The sleeping chamber was small but comfortable, a fact Avra didn’t really notice. She sat at the foot of the narrow bed, staring blindly at the oak-paneled wall. Her thoughts swirled chaotically, centering on one figure.
I told myself…never again. I don’t need anybody. And…he…he… she blinked, trying to banish the copper and gold that filled her vision. NO! Think what has always happened. Nothing is worth that. Just leave. Leave tonight. Now.
She didn’t move. Her inner voice continued on, but she no longer listened. Images were flashing across her mind, pulling her ever deeper into the icy darkness lurking inside her.
No…I…I can’t…I…love…no…can’t love. It won’t last, remember? But maybe…this time…no. I can’t. If I do…and…and he doesn’t…. The thought caused her to shake, sending a chill over her small frame. She sank deeper into the painful memories, not seeing the room blur and waver before her. Tears ran down her face, leaving thin trails on her cheeks. It hurts…if he doesn’t...I’ll never be able to live with myself again. Never. Life won’t be worth it. She buried her face in her hands. Why did you have to come into my life?

Tey stood at the door with the dinner tray he had procured from the innkeeper, feeling decidedly uncomfortable. What are you waiting for? he growled to himself. Just open the door and go in. There’s nothing difficult about that. He raised his free hand…and tapped gently on the door. Idiot, he told himself.
“Lady Avra? I have some dinner here.” He paused, waiting for the now familiar retort. It didn’t come. Concerned, Tey set the tray on a nearby table. “Lady Avra? Are you there?” He listened carefully, but heard nothing within the room. Odd. Usually there were sounds of Avra sharpening her knives, or muttering to herself as she fletched arrows or went through her flexibility exercises. Everything was silent tonight.
Wait.... He leaned closer to the door, closing his eyes and straining his senses. He thought he could almost hear the faint sound of someone sniffling in the room. Surely that couldn’t be Avra.... He reached out with his mind, and felt only Avra’s mental feel within the room. She was alone. Then she had to be the one sniffling. Tey shook his head. But Avra wasn’t one to cry...was she?
He knocked again. “Lady Avra? Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine,” he heard her voice growl back, and his sharp hearing made out the slight quiver in her voice. Yes, she had been crying.
“I have dinner for you,” he repeated, picking up the tray again. “May I come in?”
“Hang on.”
He waited patiently for a few moments, and then the door creaked open. Avra stood in the doorway, clad only in the oversized shirt she wore for sleeping. Tey’s mouth quirked in a small grin as he noticed the distinctive hem stitching of some minor king. Yet another nobleman deprived of his laundry.
“What’re you smiling at, waterfly?” she growled.
Well, Tey thought, at least she hasn’t lost her touch. “I brought you dinner. If you don’t want it, I’ll—”
“I want it,” she interrupted, pulling him inside. “Set it on the night stand over there.” She pointed. “Try not to spill it.”
“Yes milady.” He walked over to the bedside, set the tray down, and turned to face Avra again. She stood with her arms folded across her chest in a defiant gesture he’d seen so often. Sweet Lady, she’s beautiful. It was all he could do not to stare. Instead, he shrugged. “Milady, if you do not want my company tonight, I’ll just—”
“Please stay,” she said hastily, then caught herself. “I mean....”
Tey sat on the edge of the bed. “Fine with me. There’s only dinner for one; I ate in the common room.”
“That’s okay,” she replied. “You don’t need to eat with me. I’d just...appreciate it...if you’d stay.”
Tey shrugged again. “As you wish, milady.”
Instead of moving toward the bed, Avra remained by the door, her arms folded across her small chest. The wide neck of her shirt had slipped off of one shoulder, revealing the light-colored skin beneath, and Tey held back the wild thoughts running through his mind at the look of her compact body. He glanced away, looking at the dinner, then turned back. “The food’s getting cold,” he said softer than before.
“Right,” she answered, just as soft, and finally moved forward. Tey found himself staring at her again. He couldn’t help it. She walked with the straight back of a warrior, but as gracefully as any thief. Her nicely-proportioned human body moved with the suppleness of her dragon form, and despite her low birth she looked as regal as any queen.
She sat on the edge of the bed near the tray, and began to eat quite daintily for someone who could hit a target at a hundred paces and pick pockets without a second thought. He watched her small fingers pick carefully at the bones of the roasted fowl, fingers that could deprive a man of his money without him knowing, fingers that could pick a lock with perfect ease. Those small hands that had so easily helped to heal him now lifted her goblet, broke her bread, put tubers and cheese in her delicate mouth.
