by Kadorienne (moggy-at-belladonna-dot-org)
The three of us walked shakily up the steps to the Van Tassel manor. Never before had it been so quiet, so tomblike. Katrina doubtless had the same thought, because she shivered. I found the audacity to put a reassuring arm about her shoulders, and she consented to the contact as if it were a matter of course. My chest tightened.
"Sir." Young Masbath's voice broke the heavy silence.
"Do you mind if I go away for a bit?" The boy licked his lips. "I want… I want to go and tell my father… that we avenged him."
I clasped his shoulder for a moment. "By all means. Take all the time that… you feel you need."
The boy gave me a tearful look. "Thank you. For everything," he whispered before turning to walk back to the stable.
"Take any horse you like," Katrina called softly after him.
"Do you think we ought to…."
"I think he wishes to do this alone," she replied.
My arm was still about her shoulders. I found myself feeling a possessiveness I had no true right to. Not yet. I swallowed.
"Let's get you to a fire," I said softly.
There were still some glowing embers in the hearth of the room where she liked to read late at night, the one where I had found her reading The Knights of the Round Table. With hands that trembled from fatigue and from fear of what lay ahead in the next hour, I piled wood onto the embers and coaxed a blaze from them. When I rose from the task, she was sitting on the sofa, her arms wrapped around herself, looking at me. Her eyes read my soul. Whatever happened after this moment, I would still belong to her forever.
Hesitantly, I sat down beside her. I felt that I was being quite forward, but she promptly moved closer and embraced me. My arms returned the embrace gratefully, finding their proper foreordained place around her.
"You saved me," she whispered.
I found the daring to stroke her lovely, disheveled hair. "But only just. Forgive me, Katrina – curse me for a fool, but I actually believed that you…."
"And you did not arrest me, or tell anyone. And… you detected the truth in time."
"Thank God! If anything had happened to you, Katrina, I would have…." I could not finish. "You must let me keep you safe, my love, always–"
I stopped. She drew back, her mysterious eyes enormous, looking up at me, waiting.
I floundered for a moment before taking refuge in playfulness. "Katrina… New York is, indeed, wonderful."
She dimpled. She understood me already. But she said nothing.
"There are museums, and concert halls, and operas – you would love it." She smiled, and I found myself returning the smile. I dropped the nonsense. "Katrina – I am only a penniless detective. I have nothing to offer a woman, save a quest that annoys everyone who knows me—"
"I admire your quest," she asserted. "And you also have… yourself. Which should be enough for any woman."
My heart leapt into my throat. "Then you'll – oh, God, I'm doing this all wrong. Forgive me. I never expected to be saying this to any woman…."
"Ichabod," she prompted gently, "what is it you are trying so hard to talk me out of?"
She knew, of course. But she wanted me to say it, and such was only her due. I gathered all my courage, more than I had ever needed in my life.
"Katrina… my love… I know that you have scores of other choices, but I would do anything to make you happy. I…." It took me a moment to make my voice continue, to plunge headfirst into the unknown. But once my lips began to move, it all seemed perfectly right. "I love you. Will you marry me?"
For a second I feared I would faint again. She smiled tearfully and spoke in a whisper.
"Yes, Ichabod Crane, I will marry you."
I could find no words adequate to respond, to tell her what joy, what honor she was giving me. But we moved quite naturally, without either of us willing it, into each other's arms, and my lips found another way of telling her what I wished to as they met hers for the first time.