I was sitting quietly writing as we’d settled in for the night when Nika walked into my tent. She looked unsettled.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. She frowned.
“I have to ask you a favor,” she said.
“Alright,” I smiled. She was being overly serious. It made me want to tease her terribly, but I knew it wasn’t my place anymore. “What’s the favor?”
“When we arrive at the keep,” she frowned. “I need you to pretend we’re still together.” I gaped at her.
“You want to lie?” I said. She nodded. “About us? That’s not like you.”
“I know,” she said, “But I can’t do it. I can’t go through this wedding and these visits, with my sister and parents, having abandoned my people, my duty to them for a love that failed.” I stood up and went and held her hands. “So perhaps we could simply, pretend?”
“Of course,” I said quietly. “Or we could,” I choked on the words. I missed her. “We could not pretend, we could be together again.”
“No,” she whispered, “no, I can’t,” she swallowed, “I can’t do that anymore.” I nodded, trying to understand.
“I am so sorry, Nika,” I whispered, “I wish I were different, I do.” She put her hands around my face.
“I don’t,” she said, “oh, I would never wish you were different. I love you.” We kissed softly. “I just know you don’t love me, and I can’t take it anymore.” I pressed my forehead to hers. “I thought I could live with it, I really did. I thought that you wanting me, and me loving you and us having our life together would be enough.”
“I do love you,” I whispered.
“You love me as you love Annalise and Athena,” she whispered, “as your friend, and compatriot, but you don’t love me the way I love you, the way you love Lefty and Tristan.” I swallowed. “It’s alright, I made peace with it a long time ago, I just can’t do it anymore.” I nudged my nose against hers.
“Come to bed,” I whispered. She sighed. “Let me show you how I love you.”
“Sex isn’t love, Marina,” she said. “I never doubted you wanted me, or how good our sex was.” I blushed a little. “I think it might be the only way I am above the others in your estimation.” I laughed. “I mean, I have no doubt both Tristan and Lefty are both satisfactory lovers, the way you whimpered that it had never been like this our first time, was quite gratifying.”
“Alright, fine,” I sighed throwing up my hands. “Sex isn’t love, but you could still come to bed.” I took her hand and led her back.
“Rina,” she whispered.
“Nika,” I smiled and kissed her. “I miss you.” She sighed. “You won’t even talk to me.”
“I have nothing left to say,” she whispered. “What happened today?” I looked at her. “With Annalise?” I sighed.
“I suggested that you and Prior form a club,” I teased. She laughed. “Everyone saw, is all that happened.”
“Poor Carolina,” Nika said softly. I nodded. She took one of my curls around her finger. “Poor you.” I smiled.
“I’ll survive it,” I said. She nodded. “You’re wrong you know. I do love you.” She sighed and looked at me. “I’d have died without you, Nika. You saved me from despair a hundred times these past four years.” She kissed me.
“So you’ll save me this time?” She whispered. I nodded.
“I’ll be perfect,” I said and kissed her. “I might even fool you into taking me back.” She rolled her eyes and onto her back, I straddled her.
“Rina,” she warned, but there was a laugh in her voice. I grinned down at her and we kissed. “This is not going to be a regular occurrence.”
“Absolutely not,” I said, unwinder her veil and running my hands over her hair. “Only tonight.” I kissed down her neck and opened her robe, then down her breasts. “I will be perfectly behaved.”
“Mm,” she exhaled, letting her arms drift over her head. I took her breast into my mouth and sucked gently. “Oh gods,” she exhaled. I wanted to make her shake and moan, worship her body.
I traced kisses down her belly to her sex and licked and kissed gently. She inhaled and then let out a moaning sigh. She tasted so sweet. The tiny hitches in her breath, as I tasted her, pleasured her, everything about Nika is so controlled, except here, except with me.
“Marina,” she lifted her hips. “Oh, my love,” I pulled back and looked at her.
“Let go,” I whispered, working my fingers into her. “Just be with me.” I kissed her and she pulled me close as she came on my hand.
“Rina,” she mumbled as I slid beside her and held her. “We can’t.” I kissed her hair.
“I know,” I said softly. “But I want you.” She rested her head against me.
“You’re spoiled,” she mumbled. I laughed. “Getting everything you want.”
“You love me,” I whispered and then kissed her.
“Unfortunately for me,” she rolled over in mock submission. “Yes, I do.” I slid into her arms and she pulled me close. “It hurts, so much, Rina.”
“I know,” I said. “I want to make it stop hurting.”
“You can’t,” Nika said gently. “You’re the bruise and being with you is just pressing on it.” I understood now.
“You’ll have to tell them eventually,” I whispered. She sighed. “Brea might even guess.”
“Brea will not guess,” she said, “Brea won’t be able to see five feet in front of her. Brea is about to marry Harran, which is everything she’s wanted since she was five years old. That this is the only thing that matters to Brea right now.” I laughed.
“She once told me that she knew many curses that would make me wish I’d never been born,” I said softly, “if anything ever happened to you, if I ever hurt you.” She looked at me.
“Really?” She said. I nodded. “Brea doesn’t actually know any curses.” She paused. “I don’t think so at least.” I laughed and kissed her.
“I’d really rather not risk it,” I smiled. She pulled me into her lap.
“Then stop hurting me,” she grinned. I sighed.
“I am trying,” I whispered and kissed her again.
“I know you are,” she said. “You’ll do this for me?” I nodded. “Thank you.”