A soft smile graced her lips briefly as she held his gaze. "That's a difficult question to answer," she warned him. "Loving you is a fact. In a lot of ways, it defies explanation. But I love you, Kay. Not the persona. Not the name. I love the man who persuaded me to trade up my ship with him. I love the man who gets incandescently angry over misfortunes from my past that I left behind years ago. I love the man who risked his life to help me get some closure." Her hand curled to his cheek. "I love the man who wants to be everything I need, everything his sister needs. I love you because you need someone to love you, Kay, and no one has ever needed me the way you do."
His brows rose, eyes widening a little in obvious shock at what she was telling him. It was one thing to hear someone say the words and another to hear them tell you why. It was almost unbelievable in a way. He hadn't heard those words from anyone in a very long time. Certainly not from Rhel - no, his father. And not from Riami - the girl who had spurned him. And today, he'd heard it three times - first from his mother, then from Mira, and finally from Yana. But it wasn't that that was making his eyes misty so much as the way Yana had pointed out that he needed her. Not that she needed him, though perhaps she did, but that she had somehow pushed past the barriers he'd so carefully put in place and seen how much he needed her. And what did one say to that? There was only one thing he could say, his voice thick with barely-repressed emotion, just there beneath the surface.
"I love you, too, Yana," he whispered, almost as if he was afraid to say the words out loud.
She drew him down to her - not for a kiss, but for something that was almost more intimate. Her brow touched his as she closed her eyes, the tip of her nose brushing against the side of his own as her free hand found its way to his back, holding him close. He loves me. A tender smile graced her lips as she leaned into him. "So stop shutting me out," she murmured softly. "I need you, Kay. All of you, not just the parts you think I can handle."
Drawn so close that he could almost drown in the scent that could only belong to Yana, he closed his eyes and let his other senses savor the moment. He didn't see the smile on her face so much as hear it in her words. He felt the tenderness of her touch, the warmth of her body so close to his, the pleading in her voice. It had been a long time since he'd been needed, a long time since he'd been loved. He drew a deep breath, his eyes slowly opening, as if to make sure she was real and not just a dream. He wasn't sure he could give her what she wanted all at once, but he could try. It had taken years to build the walls around his heart, but it seemed she was breaking through, one piece at a time. "I-I need you, too, Yana."
"Let me love you," she whispered, gently drawing back just far enough to slide his shirt upward. She had every intention of following through with her initial plan. He needed to understand that her love didn't come with conditions. She'd been denied someone to love all her life, even a parent. Kalen was the focus of all the love she had to give.
Let me love you. It seemed like such a simple request, and yet, he knew it was anything but simple. There was that lump in his throat again, his heart aching with longing and hope for something so long denied him. A little boy torn from his mother's side, never to see her again. A young man grieving the loss of a father who'd never been brave enough to tell him the truth. And now here he was, with a sister to care for and a woman who loved him, just when he'd given up altogether on love. It was more than his heart could handle all at once, and he found there wasn't much reason to fight his feelings any longer.
"Yana," he whispered, her name a prayer upon his lips, as he pulled her close, holding her tightly against him, as if he was afraid to let go. The tears came silently and almost unexpectedly. No wracking, messy, violent sobs. Just silent tears, as peaceful as a spring rain.
She was right there as he finally let the cracks open, her arms gentle around him, holding him against the storm he had to pass through if he wanted to find clear skies on the other side. Silent tears were just as painful, just as heart-wrenching, as the sobs that might otherwise wrack him if he had not held all of this inside for far too long already. Loving lips brushed against his shoulder, his neck, his cheek, whispering soft comfort filled with promises that she would always be there for him. And when he seemed to be calming, she drew him into the 'fresher, to wash away his tears and his tension beneath the stream of hot water. Loving him, the way she needed him to let her do from time to time.
It was a strange feeling, surrendering all the pain and guilt and heartache he'd carried around like a heavy weight for too many years. He knew it wasn't going to be easy and it wasn't going to all happen at once, but slowly, some of that pain was washed away, and when it was over, he felt a strange lightness in his heart that he couldn't remember ever feeling before. He had once promised Yana freedom, not realizing until now that it was really her who'd freed him, not the other way around. For the first time in his life, since he was a small boy, he knew what it was to be loved, and he loved in return. There was no greater gift than that.
"There now," she murmured as she wiped him dry, pressing a gentle kiss over his heart before raising her eyes to meet his gaze tenderly. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
He wasn't quite sure how to answer that question, nor was it, he sensed, a question that needed answering really. She knew as well as he did how hard it had been for him to open up even a little, and how much trust he'd put in her to let her see that side of him. It wasn't so much a matter of difficulty, as it was of trust. He had taken a leap of faith in trusting her - the first leap of faith he'd taken in a long time. And there was that smile that rose to his lips so rarely - a smile that made his whole face light up like a sunny summer day. "What exactly are we talking about, Yana?" he teased, taking her question completely the wrong way, though he knew what she'd meant.
She narrowed her eyes playfully back at him, knowing perfectly well what he was doing. But there had been enough for now. A little silliness wasn't going to do any harm here. "You need details now?" she teased back. "And here I was thinking you knew all my buttons by this point."
"I think I could be content spending the rest of my life learning all about your ... buttons," he told her, a soft smile on his face, crinkling his eyes. There was just a little teasing there, mostly he was being serious. It wasn't exactly a marriage proposal. People like Kalen and Yana didn't need a piece of paper to make it legal and show the world proof of their devotion. BB had said it already. They were life-mates, whether they'd realized it already or not.
She laughed, drawing him down into a slow kiss. "You're back," she told him warmly. "It's good to see you again." Had he gone anywhere? Not physically, but the shocks of his mother's messages had sent him somewhere she couldn't follow. It was good to know that she could bring him back to her with a lot of stubbornness.
"I didn't know I'd left," he remarked, even chuckling a little. Here, insulated in their own little world where nothing could hurt them, it was easy to open up his heart to her and let her see the man he'd kept hidden away for so long.
Yana's smile was bright and warm as she discarded the towel, turning back to smooth her hands against his sides. "You're way too literal sometimes," she informed him fondly. "I guess I'm just going to have to learn to live with that."
"It must be the language barrier," he teased, as his hands found her hips and his lips found her neck. It might be a while before they joined Gav and Mira, but it would be time well spent. They might all be pieces of valuable scrap, but together, they'd scrub clean and fit themselves tightly into one unit that could weather anything.