Inbetween: Chapter Forty

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Once they were settled in, exploring Alenna’s home became a great way to pass the time. No areas were forbidden to them. After being cooped up for so long, Willow took great pleasure in roaming the halls.

At times she wandered around alone and as far as she could tell, there was no real reason for her to be concerned for her safety within these walls. More often than not, she was in the company of either Yuri or Asa. She was not sure if it was because they were unsure of her ability to take care of herself in this place, or if they merely wanted to spend time with her.

Today Yuri joined her on her explorations. She had no complaints about the company. It gave her a chance to talk to him one on one and she felt as though it had been ages since she last had any time alone with him. They used to have so much time for one on one conversations, but since coming to this world, she hardly had any chances to speak to him privately.

“How are you holding up?” she asked hesitantly. It was a question she had been meaning to ask for the last few days, but the longer she put off asking, the harder it was for her to bring it up. Since they were alone at the moment and she was in a relatively good mood, she finally found the time to be as close to right as she imagined it could be.

He sighed. “It’s tough staying out of the way and not getting involved when I know that my people are at risk.”

Willow looked around, checking to see that they were truly alone at the moment. She spoke in a lowered voice, barely above a whisper. “Do you think Alenna is keeping you here to intentionally cause more harm to Detreya?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I have to come to terms with the fact that I would be of no use if I was closer to my home. At least here Alenna is keeping me informed. Without her, I would not have nearly as much information as I do now.”

“So being here is a good thing?”

“Yes. I think so. Don’t you prefer being here to the cave?”

“Of course.” She was sick of everything being compared to the cave. Living like that put them in a bad situation, of course, and it had been slowly driving them all out of their minds, but she was willing to look beyond all of that when it came to bad situations. Being better than the cave did not necessarily mean that where they were now was a good place for them to be or that they were safe here. She wanted to know if they were going to need to leave at a moment’s notice or if they were intending to put down roots in this place. The thought of the latter gave her pause. Finding her way home from here might not be as likely as it would have been if they stayed in Detreya. It seemed as though the only surefire way to get back to her world was by stay close to the place where she had crossed into this world. Even if those portals opened up in other places even this far away from Detreya, it would probably dump her out in a different place back on Earth and she could not afford to end up stranded in a strange place in her own world too.

Their walk through the halls continued in silence until they came to a door leading out to a terrace garden. In a moment of perfect, wordless communication, they decided to pass through the door and look down over the side of the mountain. Willow followed a small, stepping stone walkway to the edge and gazed down over the side of the garden. This particular terrace was located at one of the steeper precipices running alongside the maze of buildings constructed along and into the mountain. The ground dropped dramatically from one immaculately maintained terrace to another for at least a hundred feet below her. Peeking over the edge brought an intense wave of vertigo that almost made her knees buckle. She rapidly backpedaled away from the edge so she no longer felt as though she was in danger.

Yuri found a comfortable seat on a large rock near the door. After her look over the edge, he motioned for Willow to come join him. She gladly rushed over, eager to put the falling sensation far behind her. There was not much room on the rock next to Yuri, but he looked at her expectantly and she knew she had no choice but to squeeze in next to him.

She had learned enough to know that she was better off picking her battles and sat down on the rock next to Yuri without comment. She told herself it would be warmer this way anyway to reconcile her will to his. She did not have the time or the energy to protest every little thing that seemed unfair. More important things needed to occupy her time.

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” Yuri mused as he gazed up at the sky.

“Yeah,” she agreed with some hesitation. It was hard to guess how this conversation would go just yet. She only knew she had to try to be as pleasant as possible. Over the past few days, she started more than her fair share of fights. She needed a break, and to prove to herself that she was capable of doing something other than arguing and letting bad feelings build up over her desire to go home.

“It wouldn’t be so bad to stay here for a while, would it?”

She nudged him with her elbow. “You’re not getting complacent, are you?”

“Never.” He grinned at her. “I’m just trying to get you to stop worrying so much.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Let me do the worrying. If I see you smile every once in a while it would be one less thing for me to worry about.”

