Quiet Moments

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Quiet Moments

And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:12

Sadif sat serene with a cup of tea, her dark face calm and composed. It belied the last two hours, each tick of the clock filled with the sound of battle and the clash of wood and metal. She had made up for lost time and had drawn the full measure of her new student and the old, making each of them pay for every little lapse in concentration, every moment of ease that they had thought to enjoy. From stick to sword to katars, Sadif had driven them both around the room, the tiny woman a Dervish of danger and admonitions.

Across the room, Katherine smiled as Ezekiel tickled her leg through a hole in her pants; the flexible, whiplike blades that Sadif had used against she and Ezekiel had been more show than effect. Nonetheless, she now had a slit in her pants that she would have to mend and one of Ezekiel's boots was a bit more than scarred. Sighing, she leaned against her husband, tired and aching beyond words and just as happy. Jayshree had fallen asleep, bored of the human's noise. She tweaked the little dragon's feelers and it yawned tiredly, blinking sleepy jeweled eyes at her as she scratched the dragon's chin.

"You slept through your friend's arrival," she murmured, aware that Evie and Char watched from the rafters. Sadif knew she was there, no doubt, but steadfastly ignored her. When Katherine had looked up to notice her, Sadif had rapped her in the side with a staff. "Know, don't look!" she had barked and then proceeded to take Ezekiel's feet out from under him before hitting Katherine in the ribs with painful precision. Katherine hadn't looked at Evie since. Better to fight the opponent causing you pain, she realized. If another waited, well then, they weren't there to affect you yet. Reaching over with the hand not occupied with Jayshree, she stroked Ezekiel's sweat-slicked hair and noted with pride the well-muscled chest of her husband. Maddeningly fine, he was. More so with his shirt clinging to him and the slits from the weapons showing flesh here and there. She sighed, finally catching her breath. It was a good day, one of many she hoped.

Josephine was more than kind to let them use this place and the Fleming-Drake's would have to make a generous donation to her charity for the poor. The spy was about London today, her business her own, and it had mildly surprised Katherine when Sadif had opened the door when they knocked, not Josephine. Apparently, Josephine had let her in and then departed, leaving the Indian woman charge of the place. Sadif had solicitously told them that they were late, rebuked them for paying too much attention to the other, announced for the hundredth time that it would get them both killed, and then herded them upstairs to the exercise floor. That Evie had found them there and Josephine was not with her was even more surprising. The two had been joined at the hip recently, teacher and student and even more, growing friends and partners. She glanced up, finally aware that no weapon would hit her for looking at the girl, and smiled.

Ezekiel looked over at his wife as she looked over at Evie and then looked up into the rafters and smiled. Katherine had grown fond of the young girl in a short time, although certainly not as fond as Josephine had grown of her. He gathered that Josephine had a professional interest in the talented little thief, but he also got the impression that Josephine had other reasons for staying so attached to the girl, some of which she might not even be aware of. He would need to keep an eye on the girl. He liked Evie from what he had seen, but she also struck him as potentially dangerous.

He leaned over to Katherine. "You should invite her down to say hello, if we are done for a while."

Katherine smiled, stealing a quick kiss before saying, "Evie, I think it's safe if you want to come down. I'd love if you'd join us, little princess." Her eyes followed Jayshree as her little dragon launched to go join her new friend Char in the rafters.

"I keep giving you the straight that I ain't no princess, miss." Evie scratched under Char's chin and told him to stay put with Jayshree, The two of them would have more fun up here together anyway. She looked down, judged her landing spot and made a graceful drop to the floor. She nodded to Miss Katherine's husband and to her trainer before facing Katherine. "You're a solid with the sharp, Miss Katherine. Sorry if I got you smacked earlier." She wasn't too sorry, if she was being honest. She tended to agree with Miss Katherine's trainer. It was about a singular focus if you wanted to be a real blood at something.

Katherine winked, looking at the other adults before saying, "Only a cat may look at the king, little princess. But don't apologize; I, for one, needed the lesson."

Sadif nodded in agreement. "Too easily distracted by the unimportant," she agreed after a long sip of tea, demurely moving back the folds of her long linen coat to expose her pant-covered legs to more air. "Remove what is in front of you first if what is in back is not attacking you." She nodded curtly. "Next lesson, I will bring my husband. That way there will be an opponent behind you to attract both of your attentions." Her dark eyes twinkled for a short moment and then she grew serious again. "Someone to distract you from one another.”

