A few minutes later, I could talk too.
"I never knew you saw girls as things to be conquered," I murmured into the night.
Romulus sounded amused. "Did you not?"
"No. I mean, I guessed you enjoyed ‘love' and had experienced it many times before, but I didn't really see every feeling that motivated your desire."
"You sound so ... matter-of-fact. So ‘Oh, love is just chemicals'."
I shrugged. "It's natural. It's so we can reproduce and continue the human race."
Romulus reached out and stroked my face.
"You don't really think of it solely in those terms."
I nestled into his palm. "No, I don't."
"So, ... when you say you never knew that I liked the conquest element of ‘love', what was your reaction?"
"Oh, you're asking if I didn't like it?"
"Mm-hmm," he replied in assent.
"I'm not complaining."
"I guessed you wouldn't."
"Well, you're a bit complacent," I teased.
Through the darkness, I felt Romulus's eyes on my face.
"Can you blame me for feeling a bit arrogant when I just tied my soul to yours?"
Sincerely, I replied "I couldn't blame you if you hadn't."
He grinned. "Fantastic. I conquered you in more than one way, eh Tilly?"
"Yeah, you wouldn't say that if I hadn't conquered your will first."
I lay there in silence, stunned by what I had just said. It felt right to say it: totally right; but the fact that I would never have said it before the soul link made it amazing.
"Are you challenging me for the power in this relationship, Tilly?" Romulus joked, breaking the tension.
"Maybe," I joked back.
He was suddenly above me. He began to tickle me, kissing my neck and shoulders as he did.
"Say that again, darling," he whispered, changing his touch to a shockingly pleasurable caress.
"I ... uh... What was it?" I asked helplessly, losing myself in the feeling. Was it me or was Romulus even more enticing than before?
"Hmm, can't be sure but I think you were promising me I would always be in charge," he said, using my inability to think straight against me.
"Oh, ... right. Well, that sounds like me..."
Romulus chuckled, burrowing into my skin to kiss me with more intense passion - sending it telepathically as if the physical action couldn't bring it itself.
I gasped. "Romulus!"
"I'm in charge," he said, innocently, briefly coming up.
I sighed as I looked at him.
"You're killing me," I told him.
Romulus pretended to look worried.
"Should I be more careful?"
"No," I said, sighing again.
He grinned. "I love it when you let me do what I want." He returned to nuzzling/ kissing me, evoking painfully wonderful reactions from the chemicals which controlled emotion in my body.
When he had finished and we were once more lying beside each other on the cooling grass of the hill we had chosen not to leave, I gazed up through the branches of the lone tree which was serving as a useless chaperone at the night sky. The scene reminded me of the first night and I smiled to myself.
I suddenly remembered something else and sat up abruptly.
"Hey, Romulus, when am I going to be allowed to see your soul?"
"Hmm, now if you like." He sat up too, though his movements were a lot slower and lazier, like those of a cat who had naturally awoken from a deep sleep.
He looked directly into my eyes and I swallowed nervously.
"Just ... just how dark is it?" I asked quietly.
Romulus smiled. "Not too dark. You might even be surprised by the non-omnipresence of the night. Hopefully not too much though."
I laughed. "Yeah, wouldn't it be the worst thing to tie your soul to someone and then put them off you?"
Instead of replying, Romulus gazed deeper into my eyes, until I started to feel a little dizzy.
"So if you just look into my pupils and let go of yourself...," he said, sounding very much like he was giving me a hypnotic suggestion.
I focused on the black circles with the single light in both of them and didn't resist as they dilated to swallow me up.
And then it was like a curious dream.
I was suddenly standing in a roughly circular space in a cave, the only light being a torch attached to one of the grey stone walls. All around me, there were tunnels, the lengths of the passages and indeed the contents indiscernible.
I turned and saw Romulus standing against the wall opposite the torch.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, surprised.
"Welcoming you," he said, a broad grin breaking out onto his face. He spread out his hands and said "Welcome to my humble abode."
I laughed. "Quit fooling around me - I wanted a guided tour."
