Once back at her house, Ashlyn had Damien lay down on her mother's sofa. His head rested back as Ashlyn knelt down beside him.
"Perhaps you should open your shirt," she said, resisting the redness creeping into her cheeks.
Giving a pensive stare, Damien undid the buttons on his shirt and let the two halves dangle at his sides. Ashlyn's fingers traced the deep-colored veins along his ribs, weaving their way inward.
Damien gripped her hand, causing her to stop. "What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to find the source," she said, her fingers moving again. Her hand stopped on the left side of his chest where she sensed the most corruption pulsing underneath. "Perhaps a tonic that goes to your heart would help."
"You have a tonic for that?"
Ashlyn rolled her eyes. "If we don't already have it, I will make one. Just give me some time to check." Then she made her way into the healing room.
Damien watched her as she scoured the rows of handcrafted medicines. Unable to find what she was searching for, Ashlyn went to the grinding table and began to work.
"Are you alright over there?" Damien called to her after a while, though she did not answer. There was a book laid out in front of Ashlyn. She was swept up in it as if following a careful recipe.
Damien waited until she returned with an object in her hand.
"Here," she said, giving him a vial full of dark blue liquid. "Try this and see if it helps."
Damien drank the vial slowly. After a few moments, he noticed a change in his vitality. His heart pumped with strength, causing him to sit up. But for all Ashlyn's effort, the tonic did not make the blackening under his skin go away.
"Hmm." Ashlyn tapped her chin. "Perhaps I need to study it more. There's bound to be something that does the trick."
"I would gladly be your meat bag instead of Girithane's," he said.
This made her laugh, but it faded quickly. Leaning over him, she met his eyes. "Will you promise me something? Promise you'll never do anything that crazy again. It was horrible to watch what Girithane did to you."
"I don't think I have the nerve to try that again, honestly." Damien brushed at the scratches along her shoulder. "I'm sorry for getting you hurt."
"You didn't get me hurt," she said. "I was ready to turn Girithane into dust. Then he knocked me out and put me in a cage."
"A cage? Seriously?"
"That's right," she laughed, feeling like it happened ages ago rather than mere hours. "If I know Girithane, he probably wouldn't have released me so easily. I have you to thank for escaping, don't I?"
Damien shrugged. "I guess so." His chest stiffened as Ashlyn leaned in closer. Her breath was warm against his cheek as she kissed it.
"Thank you," she said. "If you're feeling well, I suppose you can go back home."
"Alright." Damien scooted himself off the sofa and refastened his shirt. But before he could leave, he stopped and faced her. "Could we meet up tomorrow?"
"Oh, you know...so we can find all the best rocks."
Her eyebrows folded. "Why do you want to gather up rocks?"
"I don't," he smirked. "You do."
"Oh. We don't have to do that, I found plenty of stones today."
"You could have found more," he said. "Before Girithane showed up."
"Really, it's fine."
He raised his brow. "I get the sense that you're adverse to spending time with me."
Ashlyn looked away. Letting out a sigh, she said, "Alright, I will go with you. But we both know this isn't about finding rocks."
Damien chuckled. "Did you have to use your Sight to see that?"
"Shut up." She pushed him out the door. "Good night, Damien."
"Good night, Ash."
Back at the manor, Damien went up to his room and found Naelen nonchalantly leaning against his doorframe.
"So, you're back," Naelen said, smirking. "You spent your whole day with Ashlyn?"
"Sort of," Damien answered.
"And what nonsense are you and Ashlyn up to now?"
"Nothing I want to talk about."
"You don't want to talk because it will most certainly get you in trouble, right?"
"You wouldn't understand it, Naelen. It's complicated."
"I understand it completely," Naelen grinned. "Can I give you some advice? Girls like it when you pretend not to care about them."
"Wha--what?" Damien winced, confused. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Girls don't make sense. Trust me, you want to keep them interested by playing hard-to-get."
"Well, maybe that works for you," Damien said, "but I think that's stupid. Besides, I don't see any girls lining up to be with you."
Naelen folded his arms. "This isn't about me, this is about you. And I'm telling you that Ashlyn would never wish be caught socializing with someone from Eolnir. Why do you think she keeps you out here, hidden from human society?"
Damien's forehead creased, frowning at the thought. "I don't need to hear this," he turned. "What do you know about girls, really?"
"I'm just saying, you deserve a fair chance. So keep her interested."
Saying no more, Damien shut himself in his room. His nerves exhaled in the form of a sigh as he laid on his bed. "Stupid." He turned on his side, curling his legs in. "You're so stupid."