Jake couldn't sleep. He hated sleeping as a dragon, particularly in rooms. His dragon body felt like it should be perched in a cliff somewhere. It took all of the enjoyment out of the large, comfortable bed where he had spent many a night happily flopped out, his face in his pillows, not having to worry about wings or tails or spikes. He thought about changing back into himself – he really didn't think it would do any damage – but then thought better of it. If he did get himself into any sort of trouble, Rose and Fu would never let him hear the end of it.
Jake shifted again and then he heard a knock at his door before it creaked open. Rose's face was illuminated by a flickering candle light.
"Rose," Jake said, picking up his head.
"Oh, you're awake." Rose stepped inside and shut the door behind her. "Can I … Would it be too inappropriate to stay with you tonight?"
"No," Jake murmured. "Please, come here."
Jake hadn't been sure that he would wake up and she would be here at all.
Rose fled to his bedside, setting her candle on the small table. She stayed near the edge of his bed, pulling her knees up and under her, sitting so high up she was practically on top of the pillows. From the small amount of light in the room, Jake could see how troubled her expression was and he wanted nothing more to reach for her and hold her close. He knew that he could do it in his dragon form without hurting her but he knew that she was still wary of him when he looked liked like this. She was getting better about it but he still had to be careful not to startle her.
"What's on your mind?" he asked.
"You," Rose confessed. "Me. Us."
Jake should have guessed as much.
"If we are together, it won't be easy," Rose said.
"True, for the first while," Jake said, "but now is the time to do it. Our subjects and the humans are working on integration of towns, trade between species, and getting along again. Now, is a time of peace and a time for change. There will be questions, we'll have answers, and, years from now, everyone will have seen that you are more than your father. Not that anyone else's opinions will weigh in on our happiness."
Rose turned to look at him and then she slid down, lying on her side so that she was facing him. Her face was hidden in shadow but Jake took it as a good sign that she wasn't sitting up. Perhaps he was reading too much into it; perhaps it really did mean more.
"You're a prince. You are the opinions of others. I won't be able to hide like your father does, you know. They all know who I am. Some are calling for my execution too or, at least, imprisonment."
"How do you know that?" Jake asked.
"Some of the other servants told me."
"You mean Trixie?"
Rose didn't respond but Jake was confident he was right. Trixie would have wanted Rose to know everything that was going on and no one would have thought twice about a servant in the background.
"Gramps wouldn't do that to you," Jake said. "He's let you walk around of your own free will. You earnt his trust when you saved my life. You could have fought with your father; you could have let me bleed to death."
Rose squeezed her eyes shut and hid her face in the pillows.
"But, you didn't and that's what Gramps is telling people."
"Gramps," Rose said. "Do you know how strange it is to hear you calling the king that?"
"Do you know how hard it was to call him anything else?"
"If you didn't lie, you never would have to remember different stories."
"If I didn't lie, you never would have spoken to me. Do you think that would have been better?"
Rose reached out, putting her hand on top of his scaly one. Finally, she said, "No. I cannot picture a life where I don't know you."
Jake couldn't resist it. He let his dragon side disappear, leaving himself as a human, and wrapped his hand tightly around hers.
"Jake!" Rose gasped. "You shouldn't have –"
"I'm all right," Jake said.
Rose didn't believe him, sitting up and snatching the candle. She pulled up his shirt without warning, staring down at the wound. Her fingers played over his skin and Jake was not thinking of injuries as she touched him.
"You shouldn't have done that," Rose said. "What if you had gotten hurt again?"
Jake sat up, taking the candle from her hands and placing it back on the table.
"I'm in no pain. I'm all right." Jake kissed her forehead. "Rose, we're moving back to the other castle. It's usually our main residence. Will you be going with us? Please, I would like for you to."
"I packed my bags earlier," Rose said and Jake felt like he couldn't breathe. Was this why she was here now? This was their goodbye. "And then I spoke to your father."
"What did he say?"
"He understands the questions I'm asking myself about our future and what my life will look like if I stayed. He stayed," Rose murmured, "he knows. I know you try to understand me but there are some things that I know you can't. And other things that I know only I can understand."
Jake closed his eyes. If this was goodbye, he could accept it, but he didn't want to look at her as she said it. Rose slid herself into his arms.
"I'll go with you to the other castle," Rose said quietly. "I don't want to be the person who runs away in the middle of the night. I meant it when I said I love you and that also means I don't run like a coward. You deserve better than a coward."
She was so close that Jake felt as though his heart was going to beat all the way out of his chest. He moved closer as though this were going to be their very first kiss, feeling goosebumps as their lips touched.
Rose kissed him softly and then she turned around to blow out the candle while Jake pulled the blankets up over them. They tangled around one another and Jake breathed in her sweet scent. She was here.
For now. She was here.
