suit yourself," Gabe said with a shrug.

I followed him downstairs and into the kitchen. While the furniture was modern and cold in tones of chrome and dark wood, the brick walls and the soft, orange glow of the lamps hanging low over the counter gave it a warm touch. It wasn't hard imagining him here every morning, sipping freshly brewed coffee and checking his phone, just the way he was now, his forearms resting on the counter, his damp hair in a disarray that wasn't unpleasant to the eye.

And then Gabe made me tea. It was strange to see someone as lethal do something so ordinary, just the way once upon a time it had been strange to see him chuck down a flower-shaped sprinkled donut.

Somehow, the feline grace of his movements felt wasted on the mundane actions of boiling water and plunging a teabag into a steaming cup –a stupid notion, but Gabriel looked as though he would be better suited for an action movie rather than real life.

He made waffles for himself –he actually whipped up some batter, to my utmost surprise –and when the smell of fresh waffles wafted in the air, I gave in to the temptation.

With a sly smile, he placed a plate in front of me with my tea before I could even say that I'd changed my mind.

"No one can say no to my waffles," he said as he sat down himself and took another sip of his black coffee. I scrunched up my nose at his choice of drink and took a bite.

And moaned. "Is this heaven?" I asked around a mouthful of what felt like a cloud peppered with bits of chocolate.

"You haven't tasted real heaven yet," he said with a smug smile, leaning back in his chair as he watched me.

"You're right, I haven't."

Something passed between us. It was in the way his eyes met mine, in the curve of his smile and the gentle bite of my teeth as they caught my lower lip. There was an intimacy to the look we shared, a quiet conversation without words needed. The things his eyes whispered to mine made my heart pound faster.

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