“You are a cautious woman,” he tells her; the campfire is crackling between them and the night is very dark, but he can see the flash of surprise in her eyes when he speaks.
“Indeed?” she responds after a moment of silence, her voice icy and impersonal as the frozen gorge around them. “Not a word often applied to me, pirate.”
He cannot stop the smile from coming to his face, cannot resist the challenge inherent in that tone. “Oh, certainly, I suppose most people would not see you that way,” he agrees genially. “After all, you indulge in assassination attempts, break out of prisons both terrestrial and aerial, raid ancient tombs, and consort with all manner of rabble. Not to mention, of course, demanding to be kidnapped by pirates.”
“Hardly cautious behavior, on all counts,” she says, with something which sounds almost like a smile; the frigid tone warms, her fire-lit silhouette relaxes.
“And yet my observation is just, I think,” he says, keeping his tone conversational and light, watching for danger signs, sensing the fine line they walk just as he senses her sudden wariness. “You misunderstand my intent, princess.”
In the long stretch of silence which follows, he has ample time to wonder if perhaps attempting to cross this line now is madness on his part. It has taken months simply to maneuver her into keeping watch at his side without the captain like an impenetrable wall between them, and if he has gambled poorly, nothing will ever come of it now. But when she speaks, she does not end the game as he thought she might; her voice is very low, and she says only: “I do not think I do, pirate.”
“No?” he inquires. If his heart beats faster than normal, it is not so surprising; he sees the line and so does she, he appreciates the potential for consequences, even for disaster. He can sense her waiting on the other side of the fire, tensed for a battle no less crucial for being devoid of swords and spells. It does not appear to matter that he desires nothing more than armistice. “You entrust me with your life regularly, and yet still I feel keenly that you do not trust me.”
She sighs softly. “I will not deny it,” she tells him, and that in and of itself is progress of a sort, he supposes.
“May I ask why?” he says, because if he has elected to do this, he will not leave it halfway done. He is a man with a habit for pursuing the things he wants; for reasons beyond his comprehension, she has become as necessary to him as breathing, and he cannot simply leave her be anymore.
“And if I refuse to answer?” she says after a moment, leaning back from the fire, hiding her face entirely in shadows.
“Then I shall be forced to accuse you not only of caution, but of cowardice.”
He steels himself for her fury, her outrage, but there is only a quiet gasp and then more silence. When she speaks again, her voice is strangely distant. “I learned a hard lesson some time ago, and it is not one I intend to soon forget. There are wounds which burn deeper and longer than those made to the flesh. These can be inflicted only if one allows them to be, and the best armor against such is distance.”
“I see,” he says, and he does, of course. Does he not after all possess a similar philosophy himself, when it comes to protecting his freedom? And yet here they are; she has tied him to her as surely as if the bonds were visible, but he cannot blame her for it entirely. All he can do now is attempt to right the balance, to melt the ice, to break the wall she has built around herself. There is no other way open to him at this point.
He rises and moves towards her; she springs to her feet, her posture defensive. He cannot read her expression clearly, but he senses she is distressed by his continuing to push the subject. “And if I were to offer my assurance that I do not intend you any harm?”
“And what do you intend?” she queries crossly. But under the challenge of her tone is fear, and under that something very like hope. He cannot detangle her emotions one from another, but the fact that they are there at all, the fact that she is not stepping away, is enough for the balance to be tipped. He has gambled on her pride and her courage, and she has responded with both.
“At the moment,” he replies, “I intend only to kiss a beautiful woman, trusting that she will not repay me by stabbing me, setting me aflame, or doing something equally dire. She can, of course, turn me down, but I am afraid that if she does so, she will prove herself hopelessly craven. Fortunately, this woman, while cautious, states she is no coward; I feel my chances are good.”
“Not very fair of you,” she accuses, and he has to fight back a laugh at the accusation.
“With you, princess, one takes whatever advantage is available. That said, I do not believe you gave me any choice but to bully you into a corner. What say you?”
“You are insufferable.” He does laugh then, and puts his hand on her cheek, which is hot to the touch and very likely scarlet, although he cannot ascertain this in the darkness. She does not push him away.
“As good an answer as any,” he tells her, and gently tilts her face up to his; that is the last either of them speaks for a time.