Katherine blushed, but still let her fingers fall to stroke the back of her husband's neck. "Exekiel is hard to ignore," she murmured, managing not to grin like a monkey.

Ezekiel said with a small smile, "You managed to find ways to put me out of your mind before we were married, love. While I would not wish it for long periods, perhaps look back to those times to find focus in session." He looked over to Evie, who was rolling her eyes slightly at the romantic banter between the couple. "Do you have any suggestions for my wife, Evie? I imagine your job requires no small amount of focus."

She gave him a look, trying to figure out whether he was serious. She couldn't figure him out like she could Miss Josephine or Miss Katherine. Eventually she determined he did want to know. So she looked at Katherine and held her hands beside Katherine's face, blocking her side vision. "Simple as black out, Miss. You black out everything in the world ‘cept you and your target. Nothing else exists. It all goes away like the sun fading into the dark and you get left no choice but to pay attention to what you have to."

Katherine neatly captured Evie's hands, marveling at how soft and yet strong they were. "Like blinkers for horses!" she cried cheerfully before giggling. Her face sobered a bit a moment later. "But both our professions require serious commitment and awareness of danger. Mistakes can be fatal." Cat eyes peered into cat eyes as she held Evie's hands, stroking them gently with her thumbs. "We need to find a way to teach you defensive warfare, little one. You don't seem to like the offensive arts at all. But if you're caught. . ." She blinked, smiling sadly. "You don't want to be caught."

As Katherine held her hands, Evie extended her claws one at a time, each making an almost inaudible clicking sound as they emerged. "Don't you worry none, miss. I can take care of myself, I can. I got no desire to get scragged. I ain't ashamed of bolting." She had done it quite a few times when someone had come home unexpectedly. She might be a cat but she knew how to fly.

Sadif had risen, wandering over to stand patiently by the slender girl and Katherine started with shame. "Sadif Mehra, may I introduce Evie? Evie, this is my teacher, Sadif."

The Indian woman nodded, extending her hand for Evie to shake. "No reach," she said calmly as she noted the extended claws. "Good only for close fighting and useless against armor."

"I ain't a fighter, Miss Sadif. I just use these to make way so I can run." She yanked her hands free and did a backwards somersault and a short burst toward the back wall. "If you can't reach me, you can't hurt me." She didn't know why she felt some need to prove herself to either of the women. She was still alive, wasn't she?

Sadif laughed and uncoiled a rope from around her waist, spinning it neatly before landing it around the girl, pulling it tight with deft skill. "You are never too far sometimes," she announced, letting the tension in the rope lessen so that Evie could free herself. "And defense is not always violent. Do you want that I teach you?" She looked at Katherine and Ezekiel as she coiled her rope again, her dark eyes impassive, her face patient.

Katherine smiled lightly, looking to her husband. "I'd look at Evie for that answer. I pay you to be here, no matter what. One more student. . ." she shrugged and thought of Flora and Josephine. "I am willing to pay more to have the company." Her eyebrows rose. "And the competition."

Before Sadif could even loosen the rope, Evie had squiggled her way out of it and with one of her claws, sliced the lasso of the rope in half. "And there ain't no cage that can hold me."

"But I like to learn," she stated simply as she stood there with her arms crossed over her body, staring at Katherine and Sadif as if to say something. If she didn't like to learn, she wouldn't keep coming back to Miss Josephine's.

Sadif nodded, coiling the remnants of her rope. "Shasti sent you," she announced cryptically.

Katherine opened her mouth, fearful that two more of her friends would be at odds. Already Neecy refused anything more than polite conversation, offended at his arrest and Katherine's tacit forgiveness for Josephine's part in it. The little hobbit stayed clear of London and the Savoy now, only meeting with her and Ezekiel at the teahouse near the Diogenes Club lest he run into Josephine. Evie's defensive posture alarmed her; she liked the catgirl and did not want to do anything to offend her.

"Evie is quite adept at taking care of herself as you well see, Sadif," Katherine said, casting an uneasy glance at Ezekiel. "I am impressed Evie and very proud. I would not have been that calm were I caught nor I as clever."

The Indian woman only frowned briefly before moving to retrieve two staffs. She smiled slowly, her eyes crinkling as she grinned. "Yes, Shasti," she repeated, turning her back to Katherine and Ezekiel to give Evie her full attention. "You and I shall practice while my other two students rest their pretty selves. Come. Take one of the silambam. It will be good for you to learn to use it. You will begin with the kaaladi or as you English say, footwork. Then we will begin some strikes and defenses." She took a long look at the girl, her eyes narrowing with shrewd appraisal. "Maybe later I will teach you kuttu varisai. You do not seem comfortable with weapons that you did not grow." Beckoning gently with her hand, she walked to the center of the floor. "Come, come."

