It almost broke his heart to see the tears in her eyes and to know they were only there because of him. She was longing for someone to love her - not just anyone, but him - and in that moment, he could not help but to open his heart to her love. "It belongs to you, Loren. That is what I am trying to tell you," he told her gently, tipping her chin upwards to meet his gaze and brushing the tears from her face. "If you will give me a chance."
It belongs to you. The ring his mother had given him to give to someone he loved ... belonged to her, a nothing who had turned his life upside down. Hazel eyes found his as he swept the tears from her cheeks, adoring confusion mirroring his gentle gaze. "She loves ... I love you," she told him once more. "Is that not chance enough?"
He smiled at her finally - a soft, warm smile full of affection and hope, if not yet the love she was craving. "Will you teach me how to love you?" he asked - a strange question, perhaps, for a man who thought he'd understood love.
"She - I -" She sighed in frustration, knowing he didn't like it when she referred to herself in the third person but finding it a habit that was proving very difficult to break. Drawing in a breath, she raised her eyes to his once more. "I do not know how to teach," she admitted softly. "Only how to be."
"Then show me," he insisted, replacing one word for another, though the meaning was mostly the same. "Tell me what you want and what you need," he told her, happy to go as slow as she wanted. He had not yet told her how beautiful she was, afraid she wouldn't believe him or that he might only say so because he wanted something from her.
From the first moment she had known him, only one word could describe him in her mind. Glorious. In armor, in shirt sleeves, fierce or gentle, he was always glorious. And now, tentative and soft, coaxing her to be brave, he was still more glorious than she had believed was possible. Her hand left the window sill, hesitantly creeping up to touch his cheek with soft fingertips, daring to touch when she had never been permitted to be so bold before. And that touch skimmed his cheek, passing over his lips to linger there, remembering the press of his mouth to hers in the temple.
"This," she whispered, stroking her fingers against his lips, hoping he would understand where she did not have words to explain.
He studied her face, her eyes, her lips - his heart yearning for something more than just friendship. He had kissed her lips only once, briefly, tentatively, and it had set off a spark of something deep inside him that he could not put a name to, but that he now recognized as longing. Could it be that she'd felt it, too? He found himself drawn once again to those lips, unable to deny her. His lips were surprisingly soft against hers and warm as they gently pressed against hers, claiming her for his, but never rough or demanding.
Just as before, she trembled as his lips claimed hers, shocked to her toes by the sheer intimacy of a simple kiss. Her fingers flexed against his chest, needing to pull him closer, afraid that was not allowed; a compromise that resulted in his tunic rumpling beneath her palms as she leaned into him. Slowly, her eyes closed, losing herself to the gentle tenderness she had not experienced before; to that sense that this kiss, this intimacy, was as much hers as it was his.
She need not have worried as he circled her in his protective embrace, just as he had so many times before, letting the spark between them turn to flame. As for him, his eyes, too, closed, if only momentarily so that he could savor her kiss as long as it lasted before opening them again to admire the sad beauty before him, and in that moment, he secretly swore never to see her sad or make her cry again.
Perhaps it was strange, that a single kiss could shake her so profoundly. He knew she was no stranger to her own body, nor to the aggression of men who wanted it, and yet there she was, breathless from a single kiss, leaning into him as her knees buckled, her eyes slower to open than they had been to close. And when open, alive with longing and wonder, adoration illuminating her where experience could not. "This," she said again, blushing at her eagerness. "Always this."
He had not married her to let her go so easily, and he thought in that moment that always might not be long enough, now that they'd found each other. "This is what it is to be married, love," he explained, hoping she understood finally what he'd been trying to tell her in a round-about way.
For just a moment, she wavered, and the darknesses of her past came crashing down. Those tears he had not wanted to see burst out of her, but this time she did not try to escape him. She pushed closer into his arms, clinging to him as she sobbed, and every now and then, words made themselves known. " ...hand, pinching ... promised ... his pleasure, my pain ... my place to submit ... I allowed ... did not fight ... too good for me, for her, you are too ... broken and ruined and ... not worthy ..."
Gerard held her close while she poured her heart out, a mixture of feelings tangled up inside him. It wasn't pity he was feeling exactly - compassion, sympathy. There was some anger in there, too, for those who had hurt her. He almost wished the man had given him a reason to kill him, any reason, but he had to be satisfied simply to know that she was safe now and that neither the Skarrans or her father could ever try to use her or hurt her again. What they'd done to her was unforgivable. He'd assumed as much already from what she had told him, and it was part of the reason he'd been so gentle and patient with her up to now, but none of that had been her fault and it angered him further to think she might blame herself for it.
"Listen to me, Loren," he told her, as he tilted her chin up to meet his face once again. "You are not to blame for any of that. You were brave and courageous, and you did what you had to do to survive. That is all. It's over now, and I will never let anyone hurt you again." He wasn't stupid enough to know she would just forget what had happened, but he at least needed her to know that he was not like those men and that she was safe, so long as she was with him.
"This should not be mine," she whispered brokenly, her fingertips skimming over his lips once again, distracted by the sparkle of gold at her knuckle. "I want, I love, but ... I do not know how. I know pain and blood. I know that is not right. That is not you. I do not know how to want with you."
"Then we will teach each other," he promised softly, pulling her close against him, one hand stroking her back. "We will teach each other what it is to love and be loved in return," he told her, though in truth, he thought she was already teaching him far more than he was teaching her.
She sighed, a soft girlish sound in the back of her throat, leaning into him as he stroked her like a skittish mare. "I love," she promised him tenderly, daring to curl her arms about his waist, to rest her brow in the crook of his neck. Perhaps it wasn't the lust-filled marathon most men and women expected after a wedding, but it was no less enduring for that. Intimacy for one person was very different to intimacy for another, after all.
It was, in fact, more than he could have ever hoped or asked for and more than he'd ever expected. It certainly wasn't what he'd expected when he awoke that morning, to end the day a married man, wed to this fragile flower of a woman who, like a butterfly, was slowly emerging to become a beauty in her own right.