When he felt Alexandria kiss his calloused hands, he settled slowly onto the ground beside her, a small smile on his face. When she turned to look at him, he ran a hand through her newly cut hair.
"I'm sorry," he said softly in reply to her statement. "I'm sorry it came to this." Somehow their hands found each other again and their fingers danced gently around each other as he spoke. He looked at their hands as he did so. "Sometimes I worry that this is all my fault."
For a long moment they sat in silence. He tightened his grip on her hand and looked back to her features dancing in the firelight. "Even if that were true... I can't say I would change anything. I've never been able to be selfish. Until you..."
One of his hands found the side of her face and his thumb gently grazed her cheek. He leaned in slowly, lingered a moment, and then finally kissed her.
For a moment she caressed her hair gently allowing her fingertips to brush through her length hair one last time before she felt Marcus move behind her. Her hands retreated to rest upon her knee and as she heard the sound of his blade being taken from its resting place, she closed her eyes subconsciously.
[i It is just hair. It is just hair.] She told herself over and over again as each new piece fell from her. The smell of burning hair filled the air around them and she found silent tears leaving her eyes. She didn't want to cry but the stress of the day finally hit her and as Marcus gently took care of her length she focused on making the tears stop. The last thing she wanted was to make Marcus feel guilty for keeping them safe and doing what he must to help them conceal her identity.
Soon enough it was over and Marcus' hands resting gently upon her shoulders and gave them a reassuring squeeze. Impossible, but somehow she felt lighter with her new shoulder length hair but she would get used to it and for now, it would keep them safe.
Alexandria lent back into Marcus and took his hands from her shoulders and brought them to her mouth so that she could press a kiss upon them. The moment between them was intimate but it was short as she pulled away, allowing Marcus to move to a more comfortable position rather than allowing him to rest upon his knees for much longer.
She turned to face him and took in his saddened face and she reached out to take his hand once more. "Thank you for keeping me safe."
Marcus smiled softly. Sadly. He didn't want to take any more from Alexandria, but he knew this would be for the better. He watched her run her hands through her hair as if saying goodbye before moving to kneel behind her, drawing his dagger from his side.
He gathered all of her auburn hair to her back. He hoped he wouldn't make a mess of this with only the firelight to see and a dagger to cut. But it was better to get this out of the way as soon as possible.
Not wanting to hurt her, he separated her hair into pieces to make it easier for the both of them. Of course they both knew that Marcus had no skill in cutting hair, but whatever they were left with would have to do. After all, it wasn't often that common people had any better.
After taking a deep breath, he began to saw at the hair with the dagger, cutting it to shoulder length. He felt the loose strands start to fall to the ground, slipping through his fingers. When he was done with the first bundle of her hair, he took what was still clasped in his hand and tossed it toward the fire. He knew it was a long shot, but he didn't want anyone to track them or know that they had done this.
He started on the next bit of her hair, taking care to be as gentle as he possibly could be. Each time, he would toss the hair in the fire which would brighten the fire for a few short seconds.
Finally, he finished cutting the last bit of her hair. It, too, went into the fire. He took in his work, pulling the hair together to see how even it was. It would have to do. His hands fell to meet her shoulders and he gave them a comforting squeeze.
Alexandria wouldn't have been able to guess how long they had been travelling for and the silence between them had become normal for the journey. The silence was more due to the lack of knowing what to say. She had to leave her whole life behind and Marcus had to leave behind his friend who had not long been attacked. She hated that he had to leave him because of her and so within the silence, her guilt only deepened.
She kept her arms wrapped around his waist for stability and stared at the passing scenery until eventually their journey came to a pause. The darkness surrounded them now and as the horse came to a halt Alexandria took a deep breath. She barely even noticed that the sun had set in the sky because she had been so lost in her thoughts and her guilt. As Marcus climbed down, Alexandria attempted to take in her surroundings, but she struggled to see much but when she focused she could make out the slight outline of a tree. Of course they wouldn't have stopped in any of the towns nearby because they were still too close to home. Even with the ground they had covered in the day, her father was well known far and wide and so was she. That began to concern her.
