Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Word Count: 6000
Summary: Five years after the final battle, Bellatrix has been brainwashed to forget the Dark Lord...or maybe she brainwashed herself. Either way, the Dark Lord has other ideas.
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
-- Florence and the Machine, Shake It Out
She stirred at exactly the right moment, and she owed her life to that one piece of fortune.
Any earlier, and the room would have been filled with mourners, who might have taken their revenge. Any later, and it would have been filled with the ghoulish spectators who arrived to spit on the Dark Lord. The Ministry admitted them, knowing that persuading the population he was really dead relied on a critical mass of witnesses. They would have taken her out and strung her up, mob mentality being what it was, and she supposed she couldn't blame them.
But she stirred at neither of those times. Instead, she stirred when her sister came.
Narcissa's arrival was tentative, accompanied by Minerva McGonagall in her role as acting authority figure over the chaos of the post-battle cleanup. Presumably, Narcissa knew that her grief for the Dark Lord's last lieutenant was not something that would garner much sympathy, and so she had held back until the other mourners were gone.
Bella heard Narcissa before she saw her, felt the splash of tears on her hand. For one, shining moment, she thought they must have won, because how else would Narcissa have been allowed in to the room where the dead and injured were laid out? But then she heard Minerva murmuring that they must be quick, Minister Shacklebolt was waiting to open the room to journalists and ministry officials, and then she understood. Narcissa had talked or bribed her way in, and they had lost.
There was a crawling feeling in her stomach, beginnings of massive and crushing grief, but Bella was a survivor, and she held it at bay.
As unlikely as it seemed, Bella was a rational woman, saner than they gave her credit for. Her apparent instability was mostly a high-functioning mind in overdrive, in the company of the one person who had been able to keep up. Her moods were faster-moving and higher-octane than most, but not much more than that, and with the Dark Lord, she had never had to keep them in check. With him, she could be truly herself.
It was a luxury she didn't have now.
So, grimly, she forced that crawling feeling into submission as she analysed her situation, bracing herself for all its probabilities.
The world, clearly, was lost to them. Well, she had lived with that before and would live with it again. Making the world into all it could be was the Dark Lord's interest more than hers. She had fought for it only because he had fought for it. For her own part, she thought the world could just as well continue on its mediocre, self-destructive path, while the superior of them could form their own private world in the shadows. She was sorry that he had not gotten what he wanted, sorry that they must endure defeat, but that was as far as it went.
Rodolphus was probably dead. She had loved him, albeit more like a brother than a husband, but they were soldiers, and she had accepted the probability of his death long ago. She would miss him, but no more than that.
Narcissa, clearly, was alive, and that was a good thing. Presumably her brat and husband also lived, or else she wouldn't have spared a tear for Bella until much later in proceedings. Bella was neutral about Lucius and Draco, but their survival, as well as the murmurings of Minister Shacklebolt, boded well for hers. Enough sanity apparently prevailed that the Dark Lord's people would live to stand trial, and there was safety in numbers.
Having extracted all useful knowledge from the information around her, she granted entrance to that crawling feeling in her belly, and allowed herself to contemplate the fate of the Dark Lord.
The Dark Lord was dead. She had loved him, and he was dead.
She knew it because they'd lost, she knew it because she had been left for dead, and she knew it because she'd known it was coming before it happened. They both had.
Bella held her eyes closed, fighting down acid tears and terrible grief, preparing herself for what she would see when they opened.
"I love you, Bella."
He said this grimly, his eyes set straight ahead, his wand outstretched before him as she charged in kind beside him.
"I know," she said, fighting off the enemy before them as Nagini's body fell behind them. Time was short, and I know was more important than I love you, too. The latter, he knew. The former, he might not know. Nearly thirty years together and he had never said it, after all. But she knew. She'd always known.
The fact that he said it now was what told her he was going to die.
"If I fall," he said, "denounce me, and forget me."
"Yes, my Lord." She didn't bother to say that she would die before she got the chance. He knew.
They were separated then by the battle, and she thought the next time she would be at his side would be when their dead bodies were laid out together, but that turned out to be only half true.
His body would be beside hers.
She had been the victor of plenty of battles of her own, and she knew the rituals of war. If they were disposed of by a fellow warrior, it was possible that they would treat her as a valiant enemy. If so, they would lay her together with her lover and leader. Bella had done it herself a couple of times, but not often. It was rare for an enemy to earn her respect. More often, she despised them as unthinking followers of propaganda.
