"Um, I'm really sorry, Tani, for how I acted earlier. I know it's not my place to criticise, but it's because I care about you."
"Even though I'm your sister's friend's boyfriend."
"Yeah. Even though you're Foxtail's."
"What did you want, Felix?" I asked, sighing.
"I, um, wanted to know if... maybe you'd like to... dance."
"Actually, I would, but not with you."
"Well, Foxtail won't and I want to make it up to you. I don't want you to hate me, Tirana."
I sighed. "I don't hate you, Felix; I just wish you'd keep your thoughts to yourself."
"Yeah, Water witches have a tendency to let out a stream of things they shouldn't say when they open their mouths."
I sighed again. "Go on, then, let's dance."
Felix's face lit up as if I'd just told him I was going to buy him a puppy.
He jumped up and helped me to my feet. He led me to the edge of the dance floor where a new song was beginning. He put his arms around my waist and I put my hands on his shoulders and we began to sway to the beat of the slow, soothing music.
We were both silent for a long time until Felix suddenly asked, "Doesn't Foxtail... scare you slightly?"
"A bit," I admitted, "but, he can be really nice."
"I bet he only started being nice when he met you, though."
"It doesn't matter. Nice is nice. Everyone deserves a second chance. I mean, look at the way I've forgiven you for being horrid about the love of my life."
"Foxtail doesn't deserve niceness. He's so cold." Felix shuddered. "He lets no one in. And he can be so cruel. It's a wonder someone like you ended up as his rose-dove."
"Someone like me?"
Felix nodded. "Someone with a pure heart and good intentions. I'm not sure Foxtail even has a heart."
"He's just had a hard life. No one can help that when it happens."
"Yeah, but people can help pushing away everyone who tries to be kind to them."
"Maybe he doesn't want to be abandoned again. Think about how alone and lost you'd feel if your parents had abandoned you. Would you ever really be able to trust people again when your parents had done that to you?"
"I don't know. I still don't like him."
"Maybe... maybe, we're afraid of him because he's different. He's not had the same happy life that we've taken for granted. And perhaps, crazily, we're wary of him because hanging around him might affect our own fortunes."
"Maybe." But Felix looked unconvinced. Suddenly he stared at me intently. "Tirana, what did you think when you first found out you were his rose-dove?"
I frowned. "I was... frightened that I could fall in love with someone who seemed so heartless and cruel."
"You shouldn't have felt you were obliged to become his girlfriend," Felix murmured.
"I felt as if my heart belonged to him, and I couldn't deny I loved him. I was saddened rather than relieved when he wanted to give me a forget potion."
"He wanted to what?!" Felix spluttered. "Tirana, how can you love him when he wanted to do that?"
"I forgave him, you idiot. And I don't know how my heart works, even if you do."
"What makes you think I do?"
"You've seen my soul, or so you say. And you're always telling me how it's meant to work, so you're obviously criticising how it works now."
Felix frowned. "You make it sound like I want to control your life," he murmured quietly.
"Well, sometimes, it sounds like you do. In fact, I don't know why you're not pulling out your birthstone and hypnotising me!"
Felix looked shocked, as if I'd slapped him in the face. "I would never do that! Never! Is that what you think I am? Some monster that gets what he wants by force? Tirana, I'm only telling you how I see things. What I see before me is a gorgeous girl who I've inadvertently fallen in love with who has the misfortune to be the rose-dove of a person with one of the darkest hearts I've ever known a person to have!"
"And what I see before me is a child who interferes with things that are not his business!"
"Tirana, I care about you! I don't want you to end up hurt or depressed. Timothy could so easily hurt you... He has already. I bet he's hurt you more than you'll let on because, you, as a person with such a gentle heart, could never stop giving love to someone, despite how undeserving they are."
A tear came to my eye. "I love Timothy, Felix. He's my kingfisher. If we were ever parted..."
"Then I'd always be there for you."
I let go of Felix's shoulder, pushed him away when he tried to hug me and walked back to the table where I'd been sitting there.
Timothy was standing there looking furious. "What were you doing, Tirana?"
I put my arms around him. "Defending you, my darling."
