twenty-two. Princess

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I woke up to Alexei's quiet humming and found him sitting in bed, his laptop sitting on an open book in his lap with his earphones plugged in.

Once he noticed that I was awake, he grinned.

"Hey." I said in greeting, my voice a squeaky croak. He pulled one earbud out and smiled down at me.

"Hey." Alexei smoothed a hand over my braids.

I pushed myself up onto my elbows. "You're studying?"

"Yeah, I've got an exam right before spring break and since the upcoming weeks will be pretty hectic for me, I just want to get some of it over with."

"Do you want me to go? I can go."

He gathered me up in a hug and I tried not to crush his laptop as I wrapped my arms around him. "Are you kidding? Your snoring is the best studying soundtrack."

"Hey!" I smacked his arm. "I do not snore!"

"Whatever helps you sleep at night, babe."

I stuck my tongue out at him and slipped out of his embrace and out of bed. On my way to the bathroom, I picked up his crewneck and pulled it over my head. It barely covered my butt, but I was willing to take whatever coverage I could –with the light of day streaming in through the windows I felt slightly too exposed parading around in my birthday suit.

I brushed my teeth and then bounded back into his room –now that I was awake, he'd unplugged his earphones and let his music fill the room.

I recognized the song –an upbeat radio hit that I'd heard many times and kind of liked at first, until it got so overplayed that hearing it made me cringe. But on this particular morning, I didn't care. I was in such a good mood that anything would've probably sounded good right about then –even cats meowing over off-key violins.

The music flowed into me and it was only when Alexei looked up at me and smiled that I realized that I'd been dancing, my hips moving to the rhythm of the music pouring through his speakers. He watched me for a moment and I beckoned him to me.

The longing on his face was almost comical –you'd think we were separated by an ocean if the yearning in his eyes was any indication.

"I have to finish reading this, babe."

I pouted dejectedly and wandered over to the bookshelf integrated into the wall behind his bed. I picked up books at random and then put them right back –the first shelf consisted of textbooks with incredibly boring titles, like Law, Its Origin, Growth and Function. The other shelves were more interesting, filled with novels –I even spotted some children's books amongst the more serious literature. I picked one up just as the song changed and another catchy beat began. If it wasn't for the internationally famous green hat with a red feather on the spine, I probably wouldn't have figured out what the book was about.

The title was Robin des Bois.

I blinked down at it and then slowly opened it.

It was a pop-up book – but not the kind I was used to. This one had layers and layers of depth –the first page depicted a forest –each tree elaborately crafted, each leaf a different tint of green, their bark realistic enough that it looked like it would be rough to the touch. The familiar silhouette of Robin Hood peeked from behind one of the pines, mischievous green eyes gazing up at me.

Alexei must've interrupted his reading to check on me, because in the next moment he was behind me, his hands on my hips as he pressed his cheek against my temple.

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