She took hold of Marcus as he helped her down from the horse and made sure both of her feet were stable before letting go of his frame and she watched as he set up somewhere for them to sleep and as he collected wood from nearby. He wouldn't leave her anywhere that was out of his sight and she was grateful for that; After all, this was her first time sleeping outside.
After a while Alexandria set down next to Marcus but didn't eat like Marcus did. She had lost her appetite after the events of the day. It was then that Marcus spoke to her and the sound of his voice increased the comfort that his very presence brought to her. She knew that at some point they would have to change her appearance slightly and even though her hair had become something that she loved and cared for dearly, it also screamed high born.
"Yes, we should do that. I don't want to risk putting us in any danger and if cutting it helps, then I'll do it."
Marcus kept the horse directed away from what they both had come to call home. There was this odd pull telling him to turn back, but he knew he could not let it consume him. After a while, he took them off the path, hoping that if they avoided the roads, they wouldn't encounter anyone.
They rode in silence for a long while. Even if Marcus felt like speaking, he wouldn't know what to say. He wasn't sure there were even words for this kind of situation that wouldn't seem pointless to utter.
Marcus didn't stop until the sun began to set. They had passed several small towns which no doubt had inns they could stay in. But Marcus decided they were still too close to the villa and she might be recognized. So, he directed them into the woods instead. After finding a nice, flat clearing, he finally pulled on the reigns, making the horse stop. He could feel its powerful lungs breathing deeply, grateful for a chance to rest.
Marcus climbed down and helped Alexandria down after so she wouldn't stumble in the new darkness. They still had hardly said a word to one another, though it wasn't a hostile silence, just a sad one. He pulled the bed roll from the back of the horse and laid it out for her before going to fetch some firewood. In a few minutes he had set up a fire and a decent camp. After sitting down and eating a small ration of food, Marcus spoke for the first time.
"I think... we might need to disguise you better," he offered his idea gently. He knew that no common woman would have such well kept and long hair for starters. He looked over at her to gauge her reaction. "Would you be okay with cutting your hair?" Still, his voice was soft.
Alexandria smiled as she watched Marcus slowly wake up from the comfortable sleep he had seemed to drift into and laughed as he stretched and check that he didn't drool on her.
"Nope, drool free I believe." She said in reply as they both fell back into the comfortable silence that seemed so easy when they were together. It was such a relief to not have to be so switched on all the time, trying the please the other person in the relationship and that made this so special. Both of them were happy in each others company that constant conversation was not needed to fill any arising awkward silences. The rest of the journey to their hotel was testament to that and when they arrived she couldn't help but smile.
It had been so long since she had been on vacation and she had been able to convince Marcus that their first time away should be special and that meant that they paid a little more but since they split the cost that didn't seem to matter. Alexandria looked around the lobby of the hotel while Marcus checked them in and she was so taken aback by the beauty of it that she didn't realise how quickly Marcus had managed to get the key to their beach hut.
When she laid eyes on it all the excitement she had ever felt came rushing to the surface and he felt like a fool with a massive smirk upon her face and only for a moment, she held that excitement back while they entered the hut and placed their luggage in their room. The way Marcus looked at her now bought all that excitement out and she couldn't contain herself anymore as she ran towards him and placed her arms around him.
"This is amazing Marcus. Thank you so much for doing this with me. I promise you this will be the best vacation you have ever had!"
Marcus slept peacefully and dreamlessly and not even the rise and fall of Alexandria's chest and shoulders or the flight attendant's sweet words dared to wake him. He would take her shoulder over a pillow any day.
He only stirred when he heard Alexandria's lilting voice and the squeeze of her hand, letting him know they were about to land. His eyes fluttered open and he sat up slowly, stretching as far as he was capable while stifling a yawn.
He looked over at Alexandria and saw that her shoulder was red from where he had been leaning against it for so long.
"Sorry," he said softly, running his thumb over it. "At least I didn't drool on you," he added with a laugh. "... Did I?" he asked with mock concern and another chuckle.