Rose was trying hard to not look at Trixie but they were stuck in a small carriage together for several very long hours and she knew that Trixie wasn't going to let her get away with being quiet for too much longer. Rose was going to take every second of it that she could get because she knew the questions that Rose was going to ask. She just didn't know how to answer them. They were the same questions that Rose had been going over for days. She was still here. She guessed that counted for something.
"How did your talk with Lao Shi go?"
"I'm not going to be executed or kept captive," Rose said. "He did imply that I was safe in the castle but if I went elsewhere, well, my father had enemies. And those who were in the Huntsclan did not go quietly. They know who killed him."
Lao Shi had made it clear that she was allowed to leave and that he was not detaining her in any way. Rose knew that if she did, there would always be the chance that she would not be able to make the decision to return and, rather, be left for dead. Or captured and used in a way that would make death preferable. She knitted her fingers together in her lap. Aside from the afternoon where she had spoken to Princess Susan for the first and last time, leaving had never seemed to be the preferable option.
"So, you're not planning on going elsewhere?"
"It has crossed my mind, of course, but I'm sure Jake told you that himself."
"He might have."
"He'll be king someday, won't he, Trixie?"
"Someday, yes," Trixie said. "He's in line for the throne after his mother and that won't change. Why?"
"He wants me to marry him," Rose confessed and from the way Trixie's eyebrows raised, she was sure that Jake hadn't mentioned that detail to her yet. "But there's not just Jake. There's a public dragon image and a royal line. I would be a less than stellar queen and not just because of my reputation. But, Jake's father has never had to do any royal duties so that won't be a problem. I just hate the thought of being with someone that I'm not allowed to be seen with. That part, I think, drags on me more than anything else does. It won't feel real. Am I making sense? I think I'm overthinking everything."
"Uh …" Trixie said and there was a strangely guilty look on her face.
"Uh, what?" Rose asked. "I know you know something I don't."
"They're planning another ball, this one Jake's suggestion. The war is over and so they're hosting everyone for peace announcements. And, since the war is over, Jake has made the suggestion – and Susan and Lao Shi agree – that there is no need to hide anymore and that only complete honesty will assist in human-magic relations. So, for the first time, Jonathan will escort Susan and they will be a couple. Haley and Jake will be able to transform at will. Haley's thrilled, she's getting a real gown commissioned from Igraine. Jake, of course, is intending to ask you to go with him."
Rose looked out the window, recognizing the scenery. They were getting closer to the main castle but the dragons wouldn't arrive for a few hours, after the servants had prepared the palace. Jake hadn't wanted to let her go without him but the alternative was flying on him and she didn't think she'd ever be at a place where she was comfortable enough to sit on his back. Jonathan told her it was hard to get used to.
"Why would he do that?"
"I think you know."
Rose did know. Jake knew her and wanted to show her that he was not going to be hiding her in any way. The whole thought of being loved that much took her breath away and Rose didn't know how other people handled those feelings.
As there always had been, there were two options for Rose to take: run away from the feelings or stay and love him back. She knew she had to stop torturing herself and, torturing him. She had to make up her mind.
But, she was quite sure she already had.
Haley veered into his path and Jake flapped his wings, hard, sending her much lighter weight tumbling.
"Jake! That wasn't fair! Mom!" Haley flew closer to their parents again and Jake shook his head. "Did you see that?"
"Be nicer to your sister, Jake."
"I'm just flying here, Dad!" Jake shouted back.
Haley stuck her tongue out at him but didn't stray closer to him. It was Gramps and Fu that flew up on his right side.
"Hang back with me a moment," Gramps commanded. "We need to speak, privately."
Jake felt like a rock had formed in his stomach. There was one thing that Gramps would want to talk to him privately about. Jake didn't know what Gramps would say. His parents, yes. When he had told his mother and father about Rose, the had supported him. They were both hopeless romantics and, with their history, who could blame them? Even Fu's little face didn't give anything away and the dog was usually terrible at hiding things.
"Rose. The girl."
"Yeah, I figured," Jake said. "What have you heard?"
"Many things. Some of which, I'm just going to say: please be more subtle with your improprieties."
If Jake could have blushed as a dragon, he would have. Instead, he pulled on his years of lessons to answer diplomatically. "I don't intend on them being improprieties for much longer."
Which was true. Either Rose would leave or Rose would agree to marry him. They both knew that there could not be a halfway point for them.
"Those are your intentions, then? To marry her?"
"Yes," Jake said, belatedly wondering if he needed his grandfather's blessing for such a thing. Probably. He was, after all, the king. "Unless you see an issue."
Lao Shi was silent for a long time and Jake looked at Fu, pleading with him to say something. Fu had always been the voice in Gramps' ear and if Lao Shi was split on an issue, Fu could sway him from one side to another.
