176 Drained

Helplessly, Aston shook his head. "Geez, do you think I would snatch your wife away? No way! But no girl deserves her first time on the floor in a place like this. Think about it, bro. You should be thanking me for stopping you."

Glancing at the metal walls and lack of any furniture in the room, Nathaniel couldn't help but agree. The desire must have clouded his mind to even consider it. Katherine was worth of so much more, but he had been too parched of affection to notice anything else.

"And before you ask, I know that it's her first time just by seeing her", Aston added with an impish grin. "No offence, sis-in-law."

Slightly angry, Katherine gave in to the childish urge to stick out her tongue at him. Nathaniel took that and her dimming radiance as hints that she overcame her embarrassment.

"We'll continue this later", he whispered near her ear, and saw the little hairs on her skin rise in goosebumps. The temptation to follow the path they showed with nose or lips was big, but he took a step back instead. Katherine's arms around him tightened shortly, before she let him go with a renewed blush.

"Alright, what else do we need to test?", she asked with feigned indifference, blinking in the direction of Aston because she couldn't seem to look at her husband without losing all thoughts again. Both men smirked at her fluster, though Nathaniel more deeply. Aston's smirk was one of happy amusement, because he imagined what his cousin-brother might have said.

Before Katherine could burst with anger about them, Aston hastily dished out some ideas what else they could test with their powers, like the maximum output, degree of size-difference where the blockade could still succeed and the question if Katherine could protect others with her magic, too. Truth was, she could, but it cost her a big chunk of power. When Nathaniel was fully incased in her magic, however, the calling on his magic was somewhat different.

The three of them watched silently as the black wisps evaporated in her light as soon as Nathaniel summoned them. The black magic seemed to be unable to form fully when its source was inside the sphere of light. When they tested it with Aston before, he'd had no trouble with his ice-magic, so they had to assume it was due to the specialness of the darkness again.

Suddenly, Katherine yawned, and her magic flickered. Hastily, Nathaniel stopped calling on his power. "This should be enough for today."

"Hm?" She rubbed her eyes. "But won't you have the remains of darkness still in your veins? I still have the power to flush them out, you know? It's bad to leave them in your body longer than necessary."

Thinking of the times she healed him with only a pair of gloves between her and his chest, Nathaniel swallowed visibly. This time they wouldn't even need the gloves. And he would be fully conscious to feel what she did to him. He doubted he could hold back from kissing her again, indulging in her warmth. "I can... wait until you had a bout of sleep. It doesn't hurt."

Squinting her eyes in suspicion, Katherine was about to protest, when another yawn forced its way to her mouth. That made her overthink her decision. After all, she didn't want to make a mistake and worsen things. Grudgingly, she agreed to his suggestion.

The pout she made while nodding her okay had Nathaniel stare at her lips hungrily, yet he held back. Putting on his gloves again, he laid an arm around her waist and led her up to her chambers and to her bed. There he kissed her on her forehead like last night, his gloved hand as security measure between their skins. "Sleep."

With one last glance at him, Katherine followed his command and slipped into bed. She slept nearly instantly, only waking up after lunch. She was alone in her room, but a plate of the midday meal stood on her nightstand, with a note of her dear husband.

It was a rather short and factual note, yet Katherine smiled nonetheless as she read it. She could imagine Nathaniel thinking deeply about what to write, before irritation set in and he rigorously cut down on words that sounded like nonsense to him, the emotional ones that weren't necessary to get the message conveyed. Showing emotions just was not normal to him, so she was happy enough he thought of writing her. Even if it was just a 'Something came up, so I had to go, but sleep well and eat your meal' -kind of message.

With a soft smile on her face, Katherine followed his command and ate, then she dressed, and left her room to look for her inexperienced admirer. But just when the door closed behind her, she decided otherwise. Surely Nathaniel would already be back if the matter was taken care of, and she didn't want to disturb him. Thus, instead of going to his room, she knocked on the door to the king's chambers. There was still something she had to check.

Unsurprisingly, it was Samantha Orchid who opened. The mistress of the king looked at her with a mixture of astonishment, warmth, and finally a gentle smile as she explained her purpose. Then she opened the door wider. "Of course, my dear. I would be glad if you could take another look at him, though we are already eternally grateful that your light has saved his life."

Katherine wasn't sure if she'd heard a snort from the direction of the bed, but beside a furrow of her brows, she didn't react to it. She was not here for the person on the bed, not in the narrow sense of the word. She was here for the kingdom, her husband, and her own sense of what was right.

If one had the means, one should do what was possible. And she also had a set of questions for the old man about what happened this morning. After calming down a bit, she wanted to know what exactly was behind his suggestion to reconcile with her cousin. Not that the answer was going to change her mind, but still.

Walking over to the bed, she took in the atmosphere of decay and anger that radiated from the person on it. She hadn't noticed it before, but the man had changed. Where once was an impressive wisened lion, he now seemed more like a hyena, gaunt, his sharp eyes sunken and filled with a hatred for the world. The mass of white hair - almost no blonde was left - stood in a stark contrast to the shadows that sleepless nights painted on his face. And he glared at her. The stare of his blue eyes was nearly as solid as a stick holding her away at arms-length. Opposite to this morning, he didn't even bother to appear friendly, and Katherine wondered if this man really was worth the trouble.

But why else am I here, she thought to herself. If not anything else, the appearance of this man - as long as he was alive and healthy - could at least convince the crowd that Nathaniel and her were innocent of the crime the Queen and her children accused them of. For his nephew and son, who was also a wanted man, he would do what was necessary.

With a deep breath, Katherine called for her magic. "Where exactly are your remaining injuries, your majesty?"

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