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The Return

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It had been a long day. They all were now, it seemed, but this one had been especially bad. And with everything that had been going on, he hadn’t had a thing to eat all day. And now when all he desperately wanted was a damn candy bar, the machine had decided to take his last dollar, and the candy refused to fall. He kicked the vending machine in frustration, cursing when it did little more than earn him a sore foot. The candy remained stubbornly unmoved.

"You know if you unplug it, and plug it back in, the candy drops right down.”

At the sound of her voice, Jake turns around slowly, cautiously, like a man who can’t let himself dare to hope.

But she’s standing there, looking just the way she did the last time he saw her. Five years ago, when she …

“Hi, Jake.” Her voice is soft.

He can’t respond, can’t speak. He has to be dreaming again. She’s always there when he closes his eyes, but she never stays.

She walks toward him, and he’s rooted to the spot. God, he can smell her, and it’s just the way he remembers.

She stops in front of him, and there are tears in her eyes.

She gives him a watery smile and reaches up to cup the side of his face. “Jake, it’s me. It’s really me.” Her hand is warm and solid against his cheek.

“Princess?” he whispers, his voice rough and strained, and she nods.

He takes her in his arms, and she doesn’t disappear this time. He crushes her against him, and her hands clutch at his shoulders, her face buried in his neck. She’s real. And then the tears begin to fall for both of them.

After minutes or a moment, he can’t tell which, he pulls back slightly, resting his forehead against hers. She’s trembling and teary-eyed, and hell, he probably is, too. But at the same time she looks happy. Radiant.

He manages a smirk. “Knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away from me.”

And now she’s crying and laughing all at the same time, and a smile is spreading across her face.

“Shut up and kiss me.”

His gaze meets hers, full of love and warmth.

“You got it, Princess.”

Her lips are soft under his, and part eagerly as he kisses her fiercely.

The questions can wait. All that matters is that she’s here in his arms and that he’s never letting go again.