He pushed me away roughly. "I think we should leave."
"I agree. Does Felix have to come back with us?"
Timothy nodded. He handed me a glass of wine, which I downed quickly before placing on the table, before briskly heading off in the direction of the car park. I almost had to run to keep up with him.
"Wait, Timothy, what's wrong?"
"Later," he said, and I could hear he was still angry.
"Was it because I danced with Felix? It didn't mean anything, really."
"I said later!" he growled.
"Tirana, we are not discussing this here!"
"There's nothing to discuss! I wanted to dance, Felix offered and I said yes. End of."
Timothy rounded on me and I stopped. His eyes were blazing in a way I'd never seen them do so before.
"You danced with another guy and you're telling me you can't see what's wrong with that?"
"I see what you might think was wrong with that, but I promise that's not why I danced with him. Please, Timothy, I love you." I reached up to stroke his face. Before my fingers touched his skin though, he grabbed my hand in a painfully tight grasp.
"This is not the end of the discussion." And he turned and walked off again, his dark energy a fierce storm around him.
I ran ahead of him to stand in front of his car door.
"Timothy, I wouldn't cheat on you."
"Then why dance with someone who is so blatantly in love with you he practically shouts it every time he opens his mouth?"
"He wanted to apologise. It's like the way you bought me a cornelian..."
"Except it was tonnes more suggestive of love," Timothy interrupted.
"Do you honestly think I would have danced with him if I'd had any feelings for him? Do you not know me at all, Timothy?"
"I evidently don't. It would make more sense for you to dance with him if you liked him in that way than if you didn't."
"But that's where you're wrong! I wouldn't put myself in a situation where I could end up betraying your trust!"
Timothy was silent for a moment. "Then why did you two talk about my flaws?"
I shrugged. "I've accepted who you are. Perhaps also because I don't often lie when asked a direct question and it would have been too obvious if I had lied. But I suppose I talked openly about the bad side of you because I don't mind. I still love you. Do remember, if you listened to that conversation, that I defended your bad points. I was annoyed at Felix at the end."
"I only listened to the bad parts," Timothy murmured. "The memories of the despair I caused you. The pain. I felt that pain and I thought... if there's not a part of her that doesn't hate me, she's an incredibly stupid girl."
"Or totally forgiving," I suggested.
Timothy shook his head. "Definitely stupid."
I sighed. Suddenly, I had an idea. "You know it's said that the love for one's kingfisher is undeniable?"
Timothy nodded, but he wasn't really concentrating. He was just gazing into the distance.
"Well, I don't think that's true."
Timothy looked at me sharply, his brow furrowed. "I don't get you."
"Well, I reckon you could deny you loved someone, if you really wanted to, but the fact of the matter is that you wouldn't want to deny it. You'd want to love your kingfisher, despite his flaws. Nobody's perfect, after all."
Timothy smiled. "I disagree with that. You're perfect."
I rolled my eyes. "Would my kingfisher be mad at me if I was perfect?"
"Of course. He'd be jealous," Timothy teased. "But, on a serious note, whenever I seem to be annoyed at you, it's always me I'm angered by. I can't seem to stop causing you pain."
"You did a very good job yesterday."
"Yesterday..." Timothy looked wistful.
"And you can always reproduce that moment," I added.
He gazed intently into my eyes. His were calm now. "Yes, I can."
He bent down to kiss my neck. "But, why be repetitive when there are so many different ways to express my love for you?"
He lifted his head and kissed me on the lips.
‘Wow,' I thought as my heart seemed to give in under the pressure of the love around it.
Timothy chuckled in my mind. ‘You'd think you've never been kissed before, Tani.'
‘Well, you just do it so amazingly! My heart recovers after every assault on its defences and you just ... beat it down until it's malleable all over again.'
Maybe it shouldn't try to rebuild its defences. Why are there even defences put up?
‘So I'm not a weak, insufferably defenceless fool, silly.'
I doubt you could be insufferable.
‘Really? When you have this effect on me?'
A conquered heart rarely renders someone intolerable, Tani.
‘And just how many people's hearts have you conquered?'
‘Enough,' he replied evasively.
‘Yeah. One gives you all the experience,' I thought sarcastically.
