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Her eyes are drooping, lulled by the dragon’s warmth and the sound of the waves, by the time something shifts. When Mira sits up, sparks hang in the air like a mirage of wings, and Arman is on all fours before her, his head bowed.

She reaches out to run a hand through his dark hair. Slowly, slowly, with the same motion she used to run her hands over the dragon’s —Arman’s face, she tells herself sternly. She’s going to begin as she means to go on with this. She suspects it’s going to be difficult, for him and for her. Mostly for him.

Arman trembles under her touch, flame chasing the paths of his veins, but he doesn’t exactly catch fire.

He looks up.

She rolls onto her knees and shimmies closer to him, hampered a little by her wedding dress. She’s hot. The heavy brocade isn’t suited to this summer isle.

“Mira,” he sighs. His head drops to her shoulder, inadvertently proving Mira’s theory correct: he’s too exhausted to stay in dragon-shape.

“I meant it,” says Mira, suddenly. It is important that Arman know this. She cannot undo a lifetime of self-hatred, but she can do her part to heal what she harmed. “I love you. I want that to mean all of you. I will be your bride, in the human way or in the way of those born of ashes. However long or short my life is, I will be happy, as long as I get to spend it with you.”

She can’t see his face, but from the sound of his breathing he’s either struggling to stay human-shaped, or trying not to cry. She can see new bruises forming on his back. It’s as if he fell and hit something hard. Or something soft from very high up, still in mostly human shape.

Her heart jumps to her throat. She had delayed to call him. Dithered so much, pitting hurt and the relative safety of Igor against the person she knew and longed for. Her father and sister had noticed, and the old mother who said she had once been her nurse. It had almost been too late to have a choice. It had almost been too late for both of them.

“You already fill my heart with fire,” she says. Her voice brightens. “So, I don’t see why we can’t have it both ways. Maybe tomorrow you teach me how to live like a dragon. We’ll run around naked and catch fish, or whatever. If you’re not too sore to keep up, and serves you right if you are!”

He laughs, muffled, into her shoulder. “You’re so strange!”

“Ah, but you love me,” says Mira tartly. He hums his agreement, and sits up a little.

“I lied,” he says, after a moment.

“What’s that?”

“I do need you. You help me to make sense of things when I feel like I am drowning. You taught me how to make a life that I wanted for myself, rather than just existing. And it does have you in it. The life that I want. I can’t imagine it without you. There are many things I can’t imagine for the future, yet. But if you are there, I won’t be afraid to find out.”

This time, she leans her head on his shoulder, cushioned by her sleeves. “We’ll find out together.”

His expression puts the sunset, glowing outside the mouth of the cave, to shame.