At the sound of Nick's voice, Brian set the scroll he had been reading down on the desk in the palace's moon viewing room. When he glanced over his shoulder, he watched Nick lean on the balcony railing and fiddle with the braided bracelet. First Nick slid it on to his wrists one after the other, then he lifted it to his nose and sniffed it before pursing his lips together as he stared at it. When Brian laughed, Nick frowned and glanced over his shoulder.
“Nick, are you worried that it won’t work or everyone will end up in Emeradotouhou?” Brian continued grinning as he crossed his arms.
“Of course I am.” Nick lowered his head. “I wish you’d told me before the three of you made these.”
“Nick…” Kevin held his head in his hand as he sank into one of the ornate chairs beside the desk.
Brian shook his head and laughed. “So you could do what? Yell until it didn’t happen? This is the solution we came up with for your request.”
Nick flinched. His surprise was short lived as he reacted in the typical way: crossing his arms, hunching his shoulders, and glancing away.
Refusing to yield, Brian fixed his stare on Nick -- who glowered at him in response. After smoothing his eyebrows, Kevin began to stand up. However, Brian held out his hand toward him. His confidence was undeniable. In response, Kevin shook his head and sank back into the chair.
Nick exhaled loudly and glanced at the ground. “You’re right. I did want us to get back together quickly and I thought it could help.”
“Then let it help,” Brian replied dryly.
“I know…" Nick swallowed, keeping his gaze firmly on the ground. "I trust your decisions and want Minako to feel like she can make decisions she feels are right, even if I’m worried about them… I just…”
Brian strode over and clapped his hand against Nick's shoulder. “Of course I’m worried, but it doesn’t happen automatically and I didn’t explicitly teach her that I could pull her barrier into mine even if she was trying to pull mine into hers.” He furrowed his brow. “I don’t think that I can force my barrier to go to hers, the person taking it on has to be ready as far as I know. So, that probably is something we should talk about. What do we do if it doesn’t work?”
“Exiting safely should be our first priority.” Kevin stood again, then joined them on the balcony.
“Yeah.” Nick frowned and stared out over the city. “Fly as far away as we can... Come back here... or back to your home if we can make it…”
“Is that alright with you, Brian?” Kevin raised an eyebrow as his stare bore through Brian.
“If that’s the safest thing we can do, then we should do it.” My family will always guard us. Brian leaned on the railing. “We should also probably tell Howie, AJ, and Minako to make that their escape plan as well. Getting away quickly with Minako might be difficult...”
Nick grunted quietly as he leaned on the railing beside Brian. “What do you think is in Topazuseihou that’s dangerous?”
“Aside from the desert?” Brian shrugged. “We don’t know where the rest of the ruby demons are or if all the emerald demons are in Emeradotouhou…”
“It seems likely that the topaz demons would be there as well.” Kevin crossed his arms and leaned on the railing beside Nick.
“Well, at least we know where Justin and Ashley are…” Nick bit his lip, though his stare still seemed empty and far away.
“It’s alright to be worried.” Kevin patted Nick’s shoulder. “It’s like Howie said, there’s likely not a truly safe path, but we’ll all probably be fine as long as we’re keeping each other safe.”
“I hope Howie is right…” Nick grimaced.
“It’s time.” Brian pointed up to the setting sun. “Ready?”
“Whenever you are, Brian.” Kevin smiled in the supportive manner he always did.
“Here.” Nick handed Brian the braided bracelet, slowly pulling his hand from the metal.
“What’s it smell like anyway?” Brian grinned. “Beloved priestesses?”
“Metal.” Nick frowned, wrinkling his nose. “Stop teasing me, Brian.”
“I’m not sure what else you wanted me to do when you smelled it.” Brian slipped it over his wrist as he laughed, then lowered his voice to a whisper. “Though I’m guessing you wanted it to smell like beloved priestesses.”
Nick tensed and crossed his arms. “Just make your barrier already.”
Brian’s laughter filled the room as he placed his tented fingers on the bridge of his nose. After his laughter subsided, he shut his eyes tightly. I promise you and Minako. I will do everything I can so that we can meet.
The familiar webbed energy sprung up around him. As he exhaled slowly, he visualized the barrier spreading and growing around him. It encompassed the bright and stacking auras beside him, but remained immobile.
I don’t feel anything… Brian opened his eyes and furrowed his brow.
“You look worried.” Kevin’s voice dipped in concern, then he passed Nick to stand behind Brian.