All I'm saying, Tani, is that I don't mind how you are. In fact, it would be preferable to have you weak and defenceless, because then I could protect you. I find it flattering how your heart surrenders to me when I kiss you. You don't need to be afraid of showing how you feel, because I'll always be there to punch the face in of anyone who makes a comment. The only thing that matters to me is your love for me and if that means you being vulnerable, then I'll take you that way.
‘I wish I could always show how I feel about you, but...., and I hate to bring this up, even you are a danger to me. If I didn't have some power over my feelings for you, you'd break my heart every time we had a minor argument. Yes, it's wonderful that you have an effect on me, but if I'm too affected, it could potentially be more harmful than pretending I hate you (which would totally destroy me).'
Timothy sighed in our minds. He gently pushed me away and looked down at me, frowning. He tucked a loose strand of my hair behind my ear, causing my heart to accelerate in the process. "I wish you weren't at risk from me, Tani. You're so precious that I'd just die if anything happened to you because of me. I love you."
"I love you too. I'm sorry I brought that up. Please don't hate yourself."
"I'll try not to."
"No, you'll succeed," I said, poking him in the stomach in mock sternness.
Timothy grinned. "Or Tani will beat me up."
"No, Tani will kiss you until you're begging her to stop."
"That's incentive to keep hating myself."
"Not if I don't stop kissing you. And I'll make sure it's at a really inappropriate time in a place where you're certain to get embarrassed."
Timothy laughed. "Tani, don't try to be wicked, it just doesn't work."
"Are you saying I can't cause mischief?" I asked challengingly.
"Yup," he replied, grinning provocatively.
"Well you just don't know anything." I slipped a hand inside his blazer pocket and pulled out the sapphire. "Now, if I ask a witch where I can find some foxglove, I could probably get the sapphire to work for me, right?"
"Theoretically, but you have your cornelian. You wouldn't need my sapphire." He tried to casually take it back, but I put my hand around my back and held his wrists so he couldn't move them.
"Yeah, but I want your sapphire to make you my slave."
Timothy's brow furrowed. "You still wouldn't need my sapphire."
"Yes, but if you were in possession of your sapphire, that could trigger you into being my slave."
"You could have me as your slave constantly."
"You haven't really thought this through."
"Yeah, I just want your sapphire 'cause it's pretty. If you were my slave, I'd just tell you not to take it from me."
Timothy laughed. "Because it's pretty?! That sapphire was used to control your mind at one point."
"It's still beautiful. Did I mention blue was my favourite colour?"
"No, but if it is, I can buy you tons of blue stuff. You don't need to own my sapphire. And I don't know if you realised, but you can buy non-magical sapphires."
"Yeah, but I want yours so you won't try and undo any spells I put on you."
"You've already put a massive spell on me. No one else can say they've broken through the icy layers around Timothy Foxtail's heart."
"Still. It's more fun if I own your sapphire. You can keep it safe for a little while."
I handed his sapphire back to him, releasing his wrists.
I walked around the car to find Felix was standing by the bonnet.
He looked concerned. "He's poisoned your mind, hasn't he? He's got you wanting to do malicious things."
I burst out laughing at his incomprehension. "No, Felix, I was playing. I'm still as ‘pure' as you believe I am."
"No one could remain too pure around him."
"I thought I told you to stop insulting him," I said mildly as I climbed into the seat next to the driver's seat.
"I'm not blinded by love," he muttered as he slid in behind me.
"And I'm not blinded by hatred."
Timothy put a hand on mine as he slipped in next to me. ‘He's just jealous.'
"I heard that," Felix grumbled, though his annoyance was half-hearted.
Lily, who I hadn't noticed approaching, climbed in beside Felix, blushing furiously. I glanced over at Timothy who had raised an eyebrow.
"How was Mark?" Timothy asked, probably for my benefit.
"Never you mind," Lily answered, looking embarrassed.
"Who's Mark?" I asked, turning to face her.
"Oh, just a guy," she replied dismissively.
"Who has a massive crush on her," Timothy murmured, winking at the glare Lily gave him.
"Do you like him too?" I asked.
