“Yes. I was so high for the first couple of years after I left I could barely remember my reason for taking off in the first place. It was a lot harder to remember what it was like washing my mother’s blood off of my body, too.”
“It’s terrible to live like that,” she said. “Half alive.”
“I tried to use things like sex and drugs to make myself feel. But in the end, it doesn’t work. It’s fleeting and the aftermath is so bad you wish you would have just stuck with empty.”
“When did you stop?”
“The drugs? Probably twelve years ago. The drinking and sleeping around? It’s been a couple of weeks. I’ve been walking with my favorite crutches for a long time.”
“It’s funny. I’ve been in a convent and you’ve been in a casino, but I think, at the end of the day we were doing the same thing.”
“I think you might be right.”
“I’m sorry about what happened. And I’m sorry I was so angry at you. I didn’t really stop and think about how you must have felt. All you must have gone through. My own tragedy overshadowed yours in my mind.”
“I don’t blame you for that, Layna. You were put through hell.”
“We both were.”
“Yesterday when I kissed you,” he said, “I just wanted to lose myself. To forget who I was. Where I was. To forget that this was my life. That my father, who I haven’t spoken to in so long, was unconscious. That he’s dying. Another person I’ll never reconcile with. When I kiss you it’s hard to think about any of the bad things because...I just want you.”
“Kissing me really works that well?”
“Yes,” he said.
“The Zombie Princess?”
“I don’t have time for people like that. They’re idiots. They don’t know what it’s like to kiss your lips, or feel your curves beneath their hands. They know nothing.”
She was really blushing now. “It’s hard for me to think when we kiss, too. I didn’t think I would miss touch. I thought I could live without being with a man because I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I could be rejected for my looks. Or that any man who was with me might be with me out of pity. But when you kiss me, I care less about how you feel because I’m too focused on what I feel.”
“I make you selfish?” he asked, moving closer to her.
“Yes. For that. For what you can give me. I’ve...never actually been kissed by anyone else. And the one thing I always regretted, in spite of myself, was that the night in the garden, you know what night I mean, we got interrupted.”
“I regretted that, too. I tried not to think of you after I left, Layna, but I did regret that. I regretted you. If my life hadn’t have changed, you would have been my future, and I was always content with that vision. The life I’ve had has never been as beautiful as that dream. As that certainty I had for those few months we were engaged. I could see it all, you as my wife, us ruling Kyonos, and it felt right. Maybe that was really why I came to look for you after I returned. Because I hoped that somehow it wouldn’t be too late to have some of that.”
“And look what you came back to.”
He put his hand on her cheek, a move he made often and one she didn’t think she’d ever tire of. He was so comfortable touching her, even her scars. “But the feelings are the same. It’s amazing how much we’ve both changed, only to come back to this point.” He put his hand on her other cheek and lowered his head, kissing her, deep and long. “I do want you. As badly as I ever have. More even, I think, because I know how bitterly I’ve regretted the fact that I didn’t claim you before. I will never make that mistake again.”
She looked up into his eyes. They were still so bleak, so haunted. She could see it even in the dim light of the cave. “Do you need me?” she asked. “Do you need to forget?”
She did. She was wounded and hurting. For her, for him. For everything they’d lost. For the years of pain. For the years they suffered alone when maybe what they should have done was cling to each other.
“Yes,” he said. “Please.”
She kissed him then. Slowly traced the seam of his mouth with her tongue, asking for entry. He gave it, and with a growl wrapped his arms around her waist and held her tightly against him as he let her take the lead on the kiss.
She knew she was a little clumsy at it, but he really didn’t seem to mind, his erection hard against her stomach, an air of desperation coming from him in waves.
She could feel it reflected in her, deep in her core. The need to feel like she wasn’t alone. He’d said that he’d been inside of a woman before and felt utterly isolated, but somehow she knew that wouldn’t be true with them.