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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 49

Paedyn

Screams. I’ve never heard agony in such a raw form.

I had just climbed into bed after making it back from Loot only to throw off the covers and jump to my feet. I’m stumbling through the dark room, tripping over my discarded boots lying carelessly on the floor.

When my fingers finally wrap around the cool handle of my door, I wrench it open and step out into the shadowed hallway.

A cry echoes, and I still at the sound.

It’s him.

I don’t know how I know since I’ve never heard the future Enforcer cry out before, but something tugs me in the direction of his room. My feet are moving of their own accord, guiding me closer to him with every step.

I halt before his door, dragging my insistent feet to a stop.

What am I doing?

I can’t just walk into his room. Right?

Wrong.

This is a bad idea.

Yes, but this is a bad idea I want to do.

Another anguished cry tears from his throat and I don’t hesitate before throwing open the door. Darkness engulfs me as I once again stumble through a room, eyes straining to see, hands outstretched to guide.

The outline of a bed comes into view, along with the outline of the body atop it. I make my way to him, blinking as my eyes finally adjust to the lack of light, only to roam over his exposed chest, heaving and slicked with sweat.

His head is thrown back against a pillow, strands of inky hair sticking to his forehead. He’s heaving shaky, shallow breaths, every inch of him taut. I can’t even begin to imagine what is haunting his sleep, what is stealing his rest and leaving him so ragged. What nightmare is so terrible that even the prince cannot defend himself?

His lips are moving with murmured words I can’t understand, and now I’m truly worried.

I’m worried about him.

I let the thought sink in for a moment before placing a gentle hand on his shoulder and nearly gasping at the heat of his skin. He’s burning up.

“Kai,” I say softly, not wanting to startle him.

Nothing.

“Kai.” I speak his name louder this time, shaking his shoulder to try and shake him from his nightmare.

He cries out again, and I nearly do the same. Now I’m panting, panicking, pleading with him to wake up so we can go back to bantering instead of begging him to open his eyes.

I climb onto his bed, swinging a leg over his body so he’s pressed between my thighs as I lay both hands on his slick chest. “Kai!” I’m shaking him, hard, willing him to wake.

“Kai!” I’m annoyed that I care so much. Annoyed that I care whether he is hurting or not. Annoyed that I can’t bear to see him like this—

And then those gray eyes snap open.

Strong hands are suddenly gripping my waist and throwing me off him. My back is pressed against the mattress as he pins me down, hands crushing my arms, his body crushing mine.

And then something cold is pressed against my throat.

I’d know the feel of a dagger anywhere, so I don’t bother looking down at the one he is now pushing against my neck. I’m breathing heavily, keeping my eyes locked on his wild ones and my voice soft. “Kai, it’s me.”

His strength is shocking, and I don’t think I could wiggle out from under him even if I tried. He’s panting just as hard as I am, practically paralyzed above me. “Kai. It was just a nightmare.” I keep my voice calm while ignoring my thundering heart that says I’m anything but. “Kai, it’s me. Paedyn.”

He blinks. And then he blinks again, over and over as if clearing his head. As if seeing me for the first time. Cool air coats my neck as he pulls the dagger away, his eyes never straying from mine.

“It’s me. Pae.” My voice trembles, barely more than a whisper now. “Kai?” Then my voice cracks and something seems to crack inside him as well.

He takes a shuddering breath, looking at what he’s done. Releasing my arm from his startling grip, he slides the dagger back under his pillow while trying to calm his breathing. His cool mask has cracked, crumbled in his panic, and I can see every emotion as it flits across his face.

I’ve never seen him so disheveled, so disoriented, so disgusted with himself.

His eyes are haunted, filled with horrors as they wander around the room, refusing to meet my gaze. I can tell he is about to get off me without a word, and I refuse to let that happen. Refuse to forget this moment when the prince was merely a boy.

Those ghostly, gray eyes flutter shut at the feel of my hand on his cheek. I cup his face, timidly, tenderly, as I silently marvel at the feel of him against my palm. His jaw is set, and a muscle feathers in it as I slide my thumb across his cheek.

He ducks his head, eyes still squeezed shut so he doesn’t have to meet mine. “Look at me.” My command is both soft and stern, sure and shaky.

My other hand is on his face now, helping to guide it back up to meet my gaze. He takes a deep, trembling breath before opening his eyes, the steeliness of them as startling as they are stunning.

“Don’t hide from me,” I breathe, suddenly unable to catch my breath with the way he is looking at me. “Not anymore.”

I want to stare into his face, the one without the mask that I have glimpsed so many times before. I watch as his eyes roam over me, over my body still pressed beneath his, over my hair messily spread across his pillow.

Almost as though he is committing me to memory.

I swallow under his gaze, which only manages to drop his eyes to my neck where I can feel a flush rising. No, not just a flush. My neck stings. Suddenly remembering that my hands are still on his face, I slowly drop them to bring my fingers to my neck.

His swift hand catches my wrist before running his fingers gently over my throat. I barely suppress a shudder at his touch, at the feel of his callouses brushing my flushed skin.

“Look at what I’ve done.” His voice is rough, still riddled with the remnants of sleep and raw with the cries that ripped from his throat. He pulls back his fingers, now smudged with sticky blood.

He looks so pained by the thought of nicking me with a dagger that I let out a breathy laugh despite the current situation. He looks alarmed by my outburst, which only manages to make me laugh even more.

“Funny,” I huff, “usually I’m the one pressing a dagger to your throat.”

I silently wish for a smile to tug at his lips, for those dimples to come out and mock me. But he just stares at me before saying softly, “You’re going to get blood in your hair.”

