“Well,” Mikaelo began, and then he stopped. He opened his mouth again, stopped, and then turned away from her partially. Alessandra was fascinated. Mikaelo was always calm, cool and collected. She had never seen him flustered before, ever.
“Mikaelo,” she said, “are you blushing?”
“I…um…well…no! Of course not!” Mikaelo stammered. “Well, uh…okay, fine, I guess I am.” Alessandra stood up from her desk and a coy smile appeared on her face.
“Mikaelo?” she said. “What is going on?”
“Alessa, I…well, I like you. A lot. And…well…,” he trailed off.
“Mikaelo, I like you too,” Alessandra said, and then she kissed him. Mikaelo’s eyes widened in shock, and he stiffened, but then quickly he relaxed and wrapped his arms around her. They stood like that for quite a while, arms wrapped around each other and lips pressed together. Finally, Mikaelo pulled away and took a deep breath, while still keeping his arms wrapped around her.
“Wow, I…I wasn’t expecting that,” Mikaelo said.
“You really are a dunce, aren’t you?” Alessandra said fondly. “How could you not know that I felt the same way?”
“Hey now,” Mikaelo said, pretending to look offended. “That’s really not fair. You’ve been so busy with Clan Master business that we’ve barely said two words to each other in the past two months. Plus, there was the whole business with me physically throwing you out of the clan…”
“Mikaelo, I’ve told you again and again, I’m not mad at you about that,” Alessandra said in a tone that mixed fondness with exasperation. “You were doing your duty. I would have done the same thing if our positions were swapped.”
“I know, I know,” Mikaelo sighed. “That’s doesn’t meant I don’t feel terrible about it.”
“As you should!” Alessandra cried, and then she laughed. “But it’s all over and done with now, and really, things turned out for the best!”
“I suppose they did,” Mikaelo said with a sigh.
“Uh oh,” Alessandra frowned. “What’s wrong now?”
“I mean…well…I was a little disappointed when you didn’t make me a Clan Leader,” Mikaelo said, slightly sheepishly. This time it was Alessandra’s turn to sigh.
“I know,” she said, letting go of him and turning away. “You were one of only three people I considered, believe me. I came so close to picking you. But I didn’t want people to think I was favoring my friends. Everybody knows that we’re close.”
“I understand,” Mikaelo said. “I’m not mad. I just…well, I just thought it meant that you were still bitter about what happened.”
“What? No!” Alessandra exclaimed, whipping around to face him again. “Please, stop thinking about that Mikaelo. I tell you, it’s over, it’s done, and I’ve forgiven you completely. In fact, you never did anything that required forgiveness.”
“Okay,” he said softly, and then smiled at her look of disapproval. “Okay!” he said in a cheerier voice. “It’s over. It’s done. I’ve forgotten all about it. What were we talking about again?” She rolled her eyes at this, and he grinned. Almost immediately, it disappeared though, and was replaced with a somber look.
“Oh no,” Alessandra said. “I know that look. That’s your ‘deep-in-thought’ look.”
“Yeah,” Mikaelo said absently, and then he shook his head and focused on her.
“Alessa, do you…do you ever think about Kriesaio?” he asked.
“What? All the time!” Alessandra replied, startled. “But why bring him up now?”
“I loved him, you know,” Mikaelo said, not quite meeting her eyes. “He was like a mentor to me. He was my best friend, taught me almost everything I know.” He paused for a moment, and then turned away from her. “But I hated him too.”
“What? You hated him? Why?” Alessandra asked, shocked and puzzled.
“Because I loved you,” Mikaelo said simply. Alessandra stared at him for a moment, still puzzled, and then it clicked.
“You were jealous,” she said softly, and Mikaelo nodded. “But why bring this up now?”
“Guilty conscience, I guess?” Mikaelo said with a shrug. “I was devastated when Kriesaio died. But I was also happy. Because it meant I finally had a chance with you.”
“It’s not your fault he died,” Alessandra said quietly.
“I suppose not,” Mikaelo said with another shrug, still not looking at Alessandra. “But maybe I could have done more to convince him not to challenge Bezzum. I mean, the thought definitely crossed my mind that you would be available if he died.”
“But you didn’t give him the idea, did you?” Alessandra said, her voice soft but dangerous.
“No!” Mikaelo exclaimed. “Of course not! I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t want him to die! I just…well, I could see the advantages if he did.”
“I see,” Alessandra said, and then she was silent for awhile. Mikaelo still didn’t look at her, and after a minute or two he spoke again.
“You’re not…mad at me…are you?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“No,” Alessandra said after a moment, and she shook her head. “No, you can’t help feeling the way you feel. And I don’t think you could have talked him out of it. I tried my hardest, but he was convinced he could win. I don’t know that you would have had any luck.”
“You’re probably right,” Mikaelo said with a deep sigh. He and Alessandra were silent again after that, but the silence only lasted a few moments before it was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Alessandra said, and the door opened to admit Meela. “Ah, you decided to knock this time! I see you’re learning some manners.”
“Well, I didn’t want to walk in on anything,” Meela replied with a roguish wink.
“Not to worry, Clan Leader,” Mikaelo said with a salute. “I was just leaving.” He turned to Alessandra and saluted her as well. “Thank you for the discussion, Clan Master. It was most enlightening.” Alessandra nodded in response, and Mikaelo left, closing the door behind him.
To be continued…