Ink Exchange Page 74

Not without her.

He could feel her out there, confident in her world, seeing the things that watched her from the shadows and not flinching. Sometimes he felt teasing tastes of her longing for him and for Niall but he'd not go to her, not now, not with her happy in her new world. She was making up the courses she'd missed during her time with him, proud of herself, rebuilding herself. She'd start college in the fall.

Not mine, not his, but Her Own. It pleased him, knowing that, and having those brief bursts of connection with her. He'd had a fear that relinquishing his throne would also end his tie with Leslie. He'd let that fear delay his stepping down. Fear of losing my last link to my Shadow Girl. Her actions had burned away the tendrils of vine where they'd burrowed into her flesh. He'd felt it, like losing feeling in a limb, setting him off-kilter so badly that he'd been despondent at the loss. But he could still taste the echo of her not always, not even often, but there were moments when he felt her like phantom pains in a missing limb. It was his craving for those moments that proved his inadequacy to lead his court. He might be out of her skin, but she'd left him as something other than what he'd been before not mortal, but not strong enough to deserve the title of Dark King.

What does it mean when nightmares dream of peace? When shadows wish for light?

She might not be bound to him, but she was still his Shadow Girl. He'd given her his vow: to take care of her, to keep her from hurt or pain, from wanting for anything. Her leaving didn't negate his promises;they weren't conditional. And if Niall wasn't bound to a court, kept tied to some cause or purpose, he'd eventually go to Leslie. Their Gancanagh might mean well, but his nature like Irial's was to be addictive to mortals. He was still a thing of shadows despite how long he'd run from who he was. Not now. Now that Niall was bound to the Dark Court, his addictive nature was nullified. And mine is returned. Like Irial had once been, Niall was strengthened by his court, just as the court would be strengthened by Niall.

To look after the Dark Court, Irial had found them a better king. To care for Niall, Irial had given him the court. And to love Leslie, Irial would stay away from her. Sometimes love means letting go when you want to hold on tighter. It was the only way he knew to protect the court, the faery, and the only mortal who'd ever mattered to him.


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