Poppy stared at the ceiling.
The room was dark, only illuminated by the bluish light leaking through thick curtains. The moon was bright tonight, and even the blackout curtains couldn’t quite keep out its cool glow.
Kai’s arm was slung over Poppy’s torso in a way that avoided contact with her wounds, even in sleep. She drank the vneumbr several hours ago; she’d be able to sleep through the whole night without shrinking back to size.
If only she could sleep. Well, part of her wanted to sleep while the rest of her was content with staying awake. She didn’t mind restlessness if it meant staying this close to Kai and letting him hold her.
Poppy wondered just when she became such a pushover. Sure, she admittedly didn’t mind being held after her brief encounter with death earlier that day, but besides that. Something about the prince’s character had simply worn her down, she supposed.
After her eventful day, she’d simply wanted to sleep. Once she drank the potion, she asked him if he would hold her and nothing else. Kai hadn’t flinched in his agreement. He never asked for more from Poppy, nor expected it. In fact, he was downright afraid of accidentally touching her wounds and causing her more harm.
She gingerly turned toward him so they were facing each other. Her fingertips just barely grazed his near-translucent eyelashes. He had no freckles, which was strange due to his light complexion. Poppy supposed that, as the crown prince, he rarely went outside. He was almost always swamped with paperwork, so she wouldn’t doubt it if he lacked time to enjoy the sunshine. Not that she went outside plenty either.
Earlier, when Colette had knocked on the prince’s door with Poppy stowed safely in her pocket, Kai answered the door with ink smudges on the side of his face. He’d been filling out paperwork since she left him, hours ago, and had still been elbow-deep in it.
Still, at that moment he brushed his work aside like it meant nothing. He made time to scold the both of them for being so reckless, despite Colette arguing they couldn’t have foreseen such a situation. Who could have foreseen something like that?
“What’s wrong?” he murmured.
She startled to find him watching her with sleep-heavy eyes. She relaxed and brushed the side of his face with the backs of her fingertips. His stubble was rough against her skin.
“I’m just thinking. About what we saw in the vents.” And other things, but she chose to keep those topics to herself.
“Was it scary?” he asked, reaching to hold her hand in his own. Even when she was this size, his hand nearly engulfed hers.
She nodded, strands of hair falling into her face. He instinctively brushed them back and behind her ear.
“You think my father has something to do with it,” he continued on.
Poppy nodded. She’d said as much earlier, but had been too exhausted to go into specifics of her theory. Her brain had been too addled to form coherent thoughts.
“Honestly,” the prince said, his voice still thickened from sleep. “I wouldn’t be surprised. You’re right about how he’s always been amazingly perceptive of things. I just never paid too much mind to it, assuming it was just him being him.”
“Yeah,” Poppy breathed. The subject drained her, yet she felt as though she wouldn’t actually be able to sleep until she spoke it out loud. “There are...ways. For people without fae blood to control magic.”
The prince raised a brow. “So you don’t think he’s just a hypocrite who hired someone to magically manipulate a rat’s genes? Maybe even give him heightened senses?”
Poppy frowned. “No, I don’t think that. It’s plausible he hired someone to cast a sensory charm on him, but I feel like he wouldn’t trust anyone enough to do such a thing. After all, magic is so expansive and erratic… if someone were to change a syllable, they could kill him on the spot.”
She shook her head. “No, he wouldn’t put his life on the line. Not when he could easily be killed either by accident or on purpose.”
They both spoke in hushed tones. Whether it was because of the mutinous subject matter or because of the hour, Poppy wasn’t sure. It felt like they were separated from the rest of the world in their own, private bubble.
“Then, what’s your theory?” he asked.
She bit her lip and pretended not to notice how his eyes flicked hungrily down to her mouth for a moment. “I think,” she began hesitantly, “that he’s practicing the forbidden arts.”
She nodded. “The arcane. It’s magic which very few people know about because of how suppressed it is. The fae didn’t want the average magicker to know that such powerful, even forbidden spells existed.”
His brows screwed together in a concerned manner. “So how could my father use arcane magic if he has no magic of his own?”
“A large amount of arcane spells are forbidden because they require no magic. The magic lies in the spell itself, the incantation. The spell just requires a vessel in order to make the magic come forth.”
“So,” Kai trailed “in a way, that person is letting the magic use him?”
“Precisely. Think about Colette's talisman; it requires her blood even though it still contains its own magic. These arcane spells are similar, except much more dangerous. If the vessel is too weak or not of the right caliber, they can be purged. Erased. If this is indeed what your father is doing, then he must have immense confidence in himself.”
“I’d say he’s the only person he fully trusts.”
“Well, there you go,” Poppy huffed and turned onto her back. “He’d probably rather die by his own hands on accident than by anyone else.”
The prince idly ran his finger in light lines across her arm. “If my father created that monstrosity in order to kill you, I’ll have to dispose of him.”
Poppy’s heart skipped a beat. She flicked her eyes to observe her prince.
His eyes had taken on a new light, and they pierced right through her. She’d never seen him make an expression such as this.
“Don’t say things like that,” she sighed and placed her hand against his face. When she leant up to do this, her wounds throbbed and she cringed.
“Don’t move,” Kai said and carefully pressed her back onto the mattress. “You’ll reopen your wounds. You’re lucky you didn’t need stitches.”
She waved him off. “I’ll be fine. Tomorrow, when I have all my energy back, I’ll find a spell to fix them. If only the spells weren’t so specific about what kinds of injuries they healed!” She huffed in exasperation. "It'd be easier if there was a cure-all spell."
The prince grinned at her and leaned down to press a soft, lingering kiss to her forehead. Poppy’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment. His breath smelled of mint and something herbal.
“Go to sleep,” he murmured. “We’ll figure this out in the morning.”
Poppy did as she was told and closed her eyes. Felt his powerful arms wrap around her as a protective barrier against the outside world.