“I can’t feel her barrier.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Something that’s far away that feels a little like Nick… Bright and warm…”
Nick lowered his head and cupped Brian’s shoulder tightly. At the same time, Kevin rested his hand on Brian’s other shoulder and squeezed gently.
In an attempt to concentrate, Brian shut his eyes again. I feel it radiating off of Nick… More than just bright, his aura is bursting with the desire to meet her. And instead of just stacking, Kevin’s is swirling to meet mine. He wants to keep me safe. Maybe this will help… Maybe it will take more than strength... There! Brian’s eyes shot open. “It’s far and faint, but I feel it! A barrier that feels a little like Nick!” He thrust his hand forward and shut his eyes again. Please work!
Sapphire light exploded within the barrier, filling it with hazy brightness. It swirled around the room, clouding their sight and shrouding the city below.
“Is this supposed to happen, Brian?” Concern filled Nick’s faint voice.
“I’ve never done it from this far away, so I hope so!” Brian clenched his hand on his staff. Just a little more! Instinctively, he cupped his thumb forward. Rather than the empty air, something warm and small met his touch.
“Brian?” A quiet voice asked.
I’m absolutely sure! We made it and that’s… “Minako!”
The swirling light flickered and flared slowly, then began seeping from the barrier. As it disappeared, the craggy rock face of Brian’s ancestral home replaced the palace and Aohouseki beyond it. Their barriers had merged.
Brian cupped her hand tightly and stared into Minako’s eyes. Relief washed over him. We did it! Thank goodness!
“It worked!” AJ shouted as he ran toward the barrier.
“Brian!” Minako threw her arms around his shoulders and the barrier popped.
Brian hugged Minako tightly, then Nick threw his arms around both of them. Tears started streaming down Minako’s cheeks; Nick sniffed, then buried his face against her hair.
“You’re both so emotional. We don’t need to get so worked up.” Brian laughed, but blinked back the tears in his own eyes. We did it!
“We are relieved that the bracelets could make the difference.” Howie lowered his head and held his hand to his chest as he exhaled.
A spark pricked at Brian's chest. It began as a twinge, but flared into a sharp pain similar to a stab. He gripped it and winced. This must be that weakness…
At the same moment, Minako slumped in his arms. “Brian…”
“Are you hurt?!” Nick pulled back, gaping as his eyebrows pinched together.
Howie quickly flanked Nick. “This must be the cost! Has it injured you?”
“No, but…” Brian grimaced. “It feels like that first time in Emeradotouhou.” He gently pushed Minako toward Nick, then pulled back as he took several deep breaths. Though oxygen filled his lungs, the pain refused to subside.
Minako slumped in Nick’s arms. “Nick…”
“Minako!” Nick held her tightly against his chest. Unable to control his quickened breathing, his voice wavered. “K-Kevin…”
Already at Brian’s side, Kevin held his glowing hands to Brian’s chest and forehead. “I’m glad you both tested it out before we left. Now we know that it works and what to expect.”
AJ peered over Kevin’s shoulder, jittering between crossing and uncrossing his arms as he touched his face in various places.
The glowing sapphire webbing sprang up around Brian, but flickered as it settled against his skin. Kevin pulled his hands back and frowned.
Brian inhaled deeply. “It doesn’t hurt anymore, but it feels like I haven’t slept in days…”
While Nick continued to hold Minako steady, Kevin ran his glowing hands over her chest and forehead as well. Like Brian, the healing proved ineffective. Kevin furrowed his brow. “It seems my powers may not be as effective since this is the result from a contract for those bracelets. Minako, is this helping you at all?”
“It’s making me… happy that you’re… helping me…” As always, her smile remained warm and bright.
Kevin pulled back his hands and shut them, causing the sapphire glow to disappear. Though he attempted a neutral face, his frown forced through. “You should both rest and I’ll check on you before we leave in the morning.”
“Yeah, sounds good.” Brian rubbed his head. “Thanks, Kevin.”
“Thank… you… Kevin…” Minako continued to smile, but clutched Nick’s arms tightly.
“We apologize for this hardship.” Howie fixed his gaze on the ground.
“Minako’s right.” Brian cupped Howie’s shoulder. “We agreed knowing that something like this would happen.” He glanced at Kevin, Nick, Howie, and AJ. “I appreciate your concern, but don’t feel bad.”
Brian motioned toward the cave. “We have doctor’s orders to rest. Let’s stop worrying about it.”