She finished in short time. As she wiped her mouth and set the tray back on the night stand, he rose to leave. “I guess I’ll take my leave, milady—”
He felt the sudden, unshielded flash from her mind, a streak of ice-grey and violet, a brief surge of anxiety and fear that vanished as quickly as it had come. Her eyes betrayed no emotion, but that minute mental contact held him rooted to the spot. Was that her?
“Well...?” she asked, looking up at him.
“Unless you’d rather I stay, milady, I’ll be leaving....”
“Please stay.”
He sat back down. “Is there something you want to talk about?”
She actually looked away. What is wrong? Tey demanded of himself. She isn’t herself tonight.
She glanced back up, and he thought he could almost make out the beginnings of a tear in one of her beautiful brown eyes. He longed to reach up and wipe it away for her, but he didn’t know how she would take such a gesture.
She didn’t say a word, only looked at him. He couldn’t read the expression on her face; it was one she’d never used before. He wanted so desperately to hold her and soothe away the sadness he thought he saw in her eyes, but didn’t know how to go about it. Tey, he told himself, you are a flaming idiot. You know what you want. Ask her and see if it’s what she wants.
Instead, he rose. “I really can’t stay, if we’re just going to sit here,” he began, hoping he didn’t sound heartless or cold. “Good night, milady.” He turned to leave.
Just as he took a step toward the door, he thought he heard her voice whisper, “I don’t want to be left alone again.”
He turned back. “Excuse me?”
Without speaking, she looked up at him, and for the first time, he saw her stony exterior crack. A single tear rolled down her cheek, glistening like silver against her light cream skin. It hung at her chin as another rolled down, then dropped to land on her small hand. He felt the tentative touch to his mind, and opened up to her.
A wash of weeping blue, a streak of bitter puce, waves of anxious-nervous-fearful violet-grey.
Like lightning, he was back by her side, gathering her into his strong arms as the tears began to flow freely. “Shh, Avra,” he whispered to her, rocking her gently and stroking her hair. “Shh, it’s all right, I’m here. I won’t leave you alone, I promise.”
She clutched his shirt, pressing herself as close as she could get, shaking with quiet sobs. He tried to project soothing emotions to her, comforting emotions, as he held her tightly in his big arms. He pressed his cheek to her forehead, radiating calm as he rubbed her shoulders.
And then she was whispering to him, words he didn’t catch at first. She told him of all the people she had trusted, and lost, especially a young dragon she had loved once. She told Tey of how she had met Jarron, and how he had gotten himself killed by a dragonslayer. She told Tey of her parents, of her brothers and cousins, of those in her cave that had died the day the dragonslayers attacked her home. She told him of those who had raised her, those who had taught her to steal and pick locks and pockets, those with whom she had worked, and those whom she had helped. All had left her alone, be they dragon or human or shape-shifter. He hugged her closer and tried to assure her that everything would be all right.
Even after it seemed she had cried herself dry, he continued to hold her and to rock her, whispering softly to her as he stroked her hair the way his foster mother had when he was young and scared. Finally, her shoulders’ shaking had reduced to a minor tremble, and her sobs to sniffles once again. She leaned weakly against him, and he did nothing to try to dislodge her.
He pulled her gently into his lap, and she turned her face up slowly to look him in the eyes. His mind was still open to hers; he could easily see the blue sea of sadness that was predominant in her mind, with amber paths of longing weaving through it. He could barely make out a tiny thread of another color, another emotion, and smiled down at her as he realized it was rose—love.
She tentatively smiled back, a curious look in her eyes, and he allowed her to see the love and longing in his own mind. Her smile deepened as she felt his wordless show of emotion, and pulled him down for a kiss. Gratefully, he did not resist, but instead pulled her closer, held her tighter, and savored this softer side of the woman who had captured his heart the day she’d set him free.
Later, after she had fallen asleep in his arms, he carefully prepared to leave. He pulled back the covers on her bed and laid her down, pulling the furs up to her shoulders. Bushing his lips across her cheek, he whispered, “I will never leave you alone.” He thought she heard him, for she stirred slightly and reached toward him with her right hand. He took it in his left and kissed her palm, then closed her fingers around it. “Keep this part of me until the morning, my lady,” he breathed in her ear, then rose and slipped out as quietly as only a dragon can.