Ezekiel chuckled when Evie sliced the rope through. And then shook his head a little when Sadif called her over. Josephine and his wife did not know the full extent of what they were getting into, he thought. And he leaned over close to Katherine and whispered that thought to her. "You and Josephine are trying to put a halter on a wild tiger."

And before she could object, he held up a finger. "I am not saying that you stop. She needs what you can give her. But do not underestimate her."

Meanwhile, Evie gave Sadif a calculated look and then carefully moved towards the center of the room. What she had seen of this woman spoke of someone with great focus and Evie respected that. "So, Sadif," she asked cautiously, her mouth working to form the unfamiliar name, "who is Shasti?" She didn't know anyone named that, but she figured it was another name for God or something. Religious folks always had God telling them where to go and what to do.

Sadif laughed, handing her a staff. "No one to worry about for you I believe. You do not have a boy to ruin your concentration." As the staff began to spin, she grinned. "Or do you?" She took a neutral body position and then announced, "Kaaladi beginning," and then took a step. "Follow me. Hold your silambam like this!" And she made an exaggerated show of positioning her hands on the wood and then held the staff in the first defensive position, noting Evie's with a critical eye. She then flowed into the second position, slightly changing the staff's angle as she shifted fluidly into the next pose and then the next.

The staff felt comfortable in her hands, smooth wood, not too heavy or awkward to carry. Besides, while she might not be able to carry a staff with her as she walked the rooftops at night, the size and weight of it would be easy to find. "No, ain't worth the time it would take to think about a boy." Evie followed Sadif's motions exactingly, ignoring the strange names for the positions and items, focusing on Sadif's movements, paying close attention to her hands and feet.

The repetitions of the same pattern continued until Sadif finally stopped her and held up the staff. "Now we start adding the contact," and she moved close to Evie and began the slow repetition of the same footwork only with the jarring contact of the weapons. She was slow and measured, precise and careful, stopping to correct the girl as they progressed through the Kaaladi. Finally, she ordered them to stop, her face breaking into a grin. "I am pleased. Go rest and drink some tea." She winked at Katherine and Ezekiel. "She will be a faster learner than most. I must figure out what she can do with her natural weapons too. Those can be formidable." She raised her eyebrows. "For whatever she chooses to use her skills for."

Evie hefted the staff in her hand before putting it down in the corner. Different, but good. She had a smile on her face from where Sadif had said she was pleased. Evie could see why Katherine liked her - she was a good teacher; hard and exacting so that when the praise came, even the most unfeeling berks would start all over again just to get some more.

She sat down and poured herself a cup of tea from the pot that Katherine had set out before the training had gotten started. As she took a sip, she looked over at Sadif talking with Katherine and Ezekiel. She liked Miss Katherine, even if she wore her heart on her sleeve where any passing berk could rip it off. But Mister Ezekiel, she didn't know what to do with. She was wary of him, and in turn, he seemed to be wary of her. She didn't know what it was. Ain't like he ever treated me without respect. In fact, he had treated her like an equal and that caused her hackles to raise a little. She wasn't no equal of him. He wasn't better than her, but Evie knew the score. He had the money and the power and if he acted like it didn't matter, then all the more reason to be suspicious.

Katherine merely smiled. "Evie has the world ahead of her. Her profession will be whatever she chooses." She lay a hand on Ezekiel's, entwining her fingers in his. "Maybe she will change her mind once she is schooled. I would say that maybe a woman's college is not beyond her grasp. Miss Josephine's generous need to create a charity to care for the poor has inspired me."

"I think Shasti inspires you through this pretty kitten," Sadif murmured as she went to retrieve her own cooled cup of tea.

The Eldren blushed, finally remembering which goddess that Sadif referred to. "In time," she countered, her eyes bright. "If Shasti is looking for me, then you need to be careful how you hit me."

Brown eyes twinkled into her own. "And your ribs, arms and legs are bruised, are they not?" She laughed heartily as Katherine's cheeks colored deeper.

Blinking, Katherine looked at Ezekiel and then leaned over to kiss him quickly. "Shasti is the goddess of fertility in Hindi," she whispered and then sighed. "She's trying to get us in trouble."

