The next morning brought heavy rains and bright flashes of lightening over the dense forest which hid the small rebel group, the roar of thunder filling the air every few minutes and awakening most of the camp at an early hour. Nathan was no exception, having risen from his bed well before sunrise, though his inability to go back to sleep came more from nervousness than the storm raging outside. Aliya was coming to his tent that afternoon, after all, and he wanted everything to be perfect.
When he'd looked around his tent and realized what a mess it was, clothes, traveling equipment, and weapons strewn everywhere across the floor, Nathan had panicked and gone on an early morning cleaning spree, quickly folding the clothing out of sight and arranging his other belongings as best he could, where they wouldn't get in the way. He made sure there was a place for the two of them to sit, as well as enough light from his small lantern, since the sun would be no help that day. After an hour of arranging, then rearranging his things, Nathan was finally satisfied with the appearance of his temporary home. That left his own appearance to worry about.
He didn't have much of a wardrobe, none of them did, but he managed to change clothes three times before settling on his usual pair of shorts and a white shirt that tied across the front, slipping on his sandals before brushing his hair for nearly ten minutes. He looked dejectedly at his techno-organic arm for long minutes before admitting tthat she already knew about his virus, and that there was nothing he could do to cover it up short of telepathy, which she would be able to sense anyway. Sighing, he walked to the entrance of his tent and carefully opened the flap, sitting down Indian-style just out of the rain to wait once he had fastened it off to one side.
"Aliya will not be arriving for well over an hour, Nathan. To be exact, one hour, 23 minutes, and 42 sec--"
"I know that, Professor," Nathan interrupted with a slight frown of annoyance. "I just want to wait here, that's all."
"You are quite tense and nervous," the Professor persisted, his tone as curious as it ever got. "This is an important day for you."
"Yeah, well... Maybe..." Nathan trailed off with a nervous sigh, leaning his chin forward to rest atop his hands, elbows propped up on his knees as he stared off into the falling rain and thought of all the things that could go wrong that day. Nothing the Professor said could calm his nerves as he waited, the thunder serving as a perfect backdrop for his worried thoughts.
Nathan didn't move from his watchful position until noon came, the rain not having let up, bolts of lightening streaking across the sky and barely missing some of the tallest trees. He briefly wondered how much damage would result if one of them were to be struck and fall toward the camp, but decided that he already had more than enough on his mind and dismissed the thought.
At ten minutes past he began to fidget, wondering why Aliya hadn't arrived yet. Maybe she changed her mind, he thought, and decided she didn't want to come and teach him after all. Maybe she had only told him that the day before to get him to leave. Maybe the more she thought it over, the more she realized how unattractive and strange she found him to be. Just as his chest began to tighten with tension and self-doubt and he considered standing and shutting himself inside his tent to sulk for the day, a movement through the rain caught his attention. With the aide of his techno-organic eye, he was able to focus and make out a figure, swiftly moving through the storm in his direction. It was her. Nathan's heart leapt with joy. She was coming after all. He grinned widely and cursed himself for ever doubting her word.
Even as she ran across the camp, the falling rain soaking her hair and the simple cream colored dress she wore, Nathan thought she was the most beautiful creature to ever walk the Earth. The rain made her look even more innocent somehow, and the way her wet clothing clung to her skin only served to further accent her perfect figure. Nathan shyly looked down into his lap as she came close enough to see him sitting there, just out of the storm. A moment later, she stood before him, dripping wet as she continued to stand in the rain, glancing down at him expectantly as he only stared back and grinned like a fool.
"Well, are you going to invite me in, or should I just stand out in the rain all day?" she finally asked with mild irritation, frowning slightly as the rain dripped down her face. Nathan blinked, then finally comprehended her words, his mouth dropping open in horror at his poor manners.
"Oh! Yeah! Of course! Come in before you get even more wet!"
"Not possible," Aliya muttered, stepping beside him and into the shelter of his tent. When he didn't move, his face bright red and his hands clenched in his lap, Aliya sighed and sat down next to him just inside the opening, looking out into the trees. Nathan froze when she sat so close to him, afraid to speak or move for fear of doing something wrong. He was greatly relieved when it was she who spoke again, breaking the awkward silence that had thus far been interupted only by claps of thunder.
"Storms are exciting, aren't they?" she asked quietly, wrapping her arms across her chest after brushing away a few wet strands of hair from her face. Nathan paused a moment, considering his response, then turned to her and nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, they are. I don't know why, but all the thunder helps me to think better," he answered, studying her while trying not to be too obvious about it. As his eyes passed over her, though, he noticed the way she had wrapped her arms around herself, seeing the goose bumps covering her skin and the way her bottom lip trembled slightly, as if her teeth were chattering and she was trying hard to disguise it. "Hey... Aliya, you're shivering," he said with concern, instantly hopping to his feet a moment later.
"No, no, I'm fine," she insisted, though when she spoke her voice shook a bit with cold. She appeared annoyed with herself, causing Nathan to smile and walk to the rear of his tent, producing a thick blanket from one corner. She was every bit as stubborn and proud as he was, and for some reason, he found the traits to be incredibly attractive when it came to her in recent days.
