"A soulgaze." Bob's tone was thoughtful.
I made a pretense of looking around the loft. "Since it's only us here, then yes, Bob."
"I think that's a singularly unwise idea, Harry."
"Of course it is. You know me; I'm all about spontaneity and impulsiveness." Actually, I'd been thinking about it ever since Bob had become corporeal, several weeks ago. "I leave wisdom and prudence to you."
"And that wisdom and prudence was hard-earned--"
"So you kept saying, when you were a ghost; now I want to know. Or are you worried about what you'd see in me?"
He snorted. "Hardly. You are an open book, Harry."
"Hey! I might not go in for that 'mysterious wizard' shtick like Morgan, but I can do enigmatic. Just ask Murphy."
"I think the charming lieutenant finds your 'shtick' more on the order of exasperating."
Ouch. Bob always knows which buttons to push to get the reaction he wants from me. "Maybe. But I think she appreciates me. A little."
"As do I, Harry. More than a little." He reached up and stroked my cheek. "And my soul is a very dark and ugly place. Not something I'd willingly expose a loved one to."
I squirmed, a bit abashed. 'Love' hadn't been in the picture before, though we'd been going at it like rabbits from the moment we could lay our hands on each other. But now that it was out there....
Propping my elbows on either side of Bob's chest, I cupped his face in my hands, lightly brushing my thumbs across his cheekbones. He carefully kept his eyes averted.
"And I'd be a poor sort of loved one if I didn't share your burdens. Let me help," I coaxed. "If you think it's getting too much for me, you can break it off." It was a useless offer; I knew as well as he did that could a soulgaze could last mere seconds, yet impart a lifetime's impressions.
Bob's arms, loosely encircling me, began trembling. "Harry...."
"It'll be all right," I assured him. And we both knew that wasn't true; we'd be changed by this, though for the better or not...well....
"Hrothbert of Bainbridge," I intoned softly, "look at me." Though no longer under a geas of obedience, Bob nevertheless slowly raised his eyes to meet mine. In the back of my mind I began counting off seconds....
...and we fell back into our respective psyches, my face damp with tears of sorrow, my body shaking in fury. Fury at the days of abuse Bob had suffered at the hands of his 'fellow' wizards before they'd executed and cursed him; sorrow at the centuries of loneliness he'd endured bound to his skull, passed from owner to owner, often treated as little more than a slave....
"They'll never do that to you again, Bob," I muttered, winding my arms tightly around him. "If they try...." My face twisted, and I buried it in his neck, struggling to rein back the power building up inside me.
"Calm yourself, Harry," he admonished, stroking his hands gently over my back and sides. I relaxed under his warm, soothing touch touch and let the pent-up magic within me dissipate. Some of it touched the lit candles, which flared up with a faint fwoosh. My death-grip on Bob loosened and he let out a deep breath.
"Sorry," I mumbled.
"Mmm-hmm." There was a world of 'I told you so' in that sound.
I nodded against him. "I just wanted to know."
I got "Mmm-hmm" again. Then, "But you were right, too, Harry. You have helped me."
Huh? I lifted my head and searched Bob's face. He returned my regard tranquilly. And that was it; the tense air he'd carried since his rebirth, as if he'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop, was gone. I felt a strain I hadn't known I'd been under until now fade.
"I'm glad I could," I murmured, and was leaning down to kiss him (his touches were leaving therapeutic behind and entering the realm of amorousness) when he lifted those talented hands and, as I had done to him earlier, cupped them around my face. We couldn't soulgaze each other again, so I let myself fall into the gray-blue eyes that were boring into mine.
"I love you, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden." The hushed awe in his voice made me wonder what he'd seen in my soul, then he was drawing my face down and kissing me senseless, so I let it go. For now.