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Aislinn and Seth stood in the common room of Seth's train with Keenan while he struggled to recover from the brief excursion in the cold.
"Go on." Seth nudged her toward Keenan. "I need to get a few things."
Aislinn sat beside the Summer King, strangely comfortable. "Keenan?"
He opened his eyes. "I'm fine, Aislinn. Give me a moment."
She took his hand in hers and concentrated, letting the warmth of summer roll through her. It had become surprisingly easy already, as if it had always been in her. She felt it, a tiny sun blazing inside her, and she leaned over and blew gently in his face. Warm wind poured over him.
She kissed both his cheeks. She didn't know why, any more than she understood why she'd done it that night in the alley. It simply seemed right. That was the first thing she had understood about her changes—listening to her instincts.
Keenan stared at her. "I didn't ask—"
"Shhh." She brushed his copper hair off his forehead and pressed one more kiss there. "Friends help each other."
Keenan felt almost fine when Seth came back into the room. Seth dropped a lighter and a corkscrew on the table. "There's candles on the shelf. Some food I got from Niall. Some of your summer wine, and a bottle of winter wine."
"Winter wine? Why?"
Seth laughed. "Niall said you owe him for getting that." Despite a daunting look from Aislinn, he winked and added, "It's all good."
Then Aislinn stood up and slipped her arm around Seth's waist. "I'll keep my cell on. Tavish knows I'm on tap if there are any problems."
"You're both leaving?" Keenan sat up. He trusted his queen, but this was growing stranger and stranger. "I'm to be trapped here then?"
Aislinn and Seth exchanged another curious look. Then Seth pulled his jacket on.
"I'm out." He grinned at Keenan, not with the lingering tension that the mortal seemed to be wrestling with since Aislinn's ascension, but with genuine amusement. "See you in a few days."
After Aislinn shut the door behind him, she smiled gently at Keenan. "Happy Solstice. It's safe. We even had Tavish check on it for us."
She hugged him briefly, and then she slipped away, leaving him alone and confused.
Trapped. She trapped me. He paced to the window and watched his queen leave with her mortal lover. Now what do I do?
Donia let herself in with the key Seth had given her. She heard Keenan pacing, heavy footsteps as he moved angrily, like a caged thing. It didn't frighten her, that temper, that dangerous energy. For the first time, they'd meet with equal strength, equal power, equal passion.
She slipped off her boots, folded her wrap, and uncorked two of the bottles of wine. She'd just poured the first glass when he came out to the front room.
"Umm?" She held out the glass. When he didn't take it, she set it down on the counter.
"What are you…" He seemed unusually nervous, watching her warily. "Are you looking for Aislinn?"
"No." She poured a second glass, out of her bottle. She'd need to remember to send a token to Niall for thinking to procure it.
"I've seen Ash." She held up the house key, dangled the tiny skull key ring where he could see it. It felt good to have the control, the power.
I could get used to this.
Ruling the Winter Court had come easily; she could be just, fair, to her fey. But having power over Keenan—that was a dangerous thing. She wanted him to sway to her wishes as she'd done so long to his. She licked her lips and was rewarded by a flash of darkness in those summer eyes.
He moved closer, hesitantly, but the look in his eyes was hopeful. "Why are you here?"
"For you." She sipped her drink, casually, calm as she'd never been able to be around him.
He stepped closer again. "For me?"
She set down her glass and reached back to the tie that held her skirt together.
His breath caught in his throat. Sunlight flared from his skin, glorious and brilliant. "For me."
Snowflakes swirled around her as she reached out for his hand. "Yes."
And he smiled, that impossible earthshaking smile that had haunted her fantasies for longer than he should ever know, than he would ever know.
Summer and Winter must dash. We'll never be able to…but to try. She wrapped her hand around his wrist and pulled him closer.
Every bit of her body burned as if she were nothing more than an ice carving, ready to melt from the touch of the sun. Her ice rose to meet that sun, wrapping them both in a snow squall.
I love you. She didn't say it, not this time. She stood as his equal now; she wasn't going to risk tipping that balance in the hopes that he'd say the words that would quell the murmur of restless confusion inside.
I still love you, have always loved you. She wouldn't say it, but she thought it over and over as the flowers blossomed in his eyes, as the flare of sunlight made her tremble.
"Mine. You're finally mine," he whispered. Then his lips came down on hers.
She wanted to laugh for joy, weep for the sizzle of ice and heat as they fell into the snowbank at their feet.
This is far better than negotiating the terms of our peace.
It would sway his wishes when they did negotiate, she knew it. It's not why I'm here. But in the whispering part of her mind, she admitted that it was reason enough to be there, that she would be a fool not to take advantage of it.
"I thought I'd never have…" Keenan was murmuring soft words, sounding lost. "My Donia, finally all mine."
The snow melted, steamed away like vapor, as they touched.
"Shh," she covered his lips with hers, unable to agree to his foolish words.
Aislinn stepped carefully over the icy ground. The guards she'd had follow them were waiting alongside Seth. They were still unfamiliar faces, on loan from Donia for the winter months while the summer fey were trapped inside.
"No one disturbs them." She let her gaze drift over the guards, looking at each individually.
They waited, as quiet as winter nights.
She smiled as she added, "For any reason. If there's any problem, call me."
Aislinn nodded and held out a hand to Seth. "Come on. Let's go introduce you to Grams. If she can accept this"— she gestured around them at the faeries and at herself—"she can accept you."
He quirked his eyebrow. "You sure? Niall said I could bunk there."
"Trust me." She grabbed his hand.
He looked at his ripped jeans and battered jacket. "Maybe we could stop by the loft at least. I could change. …"
"No." Aislinn linked her fingers with his. "I showed her the other college apps you picked up for us. She thought we could go over them."
His eyes lit up, and he pulled her closer. "I like the philo program at State best. They have a good poli-sci program for you too."
She laughed. "We can relocate if we want. Keenan and Grams are both petitioning for that."
Behind and in front of them, the winter guards spread out. None of the summer fey could come out in the blowing white drifts. Only the winter fey and dark fey played in the still night, solemn even in their revelry as she passed them—though more than a few snowballs sizzled into steam as the less easily intimidated fey saw her.
Even after almost three months, they weren't any less terrifying, not really, but Aislinn felt safe for the first time in her life. It's not anywhere near perfect, but it can be.
Using Seth's hand for leverage, she pulled him closer. "Let's go home."
They walked through the snowy streets, her skin glowing enough to keep them both warm. The rest—her fears, the court's demands, Keenan's worries—it would all wait. When the Summer Queen rejoiced, her fey would too.
And so she rejoiced, letting that feeling spread out to her fey, feeling it echo back from Keenan, seeing it reflected in Seth's eyes.
It's not perfect, but it will be.
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