It was more likely that the decision would be made by bureaucrats, politicians, or whatever mindless civilians happened to be in the vicinity. In that case, they would lay them together in preparation for display and defilement. The mistresses of fallen warriors invariably received the same treatment as their lovers. It was right that it should be so; Bella would have it no other way.
So either way, his body would be beside her when she opened her eyes, and she knew she would be unable to hold back her grief when she saw him. Accepting it as a probability was one thing. Seeing was quite another.
She contemplated simply continuing to play dead. She could allow them to burn her with him. She would betray herself with cries of pain on the funeral pyre as the flames took hold, but at that point, they would probably simply let her burn. It was unlikely they would drag her out to stand trial.
But that had not been his instruction. His instruction to her had been to denounce him, and live. And Bella always obeyed him, her chosen Master in all things. If it had been by his choice, it would have been severed by his death, but it wasn't. It was her choice, and that was not changed simply because he was gone.
She turned it over rapidly in her mind. Where she was. Who was there. What she would see when she woke. How much time she had, and how she could use it.
She had lost everything, but he had wanted her to live, so she was going to live.
Bella commenced the performance of her life by fluttering open her eyes.
She saw him, laid out beside her, in flashes between long blinks and squints. Enough to know that she had assessed the situation correctly, not long enough to really see him staring and lifeless. Not long enough for the truth of it to really sink in. There would be time for that later. Instead, she rolled her head towards Narcissa, who gave a little yelp.
"Cissy?" she said, injecting confusion into her voice. "Is that you?" She waited a beat, waiting for both Narcissa and Minerva to betray shocked expressions. Timing was everything - she had to catch Minerva before she raised the alarm. "Cissy? Why are you so...old?"
Minerva was already rising, already half-turning towards the door, but at this, she turned back.
"Old?" Narcissa said, nonplussed.
"You look like Mother. Is it a masquerade?"
A flicker of recognition passed over Minerva's features. She knelt down beside Narcissa. "Do you know who I am?"
"You're Professor McGonagall. You teach Transfiguration. They just made you head of Gryffindor house."
Narcissa's brow puckered. "Bella, that was years-"
Minerva held up a hand. "What's the last thing you remember, Miss Black?"
Bella frowned, as though struggling to recall. She was encouraged by Minerva's use of Miss Black; the old bat was already halfway to believing her. She probably wouldn't have, in normal circumstances, but the fatigue of the battle and the pressure of the journalists and officials outside the door were clouding her judgment.
"It was the Yule Ball. The Dark Lord took me into an anteroom and told me I was going to be his soldier and mistress, and Rodolphus would cooperate if he wanted to live. I said I couldn't because I had just found out I was with child. He said he couldn't allow that. He drew his wand, and then it all goes black." She groped for her belly. "My baby. Did he do something to my baby? Did he-"
"Miss Black, be quiet," Minerva hissed, and Bella did. "Yule of what year?"
"Sixty-nine," Bella said promptly. She slid her gaze over to Narcissa. "Cissy, where's Rod? I want to see Rod."
"She sounds so young," Narcissa whispered. Bella had known she could count on her to inject just the right note of sentimentality. She glanced sidelong, in the direction of the Dark Lord's body. "It's like a spell has been broken."
Minerva looked back over her shoulder, then turned to Narcissa. She said urgently, "They'll kill her. We have to get her out of here. Now."
Bella wept steadily for fourteen weeks.
Ostensibly, it was for her husband and her murdered child, although of course it was for him. She wept until her insides ached and her eyes were red and sore. She wept until her voice was a croak. She wept until St Mungo's had exhausted every herb and spell, but there was no cure for grief. There was only time.
Not that there was much else to do, anyway. The future of Bellatrix Lestrange, latter-day brainwashing poster-child, was a subject of intense public debate, and she was pretty much in limbo awaiting a decision. She wasn't supposed to know it, but the occasional newspaper made it in, and there was plenty of discussion audible beyond the door of her ward.
Her shredded mind, barely navigable even by the strongest Legilimens, was discussed with pity as a scientific curiosity. Bella, who had mined her own memories and those of others in the Pensieve, knew perfectly well that they were simply organised differently. She had an intuitive ability to link the random, and had never needed to place the fragments into any sort of order.