Nick picked up Minako, holding her tightly to his chest as he stared at Howie. Despite his usual outbursts, he remained silent.
Howie patted Brian’s shoulder gently, but said nothing.
After one of the barrier demons standing guard opened the barrier, Brian glanced back at the others as they began walking into the cavern. He winced again, pressing his hand to his chest. Starting tomorrow, we’re definitely on a path that demands some sacrifice. Hopefully mine will be enough for all of us.
“Minako, are you sure you don’t need anything?” AJ crossed his arms and hovered outside their door.
“We apologize again.” Though Howie maintained eye contact, he fiddled with the pommel of his sword.
“I’m really okay… just tired…” I can’t let them know how much it’s hurting. They’ll just worry…
After briefly nodding to the barrier demon standing guard, Nick shoved their door open with his shoulder. “We’ll let you know. See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight…” Minako waved over Nick’s shoulder as he kicked the door closed. When it shut, she brushed her hand against his cheek. “Glad you’re back... I love you.”
“I love you too, but… Minako.” Nick’s frown reflected his stern voice. “Just tell me how you’re really feeling.” His expression softened as he gently set her on their bed.
She nuzzled against him. “It stings… and everything… feels like it’s draining… but…”
“You have to take it off! Minako!” He quickly pulled the bracelet from her wrist, then slammed it on the low shelf with a crack.
“You’ve defeated it…” She giggled, but winced afterward as the pin pricks streaked across her chest. After taking a deep breath, she reached her arms toward him. “Come back… our plan...”
“Minako…” Nick slumped beside her, his eyebrows pinched tightly. “I hate that it’s hurting you…”
“I only wanted… you tonight…” She ran her hand in his hair.
“Minako, you’re hurt…”
“Our last night… Nick…” She hoped her words were enough to convey her longing.
“You know I always want you, but if you’re hurting…” He rubbed his hands on her shoulders, then cupped her cheek.
“Just protect me… like always…” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him quickly. “It’s not hurting… so much… that I would… break a promise… with you…”
“Yes. So sure.”
“I’ll always protect you.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer.
“And I’ll always…” As she kissed him, Minako ran her hand down his chest to his abdomen, then squeezed his butt. She giggled, letting her actions fill in her words.
In response, Nick simply grinned against her lips as he pulled her sleeves from her shoulders.
Minako pulled him closer, pressing heated kisses to his lips. I can’t let this change anything. I have to keep all my promises to you and all of them. I only ever wanted to help them with this power. I don’t even need it! But this is our last night together, so I have to stop worrying about it. Tonight you get all of me and I’ll worry about everyone else starting tomorrow.
Kevin leaned on the table in the medical ward, staring absentmindedly at the shelf above it. Why couldn’t I heal them?
“Doctor, you seem troubled.” Erik’s voice pierced through his thoughts.
“I’m sorry for asking that you stay one more night in here.” Though he remained hunched, Kevin stared at the lone inhabitant in the room. Erik’s condition had only marginally improved with his assistance.
“I can see Madeline and Jacob tomorrow.” For a moment, Erik met Kevin’s gaze, but quickly returned to staring at the ceiling.
“Yes… tomorrow…” Kevin furrowed his brow and scanned the shelf of medicines before pulling some of the jars down.
“Are you concerned about running into the demon soldier?”
“To some extent. I am mainly concerned for my friends’ safety.”
“If Topazuseihou is dangerous, I will do what I can to assist them. You have my word.”
“I appreciate that.” Kevin pressed his lips into a thin line and stared at Erik again. “Why?”
“We are different factions, yet you put aside factions to honor an oath your clan made, to heal the sick. I owe you a life debt and honoring that is more important than any ties to factions.” Erik ran his hand through his hair. “You seem to place equal value on your life and theirs, so since I will be with them, I should treat them with that trust.”
“Erik, you are very honorable.”
“It’s important to honor our words with our actions.”
“I agree.” Kevin poured the herbs in a bowl, then began mixing them. “I’m relieved to hear you say that. I’m actually concerned about being separated. I know it makes sense when we have multiple and opposing objectives, but working together makes each of us stronger.”
“One day at a time, right, Doctor?” Erik closed his eyes and began breathing steadily.
“Yes, one day at a time…” Kevin glanced at him, then continued to mix the herbs before pouring them into a canister.
