“Sir, you should go, you’ll be late for the gala.”
Nathalie crossed her arms, gripping at the long, oversized sleeves of the robe Gabriel had given her to wear. If it were another time, she would have appreciated the garment more: how the metallic shades of teal and turquoise blended together, the delicate feel of satin sliding up against her skin as he guided her arms through the sleeves, the gentle caress as he smoothed the creases at her shoulders, how the ends, as light as the feather she held in her hand hours before, brushed up against her knees. And that he had been kind enough to let her rest in his own bed, instead of either sending her home or putting her up in one of the many guest rooms in the mansion.
“They won’t care if I’m late,” came Gabriel’s voice from her right side. He had pulled up a chair by the beside.
“But it’s the most important event of the year after fashion week,” Nathalie pushed forward from the pillows. “You can’t—“
Her chest tightened. Body seized with a wheeze that rattled her insides. Its thick, damp heat compacted together with a searing pain as it forced its way up her throat. A hand shot up to her mouth. She fell back onto the pillows, unable to hold the coughs back.
There came a screech as Gabriel moved the chair closer to the bed. He leaned towards her and placed his hand on her forehead.
Nathalie could only sense the pressure of his hand. She felt no warmth, no tenderness in his touch. Everything to her her felt like it was burning. The sheets that once covered her now lay crumpled up by the foot of the bed and the robe she wore was damp with sweat.
“You have a fever,” he said, worried.
The lump in Nathalie’s throat dissolved as the coughing abated. She groaned.
“Do you want me to get you some water?”
Nathalie lowered her hand. Strings of spit stretched down with a jiggle from her mouth and settled onto her hand. She glanced down and gasped.
“What’s the matter?”
Nathalie held her hand out. It was covered in thick strands of black mucus that oozed out from her palm down to the tips of her fingers.
Gabriel’s hands gripped the chair’s arms, feet dug into the floor with a kick back. The lens of his glasses fogged up as a choked up cry escaped his lips. He shut his eyes, became still, and recomposed himself with an shallow breath.
“Here let me,” Gabriel grabbed the box of tissues sitting on the nightstand. He pulled out a couple and turned towards Nathalie again.
“You don’t have to—“ She started.
“It’s my fault you got into this mess,” Gabriel’s left hand slid underneath’s hers.
“I was the one who used the Peacock Miraculous,” she reminded him.
“And I was the one who told you about its existence.”
Nathalie watched Gabriel wipe her hand. His movements were concise, quick, yet gentle as he used the first tissue to scoop up the large blobs of mucus and the next to blot up the smaller bits that remained on her hand. When he was done, his fingers slid over hers, and curled them over to rest on the side of his thumb. He looked up, his expression solemn, and stared right into her eyes.
“You know I can’t take that chance again. I did with Emilie and I can’t with you. I can’t stand the thought of losing you too Nathalie. You mean so much to me.”
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.
Tears welled up in Nathalie’s eyes. Her trembling lips turned up into a smile as she felt the softness of his lips brush up against her knuckles. The arm that lay down by her side twitched, longing to regain its strength, reach over and pull Gabriel into an embrace. But a slight tilt of her head was all she could manage as he lowered her hand back down to the bed.
“Nathalie, are you sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“I want you to,” her voice was hoarse.
Gabriel stood up.
“Then I will.”
A surprised and overjoyed expression washed over Nathalie. Gabriel first took off his glasses and set them on the nightstand. His hands then moved towards his blazer, undoing the buttons, pulling the sleeves off with the same gentle care as he had when putting the rope on Nathalie before draping it over the chair. He then knelt down to untie his shoes and placed them neatly beside the bed. He then circled around to climb over the bed from the left side and inched in until he lay right next to her.
A dull pain shot through her arms as she forced them forward to wrap around his shoulders. Hs hand cupped her waist and guided her in. With a sigh, he kissed her forehead and pulled her in so close that their bodies touched. Nathalie buried her head in the crook of his neck with a close of her eyes. And she clung onto him with all the remaining strength she had until the sound of their breaths, and the warmth of his arms lulled her to sleep.