She didn't bring this fact to the attention of the Healers, and even if she had, it would have been taken as further evidence of her disorder. She was well past the point where her own perceptions had any credibility. Bella had traversed stunning rationality and only minor insanity her whole life, and she knew this particular injustice very well. She had known it would work in her favour. Even memories that betrayed her true self, at this point, were assumed to be the work of the Dark Lord. In the confusion and the desperation for sense and order, she had been successfully whitewashed into his most tragic victim of all, without really even lifting a finger.
The Ministry-proposed solution to the dilemma was a program designed by St Mungo's, kindly referred to as a "specialised and sensitive program of re-education." Apparently, nothing could demonstrate their condemnation of brainwashing as well as a spot of brainwashing of their own.
There were other proposals, including Azkaban, home detention, exile, permanent in-patient care at St Mungo's, and execution, but there was political support for re-education. It balanced the public's warring need to punish and restore her. Re-education would restore the innocent Bella, and destroy the guilty Mad Witch Lestrange. It was a win-win. Plus, it would provide valuable opportunities for research into the science of spellwork applied to mind control, and the Ministry was keen to figure out how society could be engineered to put an end to war. Personally, Bella found this a far more worrying development, on a societal level, than either Azkaban or execution.
Of course, Bella's concern for the societal level had never been more than skin-deep.
So it was likely that the re-education program would proceed, and Bella would allow herself to be re-educated. She would still ultimately face at least a token trial, and it was likely that she would do so under Veritaserum. By the time St Mungo's was finished with her, she would be a star witness in her own defence.
The Dark Lord had told her to forget him, so she would forget. But she would grieve for him first. He had been a great man, and he had been her world. It was only right that he should be grieved.
And soon, there would be no one who remembered how to grieve for him at all.
It would be five years before Bella's St Mungo's-constructed world was questioned.
She lived quietly during this time at Malfoy Manor. The Malfoys had embraced her during her ordeal, though Lucius was motivated by a need for good PR more than anything else. The Malfoys had become a strange, flawed symbol of families torn apart by war, and it was a cultural narrative that had provided some measure of protection for them all. (There's safety in numbers, Bella thought, and that raised a ghost of a memory that vanished before it could form).
It was a peculiar and dream-like time. She had been conditioned at St Mungo's to sleep regular hours, to overcome the sleep deprivation to which the Dark Lord had apparently subjected her. She found it had a dulling effect on her mind.
The Bella she had been, could have told her that sleep was when memories were organised. She could have told her that she had little need for it, that it taxed her unnecessarily. But that Bella was gone. Not so much dead, as buried beneath a cumbersome filing system of her own making, categorised and re-categorised, and painstakingly corrected by St Mungo's, corrections made in tiny print and red ink that made the Pensieve look like a pool of blood.
She liked to pour out her memories into the Pensieve sometimes, hundreds of them, and simply sink into the middle of them. She let them float randomly around her, let strange unrelated fragments seem to connect. She rarely retained the connections when they were made, and there was little point anyway, since their underlying facts were always questionable. The Healers freely admitted that their reconstruction of her life consisted mainly of best guesses, but it was good enough to go on with.
So the point of the Pensieve was not so much to see her truth, as it was to be herself, or the closest thing to it that she could know. There was something about that idea, being herself, that seemed both important and elusive, something to grasp for, something that made her hunger.
Sometimes she would emerge with her body alive and needy, and after she had taken her pleasure she would sleep deeply. Not the tiring, working sleep St Mungo's had instilled in her, but deep, genuine rest. When she came, her mind would reach out, grasping for a man who had no face and no name, a man who knew her mind and her body both, a man who lived large enough to be her match and give her completion and rest. He was a man who had been all but erased from her mind, but not her body; he was etched into her blood and her bones.
She supposed it must be Rodolphus, because she knew for sure that he had mattered to her. But she couldn't remember him like that, and it didn't seem right that she could have loved him that way and not remember it.
So life inside her mind was slow and cumbersome, like wading through treacle. Life outside her mind was less laborious, but just as slow. She volunteered regularly at St Mungo's, and spoke often of her gratitude for their help in rebuilding her life. She preferred the quiet of the long-term care wards, although she avoided the ward occupied by the Longbottoms, at their son's request.
Otherwise, she went out rarely. It wasn't that there was any real barrier to doing so. She was more-or-less accepted by the public, thanks to her testimony under Veritaserum and the mountain of scientific literature about her condition. A few had a reaction to her that was almost phobic, but most were civil, and many were kind. She could go about her daily business, generally without incident. But going out held no interest for her.