"You're as bad as Timothy! Why don't you ask him?"
"Sorry, I was just wondering."
I turned to look out of the windscreen as Timothy started the car.
"Lily doesn't like him as much as he likes her, but she thinks he's cute," Timothy told me. "She likes me more."
"Oh, let's not be mean," I said. "She can't help that you're amazing."
Felix sounded as if he was choking. "I'm sorry! Amazing? I could understand why perhaps you might say that as a nice person or as his rose-dove, but extending that opinion to other girls..."
"Oh, be quiet," Timothy said to Felix. "I don't say anything at the outrageous nature of your thoughts. Cor, if Tani heard you, she'd be keeping a safe distance!"
"I bet she wouldn't," Felix muttered.
"What are you saying?" I turned to him. I was incredulous at his absence of any sort of inhibition.
"I'm saying if you saw how much I cared about you and know so many reasons why loving Timothy is dangerous, then you'd be keeping a safe distance from him."
Lily looked exasperated. "Felix, you're getting on her nerves!"
Felix frowned. "She doesn't understand. How can you watch her and Timothy and not even feel sorry for her? Is it because you're jealous your friend found love? Surely it would be better if he was deserving of her love."
"The way you go on about her, no one is deserving of her love. I'm happy for Timothy, and I'm happy for Tirana that she's found her kingfisher. This is the chance he's been waiting for to finally open up to someone. I wish you'd stop criticising him."
"You're too tolerant. There were rumours he came close to killing someone when in wolf form, once. I mean, why was he even in wolf form? There's hardly any need for self-defence when you have a birthstone on you."
Timothy coughed. "I'm still here, and yes, it's true I nearly ate someone. Now it's not a rumour anymore. I wonder what you'll make of it."
"How can you be so calm about it?!" Felix sounded disgusted. "You almost kill someone and you can just tell people as if it were a normal event. You said it in the same way you'd say you bought a car. That level of emotionlessness."
"What can I say?" Timothy shrugged. "You believe I have no heart - I'm just acting the way you'd expect. If I acted any differently, you'd think it was false, a charade."
"I know it's a charade."
"Then why are you surprised?"
"Perhaps I never really grasped how heartless you were. Perhaps I thought there was a limit to how much of a monster an average person, a person with no real temptation of power, could be." Felix suddenly turned on me. "And how can you bear to be with him? I find him sickening as someone who doesn't try to like him, but you try to love him. How can you love anyone so cruel and malevolent? Don't you find him sickening? To any witch who gently touches even the tips of your thoughts, your conscience shines out like a lighthouse beam, but here you are, in a relationship with someone who has little or no conscience whatsoever and probably didn't learn what one was until he met you."
"Felix," I said, frowning, "it disturbs me how well you seem to know my mind. How much do you read it?"
"Every time he's near you," Timothy replied for him. "He, like all witches, is aware of other people's thoughts and can tune them out perfectly well, but he chooses to listen to yours because they are ‘inspiring' and ‘beautiful'."
"I admit it. I love to hear the thoughts of a soul so pure and untainted by the evils of the world - it gives me hope. Hope that one day, people will forget about malicious intentions and cruel desires. Hope that one day, everyone will have souls as wholesome and good as that of Tirana Flor."
"I'd be flattered, but it really creeps me out when you start talking about my soul. That's like the essence of my being, my innermost part. Can I have no privacy?"
"He can't really see your soul, not properly, Timothy murmured. "Only I can." He smiled. "And I haven't looked."
I smiled. "It's really great that you would be able to see it. It's another thing that makes our relationship special. I'm so glad I met you."
Felix snorted. "Who's been creative with suggestion?"
"I am not hypnotised!" I yelled. Then, I said to Timothy, "Stop somewhere. I don't care where, just stop."
Timothy nodded. "The nearest services are about a mile away."
"Why are we stopping?" Felix sounded bewildered.
"So they can shut you up, silly. Even Tirana's had enough and she's pretty tolerant," Lily explained.
I wanted to stop so Timothy could kiss me, so I could assure him Felix's words were having no impact on me; as Lily said, to shut Felix up, and also to feel less annoyed at the world (mainly Felix).