Willow did her best to force a smile right then for his sake. She felt the corners of her mouth quiver under the effort of holding her expression in a manner that was now about as far from genuine as she had ever managed. Knowing that Yuri wanted her to smile and being able to smile for him were, unfortunately, two vastly different matters. Since she lacked the ability to make a convincing try of it, she dropped the smile and her expression returned to the slight frown that seemed to be her default now that she had her mind constantly filled with worries.

He watched her as the smile appeared and then faded away as though it had never existed. She caught a flicker of worry when she glanced up to meet his eyes. The corners of her lips twitched upward again, involuntarily this time, in a feeble attempt to free his mind of whatever cares she had spotted in his eyes in that instant. That smile, much like her previous attempt at the expression lacked any sort of confidence or conviction behind it.

“You’re worrying too much,” he said in a hushed tone as he leaned in closer.

Denying that fact after failing to smile properly twice in a row would be pointless. Even though she found herself capable of brief periods of joviality in recent days, she always kept that edge of worry in the back of her mind. It nagged away at her and lunged its way to the forefront of her thoughts at every turn. She did not know how to put her mind at ease anymore. There were so many problems and worries to fill her mind these days.

Yuri’s gaze continued to rest upon her face. She could not begin to guess why. His expression was inscrutable for her and she had to wonder if he found her to be just as unreadable or if he saw the tumult in her mind and understood the meaning behind it.

As his eyes lingered on her, his expression softened and he leaned in closer. She felt heat rising to her cheeks. His proximity and the look in his eyes was not merely for the sake of studying her expression.

“I hope you won’t think I’m being too forward now that we are courting,” he said in the softest of whispers as though he barely caught himself and remembered to ask for her permission just inches away from her lips.

She had been so caught up in the moment and her own mind that his words caught her off guard. She blinked slowly as her brain caught up with the words that had been said to her. She needed a few seconds to be able to form words on her own again.

Once she understood what had been said to her, a genuine smile was not far behind. She was eager to give her assent, but even as she realized she should say something, the words she wished to say would not come to her. Opening her mouth to speak now would almost certainly result in a laugh. While the laugh would not be intended to mock Yuri, she was sure that his mind would not immediately leap to the assumption that she was laughing out of joy.

Time seemed to stand still so she felt fairly certain that she had not yet missed her opportunity to act. With a feeling of actual joy in her heart for the first time in days, she elected to ignore the need for words and closed the small gap of space between her lips and Yuri’s.

The kiss was not earth-shattering or fitting to any of the other million and one cliche descriptions of a long-awaited kiss that seemed to have imprinted on Willow’s brain even while she knew they were nonsense. This kiss was nothing like those overblown cliches. The world did not tilt, she was not knocked off her feet. She merely felt close to Yuri.

When she was younger she probably would have felt disappointed, but she was more than thrilled now to just to feel safe and comfortable while sitting here with him. It was not that she did not want to be swept off her feet, but she knew that there was a time and place for that sort of romance. It was not the right time or place for her to be considering anything more than a simple kiss between herself and Yuri.

For his part, Yuri took great care to exhibit a great deal of restraint. She appreciated his effort and wanted to do what she could to make it clear that she acknowledged the extra effort required for him to move forward at her pace instead of his own. She never thought he would try to pressure her to do anything she might not be ready to do, but she knew he had been patiently waiting for a long while now. The fact that he managed to continue being patient made her have even more respect for him.

His arm encircled her, drawing her closer to him. He did not urge her too insistently, but the firm touch of his hand was enticingly possessive. She interpreted it as a bit of a challenge to make her own perspective known. Either she did not belong to anyone, or he belonged to her as much as she belonged to him.

That matter slipped from her current train of thoughts soon enough. One kiss turned into another and beyond those kisses, she only had room in her mind for Yuri’s arm around her and his other hand on her knee. The rest of the world did not seem to be of any real importance at the moment and that was enough to finally give her something resembling peace of mind.

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