Ezekiel smiled as he watched his wife blush. "You will be a wonderful mother when the time comes, love. We certainly have been signaling Shasti enough as of late." Katherine was even more beautiful than normal when she blushed.

Her eyes softened as she looked at him. "Will I?" she breathed, her hand subconsciously straying to her belly for a moment. She then leaned into him, gathering his arms around her, pulling him close like a protective cloak. "It is hard not to call Shasti with you as a husband," she stated softly with a wry smile. His chest was warm and hard against her back, his arms strong and comforting. Sadif was right. She was very distracted by him. And in battle, neither of them could afford to be worrying about the other. She and Ezekiel needed to learn focus lest they lose one another to a fatal misstep. Danger was a mistress all its own, one not to be ignored or taken lightly. There would be time enough for love later. She looked at Sadif and nodded with a small smile.

"I hate when you are right, Sadif. Shall we plan for two days hence? I believe that I am too tired for anything more today. Evie, can you come then? We will be here at the same time and you will be able to do more than watch."

Evie nodded. "Yes, miss, I can. If we ain't using my nighttime hours, then I can come." Learning the staff had been fun, she had to admit.

"Please, Evie, call me Katherine. I don't think I can stand "Miss" from a friend." Anymore. Neecy was still distant and it hurt far more than she wanted to think about. Her voice tinged with wry humor as she added, "I won't call you "Little Princess". Or I'll try. I tend to be a bit forgetful. It's one of my worst traits among many." She brushed an unruly tendril of copper-fire hair from her face and tried to smooth the wavy, curling lock into place.

"Ain't no worries, miss....I mean, ain't no worries, Miss Katherine." She just couldn't quite make herself say the name by itself. It wasn't as if she bowed and played servant to the noble lady. And Evie noticed that she had called her a friend, which she was might skeptical about. "Can I ask you a question?" And then she plowed ahead without waiting for a response. "What's a nice high up lady like you need with learning blades?"

Katherine shrugged most unladylike. "No need, just desire, Evie. Sometimes you must fight against the rules that bind you from what you were meant to be, sometimes you must give in to what calls to your heart and let it fly. I love the blades, the discipline, the pain and the exhilaration of the fight, the singing of the blood in my veins as I face an opponent. It is terribly wrong, but I love the martial call and the sense that I can help fight evil and right wrongs." Her eyes grew distant and soft, but burned with a green flame that was intense and strong. "I feel as if destiny calls, Evie, and I must be ready to answer. Maybe my father let me run too long among the moors with the legends of Boedicca and King Arthur in my head. Maybe it is his blood showing in me, that need to prove oneself on the battlefield as he did. But I cannot ignore that call. Without this, I would be unwhole." She looked at Ezekiel, her lips parted for a moment as she looked at him. "I am for him," she stated softly. "And he needs no less than what meager talents I can give him to help him find his destiny." A shy smile graced her lips as she blinked, looking down at the floor before again looking to Evie.

"And I despise writing letters and gossiping. I'm quite dreadful at it," she added with clear embarrassment. "I've never been able to be a proper lady. But at least I can dance."

"Ain't nothing wrong with being an unproper lady, Miss Katherine. Get more done that way." She looked over at Ezekiel and then back at Katherine. The two of them really did seem to love each other, although the whole thought of destiny made her uncomfortable. Ain't no one was going to control where her life went but herself.

"What kind of evil? Like Miss Josephine talking about justice and such?"

"The two go together more than you would think. But I believe Josephine has a more Britannic view of what she is willing to die for." A rare sardonic smile touched her lips. "Not that I don't think Brittannia doesn't stand for what the Heavenly Host desires, but sometimes the lines drawn by men don't always align with God and country." It was an unusual moment when Katherine spoke about politics anywhere beyond the hearing of Ezekiel and her face had become a bit more stern and composed. If her father had been near, they would have begun to see the resemblance better between father and daughter, more than just the Eldren ears and the fiery hair.

Evie took another sip from her cup. She'd have to keep coming back just for the blimey tea. Evie then shrugged as she put her cup down on the saucer with a little clatter. "I don't pay much attention to God, if you want to have it straight. He don't care none about me, so I return the favor."

And Ezekiel laughed out loud. "Ah, but that's where you are wrong, Evie. God is talking with you, even if you're not listening to Him. He has plans for you, I'm sure about that."

A glare from Evie shot across the room. "Well, He might find I'll give his plans the slip, cause I ain't liked what I've peeped til now." If God really was watching over her, then why did he let her mother die? And make it so she was cold half the night?

