"I was getting worried! I couldn’t even use the crystal ball to watch you!”
I heard her voice before I saw her. The green-white smoke was still clearing. She rushed into my arms. I held her and wished there was no such thing as death.
I released her and held up her pendant.
“Thank you,” she breathed. “Thank you so much, Nathan.”
I went behind her and clasped it around her neck. Too tempting. I bent and softly kissed where gold touched skin. She leaned against me, closed her eyes, and sighed.
I wrapped my arms around her as our mouths met and the smoke surrounded us. Moments later we were in my bedroom.
We made love with the other’s heart beating madly in our chests. I will take it to my grave as the single most intense and erotic experience of my life. I could feel her in a way that transcended the very notion of intimacy, and she me. I could feel what she wanted and passionately gave it to her, and she reciprocated in turn. We became in those almost unbearable moments a single living organism with two hearts working in perfect concert. As lust pushed me beyond all self-control, I flipped her onto her back and worked furiously over and inside her, kissing her like a man dying of thirst. We came together with only the noise of our mouths and flesh furiously meeting; and it was at that very moment that I felt something leave me. Something poignant and breathtakingly beautiful. My Soul Gift.
What was it? I was never sure. I only learned of one of its consequences that moment, which was that it would gift her someday with the tremendous strength necessary to make a momentous decision that would help her overcome a terrible obstacle. (Kill the Evil Queen, perhaps? It seemed likely; but then I simply didn’t know.) I believe it was only by virtue of her heart beating in my chest that I learned even that much. It felt like I had by way of her ingenuity gotten a glimpse behind the curtains, so to speak, one that in any other circumstance would never have happened.
At that moment it did not matter. At that moment we had each other. That moment ... which bounded ever closer to when we wouldn’t have each other, and for a very long time. I knew that, too. Just a few hours away.
Holding each other in the bittersweet silence afterward, she whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you, my wicked one.”
Using magic, I made her a late-night dinner fit for a queen. It was well after midnight, so it was more like a sumptuous early breakfast. We drank brandy. We clinked glasses, sipped, then kissed. The liquor on her lips tasted heavenly. We kissed again. She laid her head on my shoulder and breathed deeply.
“I felt it.”
“I did too.”
“I’m so scared, Nathan.”
“I’m scared too.” I pulled back and looked into her glistening eyes. “Do you feel anything new? Anything at all?”
She nodded as I waited expectantly. I’d wondered so much what this Soul Gift I “grew” inside my spirit was all about that I couldn’t help but be acutely interested.
She closed her eyes instead, dropped her head against my shoulder once more, and began sobbing in earnest.
I didn’t know what to say. There truly was nothing to say.
“I can feel it, Nathan. I can feel your loss ... your mom, your dad, Jesse, Dasciv ... Oh, Nathan ... how can you stand this? How do you live with it? You are so strong ... I’ve been with this with less than a day and it’s already enough to make me want to jump off that troll bridge! How can you stand this?”
“Look what it made me,” I answered quietly. “A shut-in. A recluse. Until you, I had no friends. I taught myself. I fended for myself. Until you, I was just as much a casualty as they were. I could ask the same question of you, my love. I can feel the pain of abandonment in you. I can feel anger burning in the bottom of your heart for Regina, and for your mother. The envy. The rage. I have never felt anything like it. I have never felt such pain. How can you stand it?”
She stroked my cheek. I lifted her chin and kissed those amazing lips. They tasted not like brandy now, but salt.
“I ... I must leave you,” she wept. “I ... it’s part of the Gift. I’ve long suspected I must—a feeling, an instinct—ever since we met, but now ... now I know it. I must abandon you, my sweet Nathan. I must abandon you! You!”
My own eyes burned. “I know.”
I glanced at the clock on the hearth. It was just after four-thirty. We still had five hours.
Even in this state, her face red with tears, her hair mussed from passion, she was the most beautiful sight I had ever beheld. She was clad only in one of my quilts. Her perfume, mixed with her own scent, made concentrating almost impossible. But I had to.
“I have an idea.”
She waited for me to go on. “What? What’s your idea?”
“You must leave me. But not my heart. Let me use your magic to give you half of my heart. I will take half of yours. We will always have each other. You will have my light. I will have your darkness. We will learn from each other forever. We will struggle and fight with those halves, and because of that we will grow in strength and love for each other and for those around us, and for those we have yet to meet. Together we will become powerful and wicked, and good and true, no matter how far apart we may be. Maybe the Soul Gift needs half of my heart in your chest in order for it to gift itself to you fully. Like you, I have a feeling, an instinct, that it does. I really do.”
