Regaining consciousness was a slow, pleasant process. Everything felt perfectly warm and soft. Safe. Surely, it was too good to be true.
Frost took a deep breath, taking in the scent of lavender and old wood. His fingers curled through downy comforters and fuzzy, flannel sheets. Eyelids heavy, he gradually opened his eyes. Rays of sunshine through drawn curtains illuminated the intricate dance of dust motes in the air. A few well-tended plants sat in pots next to the window. Herbs, he guessed, since they didn't have any blooms. Turning his head allowed him a view of wooden beams and white plaster, accented by a scattering of scrolls with symbols he didn't recognize and crystal pendants that turned the light to rainbows. At last, his eyes settled on the woman who sat reading at his bedside. Her hair was mussed, brow furrowed in concentration as she studied the tome. Frost felt a smile grow on his face.
"Rhiannon?" he asked, his voice rough with sleep. "Is this a dream?"
She snorted, shutting the book with a soft Thmp. "I'm sure there are far more exciting things to dream about than me," she replied.
Frost's grinned sleepily, "I can't think of any."
She colored slightly, but the Winter Fae didn't notice as he tried to extricate himself from the blankets. Rhiannon helped him prop a pillow behind his back.
"You're still recovering. That iron poisoning was pretty bad. All things considered, you're doing pretty well. We should be able to get you on a plane back to the US soon."
Frost blinked. "Back to the US? Why?"
Rhiannon frowned, shifting her chair farther away from him. She folded her hands in her lap, holding them there as though they would skitter away at the slightest provocation. Taking a deep breath, she looked him in the eye, her face cold and devoid of emotion.
"You don't belong here, Frost."
He blinked again, this time more rapidly, and quickly glanced away. His eyes skittered about the room until they latched onto a crystal hanging in the window. The pale fingers of his hands balled into fists in the comforters. He took a shaky breath in, closing his eyes. Letting it out in a gusting sigh, he swallowed. His voice was strictly even when he spoke.
"Do you mean, in Germany, or…"
"I mean here. In this house," Rhiannon replied harshly. She looked down, the knuckles on her hands turning white as they clasped each other like claws. Then, almost as an after-thought, she added. "…With me."
Frost broke his gaze away from the crystal, eyes glassy and a little too wide, mouth stretched into a thin, tense line.
Rhiannon stood abruptly, pacing away. She paused by the far end of the bed, crossing her arms tightly with her back turned to him. "I don't have to explain myself," she said curtly over her shoulder.
Silence reigned in the room, sharp as a razor's edge, broken only by the muted tones of a wind-chime outside. It was as if neither of them even dared to breathe. Rhiannon's shoulders quivered with tension. Something had to break. Finally she whirled around, fists clenched, and shouted, "I am CURSED!"
A bitter, broken smile spread to half of Frost's weary face. "No more than me," he replied softly.
"You don't GET it!" she continued, "People DIE around me. Or WORSE! I'm not going to add you to the list!" For a moment she jerked towards the door as if to storm out, but an unseen force seemed to hold her there. She gripped the wooden footboard, black nail polish flecked with refracted rainbows, almost as though she was bracing herself for a storm.
Frost didn't look at her. He seemed intent on studying his hands, still clenched in the soft folds of the comforters. Tiny scars criss-crossed the skin, like a map of old memories. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and fragile, but they seemed loud in the still room.
"I've brought a lot of bad things into my life. Made stupid choices. Created enemies. I filled my life with terrible things," his eyes rose, finding hers, his voice falling to a whisper. "But you are not one of them."
Rhiannon pressed her lips together. "I have no right to put you in danger--"
"That's not your CHOICE!" Frost exclaimed, voice cracking with pent up emotion. "If there's danger, the only place I want to be is with you. Because the worst thing I can imagine is losing my only friend because I wasn't there to help!"
He crushed his eyes shut and jammed the base of his palm against his cheek, suppressing a sniffle. "The second worst thing is crying like a stupid baby in front of you. So knock it off."
Rhiannon seemed to deflate, tension flooding out of her shoulders as she slumped. She shook her head and returned to the chair at his bed-side, falling bonelessly into the seat. As he regained his composure, she pretended to study the ceiling . Eventually she tilted her head to look at him out of the corner of her eye.
"You really wouldn't go even if I told you to, would you?"
"Fuck no. I'd be camped outside your door like a hobo."
She snorted. "Stubborn."
"Look who's talking," he shot back.
Rhiannon reached out and gently folded her fingers around his with a slight squeeze.
"I missed you, Frost."
He just smiled softly and held her hand.