He frowned. "Hm, that could take about a year. Shall I just point out the key features?"
"Okay, but you'd better not keep anything important from me. I'm your soul mate now, remember?"
He nodded. He pointed to a random tunnel with a T painted on part of the stone face that was visible.
"That path goes to yours."
"You are joking, right?" I asked in disbelief. "There's a route to my soul from yours?"
"But ... how is that possible? Surely my soul is in ... well, me?"
Romulus snorted loudly. "Forget about the physical, Tilly, we're on the astral plane right now. And believe me, anything is possible here."
"Astral plane?" The name rang a bell. "Hey, wasn't Peter trying to access these?"
Romulus shrugged. "I don't care what my brother was doing. He could have been flirting with you for all I care."
"Well, you would have cared about that," I pointed out.
Romulus shook his head. "He's a pathetic flirt. All he talks about is ‘the deeper feeling' and ‘a love so pure it will melt your heart'. I ask you. He's practically insane."
"Then why did you get so worried?" I asked, folding my arms against my chest.
"Silly," I said, shaking my head. I walked up to him. "So, where we going?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Why don't you choose?"
"But I don't know where any of these tunnels lead."
"Neither do I. Have you ever explored your soul, Tilly?"
"Oh... I guess not."
He took my hand. "Choose one. And never ever let go of my hand. You'll regret it big time and I may just lose you forever."
I gulped. "Um, whoa. Can you tie us together?"
Romulus laughed but he conjured some rope out of thin air and tied it around our wrists.
I kissed him and felt instantly reassured. Romulus would protect me: I was sure of that.
He smiled at me.
"So, have you picked one?"
"Not really," I admitted. "Let's just go for the one closest to us." I turned to my right and Romulus and I began walking.
The darkness surrounded us and we ended up blindly navigating along a path that wound like a meandering river.
After what seemed like a very long time, we arrived back in the space we'd been in before.
"What?!" I asked. "That's stupid! How did we get back here?"
"I think my soul wants more specification. Why don't you concentrate on what you want to see? It'll probably appear at the end of the tunnel, then."
"But ... I don't know you enough to know what to think of..."
Romulus looked pained. "Tilly, that's not true."
I looked solemnly up at him.
"All I know is that you had lots of girlfriends, you like the physical aspect of love and you would kill to protect me if necessary."
"Is that really all?" he asked, looking a little deeper into my eyes so that I felt truly guilt-stricken.
"Well, I guess you know me better than myself..." I suddenly had an idea for what I wanted to see. I started running off through one of the tunnels, pulling Romulus behind me, feeling slightly bad when I realised this could hurt him.
As Romulus had guessed, we actually got somewhere this time.
"Wow," I said, as I gazed upon the surface of a lapis lazuli lake.
"What?" Romulus asked, bewildered. "What did you focus on?"
I looked up at him, my eyes shining.
"Your feelings towards me."
Rather than amazed, Romulus was shocked.
My brow furrowed. "Aren't you happy?"
"No! Why would I be happy?" Romulus looked even more hurt than before. He was even slightly angry.
"I ... I thought you'd be moved. I wanted to see the deepest part of you. At least, I thought it would be the deepest part of you." My tone turned bitter as I spoke the last sentence.
Romulus's face softened and suddenly he hugged me. Rain started falling. Wait, rain? In a cave? I looked up but could see no stalactites.
I looked down again and saw that Romulus looked guilty.
"I'm sorry, Tilly," he mumbled, surprising me.
"What for?" I asked.
"Well... it's a bit embarrassing but I thought that when you wanted to see this part of me, you were questioning my feelings for you."
"Oh, Romulus," I said softly, and something about my tone made him look anxious and tense as if I were about to tell him that was one of the other reasons. But I smiled gently and said "You're so ridiculous."
I leant up to kiss him and the most amazing thing happened. A warm pink glow appeared around us and started radiating joy. The glow pervaded the entire cavern and I felt as though drowning in a warm sea.
I pulled back and gazed about us in awe. For a long time, the pink lingered, so out of place in a cave, so out of place in Romulus's soul but so pleasant and gratifying, I couldn't argue against its right to be there.
