"Meaning what?" he asked too softly, taking a step toward her.
"If you were capable of infidelity, it would be easier to believe you were staying with me because you wanted to stay and not because you felt you had to stay."
"What in the name of Hell are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about you… and me." Pain flickered in Jaenelle's eyes before she looked away. "I know I don't look… that a man wouldn't be attracted…"
"Damn you."He didn't think about it. He grabbed the back of a stuffed chair and let his rage flow.
The chair exploded. Startled, Jaenelle stumbled back a step.
Daemon smiled bitterly. He'd instinctively created a bubble shield to contain the debris so that nothing sprayed over the room, so that not even the smallest sliver would strike Jaenelle and possibly harm her.
But that release was enough to shift ice to heat, so he snapped the leash that held his temper. "Is that why you've been pushing me away? Because of how youlook?" He moved away from her, needing whatever distance he could get within the confines of the room as the insult churned through him. "I waited for you my whole life. Yearned for you my whole life. After Tersa told me you were coming, I spentseven hundred years searching for you in the court of every Queen who had bought my service as a pleasure slave. I searched in every Territory in Terreille that was within reach of wherever I'd been sent. For you. For Witch. For dreams made flesh. I never gave a damn what you might look like…tall, short, fat, thin, plain, beautiful, ugly. Why would I care what you looked like? The flesh was the shell that housed the glory. It was a way to connect with you, please you, be with you. Even if I couldn't be your physical lover, there are other ways to be a lover, and I know them all. So don't stand there and tell me what I feel for you depends onhow you look !"
"Doesn't it?"Jaenelle snapped, her voice shaking with anger and hurt. "I'm healed, but you still can't bring yourself to touch me, can't even hold my hand…"
"Do you think it's because I don't want to?" Daemon roared. "Ican't touch you!" His breathing hitched, surprising him, as the guilt he'd tried to lock away broke through. "It made me sick when I realized that no matter how careful I was, I couldn't touch you without hurting you, that even the lightest brush of my fingers left bruises smeared on your arms and hands, that when I helped you sit up in bed, there would be dark bruises in the shape of my hands on your back and shoulders. Every time I touched you, I hurt you, drained more of your strength because there was something else you had to heal."
"That's not…"Jaenelle paused. Then she sighed. "In the beginning, that was true. Everything was so… frail… it didn't take much to cause damage. But I did heal. It's been months since I've been that fragile."
He heard the words, but pain drove him now, forcing him to say what he'd hoped he'd never have to admit. "You suffered. Every moment you were awake, every move you made… you suffered." He still couldn't bear thinking of how much worse it had been when she'd first risen from the healing webs. How had Ladvarian, Kaelas, and the rest of the kindred who had cared for her endured watching her suffer?
Tears filled his eyes. "I understand why you want me out of your life. Sweetheart, I do understand. But I'd hoped you could forgive me."
Jaenelle s anger faded, but the hurt was still there. "Forgive you for what?"
"You suffered… because of me. You rose up from the healing webs too soon… because of me."
Horror began filling her eyes. "Daemon…"
The tears fell. He choked back a sob. "They told me you would come back, but I didn't believe them. Couldn't believe them. I wanted you so much, needed you so much… and you came back too soon. Because of me."
"That isn't true. The healing webs had done all they could and…"
"Liar." He waited, but she didn't deny it. She couldn't…and they both knew it. "You could have stayed longer in the healing webs, could have given your body more time to mend. But you never could withstand a plea for help from someone you cared about. And a cry of pain from me?" He shook his head. "You would have answered that cry no matter what it cost you. You paid the price for my doubts, and there was nothing I could do to make it up to you."
"Do you want to try another lie and tell me you didn't hear me calling to you in the abyss?" he asked bitterly.
Jaenelle's hands curled into fists. "Yes, I heard you. How could Inot hear you? Begging. Pleading. I could feel you breaking under the pain."
"So you rose out of the healing webs too soon and then discovered the flesh was barely able to survive despite how much healing had already been done."
"Yes, I rose too soon…and then there was no going back. After that, the healing had to be done from within…and done in a way that only I had the skill to do. But it wasn't just you, Daemon. Did you think you were the only voice calling to me, pleading with me to come back?You were one voice among hundreds. All of them wanting me to return. I could feel Lucivar's and Saetan's yearning, the coven's grief, the boyos fear that, without me there as a connection for all of them, the Shadow Realm would splinter again, that most of the kindred would retreat from human contact again. And the kindred… They didn't want to let go of the dream either, and they held on with everything in them. All of you call-ing, pleading, hoping that love could do what shouldn't have been possible. Hell's fire, Daemon. I'm a Healer. I know better than you ever will what happened to this flesh when I got hit with the backlash of power still left in those webs I'd created. Iknew the healing would be hideous and painful, and that after everything was done that could be done, I might not have anything better than a shell that would exist but never really be able to live." Jaenelle's eyes filled with tears. "But sometimes," she added, her voice breaking, "love is worth whatever price must be paid."
Daemon turned away. He should have felt relieved that it wasn't his fault…at least, not his alone. But her words had numbed him. No pain now, no anger. Nothing. "So you loved them enough to come back."
A long silence. Then Jaenelle said, "No. I came back for you."
He looked at her, not quite trusting enough to hope… or believe. But the emotional pain in her eyes now was more devastating than any physical suffering he'd seen.
"I came back for you," Jaenelle said, tears streaming down her face. "Because you were worth the price."