Chapter 9

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Sean stood right behind Cinder, as she reached down for the door knob, taking a deep breath like she was gathering her courage. The moment she started turning the door handle, Sean stood up to attention, his ears perking. She turned it slowly and his expert ears heard gears, one after the other, clicking into place. Before he could stop her, Cinder reached up with a hand and pushed the door open. At the same time, instead of trying futilely to stop her, Sean yanked Cinder to the floor and covered her with his body, tensing for what was about to happen; preparing to take the fatal blow. Across the room, three loaded crossbows fired their bolts, with a schnuck and three thuds, into the railing and back wall of the stairwell they had just come up.  Sean had pressed them to the floor as low as he could when they hit the stone floor, but even so he had felt the wind of the bolts' passage, the spray of the debris and dust where the bolts hit the stone. 

Sean lifted his weight off of Cinder and onto his elbows and then whispered in her ear, "You ok?" She was breathing heavy, her chest rising and falling beneath him, with the adrenalin in her system. She had hit her head hard on the stone, causing her to black out for a second. "Yes," she whispered back into his ear, almost moaning it out. He pulled his face up off of the floor and looked down at hers for just a moment, before looking around them, checking that it was now safe. Cinder reached up with her hand and touched her head, where it had hit the floor, a breathy grunt following her touch. It was extremely sore to the touch but wasn't bleeding. Sean looked back down to her and saw her rubbing her head, making him sigh in regret. He gently turned her face from his with a hand, so he could look at it. She looked back at him when he said, "I'm sorry, Cinder. Will you be alright?" Cinder closed her eyes, waiting for the dizziness to clear, whispering, "In a moment. I'm still dizzy."

She opened her eyes and looked into his, as he took a quiet second to just look at her in a caring way. It was that subtle softness of the eye that he wore at times of brief closeness; the rare moments of connection they had shared in Dominique's dungeon. He reached up with a closed hand and brushed her face with the side of his thumb, as he tended to do when she was crying, and the soft touch made her draw in a breath, her heart beat picking up a little. She studied him with her eyes, examining his green eyes, noticing how they reminded her of the forest in spring; that beautiful shade of new growth slightly darkened by a fresh rainfall. Her eyes dipped down to his strong jawline, now beginning to show the tiniest shadow, and then over to his lips, before returning to his eyes that seemed to be studying her as much as she was him. As she studied his eyes, she realized just how quiet it was; not only around them but in her mind as well. She couldn't hear his every thought and emotion because of his assassin training, unless she purposely pressed into his mind, and it left her sitting there with only her own thoughts. She almost enjoyed the silence. She thought to herself, Is this what it's like to not hear someone's every thought and emotion, to not know; is this what other people live life like?

Sean held her gaze while she examined him, thinking about something intently, evident by the tiniest twitch of her brow. He wanted to ask her what it was that had her studying him with such intensity, so he let her feel his question. She smiled at him with her eyes and answered, I was actually thinking about that precise thing; not being able to just hear your thoughts and feelings, without you allowing me to or me pressing in to force it. I was wondering if this is what it's like to live like other people; not knowing everything all of the time. His head cocked ever so slightly as he listened and then asked, Does it bother you? Her eyes roved over his face again for a moment, thinking and then she looked him in the eye to answer, It's kind of refreshing but it can be irritating not knowing too, at times. He touched her face again, caressing her with his thumb as he thought, You could always take what you want, witch.

She shook her head at him, answering in a mental whisper, I won't take what you don't want to offer. He was surprised by her answer and a little taken aback. He had never known someone with power that didn't use it if they could, even at the cost of others. He studied her anew, more intensely, as his thumb slid up her cheek again; she was such a mystery to him, so different than anyone else he had ever known before. He took in how she almost closed her eyes and drew in a breath when he touched her and it pulled at something deep within him, leaving him an unfamiliar place of uncertainty. He didn't know what to think about it as he looked at her. At last he broke their brief connection, to look back around. When he was sure it was safe to rise, he quickly stood and helped her up, steadying her with his hands on her shoulders. She looked at the three bolts jutting out of the railing and back wall. The lowest one had been close to Sean's back. She looked up at him with wide amazed eyes, her heart and breathing picking up just a little again. If he hadn't been with her, she would be dead. She looked down to the floor, processing what had just happened.

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