Chapter no 64

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

Oraya and I lay together for a long time, eyes closed, but neither of us slept. I wondered if she knew that I always knew it when she was awake—I knew it when she was a room away from me, and I

certainly knew it now, with her bare body against mine and my arms around her, feeling the cadence of her breathing against my chest.

Maybe some might’ve thought it was a waste to just lie there like that, in the hours before our potential death. Hell, the last time I’d faced death with Oraya, I’d wanted to spend every sleepless moment of that day inside her, working my way through a list of pleasures.

But this… this was different.

I didn’t need to collect more carnal moans. I wanted the rest of it. The way she breathed. The way she smelled. The exact arrangement of her dark lashes over her cheeks.

What it felt like, just to be next to her.

Maybe that was why, despite all we had to face come nightfall, I was glad I never fell asleep, not even when Oraya finally—finally—slipped off into a light, fitful rest.

Instead, I watched her.

Before the end of the Kejari, two hundred years ago, I had lain beside Nessanyn on a sleepless day not unlike this one. It was hours before Vincent would win the final trial, kill Neculai, and throw my life and the House of Night into chaos. Hours before I would beg Nessanyn to run away with me, and she would refuse.

That day, I’d watched her sleep, and I’d been so certain that I loved her.

The fact that I loved her was, actually, the only thing I was certain of.

I was desperate to have something to love. Something to care about when I didn’t give a damn about myself.

But so little of it had anything to do with her. It was never frightening to love Nessanyn. It was a survival mechanism.

Loving Oraya was terrifying.

It required me to see things I didn’t want to see. Face things I didn’t want to face. Allow another soul to witness parts of myself I didn’t even want to acknowledge.

I now felt like such a fucking fool that I had never thought of it in that way, with that word, until this moment.

Of course it was love.

What else could it be, for someone to see that much of you? To see so much beauty in the parts of someone that they hate in themselves?

I almost wished I hadn’t had the realization, because it made what loomed ahead that much more devastating. Easier to have nothing to lose.

I’d gotten us all into this mess. If I had to die to end it, so be it. But Oraya dying for my mistakes—

That would be a tragedy. The world would never recover.

I, I knew in this moment, would never recover.

But right now, she was safe. We had a few precious hours until everything changed, for good or for bad. I wouldn’t waste a single one of them on sleep.

I spent them counting the freckles on her cheeks, memorizing the pattern of her breaths, watching the flutter of her eyelashes.

And when the sun went down, and Oraya stirred and blinked blearily at me with those moon-bright eyes and asked, “Sleep well?”

I just kissed her forehead and said, “Perfect.” And I didn’t have a single regret.

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