The group disperses, many returning to their armies to prepare their own forces for what will soon come. Ime and Meah retire to their room, needing time away from the thousands who look to them for leadership.
As Ime washes, Meah senses a change in him she felt as they left the armies gathered above. “Is something wrong?”
Tensing, Ime leans against the wall. “This war, Lyrrel said the fate of the world depends on its outcome.”
“We already knew that. Though I’ll admit I didn’t really think he meant the world.”
“No, this war was only to stop Klaeon from threatening our homes. Some of those men came from the other side of the Great Mountains. And Audra Sellin’s pirates? Klaeon would never have stretched his reach to them. Why would they care what happens to our world?”
Meah crosses to him and places her hand on his back, rubbing gently. “Klaeon might not have a plan now to conquer the farthest lands, but he would’ve reached that point eventually, once he finished enslaving our lands.”
Ime moves to the bed and sits down, placing his head in his hands. He takes several calming breaths while Meah stands, waiting for him to speak. “Am I the right one to lead them?”
Joining him on the bed, Meah stares at him confidently. “Yes.”
“Why?” He lifts his head to meet her eyes. “Altan or Gaeren know how to lead armies. Even Daniil and Kylii would be better choices.” Meah raises an eyebrow at that statement and Ime can’t help the smile it brings to his face. “All right, maybe not those two, but Gaeren and Altan, even Jaxon, would be better.”
Meah places a finger on his lips. “They came here for you. You must lead them.”
“But what if—”
“No, what ifs. You’ve no reason to doubt yourself now. Think of what you’ve accomplished already. You successfully staged an escape from the Arena, led said escapees across dangerous roads, regained your fire, and managed to bring over two hundred thousand men and women together to fight.”
Ime smiles and takes her hand in his. “I’m glad someone believes in me.”
Squeezing his hand, Meah releases a tired breath. “Everyone believes in you, Ime. The only one who doesn’t is the little voice in your head. I refuse to believe you honestly don’t think you can do this after everything we’ve been through.”
“War is a little different.”
“Excuses. What’s really bothering you?”
Standing, Ime releases Meah’s hand and walks to the window. “I’m afraid…I’m afraid of not coming back and leaving you alone.”
A pause. “You think you won’t make it back?”
“Every day in the Arena, there was always a chance of death, but it became a normal feeling. I accepted that one day there would be one opponent who would best me, but until that day I fought without thoughts of consequence because I was alone.” He takes a deep breath. “War is the same. There’s always the possibility of death for everyone. But leaving those you love behind…alone. It makes me rethink fighting.”
Quickly crossing to Ime, Meah turns him to face her. “I’m confused. What are you trying to say?”
Ime stares deeply into her eyes and leans down, kissing her gently on the lips. He takes her face in his hands and she feels his need. Meah’s magic comes alive, mixing with Ime’s magic. She wraps her arms around him, pulling their bodies closer.
When their lips separate, Ime gasps. His eyes search Meah’s face. “Marry me.”
Meah’s eyes widen. A wide smile stretches across her face and she nods her head. “Yes.”
Ime matches her smile and pulls her close, kissing her more passionately. He wraps his arms around her waist and lifts her, carrying her to the bed.