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The first cut is the deepest

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Eliana slowly walked through the dusky streets of Âme de la Terre, paying little attention to the direction her feet chose. Her heat felt heavy, a certain loneliness and emptiness within. She wondered if this was how her mother had felt, so long ago, as her magic swelled inside of her, no one fully comprehending the draw of her power. The loneliness of standing alone at the edge of the empirium, unable to explain that which she saw.


Today, as she did most free afternoons – those she still had at fourteen, between dancing, history, mathematics, and scores of other lessons – she had headed to Garver’s shop, eager to see Simon and feel that fluttering in her stomach once again.


She’d known Simon all her life. Although eight years older than she, he was her closest friend and confidant after her father. She’d always felt a pull towards him, a compelling draw which she found difficult to explain. She knew, though, without a doubt, that he belonged to her as much as she belonged to him. She knew this like she knew the sun would rise each morning and set again in the evening.


Some days were hard for him when she was around. Eliana knew, as her father had told her, that Simon missed his power, his golden threads, that once allowed him as a marque to travel so quickly across the world. And nothing brought that hurt back in force for him like seeing glimpses of Eliana’s golden world.


Eliana hurt for her friend and hated that she could not fix this for him. But today she knew she’d hurt him, however unintentionally.


Both he and Garver had teased her growing up about the “training” knives they allowed her to use. It was only recently she’d been able to finally convince them to allow her the use of the sharp knives. But today, in a flight of fancy, she’d had an accident as she chopped ingredients.


She was telling Simon a story about her day, how she’d managed to trick her father into allowing her the afternoon of lessons off, when Simon had brightly laughed. A deep, shining laugh, with his held falling back as his shoulders shook.


Eliana had felt such a fluttering in her stomach then as she bit her lip, trying to stifle the blush staining her dark cheeks. She’d stopped looking at her knife but continued to chop until a hot pain suddenly burned through her thumb. She froze at that moment, confused, before glancing down and watching in a mixture of terror and awe as a small puddle of blood quickly formed on the table under her hand, her thumb sliced almost in two.


She trembled with a pounding heart, watching distantly through wide eyes as Simon quickly ran to her with a cloth, wrapping her thumb and raising her hand high above her head, which still didn’t reach his twenty-two-year-old shoulders.


She’d seen a fear in his eyes she hadn’t seen since the time she’d caught a fever that burned through her body for days, causing a delirium that frightened even Garver, as she’d talked to people who weren’t there, asking for a Remy who didn’t exist. Simon had slept day and night on a pallet in her room then, refusing to leave her side for even a moment.


This time, she had felt herself collapsing against his solid chest, feeling light and heady as his smell washed over her. She could distantly hear him yelling for his father and felt a pair of strong arms pick her up and carry her to something soft, before she fully blacked out.


Eliana didn’t know how much time had passed when she awoke with no pain to Simon sitting near the fireplace, head held between his hands, his shoulders tight with tension. She’d made a small noise as she sat up and saw him turn to her, smile, and rush over to look at her hand.


She noticed it was bandaged tightly and could smell the herbs in the poultice that had been applied. She assumed Garver had also sewn stitches into her thumb, since she doubted Simon would have been able to in his worry.


He teased her for fainting, though she could tell by the tightness around his eyes, his forced smile, and trembling hands that he was still incredibly worried. She teased him back, trying to make those worry lines go away, telling him he’d better hope the princess did not lose a finger chopping herbs.


Simon had briefly smiled as he manipulated her hand, looking to her face for any discomfort. She shrugged, not feeling anything more than the tightness of the bandage. He frowned and pressed her thumb harder before beginning to unwrap it, concerned that a lack of pain meant something worse had happened.


His frown continued to deepen as he further unwrapped her bandage and she still didn’t show any hurt. He hesitated before removing the poultice packed tightly onto her wound, glancing up at her in confusion. There was no more blood soaking the bandages, her thumbnail had returned to a normal pinkish color, and her hand looked as though the accident had not even occurred.


He tossed the bandages aside and held her hand gently, looking closely for evidence of a wound past the dried blood still smeared on her thumb. Eliana felt a shiver run through her at the feeling of his warm breath puffing against her hand.


Simon stood up quickly, glancing back at the table where she’d sliced her thumb, a dark stain where he hadn’t been able to scrub out her blood.


“How is this possible?” he had whispered, looking at her with a mix of fear and awe. Eliana decided she did not like that look. She stood up and walked closer to him, holding up her hand again for them both to see. But as she stepped close, Simon suddenly took a step back.