Have I honored my words with my actions? Why couldn’t I heal them? Were Howie’s powers blocking mine? Just like Erik’s wound isn’t fully healing… Just like Nick’s abdomen wound in Rubiihoppou... Can my powers not heal wounds caused by other demons’ powers? How do I become stronger to combat that? Minako’s powers seemed even less responsive than Brian’s… Does that mean they aren’t something that’s inherently part of her? Then where do they come from?
I can’t wallow or doubt. I need to turn these worries into training. I promised to stand beside them. They’re counting on me to be strong and focused. I must replace my doubt with strength. Starting tomorrow, I must ensure that my words always match my actions.
AJ leaned against Howie’s door. With a scrutinizing stare, he watched as Howie ran his hand along the supplies on the table. “You okay?”
“Why would we not be?” Howie’s gaze remained on the table.
“You just hurried in here after Minako and Nick said goodnight.” After swallowing, AJ glanced at the ground. “I’m worried too. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“Are the bracelets your concern?” Howie fiddled with the pommel of his sword.
“You guys wouldn’t have made them if you didn’t think it was going to be okay. I’m sure it will work out…” AJ frowned. “I am worried about the ruby demons we haven’t met…”
“Yes, the water demon with a similar personality. We hope the desert proves scorching for him, as we are unlikely to be able to make it frigid.”
“Do you think we’re right in thinking of their powers simply? There’s probably not a lot of water out there either...”
“There are very few plants, at the very least, and if Erik follows Madeline’s wishes, then his likely control of sand would benefit our party.”
“Do you think we’re making the wrong choice listening to Nick’s suspicions?” AJ crossed his arms.
“We find value in being prepared for all possibilities.”
AJ glanced at the door and frowned. “Do you think we’re wrong for not telling Minako yet?”
“Our plan is more likely to succeed if she behaves naturally rather than acting as though things have not changed.”
Remaining silent, AJ continued to stare at the door. She’d hate knowing we kept a secret from her… Even if it’s to keep her safe…
“We will both tell her when the time is right, when we know which ruby demons are trustworthy.” Howie sat at the table. “Would you care to join us for the evening to finish preparations?”
“Howie…” AJ swallowed again. “Are we assuming that there’s a chance that every other demon is untrustworthy?”
“As we said, we find value in being prepared for all possibilities. However, we do wish to believe that old companionship holds value.”
AJ stared at the ground as his hands trembled slightly. “I think I’ll go lay down. You get some rest too, Howie.”
“Rest peacefully.” Though AJ refused to look at Howie’s face, his voice carried the same gentle tone as always.
“You too.” In one fluid motion, AJ opened and closed the door so quickly that he scarcely had time to exit through it. Once he was in the hall, he exhaled deeply and hung his head. I thought so… For a moment, guilt gnawed at his heart and he raised his hand to knock on Minako and Nick’s door. Instead, he waved to the barrier demon standing guard and opened the door to the last room in the hallway. She needs to rest.
After closing the door, AJ slid down it and sat on the ground. His heart rang in his ears, but his thoughts drowned out the sound. With all these different alliances, this feels like a war… Can we really win this war? We were able to win against the emerald demons once, but… We don’t know if Justin is gathering allies too…
Now that we know the box isn’t some magical miracle, will Joseph choose them? Or will he accept all the parts of himself and realize that keeping past ties with Justin is dangerous? AJ leaned his head against the door, exhaling deeply as he shut his eyes. I have to be ready to fight beside my friends and accept either possibility… starting tomorrow.
In the council room, Brian leaned on the heirloom staff spread across his knees, breathing heavily as he stared at Virgil. “Grandfather, do you know a way to pull our power back in when we use too much of it? I was relying on Kevin, but… That doesn’t seem to be working…” He swallowed, fighting the knot in his throat.
Virgil’s body language mimicked Brian’s, except for his hard scrutinizing expression.
“Do you have any regrets about making this sacrifice?”
Brian gripped the heirloom staff tightly and pressed his lips together. “None.” He ran his hand along the back of his neck. “I’m actually hoping that if I can make this sacrifice that none of them will have to do anything like it. But…”
“I should let you know.” Another swallow forced the knot down. “It worked when we weren’t in a crisis, but we’ll be even further away the next time we try, plus whatever danger we’re escaping from.” He glanced at the ground. “If it doesn’t work, we decided coming back here would be our safest escape route if we can make it. I don’t want to put any of you in danger, but I know it would be more difficult for our enemies to get in here than inside the palace.”
