Rated R for references to violence and sex.
A quick note of explanation. That day is the day when Death Eaters, led by Sergei’s older brother, Rasputin, attacked Sergei, his fiancée Annabelle, and their best friend Gloryanna. Belle died from her injuries and Ree and Sergei spent over a year in recovery. They have since gone on the hunt to ensure that those who attacked them will pay.
The night itself was perfect, so perfect, in fact, that deep down they both wondered why it had not happened before, and afterwards longed for it to happen again. There was almost no sound from the room that night, for what need is there for sound when every thought, every emotion, every sensation is shared directly from mind to mind? They had thought the mental barriers between them gone when their link first formed, and again when that day occurred. They figured nothing could remain when they hauled each other from death and depression time and again in the years since that day. This night, however, they knew they were gone, felt them crumble and fall in truth and totality. It was peace. It was freedom. It was healing.
The next morning was rather less than perfect. Ree awoke first. She was used to sharing a bed at this point; they had found it comforting since that day and practical since beginning the hunt. She was even used to occasionally waking up with his hands on bare skin, as shirts were known to migrate up, and sleeping hands to wander. However, she was definitely not used to waking up to the sensation of skin to skin all across her body. In fact, not used to it didn’t even come close to explaining how completely unknown the sensation was … and yet how perfect.
Her shocked jump out of his arms and half way across the bed was what woke Sergei, especially since she took most of the threadbare blanket with her. As she stared at him in shock, trying to make sense of her memories of the night before, he looked up at her blearily.
It had been some time since Sergei had slept so deeply, felt so free to relax that he didn’t awaken instantly. It took his mind some time to make sense of why he felt so at peace. It almost felt as though … Belle were in his arms again. But Belle was gone, and this had felt ... different, somehow. So the body he had felt in his arms a moment ago could only be … Ree?
Ree was shaking. She was trying to keep her eyes firmly fixed on her lap from shear embarrassment, but she couldn’t seem to stop glancing over. Oh, she had seen Sergei in various states of dishabille over the years, but she tried not to think of it, tried to be polite. Yet, that didn’t mean she didn’t appreciate the view every time. She had been attracted to him, no, in love with him, for years, but always hid that truth, even from herself when possible. First she had denied it out of respect for his relationship with Belle, and the friendship the three of them shared. Now she hid it out of respect for his grief and their shared loss. But it was damned hard to deny anything when he was lying there, barely covered where necessary by the corner of a blanket.
She wanted to figure out what he was thinking, to discuss how they were going to deal with this, but his face was the one place she couldn’t make herself look, her vocal chords were frozen, and there was no way in hell she was using their mental link with her mind in this kind of turmoil. In fact, she clamped down on the link, blocking it as hard as she could in panic at the thought that he might get any echo of where her mind had just been … wishing the blanket had slid just a little further.
Sergei could see the turmoil of Ree’s mind written across her face. From the blank feeling of their bond he knew she was blocking it, so hard it nearly hurt, as used to feeling her on the other end as he was, and especially after last night. That worried him too. Was she angry? Of course she was. She had every right to be furious. The only other time she had been with a man in any sense had been that day. How could he have taken advantage of her like that? She was going to kill him, and he would not stop her. Hell, he would help her do it.
How many years had he loved her from a distance? No one could ever replace Annabelle, but he had long wondered if he had met Ree first, if things would have turned out different. Or if Ree had been just a little more relaxed around him from the beginning. Or if he had ever dared mention to both girls that they try something. He had never dreamed when leaving Russia that he could love two women at the same time, in slightly different ways, but especially since that day, he had known how much he did indeed love Ree. And had managed to hide it from everyone, including himself, for years. But now, in one evening’s idiocy, he had probably ruined everything.
They needed to talk.
“Love?” he started softly, reaching out a hand to her blanket covered knee. But he stopped before making contact as she just about jumped out of her skin.
She knew half her reaction was simply from the sound of his voice, that accented purr she so loved, and to which she suddenly felt hypersensitive. But she also reacted to his choice of wording. She both longed for it and despaired when he called her that. She longed for him to call her ‘love’ as in ‘I love you,’ not just as a friend. She despaired because she knew that would never be. He loved Annabelle …
”Belle?” she whispered, the paralysis on her vocal chords finally broken. Oh Aradia, what had she done? Was she so caught up in her own lust and cross wired emotions that she had completely missed such a factor as his own grief for his fiancée, her friend.
“Oh, Sergei, I’m so sorry,” she began. “What have I done to you? To Belle?” Tears began to course down her face and her control over their mental link faltered. He deserved so much better than her and her screwed up heart. As her throat seized up again, she began to project her love and apologies down their link.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I love you. I betrayed you. I betrayed her. I failed you both. I’m sorry.
"No, nonono," he murmured, echoing the words in his mind as he reached for her. "Nyet, nyet, no, do not apologize." She jerked again as he touched her but he pulled her against his chest, blanket and all.
