Title comes from this quote by Rob Hill Sr.: "Love is a commitment to protecting another person's heart with the same passion you use to guard your own."
The third time Niall took a blow for Irial, Irial decided they needed to talk about it. Once could be overlooked, twice could be an accident, but three times? That was a pattern, and it wasn't one Irial liked.
Niall, he knew, was fairly hardy. He was a faery regent, after all, and regents were hard to kill. But they could be killed, as Irial well knew, and Irial had no desire for that to happen to Niall, especially for no reason. Irial was Discord now, he was just about as hardy as regent, and he didn't need Niall jumping in front of strikes that were meant for him. Most of the strikes, Irial could easily withstand, and if there were any he couldn't… Well, he didn't want those hitting Niall either.
Irial waited until they got back to the house to say anything to Niall, not wanting to have this conversation in front of witnesses. He doubted it would go well, especially given that he still didn't quite have a handle on his new abilities as Discord. He didn't really want extra discord in this conversation, but he had a feeling he'd get it anyway. It definitely wasn't a conversation to have in front of the whole court.
But when they had a moment to themselves, when Gabriela left with her Hounds and the other fey trickled out of the house, Irial turned to Niall and asked, "Why did you take that blow for me?"
Niall looked up at him, then ducked his head. "I don't-" he began, but the lie refused to pass his lips. He scowled, then tried again. "What blow?"
"You know perfectly well what blow I'm talking about," Irial replied, trying to rein in his new propensity towards making confrontations more difficult. "Why did you take it for me? I could have handled it."
"So could I," Niall replied, turning away and beginning to walk away.
Quick as lightning, Irial grabbed Niall's wrist tightly. "You can't do this, Niall. You're the Dark King. You need to take care of yourself. You can't throw yourself in danger for me."
Niall yanked his wrist out of Irial's grip. "So you're the only one who's allowed to throw yourself in danger?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You threw yourself in front of Ani," Niall snapped. "You took those knives for her."
"What- That was months ago, Niall."
"That's nothing," Niall hissed. "A few months is a blink of the eye. And a few months ago, you were dead."
Irial's throat went dry. "Oh."
"When you died," Niall continued, shaking slightly, "I- I couldn't- I can't do that again. I can't, Iri. I hardly survived it the first time. It drove me mad. I- I can't-"
Irial took Niall's hands gently. "You were unbalanced. You weren't sleeping. You were possessed. It wasn't-"
"That's not what matters!" Niall snapped, yanking his hands away. "You were gone. I was grieving. Even if I'd been balanced, even if I weren't possessed- I still wouldn't have been able to sleep. I still wouldn't have been able to think straight. You were dead. I couldn't- I can't-" Niall shook his head frantically. "I won't let you die again."
"Love," Irial said quietly, "think of how I'll feel if you die for me."
"You're stronger than me," Niall replied. "You'd survive it. I wouldn't, Iri. I know I wouldn't."
"You would," Irial countered. "You're stronger than you know, Niall. And for me… I'd like to think I'd be able to survive it, but I've lost you before, and I don't know that I could bear losing you again."
"Iri…" Niall shook his head again. "I can't lose you."
Irial dropped to his knees, taking Niall's hands again and hoping this time they wouldn't be pulled away. "And I can't lose you. We can come up with a plan, we can figure something out, but please stop throwing yourself in danger for me, Niall. I cannot order you, but I can beg."
Niall looked down at their joined hands, then he dropped to his knees as well and threw his arms around Irial. "We'll figure something out," he promised, clinging to him tightly. "We'll find an answer."
Irial wrapped his arms around Niall, holding him tightly. "We will," he agreed. "And honestly, love, I've escaped death once, don't you believe I can do it again?"
Niall made a choked sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "Don't you dare test it."
"Yes, my king."
Niall rested his head on Irial's shoulder. "What would Leslie say if she saw us like this?" he sighed.
"She'd wonder how we manage to do anything without her," Irial replied. "I wonder it myself sometimes."
"She helped save me," Niall admitted. "When you were gone, and I'd almost gone past the point of no return, she pulled me back."
"I think she's stronger than either of us," Irial admitted. "We're lucky to have her."
Niall let out a long breath. "She'll be back soon," he murmured, more to himself than to Irial.
"Once the semester is done," Irial agreed anyway. That was the plan they'd made with Leslie; she would finish her semester, then she'd come back for the summer and see how things went. "We should probably try to be a bit more competent when she's here."
Niall laughed, a real laugh this time. "Probably."
Irial leaned forward and rested his forehead against Niall's. "I won't die again," he promised quietly. "I'm not going anywhere."
Niall let out a long, slow exhale. His breath smelled faintly like cigarettes, the same brand Irial himself favored. Theoretically, Gancanagh magic didn't work on other Gancanagh, but Irial was as helplessly attracted to Niall as any human Niall seduced. He would do anything Niall asked, and they both knew it.
"I need you," Niall whispered. "Don't leave me."
They didn't ever say the words I love you to each other, but Irial knew how to hear them in the other things Niall said, and he heard them loud and clear right now.
"I won't," he promised, and he hoped Niall could hear that he was really saying, I love you too.