Ezekiel smiled and leaned in to kiss Katherine. "Feel free to try, Evie, but his plans have a way of sneaking up on you." Katherine's presence in his life was a fine example of exactly how sneaky the Lord could be.

"I never knew my mother," Katherine stated, slipping her hand up to caress Ezekiel's cheek before playing with the spiky, sweat-salted locks of his hair. "She was only a portrait to me, scattered around a grand , far too large house in cameos and tiny paintings. There was also the great one in the gallery that I pretended spoke to me when I was young. My father was absent most of my life, pulled out of England on campaign after campaign. And he probably did not argue that he was to go. I would assume grief was easier not seeing their only child and all those portraits, easier dealt with in a foreign land."

She caught Evie's eyes, looking deep into them with serious earnest. "It wasn't God's fault that my mother died. I don't blame Him. I blame the frailty of the human body and the wicked twists of life. I don't blame my father for running from me and the painful memories. I don't know if I would not do the same were I to lose my husband. But none of that indicates that God does not care for me. He has given us free will and the strength to live in a world both savagely beautiful and savagely cold. It is what you make of it. But He is always there to comfort you and hold your hand while you find the courage and inner will to go on. If you'll just pay attention."

Katherine took a deep breath then and let it out with a sigh. "You are here with us, are you not? Do you not think that God has not led you here? The future is bright, Evie. If you have the strength to take hold of what is offered without the jaded heart. You are among those who will share their largesse without reservation or demand. It is up to you how you take it and what you will do with it. And your decision will show your character and set your destiny." Her eyes then went to her husband. "I am rested. Shall we get a cab to ride back in or would you like to practice more, my love?

"I would prefer to practice more, love, if you are not too tired," Ezekiel said, wiping the last remainder of sweat off his brow before picking up his sword again. "Another twenty minutes and I believe we will have reached our limits."

As Ezekiel led Katherine back into the practice space, Evie watched them from her table with a cocked eyebrow, still taking in Miss Katherine's statement. Evie didn't know her well enough to know if she was running a red one on her because of what Evie had said, but she certainly had seemed upset. For Evie's part, it felt strange. Share their largesse without reservation or demand? These people were the nicest Evie had known, but there weren't nobody that shared without expecting something. The piper was always waiting for his coin. She wanted to believe Miss Josephine wanted nothing but the best for her. But the moment you got cocky about where you stepped, that's when the roof tile slipped out from underneath.

Her footwork was getting sloppy as she tired, Katherine decided as she barely deflected Ezekiel's sword thrust. She caught his eyes as he frowned and realized that most of her defense was his adept adjustment not to hit her. Smiling, she kissed the air at him and danced back to reset her position. "Thank you for not poking me darling," she gasped with a short laugh before re-engaging his blade. She did not need to see Sadif to know the the woman's sharp eyes tracked them and judged. And she would critique. Katherine knew that she needed to work harder on training her muscles to react faster and more consistently, so that she didn't have to think, didn't have to concentrate on not thinking of anything else.

Grunting, Katherine parried another strong thrust and then yielded, drawing him close but for a moment. Ezekiel gracefully disengaged and reset as she half-turned and stepped to move to his side. Her eyes caught Evie for a moment as she shifted, the cat girl's face set with a skeptic frown and a dubious eyebrow. Biting her lip for a brief breath, she attacked with renewed energy, her and Ezekiel's swords flashing with deadly intent in a shining storm of singing metal. She could not let the girl distract her. Bit by bit, their deadly dance began to get faster and although her hardfought breath began to burn in her chest, she rose to his challenge and locked her eyes onto his, letting her sword arm do what he and Sadif had trained it to do.

She could not think, Ezekiel's blade was moving so fast, faster than he'd ever pushed her. His face was a mask of concentration, frozen as he tried to both impale her and yet not, but she knew her face was the same, both of them caught in the battle that neither wanted to win or lose. Her arm and her legs were burning and her hair had long ago pulled free from its ribbon; it flew around her like a fiery cloak and clung to the sweat that glistened on her face. Another half-turn gave her Evie's face again, this time more fascinated and alarmed. It suddenly came to her that she cared that the girl listened to her, realized with chagrin that it bothered her that Evie held her at arm's length, not willing to trust her or Ezekiel, not yet willing to believe that something good could happen to her.

She will. Don't give up on her.