"Look, kid," Fu said, "we like her. We have seen no evidence she's like her father –"
"She killed him to save me. She saved you too, Gramps. She's her mother's daughter. I know her. She ran away from the Huntsclan and their camps and came here so that she wouldn't be supporting them."
"Yes," Lao Shi said, "I have already spoken to her several times. I've heard her story too."
"We think you two could make a good match," Fu said. "We just want to know if you're sure."
"If she'll have me, all I want is her."
Lao Shi stared ahead, watching Susan and Jonathan with Haley.
"I didn't think that you could get in more trouble than your mother did with her love life," Lao Shi said. "A human and a dragon. I didn't think it could get stranger."
"At least Haley seems normal," Fu said.
Jake bit back a retort. His little sister was the opposite of normal and always had been.
"Your grandmother," Lao Shi said, startling Jake. His mother's mother had died when she had still been young and Susan didn't have many memories of her; it was rare that Jake heard of his grandmother, "and I were not supposed to be married. At that time, the royal families still arranged marriages and I had been promised since birth to another dragon. I met your grandmother at the yearly dragon council. She was daughter of one of the council members. We were only together for one week and I knew I could only marry her. I told my parents that and threatened to forfeit my place for the throne. My cousin was an unacceptable option and there was no one else. She and I were married before the year was out."
"What I'm hearing is that I can blame you and Gram for all of this, not Mom and Dad."
Lao Shi laughed. "Yes, I suppose that's one takeaway. Your grandmother would never forgive me for trying to influence your heart one way or another and I don't see the need. I realized how much you cared for her when you put together the argument for the ball and why your abilities should not remain a secret any longer. I have never seen you so organized. It is what's expected of a future ruler. If it is right, Jacob, follow your heart."
"Thank you, Gramps."
Jake let his grandfather catch up to the other three but he coasted along on the wind. His heart led him to Rose and he was glad that his family all approved but it was that much more daunting that her heart might not lead her to him but away from him.
Spud met him on the grounds of the castle and Jake shook himself out, wishing for nothing more than human legs. His wings ached from the heavy gusts that had sprung up when they were close to the castle. His mother had landed with Jonathan and Haley and Fu to walk to the castle while his grandfather had flown on and Jake had stayed with him, feeling as though he had something to prove.
"Come on," Spud said, "you need to follow me."
"Rose wants to speak with you. I asked – Trixie doesn't know what about but apparently she's been checking for signs of your arrival all day."
Jake checked over his shoulder but Gramps was already heading inside, clearly, Jake was to be left to his own devices.
"All right, where is she?"
Spud led him around the castle, to the gardens in the back.
"She's somewhere around here," Spud said.
"I know where she is, Spud, thanks."
Jake had also hollowed himself out a grove at this castle too, hidden by tall trees and full flower bushes. He wasn't surprised that Rose had found it and was glad that she had. He slid himself between two tall hedges and turned himself into a human. Rose was laying in the grass, braiding long pieces of it together.
"Rose," he said. He didn't want to scare her.
"I heard you coming. The sound of dragon's wings still make me feel like I should start running," Rose confessed. "I wonder if that'll go away."
"You were in a war camp most of your life," Jake said, lowering himself to the ground beside her. "No one can blame you for your reactions."
And he didn't. He knew perfectly well why Rose was afraid. The simple fact that she had brought it up made him afraid too.
"I've been thinking, Jake." Her shoulder touched his as she turned to look at him.
He knew it. He knew she had made a decision too, about what she wanted to do. The little worry line between her eyebrows that had been ever-present since she had gone into her cell had suddenly disappeared.
"I want –"
Jake wished he could pause time, never hear the end of her sentence, stay side by side in a perfect flower garden. With her next words, his heart could break completely and he didn't know how he would put himself back together afterward.
"– to marry you."
Rose was staring at him, as if she expected that he might suddenly deny her and change his mind on her. Jake kissed her deeply.
"Yes," Rose assured him, her smile brilliant. "Trixie told me about the ball, Jake. I was so concerned over never being able to really be together; I didn't want to hide like your parents."
"We won't have to."
"I know. This won't solve everything and I know we have so far to go. With the Huntsclan and the actual integration and you know how long it's going to take me to even try to get along with your mother, right? You won't hold that against me?"
"No," Jake said. "I won't."
"I would rather problem-solve with you," Rose said, "as your wife. I'm glad you knocked me down the stairs. All things considered."
"All things considered," Jake said, "I am too."
Rose leant into him and kissed him deeply. Jake's hands fell onto her hips and pulled her as close as she could possibly get.
Happily ever after was coming for them and Jake wondered why he had ever worried.
And, that's the end! Sorry for skipping last week but I injured myself moving and I really had nothing on my mind but that.
Let me know what you think and if you'd like to see more American Dragon stories from me in the future!