"Our Lady said I was born to be your guardian and guide." He caught hold of her hands and gently removed the quill, slid aside the inkpot and journal. "I think it is within my duties and authority to command you to get some sleep."
"Mrillis..." She sighed, and a tiny smile curved her mouth, softening the worried hardness.
"What will we do if you are so weary and weakened, you fall victim to this illness? I know better than to hope you will stay safe here in the Stronghold while the rest of us search for our enemy's weaknesses." Mrillis smiled when that earned a snort from her, and put a sparkle back into her eyes for a moment. "For the good of Lygroes. For the good of the World."
"For them, I must go." She shrugged and bowed her head over her journal again, even though she didn't free her hands to take up the quill to write.
"Ceera..." He took a deep breath. "If not for them, for me? For the sake of my love for you?"
Ceera sat up straight and nearly yanked her hands free of his grasp. They trembled, just enough to be noticeable, and oddly, that gave him courage.
"Athrar said once that you loved me better than anyone. I don't know if ... I hope it's more than the love of sister for brother."
"Oh, Mrillis, why now?" She closed her eyes and sighed again, louder, strong enough to disturb the pages of her journal. "Now is not a good time."
"I know, but if something should happen--"
"That is exactly why." She opened her eyes, and laughter and exasperation glimmered there with a hint of tears he couldn't understand. "Why does it take worry and danger to make you confess how you feel?"
"Our Lady said I was being ridiculous," he offered.
"I hope she slapped you and laughed at you." One corner of her mouth quirked up. "I haven't thought of you as my brother since I realized the difference between boys and girls."
His voice caught and nearly broke. "Is that a good thing?"
"That depends on what exactly it is you want for us." She slid her hands free of his lax grip.
"Ceera!" Mrillis suspected that if he had wracked his brains for an entire moon to find something to distract her from her worries over the plague, he couldn't have found anything more effective. At least she smiled now.
"I was afraid I would have to encourage Endor, just to get you to act." She sat back and rested her hands on the edge of the table, poised as if she would get up and begin a calm, reasonable speech before the Warhawk's Council of Lords.
"Endor?" The breath caught in his throat, choking him, along with that hungry anger that always came when he remembered Endor stealing that one kiss, so long ago. And the shame at his readiness to use magic to harm, maybe even kill Endor, to keep him from winning Ceera's love. "He loves you," Mrillis managed to say.
"Does that put a claim on me? What about my heart? What about how you feel?" Her voice rose, echoing a little against the walls, reminding him of that memorable afternoon when he had eavesdropped on Le'esha and Master Breylon and was nearly deafened by the reverberations in the hidden chamber in the rock.
"You know I love you," Mrillis said, wishing he could put all the hunger and need and worship he felt into those simple words.
"Yes, I do." Her smile lit her eyes, wiping away the frustration that had made her voice ring just moments ago. "But a girl likes to hear it said once in a while, too."