Katherine's mind slipped sideways as the voice came to her, hollow and faint and yet so very clear. Forcefully, her sword was hooked and sent spinning almost before she realized it was gone, the sensations coming from her fingers as if they were no longer her own. She stumbled sideways, her body suddenly unbalanced, and felt Ezekiel's arm catch her waist as she fell into him, gasping for air and stunned with certainty that Evie had been brought to them. As he steadied her, she glanced again at the girl through the locks of her hair and her breath caught as she saw a woman standing behind her. A shadow of a smile and she was gone. The Eldren could only stare at Evie as she panted for the air to speak, her eyes wide.

Ezekiel, his voice concerned as he gathered Katherine into his arms, said, “Katherine, love, please don't push yourself so hard. We have all the time in the world to train and I would prefer you didn't scare me like this." He tenderly pushed her hair out of her face before helping her to stand again.

Evie let the teacup clatter as she dropped it on the table and quickly moved over to where the two lovers stood. "You alright, miss?" she said, looking at Katherine. Then she quickly turned to look at Ezekiel. "She is going to be alright, isn't she?"

Katherine could only lean limply against him, her breath finally coming back to her enough that she could speak. "I'm sorry, darling," she apologized wearily, reaching back for the comfort of his hand. "Don't worry; it wasn't all the fight." Sighing softly, she smiled at Evie, her gaze intense. "Your mother loves you very much," she stated with an inarguable certainty. "And she was very beautiful."

Evie took a couple reactionary steps back, shaking her head on the way. "You don't know my mother. Don't talk about her, miss. You got no right." Her face was white under the light tan fur and she scanned the room gauging her quickest route out.

Katherine let out another gentle breath, closing her eyes as the warmth of Ezekiel's body flowed into her and gave her back her strength. "Evie, don't be frightened. I'm a medium. I. . ." she paused to let her words sink in before continuing with the rest. "I can see the dead sometimes."

"I don't care if you can see ghosts floating over every one of the sixes in every dark place in London. My mother don't belong to you. She's mine!" Evie jumped up and quickly skittered up one of the beams supporting the room. As she did, she whistled for Char and headed for the window.

Casting a horrified glance back at Ezekiel, Katherine leapt from him to slow Evie down. "I'm not taking her, Evie. I'm not replacing her either. She's yours and you are hers. Forever. But I won't not tell you that she's with you." Her voice became sharp and annoyed as she looked up into the rafters, swaying as dizziness waved over her. "I won't lie. You're too strong for that and I respect you." Looking away, she brushed her hair from her face and closed her eyes. "But you can run," she admitted with resignation and then her eyes opened, green and bright, shining in the light, and her voice was firm and clear with her next words. "She's still there and she still loves you."

Evie had the window open in a flash and was out into the city with Char as Katherine's words followed behind her. She's still there and she still loves you.

Then why did she have to leave in the first place?

Evie jumped from rooftop to rooftop looking for the quiet of the night to dampen all the thoughts that wouldn't stop running through her head.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel rushed back over to Katherine's side before she collapsed again. "It is usually you supporting me during my visions," he said calmly. Seeing the look on her face as Evie had bolted out, he continued on reassuringly, "She'll be back, love. That I have faith in."

She turned, pressing her face into his shoulder, sudden tears warm on her cheeks. She yielded to the need to have him hold her completely, to have him gather her against him in arms comforting and supportive and she wrapped her arms about his neck, certain that he could hold her up though her legs trembled with the effort of standing. "I hope so," she said softly in a plaintative whisper. After a moment, she looked up at him, blinking sheepishly. "Josephine will never forgive me if I drove away her new apprentice. I was right, wasn't I? To tell her?"

She was definitely right about that, Ezekiel thought wryly. Steal her man and then drive away her apprentice? Josephine might have to go to war with Katherine. But he kept all that to himself and instead answered the question that Katherine was truly concerned with.

"Yes, you were right to tell her. The truth brings freedom, even if it causes pain along that path. I think she will take comfort in it once the shock of discovery is past." He held Katherine tight to him, wanting to ease her pain and fear. It was easy to forget that not everyone was as entangled with the mysterious and magical as their merry adventuring band seemed to be.

Katherine nodded, again nuzzling her head into his chest, closing her eyes to the sudden exhaustion that threatened to take her to the ground. "Thank you, my heart," she said quietly and then even more softly, "Just hold me a bit more please. Don't let go."

"Until the trees fall down and the wind stops blowing, until the water no longer flows and the fire no longer burns, until the world tumbles down into a pile of what no longer matters, I would hold you love, and forever after that." And Ezekiel pressed Katherine close to him and wiped the tears for Evie from her eyes.

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