He glanced out of the window past Alexandria and saw the skyline was closer now than when last he looked. He could also see the ocean. It felt to Marcus like an eternity since he had last seen it. Or even been on a vacation in general. Freelance work didn't often give the time for it. It wasn't until this moment that he truly realized how much he needed this and how excited he was.
The landing was swift and uneventful and it only took a few minutes for them to get off the plane, carrying their luggage with them. He was glad they packed light, seeing how busy the baggage claim was. They walked right past, through the lobby, and out the doors. He hailed the first taxi they saw and were on their way to the hotel they had booked.
He was so glad that they could go through these motions with hardly a word to each other. It was as if they moved as one, able to read each other's movements and follow suit. He had never had that kind of relationship before and sometimes it left him breathless.
He paid the cab and together, hand in hand, with luggage in tow, they stepped into the hotel. He felt a little guilty at how nice the place was, but Alexandria wouldn't let him be the only one paying for the trip, to which he was grateful. When a clerk got to them, he explained that they were renting one of the beach houses and they were checked in, given a key, and told which house was theirs.
With a smile at each other, they started on their way, only to find themselves in a secluded spot in a grassy area beside the beach. The house was one floor with a fake straw roof, and when they stepped inside, the interior was clean and well decorated. The front of the house had large windows that looked out onto the beach with large, room darkening curtains for privacy.
Marcus turned to Alexandria and a smirk formed on his face.
The silence between them was momentary and the gentle, yet passionate kiss that followed his reply made her heart skip a beat as he felt like a love sick teenager and any fear she had that he might not return her feelings melted away. True they had spent months practically living together and there was never really a conversation where they discussed main their relationship official, it just kind of happened; they still hadn't said those word to each other but now that they had, she was sure they would never stop. Alexandria was also sure of one other thing; her smile would remain upon her lips for the rest of the flight.
It wasn't long until the plane took off and the two drifted in and out of conversation during the light until eventually Marcus fell asleep on her shoulder with his had curled around her own. This as all that she ever wanted and she would do anything to keep this in her life. Soon enough her filming would be complete but he knew that she would then have to be around for the promotion and whatever else came after, she just hoped that Marcus would be with her every step of the way.
"Can I get you anything ma'am?" A voice interrupted her thoughts and she smiled at the hostess.
"A water would be perfect actually, if you wouldn't mind." As soon as she finished talking she pulled out a bottle and smiled towards her.
"You two are literally picture perfect. Have you been together long? You look so madly in love with each other. Some special occasion leading to you travels?" She asked with a wink.
Alexandria laughed. "Actually this is our first vacation, we are celebrating actually getting some time off together." For a little while she exchanged small talk with the hostess until she was beckoned elsewhere and Alexandria looked down at Marcus who was still sleeping. For hours she sat like this, comfortable in his absent company until the pilot announced their upcoming decent.
"Marcus, sweetheart, we'll be landing soon, wake up." She said squeezing his hand a little."
Marcus swallowed hard at her confession. A lump of happiness in his throat making it hard to speak. He pushed past it.
"I love you, too," he replied. He let the words sit in the silence that followed for a brief moment before he leaned towards her and kissed her, unabashed that they were in public. When he pulled away, he was smiling.
The flight was not too long, only far enough to get them well away from everything they were used to. No familiar faces. No offices or movie sets. Just the two of them and a beach house.
Marcus was used to flying for his job and he was sure that it was the same for Alexandria. This time, however, he had more nerves than usual. Usually he would fly in for a couple days somewhere to interview someone who was unavailable to meet him instead. But this time it was for his own pleasure and amusement.
He looked over to his girlfriend to find her smile still on her lips. After a while, the plane started to roll and the flight attendants did their usual walkthrough of safety precautions. Within the next few minutes they were in the air, the ground below soaring ever farther away, and with it, Marcus's worries.
They spent some of the flight making plans for when they landed, but most of it was spent in comfortable silence. Marcus attempted to read the book he had brought with him, but found it make his stomach flip like it would in a moving car. So he took off his reading glasses, took a sip of the water the flight attendants offered him, and slowly leaned towards Alexandria. He found himself asleep in no time, his head resting gently on her shoulder, his hand in hers.