She spent a great deal of time at the grave they had erected for Rodolphus and the baby. It was not so much grief for him - that had been over and done within months - as a form of ritual observance, acknowledgment of what she had lost. So little of what she was now had substance that she felt she could rely upon. Rodolphus had known her and loved her, and she had loved him. Those were the only facts of her life of which she was completely sure, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, she had to assume he was also the nameless, faceless love of her life.
But it was an assumption that would be proven wrong, and looking back on it later, she would think she had known it, deep down, all along.
He found her in the Malfoy rose garden.
He was not the pale, bloodless terror of the final years of the war, but rather, an older version of the young man he had once been. It was clearly him, but only on second glance. Her first thought, for a split-second before that, was that he was a visitor for Lucius.
"You!" she hissed.
He gave a sardonic little smile that stirred something in her, and shrugged. "The very same."
She took stock of her surroundings, how far to the house, how far her voice would carry. Whether she could reach her wand before he reached her. She couldn't.
"You're...different," she said at last.
"Like you, I took some damage out of the battle, but most of mine was outward. It's the same body, believe it or not, but substantially rebuilt. A task that takes a great deal of time to do properly. If I'd known it was possible, I would have done it that way the first time."
"Are you admitting there was a branch of magic that you didn't know?" she wondered in disbelief. Her memories were compromised, but not so compromised that she didn't remember his arrogance.
"Not at all. This is cutting-edge magic of my own creation, magic performed on the cellular level. Necessity is the mother of invention." He added thoughtfully, "This body already had half my DNA, of course, from my father's bones. Enough to get me close to my original form, and able to move about in public without attracting comment. I managed to get hold of a little of my mother's DNA a year ago - hair from a brush. That, and more time, finished the job. I like that. I didn't like that my link to my magical blood had been severed."
Bella was unwillingly impressed.
"How did you-"
"Survive? I Apparated out of the funeral pyre, disfigured by fire, but not beyond repair. A blessing in disguise, as it happened, otherwise I would not be restored as I am now." He cocked an eyebrow. "Which isn't nearly as interesting a tale as your escape, my dear."
"Don't talk to me like that," she snapped. "You ruined my life. You destroyed my mind and killed my baby. You don't get to talk to me like that."
That derailed him, took his self-assured demeanour and made it unravel at the seams. His shoulders went slack and his head tilted to one side. She thought she was seeing the real man for the first time.
"Bella," he said quietly, "you made the baby up. You-" he faltered. His brow puckering, he raised his wand suddenly. "Legilimens."
He was in her mind before she could stop him, and stayed there for a long, long time.
When, finally, he emerged, he backed away from her. Sat down on the love seat, staring at her. His whole bearing was one of disbelief.
Or maybe defeat.
"Circe," he said at last. "It's a mess in there."
"And whose fault is that?" she demanded. She was more rattled by his words and his obvious dismay than she liked to admit. "Don't think I'm not going to tell them you've been here."
He mustered a wry smirk at that. "There are more holes in your mind than Swiss cheese. They won't believe you."
She knew that he was right.
"I bet part of you still remembers me," he said. That sardonic grin was back.
"Oh, please," she snapped. "Fucking you under coercion doesn't count. It's not like you were the-"
The love of my life.
"Wasn't I?" he asked, rising from his seat, and the gleam in his eyes was somehow both soft and predatory.
He was. She knew it in her blood, her bones.
He took her face between his hands, and kissed her, slowly and thoroughly. I know this, she thought as she softened and opened for him.
But she didn't know anything else.
"I can't do this," she whispered, tearing away from him, and she ran off back to the house.
For the next two years, Bella travelled the world.
She was never really sure whether she was running from him, or to him. The times he found her, she was panicked and relieved in turns. The times he was slow to find her, she felt crawling fear that he would never find her again.
What she did know was that her quiet, predictable life was a lie. Whether it was his lie, her lie, or the Ministry's was only a second-order question. No matter who it was, she could only find her truth by putting that life as far away from her as she could.
But the truth remained maddeningly elusive. Two years later, she still was no closer than the day she left.
Oh, there were truths. Small ones. Not ones that explained her life, no. But they mattered to her.
There were times when she drove him off, filled with fear of him and what he might do to her mind. Those times, he backed off and left. He seemed to know when he could push her and when to leave her be. Those times left her puzzled, and strangely empty.
