I’ve had men fall to their knees before me, begging me to spare their lives—but I can’t remember a single time in my life when someone apologized to me for hurting my feelings. No one has ever cared about my feelings long enough to apologize for hurting them. In my experience, I’m usually the monster. I’m the one expected to make amends.
I’m stunned. Stunned by the experience, by how strange it feels. All this time, I’d been preparing to win her back. To try to convince her, somehow, to see past my demons. And up until just this moment, I don’t think I was ever truly convinced anyone would see me as human enough to forgive my sins. To give me a second chance.
But now, she knows everything.
Every dark corner of my life. Every awful thing I ever tried to hide. She knows and she still loves me.
God. I run a tired hand across my face. She asked me to forgive her. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I feel joy and terror. My heart is heavy with something I don’t even know how to describe.
The ache in my chest has grown stronger, more painful. Being near her is somehow both a relief and a new kind of agony. There’s so much ahead of us, so much we still need to face, together, but right now I don’t want to think about any of it. Right now I just want to enjoy her proximity. I want to watch the gentle motions of her breathing. I want to inhale the soft scent of her hair and lean into the steadying warmth of her body.
Carefully, I touch my fingers to her cheek.
Her face is smooth, free from pain and tension. She looks peaceful. She looks beautiful.
My beautiful love.
Her eyes flutter open and I worry, for a moment, that I might’ve spoken out loud. But then she looks up at me, her eyes still soft with sleep, and I bring my hand to her face, this time trailing my fingers lightly along her jaw. She closes her eyes again. Smiles.
“I love you,” she whispers.
A shock of feeling swells inside of me, makes it hard for me to breathe. I can only look at her, studying her face, the lines and angles I’ve somehow always known.
Slowly, she sits up.
She leans back, stretching out her sore, stiff muscles. When she catches me watching her, she offers me a shy smile.
She leans in, takes my face in her hands.
“Hi,” she says, her words soft, her hands gentle as she tilts my chin down, toward her mouth. She kisses me, once, her lips full and sweet. It’s a tender kiss, but feeling strikes through me with a sharp, desperate need. “I missed you so much,” she says. “I still can’t believe you’re here.” She kisses me again, this time deeper, hungrier, and my heart beats so fast it roars in my ears. I can hardly hear anything else. I can’t bring myself to speak.
I feel stunned.
When we break apart, her eyes are worried. “Aaron,” she says. “Is everything okay?”
And I realize then, in a moment that terrifies me, that I want this, forever. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I want to build a future with her. I want to grow old with her.
I want to marry her.
“Aaron?” I say again, this time softly. “Are you all right?”
He blinks, startled. “Yes,” he says, drawing in a sharp breath. “Yes. Yes, I’m perfect.”
I manage a small smile. “I’m glad you finally agree with me.”
He frowns, confused, and then, as realization hits—
And for the first time in weeks, a full, genuine grin spreads across my face. It feels good. Human.
But Aaron shakes his head, clearly mortified. He can’t meet my eyes. His voice is careful, quiet when he says, “That’s not at all what I meant.”
“Hey,” I say, my smile fading. I take his hands in mine, squeeze. “Look at me.”
And I forget what I was going to say.
He has that kind of face. The kind of face that makes you forget where you are, who you are, what you might’ve been about to do or say. I’ve missed him so much. Missed his eyes. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but it feels like forever since the last time I saw him, a lifetime full of horrible revelations that threatened to break us both. I can’t believe he’s here, that we found each other and made things right.
It’s no small thing.
Even with everything else—with all the other horrors we’ve yet to contend with—being here with him feels like a huge victory. Everything feels new. My mind feels new, my memories, new. Even Aaron’s face is new, in its own way. He looks a little different to me now.
Like he’s always been here. Always lived in my heart.
His hair, thick and golden and beautiful, is how I remember it best—Evie must’ve done something to his hair, too, somehow. And even though he looks more exhausted than I’d like, his face is still striking. Beautiful, sharp lines. Piercing green eyes so light and bright they’re almost painful to look at. Everything about him is finely crafted. His nose. His chin. His ears and eyebrows. He has a beautiful mouth.
I linger too long there, my eyes betraying my mind, and Aaron smiles. Aaron. Calling him Warner doesn’t feel right anymore.
“What are you doing, love?”
“Just enjoying the view,” I say, still staring at his mouth. I reach up, touch two fingers to his bottom lip. Memories flood through me in a sudden, breathless rush. Long nights. Early mornings. His mouth, on me. Everywhere. Over and over again.
I hear him exhale, suddenly, and I glance up at him.
His eyes are darker, heavy with feeling. “What are you thinking?”
I shake my head, feeling suddenly shy. It’s strange, considering how close we’ve been, that I’d feel shy around him now. But he feels at once old and new to me—like we’re still learning about each other. Still discovering what our relationship means and what we mean to each other. Things feel deeper, desperate.
I take his hands again. “How are you?” I whisper.
He’s staring at our hands, entwined, when he says: “My father is still alive.”
“I heard. I’m so sorry.”
He nods. Looks away.
“Did you see him?”
Another nod. “I tried to kill him.”
I go still.
I know how hard it’s been for Aaron to face his father. Anderson has always been his most formidable opponent; Aaron has never been able to fight him head on. He’s never been able to bring himself to actually follow through with his threats to kill his father.
It’s astonishing he even came close.
And then Aaron tells me how his father has semi-functional healing powers, how Evie tried to re-create the twins’ DNA for him.
“So your dad is basically invincible?”
Aaron laughs quietly. Shakes his head. “I don’t think so. It makes him harder to kill, but I definitely think there’s a chink to be found in his armor.” He sighs. “Believe it or not, the strangest part of the whole thing was that, afterward, my father was proud of me. Proud of me for trying to kill him.” Aaron looks up, looks me in the eye. “Can you imagine?”
“Yes,” I whisper. “I can.”
Aaron’s eyes go deep with emotion. He pulls me close. “I’m so sorry, love. I’m so sorry for everything they did to you. For everything they’ve put you through. It kills me to know that you were suffering. That I couldn’t be there for you.”