Even though she had been looking forward to getting away with Marcus and enjoying some time alone where they could be completely and utterly intertwined with each other, the time couldn't come quick enough. True that the week had passed by quickly but the excitement of their first time away together was enough to make even the most patient person grow to be impatient. When the morning finally arrived she rushed to pack whatever she might need for their getaway. She packed light, knowing that if she had forgotten anything at all it wouldn't be something that important that she couldn't pick it up later when they arrived at their destination.
The morning itself was such a rush that it had become a blur and Alexandria wouldn't have even been able to explain how they had arrived at the airport. They had decided that they would leave it as late as they possibly could without risking missing their flight. There had been many occasions now where they had been followed and they both understood that the longer they were hanging around in the airport for, the more likely it was that someone would recognise her, either as the politician's daughter or the upcoming actress who was about to make her debut in just a few more months.
Alexandria kept her head down and kept her grip tight on Marcus' hand as he led them through the different checking zones in the airport until they eventually reached their boarding gate. The smile couldn't be kept from Alexandria's face at that point as she walked through the gate with her boarding pass she felt a sense of relief wash over her and son enough they found their seats and placed their baggage in the over head compartment before Marcus allowed her to take the window seat. For a moment she took a look out at the moving vehicles below them as the rest of the plane boarded until Marcus took the seat next to her and released a sigh. When he took her hand she couldn't wipe the smile from her face and she giggled lightly as he pressed his lips against it.
"You have no idea just how ready I am." Alexandria said as she lent her head against his shoulder. For a moment she allowed her head to rest there and contemplated her feelings for Marcus for a moment. It was true that they had only known each other for a few months but in that time she had come to know him better than she knew anyone and she had spent any free time that she had with him, whether that was merely sharing a bed at night or lunch out in the park. A smile appeared upon her face once more at the reflection of the time they had spent together and she wondered if she would ask him to live with her after their time away. She hardly spent any time at her place anyway and she was always at his, it only made sense that this became a permanent arrangement, even if it had only been months since she had even met him.
Alexandria pulled her head back up at looked at Marcus with such admiration and took his face in her hands and looked into his eyes for a moment.
"My world will never be the same now that I have found you." She paused for a moment, realising that whatever she had to say would sound cliche either way so she swallowed any fear she had about saying these three words out loud and did it anyway.
"I love you."
A week passed quicker than he could have imagined and Marcus had been given the go-ahead. He was able to go on vacation with Alexandria without worrying about work. It was a huge relief. All he wanted was to be able to spend time with her away from everything. If he did any writing at all, he hoped it would be on his story...
Together they walked through the airport, hoping no one would recognize her. Marcus held a large duffel bag with one hand and held Alexandria's hand with the other. She pulled her suitcase along quickly. They wanted to reach the gate and be seated, hoping that their stalker friend was not following them now. He knew it was foolhardy, but he hoped that if they were quick enough, no one might notice their absence.
The airport was packed, which helped shield them from eyes that might recognize Alexandria. It seemed a popular time to take a vacation and he was thankful of the hustle and bustle.
He led Alexandria along, knowing his larger frame could part the crowd easier than she could. Every once in a while he would utter an apology to a stranger he bumped, but hardly anyone noticed.
They'd already had their bags checked and gone through the metal detectors. All that was left was getting to the plane. They had plenty of time, but hopefully it was already boarding and they could just get seated and ready themselves for the flight.
When they finally reached the gate, Marcus let Alexandria go first and was happy to see that the plane was indeed boarding. They found their seats easily and stored their bags above them. They packed light so they could keep their luggage with them; no risk of losing anything important. Then they sat down with a long sigh. It had been a long morning and they had hardly uttered a word to each other in the effort to get ready and get to the airport.
Marcus looked over at her, the sun behind her making her glow, and smiled. He let her have the window seat. He didn't want her to sit next to a stranger and the view was going to make her happy, he knew. So he gave it up willingly. He reached out and took her hand, then brought it to his lips.
"You ready?" he asked, his smile growing.