There were other times, too, though. There was the time he danced with her at a masquerade in Barcelona. He whirled her around the floor, his hand heavy on her waist, and she told herself he was just an attractive stranger. That behind the mask was just some wizard or other that she would never see again. But she knew she was lying to herself, knew it even before he led her out onto the balcony, even before he ravished her against a wall, his lips on her mouth and throat and his body rolling with hers. They'd been interrupted, and after he'd fled, she'd told herself she was glad, but her aching body told her that was a lie.
There was the time he found her in a boat in Mexico, and kissed her on the canals of Xochimilco. She gave herself up to it that time without protest - partly because there was no way out, and partly because he was unarmed, but mostly just because she wanted him. She wanted his kisses, which he gave, and his body, which he didn't. He left her craving more, which was probably just what the bastard wanted.
There was the time he caught her in her riad in Tangier. By then, he had been teasing her for a year, and he had the safety offered by her absent wand, left carelessly in the other room. That time, she wanted him more than she wanted him gone, and she took him with high, needy cries, her body betraying her mind. "I need-" she sighed, with no idea of what she needed.
"I know what you need," he growled, suddenly switching rhythm. Rolling into her with long, slow thrusts that sent all of his weight reverberating through the depths of her body. Coming with him like that was like bringing forth something he'd sown deep into her, something that came from him and not herself.
She plunged her hands up into his hair. "How?" she hissed. "How do you know what I need?"
The look of sorrow that flickered over his features was so deep, so palpable, that she wished she hadn't asked.
"Because I know you," he said, pausing deep inside her. Holding there as he kissed her, long and slow. She shuddered around him as he hissed, "Remember."
That brought her completely undone, but when they were finished, she still couldn't remember.
It was inevitable that one day she would have him at her mercy.
He was her equal or better in battle, but he was seemingly disinclined to hurt her, and he often came to her unarmed. Bella, by contrast, alternated between wanting and fearing him, and at least some of the time, she was willing to kill. She didn't want their delirious, dangerous dance to end, and she had a nagging fear that just maybe, he was not the one who had done this to her after all...but she wasn't sure of that. Not at all. The life she had was a half-life, but it was a life, and she felt strongly that she was meant to hold onto it...for something.
(What if it's for him? What if-)
But that was something she could never know.
So she was a scattergun waiting to go off, and he pushed his luck one time too many. He was careful to come to her when her wand was out of reach, but not careful enough, and one night in Bocas Del Toro, she duelled him and got the best of him.
"I'm mortal," he said quickly as he stood in the waves before her, his hands raised and open for her to see. "Don't."
"How are you mortal?" she shouted, the salt wind blowing her hair all around her. "How in Circe's name are you alive if you're mortal?"
"As best as I can figure it, my soul broke in two when I saw you die. I made a new Horcrux out of myself. And then Potter killed it." He added sourly, "Apparently, I quite literally gave you my heart."
Bella snorted. "That's the most blatant piece of emotional blackmail I've ever heard. And I live with Narcissa."
"Believe it, or don't," he snapped, apparently as annoyed by his words as she. "But don't cast if you aren't really ready to put me in my grave. And I don't believe you are."
"Stop it," she hissed, horrified by the inexplicable tears that were rising in her throat. "As if you wouldn't have made another Horcrux anyway."
"I couldn’t," he said. "My soul might be the only anchor left for your mind to recognise. I couldn't risk it."
Bella gave a ragged sound. "Shut up. Just shut up. I'm not buying it." She pointed her wand at him, clinging to it. Clinging like it was her only hold on her shredded mind.
"Then do it," he hissed. "Put one of us out of our misery, at least."
Bella felt her face grow hot, then begin to crumple, and then he was on her, kissing her, loving her, pulling her wand from her fingers and thrusting it harmlessly away on the sand.
"I love you," he muttered between kisses. "And you love me."
"I know," she said brokenly.
"But you still think I did this to you, don't you? You think the love was in spite of it."
"I don't know!" she cried.
He tugged her closer, sinking to his knees in the sand with her, and he loved her there in spite of it.
When she woke, there was a note at her side. It was weighed down by her wand - and a portkey.
Mnemosyne, it read. Let's settle this once and for all.
"You know the legend, I presume?"
He said this as they stood together at the edge of the spring, looking for all the world like a young couple taking a stroll on a summer's day. Last night she had tried to kill him on a beach in the Americas. Today they were holding hands in the woods in Greece. Madness. The whole thing was madness.