As she stared, I suddenly figured out what that yellow potion was back in the castle in the Emerald City—the potion we didn’t drink. Nathan Vach would never have thought of it. But Nathan Vach with this wondrous sorceress’ dark heart in his chest was not so naïve.
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she kissed me.
I heard the now-familiar sound. She moaned in my mouth and thrust her tongue more deeply inside it. I broke the kiss and pulled back.
In her hand was my heart.
I brought her mouth back to mine. With my free hand I reached inside my chest and pulled out her heart. We parted so that she could look at it.
“I want you to have it. All of it, Nathan. I don’t care anymore about magic. I don’t want it anymore! Magic always comes with a price, and I have paid it all my life!”
I held her and let her cry, our hearts held closely together between us.
“You do care, my wicked one. If magic always comes with a price, then let me pay it with you. Let it be something else we can share. You need your magic for what’s coming. You know it, and with your heart in my chest I know it, too. Even with only half your heart, you will still be very powerful. Maybe even more so. Let the outrage you feel over my sad little life and losing my family darken my half. It will be very powerful fuel, even if ...” I thought of the yellow potion again “... even if you don’t know what that outrage is about. You know it will be.”
She sniffled. “What about you, my love?”
I kissed her and smiled. “If I want to be truly good, I’ve gotta be a little bad.”
She sniffled again and laughed.
We held each other as the moment bounded for the vast desert of our separation.
We stood at the potion table back in the castle. The yellow potion waited.
She was dressed in a purple gown. Her pendant was off. There are moments in life that etch themselves forever upon one’s heart. For me, the vivid spectacle of her beauty just then was one of them. I knew that etching would stay with me even though it was her heart in my chest. It was then, with great sadness, that I understood just how much greater the human soul was than the mere shell of a human body.
At the same time, we reached inside our chests one more time and pulled the other’s heart out.
“Are you ready?” she asked, her voice breaking.
A tear streaked down my cheek. “I am.”
“We must do this together, at the same time. On three. One ... two ... three.”
Together, with the other’s heart in our hands, we gently twisted the hearts. At the same time, they split in two. It hurt. But most of the pain was simple sorrow. I stared at my heart in her hands, broken in two. Hers waited in the same state in mine.
We put a half on the table. She handed me the other half of mine. I took it and with the half of her heart still in my grip brought the two together. As we both watched, the heart-halves melded into a single whole. The new heart glowed on one half, and was dark on the other.
Zelena blinked more tears out of her eyes. “It still feels broken.”
I nodded. I could scarcely see anything through my own watery vision. I handed her the newly formed heart. She took it and thrust it into her chest.
“Oh, Nathan ...” she wept.
I took the halves on the table next to the yellow potion and brought them together, then put the new heart, which looked just like the other one, into my chest.
Heartbreak. Abandonment. Loss. Rage. Anger. Envy.
But also: Passion. Joy. Connection. Hope. And—dare I say it? The chance for redemption. Our happy endings. Even if it meant we would have to wait years for it.
That was what the yellow potion was for.
It was time. We were just ahead of the clock. Our new hearts would protect us from any ill effects from the magic used to exchange them. Our souls were safe. Safer, in fact, than they had ever been. They were healing each other, each half to and with the other.
She took the beaker with the yellow liquid and poured it into two glasses. It was a very powerful forgetting potion. She handed me a glass.
I studied the liquid. These unforgettable months would soon be utterly and completely forgotten. In that liquid a new story would insinuate itself in place of my true memories. She did not rescue me, no. Somehow I rescued myself. Or someone else rescued me. I regained my health. The magic would fill in the details and plot holes perfectly. I knew that. Zelena was a first-rate sorceress. She’d leave nothing to chance, including my Cruxx, still free from my person, still waiting for me to find and reclaim it. With half of her heart in my chest, I didn’t need her to be with me once I did.
All that passion and love. Her kisses. Her body. Her wit and intelligence. Her radiance. Her wickedness and darkness, both infinitely more precious to me now than my light. The feel of her. Her scent.
I took a deep breath and readied myself. “Okay. I’m ready.”
She took the single step that separated us and kissed me one last time.
Her lips pulled free.
The horizon was years and years away.
One more look into those sapphire eyes.
“I love you.”
Before she could respond, I closed my eyes, lifted the glass, and downed the forgetting potion in two gulps. I felt motion upward, and lost consciousness.
Coming Soon: The First Ten Chapters of Laurie:
A Fan Fiction Tribute to Laurie Partridge
from The Partridge Family!