"This is my fault, mine," he said, his accent getting heavier in his own distress. My fault. You have betrayed no one, no one.
She found herself leaning into him rather than fighting his arms. She had always loved it when he held her close, telling herself she was saving the memory for the day when her grandmother married her off, so she could have memories to hide in if her husband’s touch were distasteful. The thought if filing this moment away in the same manner only increased her sense of guilt and she sobbed into his shoulder, not even trying to hide the depth and length of her emotions. Had she just been using him all this time?
When her tears kept on going and her self-recriminations did not stop, he did the only thing he could think of--he gently tipped her head up and kissed her, hand at the back of her head, and through the kiss he poured his own love through the link. His love for her, not for Belle. He would always love Belle, and part of him would always mourn for her--but so would Ree, on some level.
He gave her his love for her, his lust, the comfort he gained by having her there beside him and when they touched. The respect he held for her, and the admiration, and the fear that he had ruined everything last night, despite how perfect and right it had seemed at the time. Neither of them had thought about it ... it had simply happened. He let her see it all, feel it all, as he kissed her to silence those recriminations.
She was surprised by his actions, but while a small part of her screamed to back off and pull away, she ignored it, instead slipping her arms around him and returning his kiss full force. Into the kiss she poured her love, her years of longing, the peace she always found in his touch. Her respect for him, body, mind, and soul, and her long held fear that somehow she would upset what she had seen as a perfect relationship between him and Belle. As she admitted it to him, she finally admitted to herself how perfect last night had seemed. She had healed physically from that day years ago, but now, while the idea of being with anyone other than Sergei was distasteful, she no longer feared it. Last night had begun to heal her mind.
In their sharing she felt an echo of something familiar. It took some dredging through some very unpleasant memories, but she finally made the connection. That day, and in the days that followed, when they were both too weak to do anything, she had felt this, this sharing of love, this depth of emotion from him. As they recovered their mental walls had been restored and the truth they both knew had been repressed.
For a moment she pulled back from their kiss, feeling the need to be able to look into his eyes. One hand crept up to caress his scarred cheek while she stared into those familiar eyes with new understanding. Deep down, she had known the depth of his emotions, as he had hers. They had just been so used to hiding it that they had continued to hide the truth from themselves. For a moment she truly wondered just what would have happened if Belle had survived, because in her mind she could now feel a broken echo of these same emotions shared with their lost third.
He looked into her eyes as well, his own as clear and free from barriers as perhaps they had ever been before. One hand was buried in her hair, so much shorter now than before, the other around her waist as if to keep her from pulling away. "I love you, Ree," he said quietly, softly, almost too low to actually be heard.
"In spite of her, because of her, even while I vas vith her. I loved her too, so very much, but I love you as vell." Always would, too, his heart knew that. It wasn't something he could explain, it just ... was. He would always love Belle, and Ree knew that. But he wouldn't have stayed with Ree this long, through all of the hell they'd gone through, if he hadn't loved her. He wouldn't have put up with her being a grumbly patient when she got ill, or suffered through times with her grandmother treating him as if he were scum, if she had been a mere friend.
And he never would have let her see him cry in pain, physical and mental, so many times after that day, or that first horrible time they'd confronted the fact that Belle was dead.
Today she heard him, truly heard him. So many times he had called her love, and only now could she see just how much he had meant it. She felt rather like Buttercup must have in The Princess Bride when she finally realized what Wesley meant when he said “As you wish,” as silly as the analogy felt. How Belle had loved that movie.
How long had he been trying to tell her? Possibly as long as she had been wishing he would. And really, it was the only understandable explanation for why he had put up with so much on her behalf, for how they had managed to pull each other together time and again during their recovery from that day, for how they had not died that day. A friend would have walked a soon as humanly possible when faced with her grandmother. Love had carried them through.
“Belle …” She had to pause to choke back another sob. “Belle would want us to be happy?” She looked deep into his eyes as she spoke, looking for the truth she felt in her heart.
“Dah,” he replied simply, and in his eyes, she found what she sought. She leaned in and kissed him again, her fingers slipping behind his head and tangling with thick black hair, now as long as her own shortened locks. Into that kiss she poured her love for him, and her new promise to herself and to him. She would deny her grandmother and accept no man but Sergei, if he would have her.
Of course I will have you, came his mental response. To him, there was no other way. They each belonged to the other. It was the natural order of things, and one he would not deny. They'd tried that for too long--it hadn't worked.
Things might have progressed further than a kiss, but a loud, repetitive crashing noise from the door, interspersed with what might be yelling in Turkish, drove the young lovers apart and into defensive stances. As the sounds stopped save for the stomping of loud feet departing down the hallway, the two shared a look that promised they would pick this up again later. For now, it appeared they were no longer welcome in this hell hole, and the instincts of the hunt and the chase were back in full swing.
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