Bella looked out over the water. "Those entering the afterlife could choose between healing and wisdom. They could bathe in the waters of Lethe, and forget their lives, or Mnemosyne, and remember."
He nodded. "The problem we have, Bella, is that I ordered you to forget. You obeyed because I was your Lord and Master. But once you forgot, I was no longer those things, and my order to remember no longer carried any weight."
"So what, I need to accept you as my Lord and Master in order to find out if you really were?"
A rather jaded sound of mirth escaped him. "No, that would be far too convenient. But the authority always really came from you, you know. My commands compelled you because you wanted them to." He shrugged. "So. If you accept the legend, and the authority of the gods, then perhaps if you enter the waters, your memories will return to their rightful places. The Fountain of Mnemosyne is really just a great big Pensieve, after all."
She thought about this. "And if you're wrong? What then?"
"I don't know," he said in a low voice, and it occurred to her that she might be the only one to ever hear those words fall from his lips.
"There's Lethe," she suggested. "You could wipe my memory completely. Make me fall in love with you from a blank slate. It would be kinder than it is now." She added drily, "It shouldn't be difficult. You've done it twice already."
"I never made you love me, Bella. You gave it freely."
"We'll see, won't we?" she said, and began to unbutton her shirt.
His hands came up and covered hers, stilling her. She dropped her hands and let him undress her. Regretted accusing him. Perhaps he had stolen her mind, perhaps not, but even if he had, he had given her more choice now than anyone else. Merlin knew what the hell he was to her, but he loved her.
"I wouldn't do this for anyone else," she said as he pushed her shirt off her shoulders. A peace offering of sorts.
"I wouldn't have come back for anyone else," he said. Watched her feet as she stepped out of her skirt and knickers, one foot, then the other.
She unhitched her bra and turned away, towards the spring.
It seemed all wrong, leaving him like that, and she turned back. Grasped his hand. "Come in with me. Please."
He hesitated, and it occurred to her that he of all people might be reluctant to face his memories. But he had never lacked courage, and after a second, mutely, he nodded.
She waited as he stripped down, shirt and trousers and shoes. Like her, his clothes were Muggle-bought. London was the seat of wizarding fashion, and it was unsuited to the climate of her recent haunts. He looked like a young Muggle preparing for a spot of skinny-dipping.
He glanced up and saw her smiling. "What?"
"Nothing," she said. "I just love you."
That seemed to heal the breach between them. He came to her, kissed her, and then they went into the waters together.
It was not the descent that did it, but the rise.
She stayed there beneath the surface for as long as her breath would hold, waiting for illumination that didn't come. Hopelessness washed over her, and grief with it, as she first fought, then accepted the failure. Turning her face upward to the sun, she broke the surface with a low, anguished sound.
"Oh, Bella," he said, reaching for her.
She had just enough time to register the way he grieved for her, when she saw the water running off him - water, and memories with it. Silvery memories, streaking from his head, and his body too.
She looked down and saw that it was happening to her, as well.
They drained out of her from the pores of her skin, from her fingertips to the soles of her feet. They pooled around her, still hers, but outside her, leaving her light and free. The blood-red ink of St Mungo's rose up, out of the silver, and washed away.
Her eyes met his. Great hope was rising in his features.
"Remember," she whispered, and sank back down into the water.
When her memories slotted back into place, they did so haphazardly, fragments taking root at random, a fast-moving whirl of colour. Unnavigable by others, just as the Legilimens had said, but navigable by her and by him, the only ones who mattered.
When she emerged from the water, he was waiting. Pale and quiet, making her wonder what he'd seen there, but hers. He was her everything all over again.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I know," he said.
He was etched into her blood and her bones, and now, he made love to her there, in the silvery streaks of who she was and who they were together.
She asked this as they sat in the shallow pools that surrounded the spring. His hand teased lovingly through her hair.
He didn't answer, and she persisted, with a trace of mischief, "Any plans to take over the world?"
A shadow passed over his features, and again, she wondered what he had seen in the waters.
He said, with seeming casualness, "I was thinking we could give your idea a try. What did you call it? A world of our own in the shadows?"
Her good humour faded. She leaned up and kissed him.
"Anything. As long as it's with you." Then, deliberately, she added, "My Lord."
He kissed her, and loved her, and then they went into the shadows together.