Confused, Eliana looked up. Simon was quick to hide the mixture of jealousy, anger, and fear that were warring across his features for a mask of concern. But Eliana was quicker. Hurt, she stepped back with a frown.


“Simon?” she whispered. He frowned again before turning and walking out the back door into his garden.


Eliana knew then that this was something new. Something she couldn’t stop from coming between them. For the first time in her young life, she felt abandoned. So, she left.


Her tears had long since dried, though the ache in her heart had grown wider as she reached the edge of a tree copse near the shoreline, Zahra not far behind. The wraith was an ever close, ever comforting presence in Eliana’s life. Most afternoons with Simon she remained outside, allowing a respectful distance so that Eliana could enjoy time with her dear friend. Zahra had followed Eliana through the street from a distance, seeing her mood as she stormed out of the store and realizing the young princess needed space to sort out her young, desperate feelings.


Eliana walked to the largest one, sitting on the low branch that swung out towards the sea. She watched the sun make its decline past the horizon as the dark wash of stars chased it across the sky. She found comfort in the stars and sun, in imaging far off worlds unknown. She’d been told tales growing up of her mother walking among them, cradling entire worlds in her hands, sitting on the edge of waterfalls at the edge of the universe. Eliana liked to imagine her mother was holding her world in her hands now, missing and loving her from afar.


A shuffle of grass sounded behind her, and she felt the weight of the branch shift as a pair of arms wrapped her from behind. Eliana sighed and leaned back into Simon’s warmth, hoping that her tears were no longer visible and that her sniffles would soon cease.


She loved how safe she felt wrapped in Simon’s warmth, leaning against his solidness. It was like the world itself couldn’t breach the boundary of their cocoon. She leaned back further, nestling into his warmth as he shifted his head to rest against her own.


“I’m sorry,” she felt, more than heard, the rumble of his whisper against her back. His arms tightened for a moment as his hands held fast to her own, interlocking their fingers together.


“I can’t help it, Simon, you know that.” Eliana gave a huff of annoyance as she felt tears spilling over again. “If I could, I would give you all of my magic, everything that I can touch.” She leaned back to look him in the eye. She saw his face, filled with grief and longing, with shame at his actions. He couldn’t look her in the eye.


“I was just…surprised. I really am sorry, El.” She watched as his own eyes filled with tears, shame flowing from his actions. They had been told, been warned, that until she was able to access her power it might flow out of her in other ways, like healing wounds. Most childhood wounds she had been able to explain away as coincidence - a twisted ankles instead of broken bones, light scrapes instead of deeper - but this time was unlike those others. They’d both been taken by surprise when it healed so quickly.


“You were afraid of me,” Eliana turned back to the sunset. “I don’t want anyone to be afraid of me, not like they were of my mother.”


“You are not your mother, Eliana, and you never will be.”


She leaned back against him again with a sigh, tightening her grip on his hands. They sat in silence until night had fully overtaken and the stars shone brightly above them.


Eliana felt a gentle nudge in her mind from Zahra, telling her it was time to head back to the castle. She snuggled further into Simon in rebellion, turning her face into his shoulder attempting to hide inside of him. He laughed, slowly rubbing her arms, and brushing her hair aside. He laid a gentle kiss on the top of her head before nudging it back, looking at her sleepy face.


She smiled a sweet, sleepy smile at him before leaning up to give a quick brush of her lips against the corner of his mouth. She giggled as a blush started forming in his cheeks and he hastily pulled her from his lap, gently setting her onto her feet on the ground.


Eliana felt Zahra’s nudge again, more insistent this time. She turned to leave and hesitated, before turning back to look at Simon once again. She grabbed one of his hands in her own and looked him in the eye.


“I swear to you, Simon, I will find a way to bring your power back.” She watched as he struggled to compose his face, one tear swiftly escaping. With as much love as she could muster, she kissed his knuckles, sending all the hope and warmth towards him. With one last, longing look, she bid him goodnight and ran off to find Zahra to head back home.


Simon watched her go in silence, his hand and mouth burning from her kisses, torn between letting her go and reminding himself of her age. He didn’t feel worthy of her friendship, of any love she could ever bestow on him, but he would spend his life making himself worthy of her.


He settled back against the tree trunk, a new peace forming in his heart that seemed to extend like golden threads from the burning kisses Eliana had left behind. Closing his eyes, he could almost feel those golden threads around him, connecting everything and everyone. The strongest pulling between his heart and Eliana’s. He opened his eyes and, for a brief moment, stopped breathing as he saw golden threads around him slowly fade away.