“I see…” Virgil pressed his lips into a thin line, but his stare remained fixed on Brian. “So we should only allow entry to His Majesty, Her Esteemed and Honorable Eminence, the Celestial, the Healer, and the Shapeshifter unless the others arrive with any of them.”
“Please? I’ll teach Minako how to knock before we leave.”
“We will provide this sanctuary if they promise to assist should crisis arrive on our hearth.”
“I don’t think you even need to ask.”
“The ability to pull your powers back into your body is something we train before ascension to the council. It is not taught prior to this because there is typically nothing strenuous enough for it to be a necessary skill for most of our clan.” Virgil lowered his head and inhaled. “However, because you do have this need and His Majesty treats you as though you do hold a position among our council, I will teach you. I must warn you though, it requires practice, focus, and strength to complete.”
Brian held his head high and nodded.
“Close your eyes, then create and hold a barrier. It does not need to be large, but larger than your own body.”
Brian took a deep breath, then followed Virgil’s instructions. The webbed aura sprang from his body, surrounding him in its familiar protectiveness.
“Keep your eyes closed and feel your powers inside you, but also your powers forming the barrier outside your body. Rather than allowing the barrier to simply disappear, pull it back in.”
Brian took a deep breath again. I feel it surrounding me, like a soft and pliable cage. If I normally think about pulling and stretching it, this must be similar to when I create holes in it, then close them. I have to imagine the barrier squishing and shrinking. Brian clenched his hands on the heirloom staff. Keep the shield and return to me. Become one with the power resting inside again.
Brian pressed his hand to his chest. It’s small… But I feel… fuller… “Grandfather…”
“It flickered slightly, but settled among your skin, then absorbed. Did you feel it returning?”
“I did.” Brian’s eyes shot open. “Thank you, Grandfather! I will continue to practice this. You’ve helped me a lot!”
“Remain safe in your journey.” Virgil gave him a perfunctory nod.
This time, Brian mimicked Virgil’s body language. Definitely. I definitely have to stay safe so I can keep them safe. Starting tomorrow, I will become strong despite my sacrifices and become a shield for all of them.
AJ’s words lingered in Howie’s mind as he stared at the closed door.
“Howie… are we assuming that there’s a chance that every other demon is untrustworthy?”
Today, I have hurt five of my friends… Howie leaned on his hand. AJ, I absolutely believe in your loyalty and would like to believe in your companion’s loyalty as well, however… It would be dangerous to assume any of the other demons are always trustworthy. Just as it is dangerous to assume that they are always untrustworthy. Does preparing for both possibilities make me callous? I do want to support my friends in their choices, yet, they are only prepared for extremes.
With a deep inhale, Howie unsheathed his sword. The metal glinted in the light from the candles as he twisted his wrist. The moment I saw the weakness, I knew that Nick would hate it. I was surprised that he did not shout. Perhaps in the moment, he chose to focus on the outcomes rather than the origins. I did not expect a weakness that Kevin could not heal or aid. We all accepted the cost, and yet I remain unharmed because I am not creating a barrier. Have I inadvertently created death for Brian and Minako with my powers?
Dangerous powers are not to be taken lightly. Is there never a moment when they are truly helpful? Are costs and exchanges always their downfall? I cannot let my powers be responsible for injuring them or let them be injured further. I must be strong enough to ensure that they remain strong. Starting tomorrow, I must be their greatest protector even if I never use my powers again.
“Let’s do this first thing when you’re done in Emeradotouhou.” Minako brushed Nick’s sweaty hair out of his eyes, grinning as she pressed a kiss to his lips.
“I always want you. Anything for you.” He tucked her hair behind her ear and kissed her. "You were so tired, but you kept saying you wanted to… Are you sure you’re okay?” He felt his eyebrows pinching as he scanned her face.
“Nick, I’m fine. I feel a lot better now, actually.” She held both of his cheeks and pressed a lingering kiss to her lips.
“You’re glowing again…” He pushed the mirror necklace away from her chest and kissed her bare collar bone. “And you promise you feel better?”
“Am I helping? Everyone keeps saying that you feel like me… Am I still giving you more of my powers?”
“Maybe.” Minako shrugged. “Or whatever you gave me before is happy to be back near you, so it appears. If it is something you’re still sharing with me, it makes me happy.”
“If it makes you happy and makes you feel better, I’ll give you as much as you want.” He kissed her neck.
“It’s our last night together for a little while… Give me whatever you want.” Minako winked.
Nick licked his lips, then laughed. “You’re trouble. I love you.”