"Don't worry about it," he said, returning to her side to stand above her. "Here, take this. It'll help warm you while you dry."
Aliya looked up uncomfortably, but managed a tense smile. "Thank you, Nathan," she said, her eyes shining as they met his. He smiled back, feeling a nervous excitement run through his body as he bent down and gently wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. He lingered just a moment longer than necessary with his arms around her before quickly pulling away and returning to the place he had been sitting at her side. Glancing over at her after a period of silence, he found that she had stopped shivering and appeared much more comfortable, and smiled with satisfaction.
"I guess it is pretty cold out there, especially when you're soaked," Aliya admitted with a grin, pulling the blanket tightly around her as she looked his way again. You didn't have to worry about me, though. And now you have a wet blanket."
"Well, maybe I wanted to worry about you," Nathan said a bit too forcefully, blushing the moment the words were out. "You're my teacher, after all," he quickly added. "I don't need you sick or dead from the flu before you pass on what you know." He grinned teasingly at her and was pleased when she rolled her eyes in response.
"Well, thanks anyway," she said genuinely, tilting her head slightly and meeting his eyes once more. They stared at each other for long moments, each wondering what the other was thinking while trying to hide their own emotions, before Aliya finally sighed and slowly shook her head. "You know," she started, looking down and absently winding an corner of the blanket around her fingers. "When I first met you, I thought you were a real jerk. An arrogant jerk. An arrogant jerk with a really big--"
"Okay, okay, I get the idea," Nathan muttered, propping up his chin on one hand and throwing her an exasperated, sideways glare, to which she responded with a smirk and mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "And I thought you were annoying and stubborn and a real pain in the neck," he returned, though he didn't really mean it. "What's your point?"
Aliya flushed a little, then hesitantly reached out from under the blanket with one arm, softly placing a hand atop his closest shoulder. Nathan tensed with surprise, his eyes wide as he watched her reflect over her next words. "Well," she said quietly, as if debating whether or not to continue on with the statement, "I just wanted to tell you that... You're a lot different than I thought. After we linked minds yesterday, I learned a lot more about you and why you act the way you do. It all makes sense now, and... I guess I've come to like talking with you now. We're a lot more alike than I ever would have thought."
Nathan stared at her in surprise for nearly a minute as she looked away into the storm, blushing fiercely and shaking ever-so-slightly. Finally, he swallowed hard, then reached up to remove her hand from his shoulder, instead holding it in his as he tried to find the right words.
"I guess I didn't expect you to say that," he said in nearly a whisper. "I didn't think you'd ever stop hating me."
"I never hated you!" Aliya exclaimed, allowing him to hold onto her hand. "I just didn't know you very well... And you made me nervous."
"I made you nervous?" he asked in disbelief. "And all this time I thought it was just the other way around..."
"Or course you did. Because I... I think you're a really nice person, Nathan. And you're cute, too."
Nathan beamed when she looked away again, turning even more red than before. Her words had given him a sudden confidence despite the shock they had caused him, and he held her hand just a bit tighter. "You are the most wonderful person I have ever met," he admitted, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from his chest even as he fought down his nervousness. "And the most beautiful." His words couldn't begin to express everything he was feeling then, the mix of nervousness, excitement, and fear rising within, but he had said them and admitted his true feelings for her after denying them nearly since they had met. Shyly, he dared to look her way again and found her to be smiling as well.
When their eyes met, each staring at the other in disbelief and awe, Nathan lifted his free hand to rest against her cheek, finding it every bit as warm and soft as he had imagined in countless dreams. He was still surprised when she didn't push him away, but instead brought her arm to his shoulder, her other hand still held tightly in his. Cautiously, each began to move just a bit closer until they were side by side, held close in each other's arms. They stayed that way for long moments before Nathan shyly lifted her chin and leaned down to softly kiss her lips, filled with relief and joy when she returned it. It lasted for long moments before they slowly broke apart, each a bit breathless and flushed with embarrassment.
"This is better than arguing all the time, you know," Nathan told her, only half joking, as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her close to his side. She laughed lightly, leaning against him, still draped in the blanket though his touch had already served to chase away the lingering cold.
"For once, Nathan, I agree with you," she said with a teasing smile, resting her head against his shoulder as each looked out at the storm once again, suddenly not feeling quite so threatened or alone despite the violence of nature surrounding them.
"That's a first. Do you also agree that we can postpone my lesson just a little bit?" he asked hopefully, his mind peaceful as he held her protectively at his side. For once, she didn't seem to resent it or take it as an insult to her strength, allowing herself to relax and enjoy the closeness.
"All right," she agree with a contented yawn, closing her eyes as he softly rubbed her back through the blanket. "But not for too long. We have a war to fight, after all."
"I know... And if you're right, it's my destiny to lead this thing. I'm not about to let everyone down now, not after all we've risked so far. And as hopeless as it's seemed up to now... I think the odds just got a little bit brighter."
Nathan and Aliya shared a smile, looking at each other in a new light as each shed the barriers they'd built between them and allowed the other to see who they really were. His arm around her, feeling the warmth of her body against his, Nathan Dayspring smiled as he watched her fall asleep in his arms, deciding he could weather any storm that crossed his path as long as she was at his side.
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