I might have laughed again at that if it weren’t for his fingers at my throat, making me fall silent. He sits up slightly, slowly sliding one hand to the nape of my neck before lifting my head gently off the pillow and brushing my hair back with the other. He takes his time, letting his fingers run through the silver strands while he cradles my head.

“I would braid it back for you again, but you informed me that I’m no good at it,” he says roughly, so at odds with the gentle way he sets my head back onto the pillow. Without hesitation, he grabs the corner of a blanket and begins softly wiping the remaining blood from my neck.

“You just need more practice, that’s all.”

We both still, content to let the silence stretch between us.

He looks down at me, and I look up at him. I’m lost in the moment, lost in his eyes. There is no smirk to be seen, no smile to be shared, no sarcastic line to be said. Just the two of us, hearts beating wildly, breath leaving shakily.

I blink, realizing what I’m doing, what is going on, what is happening between us. So I clear my throat, slowly shifting beneath him. He takes a breath, understanding what I want and slowly moving off me. Only when the cool air hits me do I realize how flushed I am, how heated my skin has become.

I sit up, tugging up my tank as I do, and slide to the edge of his bed. I can feel his piercing gaze on me as I stand to my feet, suddenly conscious of the little fabric covering my body.

I take a step away.

Another.

Fingers brush the inside of my wrist.

“Stay.”

I still. Time stalls. Breathing ceases.

It’s astounding how severely a single word can affect someone.

“Please.”

My heart trips over itself at the sound of that word from his lips.

“Few have the power to make me plead.”

The weight that my next words hold is pressing down on me, crushing my lungs so no sound can come out of my mouth. What I say next could either drive a wedge between us or drive us closer together. Too close together.

Do I stay? Do I go?

My mind is screaming at me to do one thing, but my heart is pounding, pleading with me to do another. Despite the silence stretching between us, my jumbled thoughts are deafening.

Even with my back still to him, I can feel his eyes on me, feel the ghost of his hands on me, feel what he is doing to me.

What if I don’t say a thing?

Words can only damn if they are spoken.

So that’s just what I’ll do. I won’t speak, I won’t think—I’ll feel. I’ll drown out the insistent thoughts and simply feel.

I turn, slowly, and meet his gaze. His breath catches, his gaze softens.

He didn’t think I would stay.

He expects everyone to leave him.

And with that heartbreaking thought in mind, I don’t hesitate as I lift the covers of his bed. He tracks the movement, watches my hands as they fold back the blankets, my body as I fold beneath them.

I don’t think he’s breathing, and my head is spinning so much that I don’t think I am either. I sink into his mattress, his soft pillows, the scent that covers them. Him. I’m surrounded by him. I curl onto my side, heart racing as I feel the bed shift beside me.

And then I’m actually surrounded by him. His chest brushes against my back in question, silently asking if I want him closer or farther. I swallow before leaning back, ever so slightly, in answer.

I want you closer.

He doesn’t hesitate. His arm is wrapped around my middle and tugging me against him before I have a chance to catch my breath. I’m pressed to his strong body, tucked between the covers and him. I feel secure and safe and more soothed in his arms than I have in years.

feel.

Something about this, about us, seems different. Intentional. We both wanted this. We weren’t forced together because of the cold or because of an injury. I could have walked away, but I chose this. No, we chose this. We chose each other.

And that terrifies me.

His thumb is drawing idle circles on my lower stomach and my tank is doing little to stop the heat of his fingers from seeping through. My eyes drift closed, somehow feeling tired yet too terribly aware of his body pressed against mine to let myself sleep.

He rests his head in the crook of my neck, his breath tickling my skin as he murmurs, “Thank you.”

Those two words startle me enough to make me twist my head to look at him. I wonder how rare it is for the prince, the future Enforcer, to say those words so earnestly.

His face is close to mine, and he studies it thoughtfully, thoroughly, as if he has all the time in the world to do so. He tilts his head to the side, gently tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. My breath hitches when his fingers trail down the side of my neck, and he smiles, soft and sweet and satisfied. So very satisfied in this moment.

A smile he’s designed just for me.

“Does it shock you? That I would thank you?” he asks, voice low and quiet.

I study the planes of his face, the perfection that is him. “It shouldn’t. Not anymore.” I swallow as the truth of those words sink in. I’ve gotten to know him, gotten to see the man behind the many masks who is more than what his father has molded him into.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been studying him when I realize how heavy my eyelids have become. I’m blinking, trying my best to escape the sleep that is desperately clawing at me, so I can continue memorizing his face a little longer.

He’s doing the same, taking in every inch of me with a look of wonder. I blink and my eyelids threaten not to open again, sleep daring to drag me away from this moment.

His lips are suddenly at my ear and that is all I need to have my eyes fluttering open. “As tempting as it is to watch you stare at me all night,” his voice is a caress, lulling me to sleep with a single sentence, “sleep, Pae.”

I manage to give him a groggy grin before asking, “Are you going to sleep?”

“Oh, darling, I’m already dreaming.”

He pulls me impossibly closer, and I turn my head away. My eyes fall closed, the steady beat of his heart a lullaby. I feel fingers combing through my hair, weaving loose strands together as I whisper, “What are you doing?”

He ducks his head close to mine, and I feel his lips brush against my hair when he murmurs, “Practicing.”

I drift off to the feel of Kai braiding my hair, vaguely wondering if I should be afraid of how safe I feel with him. If I should be worried that I feel content and comforted in his arms.

I feel happy, I feel words murmured into my ear, and the whisper of fingers stroking my hair.

And then all I feel is blissful sleep.


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