“I love you too.” She smiled and brushed his hair back again. “Actually, can we just… be together?”
“What do you mean?” As he leaned on his elbow, his cheek squished against his hand when his smile grew. Then, he reached out and cupped her cheek, letting the heat of her face settle against his skin.
“The sex is fun and teasing you is fun too, but now I just want to be close to you and hold you for the rest of the night until we have to leave tomorrow.” More than the warmth of her skin, her smile drew him in every time.
“Yeah, me too. Our last night together in each other's arms...” With a quick pull, the linens bunched at their feet settled at their waists. When her head leaned against his chest, he wrapped his arms and wings around her shoulders securely.
“That day you hugged me in the rain, I never wanted you to let me go. It was… the safest I’d ever felt.” As she spoke, she danced her fingers across his chest.
“With a monstrous breathing blanket?” Nick laughed quietly.
Minako giggled, then smiled that warm, inviting smile. “With a boy who thought I was scarier than bandits and still promised to protect me.”
“Bandits are easy. They fight, they pick-pocket, they scavenge.” He leaned his head on hers. “I wasn’t prepared for you. A person who would hug a monster… A girl who would befriend, then love, a demon...” Back then, his heart would have rang in his ears if he tried to tell her this truth. Now, the memory filled his heart with warmth.
She brushed his hair back. “I love a boy I befriended… who happens to be a demon. Of course it’s part of who you are, but it’s not all you are.”
He smiled and held her chin. “What will I do without you in Emeradotouhou?”
“Focus on your objectives and slay our enemies?” Minako laughed.
His lips quirked upward into a half smirk. “Have Kevin teach me how to be tranquil and stoic?” Nick swallowed. “I know it was my idea, but… I will miss you… I’ve been trying not to think about it and focus on Topazuseihou being safer, but…”
“I know… it’s always been you and me, and then all of us.” She frowned. “Madeline always seems so bitter about being here and feeling forced to be a person she’s not… And everything Renee went through too… But I never felt that way... because I had you with me the whole time. And everything always felt like it would be okay if we were together.” Though Minako brushed his hair back, the gentle touch scarcely matched the frown that formed on her lips. “I guess I felt that way once... when you told me you didn’t care what I did after we got the box. That made it feel like maybe it wouldn’t be okay, because you didn’t care if we were together or not.”
“I cared a lot,” he mumbled as he leaned against her shoulder. “You know I used to say the wrong things all the time...”
“I know. What did you say? That I should marry Howie after we got the box?” Minako smirked. “Think that’s still an option?”
“You’re teasing me. I want to say whatever makes you happy, but you already married me and I want it that way.” Nick laughed. “I’ve already admitted to you that I was just jealous. Actually, I finally told Howie that too… But, I’ll tell you hundreds of times if you want to hear it.”
“Only if you want to say it.” Minako gave him a short kiss. “I told you that I thought I loved you then. I married you. And I love you even more now than I did back then.” She smiled as she brushed her hand through his hair. “I know that everything will be okay as long as we’re together or as soon as we’re back together.”
“You’re all I ever wanted. More than the box or anything else.” He cupped her cheek. “Everything’s always okay when I have you. I will get back to you, no matter what, I promise.”
"I wish I had something I could give you while we're apart…"
Nick laced his fingers through hers, then pressed a light kiss to her ring. "This has always been enough. But I'll think of something while you're sleeping if it makes you happy."
Minako nestled closer to his chest and shut her eyes. "You should sleep while I'm sleeping."
“The last night I have to watch you and think about what you’re dreaming?” He nuzzled against her hair. “That won’t happen.”
“I don’t need to dream about anything. I have you.” She danced her hand along his chest. “Nick?”
“Hmm?” He ran his hand through her hair.
“I’ll miss you. But I’ll always be thinking about how much I love you.”
“Me too.” He grinned. “That’s the first time I’ve gotten to tell you that. It’s usually the other way around.”
Minako giggled quietly. “I love you.”
“I love you too. It’s okay if you sleep, I know you’re tired.”
“Just a little bit... then I’ll keep you company again if you’re still awake.”
“Sure.” He ran his hand through her hair again, then kissed her head before leaning against it. Meeting you and getting to go on this journey with everyone is the most important thing I have. More important than my past, more important than my powers. Being in this family is the most important thing that I am, so I will protect it with everything I can and get everyone back here safely. The sooner I do that, the sooner I can see you again, starting tomorrow.