I clenched my jaw. “Why are you bringing it up now?”
He closed his eyes, a crease forming in the middle of his brow. I’d never seen him so upset, even when Xander had been killed. But it was food. What was the big deal?
“It is a test,” he said softly, as if he didn’t want anyone to overhear. “If you don’t stop eating before the council makes their judgment, you will fail.”
Eating was a test? “How can that possibly be a test?” I blurted. “What’s the point? To see if I can starve myself until I’m so skinny that I’ll die the instant I leave?”
“Gluttony,” he said sharply, and I shut my mouth. “And to see how well you adapt. That is what it tests. Do not yell at me, Kate. I am not the one who decided what the tests would be.”
Gluttony. I had to think for a moment, but once I realized where I’d heard the word before, I froze. “The seven deadly sins? That’s what I’m being tested on?”
Henry wrung his hands together. “I cannot answer that. If the council discovers I have told you this much, there is a very good chance that we will automatically fail.”
We. The way he said it in a thick voice tugged at something inside of me, and with a start I realized he was finally doing it. I pressed my hands together, hardly daring to hope.
“You care?” I said. “I thought—”
He stood and started to pace, refusing to look at me. “You have been unhappy with me. Why?”
I opened my mouth to protest, but nothing came out. He was right. “Because,” I said in a miserable voice and hating myself for it. “I don’t want to just be your friend.”
Henry stopped and turned toward me, though he didn’t look surprised. Instead he looked like he was trying to put the pieces together. “I thought you did not wish to act as my wife.”
I made a face. “There are steps between friend and wife, you know. I mean, I know you’re ancient and all, but you must have at least heard of dating.”
He didn’t smile, but his expression softened. “If you pass, you will be my wife. Is that something you are willing to accept now?”
I nodded, trying not to look too nervous. Or think about the whole thing too much.
“Because you care for me?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, embarrassed. “And if you hold that against me—”
I didn’t have time to finish. One second he stood across the room, and the next he crouched down beside me, kissing me so deeply that by the time he finally pulled away, I was almost gasping for air. “What—” I started, but he pressed his finger against my lips.
“I care,” he said in a trembling voice. “I care so much that I do not know how to tell you without it seeming inconsequential compared to how I feel. Even if I am distant at times and seem as if I do not want to be with you, it is only because this scares me, too.”
I stared at him. He leaned in and kissed my swollen lips again, and this time I kissed back. Time seemed to fall away around us, and all I could see, hear, taste, smell, feel was him. A delicious kind of warmth spread through me, but this time it wasn’t my ankle he was healing.
When he pulled away a second time, I let my hands fall from his hair to my side, and I watched him, unsure of what to do now. He straightened and stood, though he didn’t take his eyes off me. “Please,” he said. “Stop eating.”
I nodded, too disarmed to come up with anything to say in protest.
“Thank you.” He reached out to brush his fingers against my cheek, and then stepped toward the door. Before I could form any kind of coherent thought in my head, he was gone.
I licked my lips, still able to taste him, and smiled. Finally, after nearly six months, he was trying.
That night, as he always did, Henry slipped into my room an hour after I finished dinner. I’d spent the afternoon wondering what would happen, if it would all go back to normal or if there would be more of those heart-pounding kisses, but by the time he arrived, I’d decided it didn’t matter. It was more than enough to know I was no longer alone in the fight for his existence.
“I am sorry,” he said, lingering near the doorway. I was on my bed playing with Pogo, who had a new assortment of toys to keep him entertained. I looked up in time to see Henry close the door. “My actions earlier were uncalled for.”
For one horrible moment, I thought he was apologizing for kissing me. It wasn’t until I felt my face drain of color that I realized he was sorry for getting angry I was still eating, and by then, all I could manage was a nervous laugh. “You were just trying to warn me. I had one last meal tonight, but I’m done now, I promise.”
The Greek seafood pasta, which usually made me delirious with hunger, had tasted like sawdust in my mouth, and I’d only managed a few bites. But there would be no more food now. I’d made a promise to Henry, and I wasn’t going to break it any more than I already had.
He took a tentative step toward me. “Still, I should not have yelled as I did. You did nothing to deserve it.”
“You were worried.” I shrugged. “I want to pass, and I wouldn’t have stopped eating if you hadn’t told me. So thank you.”
He crossed the room and took a seat next to me on the bed, picking up one of Pogo’s toys. Yipping happily, my puppy dropped the bone I’d given him and went after Henry, tugging and growling relentlessly at the piece of rope.
“He is quite determined,” said Henry with a tiny smile.