Romulus's cheeks reddened. "See what I mean about the non-omnipresent darkness."
"Well, I've not seen any yet," I remarked.
"You've not been thinking about the right thing," he said. "We should perhaps go somewhere less ... disappointing after this."
"I'm not disappointed," I told him, and before quite realising, I was doing it, I waded into the sapphire-coloured waters.
"TILLY!" Romulus shouted, yanking me back.
I looked at him, confused. He looked scared.
"No! No, no, no, no, no! Walking into a pool will surely endanger your safety! You can't lose yourself in me, Tilly, you can't. This isn't like in the physical world, where it's the easiest thing to rescue somebody. Drowning in my soul will take you to another part and something will happen there that will make you end up somewhere else again and I won't ever know where to find you."
"Can't you wake me up?" I asked, troubled by this thought. "I mean, this is like some kind of a dream state, right?"
He nodded but shuddered. "You'd be soulless, Tilly. I ... I really can't describe or explain it but it's the worst thing in the world. You'd be mindless, passionless. I doubt you'd even have control over your physical actions. I think ... it might amount to the same as being brain-dead."
I recoiled in shock. "Brain-dead? Like in a coma?! Romulus, that's awful! How does anyone know?"
"I think it happened to someone once," he said quietly, not meeting my gaze.
"But... but... The soul is meant to be lovely. A beautiful, mysterious place. The centre of your deepest emotions. The vessel of all that defines you. And you're telling me it's dangerous?"
"Tilly, think about it," he said, looking uncomfortable with the subject topic. "If it's the centre of your deepest emotions, it's the wildest place in the universe. It contains aspects of your subconscious: and that will include your darkest fears and your worst nightmares. If you get lost inside it... Well. ..." He pulled me further in towards him. "Only a person who knew you inside out would have a chance of finding you. And ... And I don't think that's possible, Tilly. I don't think even I could achieve that."
I stepped forwards so that our bodies were touching and started to cry into him. He held me tightly and kissed my face but the rain was falling again and I sensed that it expressed the emotion that might not be apparent in Romulus's physical being, or mental image, or whatever it was that I was holding onto this minute.
Barely audibly, Romulus said "I need to find you a patrōnus."
"Er, what's that?"
"Oh, it's the Latin for protector. In Asteria, however, it is a mythical creature which is said to reside in one's soul, guarding you from death by overpowering evil forces."
"So ... are you going to look through mine?" I asked nervously.
"Later," he replied dismissively. "But for now, didn't you want to look at my soul?"
I shook my head. "No thanks, Romulus. I'm terrified."
"Tilly, I wouldn't let anything happen to you, you know."
"I know. But still. I can just read your mind, right? In fact, I don't know why I didn't do that in the first place - it would have been a much more sensible idea. I just get carried away and don't stop to think of the consequences-..."
"Tilly," Romulus interrupted, "you're going to get hysterical." He kissed my forehead. "Let's get you out of here."
I sighed heavily. "Let's," I agreed, surprisingly weary.
He hugged me. "Close your eyes, darling."
I did so, and seconds later I was back on Earth ... oh wait, it was Asteria - still staring into Romulus's eyes. I looked away and moved slightly away from him.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," I whispered.
He hugged me. I was surprised he hadn't still been hugging me and I was even more surprised to find no rope around my wrist. The soul world was disconcertingly like the physical in that each sensation was so vivid.
"I love you," I murmured.
"I love you too," he replied, beginning to stroke my back.
"I'd like to go to sleep now," I murmured, barely suppressing a yawn.
"Of course. Just let it happen, Tilly. I'll be here."
I smiled sleepily. "How gratifying."
And, lying down and making myself comfortable on the grass, I waited for sleep to overcome my senses. Before it did, I felt Romulus pick up my hand and absently caress my palm. It gave me great comfort to know he was so close and still in love with me. As if he'd ever stop...
‘Silly Tilly,' was my last conscious thought, accompanied by Romulus's mental chuckle.