We were close now, drawn together as if by an unseen force. His breath came in quiet, sharp bursts, brushing against my mouth like a languid winter breeze. Every line, every scar, every withered and mottled imperfection stood out in sharp relief against the deathly pallor of his thin skin that stretched taut over his protruding bones.
"Monstrous," he had been taught. "Monstrous," he often said.
Yet I did not recoil.
I did not look away.
I could not look away.
My hand found his and he flinched, expecting pain yet finding only tenderness. I let my fingers entwine with his—slowly, carefully. His hands were calloused, rough, cold. His gaze flickered down to where my palm rested against his and then he looked at me again, monumental disbelief flickering like a newly-lit candle beneath the yellow gleam of his sunken eyes—shadowed for too long, consigned to darkness for too long.
Something swelled like an ocean current deep within my heart. It seemed to spill into the very air around us, artfully dissolving sorrow, dismantling every ossified fortress that neglect and cruelty and solitude had forged around his soul.
And I leaned in, as if floating upon the wings of a breeze. He stiffened, scarcely daring to breathe. I touched my cheek to his, brought his clenched hand up to rest against my chest, felt it relax as he sensed the rhythm of my pulse. I closed my eyes, hot tears seeping onto my eyelids.
"I love you."
It fell from my lips like a prayer. Quiet, resounding.
He exhaled, his shoulders suddenly heaving, and I could no longer bear the distance between us, infinitesimal though it was.
I wrapped him in a desperate embrace, burying my face in the black warmth of his thick cloak, repeating those sacred three words with all the strength and devotion and reverence I could muster, and they sagged his shoulders and thawed his reserve and stilled his trembling hands with the force of a thousand Aves.
And the choked sob that finally tore from his throat spoke of redemption.
(It feels so good to write again. Thankfully, these two are always around to provide inspiration. :) )