Alexandria had nothing left to say. She knew that it would be too painful and she didn't need any more of that. The very fact that she had been cast out of her home was painful enough but deep down she knew it was for the best. Marcus was obviously worried about Cato and she wasn't surprised. Part of her wished that they could take him with them but she knew the horse wouldn't hold three people and the fact that they were travelling with an injured man would draw attention to them. Marcus help to her up onto the horse and said a few words before leaving; of course they were about Cato and how he deserved to be looked after. Within moments they were heading out of the Villa grounds and into the unknown.
Alexandria couldn't look back at her home; the entire time she just looked forward and they remained in silence. There was an eerie feeling between the two and it was something that she didn't like but until they were used to the fact they were no longer within their home, she knew that it would take some time to get used to it. Assuming that the Villa was out of view she heard Marcus release a large breath as though it was a sigh of relief. She knew that that relief didn't come because they were far away from home but now they had no visual reminder left.
"I'm so sorry that I have put you through this. When I asked my father to take you out of that arena I never expected that it would come to this. I know that I've turned your life upside down and for that I will forever be sorry."
A tear escaped but she had already sobbed too much to allow it to turn into anything more than a single tear. She wasn't even sure she had any left.
Marcus nodded at Alexandria when she turned back to him. He was glad that they had managed to set their anger aside, if only briefly, to say goodbye. He was also glad for the money. That had been in the front of his worries. But it seemed that Lucan had thought of everything.
Marcus decided that they should prolong this any more than they had to. He turned back to the mare and stepped up into the saddle. Holding out his arm, he offered Alexandria help up. When they were both seated, he looked at the people he had come to know so well in what seemed like a short amount of time.
"Take care of Cato for me," he said to anyone that would listen. "I know he seems indifferent about his situation, but deep down I know he is hurting." He regretted that he couldn't be there to help his friend through the pain, but he knew that he couldn't leave him in better hands, and that made him feel even just a tiny bit better about their situation.
He slowly turned the horse towards the gates to the villa and a guard opened one side just wide enough for them to fit. With one last look back at their home, they went through the gate. It closed behind them and they were left in silence...
Marcus set the horse into a walk again. He wanted to conserve its energy, but staying in view of the villa was almost painful. It was a long while before they could no longer see it, obstructed by trees. Marcus let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in.
It wouldn't be much longer now until her father came out to see them off. Even though things hadn't really been the same between them since all the secrets had been revealed she still found herself with a heavy heart to be leaving her father. He was the only blood family she had left and even with all the problems they had between them now she knew she couldn't let that cloud her last goodbye.
Alexandria could tell that Marcus was feeling the same thing as he asked her to say goodbye and while she contemplated how she would do so she watched her father tell Marcus to look after her and she found that she was struggling to fight back the tears now. When Lucan turned towards her there was nothing she could do to stop herself from throwing her arms around him and letting the sobs escape.
"I hate that it has come to this." She said throw the tears and her father just held her, not uttering a word but allowing the sobs to subside. He held her cheeks and looked upon her face.
"This is the best thing for you to do." He held a bag out to her and told her to take it. "There is enough money in there to set you up but not enough to raise suspicisons about who you are. Anyone asks, you are newly weds and the money is a gift from your parents to help you set up your first home together. Not that I suspect you will attract too much attention."
Alexandria nodded and pulled away from her father, wiping her tears and looked towards Marcus.
When the horse was ready and he was leading it out of the stables, Alexandria found her way to them. She was still beautiful, even without the jewels. He nodded as she spoke about the mare.
The air was somber around them as Lucan came out to say goodbye. Marcus had no idea how he was planning on saying goodbye to his daughter that he had so much trouble speaking to lately. But he also knew that they might both regret it if they left their goodbyes unsaid.
He looked at Alexandria who was petting the mare. "I know it's hard, but... at least say goodbye to him...?" he said, more as a question than anything. He would never force her to do anything she didn't want to, but he wanted her to know what he thought was best, too.
He turned slowly back towards Lucan who clasped his forearm in his and Marcus returned the gesture.
"Protect the thing I love most," the older man said softly. Sadly. Marcus nodded once and watched him turn to his daughter.
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